Friday kicks off the official holiday shopping season.
But for many, the hunt for the ideal gift for names on December lists begins much sooner.
Sierra Meeks, 22, of Valparaiso, admits she's one of the crowds of shoppers getting a late start this year for finding "just the right gifts."
"I like to put some thought into what I'm going to buy," Meeks said.
"If I'm taking the time to buy something that can be wrapped and opened, I want to make sure it's going to please that other person. It's not just an investment in money, but the time to pick out something special."
Rather than depending on gift cards and gift certificates to check-off her holiday gift list in a hurry, Meeks is also one of the growing masses making a return to gifts that are practical, yet have meaning.
"I want to give a gift that people will use," she said. "The more they can use it, the more they will think of you."
Here are a few favorite Times picks for 2012 holiday gift lists:
• Slice of Life - There's nothing quite as true and traditional to fit the description of a prized practical gift than a well-designed toaster. Oster's "Designed for Life" series includes a new Oster Extra Long Four-Slice Toaster with a sleek and contemporary design that still offers a nod for a classic retro look. Advanced toasting technology promises consistent toasting, even for thick-sliced artisan breads and bagels and there's an auto-adjust feature to assure every toasted item is a perfect fit. $39.99 in stores or visit www.oster.com.
• Just pour you - For coffee drinkers, a best friend in the morning is a trusted coffeemaker. Mr. Coffee is a brand with a reputation that has earned the company a favored place on kitchen countertops and work break rooms around the world. The innovative Mr. Coffee 10-Cup Thermal Optimal Brew is engineered with advanced technology that heats water up to 205-degrees in a dash to reach what is considered "coffee's optimal brewing temperature." This new system also brews 26 percent faster than rival units, in addition to including a beautiful vacuum-insulated serving carafe to keep coffee piping hot, without need for a burner which can ruin the true taste of coffee. $79.99 in stores or www.mrcoffee.com.
• Breath of freshness - Teleflora has dreamed up a delicious new floral arrangement for the holidays. The Teleflora Peppermint Christmas Bouquet offers sweet wishes of peppermint joy with this bouquet that smells just as sweet as it looks. Bursting with red, white and peppermint florals and topped off with real candy canes, this merry bouquet is the ideal table topper for holiday gatherings. $49.95 at your local florist or www.teleflora.com.
• Holiday cheer - It's not only fruitcake associated as the slicing pastry tradition of the holidays. Rum cake rakes right at the top this time of year. Baked in the Caribbean from a generations old family recipe, Tortuga Rum Cakes are hand glazed with 5-year-old Tortuga Gold Rum then vacuum sealed to lock in the delicious freshness. The company says the shelf life is six to nine months or "indefinitely if frozen." There are nine tropical flavors and three sizes: 4 ounce, 16 ounce and even 33 ounce cakes. Product line now also includes gourmet flavored coffees, hot and savory Caribbean sauces, rum fudge, conch chowder, pepper jelly, gifts, baskets and even new Tortuga Chocolate Rum Turtles with Sea Salt. Ship the 33 ounce Tortuga Rum Cake anywhere in the USA for less than $33, which includes shipping at www.tortugarumcakes.com.
• A brainy idea - With more than 3 million copies sold, Pocket Posh Puzzle Books have both looks and brains. Always elegantly adorned with beautiful covers, these convenient and sturdy design booklets are filled with crosswords, trivia and world scrambles. And just for the holidays, there are even two special themed books featuring either Jane Austen or William Shakespeare. $7.99 in stores or visit www.puzzlesociety.com or www.andrewmcmeel.com.
• Joy bubbling over - Holiday soaps are an age-old tradition. But the folks at LUSH have found some clever ways to make this affordable gift stand-by luxurious and more inviting than ever before. There are gift sets themed for kids and adults, with a favorite this year being LUSH Secret Santa Gift Set. A great gift for those on a budget and also a nice fit as an adorable stocking stuffers, this is a stress-free holiday gift. Packaged in a Santa-theme box, it includes a Cinders bath bomb guaranteeing a great next tub soak after a long work day and also a fun "Honey I Washed The Kids" star-shape soap bar. $11.95 at www.lushusa.com