Gifts Good Stuff

Small, Inexpensive Camcorder for Sharing Experiences

flip.jpgIf you have a loved one who won’t be able to be with you for part of your holiday celebrations, you may want to rush out and find a Flip video camera. The Flip is a very cool piece of gear; it’s about the size of a rectangular cell phone and it’s incredibly easy to use — basically point and shoot.

But that’s not the best reason to get it. If you want to share holiday joy (or any other experience) easily and quickly, this little critter is your best friend. The Flip comes with an audio-video cable that plugs the camera directly into your television. Hit the play button, and there’s your video where everyone can see it. How easy is that?

At around $99-130 (USD) for the standard model (1 GB of memory), and $120-150 (USD) for the Ultra (2 GB) this camcorder is cheaper than many digital cameras. No, it won’t make cinema-quality video, but it does make terrific memory videos. It’s so small that you’ll never be tempted to leave it at home, and it’s so easy to use that there’s just no excuse not to film away.

If you’re filming for someone like my dad, who’s in a nursing home and finding it increasingly difficult to focus on details, you’ll want to remember to frame people and objects so that they can be identified easily.

After the holidays, we’ll be using ours to snap everyday things that may interest Dad — this would include dogs we encounter, our bad cats at play, odd or vintage motor vehicles, and stuff we see on local outings.

If you’ve got a youngster who may be participating in the holidays from a couch, bed, or chair, you might consider putting him or her in charge of recording the festivities. Judging from reviews on Amazon, kids as young as four can use the Flip, though I’d expect that eight and up is generally more realistic, at least for semi-independent use.

Recording time is 60 minutes; built-in software accommodates Windows and Macs, lets you upload films to YouTube and other sites, and capture frames for still photos. Reviews make it clear that if you’re serious about editing, you’ll need to buy separate software just for that. But that’s getting technical — here at GA, we’re more interested in the social side of things.

Flip is powered by 2 double A batteries; ours came with two cases and a wrist strap. I’ve seen them at Sam’s Club and Costco (though I see Costco doesn’t have it online today). Sam’s sells it only in the stores, not online. Amazon has them in stock, but you won’t take delivery by the 24th. Don’t let that stop you; there’s a whole new year ahead!

Everyday Gear Good Stuff

Long-Handled Lawn Trimmer

Image of Long-Handled Garden Clippers or Lawn TrimmersDetermined gardeners who find kneeling to trim and clip lawns uncomfortable might like these long-handled clippers. Once quite common (think 1950s-1960s), these babies did the job before motorized weed whackers took over suburbia. That long handle and those little red wheels allow you to snip the grass as you stroll along.

Yes, they’re inefficient, but hey, is there any reason gardening on a nice day should be fast? No gas fumes and no recharging required. No kneeling, either, or unpleasant vibrations shaking your hands and arms.

Good Stuff Nursing Home

A Personal, Unusual Nursing Home Visit

Image of a Photosmart Printer CaseThis cute little case holds an HP Photosmart printer like the one my dad’s niece brought when she came for an unexpected visit a while ago. Amy brought along a whole passel of relatives, too, and everyone took turn taking. She set the compact printer up in Dad’s room, powered it up, and printed off snapshots while everyone visited.

Dad was enchanted with the gadget, and the whole process. The visit had all of the charm from back in the days when Polaroids were new, when people snapped pictures and stood around oooohing and aaaahing as the camera spit out the magically developing photo. But in this case, the hardware was sleeker and the picture quality terrific.

Dad’s family went home with pictures of him, but, best of all, they left behind several dozen photos which now grace his walls — reminders of a fun and novel visit. Everyone likes getting presents: This portable printer turned out to be the gift that kept on giving — all through the visit and long afterward.

At Home Gifts Good Stuff Kids Nursing Home

Love, Imagination, and Human Interaction

Bella a Golden Retriever PuppyBlondie, my dad’s loyal companion, got a Christmas present herself this year: Oscar, a Golden Retriever puppy from the same company that made Blondie. Oscar (that’s the name Dad chose — on the website, the Douglas Company shows the same puppy named ‘Bella’) is full of spunk and personality. His arrival has sparked a lot of conversation — Blondie was clearly nonplussed when this little upstart showed up. But she’s learned to defer to the obstreperous youngster, and they’re fast pals now.

At Home Everyday Gear Good Stuff Nursing Home

Solid, Easy-to-Use Cordless Phone

My dad’s old cordless phone was a mixed blessing. The ‘cordless’ part was great because it was easy to use anywhere in the room, but, like most of the cordless units available, the phone and its charger base were lightweight — the charger cord weighed so much more than the base that the phone was often pulled onto the floor.

At Home Clothing Everyday Gear Good Stuff Travel

Walking on Ice

We’ve been having an unusually mild winter this year on the east coast, and our current storm is only the second major one of the season. There’s been very little snow shovelling this year, and very little weather-related inconvenience. Under normal conditions, though, here in the mid-Atlantic area, we often spend most of the season dealing with ice, rather than snow, and a fair amount of ice-related bother.

Gifts Good Stuff Wheelchairs

Spoke Guards for Wheelchairs

flames spokesguardsyinyang spokesguardsThey’re not cheap, but wah-hoo, are they fun! Is your wheelchair looking ho-hum? Does someone you love need a really original gift? Spokeguard Art may be the answer.

If not, you’ll still have a blast checking out all these wheelchair spoke guards — categories include designs for children’s wheelchairs, animal-lovers, space-fiends, former flower children, sports fanatics and more.

dolphin spokeguardsgarden spokesDon’t let the home page scare you — the rest of the site’s much better designed. It’s also friendly, but a little amateurish — and there’s no indication of shipping costs. You might want to email or call before making a commitment.

At Home Good Stuff Kids

Cowbells in the Sick Room — and the Hospital

After I wrote about cowbells (suggesting using them in sick-rooms) a few days ago, I received an email from Elisabeth at

At Home Games/Recreation Gifts Good Stuff Kids Nursing Home

Engaging Hand-Held Game for One or More

Big Screen 20QOver the holidays, we bought a hand-held game called 20Q thinking that it might be entertaining for everyone if the family was visiting, and we couldn’t get out due to weather. The idea is simple — you think of an object — an apple, a bicycle, a brick — and the game asks you 20 questions in an attempt to figure out what it is. Using artificial intelligence technology, 20Q interprets your answers, guessing right a surprising amount of the time. (OK, almost all the time.) We were pretty cocky to begin with, but 20Q has a lot of personality, and didn’t mind humbling us one bit. The thing’s sassy — it taunts you as you play!

The beauty of it is that you don’t need any prior knowledge to play. You just need to know the names of objects, and to have the ability to answer relatively simple questions. The trickiest of the questions are along the lines of “is it a mammal?” In our experience, even if you don’t know an answer, though, the game goes on just fine.

Ours was the pocket version. Because it was so small and round, I thought my dad might have trouble holding it and using the buttons — and he did, a little. But he was too involved to mind much.

Naturally, we went out and picked up the big screen version so Dad could have it at the nursing home. It’s rectangular and easier to hold, and the buttons are also further apart and simpler to use.

When we first played the game with the family over the holidays, we read the questions out loud and answered them together. It was noisy and a lot of fun, with a lot of laughing. But even when my dad played the game by himself, 20Q seemed almost social — he’s interacting, not just reading the questions. And it’s addictive . . . the day we gave the big screen version to him, he hustled us on our way, and headed back to his room so he could play more! It’s gotten increasingly difficult to get him engaged with new things, so it was a treat to see how he took to this neat little toy.

The game is battery-powered and has several options for answers: yes, no, sometimes, rarely. There’s a backlight on the pocket version to make the text more readable. The big screen version doesn’t have the backlight, but the text is quite clear if you just change the angle when you’re holding it.

The text is surprisingly large — it scrolls, and you can slow it down or speed it up on either version. We were able to set the big screen version so that Dad had no trouble reading the questions, even though he’s not at all used to electronic games.

For the right nursing home or assisted living resident, this could be a fine independent activity. Anyone confined to bed or inactivity (however temporarily) could do worse than while away the boring hours tussling with this ‘intelligent’ little device. It could also be just the thing when conversation lags during hours spent in waiting rooms, or when hospital visits threaten to become stultifying.

Beware — it’s very competitive, and you’ll really need to stump it. Dad loves knowing that he might get the upper hand . . . next time! Even when you can’t win, it’s amazing and amusing to be awed by this clever little box.

Recommended for ages 8 and up. Available just about everywhere you find toys (except around Christmas time, when we couldn’t find it locally at all), and at (which sold out at Christmas). The pocket version is available in a slew of languages, but you may have to order online to get those.

Good Stuff Public Accessibility Travel Wheelchairs

When Accessible Really Isn’t – At the Park

Urine BottleLate in the summer, we took my dad to a local folk music festival, not quite sure what we’d encounter bathroom-wise at a park with no permanent amenities where a large crowd was expected. Hedging our bet, we took along a male urinal (the standard urine bottle available at any drugstore), which worked out just fine.