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Smell the Coffee: Sharing a secret for shopping for teens

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Last year, while struggling for Christmas gift ideas, I discovered a helpful little shortcut toward pleasing that most difficult of all to shop for -- the teen.

Thanks to this shortcut, I was able to select gifts teenagers would actually use their parents' money to purchase for themselves. My niece, who'd only just moved here from Texas, admitted feeling a bit "creeped out" last Christmas as the gifts we gave her suggested we knew her far better than she thought we possibly could.

Christmas gifts that creep out a teen. Is there anything better?

Considering there are few in this age group who would be caught dead reading this column, I feel safe in sharing my secret with you.

Go on Facebook and check out their Wall. There you'll be provided with a list of their favorite bands, television shows, movies, books, etc. Scroll through a few of their posts and you can learn what concerts they're hoping to see, places they hang out with their friends, and the names of their favorite restaurants and stores. Take this information and shop accordingly.

Hot Topic has a huge selection of music T-shirts. Go online (sites like ebay and autographstore.com) to find authentic autographed photos of their favorite celebrity. (Read the description carefully to make sure it's an original autograph, not a reprint of an autographed photo.)

Teenagers might seem like tough nuts to crack, but you can go a long way with a gift that shows some thought went into finding something they'd like. (Just be sure to keep quiet about the Facebook thing, lest they feel like you're spying.)

Granted, there's always that one-size-fits-all gift-cash -- but unless there's something to unwrap, it can hardly feel like a holiday. Below are a few gift suggestions (all vetted through a bonafide teenager) that also might work for the teen on your list.

Adventurous types would love a gift certificate for one of the West Virginia zipline tours. Prices range from $35 (at burningrockwv.com) to $109 (at newrivergorgecanopytour.com). Whitewater rafting excursions are another option to consider.

If the teen you're shopping for is especially tough, I personally recommend the Lightning Reaction shocking game, which I bought for my nephew a few years back at Kid Country Toys. The game led to a fun day of trying to determine who could endure the most pain, as players receive actual shocks of varying intensity. (The pain is similar to hitting your funny bone.)

Or if you've always wondered where you can get a personalized message written on an impressively large beer belly, then photographed and sent to your loved one, look no further than fiverr.com (search for "the beergut man"). The best part is that it's only five bucks. In fact, that's the beauty of fiverr. Everything there costs five dollars. The site showcases individuals from all over the world who offer random services they'll provide for five dollars. You can have a song written and performed for your loved one, get a cartoon drawn from their snapshot, have a picture of their face Photoshopped onto a foot ---it's all there.

For the new driver on your list, perpetualkid.com offers an oversized Band-aid that adheres magnetically to the car to cover dents, dings and scratches. A bargain at only $7. (Discounts may be available for those purchasing in bulk.)

If you act soon (as it can take a few weeks for delivery), you can custom-design sneakers with your own photos or artwork through Zazzle.com. For reasons known only to her, my daughter designed shoes featuring a penguin holding toast balloons. The quality was top notch, and the price ($60) seems reasonable for a custom item.

(Tip: Do a Google search for "coupon code" plus the name of the store to find free shipping offers and other discounts.)

Animal-loving teenagers might appreciate donations made in their name to the humane society, where they can sponsor an animal, or to an organization such as the National Wildlife Federation or the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Creative types might appreciate art lessons (TaylorBooks.com) or some good quality art supplies. Those interested in writing can find information about upcoming workshops on wvwriters.org.

One of my favorite sites is etsy.com, where artists and craft people from all over sell their wares. The site is addictive. The search feature enables you to find local artists, or you can type in a few random search words and find one-of-a-kind items that are perfect for your recipient. If the person you're shopping for is a fan of, say, Harry Potter, just search for that, and you'll have hundreds (if not thousands) of items to choose from.

I recommend searching for "steampunk jewelry" on etsy as there are some interesting and affordable one-of-a-kind jewelry that teenage girls (at least the ones I'm familiar with) absolutely adore.

There are some strange things to be found on etsy. Among my favorites are a handmade stuffed plush pancreas, crocheted sperm, and a knitted dissected frog displayed in an actual dissection tray. (Dissected rat, earthworm, and fetal pig are also available.)

For brainiacs teens (and nerdy adults), there are few sites better than thinkgeek.com.

And finally, for teenagers who read, consider a book of fictional stories featuring West Virginia's very own mothman. "The Mothman Files," published by Woodland Press, is a fun and interesting read. (And, coincidentally, includes a story of mine.) Or if your teen prefers thrillers, I highly recommend "Full Bone Moon," which is loosely based on the actual murders of two WVU coeds. Both books are available in bookstores all over the state or online at Amazon or woodlandpress.com.

Reach Karin Fuller via email at karinfuller@gmail.com.


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