Anyone with electric heating knows it swiftly becomes the bane of your existence. Winter be damned, I'm not going broke heating a 700-square foot apartment. I mean, doesn't 65 degrees feel balmy to you? And no, I don't mind wearing a coat to watch TV!
Sarcasm aside, bitching is the best way to sell stuff, and let me tell you, if this is an infomercial, I'm that harried chick in black and white smothered by blankets while trying to answer my phone or drink a cup of tea.
Snuggie — the William Shatner of "As Seen on TV" products — to the rescue.
Actually, the Snuggie ($14.95) came into my life after I sent my mother a set of ShamWows. The gift exchange started out as sort of a joke, until the Snuggie she sent became my source of warmth at work. Then I was a real joke. But hey, I get cold easily, and with those handy sleeves I typed away in comfort.
Unfortunately, your basic Snuggie's not made from a nice microfleece; it's more like triple-ply airplane blanket material. And with our dry air, you unpeel a Snuggie off your person, not just shrug out of it. Get ready to shock your partner in all kinds of unsexy ways.
So, I'm sad to report the Snuggie doesn't stand out in my arsenal of warmth-keeping items. For the best option, I recommend a quilted zip-up robe. Yes, I look like a fabric cone, but don't even think of prying it off my warm, dead body. — Edie Adelstein
2. Snuggie for Dogs
OK, I'm the first to admit I've purchased numerous outerwear items for my Boston terrier Lucy over the two years I've had her. They've ranged from a fancy Ruffwear waterproof overcoat to a puffy snowsuit with full legs to the red-and-black houndstooth fleece jacket that I found in the dollar bins at Target (and which still seems to be her favorite).
At $14.95, the Snuggie for Dogs falls midway among these on the price scale, but at the bottom for fit and quality. Lucy was none too pleased when I shoved her body into it; the "blanket coat with sleeves" was too small and left tiny blue fuzzies all over her fur.
As a volunteer for the Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, I thought I'd test it out there on a smaller dog. Gabby the rat terrier easily settled into the soft yet thin fabric; but even though she was at the low end of poundage for the size, it fit her awkwardly, too.
Perhaps if your canine companion likes to lounge on the couch watching TV all day long (as the product's packaging indicates), the deep-cut neckline makes sense. But for any active pup, I'd suggest you look elsewhere for this year's holiday surprise. — Kirsten Akens
3. Shake Weight
The clamor for getting in shape has created a $71 billion fitness industry, as reported by the Sporting Goods Manufacturers Association.
SGMA also reports that 34 percent of Americans exercise on a "frequent" basis (100-plus days a year); 10 percent exercise regularly (50 to 99 days a year); and 15 percent of the adult population doesn't like the idea of regular exercise. "That means roughly [40 percent] of the U.S. population is a target of opportunity for the fitness industry," SGMA reports.
That's where the Shake Weight comes in. This "revolutionary new way to shape and tone your arms, shoulders and chest" promises results despite a time commitment of just 6 minutes a day. It's for people who like the idea of exercise but haven't committed to anything yet, probably don't want to work too hard at it, and aren't self-conscious enough to be intimidated by an exercise motion ridiculed by Saturday Night Live. (See the skit on YouTube.)
As a person who works out six days a week and uses free weights regularly, I might not be the best candidate for this apparatus, but I gave it a shot.
First, it's not a cardio tool. Six minutes of shaking the 2.5-pound weight raised my heartbeat by only 13 beats per minute. (Shake Weight also comes in a heavier version for men and costs $29.95, rather than $19.95.)
The ads claim Shake Weight "Increases Muscle Activity by More Than 300% Compared to Traditional Weights." I'm not ready to vouch for that, but I was glad when the six minutes ended. The upper arms do feel a bit strained after performing six minutes of repetitive movement.
But recovery took less than a minute, and I never felt achy muscles later to indicate I'd really DONE SOMETHING. Were I to recommend this to someone acquainted with the concept of fitness, I'd say try three six-minute sessions daily, at intervals no less than two or three minutes apart.
Oh, not to be overlooked, by the way: The Shake Weight comes with a DVD that offers a "Total Body Workout," the "Latin Dance Workout" and the "Brazilian Booty Workout." — Pam Zubeck
4. The Original Quick Chop
The Original Quick Chop: not to be mistaken for similar abuse-me items like the Slap Chop, inspiration for "The Slap Chop Rap" to be found on YouTube. Or Pampered Chef's food chopper, which I'm told, is actually super-sturdy and effective.
The Quick Chop ($19.99, with bonus grater included) feels pretty dinky, and my short trial period certainly doesn't speak for how long it'll last against my formidable palm blows. (Garlic bulb make Hulk angry ... Hulk Smash!) But it may prove to be just as durable as late spokesman Billy Mays' Kevlar beard.
I actually love using my cheap chef's knives and working over veggies and their kin like the tired, underpaid restaurant line lackey I once was. So this isn't a kitchen tool I was eager to buy, just curious to try.
My main comment: You're already going to have your knife out anyway, usually because you'll have to cut an item such as a carrot down at least enough to fit under the Quick Chop's circular guard — a few more easy-to-perform rapid chops, and you'd already have said carrot down to my preferred size for salads. Gadget not needed.
Sure, if you want to take the carrot down even smaller to a mostly uniform tiny size, the Quick Chop is handy. It did perform excellently for getting walnuts down to a fine crumble, ideal for raw food recipes and some baking needs. And if I were doing a large quantity of garlic for a sauce or something, I can see an argument for this over loading the garlic press again and again, or mincing by hand.
There's also something to be said for working through stress on your cutting board, and there's no question, the Original Quick Chop manages to up the ante there. — Matthew Schniper
5. Xpress Redi-Set-Go
You probably know Cathy Mitchell. You probably even like her.
In her infamous infomercial, Cathy guides her curly mass of red hair down a countertop full of Xpress Redi-Set-Gos ($39.99), popping out item after item of delicious, healthy, quickly cooked, no-work food.
What's not to like?
First into our non-stick frying pan was a difficult test for any chef: eggs. And it turns out the Xpress, making great use of its included divider, fries eggs just fine, as long as you're OK with a half-moon shaped breakfast, necessarily cooked twice as long as recommended, that smells unmistakably like burning, eggy non-stick coating.
Next, an omelette needed the same additional cooking time, but then nicely puffed its way into an overwhelming monstrosity that quickly pushed the hinge of the Xpress into a pleasing 45-degree angle.
Lastly, we tested pork chops, and while a whole chop also needed double the time, quartering the meat (as recommended in the included cookbook) gave us juicy pork niblets in seven minutes, with the added bonus scent of either popcorn or maple syrup filling the air.
So random scents aside, the Xpress Redi-Set-Go seems to do what it says it does. Then there's the extras: An included dual-sided spatula means you'll (continue to) never want for a dual-sided spatula, and the additional muffin pan ... well, you see where I'm going with this.
So do I recommend buying one? Well, do you like how your house smells now? — Bryce Crawford
6. Fushigi magic gravity ball
Some people love a challenge, especially when it requires a combination of brainpower and dexterity. Others, myself included, do not enjoy acting, looking or feeling stupid.
Trust me on this one: If you like trying to conquer a difficult skill, you could become addicted to the Fushigi magic gravity ball ($19.99), a mesmerizing sphere about the size of a baseball.
Its potential certainly appears amazing, for anyone who wants to check out Fushigi or "contact juggling" via YouTube. Experts can use their well-trained hands to make the ball look as though it moves on its own, or at times make it seem as though the damn thing isn't moving — when you know it is.
The videos and demonstrations look so effortless, it's easy to believe that you can do it, too.
Wrong, you magician wannabe. You might succeed in impressing a family member or friend, but only momentarily. Soon you lose control and feel like an idiot, which you probably are.
Because it's like a round mirror, the Fushigi easily creates illusions. You can roll it around in your hands, or follow the enclosed DVD's instructions for the simplest of tricks, and catch an unknowing spectator off-guard.
The product's materials try hard to push the fascination: "Make it float! No strings! No tricks! Just simple hand manipulation will make Fushigi appear to float and defy gravity!"
If you have tweens under your roof, make sure they know it's breakable. Then, let them at it. Like the Rubik's Cube in the '80s, Fushigi can buy you untold hours of calmness and sanity.
Just don't believe the message at fushigiball.com, which says: "Using Fushigi is an incredible, therapeutic form of relaxation."
Only for you, when the kids are playing with it.
Otherwise, not just no, but hell, no. — Ralph Routon
The iRenew isn't the next iPad, or Apple-related in any way. It's a silicone wristband with a couple inches of stainless steel wrapped around the middle that claims to increase energy and instantly improve balance, strength and endurance.
Does the iRenew claim any scientific basis? No. If it did, it would be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.
Does that mean it doesn't work? Probably. But not necessarily. The placebo effect alone has been proven by so many studies that I wonder why the researchers still get funding.
I took my $19.99 iRenew back home to California with me for Thanksgiving. And I did have an unusually disaster-free weekend that showed signs of increased balance, strength and endurance. For instance, I didn't drop the 20-pound turkey or slip once, and my dogs were thrilled when I took them around the trail twice.
All in all, I felt pretty great while testing the iRenew. Sure, that could have been due to seeing my family for the first time in months, or a hundred other reasons. But in the spirit of giving, I'll give the bracelet the benefit of the doubt. — Leah Barker
8. Wonder Hanger (Platinum Edition)
My closet is much like New York City: colorful, eclectic and crowded. Newcomers have to get creative when it comes to finding a place to live, and when they do, they can bet they'll have to get cozy with their neighbors. Just last week, my new velvet jacket found itself introduced at very close quarters to a pair of musty wool airman's breeches that probably last saw active duty in 1916.
Relations remained strained until I came home with the Wonder Hanger (Platinum Edition). Now they live happily on separate sides of the closet, with a whole DMZ's worth of cleverly tiered blouses and skirts between them.
Essentially, the Wonder Hanger is a hanger for your hangers, meant to maximize real estate by keeping up to six items, one atop the other, on the same vertical metal bar. (The metal is what makes this product "platinum," and $14.95 instead of $9.95.)
While it would take a monster trip to Goodwill to actually free up space in my closet, the Wonder Hanger does a fair job of creating the illusion of space. However, you will need an actual 8 inches of free space in order to make the Wonder Hanger functional, or face (as I do) taking the entire contraption off the rack every time you want to retrieve a shirt.
Time will tell whether the illusion makes it worth the trouble, or whether the Wonder Hanger will end up gathering dust in ... er, the back of my closet. — Claire Swinford
9. Jupiter Jack
What I really wanted was the Snore No More wristband. Both my wife and I were excited for a gadget that promised to quiet me in the middle of the night by gently zapping radiation or something through my skin.
The Jupiter Jack ($10) wasn't even on my radar screen. But then there was a mistake with our order, and the wristband wasn't coming, and so I turned to Plan B.
Turns out the net effect was largely the same: When I used the Jupiter Jack, my wife couldn't hear me at all. Which in this case is unfortunate, given that it's meant to help people communicate.
Consider this, basically, a poor man's Bluetooth. Plug the little black cartridge into your cell phone's headset jack, turn your car radio to 99.3 FM, make a call, and supposedly, you'll hear your respondent through your speakers. From there, you talk as though the person was sitting next to you — no hands required.
The first time I tried it, I heard nothing, except intermittent static from the radio. The second time, safely parked outside my house, I tried coercion techniques. Lo and behold, if I just pushed the jack hard into the adapter, and the adapter then jammed even tighter into the phone, I could hear a faint voice coming over the speakers — assuming I wiggled the pieces around enough.
It's a remarkable no-hands unit that operates only as a two-hands unit.
For the record, we tried again, using my wife's phone — which appeared to have been made for the Jupiter Jack, since it needed none of the six included adapters. (For those keeping track, that's seven discrete pieces for $9.99, giving the Jupiter Jack more in common with your typical Indian buffet than most reliable electronic devices.) Same deal.
A disappointing experience, all around. I still wonder about the Snore No More wristband, but now I'm even a little more skeptical about the As Seen on TV family than I was before. For helping extinguish both conversation and hope, the Jupiter Jack receives only one star. — Kirk Woundy
10. WOW Interchangeable Mix and Match Storage System
My husband and I have a little deal: He takes care of the kitchen, and I take care of the rest of the house. Correction: He takes care of the kitchen, except when it involves plastic containers, which he invariably leaves on the countertops for me to put away.
For some reason, my husband, an otherwise intelligent human being, is completely baffled by plasticware. I've tried explaining the concept: lids get stored with lids, square containers go together, circular containers go together. He watches me put everything neatly away like a keen observer. Then he nods his understanding.
But the next time he does the dishes, the plastic containers are back on the counter.
As you can imagine, when I saw the WOW Interchangeable Mix and Match Storage System of containers — "every top is a bottom"— I thought, well, this is effing perfect. All the containers are the same square shape. They all fit together. There are no lids. An idiot could figure this out. (Sorry, honey.) Plus I got the containers at my favorite bargain store for $11 instead of the usual $19.95 plus shipping and handling.
The package contains 40 containers of varying depths, and, as promised, they're pretty easy to handle. On the other hand, they're flimsy, they're made in China (scary!), I didn't see anything about them being BPA-free (scarier!), and they all fit together because they're all the same square shape (which is great until you want to store a casserole).
On the bright side, the husband actually puts these containers away. Which does bring a little holiday warmth to my heart. — J. Adrian Stanley