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Thundershirt's snug material puts gentle, even pressure on a dog, calming it, according to testimonials.

Montana native Rob Ridgeway was hanging out with family and friends, the conversation flowing freely around him, when something one of them said launched another into a song containing that word. It was spontaneous, or rather, "Spontuneous."

That's the name of a new, award-winning and thoroughly enjoyable board game that's going to be an unexpected gift under some trees this Christmas. Along with, perhaps, other offbeat but interesting offerings like a "calming" shirt for Nervous Nellie dogs, a necklace that spells love for mom in Morse code, a man's bracelet that doubles as a survival tool and gifts for kids that will stand out as different against the backdrop of popular but predictable mass-produced presents.

Yeah, we're giving the well-loved CDs and slipper-sleepwear combos this year, along with the toys and gift cards. But we also went in search of more unique items to present to those we love. What we found had us beaming, or shaking our heads or reaching for our wallets. And sometimes all three. Taste in gifts is decidedly individual.

Little Joey and Jamie are going to love the Alien Robots Kit, a 48-page book for kids 7-12 that includes materials to build six kinetic alien monsters. Written by David Eckold, it's a great mix of follow-directions and use-your-imagination fun, with heavy-duty materials so they can be taken apart. Kids an be creative again and again. From DK Publishing (DK.com), $24.99.

Girls 5-12 can have a blast and be creative designing their own clothes online on www.FashionPlaytes.com, which then produces and ships the clothing so she can wear it. Styles start at $20 and there are tops, pants, dresses, pajamas, accessories and doll clothes. She can even create her own clothing label. Gift certificates are available.

While she's dressing up, she might want a pair of boot bands from Pretty to Boot. You slip them over plain boots for an instant girly upgrade. Around $22 if they're not on sale, you can see the selections at www.prettytoboot.com.

Laura Design acrylic bearded beanies are just odd enough to be cute, if a bit spendy. It's a yarn cap with an attached yarn beard that acts as both strap and face warmer. Or you can buy one of the patterns, which start at $8, and make it yourself. If seeing the end result on a tiny face doesn't make you laugh, you may not have a sense of humor. Online at burlybeard.com and available for older kids, too.

Travel a lot or serving in the military and missing your kids? Have grandchildren you don't see often enough? You'll always be around at bedtime with AnyBook Reader, by Franklin Electronics, which lets you record the book of your choice, with the help of special stickers you place on the pages. They're removable so you can move on to other books, too. There are also some sound effects like dogs barking that match some stories and add some zing. The 15-hour reader is $39.99 and the 60-hour is $59.99. Franklin.com.

Green Toys — from kids' dishes and toy food to race cars, dump trucks and planting gear — are made in America entirely of recycled plastic milk containers. The race cars are about $9 each, while the dump truck is three times that. www.greentoys.com.

And speaking of gifts associated with a cause: This one for dad is a tourniquet, a sturdy rope, an emergency tie, all masking as a handsome bracelet for men. SurvivalStraps bracelets are durable, come in many color combinations and can be customized with the wearer's name, medical information or even a favorite quote. Part of the proceeds go to the Wounded Warrior Project. If you're lucky, the sturdy paracord will remain jewelry, but should you need to unwind and use it, send in the story of what happened to www.SurvivalStraps.com and get a new one, valued at $22.95 to $45, for free.

This little gem is for both baby and mom together. It's bling — "Teething Bling." The necklaces, which are sleek and attractive, are made of the same material used in many teething toys, so baby can go ahead and play with and even chew them safely. www.SmartMomJewelry.com, around $24 each.

Or here's a more sophisticated jewelry option: The Morse Coded Love Message lets you decide what you want to say, while keeping the message kind of private. It's a good-looking combo of dots and dashes for $36, Coattonline.com.

Chaotic Connections is another offbeat game. You're trying to connect four cities, without much help from others. And if you think travel's a straight shot, you're in for a surprise and lots of laughs. You might end up going from New York to Philly by way of Denver. Now that doesn't make sense, but it is fun. Chaoticconnections.com, $29.99.

Looking for a high-end gift for your toddler? Puzzle-loving adults and kids might get a kick out of the Puzzle Playhouse. Made of high quality hard wood, it goes together entirely by interlocking pieces and it can be taken down and put up in minutes, so it's easy to store. It's also compact. Modern Playhouse, $650.

We didn't forget the family dog, either. If Lori the Labradoodle is irritable, anxious, fearful or destructive, the Thundershirt ($39.99) could be a great gift for both dog and owner. Its snug material puts gentle, even pressure on the dog, calming it, according to testimonials from veterinarians and others. To see how it works, check out thundershirt.com.

Merry Christmas!

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