Got those 11th Hour Shopping Blues?
How Bay Weekly Gift-Givers Put the Cheer Back in Christmas

 Vol. 10, No. 50

December 12-18, 2002

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You know what’s coming. No matter how hardened your heart, anti-materialistic your convictions or pinched your pocketbook, Christmas will catch up with you. Like it or not, you’ll be giving — and getting — gifts. Because, as all people of a certain age and wisdom know, you pay a higher price for the gifts you don’t give than if you’d shopped at Macy’s.

Not that there isn’t good reason to rebel against the conventions:
Relations sparing no expense will give some useless old utensil or a matching pen and pencil. Just the thing I need. How nice.
— Tom Lehrer

Who hasn’t longed to opt out of the gift race, as did one earnest, young intern.

“I’m, well, abstaining from gifts this year,” she wrote. “I gave them up last year, and it made the holidays a lot happier. I’m afraid none of my dearly beloveds are getting anything material. It’s a long story that has to do with our family’s history of present-hungry holidays. I’m trying to find my place, and this is where I’m most comfortable right now.”

But such moves offer fleeting comfort, most of us find, and for good reason.

Christmas is all wrapped up with giving. It’s the holiday our culture devotes to honoring the divine light as it appears in human form. Like the Magi who brought their gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh to the baby Jesus on the first Christmas, we open our hearts to that light in one another. From our opened hearts come the gifts of Christmas.

It’s pretty tough to take on that kind of symbolism. And pretty Scroogy to the people we love. For beneath the surface, most of us are like kids on Christmas, full of hope and expectation that we’ll be seen in ourselves, known, loved and honored — all in a Christmas present.

Which brings us to another dilemma. The wrong gift is as bad as no gift at all.

This gift-giving takes work, especially since most of the people on any list refuse to divulge their wishes. So you’ve got to figure out for yourself what’s the heart’s desire of each one of them — and do it quickly. The temptation is to throw dollars and packages at the problem, but largesse alone won’t solve it.

It’s a tough job — and we know you’ve saved the hardest for last — but we at Bay Weekly will bravely lead the way. To make our ordeal more helpful to you, we’ve not only chosen gifts for the toughest on our list but also explained our principles of giving.

Son Brady: 2
by Stacy Allen

You’d think this Christmas would be a no-brainer. My toddler is obsessed with cows, and farm-theme products can be found at every toy store. But how many big red barns do I really want to own? We got the nice wooden one for his birthday and found the plastic Fisher Price one on eBay. Now Grandad’s on the cell phone from Target asking should he buy the Old MacDonald Had a Farm Game.

The struggle isn’t so much how to find the right gift but how to convey the proper meaning. I’d like to share with my son the feeling that holidays are about being together, giggling and playing; renewing our commitments as a family — not just renewing the toy collection.

Last year my daughter decided to give her baby brother a special gift: the wooden rocking horse she received from Santa the year she turned two. This horse had seen better days. His mane was gone, and so was the handlebar. Yet for Brady, there could be no better present. Every other package under the tree lived in the shadow of this recycled toy.

Now suddenly this year he’s asking for a rocking cow. Apparently Christmas is about things that rock. I’m considering recycling his Halloween costume (moo) into a costume for the rocking horse, then tying it up with a big red bow.

But I saw the most adorable stuffed cow at All 4 Baby in Edgewater. It gently rocks its head from side to side and plays “Hey, Diddle Diddle.”

Then again, Brady loves chocolate milk. Perhaps I’ll order a case of his favorite from Horizon Organic Dairy Farm in Gambrills. It’s bound to come in a fun cardboard box, to boot.

I might stop by Paint’n Pottery in Huntingtown and paint a ceramic piggy bank to look like a cow. But I’m still searching for something that we can play together, something that brings his love of cows to the whole family.

In the end I’m off to Sentimental Fools in Deale. I’ll buy a few cow cookie cutters, tie them with red ribbon, and hang them on the tree. It may not be a show stopper like last year’s rocking horse, but it does hold the promise of fun and floury times ahead, baking yummy treats together. That’s what I want it to be all about.

P.S. What I really want … If you’re wondering what to get me, I think I found it at All 4 Baby as well: a bottle of Sleeptime Sam Aromatherapy Massage Oil for babies for those late nights when my little cow is still mooing at the moon. Like every toddler’s mom, what I’m missing most is sleep.

27 Adult Relatives
by Sonia Linebaugh

In our extended family, wrapped gifts are swapped in a “white-reindeer” take-and-take-again game at the annual holiday party. The gift can end up with any brother, sister, niece, nephew or significant other. Excluded are the five little ones of the next generation.

When we started this tradition, ages ranged from three to 39, and mugs with hot cocoa packets were a mainstay. Now all 27 are adults. That should make it easy. Hah!

Gifts have included tasteful bags of gourmet foods from places like Bayhill Accents or Fresh Fields; girlie lotions and bath soaps from Bed, Bath & Beyond or Alexander’s of Annapolis; frames from Michael’s with old family photos; clocks; small appliances; a tiny Swiss Army knife, extra-large T-shirts claiming “Oysters are habitat forming.” or “Bay Nightly” — all under $20.

But recently, certain members of the 30-something crowd have sprung surprises like a pro-wrestling doll that makes nasty comments when hit.

A few years ago, I was stuck with a cow. You know, a black-and-white plastic cow like the ones that roamed the Plasticville farms of long-ago Christmases — except bigger.

This cow, sold at Sneade’s Ace Hardware or Southern States, was a foot tall. Its claim to fame was a sensor that made it moo when anyone came into range.

As I thought of revenge, my husband took the darn thing to work. He set it up near a corridor filled with the offices of computer, um, experts. Satisfying shrieks and howls of laughter went on for a week before the cow came home. Then my daughter got hold of it and planted it at a certain state office in Annapolis. (Don’t try this post 9/11.) From there, it was kidnapped and went on a jolly chase around town, with Polaroid photos arriving daily to attest to its exploits. I heard a rumor that it was rescued by police and returned ceremoniously to that office.

I’m still plotting revenge. The trick is to balance the odds. Those in the ‘nice’ crowd deserve a ticket to Lights on the Bay at Sandy Point State Park; a $20 discount coupon for a pedicure at Hair Biz; a Maine lobster dinner at Pirates Cove; two bottles of sparkling cider from Bayhill Accents or a Dust Buster from Sneade’s.

But for the ‘naughty,’ Sneade’s had a lot more than talking animals. Picture a package of five Energizer Bunny squeeze-lights “soon to be a collector’s item”; a plastic bucket crammed with 12 heavy duty sponges; 2,500 feet of twine and a utility knife. I can make combos to add appeal: a baseball cap with a clip-on light; a plastic tool box filled with balloons, bird seed and four kinds of tape; five muffins in the shape of perch and the pan they were baked in.

I haven’t made up my mind, but I’m not opting out like some of the old fogies.

As for the cow, it eventually came home but was turned out to pasture and, for all you know, may be on its way to your Christmas party.

Brother Tim: 18
by Sarah Williams

Every Thanksgiving, my three siblings and I draw shreds of loose-leaf paper bearing each of our names. It’s the traditional Secret Santa gift exchange, started when we were too young to have bank accounts. Every year, we all want to have the youngest, Molly, who is by far the easiest to shop for.

Nobody wants to get my brother’s name. As the only boy, he’s the odd man out of the gift exchange. He’s done nothing to achieve this title except bear the unfortunate Y chromosome. We can’t buy him girlie things like fancy soaps or gift certificates to clothing shops or pretty pictures.

Every year for as long as I can remember, I have always drawn his name. This year is no different.

Tim has nearly completed his first semester at UMBC, yet his taste in gifts remains as it always has: computers and movies. He gets far too many gift certificates, and he already owns every movie he has ever remotely enjoyed. I’ve thought of buying him a fancy accessory for his snazzy new Dell computer, but I couldn’t tell the difference between a speaker and a hard drive.

Creativity is key when it comes to Tim. In the past, I have gotten him car accessories (to celebrate his new driver’s license), and movie tickets with popcorn. This year, I want to go all out, for I’ve missed him as he has been away at school.

I’ve considered buying him a session with The Maids to clean up his oh-so-tidy dorm room. I have even debated a cell phone, perhaps the Nokia special 5,000 minute plan, so he could call me from school. But both gifts far exceed my starving-student Christmas budget.

Treating him to a meal is a winner for Tim and for me, too. I get to spend quality time with my brother, and he avoids an unpleasant trip to his dining hall. I’ve decided on Snug Harbor Inn, so I can show him the part of the world I work in as a Bay Weekly intern. I like the sound of the name, and he should like the neighborhood pub atmosphere. He — generally a picky eater — is a huge steak and seafood person, and, well, this vegetarian will be quite content with a soup and house salad. Or maybe some sort of crab.

So I’ll have what I want for Christmas, too.

Commander Valerie A. Ormond, USN: Daughter, 41
by Flo Ormond

What do you give a daughter who doesn’t want to complicate her life with added packages to lug through airports but who likes pretty things, is sentimental and loves her Maryland heritage?

Not clothes, which take up suitcase space. Besides, Valerie is a Navy officer stationed aboard a ship homeported in San Diego. They tell her what to wear.

Maybe presents she’ll use during her week’s leave here. How about three meals at different local establishments spread out throughout the week? A favorite of hers, Happy Harbor in Deale for breakfast. For lunch, I’d treat her to a good crabcake sandwich at Mike’s Crabhouse up in Riva. We’d get a window seat where she can see the bridge and reminisce about the high school high jinx of a ritual jump off this bridge. For her Irish heritage and as reminder of a vacation trip to Ireland a few years ago with her brother, I’d treat them both to a dinner at Killarney House in Davidsonville.

Continuing to flip through Bay Weekly for inspiration, I found the perfect present: Cristi Pasquella, the portrait artist who specializes in horses and dogs. Valerie has just bought a horse, Chance, and she adores him.

My solution brings up memories of Christmas past. Valerie’s first horse, Abby, was a Christmas present from her father and me back when she was 14 years old. I wrapped all the tack and goodies she needed for a horse. When she realized that these presents added up to a horse, she was so excited that she passed out cold right under the Christmas tree. We introduced her to Abby later in the day.

For this year’s present, Valerie will have to take photos of Chance and mail the ones she likes to Cristi for the portrait. Everything will be done by mail — nothing to carry — and it will be a beautiful portrait done by a Maryland artist. Problem resolved.

I’ll also order a few plastic crab mallets from Z-Crab Knockers to put in her stocking. They’re light and will fit in her luggage without being a security risk at the airports.

P.S. What I really want … I don’t think to tell people what I want for Christmas. If they ask, I’m usually hesitant to say because it might be too difficult to get or too expensive to suggest. But this year I’m telling anyone who will listen that I want a signed copy of Marion and Mame Warren’s book, Bringing Back the Bay.

Husband Phil: 51
by Nancy Hoffman

My husband, Phil, and I don’t have any children. So we don’t have to worry about paying for braces or saving for college. Phil thinks that means he can buy anything he wants whenever he wants it.

His tastes aren’t extravagant; he goes for simple things like new running shoes, cowboy boots or a computer upgrade.

I, on the other hand, save things that I would like for Christmas, dropping hints to Phil as the season nears so he can think he came up with some wonderful gift ideas. Phil has no such self-control, which means that when the holidays roll around, he doesn’t want or need anything.

In his work as a sports photographer, he wears jeans and T-shirts. He certainly doesn’t need a suit or a new tie.

What about photography equipment? No way. It’s too technical; I’d never be able to figure it out.

Maybe I’ll make appointments for him at the dentist, the internist and the optometrist. I did that a few years ago, but it wasn’t Phil’s most enjoyable Christmas.

He complains that we’re both too busy to cook. I could order some dinners from Omaha Steaks, but he has to watch his weight. I’m actually doing him a favor by not cooking a big dinner.

Phil has two horses, but I can’t think of anything he might need for them. He’s always spoiling them with treats from Southern States Farm Supply. And he already has every book ever written on horse care.

I could give him a gift certificate to Sneade’s Ace Home Center. I’ve been wanting him to hang another towel rack, replace the shower head and fix the broken shutter. I have to be honest, though; that would really be a gift for me.

Phil is the Baltimore Ravens’ team photographer, and he travels with the team to away games. There’s a lot of downtime during the trips, and he’s mentioned that he’s been looking for a pair of headphones to plug into his laptop so that he can listen to music or watch a DVD during the flight.

I find a pair in Best Buy. Hopefully, he won’t buy himself the headphones before Christmas gets here.

P.S. What I really want … Okay, I confess. I feed the wild birds year round. When the woods were plowed under, the birds lost their homes and their food source.

Then came the drought and I put out water. But it was only in a rubber pan that I had sitting in the garage. Now I’m hooked. I love watching them splash in the water or quickly dip their beaks for a drink.

So forget the watch I mentioned and the new pair of boots. What I really want is a birdbath from Early Birds. I need a de-icer too; it’s winter.

Brother Don, 42
by Betsy Kehne

My brother is a tough chestnut to crack. He owns very little, and he doesn’t want any more than he owns. However, he has a weakness for Japanese anime.

He says good anime offers messages that delve deeper than the sterile lessons of love and morality regurgitated in big-budget American animation.

If my brother were younger, I’d consider giving him a DVD or video of My Neighbor Totoro or Kiki’s Delivery Service. Or Ranma 1/2, the comic series about a boy cursed to change into a girl whenever he gets wet, and his father, who becomes a giant panda.

But my brother is an adult, and an introspective one at that, so maybe he’ll prefer dark and deep. Perhaps he’d like an end-of-the-world scenario, exploring battles between good and evil, technology and humanity, like in Evangelion. Cowboy Bebop is a jazz-laced detective story in which the hip heroes are bounty hunters not far from being criminals themselves.

The first place I’ll hunt for anime is in a comic bookstore, like Alliance Comics in Bowie’s Hilltop Plaza. If I can’t find it there, I’d try Right Stuf at Big chain stores like Barnes & Noble or Borders carry a small selection, but I won’t expect much …

Don’s Rejoinder
Betsy, if I were buying it would be easy. I’d get myself anything by Sierra Madre Games (

In this age of Xbox and Gameboy, you’d think board-game design would have been tossed in the back of our cultural closets alongside those moldering Parcheesi and Trivial Pursuit boxes. But you’d be wrong. Board games are alive and well, thanks to a recent flourishing of small game publishers.

Like most of its peers, Sierra Madre Games of Tuscon, Arizona, has carved out a narrow but successful niche by focusing on a few well-crafted, home-grown games — in this case, most are the brainchildren of owner Phil Eklund — offered up at a price as attractive as their design: usually less than $20. To top it off, purchases come with a hand-written thank you note from the man himself.

You’d find nothing for the squeamish. Most of the designs draw heavily on turbulent periods of history as well as the grimmer aspects of natural and physical science. The games often boast a brash edge. For instance, in the highly acclaimed “Lords of the Sierra Madre” — a free-for-all of empire-building set in the Southwest of the early 1900s — greed, cunning, and ruthlessness are prime requisites for winning. Or in “Insecta,” an unabashed “survival of the fittest” Darwinian slug fest, players are dealt an evolutionary “tool kit” of specialized body parts to make a mutant bug they think is most capable of scrapping (or skeedaddling) its way out of a competitor-infested hive.

SMG games are not for the meek, the young or the leisure-time challenged. Even so, I’d never turn down a gift of a SMG game. If I don’t have time to play (or more likely, can’t find anyone else to play) I still find it satisfying to look them over. I’ll lay out the game pieces on the table, review the rules, then sit back and ponder the thought behind them — and what new wicked good fun that mind might come up with next.

Parents Falcon: 60
by April Falcon Doss

What do I get for the folks who have everything, and who’ve spent a lifetime providing for me? My parents stump me every year.

Dad’s becoming a bit of an old salt, so a maritime theme is always an option: Just about any boat store in Annapolis is fair game. But this is Christmas, and he isn’t likely to get much playtime with boating accessories between now and spring. A lifetime supply of Starbucks espresso might be nice, but how much coffee can one man drink? Ditto for a trunkload of barbecue from Pasadena’s Beefalo Bob’s or The Canopy.

Mom’s just as tricky in her own way. I could pick up a spa gift certificate for Alexander’s of Annapolis; any woman could use some pampering, I always figure. But she already looks a decade younger than her years. I could get them both a gift certificate for dinner at Rivera’s Mexican Café in Severna Park, home of the best veggie burrito around. But they can probably manage to get dinner on their own. I could send them to Chesapeake Arts Center in Brooklyn Park for a show: A Christmas Carol maybe, or one of Do or Die Production‘s interactive murder mysteries. But how would I know what their schedule is and which tickets to pick for them?

The problem is quite simple: money can’t possibly buy a thing that would show how much I adore them — and there’s not much that they need. Stumped again, I’ll return to my favorite, best source of intriguing gifts for parents and other one-of-a-kinders on my list: the Maryland League of Craftsmen store in downtown Annapolis, chock-full of finds from $1,000 watercolors to $10 chachkis and everything in between, all made by local artists and artisans. Hand-carved wooden bowls and clocks; hand-dyed and painted silk scarves; exquisite jewelry; whimsical delights. It’s all there, and in such a range of prices that I’ve never failed yet to find a perfect gift (for Valentine’s Day, birthdays, a boss’s retirement — you name it) in whatever price range suited the occasion’s budget.

P.S. What I really want … In between “Mommy, bring me,” “Honey, where is?” “Mommy can you?” and the baby’s all-purpose “Mama!” who has time to think about things like that? I fantasize about going to the potty by myself.

So what do I really want for Christmas? Nirvana. Doesn’t that sound nice? It’s a facial-and-massage package from Alexander’s of Annapolis Salon and Day Spa. Or give me Radiance: facial, massage, manicure and lunch. Just give me a few hours solitude in Nirvana and a chance to go to the potty by myself. Then I’ll be ready to head back, refreshed, to the heaven waiting for me at home.

Marilyn Lehman: 68
by Martha Blume

My mother-in-law has a home full of everything a person could want or need, including plenty of love to go around to all who pass through her front door. Her tastes are fine, so I would not attempt to add to her wardrobe. Her kitchen is filled with gadgets in drawers within drawers. From recent travels to Scandinavia, Japan, India, Portugal, Australia, Ireland and England, she has returned with trinkets and treasures beyond what the shores of the Chesapeake Bay offer. With her busy lifestyle, she has little time to read the latest bestseller; to her, real people are much more interesting than people in books, anyway. She loves to eat but is a gourmet cook; what could I buy for her that she couldn’t do a better job of making herself?

I think she would agree that the best gifts involve love, family and fellowship, so this Christmas I’ll give her a gift crafted through those three channels. I’ll give her a gift of Mammy’s mincemeat.

My Mammy — my paternal grandmother — used to make her own mincemeat for pies. Not the candied fruit stuff but the real thing with lots of beef and pork, whiskey and a “little wine.” She and my dad would can it in Mason jars and pass it around to all the family, and we’d make pies with it on Thanksgiving and Christmas. In 1999, both Mammy and Dad died. I used the last of her mincemeat last year for Thanksgiving. Emptying that last jar was like losing Mammy all over again.

My mother, my sister and I all have her recipe but haven’t made it (though I attempted it once by cutting it to one-quarter proportions with little success). So this Thanksgiving, we three ladies, who often mince words in each other’s company, got together and made Mammy’s mincemeat. We guessed a little, we laughed a lot, we tasted and we came out with a pretty good product. We also had the joy of doing something creative together and a wonderful afternoon of memories.

There were 10 quarts when we were done, enough to provide us with holiday pies for several years — plus one quart for my mother-in-law, who has everything but who can always use a little more love, handed down through three generations.

P.S. What I really want … Every day I send my two children off to a good school, with walls and a ceiling and working bathrooms and enough books and paper and pencils, food in their bellies, love in their hearts, healthy bodies and minds that are free from fear so that they are able to learn. I wish for every child a good education, freedom from fear, for good health, a roof over their heads and someone to hug them every night when they go to bed with full bellies and warm hearts.

Father, 88
by Carol Pierini Woller

Time together is what we really want. But with a gift list spanning three generations, seven towns and multiple interests, how to give the gift of time? I choose gifts that bring a special camaraderie.

My 88-year-old father is happily living in Southern California, the land of sunshine and perfect weather. He doesn’t need clothing. He has all of the books that he wants and he cooks up a storm for all of his friends.

What he doesn’t have is youth. His doctor tells him that he should walk more. He thinks he walks a lot. What Dad needs is a pedometer to let him know how much he is actually walking. This in itself is not enough to make him walk. But if I get a pedometer as well, I can talk to him daily via e-mail or telephone and share my own walking results. I think this gift will allow us to share some time together even though we are on different coasts.

P.S. What I really want … is a new camera bag so that I can take my camera everywhere to capture all of the moments of the time that I am going to spend with my family throughout the next year.

by Sandra Martin

I’m not very good at gift-giving. No. I haven’t said that right.

I love giving gifts. I get a deep, smug thrill when the gift-receiver is thrilled, too. Like when I gave my mother a sturdy rope-and-wood hammock. It was just what she wanted, and she used it so often that eventually I had to replace it, which solved my problem on another Christmas. There’s a period when many of my finest memories have her and her dogs or my kids in that hammock. I’m still thankful that when Christmas came, I remembered how one summer day she’d wistfully wished for a hammock.

What I’m not very good at is imagining the right gifts to thrill the people I love. I’ve finally figured out why, and it has to do with why I’m just as difficult a gift-receiver as I am giver. It’s because I only want things I want. Be it a new stove or a bottle of dish soap, a thing has got to win my heart — or tickle my fancy — before I want it.

Which leads to my problem in choosing gifts. The things that I go for seem very likely to leave others cold. Countering that brilliantly successful hammock is a long list of absolutely wrong gifts I’ve chosen for friends, family and parents. When they opened up their presents, they were shocked, sad or indifferent and I was sad, and that’s why I dread the gift-giving part of Christmas.

So here it is, mid-December, and I have no idea what to give to my sons and daughters-in-law and sister-in-law and grandchildren. (My husband’s taken care of: He just went out and bought his present for the next five Christmases.)

P.S. What I really want … Sons, daughters-in-law, sister-in-law and grandchildren: I want your Christmas list. Please get it to me soon, and make sure to give me lots of choices. (And not just the big-ticket items; husband Bill has spent most of our money.)

Copyright 2002
Bay Weekly