Volume XI, Issue 50 ~ December 11-17, 2003

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11th Hour Inspiration | Bay Life

11th Hour Inspiration
Bay Weekly’s Annual Guide to Last-Minute Gift Ideas You Can Steal

The clock’s struck the 11th hour, and if you still haven’t found, made or bought the right gift for every person on your holiday list, you may need inspiration. Again this year, inspiration arrives in the nick of time, as Bay Weekly writers share the creative solutions they’ve devised for friends and family.

Sit down with a cup of hot spiced cider and enjoy their stories. Then, if inspiration doesn’t strike, try prayers, candles, incantations — or a trip to your favorite Bay area store.

High School Senior Girls — and Middle-Schoolers, Too
by Ariel Brumbaugh
There are approximately 200 students in my class graduating in 2004. About half of those students are girls, and about one-quarter of those are friends I wish to exchange Christmas gifts with this year. Lucky for me, I am a teenage girl and know exactly what every 17-year-old girl wants this holiday season.

Mine is not the problem of finding a gift but avoiding going broke.

About half of my spending money comes from generous donations from my loving family; the other half comes from odd jobs around the neighborhood. After dividing my holiday spending money between family and friends outside of school, I am left with a measly five bucks to split amongst my classmates.

I’d love to give each friend a shirt from Abercrombie and Fitch or American Eagle, but at $30 a shirt, I’ll have to think of another idea.

One year I went to Target and bought soap, bath salts, lotion and makeup and made little baskets.

This year I could make cookies and put them in a little bag or even buy candies and wrap them. But most girls are trying to limit their sugar intake, so that idea goes on the back burner. I could make soap bars and put herbs or fruit in them, but how many of my friends would actually use the soap? Sounds better to eat than to clean with.

Suddenly it hits me: something all girls need and want for the winter season: something I can make that is useful, fun and especially cheap: scarves.

At Joann Fabrics in Annapolis, I picked out several different fleece patterns, all bright colors and fun patterns: snowflakes, clouds, hearts, stripes and diamonds. I purchased half a yard of each for about four dollars, figuring half a yard would make two scarves.

After cutting them in half, long ways, the fun begins. If you pinch the top of the fringe with one hand and with the other gently pull down the fringe, when you let go it will curl like ribbon.

If I have time, I can personalize the scarves with diamonds or letters for names or initials. I can bead the ends or cut out handprints or other designs. My sister can help me, and we can make some for her friends, too.

20-Something Adventurers
by James Clemenko
Many families have one of these — a family member who gets bored easily, thirsting for adventure and believing she or he can handle anything. In my family, it’s my brother Andy.

Andy and I have backpacked through Europe, and together we play ice hockey, mountain bike and do other activities requiring courage, strength and skill. As a resourceful, clever, determined and stubborn person, he’s been able to acquire the means to continue his pursuits.

The key adjective is stubborn. Buying him a gift is tricky, because if he doesn’t like it, it’s going to get returned. So, what to get him for Christmas?

A couple of years ago, the light bulb in my head lit up. I would get him something he would not be able to return, something that would satisfy his adventurous personality and might very well scare the living daylights out of him.

I ordered for him and myself a weekend trip to West Virginia to go whitewater rafting on the Gauley River’s upper section, which offers world-class rapids. As he had never rafted before, this would be up his alley.

I ordered the rafting package through a reputable outfitter that I had used on previous trips in West Virginia: North American River Runners.

The Gauley River can only be rafted during a six-week window in autumn when the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers releases water from the Summersville Dam. When the time came, we packed our tents, sleeping bags and other gear and headed west. The head guide set the tone for the day when he exclaimed, “I see 39 people on this bus and 80 swimmers. Some of you are going in the water more than once.” He wasn’t kidding.

We were thrashed, jostled and dumped the entire six-hour journey down river. By the smile on my brother’s face, I had hit pay dirt. It was one Christmas gift that he would never forget. And to this day, he’s hooked on rafting.

Son: 32
by Sandra Martin and Bill Lambrecht
Even when children are grown, parents want so much for them that few gifts hit the nail on the head. We want the world for them, but even were it in our power, we’d not give it to them, for we know they have to set it spinning for themselves. Health and happiness are also out of our hands, and as for loving partners, they’ve found each other. Just as far off target are sweaters, sound systems and sweat suits.

So when he says he’d like to come home for the holidays … but money’s tight, our last Frequent Flier certificate goes Priority Mail to the West Coast.

Now everybody will have what they want for Christmas.

Girlfriend: 35
by Louis Llovio
The most difficult person to buy a gift for on my list is the person who has gone from dropping subtle hints to outright asking. My girlfriend wants an engagement ring.

Many wonder, including myself, why she would want to marry me. And after reading this, she might change her mind.

I once made the mistake of telling her to choose a date and then let me know where and when to show up. I said that with a smile and a wink.

She chose November 14, 2004.

So this Christmas, I’m in an awkward position.

If she sees a box from a jewelry store or a receipt, guess what she’s going to expect.

So I daren’t shop at W.R. Chance Jewelers for a nice bracelet or a set of earrings. The Hope Diamond, unless set as an engagement ring, wouldn’t get me out of this mess.

The dilemma is that I have to find something that will show her I love her without getting her hopes too high.

Candles are a gift for the first six months of the relationship, and a gift certificate to Alexander’s is great, but I don’t think it will do in this situation.

The way I see it, I’m left with two choices: I can go ahead and buy her the ring or I can just buy her a really nice sweater.

I’ll get her an extra large; that way it’s sure to fit.

See, I knew I’d think of something.

Brother: 43
by Vivian I. Zumstein
Brothers are hard to buy gifts for. Distance (me in Bay Country; brother Peter in Seattle) compounds the problem.

Clothes are out. Peter either doesn’t like my gift or wears it all the time for years. I once gave him a pair of shorts; threadbare only begins to capture their current disreputable condition, yet he still wears them. A shopping success for me is a fashion nightmare for my sister-in-law.

I gave Peter a Starbuck’s gift card one year. That worked until he gave me one. I can’t give him the same thing he gives me. Brothers can be forgiven for zero imagination. Sisters must give by higher standards.

At wit’s end, I wandered into Sports Card Fantasy in the Country Plaza along Route 4 in Dunkirk. The glass cases displaying sports cards evoked deep memories of sitting with Peter when we were kids, our Topps baseball cards spread before us as we disputed who was better, Roberto Clemente or Frank Robinson. An admitted tomboy, I had a collection rivalling Peter’s. We sorted the cards by teams, wrapped them with rubber bands and put them in shoeboxes that we tucked under our beds.

Both our collections went up in flames in a house fire in 1977. We often wonder how much our shoeboxes would be worth today. After some years, Peter resumed his collection.

Many old cards that we had then appear at Sports Card Fantasy today. The names from our youth are there: Jim Palmer, Pete Rose, Willie Stargell, Carl Yazstremski, Nolan Ryan, Brooks Robinson, all treasures from someone else’s shoebox.

Rubber bands are gone. The precious relics now sit protected in special hard-plastic cases. That’s not the only change. We paid a dime for a pack of 10 cards and a tough piece of bubblegum. Packs of new cards remain reasonable, but the price tag for a 30- or 40-year-old card ranges from $20 to well over $100.

Still, it’s easy for me to shop here. I know my brother’s favorite players. Collectors especially covet rookie cards. For Christmas I got Peter a rookie card of Billy Williams, his hero. Cost: $40. My brother will drool, and my sister-in-law will be relieved.

Wife: 40
by Gary Pendleton
My wife Karyn gives me more credit than I deserve. That’s true at least in regard to gift-giving, and it may be true in regard to a couple of other aspects of our relationship — though I won’t go as far as saying that it is completely true in all aspects. Her high estimation might have something to do with the fact that she feels fairly clueless about what to give me. That could be my fault, although it might not be my fault completely.

I’m pretty easy going. Well, I like to think I am. As for getting gifts, I don’t expect anything, but if I think I am going to get something, then — and this is Karyn’s assertion — I become hard to please. I’m picky, I guess, at least according to her. So she doesn’t like to buy me stuff, especially clothes.

So I take the pressure off by telling her I don’t expect anything.

She thinks I am a good gift giver because on three or four occasions I have surprised her with nice gifts. Not expensive gifts but thoughtful ones she wasn’t expecting: a book about Emily Dickinson, a Swiss Army knife to replace the one she lost, a couple others that I can’t remember.

Most guys will understand that if you give a Swiss Army knife and get credit for giving a really nice gift, then you are not dealing with someone who poses a difficult challenge.

The secret to my method is just a little bit of organization. If, any time during the year, I think of something she would like to get, I write it down. Sometimes she helps by telling me what she wants without even knowing that is what she is doing. The key is noticing and writing it down.

Karyn’s birthday is December 8. This actually works in my favor, because all I need to think of is one decent gift, which I give her for her birthday. Inevitably we come up with something we need for the house that we buy as a Christmas present for each other. At Christmas I might buy her some chocolates, a good bottle of wine, maybe a turtleneck; she always needs turtlenecks. If I top it off by cooking a nice dinner, she thinks I am terrific.

This year I got her a sweatshirt. She is finishing up her Masters at Johns Hopkins. A couple of semesters ago, I suggested that she get a Johns Hopkins sweatshirt, but at the time they seemed too expensive at $45. Now, with her graduation, her birthday and Christmas all pending, the timing is perfect.

I generally try to patronize local merchants, but when that is not an option I turn to the Web. I found a place with lots of Hopkins merchandise on-line and had it shipped to a friend’s house. It is sitting in my closet now, practically in plain sight. She has no idea.

Husband: 52
by Nancy Hoffmann
I tend to give Phil useful gifts, the sorts of things he would never buy for himself but that he really needs, such as underwear, socks, gloves or a hat.

He’ll start complaining that he needs some mundane item, but I know that he won’t go shopping to find it for himself. In contrast, when it comes to a big purchase that requires hours and hours of research on the Internet, Phil is definitely up to the task.

This year, Phil’s big annoyance is his boots. We live on a horse farm and spend our days in boots. Don’t worry: Phil has lots of boots. Hiking boots, riding boots, paddock boots. The problem is that they all lace up.

On a farm, you’d better take your boots off outside or you’ll have a house full of mud and manure.

Maybe Phil should have been an efficiency expert. He keeps telling me how much time he wastes lacing and unlacing his boots every time he enters or exits the house. His first response to this tremendous drain on his valuable time was to leave his boots loosely tied so that he could slip in and out of them. That worked until mud sucked the boots off his feet as he was leading a horse across the pasture. Suddenly, his boots were two steps behind, and he was in his socks standing in the muck.

Now Phil leaves his boots on when he comes inside.

To preserve the cleanliness of our house, I head to Carol’s Western Wear in Glen Burnie. I examine the boots that pull on and zip up. “Nothing with laces,” I tell the saleswoman.

I’ve hidden the waterproof pull on-work boots in my closet, but I don’t know if I can wait until Christmas to give them to Phil.

Husband: 60
by Maureen Miller
My husband’s an artist. So you’d think he’d like colors. At least that’s what my mom thought. She gave him a beach robe — a rainbow of brilliant colors — at our first Christmas together. He was horrified and quickly exchanged it for — what she and I considered to be — a drab blue shirt.

In the years since, I learned that his selection of colors in clothing is far different than mine. So shirts, ties, slacks, socks and even underwear were crossed off the list of gift ideas for this man. Instead, I fell back on my favorite old standby — books. Browsing the Mitchell, McBride and Main Street galleries, I went in search of art book advice. Religiously, I browsed through Barnes & Nobles, Walden Books and Art Things, snapping up books on artists, art methods, art history and art exhibitions.

However, 10 years later, with our bookshelves groaning and me feeling his waning excitement over my no longer imaginative gifts, I figured it was time to move on.

My husband has a culinary side, too. So for the next few years I took advantage of this part of his personality. Searching for every unique kitchen gadget and widget found me frequenting stores from Crate and Barrel to Stevens Hardware. Quickly my gifts began to fill our kitchen cabinets, cupboards and drawers, until now they too are groaning. Again I have begun to feel a forced excitement as my man holds my wrapped gift in his hands, trying to guess what crazy implement I’ve discovered this time.

The dilemma of choosing his gift for this year began early. And in January 2003, with a visit to Hope Town, Abacos, an idea was born. Upon arriving, I watched my husband’s eyes light up as he viewed the colorful houses, lighthouse and ever-changing sky and sea.

Guess where we’re spending Christmas this year …

Mother, 83
by Steve Carr
My dad passed away on the Navy Golf Course right after Christmas a few years back, so now it’s just me and Mom. She turned 83 the other day, but she is still the Energizer Bunny on full charge.

Every Christmas is like falling through a trap door when it comes to buying presents for Mom. What do you get for a lady who has closets filled with clothes and a house that resembles a museum? She used to golf until her second hip replacement. Since then, she has had to steer clear of outdoor activities that might end in a fall.

A few years back my mother started collecting little decorative frogs, which she placed all around our kitchen. For the last few years I have been able to find a holiday frog to her liking.The problem is, my mom has a lot of friends who had the same idea. At this point, the kitchen is crawling with frogs: glass frogs, frogs made out of coal, Navajo fetish frogs. I’m all frogged out. A few months back, Mom announced to friends and family, “No more frogs.”

I welcome some relief from the Wonderful World of Frogs, but now what to get Mom for Christmas this year?

My mother, a life member at the Annapolis Yacht Club, loves to take her friends down to the club to watch the Wednesday Night Races from the Skipjack Room and grab a bite to eat.

Mom came back from the club the other night and said with a note of sadness that she might have to resign because of the rising dues. And on that unhappy note, my Christmas worries were over.

On Christmas morning there will be a gift wrapped check to pay her Yacht Club dues. That will make her day (and year) — and leave all kinds of room under the tree for my presents.

The Generations
by M.L. Faunce
I’ve developed a standard gift at Christmas when ideas fail and family members insist, “I really don’t need anything …”

In my black-and-white days (of photography), I often took portraits of my nieces and nephews. Through their early years, I recorded the thriving images: kids climbing fences, surfacing dripping wet from the pool, ambling along a wooded path, lost in thought. The monochromatic tones reduced their likenesses to their purest essence, recording the exuberance of young life at play and rest. I’d develop the film, enlarge and print the photographs and seal them on studio-style black bordered boxes. The timeless photos always seemed to delight my family.

One year, at a loss for a gift for my dad, I resurrected several old reels of brittle 16-millimeter movie film taken of us as kids: riding bikes through the alley of our D.C. neighborhood, swimming in the Crystal Pool at Glen Echo Amusement Park, Christmas morning 1948. That Christmas, a stunningly handsome young couple — my parents — gathered us in front of the tree perched atop a stand covered by brick crepe paper. An HO-scale Lionel train, the locomotive puffing steam, made laps around a perfect village scene.

I spliced the film and took it to a photo shop for transfer to videotape. A music soundtrack was offered, and for some reason I chose ’50s’ tunes over the swing music suggested. The video delighted my parents, who had not viewed the film in years.

My parents are absent now from family Christmases, but grandchildren and great-grandchildren they never knew can now watch their parents and grandparents put the finishing touches on a Christmas long ago.

The gift that keeps on giving can take many forms. While some planning is necessary, if you dig into drawers or attic, you just might find a forgotten image that’s priceless except for the cost of a new frame or format.

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© COPYRIGHT 2003 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.
Last updated December 11, 2003 @ 1:08am.