NBT's 11th-Hour Gift Guide
Shopping Solutions for the Stumpers on Your List

The gifts you still haven't tackled go to the toughest people on your list, right? We feel your panic. To see you through your 11th-hour holiday shopping, the NBT family share their strategies for turning problems into successes. From the mother-in-law to the family dog, not a puzzler on the list stumped these creative shoppers. For inspiration, read on ...

Niece Sage: 5 3/4
by Kathy Flaherty

For each of the past five Christmases, I have been overrun with ideas for my niece, Sage. I've actually had to choose among all the wonderful options.

This year, I was almost as perplexed at the concept of lack of ideas as at my actual lack of ideas for her. Turning six in February, she is at a strange stage: too young for many games and crafts, too old for pre-school items.

What's more, a new baby brother entered the scene in March, so small parts are now a concern. Just about everything on the market for children over three has small parts.

Clothes are always a standby. But Aunt Kathy and Uncle Kevin have a reputation for fun to uphold.

A trip to the fantastic Be-Beep, A Toy Store, in the Festival at Riva is in order. A kid-friendly store with a wooden town set up in the back, Be-Beep offers many good suggestions. There are wonderful games, like Where The Wild Things Are, which reminds me of my own childhood. Craft kits and things to do abound. A Make a Mask Kit, complete with an idea book and gauze to plaster, catches my eye. I love it all, but what's right for 5 3/4?

New to the Internet, I look to see what everyone is talking about. My searches on etoys.com, kbkids.com and ToysRUS.com help a bit, but they are ultimately disappointing.

Meanwhile, I've chosen a few small gifts: a zoo gin rummy game and a glittery sequined dance top (I know: sequins are small parts). But I'm still searching for the pièce de résistance.

How about a Wallace and Gromit video set, a co-worker suggests. This is an award-winning BBC claymation series of a man, his dog and their adventures. In one episode, they build a spaceship and travel to the moon. Another details their attempts at efficiency as they build trousers to take Gromit for his walk while Wallace sleeps late. I love Wallace and Gromit! This is perfect. Aunt Kathy and Uncle Kevin score again.


Daughters Sarah and Mary: 9 & 11
by Sharon Brewer

For my personal Christmas gift for my two daughters this year, I wanted to spend no more than $25 each.

Sarah, 11, is an active child with varied interests. She is artistic, likes animals and loves to play soccer. She plays the violin and piano. She takes pride in her appearance and enjoys new clothes and accessories.

Mary, 9, is active, too. She makes a great soccer goalie but also likes to write and read poetry. She loves to make money, has a real sweet tooth and a passion for baking. She combines all three in her own cookie business.

The girls share many interests, too, such as their love of nature, camping, acting and singing.

I prefer to shop locally, so I began by checking out the snow sleds at Sneade's Ace Home Center. Maybe a saucer for each girl or a combined gift of a new Flexible Flyer for the great sledding hill nearby?

For Mary, I also considered a nice gift of chocolates from the Chocolate Box in Edgewater. Or maybe a bird feeder. Early Birds, in West River, has many to choose from. Mary could hang it outside her bedroom window.

Sarah always likes to try the testers when we visit Sentimental Fools in Deale. She would enjoy a selection of lotions and bath goodies.

As I browsed the internet, I checked out an organization we support in Maine, where we visit each year. They, too, had gift ideas.

My choices: For Mary, a selection of cookie cutters and an apron from Sentimental Fools. For Sarah, a gift certificate to Shear Perfection in Chesapeake Beach for a brand-new Y2K haircut. Plus a Cobscook Bay Trails cap for each.

Merry Christmas!


Son Alexander 14:
by Bebe Murry

I'm the parent of a tween: one of 27 million children between the ages 8 and 14. Tweens influence the spending of over $128 billion on purchases ranging from sodas to the family vehicle.

Last year, my son Alexander's wish list included Nintendo 64. My comparison shopping led me to Best Buy. It was a sight to behold: One lone salesman surrounded by no less than five anxious parents with questions flying. Do I need an RF switch? What is a rumble pack? Are games extra? My first car cost about as much as this investment was adding up to. His first car may, technically speaking, be an easier purchase.

For Christmas 1999, I returned to his wish list. It seemed the safest way, when I haven't done much lately that seems 'cool' in his eyes.

That list: a 12-volt cordless drill, a wet-dry shop vac; new roller blades; a Polaroid camera that takes miniature sticker pictures plus a large supply of film; a portable CD stereo system.

Since his foot size will likely change before spring, roller blades don't seem right. A stereo system could mean loud music drifting from his room at all hours. I fear a flooded laundry room just to test the shop vac, but the vac could come in handy to clean his room. That leaves the cordless drill and Polaroid camera, which will probably come within my budget of $250.

As in years past, I look forward to my reward on Christmas night, when he flashes that grand smile and says, "Mom, this has been the best Christmas ever."


Grandkids: Girl 14, Boy 5
by Carol Glover

My granddaughter Lindsey is 14 going on 20 - and sometimes 14 going on 4. She's a terrific teen, vacillating between independence and sophistication.

Grandpa and I like to surprise her with unusual things at Christmas, which is getting harder and harder to do. She loves clothes, but only the ones she picks outs. She will receive plenty of CDs and make-up.

She's been brought up around the water, the Patuxent River and Chesapeake Bay. We hope to nourish her love for nature. Our first stop, the Calvert Marine Museum store, is chock-full of unusual gifts all about Chesapeake Country.

"Chesapeake Bay Glass Jewelry, transformed by nature, reclaimed by you" is jewelry made by a former resident of Calvert County. While walking the beaches near Solomons, she gathered pieces of broken glass, one of which she brought into the museum thinking she had found an artifact. In a way it was. It was a broken shard from an old Noxema bottle. Cleaning up glass to make something beautiful - jewelry - became her hobby. So we learned from Becky Dennee, the assistant manager at the store.

The gold and silver necklaces, bracelets and earrings, with glass pieces in colors such as blue, red, green and amber, range in price from $19.95 to $70.

The museum store is filled with other wonderful gifts, some of them for active youngsters like our 5-year-old grandson Jonathon, the whirling dervish. We looked at hand puppets of animals, bugs, lizards and owls for $5.95, and an otter puppet in keeping with the museum's live otter display for $29.95. We were fascinated with the Triassic Triops kit. It contains eggs that, when put in water, hatch into a two-inch organism that looks like a horseshoe crab ($9.45).

Jon's really into sharks from walking Calvert beaches, so Eye Witness ($13.95) caught our eye. The youngster molds, then paints the body and tooth of a shark. There's also an Expedition Kit for $14.95, with the child becoming an archaeologist to recover a five-inch great white shark's tooth from a bed of sediment.

With lots of ideas in mind, we traveled north to Prince Frederick. Our first stop was Main Street Gallery. Among beautiful objects $25 and up - blown-glass ornaments, angels of handmade glass with woven metal wings - I fell in love with a Magic Box made by owner Nancy Collery. Heart shaped with magenta and blue leaves and bats, it's just the thing to store teen-age treasures. Its cost: $25.

Our choices: For Lindsey, silver earrings with blue glass from the Calvert Marine Museum store and the Magic Box from Main Street Gallery. For Jonathon, Eye Witness.


Cousin Meredith: 16
by Russ Pellicot

It's easy for people who are a year apart and members of the same family to find great gifts for each other, right? Not when I'm shopping for my 16-year-old cousin, Meredith.

I try to keep up with the times, and I'd have no problem finding gifts to please teen-age males. But a girl is tough.

From television commercials, you'd think the only thing to buy a person of the female persuasion is jewelry, preferably diamond laden. That's all well and good, until I remember that I'm 17 years old and haven't worked a full week since August. Also, don't forget that the recipient of the gift is my cousin, and giving diamond jewelry to one's cousin is usually reserved for the inhabitants of other states that shall remain nameless.

Thumbing through my New Bay Times, I hit upon a potentially excellent gift for my cousin. I thought of giving her a gift certificate to a place like Alexander's of Annapolis for a "revitalizing exfoliation" or something trendy like that. Pondering this idea further, I decided against it. The implication that she needs services such as these might not go over too well at Grandma's on Christmas. The final blow to what seemed such a good idea was once again the issue of price. While day spas such as Alexander's offer services I've heard great things about, they do not offer them cheaply.

My cousin is interested in water sports, like skiing and boating, but she already has a boat and all the gear necessary to enjoy it.

At this point in my search I changed my angle of attack. I asked myself 'What would I want if I were in her place?'

I'd want things to trick out my car, but I was shopping for a girl so gifts of auto parts would likely be underappreciated.

What I finally decided on is something she wouldn't ordinarily buy for herself but would probably like. I braved the Annapolis Mall mob to find a brightly colored, stylish Hawaiian shirt. I thought of how well it would fit in on a day at the beach or on the water, where my cousin does many of the things she enjoys.

I love to wear Hawaiian shirts, and far be it from me to deny another person the same pleasure.


Cousin Kate Marie: 23
by Mary Catherine Ball

I'm making a list,

Checking it twice.

Gonna find out

Which gift has the lowest price.

Mary Catherine is shopping around.

To my delight, the Christmas season is here. Unfortunately, it blindsided me.

This year is going to be special. I am giving my family an all-sale, no-retail Christmas. If it's below $20, it's aplenty.

My 23-year-old cousin Kate Marie is at the top of the list. Too bad bars don't give gift certificates.

Oh well. Like a good cousin, I plan to take her wants into consideration - then buy what I want to buy.

First item: bed. Bed? Believe me, I love my cousin, and I love to shop at Futons, Furniture & More. But my job in journalism gives me thrills, in-depth interviews, uncovered secrets, not a bankroll. So nix the bed.

Second item: Victoria's Secret cologne, Encounter. I don't know about you, but every time I shop at Victoria's Secret I encounter a hefty credit card bill at the end of the month. The size of the bill outweighs the size of my Christmas spirit. A big no to the second item.

Third item: Bath & Body Works, Peach lotion. Come on, you say. Peach lotion is only $10. How can you complain about that? Well, did you know that there is a Peach body cream and a Peach skin lotion? Kate Marie usually purchases the body cream, but the list says lotion. Which one does she really want? If I buy the wrong one... Let's just move on.

Fourth item: Not on my cousin's list but something that will come in handy: red pens. Kate is a teacher. Hey, remember all those red marks on your elementary school handwriting papers? Just holding the pens in my hand is making me see red. And now my cousin will be the keeper of the 'X': 'Sorry little Mary Catherine, wrong answer.' No, I cannot. Next.

Fifth item: Also not on my cousin's list, but something that I can afford: Nothing. I won't have to fight mall traffic or mall shoppers or mall lines. Just think of those American Express commercials. Cologne: $50. Lotion: $10. A cousin's love: Priceless. No, even she wouldn't buy that. Better go to number six.

Sixth item: Still not on my cousin's list, but something she could use: A Guide to Dating a Real Man. Now, I am no expert in love. I've gone the wrong way down a one-way street many times. But I eventually see the signs and turn around. She's decided to create her own parking space.

Hey, maybe that's it, a pair of eyeglasses to see the signs. Boy, I couldn't have done better myself.

FYI: I went back to Victoria's Secret and bought the cologne. For an extra $10, I got a Victoria's Secret bag with trial bottles of three colognes and a small mirror. For me! But then I went to Bath & Body Works to buy the cream and the lotion. And I even bought those red pens. So much for my gift strategy. Merry Christmas!


Myself: Man 25
by Christopher Heagy

The shopping is almost over. I've taken care of my father, my sister and a couple of friends. The true Christmas vacation can almost start. I sit in the middle of Annapolis Mall, a modern cathedral of commerce and a huge hallway of Christmas cheer, and rest.

I think about bolting, sliding out Bestgate, maybe detouring to Heroes for a quick beer to get in the holiday spirit. But as the small children scream, the piped-in carolers sing and the store's cash registers ring, I take a look at my wallet and realize I have a few extra Christmas dollars. I decide, after a year of hard work, to treat myself.

So I stroll down the corridor, passing the same stores I have just finished scanning, but this time there is a little spring in my step. This time I'm looking for something special for one of my favorite people: Christopher Heagy.

My mother once told me the best gifts are the things that people need but would never buy for themselves. Since I usually buy things for myself, the rules have changed a little. Now I look for something I wouldn't buy for myself.

I walk into a kitchenware store. Maybe I'll get a sauté pan, a nice knife, a top-of-the-line food processor. Wait, I haven't made dinner for myself in seven months. What good will that do me?

Maybe a new shirt will make me feel like a new man. But then I think of my closet full of duds and the brown corduroys and blue Oxford shirt that have become a uniform. New clothes will just join the closetful of others I don't wear.

With hunger creeping in, I think of food. Maybe I'll treat myself to a beautiful meal with wine, atmosphere and conversation. Then I realize to make such an evening worthwhile, I need to find a date. If I had a woman to take to dinner, I wouldn't have this surplus of Christmas dollars.

Compact discs, movies, shoes, books, a tie. Here are a bunch of things that I might want, but nothing I need.

The alarm rings early the next morning. I get out of bed and feel a twinge in my neck plus a tightness in my lower back. An idea hits me: It's something I would never buy for myself but something I always wanted: I'm buying myself a massage for Christmas for an hour of relaxation in a hectic season.


Good Friend: 51
by M.L. Faunce

An album of holiday greeting cards - family photos of Christmases past - inspired this year's gift to a longtime friend. Her collection of black-and-whites from the '50s and '60s and fading Kodachrome of the '70s looked a lot like those of everyone else I know. With one exception.

Not a single card lacked a dachshund. The names and dogs changed over the wealth of years: Mr. Boh, Lionel, Willie and the inimitable Iris Irene. But in photo after photos, a dachshund perched on hind legs, peeked around a long shirt or rested under a poised hand.

Thus the theme for this year's gift for the long-standing friend who no longer poses for holiday greeting cards but still shares her life with dachshunds.

When I saw an ad by North Beach artist Gary Pendleton for original scratchboard portraits and architectural drawings and remembered his artwork of birds and nature scenes featured in NBT, the gift I had in mind took shape. I gave Gary photos and described the scene I imagined: my friend's rustic Maine cottage with her two dachshunds at the front screen door.

When a neighbor (and NBT advertiser for marine carpentry) offered to mat and frame the 5"x7" scratchboard, the intimate and ultimate gift was complete.


Brother Johnny: 54
by Christy Grimes

He calls himself John, but to us he's still Johnny - even though he's 54. Anyway, I've got a bigger problem with my oldest brother than my inability to call him John. Like what to get him for Christmas.

He already has everything, especially everything electronic. His place is an upholstered video arcade. It's not that he's well-to-do, exactly. He just spends a lot - and even more on other people than on himself. I can always count on him for a great present. So I owe him something good. But I don't have his kind of money. Even if I did, what do you get somebody who probably has it already?

Even if he owns every known solid object, there's always room for an adventure. How about scuba lessons from Chesapeake Underwater Sports? Johnny can spring for a week in the tropics exploring reefs. But this guy has only two modes: hard work and coma. He'd rather spend the week sacked out on the beach.

Fine: Plenty of gift experiences fulfill the desire to just relax and feel better. Alexander's of Annapolis Salon and Day Spa, Annapolis Day Spa and Vicki Halper offer gift certificates for massages, and I find many more such luxuries in NBT's What's What in Wellness page. Johnny can sack out on the table and let them do all the work. Alexander's also has a one-hour Y2K spa pedicure, something Johnny needs: his toes are a mess. Alexander's will fix up his feet and send him home with a Christmas teddy bear.

Any of these would be ideal if Johnny was local. But he's not. He lives in New Jersey, a long drive for a massage. Back to the drawing board.

Johnny's home is a one-man department store, but all the goods are inside. What about outside? His front door, for example. Where's his wreath? Johnny's idea of holiday decoration is a string of chaser lights around the windows.

If you think a wreath is boring, you haven't been to Calvert Homestead. They make showstoppers out of stuff you'd never imagine. Along with the usual evergreens and sprigs of dried wildflowers and coxcomb, they have all shapes and sizes of dried seed pods, gourds, berries and even artichokes.

I didn't pull this wreath inspiration from nowhere: Homestead makes little herbal sachets to put in gift boxes, and I had gone for some - as well as to check out their collection of ornaments that recall fondly the little toy ornaments people used to hang on the tree. (I got a tin replica of the Graf Zeppelin for my tree). It was then I beheld the wreath display. Wow.

This wreath is the proverbial gift that keeps on giving, in this way: Even if Johnny doesn't go for it, his visitors and neighbors will. Every time he opens his door to someone he'll hear, 'Hey John, nice wreath.'

Shop quickly. Calvert Homestead closes for the season Dec. 19.


Mom & Dad: 56 & 57
by Mark Burns

Both my parents are the same. You ask them what they want for Christmas and they answer 'world peace.'

Not that anything's wrong with the idea, but for Mom and Pop it's no longer a noble wish so much as a reflexive response they use to frustrate their children. Every year around Thanksgiving, you can find my brother, sister and me gathered around the kitchen table late at night, rolling eyes in unison as we lament our struggle through the quagmire of hunting down parental gifts with no help from them.

Mom is the easier of the two, so I start with her. My first stop is Homestead Gardens. Mom loves their Christmas decorations and likes digging in the garden. I can't get her any seasonal decorations, though. She already has 10 or so artificial trees plus more wreaths and greenery than she can use. Maybe just a nice plant? Maybe not. If I get her anything other than a fern, I'll kill it before Christmas. Hm.

After mingling with the llamas in the Llama Barn, I make my way to Early Birds to check out birdhouses. Mom already has a few ornamental ones for display only; a birdhouse she could use would be nice. I scan the shelves and come across one that catches my eye. But what's with those funky holes? What the heck kind of bird would fit in there?

I'm told it's a butterfly house, like the tag says. Oh. Embarrassed, I slip out the door. It was a little steep for my collegiate budget anyway. On to try and find a gift for dad.

Deale Library is nearby, so I stop by to use the Internet. I find mammothgolf.com, full of neat golfing paraphernalia. But what's this, $10.95 for one glove? I browse for something cheaper but find only golf tees and the like. Time to move on. Wandering on, I stumble across Smith Building Supply. Tools, perfect. But I don't even get inside the door before I realize dad already has two of every tool I can afford. Bummer.

Uninspired, I run off to Annapolis to do other errands. Hungry, I stop in Fresh Fields and stumble across a revelation. Olive oil! Gourmet, herb-flavored, extra extra virgin olive oil in a neat gift-like bottle. It's expensive elixir but within my means, and mom would love it for her highly experimental healthy dinner dishes. Ha!

Only dad remains. Still without a clue, I plod over to Annapolis Mall to drop off film and spot a department store across the way. Another epiphany. After all those Christmases of my youth and even as an adult, getting 'practical' gifts from him as jokes. Yes, this is all too perfect.

Tighty whitey undies, two sizes too small. With little peace signs on them. Yeah.


Dad Sikorski
by Lori L. Sikorski

My father-in-law just turned 71. He has raised five children and many more crops of garden vegetables. Retired for the last 10 years, he has time - as well as the good earth - on his hands.

So selecting a gift for him would be easy. Garden gloves, tulip bulbs, a new hose?

Been there, planted that. This man already has them all.

Maybe something to keep him occupied during the hard-ground months of the year? A game or puzzle?

He does love coffee, but the children have gifted him with so many 'grandpa' mugs that he grows onion sets in them. A bag of fresh coffee beans would leave him wondering what soil to plant them in.

Money would insult him; a sweater would remain in a closet. We're pretty sure another trip to Hawaii would be a perfect fit for him, only it does not fit our budget of $40.

But searching deeper, I see a glimmer of an idea. When Dad comes to visit us at our home near Solomons, he spends hours pouring over my 1975 Better Homes and Gardens Illustrated Guide to Gardening. It is a tattered copy that I have grown very fond of. I'm not willing to part with it, but maybe I could find another copy out there?

I took a look at Second Look Books in Prince Frederick. For only $15, I found a similar version by Readers Digest with pages and pages of gardening tips and ideas.

At Chesapeake Market Place in St. Leonard we found a basket large enough to carry around garden tools. It was quite a bargain at only $10.

A nice way to fill his winter days would be to jot down tips he's amassed over the years and keep them handy in an index card file box. I found a whimsical one, also at Chesapeake Market Place, for a mere $5. The index cards were not even a dollar at Sneade's Ace Home Center in Solomons. The kids threw in some seed packets also found at Sneade's. They chose veggies that they are fond of, in hopes that they'll be ready to harvest during their summer visit.

Everything's in the basket. We're mailing it well before the holiday - with hopes that it will delight Dad all year through.


Mother Darago: 87
by Connie Darago

What do you give the 87-year-old matriarch of the family who holds court every Christmas Eve with three generations hovering about beckoning her every call?

Granny certainly doesn't need clothes. She announced her closets were full years ago, even though she regularly appears in those 20-year-old pink seersucker pants.

Past gifts of towels and sheets found refuge in drawers, never to be seen again.

More recent gifts benefited her aging house, but that avocado flowered wallpaper in the kitchen is a tad outdated. Paint might work.

She has a sweet tooth, actually dentures, but diabetes forced goodies to the dark side. Perhaps a combination of diabetic cookies and candies from the Chocolate Box in Edgewater would sweeten her up. Doubt it.

Granny loves the chicken salad from Bowen's Grocery in Huntingtown. Says it's the best she's ever had. Chicken salad for Christmas? Interesting.

Of course, I could have that four-generation photo framed at the House of Frames in Prince Frederick and place it on her antique table from Nice and Fleazy in Chesapeake Beach. For bragging purposes.

Her love of gospel music could make cassettes a good choice. She often enlightens us with song during conversations.

Or maybe a new walker from Calvert Health Care. Not one with wheels, though. She fell at church using that kind and told us exactly what we could do with it.

Eyebrows will raise from this one, but chicken salad wins the honors.

She likes it, it's convenient and, best I can remember after 33 years, isn't a duplicate.

I'll call Bowen's Grocery, order 10 pounds of chicken salad, put it in those pint mason jars I found at Muddy Creek Antiques and freeze it.

I'll go to CVS Pharmacy in Dunkirk, buy a nice basket and make a fancy bow.

On Christmas Eve, I'll go to the freezer, fill the bow-adorned basket and deliver it to her throne for approval. Or not.


The Family Dog
by Christy Grimes

Alerted by a full five-minute bark fest I look out the window of my mom's house and see a box fly out the open doorway of a passing delivery truck and land at the end of the driveway.

Mom and my sister Mary Lynn are big catalogue shoppers, making this an almost daily scenario. It's not that the local delivery guys are trying to cut corners. They know from bitter experience what will happen to the mail- or parcel-person fool enough to dismount and attempt a real delivery - or even slow down too much as they pass by 339 Lobit Street. A scraggly black mutt with foaming choppers will scramble up, latch on and hang on. As the victim pulls away, Francine will race behind for a quarter mile, biting the truck's rear tires for good measure.

Francine is part Lab, part spaniel and all terror. What she does to dog toys is even worse than what she does to people.

I like to send gifts to the whole family, including all three dogs. But everything I get Francine she destroys. Since she hogs the other dogs' gifts, none of my purchases survive Christmas day.

I brought my troubles to the Pet Stop in Dunkirk. To outwit Francine, they suggest and I leave with the space ball, a nylon-covered rubber ball embedded in a tough plastic disk thinly upholstered with foam and covered with the same reddish nylon.

The whole thing is supposed to look like a UFO. The ball even has little portholes painted in silver around its upper hemisphere. A temporary sticker on top says "squeeze me." When I do, the space ball emits a full half-minute of a wifty, quavering sound like a landing spaceship in a really cheap '50s' sci-fi movie.

Francine probably won't notice the special effects; those are for Mom and Mary Lynn's benefit. But the space ball's shape together with its tough construction will make it hard for her to get her mouth around it, let alone destroy it. Hopefully this will lock her in hours of fruitless struggle.

If the spaceball lives a week after Christmas, I'll deem it a successful dog toy. If it doesn't, next year I try the Tuffy, a solid chunk of red rubber vulcanized into the shape of a beheaded snowman. Not much personality, but the packaging features a cartoon drawing of a big ferocious dog with his fangs around the Tuffy, his eyes screwed shut in frustrated effort to bite through it.

Testing will continue.

| Issue 50 |

Volume VII Number 50
December 16-22, 1999
New Bay Times

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