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December 07, 2011

Cheap Christmas

Cheap--But Meaningful--Christmas

by Nancy Martin            

As the Christmas season approached, it became clear that our garage was falling down. It's 90 years old, built of brick and had a slate roof. (I live in Pittsburgh. During the steel era, nobody built anything that might catch on fire. Consequently, buildings are astronomically expensive to repair unless you replace the good stuff with vinyl and duct tape.)  We invited a few contractors to give us bids, and despite the staggering estimates, we decided we didn't want several tons of brick and slate crashing down our cars on Christmas morn, so we settled on a very nice guy who said he'd tear off the whole roof (including trusses, which were the problem to begin with) and the back wall and start all over again, which was................a catastrophe in our bank account. But necessary. 

THE DAY HE FINISHED THE JOB, the roof of the house began to leak, and I'm not talking about a little drip either. Also, the mysterious water that sometimes oozes up along one wall in the basement suddenly turned into a tributary of the Ohio River. And remember, it's Christmas shopping season.   

Here's a great book (which you should be able to find at your local bookstore, so please forgive the Amazon link!) for us all to contemplate this Christmas:  Product Details

In his book SHINY OBJECTS, James Roberts feels consumerism drives America now, and we're all the worse for it. We don't just keep up with the Joneses anymore---we want to keep up with the Kardashians and anyone else we see on TV, since we're too busy to have neighborly/competitive conversations over the back fence with people of our own socio-economic groups anymore.

Good thing my extended family decided years ago that giving lavish Christmas gifts was not only crazy expensive, but also.......crazy.  So we stopped.  It's no fun getting together on the holiday, though, without a few presents to open, so we started exchanging names. And the rule is, we give one book.  Everybody gets a book! Beautifully wrapped, of course. (I like ribbons and bows, but also other little accessories on packages---tree ornaments or a clump of acorns glue-gunned together or a pretty pine cone. It makes a small gift look well-considered and festive.)  The book exchange has turned into a wonderful family tradition.  Everybody loves books, and who doesn't want a good one? (Really, if you don't have a Calvin and Hobbes, you'd have the best Christmas afternoon leafing through a new copy.) And we devote all our Christmas shopping hormones to finding that perfect book for the person whose name you have.

In case anybody needs an idea for me:

  100 Unforgettable Dresses Product Details      Death Comes to Pemberley     Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm

Mind you, we still give presents to anyone under 21, so I get to do the grandmother thing, although we've kinda figured out that nobody needs more toys if you already have one entire room devoted to plaything storage, so giving the registration fee for a class (arts and crafts, kiddie yoga, swimming lessons) or an activity (child choir) is just the ticket. Finding the perfect grandchild activity is a fun thing, too. Tickets to events, trips to the zoo--definitely worth the price.

So we're not Scrooge-y. Not totally adverse to spending a little cash on the holiday, but we're leaning toward thoughtful instead of Kardashian quantity.

At Christmas dinner with my family, everybody also gets what we call a "table gift."  It's a small package that serves as your placecard, and the gift inside is always something a.) under $10 and b.) thoughtful and c.) hilarious.   Last year, my mother was in charge, and she gave everyone pepper spray. Really, who wouldn't want a little cannister of pepper spray for Christmas?  In the home of a crime writer (where the dinner took place) this was above and beyond in the hilarious department.

Sometimes it's gadgets. (Another hit was the flashlight that requires no battery, you just crank it for a minute or two and it stays illuminated for a while. Good for emergencies. Or keep it in your glove box.) Table gifts require creativity, ingenuity, a sense of humor, and a sense of the absurb doesn't hurt. Nothing crude, though. Lottery tickets will do in a pinch, but unless somebody scratches off a winner, they can dampen the mood.

Needless to say, if you feel like springing for the bargain hi def televisions or the latest e-reader, go for it!  And if you're a gift card giver?  Sure, why not.  But how about sharing some good, thoughtful, unique--but not wildly expensive--gift ideas today?


I gave these to several friends.    They're cute, right? And who doesn't need a meat thermometer?  In barbecue season, having a set is fabulous.

What about a new handbag.....made out of . . . a book? Dracula Book Purse

Feeling really cheap?  Go for magnetic picture frames, the kind you stick on your refrigerator.  Put a nice photo in it. I fond these at my local drug store for $2.

Fingerless gloves. For those of us who are texting in cold weather, what could be better? Also for plugging parking meters in cold climates. Target carries them, but Kohl's had some nice knitted ones ($18, but maybe they're on sale now?)

Have a cook in the family?  I swear by these mixing bowls that are lined with some magic material that makes them super easy to clean. Honestly, these will change your life in the kitchen, and they're under $20 lots of places.  Different colors, too. Add a muffin mix, and you're good to go.

Do you use a laptop?  I gotta say, a lap desk makes things much easier, cooler, more balanced.  Check out the cute colored lapdesks at Office Depot for under $13.

I have one of these jewelry trees, and I love it. sculpted jewelry tree But I bought it cheap at TJ Maxx, not for $70 from Red Envelope. I really like it and sometimes buy it for friends.

Now, if you usually receive a Christmas gift from my daughter Cassie (you know who you are) skip this paragraph, because this is the gizmo she's giving everybody on her list: A butter mill.  She loves this thing. LOVES IT.  She's giving it with a corn bread mix and a spatula.  Cute, right? Also, I must admit, I used it when I visited her, and it's really slick.  (That's a butter joke.)

Butter Mill™

If you must give a gift card, I'm partial to specific gifts, not the basic Mastercard for $25.  Spa gift certificates show you care a little more. Or movie ticket coupons.  (My husband gives these to his office assistants. Except the one who doesn't like movies, and he gets a case of beer!)

For the mystery writer on your gift list, Dead Fred:

Here's his cousin, Splat Stan. Splat Stan - Silicone Drink Coaster

Can I also say that one of my favorite gifts of all time was the small, elegant but not astronomically expensive evening bag my sister gave to me---I dunno--twenty years ago?  It's still my fave. Thoughtfully chosen, much appreciated.

A trip to the hardware store is always worthwhile at Christmas.  Bird feeders, bird baths, garden gloves, handy flashlights, little toolkits.  (Or why not a sewing kit?)  Or a rain gauge.  Maybe I'm weird, but I love having a rain gauge.  And those little thermometers that you hang outside, but the digital read-out is a little gizmo you keep inside on the windowsill? Useful. Seed packets. A bag of tulip bulbs. A nice trowel.  (Every gardener needs a spare trowel.  Don't buy a cheap one, though.)

My husband loves little tools and gadgets.  The stud finder was a big hit with him.  (And a delightful source of old jokes when we have to hang a picture together.) Electric screwdrivers--the perfect gift for just about anyone. (Yes, I hear you laughing, Margie!) If I'm desperate for a gift for him, I got to Home Depot, fill a bucket with gadgets and duct tape and little stuff that you always need when you need it, but don't have it on hand. Put a bow on it---done!

Also? Let's face it: Wine is a almost always a good gift. But do you have one of these handy bottle openers? They come in all price ranges, and the cork doesn't break off at the wrong moment.

Those of us who are writers usually send gifts to our agents and editors--sometimes enough to share with the rest of the office.  I used to send quirky, memorable and lavish dessert baskets, but people seem to resent the sugar now, so maybe the box of fruit isn't a bad idea. (I just resent Harry & David, though, because I feel as if I'm paying a fortune for the boxes and packaging.)  I'd like to find a company that does nuts, though. Don't you think nuts would be a nice holiday gift? I don't want to have to make them myself, though. Gifts should not come with food poisoning.

Of course, a great gift is a donation to a charity.  Delightful. After 9/11 my agent's agency began donating to the nearest NYC firehouse, and when I opened that card, I burst into grateful tears.  Who needs another gift basket, really, when you can be giving money to a worthy cause? I like literacy groups.  My husband likes giving to charities that provide loans to women in other countries.

If you're looking for a great--er--stocking stuffer, here's my new favorite product:  Band-Aid Active Friction Block Stick It's a roll-on for your feet that blocks blisters!  Ideal for summer sandals or holiday heel-wearing.  Okay, not exactly festive, but I guarantee this stuff is faboo and will be appreciated. But then, Santa always brings socks and toothbrushes in stockings at my house, so I--er--we---I mean, Santa has a practical side.

Office supplies! Really, who doesn't love office supplies? Post-It notes in fun shapes--Yay! Over the weekend, I found some great pink-for-breast-cancer-awareness pens at Target for $2. Or these screw pushpins for $4?

Okay, your turn.  Please send your best gift ideas! I need a few more suggestions before Santa starts hitching up the reindeer.



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Hard to go wrong with Pez. Some people like the candy, some people like the functioning, some people like the designs, some people collect them, they remind almost everyone of being a kid, and you can get them for under $2.

Oh, Nancy you have such a great list of gift ideas. I really like the book exchange.
The most memorable gifts that I received were really simple things such a a box of Crayola crayons and coloring books. And new cotton slacks with that crisp new smell.
After the Christmas rush of the day I would lie on the floor, open the crayon box and color away in my coloring books.
I wish for myself this year a rich Christmas spirit. I wish that all the anxiety of the Christmas frenzy will dissipate into a blanket of good wishes and gratitude for all those who I love and will love.
Thankfulness for pals on TLC and neighbors who are good to me will hold me for a long Christmas season.
Merry Christmas, dear Nancy and to all who celebrate this glorious season.

Nice and Quiet are the watchwords these days. Like you said, Books are the Greatest Gifts. BOOK books, not eBooks. There's something magical about a bookstore during the Holidays....:)

Nancy, you can shop for me anytime! What great ideas! I have three of those books you showed on my own list, and I must have one of those book handbags. I feel like sending this blog to my family and friends. And I'll be using some if the ideas for gifts for them as well.

I've had my melamine mixing bowls for over 20 years, and I love them. Mine even have a little handle on one side, and pour spout on the other. I use them constantly.

I like to send Edible Arrangements instead of a fruit basket. They're not cheap though. But at least they're fun, and tasty, and fairly nutritious. I sent one to my Mom once too - she loved it.

For co-workers, I try to find a little inexpensive something to put on their desk with their card. I often try that little area right inside the door at Target, that has bins of random stuff for, like, $1.00. I found cards of those binder clips in cute paisley designs with a matching pen, or something. It was funny what a big hit they were. I've also done the funny post-it notes or fun pens. It's nice to jazz up the workday a little. One of the guys at work gets little gift bags or decorated boxes or jars at the dollar store, and fills them with Hershey kisses, or M&Ms, or whatever. Cheap gift, but thoughtful and appreciated. Along the same line, a friend of mine at work gave me a gift card, but also filled a mid-size Christmas gift box with chocolate. It was my desk drawer stash for months. She wouldn't refill it when I brought it back to her empty in March, though.

I'm thinking of trying to make that great cabled scarf Sarah pointed me to for a few friends. I like giving hand-made stuff, but generally procrastinate too long to pull it off. One year, I did make Bailey's Irish Cream fudge and pass it out.

Oh, and I'm currently working on knitting a pair of fingerless gloves to match the headband I just finished. They really are great for using your touchscreen in the winter. Last night, I successfully navigated making a thumb! :)

The Dutch exchange their presents on Sinterklaas, Dec. 5. The tradition is that on the evening of Dec. 4, you put your shoes outside the door (preferably wooden ones) filled with hay and carrots for Sinterklaas' horse. Then on the 5th you have gifts.

These have been wrapped in wild ways to match the personality of the giftee. A poem has been written about the person and attached to the gift. Hilarity ensues. (Like the time we gave my youngest $20. In nickels. In a 2ft cube box filled with shredded paper)

Nancy, fingerless gloves can be even more special if you ask one of us yarn fanatics to knit them for you. ;) With or without matching socks.

One of the best gifts (according to my husband) I ever gave him was an LED flashlight that fits on your head. He was doing a lot of work under the house and kept putting it off because he couldn't rig a light so he could see and work at the same time. It wasn't expensive, I got it with my Amex reward points. He loves it and now has no excuse not to finish the work.

He still puts it off, but he doesn't have an excuse. So this year I gave him a Keurig. Maybe that'll shame him into getting things done.

My kids's school does this thing where you can put their ART on crap: Everything from super inexpensive Luggage Tags to square pot holders. Little notebook covers...it is SUPER cute and grand-parentastic.

You guys are all terrific! I have never figured out what Pez are, so I guess this is my year, Josh.

And, Marie, I wonder if there's any adult who would object to a nice coloring book? I mean, it's theraputic, right?

William, I met my mother yesterday in a chain bookstore..........and it was full of games and cards and gift items, and the books, I couldn't help noticing, were mostly last year's hardcovers! How do they get away with THAT, I wonder?

Laura, I have to admit I make a beeline for that everything's-a-dollar department at Target. Great stuff there--espcially when they have those little animals that have the buttons on the bottom? I get them for my grandson--the roaring lions and tigers drive his mother batty. ;-)

Judith, the headlamp! YOu are so right! My husband uses his all the time! Great for plumbing projects, in particular, but he is prone to putting off weekend projects until it's dark outside (Procrastination is his middle name) and ends up using it late into the night outdoors and in the garage. But when we have power outages, he uses it for reading books.

Joss, I think we need to see some pix of your kids' artwork. C'mon, we love that stuff around here!

The last couple of years, my family and I have done some kind of food exchange. I send Amish baked goods and they send regional (mostly Louisiana) things. Everyone has to eat, right?

If you have an older relative, esp. one who lives alone, you can send frozen individual steaks or marinated chicken breasts and accompanying side dishes. We're doing this for mother-in-law, through QVC.

Finally, for gifts, who doesn't love a whoopie pie, esp. the December mint version? This is from a little place in Lancaster where I like to stay. Cheap, cute, and easy: http://www.hersheyfarm.com/index.php?fuseAction=catalogs.viewItem&catalogID=1&catalogLevelID=19&catalogItemID=42

Just the other day I was shopping at Macy's (they send so many coupons and gift certificates, it's practically free to shop there. Insane.) I needed a new pair of gloves for the car, and found some that have a special area on the tip of the thumb and forefinger, so you can use a Smartphone. But your fingers are covered. Genius. They have a bunch of different kinds, at different price ranges. These aren't the ones I got, but similar: http://tiny.cc/c0kad

Steve's nieces send us a box of See's dark chocolates every year, which they have to pick out special. See's doesn't have just dark chocolate in their stores or their catalog. (They live in San Francisco, home of See's, aka Mecca.)

For the last 40 years the Maslowski (bird) photographers have taken photos of birds that are used to a calendar company for their "Feathered Friends" calendar. For the few weeks before Christmas we take them with us to holiday parties, visiting neighbors, and give them to hair stylists, doctors, dentists, etc. It's a nice calendar, with big boxes for appointments, etc., and we have people ask us if they are ready yet all the time. Just last night I was grocery shopping and ran into an old friend who reminded me that she hadn't gotten hers yet. They're pretty, too.

This year's family Christmas gift is wine, a dozen bottles, sent to each of my three daughters and husbands/SO. Two of them have already gotten theirs; I'm waiting for mine now. I'm looking forward to sharing tasting notes with my far-flung girls--Miami, Detroit, and Boulder.

So glad you liked the Friction Block. It's the best.

Speaking of food gifts, my mother reports that Omaha Steaks still has free shipping. She sends such Care packages to farflung grandchildren. But, yes, I would like a whoopie pie, please.

Karen, that calendar idea is terrific. My problem is that i need next year's calendar by early December! I would love a grandchild calendar, come to think of it.

Oh, I love the book idea!!! Nweve been drawing names for a long time, but the process is pretty agonizing.

For kids, I love Stupid.com. Tons of silly stuff. And. I love going to bazaars, where you find handmade things.

Nancy, you can order nuts from Swiss Colony: http://www.swisscolony.com/Nuts-and-Snacks/Nuts/index.cat
I'm in Wisconsin and cheese is a big thing here, and I'm not just talking about the kind you wear on your head. Swiss Colony is a local company and they ship nuts, cheese, sausage, chocolates, cakes, cookies... They have the best gift for someone you can't stand: http://www.swisscolony.com/Cheese--Meats/Cheese-/Limburger-Cheese.pro?fpi=73050&catCd=AW Have you ever smelled Limburger cheese?! According to Wikipedia, "the cheese produces its notorious smell because the bacterium used to ferment Limburger cheese... is Brevibacterium linens, the same one found on human skin that is partially responsible for body odor." And in the US it's only made in Monroe, Wisconsin. I'm so proud.

How about personalized stainless steel water bottles? Or a pocket knife or multi-tool. I received my first Swiss Army knife in the 1980's (the best gift my brother gave me, and all thanks to my obsession with MacGyver) and I haven't been without one since. The Victorinox Tinker is a great basic pocket knife. For the chef in your life, a box from Penzey's (herbs and spices) is a great idea. http://www.penzeys.com/cgi-bin/penzeys/c-Gift_Boxes.html and so is the food chopper from Pampered Chef. http://www.pamperedchef.com/ordering/prod_details.tpc?prodId=240&words=chopper or a Microplane grater - they come in dozens of different sizes, and not just for the kitchen. I love my classic zester/grater. http://us.microplane.com/microplanekitchentools.aspx

And I've always wanted to get one of these for the younger kids:
How fun would that be at a family gathering? Roll a ball around for 30 minutes, open, and eat ice cream.

www.peanut.com is the website for The Peanut Roaster in the Raleigh, NC area. They have all kinds of flavors. Another place with all kinds is Feridies Virginia Peanuts, which I stumbled on by accident on the way from Raleigh to Norfolk, VA. Their website is
www.feridies.com. Another North Carolina company is Mackay's Ferry Peanuts; their website is http://shop.mfpnuts.com/index.php. Google gifts of nuts for more, but these are all good.

I need one of those flashlights that fits in the glove box. My husband thought I could crawl to the trunk to get the flashlight and I pointed out that with my broken leg after the accident, crawling would be hard: http://class-factotum.blogspot.com/2009/11/marriage-201-lecture-392-life-and-death.html

I also like that the flashlight has no batteries. My husband has bought some cheap batteries that don't last. I call them the "You want me to die" batteries.

The other thing I want for the glove box? A small hammer so I break the window to let in the water to equalize the pressure so I can open the door the day I drive over a bridge into the water. Our car has electric windows, which will short out as soon as I hit the water. I will die if I can't get that window open. Why doesn't anyone think of these things but me?

Nancy, you are a GENIUS. I am now actually inspired to go Xmas shopping.....thank you, thank you!

Thanks, class factotum, for giving me one more thing to freak out about when I drive across a bridge. Now I want a Life Hammer: http://www.lifehammer.com/ It also has a tool to slice through a jammed seat belt.

Sandi, my dad LOVED limburger cheese. He ate it on rye bread with mustard and a slab of onion. With a beer. Why yes, we are German. Why do you ask?

Class factotum, there are really cool little LED flashlights that clip to your keychain. I have one like this, which is teeny, but has incredibly bright light:


Also, you need one of those tools that can slice the seatbelt and break the window. This one is called LifeHammer: http://saveyourlife.us/

One year I gave each of the people on our list a coupon for a personalized steel water bottle, plus two each reusable shopping bags that fold up and fit in a pocket or a purse: This blog has a lot of the kind I like: http://www.thelovelyroom.com/2008/09/big-on-cute-reusable-shopping-bags/ I bought my first one in Paris in 2001, and since have bought (or been gifted) several more. It's almost all I use. They're washable, too, and dry in 20 minutes, in case of a leak.

For the past 4 to 5 years I have been giving everyone on my list (except kids, parents, and grandparents) framed photo's that I have taken. I buy cheap $2-3 frames from Kmart and get the photo's printed at Walgreen's. Everyone gets a different photo based on their personality/home decor/interests.

This year, I decided to take a break from that, and am making everyone a Christmas ornament or two. The cost per person is going to be about $2. Cheap, but nice. Everyone in our family likes homemade ornaments more than store bought. They mean more.

Nancy am I losing it or am I not seeing a lot of the wonderful suggestions you have shared with us?
I made ouch pouches for the menfolk one Christmas. I saw them at Home Depot and said "Shoot! I can make those!".
I made little drawstring bags out of scraps I have hanging around and put band-aids, alka seltzer and breath mints etc...in them. They were a big hit and the guys popped them right in their tool boxes, briefcases and glove compartments.
You fit each one to the, ahem, needs of the man and as you say (or maybe Me, Margie says) they can be hilarious.
The possibilities are endless.
Great ideas Nancy! I want kindness for Christmas and a phone call or skipe from my 21 year old son.

Barbara, Stupid.com may save my life this year! The Marie Antoinette action figure could go in anyone's stocking! Luvit.

Sandi, if you were here, I'd be hugging you around the neck. Thanks so much for the Colony tip! I will go browse more carefully in a minute. Thank you!

Ginger, I used to get a big can of Virginia peanuts every year. How could I have forgotten??

Barbara, Stupid.com may save my life this year! The Marie Antoinette action figure could go in anyone's stocking! Luvit.

Sandi, if you were here, I'd be hugging you around the neck. Thanks so much for the Colony tip! I will go browse more carefully in a minute. Thank you!

Ginger, I used to get a big can of Virginia peanuts every year. How could I have forgotten??

Class----Can I admit that going over a bridge into water is my #1 nightmare? I had one of those hammers in my car, but it disappeared when we traded the car. Now I don't want one.--It will just remind me too often of the possibility. But you may have one if you want. (I am thinking a phobia blog may be coming next. Have I explained my candle phobia before? Probably.)

Sarah, it was your knitting blog that made me think of all this stuff. If I could KNIT, dammit, I'd be giving those adorable hats to everyone!

Karen, the fold-up bag is a great idea. I bet you are that organized woman who has a thingie in your purse to keep everythign separated and organized? This is an EXCELLENT gift idea: http://www.purseket.com/purse-organizer (If you're reading this blog at work, though, mute the sound!)

I really like to give KID toys to grownups. Coloring books and crayons - not markers, Slinkies, Wheelos that light up, wooden and metal puzzles, along with Kiddie Candy - Boston Baked Beans, candy sticks in the not usual flavors, bubble gum, lemonheads, circus peanuts, etc. (I shop at the super big candy store, the local Hobby Lobby, and Cracker Barrel.)

People will play with a slinky or a wheelo for hours. Great for football season. That reminds me . . . my slinky got trashed and I need a new one!

OMG, Ramona - my sister brought us some Mint Whoopie Pies from Shady Maple - Holy crap, they were yummy.

Shutterfly has great gifts you can have made out of pictures. My daughter had a calendar made for my step-daughter last year out of family pictures, and also a desk organizer thing with a picture of the two of them on a tile that was glued into the organizer. They were pretty good quality, and not terribly expensive.

Local stuff is great. We live away from my family, and my husband's, so we sometimes send stuff from Kitchen Kettle Village in Lancaster (actually Intercourse, PA - their town t-shirts are very popular), and chocolates from a local candy maker. I wonder if I can find someone who ships Whoopie Pies?

Xena - some of the stuff Nancy refers to are links to the item on a different page. :)

Xena, it's quite possible you're not seeing all the stuff. Sometimes I just put in links so Mr. Typepad doesn't get cranky. Hey, you should be making those purse organizers,too!

I'll be studying your list and checking it twice! Thanks, Nancy.

Meanwhile, I'm telling everybody I know and don't know to buy Steven King's new book for themselves and as a gift for somebody else. The title is: 22/11/63. It's brilliant, imo, and it's old-fashioned classic storytelling and it's not horror and it's just so damned rich and deep and good and also fun to read that if you're not a Steven King fan, you'll be a Steven King fan for at least this one novel. I'm halfway through it. I don't want to do anything else but read it.

I'm going to ask for the getting me out of the car that's gone over the bridge hammer.

And Sandi, you are so right about the SAK. I go nowhere without my knife. It is so handy to have one in my purse. And a handkerchief. I always have one of those with me, too. A knife, a handkerchief, and some emergency chocolate and you're set.

Hi. It's Me, Margie.

My cousins do the name exchange and we shop at special stores because we are special people. We also do our exchange at my place with no older or younger family members on Christmas Night. Because by that time at least a few of us are ready to kill one of the Aunts, most of the Uncles are passed out, and the little kids are sugar-and-Santa-fueled maniacs.

Shopping for special gifts requires special stores. Some of these stores are disgusting. Hint: any place that has a private booth of any kind? NO. Don't even pull into the parking lot. We are lucky because our city has some high class special stores.

If your city doesn't have a nice store for special gifts, try tootimid.com - the have things for every experience level and the stuff really does come in a plain brown box. They usually have a free gift with purchase too, so it's a very smart way to stretch your holiday dollars. As well as other things just saying.

Anyone can get the regular special gifts. We are not regular people. In fact, we play a game - you have to guess where the gift goes and if anyone can stump the rest of us, they win a bottle of Prosecco. These days, even our Cousin Rita has been out of the Penguins for long enough to at least take an educated guess so it rarely happens, but this year, Rocco got something from one of his USMC friends on Liberty in Bangkok and it even took me five minutes to figure it out.

Remember - it's better to give than to receive, but it's really great if you can do both at the same time. That's kind of my motto, really.

Now, about the budget for the TLC Holiday Party -- I have some really great ideas for entertainment but we need to spend more than $50. I know you Boss Ladies are old and everything, but $50 bucks doesn't get you anything good any more when it comes to, uh, personal type entertainment.

I love the book purse!! Unfortunately, she who I would buy a purse for, I would never buy a purse for since I would get it wrong.

I could spend the day and $1,000 at Etsy though. I suggest the steampunk USB drives for those of you with a certain taste for overpriced but useful.

I have given the mini mag lite. The AA size is about $10.00. Made in the USA. Bright colors. Nearly indestructible. Practical.

You know this is a good place to put this link. It's a list of links to things still made in THIS country. The estimate is that everyone spent just $68 a year with these companies, we could make close to 100,000 jobs. Not a bad tradeoff.


Nancy, since I have back issues I carry very small purses, so no purse organizer for me--they don't fit!

However, a friend of mine has the best one, and she has them made in the US! Shocking, I know. But this is the one I'd recommend: http://www.purseperfector.com/ All our friends who use bigger handbags love them.

I used to carry a pocketknife, until the airlines started confiscating them. But I have one in the car, and there are pocketknives at the farm and here. For Christmas one year my husband and the girls gave me a wonderful Swiss Army knife to have when I was traveling to consumer shows. Can't tell you how often it came in handy. The woman who sold it to them said she'd been trained by the Israeli Army to kill with a 3-inch blade. So the girls love telling that story.

Oh, yikes, I can't keep up with you all today! (My book club meets tonight and......uhm..........I haven't read the book yet. I am trying to race thru the Jackie Kennedy book, but it's not exactly speedy reading! Ack!)

Marcia asks the musical question: Is there anyone who wouldn't enjoy a Slinky for Christmas? I don't think so!

Laura--Shutterfly! My favorite online ordering. My daughter makes a book for kid birthday, and we all get copies. Wonderful gift!

NancyP---See our book recommendation blog for Saturday!

Oh, rats, I clicked on Judith's "buy American" link and lost my comments. Argh. But it's a good one--worth bookmarking. Thanks, Judith.

Margie, you know how some departments stores have "personal shoppers?" I think you could take it to the next level. Or maybe you should hire a bus and take a tour group around town. Just saying. (But no setting up a raffle table at the office party, you hear me? Last year's gift baskets were not at all what I assumed they were. Ahem.)

Alan, I think you should go for the book purse idea. I just chose the red one because it matches a lot of my clothes. C'mon, we'll help!

Karen, I can't tell you how many knives my family has lost to the TSA. For years, we all carried a Swiss Army version that looked like a credit card. But, alas, they are all gone to the great airport landfill.

I have always given books to the nieces and nephews, and now I include crisp green "bookmarks" as well -- they are happy even with small denominations.
I have a little stash of cute things for girlfriend gifts . . .
Following your links (really curious about how the wine opener works) I found this handy tool http://www.funslurp.com/hammer-survival-tool-p-153.html?zenid=bf50c501acab9bbc7d30ab79d030f48a
which reminded me of this, which I got after the publicity about the collapse of the bridge in Minneapolis (and then lost it when it fell off my keychain, but it had served to quell my panic) http://www.resqme.com/
I don't know if TSA would allow that one or not . . .

Mary, I always enjoy a green bookmark. ;) I'm not sure how the wine opener works, but it's very handy. I have found it in many stores, all different prices.

What the TSA doesn't notice, they don't take away, right?

Guess what happens to all those things confiscated by the TSA?

They sell them. We have a friend who goes to the sales, buys swiss army products in good condition and then sells them on EBay. God Bless America.

Finished most of my holiday shopping last night at Mystery Lovers - they have great games and puzzles along with books for everyone:


They SELL the stuff?? My husband lost the boy scout knife his grandfather gave him 50 years ago, and I'd pay a lot to be able to return that to him.

NancyM, I gave my son-in-law one of those cool little credit card knives, and the TSA took it from him, too. He said he protested, "But, but, my mother-in-law gave that to me!" Didn't do any good, though.

Geez, keeping America safe. And profiting for the airlines, the bastards.

Laura in PA, if you click on my link to Hershey Farm Inn, you'll get to their online store. You can order a dozen whoopie pies for something like $17, plus shipping. I'm doing this for aunt and uncle in Arizona.

I love Intercourse, PA! More goodness from Amish country:


I think the PADutch website has a full listing.

I think I saw something on the news once about those sales - the amount of stuff they had was staggering. That really sucks about your husband's knife from his grandfather, Nancy. Did they give you the option of shipping it home? Of course by then, you probably didn't have time.

I'm making a list of all the suggestions on here today. Good stuff. And I don't feel like working. ;)

Blue Q has awesome and funny stuff:


This local Louisiana company has delicious nuts (not cheap, though)


And that friction block stick is the only thing keeping me from wearing tennis shoes or flip flops at all times. : ) I am addicted to it.

I mean, look at these soaps. Who wouldn't want a Hot Mess soap?


One more really neat idea for grandparents or moms is jewelry made from your child's art. We had this lady make a sterling silver pin out of an elephant my nephew drew and it came out beautifully. It's a really neat piece of jewelry adn a great keepsake.


Just for fun, I google dried fruit, and, lo, there was nutsonline which has everything fruits, and nuts. It was not a description of me, except for sometimes. I love unusual gifties to pass along with a book.

Hi Nancy M,

One Christmas my mother-in-law (Anne, called Nancy because the maid was there first) put a packet of whole nutmeg and a nutmeg grinder in my stocking. She had noticed me sprinkling nutmeg onto the eggnog and thought I might enjoy the fresh. That sealed our blessed relationship! Really, I didn't even know that nutmeg came like that . . . I know . . . I know.

Scout loves to try different mustards and horseradish sauces, so this year I ordered some cranberry horseradish sauce and blue cheese herb mustard from Stonewall Kitchen http://www.stonewallkitchen.com/ for his stocking.

Scout II was disappointed a few years ago when he didn't find Starbucks Christmas blend in his stocking. It was something I'd put in at the last minute the previous year just trying to fill it. So now it goes in every year.

My BFF Stephanie's kitties send stocking stuffers to our puppies and kitties. Of course ours do the same for hers. They put quite a lot of effort into it, too - exchanging emails and links starting the day after Thanksgiving.

Jill, I have been thinking another whole christmas blog is what to buy for the elderly. (I would definitely want Hot Mess Soap!)

Lil, none of us would dream of calling you a fruit or a nut.

Reine, my daughter LOVES horseradish cranberry sauce. She slathers it on everything. EVERYTHING. But........I gotta vote that it's an acquired taste. There is some cookie that features nutmeg, but I can't quite put my fingers on it. I will think about it (tonight during book club. Yes, I'm almost finished with the book!)


Thanks for the idea. My oldest daughter loves anything horseradish, and she loves cranberries. Bet she'd enjoy that sauce.

Is that what it's called? My daughter's version looks like pink Cool Whip. But that's NOT what it tastes like. Hot!

Lil? Fruit? nut? Never!!!!

NancyM, could they be http://www.food.com/recipe/red-hot-valentine-cookies-447999 Spicy Red Hot Valentine Cookies? Being a Valentine, they are a personal favorite. Some moms auntie-moms, not to point any particular one out, have been know to have a bit of extra gin and forget the tonic, before adding a bit of Cholula http://www.cholula.com/ to the recipe! Here's what NPR has to say about adding Red Hots http://www.npr.org/2008/01/16/18096284/red-hots-spice-up-everyday-cooking to spice up everyday cooking.

For a while, I carried a padded self-addressed envelope in my bag in case I forgot to remove contraband.
I actually would prefer that they sell or donate confiscated items -- they always tell me that it will be destroyed, which seems such a waste.

All these good ideas and no one to shop for!

My family did a lot of fun present exchanges in the past but no longer. Slightly pathetic I know, we can't even drum up enough family interest to get together once in a year.

I love that jewelry tree! Too bad the closest TJ Maxx to me is in Washington state!

gaylin, my sister works at TJ Maxx. I can pack and hit the post office...while we still have one, anyway.

Judith, a lovely offer but it would probably cost more to mail it to Canada than it cost to buy it!

Way late to the gift party, but…

One year I made emergency kits for everyone in the office. I bought Altoid-like tins online, and filled them with bandaids, sewing kits, tylenol, a dollar, Hershey fun size, and I can't remember what else. I got crafty with the lids, but some red duct tape cut to be a red cross would work just as well.

I love all these ideas. Archie McPhee's (mcphee.com) sounds like it's much like Stupid.com.
Crazy Aaron's Putty World (puttyworld.com) is good for workmates, too.

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