Twenty more shopping days ’til Christmas. I’ve already mailed my mom’s presents and still have no clue what to get my Dad.
Here’s my alphabet of non-mall, somewhat unstandard ideas:
A: Antiques. Not everyone is as crazy about them as I, but this time of year there are antique shows all over the country, from small, affordable local shows to the glossiest, vetted international events. If someone you love is a collector — of magnifying glasses, or walking sticks or majolica or Depression glass, an antique show is a fun, efficient place to find all sorts of good things and high-quality surprises. Auctions: again, many smaller, regional auction houses have extremely affordable possibilities, much of it viewable on-line and biddable by phone or email, from crystal decanters to prints. One of my favorites, William Smith, recently offered lovely 200+ year-old Japanese woodblocks, some estimated as low as $150 apiece. Alpaca: is light, warm, lovely change from cashmere. One of my favorite sources with sweaters and shawls of alpaca is the 33-year-old company Peruvian Connection.
Baked Goods. If you can afford a loaf pan, some flour, eggs, sugar and fruit, you can make banana, lemon or cranberry loaves. They’re quick, easy and delicious. Delicate cookies are impressive indeed, but anything home-made with love (and some skill!) is a treat.
Charity: For the person who already has everything, make a donation in their name. Camera: My sweetie, a professional photographer, gave me the Canon G7 Power Shot, a tiny digital camera that fits in the palm of my hand and takes fantastic images. I started my career shooting with Nikons. This is just as good — I’ve sold my images shot with it to The New York Times and Toronto Star, so far.
Duvet: It’s a European thing, but the best! Not cheap, but a great lifetime luxury. Light, warm, comfortable year-round. Cuddledown has good choices.
Elephants: I love elephants. I even rode one in Thailand, best travel experience ever. Here’s a great list of terrific non-fiction books about these creatures. If you don’t know and love the 78-year-old children’s storybook classic Babar, about an elephant family, check it out.
Fountain pen. I know, some people think they’re pretentious. Nuts. Using my Lamy makes even writing out my quarterly tax payments a little less painful. Filofax. Equally old school, equally elegant and sensual way to stay organized. Mine is a decade old, fuchsia leather. I love all its accessories — yeah, pre-Iphone apps — like a ruler in metric and Imperial, map of the world with time zones, NYC subway map and notepaper for jotting down random ideas.
Glasses. Champagne flutes, martini glasses, fun juice glasses. Crystal or glass, antique or new. I like these, with bees embossed in them.
Hermes scarf. Oh, go on. $300. Gorgeous. Their silk twill has a lovely crispness and feels like no other. The patterns can be spectacular and come in wonderful color combinations. Their site has perfume (Caleche is a crisp classic), men’s and even baby gifts.The orange box is heaven and so is the chocolate brown twill ribbon printed with their name; I wear an antique locket on mine.
Isamo Noguchi lamp. I love his simple, quirky white paper lamps, like this one, at $105.
Jacquard pillow covers. Great paisleys.
Kitchen timer. Boring? Not if you have a crummy old stove or oven and/or you do a lot of cooking. Helpful to have several to coordinate the chaos at dinner party time. Affordable, cute, stocking stuffer: chickens or cow, $7.99 each.
Lillet. My favorite French aperitif: light, a little bit citrusy, not too sweet. $18 a bottle. Serve over ice. Yum!
Massage. Give one, get one. Or give a gift certificate for one.
Notecards. I’m crazy for beautiful stationery and recently discovered this great national chain, Paper Source. How about a set of personalized cards? A nice touch for all those thank-yous you have to send out while job-hunting.
Osa Martin’s biography, I Married Adventure, published in 1940. One of the first and most daring women adventurers in Africa.
Paperwhites. A perfect fragrant addition to any winter-bound home.
Queen Anne upholstered chair. Simple, elegant, comfortable.
Rwandan-made baskets. I love these affordable and gorgeous bowls, $40, woven in Rwanda by local women.
Soap. Few affordable presents beat a hard-milled, long-lasting (like a month) fragrant bar of soap. Here’s all-natural, woman-owned Sarva soaps. Sephora carries Fresh soaps, $14 each, and anything by Roger & Gallet, three to a box, is a do-able luxury at about $16.
Toile de Jouy. (Twal de Jwee, for the non-Francophiles!) This is one of my favorite things in the whole world, a fabric design that dates back centuries. Pottery Barn has lovely cosmetic bags, two for $36, as well as bed linens and shower curtains, in this pattern.
Umbrella. I like this one, cheetah-print, that you can monogram in red, $36.
Vintage. Anything! Jewelry, vest, hats, handbags, tableware, napkins. EBay, thrift and consignment shops.
Woolrich’s Civil War artillery blanket, $119. Cozy and historic!
XKCD. Check out this fun comic website, xkcd.
Yaktrax. I love to walk outdoors even in ice and snow. These things , $17.95, strap on over your sneakers or light boots, allowing safe year-round treks.
Zanzibar. If you can find the time and money, go for me. It’s near the top of my wish list!