Liz Langley's gift guide 

And so this is Christmas, and what have you done? When John Lennon asked this question in the only peacenik Christmas carol every written, it's unlikely he anticipated the answer to be, "Not my damn shopping."

Nonetheless, it's probably true for most of you. The fortunate have people to run these errands for them. The savvy pick up items throughout the year and have them shoved into the attic in anticipation of the big day. None of these people are Orlando Weekly readers. You wait and wait, then scuttle around like an attention-deficit squirrel trying to snatch enough nuts for every fruitcake on your list. It's supposed to be the little things that count. But try telling that to a 6-year-old on the morning of Dec. 25th. Or your mom. Or me.

Everybody, under the facade of maturity and anti-commercialism, wants to say, "You don't have to get me anything." But damned if we don't crave some stuff for ourselves while we're out there hustling for everyone else.

That is why, while we're preparing for the holidays, we've occasionally invoked the "one for you, one for me" method of shopping, pointing out a few things you could pick up for yourself while you're doing nice things for others. It doesn't have to be a big thing -- some good coffee, a good book -- just something to help you last through the next round of emotional graft supply.

See? Now that you know you're getting something, even if you have to buy it, doesn't it make it easier for you to get out there? Me, too. So let's go.

Roll your own

For sushi snobs, the idea of sushi from a grocery store may be shockingly substandard. But when you're standing in the middle of all that food that you have to go home and cook yourself, ready-made sushi doesn't seem like such a bad idea.

I've recommended Gooding's sushi to people before. And right alongside their own California rolls, Gooding's sells AFC's The Ultimate Sushi Kit ($35). Here is everything you need -- the instruction book, the bamboo mat, the micro-minute rice, the seaweed, even the miso soup -- so that all you have to provide are the fish innards. This lets you give someone the gift of being able to make sushi whenever they want it, right in their own home, and homemade sushi can be as good or better than anything in a restaurant. Now, while I myself would stick to the vegetarian stuff for fear of killing anybody with raw fish, the lucky recipient may be more responsible and soon could be rolling in tuna rolls to their gourmet heart's content.

And as for the one for you, you're going to luck out every time they invite you over to dinner, which they will do in appropriate gratitude, and often.

Fancy footwork

Guys don't realize there are few better ways to sweep a girl off her feet and into your spell than to hold out your hand in that "Shall we?" gesture and then lead her around the floor in a way that makes her feel like Cinderella. Giving her a gift of something you can do together is up there on the romantic points scale, too. TC Dance Club (332 Wilshire Blvd., Casselberry; (407) 339-3000) offers gift certificates worth $95 for four private classes, one group class and one club party that will instruct you in any dance you might want to know, swing to waltz to tango. And since you're a student, there's no feeling self-conscious or weird like you might on a club floor surrounded by high-styling hoofers.

The gift she gets is not only the fun of dancing with you, but also knowing that you extended yourself to do something this romantic for her. The gift you get is a little more confidence on that floor ... plus the way she looks at you when you hold out your hand and say, "Shall we?"

That little extra

You don't have to be gay to shop at Rainbow City (934 N. Mills Ave.; (407) 898-6096), but it helps. Or at least it helps if you're shopping for someone who is. Your Aunt Mary might appreciate, for example, an angel in a beautiful, flowing white gown to top off the Christmas tree, but she might not understand how come that angel is a guy with a beard ($34.95). And though your little niece might go in for a Barbie doll, it's hard to tell how she'd react to an anatomically correct Billy doll, whether in a cop uniform ($54.95) or a Wall Street suit ($100) -- not to mention his friend Carlos.

But the happy surprise of the day for any gift-giver has to be The Bulge. The Bulge is a $19.95 piece of latex and cloth that fits under your jeans for the same effect as a stuffed sock but with more, shall we say, contouring. A sales lady told us she had tried it on herself, "just to freak people out." And how did it feel? "Just like something weird hanging down there." Well, for a girl, sure. But if you know a guy who could use a little padding, this Bulge's for you.

Whip something up

Nothing says Christmas like a bullwhip with a penis-shaped handle on it. Of course, that's not all they have next door at Absolute Leather (942 N. Mills Ave., (407) 896-8808), but since it's the type of item you're going to be hard-pressed to locate anywhere else (although I wish you would go into some fabric store and ask for the materials to make your own), it's only fair to mention it right up front, which is where they keep that stuff, right up front.

When you think about it, Santa does wear those big, black leather boots and that belt you could construe as corsetlike. It's not as nice as the rubber/polyester/brocade corsets they have here for $151.95, but it beats seeing what Santa would look like in the clear plastic skivvies. The leather wear here may strike you as a bit expensive, but it's built to last, hand-made by their specialist, Laverne, who will custom make whatever your little heart desires. A little kinky, yes, but can't we all think of someone we'd like to see in a leather mask ($65-$75) with a mouth hole you can tie shut?

Up with nerds

Sci Fi City (6006 E. Colonial Drive; (407) 282-2292) was so endeared by Orlando Weekly readers naming it as the Best Geek Pick-Up Place that we are told they made up a sign that says "Geeks need love, too." Wandering around the store the other day, I saw a guy with his back turned to all the sexy Vargas-type posters while he buried his nose in a Superman book. They need love, they sure do.

Geeks also need presents, and even if you have no idea what they're talking about half the time (who, or what, is Cthulhu anyway?), someone in this store can help you furnish that certain pale, bespectacled someone in your life with whatever paraphernalia they need to keep them happily occupied away from this planet. But you can update their hip factor with the gift of a Betty Page Zippo lighter found here -- although any joy they express upon receiving a copy of the soundtrack to "R. Crumb, The Musical" should be a signal to you to keep your distance.

Share the health

They say the way to a man's heart is through his stomach. This not only sounds grotesque, but also is a little misleading: The way to anyone's heart is through their stomach.

Whole Foods (1989 Aloma Ave., Winter Park; (407) 673-8788) might sound so alarmingly healthful you'd think it wouldn't be the place to find the decadent stuff the holidays require. One surprise you'd never expect to find in your local granola outlet is Road Dog Ale, a Scottish ale with a Ralph Steadman illustration on the box and a little Hunter Thompson verse on the side ($7.99 for a six-pack). After that, the health-store thing might come in handy, offering things like Daily Detox Tea ($9.98), which offers to clear your system of poisons like exhaust, medicine and pesticides and graciously makes no mention of the hangover you actually need the healing brew for.

The one for you here is that Whole Foods has samples of their edibles everywhere in the store. As one who abuses the sample system shamelessly, I deeply appreciated it, and you will, too, especially if you hang around near the deli when they are offering samples of their salmon spread and hummus. This stuff is good enough to actually break down and buy.

Merry, um ... I forget

Speaking of health foods, Chamberlin's Market & Cafe (Winter Park Mall, Winter Park; (407) 647-661) is not normally a place to buy gag gifts. But if you want a stocking stuffer that tastes good (that's for them) and also allows you to take a poke at somebody (that's for you), here's where you'll find Attention Bars. Coming in weird flavors like huckleberry and selling for $1.79 a pop, Attention Bars let you tell someone to get with it and gives them food at the same time, food with "high brain nutrients designed to enhance attention span." They also come in cases, in case you want to make your point again and again and again.

One from the art

It's easy to run out to the mall and find stuff for your parents or your kids. But what about that hipster on your list that recoils from anything bought at a chain store?

Maybe I don't get out enough, but I've never seen finger armor-rings that take up your whole finger like something Xena or Marilyn Manson would wear (up to $30), available at Artistry Marketplace (100 E. Central Blvd.; (407) 481-9963).. Ditto skeleton-shaped beer-bottle openers ($35), velvet sunglasses with big Jackie O frames ($15) or fetish fashion dolls (think Bondage Barbie) ($40). They also feature local art works like Transmutations skulls ($84) and unique stash boxes (the alien goes for $18, the shrunken head for $36). They've got great clothes in here, too, especially a TV dinner belt (with laminated pictures of those convenience meals that look like they were taken in 1962, $18), and a tube top and miniskirt that says "SLUT" all over it (top, $20; skirt, $35). So maybe there's something in here for your mom. Not that I know your mom. I'm just sayin'...

Christmas bulbs

Yuletide flora and fauna is a nice touch for decorating, but let's face it, there isn't a lot of variety. And there must be times when, if someone gives you another poinsettia, you're going to scream. Besides, if you're going to send somebody something, you might as well make it something that won't sicken the dog if the stupid thing decides to eat it.

Harry's Flowers (1252 N. Semoran Blvd.; (407) 249-0500) not only has beautiful arrangements, but also delivers things that people can use. At Harry's they'll stuff anything you want into a gift basket (no, not black market organs or anything like that, wiseass, you think you're so clever, don't you?) and have a lot of predesigned baskets so you don't have to think too hard. And if the whole wine and cheese or sachet bit is not to your liking, Harry's will even put beer in these baskets. I know, because I asked. Beer delivery is something many of us have long dreamed about, and you can make it a reality for someone on your list (one for them). Then you can come over and help them drink it (one for you). Beer is the gift that keeps on giving, at least until it runs out.

Wine and cheesecake

Unless they're in The Program, no one turns down booze ... I mean, a fine bottle of champagne or scotch ... as a Christmas gift. ABC is still the place for all your dipsomaniacal holiday needs, because they not only have everything but also have those little extras, like cigars or really good chocolates, that will make you look even better if you hand them over along with that bottle-shaped present you're cradling.

But I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest you also try Big C Community Package liquors (7496 University Blvd., Winter Park; (407) 678-0882). I suggest this for the sole reason that they have a sign outside that says, "Oui Oui French Wine, $3.99."

If you can't find something for yourself at a liquor store, you have more fortitude than I. That task is made easier at Big C, where that sign also advertises "Lingerie Show, Friday, 6-8." If you're a guy, you might see something you like. If you're a girl (or a guy who wears a Victoria's Secret garter belt under your Brooks Brothers suit), you might see something you'd like to wear.

Get to the Pointe

Even though it actually is part of Orlando, the whole I-Drive tourist area seems like somewhere else, a sister city, like we're a Sodom to their Gomorrah or a Buda to their Pest. Most of us never go out there, and I myself haven't been there in forever, except to attend a very important social function. OK, it was my niece's birthday at Chuck E. Cheese, but you get the idea. No local wants to hit that strip unless they have to.

But a good gift is worth the trouble of sitting in traffic to fetch. And Pointe Orlando has a couple of shops that are so unique they merit traveling behind enemy lines.

Nicholson House (9101 International Drive; (407) 903-1280) was more frequently recommended to us as an all-purpose gift locale than anything else in this guide. The high praise, however, came with a warning that the place was expensive, that you could scarcely look around without needing your credit-card limit raised.

Not so. Although many items here occupy a higher tax bracket than we do, a lot of smaller items can fit snugly into your budget and still make people ask that best of gift questions, "Where did you GET this?"

Candles perfectly shaped like pieces of sushi are a mere $5, and yes, there's wasabi and ginger to go with them. A bottle of cut-grass perfume that really does smell like cut grass (they also have baby powder and "beach smells") is only $10. Votive candles protecting you from Dysfunctional Family Christmases (which depict the family toasting marshmallows over the Xmas tree they're burning down) and alien abduction (which depict one of the greenish Greys in a Virgin Mary cloak) are $10.50. A sleep mask with "Do not disturb" written on its pink front is $19.50. For the loneliest person alive, a scrapbook labeled "Photos of My Cat" is just $26. But there are a million other things at Nicholson House, and it's worth a look because you never know what you will decide you can afford once you see how cute it is.

Elsewhere at Pointe Orlando, Moon Dance (903-1302) is the hands-down winner of surprise locales and something we never expected to find in a million years stuck to a kitsch magnet like I-Drive. Everything is perfect from the moment you walk into this quasi-museum, which contains objects of art and ceremony from every far-flung corner of the world. It's as though Robert Ripley, celebrated with an upside-down building elsewhere on this strip, had a brother with an eye for the beautiful and interesting who collected things for this place while Rob was off finding guys with horns growing out of their foreheads.

You're unlikely to find too many Christmas trinkets among the display of cultural artifacts -- Tibetan head pieces, spears from Java, Phurpa magic darts used for "the ritual slaying of a human effigy of a foe" -- but you never know. At the very least, you could pretty much guarantee that a gift from here would not be duplicated. For example, a wooden statue of the weeping Buddha, which tells the story of how the guru went from warrior to peacekeeper, goes for just $15; if you're willing to stretch a little, an Ashanti fertility doll is only $99, which is a lot for some people but probably less than those drugs that tend to produce sextuplets. But don't try anything funny; a sign advises, "Thieves will be cursed and beaten." We like open antagonism, but the holidays already have that in abundance.

The one wise man

The candles at Nicholson House are parodies of votives used in some religions to request money, luck or protection -- and who couldn't use a little extra of those?

Botanica Lucumi (51 N. Bumby Ave.; (407) 228-0708) has lots of the real thing, the candles, oils, soaps and other items that could bring that luck to someone on your list (who is already lucky to be getting presents). Lucumi, I was told, is a practice connected to Santaria and Yoruba, beliefs many Floridians have a passing acquaintance with but know little about. And any mysticism that remains too mysterious can be a little spooky.

Botanica Lucumi is a clean, uncluttered shop where they are friendly and forthcoming with answers and put no pressure on the browser to buy. I've been to palmists, swamis and psychics but never had the nerve to go to a botanica for a spiritual reading. Finally, in this comfortable store, I felt I found the right place.

Jorge Llerena is an "omocolabba," a wise person of Lucumi, and for $30 gave me a 30-minute reading, where he prayed in an African language and interpreted my cowrie shells. Through an interpreter he told me who my guardian spirit was and, without telling you too much personal detail, sensed a few things with surprising accuracy.

Jorge offered charms, which I could not afford, but again, there was no pressure, no hints that not following through would be bad. (Some readers use sales pressure to scare the gullible; didn't happen here.) Those sensitive to the alien might feel nervous around the paraphernalia, but those with a genuine interest in this religion can learn more about it here, and perhaps about themselves. If you know someone drawn to the mystical, taking them for a reading -- or even buying just a candle for a little luck -- at Botanica Lucumi would definitely be a unique present. An outside perspective, and a glimpse into another culture, is always a gift.

Naked lunch

Naked lunch

Art Angels (431 E. Central Blvd.; (407) 872-3884) is one of those stores that is always so sparklingly decorated that it seems like Christmas every day in there. And it's so packed full of gorgeous little things you'll be surprised just how long you can stand in the relatively small space. Those things begin at birth, with a silver-plated birth certificate holder ($19.99), but quickly advance to holiday items like beautiful German stars, made of hand-made paper and then painted, with a million holes and a light inside so little spotlights are thrown everywhere when you turn it on ($24.99-$29.99), more adult gifts like a jeweled dragonfly hairclip ($38) and a CD rack shaped like an alligator ($40), to a really adult gift, "Cooking in the Nude: Playful Gourmets," ($9.95), a book that offers advice and recipes for romantic evenings. Some of them looked good, but I don't know about those shrimp balls.

A hollow feeling

Don't you get just about enough of Christianity over the holidays? Then stop by Herne's Hollow (1211 Hillcrest St.; (407) 895-7439), a well-hidden little store providing all, but not limited to, your New Age/wiccan or otherwise mystic needs.

For instance, you'd hate to get all done up for some new moon ceremony and find out it was yesterday. "Llewelyn's Witch's Date Book" ($9.95) will cover you and also has recipes, like one for sangria. The store also has etched glass and other goblets to drink that sangria from.

You can get some good nonreligious items here as well, like Baltic amber earrings ($12.95- $24.95), Celtic symbol pendants ($12.95), or a book on "Your Pet's Horoscope" ($7.95). If you haven't had enough of the mystical stuff, you can even get a little prepackaged mysticism to go in the Magical Spell Kit ($19.95).

What's in it for you? In this neighborhood, good Vietnamese restaurants. You need to go to one and try the coffee with sweetened condensed milk. It's like a coffee shake with the caffeine you need to keep yourself awake through your tedious job of thinking about other people.

Lights up

Lights up

"Cool stuff from the '70s" is how The Abyss (8575 Hwy. 17-92, Fern Park; (407) 332-0013) advertises itself. But the really cool stuff is found in its collection of water pipes that will make your eyes bug out, I don't care how red and glassy they are.

These pipes ($25-$275) are made of beautiful art glass but have no pretensions; the pop culture pipes sport figures of Buddha, Scooby Doo, Gene Simmons and South Park's Kenny (complete with zombie stitches). Best, though, are the double-secret covert pipes that come as cheaply as $9.99 and masquerade as lipstick cases, lighters, flashlights and car lighters, small enough to hang on a key chain and discreet enough to elude the eye of the most canny observer.

Past impressions

Seinfeld may have added "regifting" to the lexicon, but it's been going on forever. It might be a little tacky to recycle gifts that were just given to you, but it's not tacky to recycle stuff in general. Garage sale, flea market and resale items, as long as they're nice ones, are never in bad taste.

And So On (1807 N. Orange Ave.; (407) 898-3485) has a nice collection of new and preowned stuff, some untouched, like the checkerboard slip-on heels ($16), some your mom might have bought at Levitz when you were 6, like the zigzag lime-green wall mirror ($65), some your grandmother might have gotten as a present (rhinestone-encrusted cigarette lighter, circa 1920s, $18) and, of course, a naked lady corkscrew ($48). No bar would be complete without one. Well, OK, it would, but it wouldn't be as fun.

Booking agent

Christmas would arrive and we, the people of this country, would gather around identical trees, voicing our pleasure with worn clichés ... Were I to receive a riding vacuum cleaner or even a wizened proboscis monkey, it wouldn't please me half as much as knowing we were the only family in the neighborhood with a prostitute in our kitchen ...

"Dinah, The Christmas Whore" is a story in the collection of seasonal tales, "Holidays On Ice," written by David Sedaris, one of the funniest and most brilliant writers ever to hit print. Get this for someone. I command it. It's only $8 in paperback. Get it for a few people. Get it for yourself. The holidays can make you cry -- why not, for a change, laugh until you're in tears?

Barnes & Noble is where I found this jewel, and, while we have tried to steer clear of chains, there's just no escaping this store. And why would you want to, when you can curl up and read while pretending to shop? There's too many books to get specific, but another I must note is the kids' book Squids Will Be Squids. Allow me to tempt you with a sample: "Shark, wasp and bacteria ate lunch together every day. ‘No one ever sits with us ...' said shark." Enough said. ($17.99).

Listening booth

Hearing a story read to you is a pleasure that used to be confined to childhood, but audio books bring it back. Listening to "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" is likely to make the miles in the car pass by in a flash (although hearing Anais Nin's description of "voluptuous female beauty at a women's bath in Morocco" could cause you to run off the road).

These were found at Virgin Megastore (Downtown Disney West Side; (407) 828-0222), where we also spotted The Return of the Tribal Art Body Adornment Kit ($26); the screenplay to "Fargo" ($13.95); "The Martini," a lusciously illustrated history of the classic cocktail by Barnaby Conrad III ($24.95); the How the Grinch Stole Christmas game ($16.95), and the "Rough Guide to World Music" ($22.95), including a list of Cajun radio shows.

Speaking of music, I'm kind of endeared to this place because I found David Byrne's "Rei Momo" ($11.95) here, which I thought would be hard to get without first hearing "We can order it ... ," plus lots of stuff by tango great Astor Piazolla. And a nice surprise is all the local music they have here, which could be making its way around the world, considering the tourist traffic.

Heaven spent

If the mark of a good present is the response, "Where did you get this," then the mark of a good store is the number of times you say, "Oh my God" when you find stuff you thought you never would. This is going to happen to you a lot at Rock & Roll Heaven (1814 N. Orange Ave.; (407) 896-19520). When, for example, was the last time you saw a Devo 45?

The toys from your past -- the Captain Fantastic pinball machine and the John Travolta as Vinnie Barbarino doll -- and the music of your present and future make it easy for you to spend a lot of time in here. Money, too, but not a ton. You'll get to luxuriate in decisions like whether you need "Las Vegas Grind" on vinyl or "Bachelor Pad Christmas" on CD (both $12.99), a T-shirt advertising "Bewitched" (the cartoon opening with Samantha on a broom, $6.99) or Marilyn Manson (broom not included, $9.99), how they got away with making an album called "Hogan's Heroes Sing the Best of World War II," or whether to buy any videos from "Children of the Damned to Children of the Corn" (or the inevitable sequel, "Children of the Damned Corn").

As for what's in it for you, I'd bet plenty. I have a hard-and-fast rule about never buying while researching this gift guide. I broke it here. I'm not made of stone, fergoddsake, and they had a CD by The Shadows of Knight. I hadn't heard this band in forever, but they used to make my mom screech like a set of bad brakes, "Will you please change that goddamn record! If I hear it 50 more times I swear I'll kill someone!" Ah, memories. I love this CD. I'm going to call and play it at my mother.

Art of the deal

Bargains are definitely what you're looking for, although "Bargains for Millionaires" may not be exactly what you want to hear a business is offering. Liquidation Station (349 N. Orlando Ave., Winter Park; (407) 599-9797) has plenty of the latter, things like the Westminster King bed ($995) that will remind you of cathedral architecture and will agree with your sense of adventure if you've ever wanted to do it in a church.

But you don't have to be a millionaire to afford one of their Picasso chairs ($129) -- with the shape of one of the artist's famous faces fashioned out of iron -- to add a little class to the home of the lucky recipient. And if you've no money at all, Liquidation Station still has free Tootsie Rolls by the door, and that ain't all bad.

Camping it up

By the time this whole Christmas thing is over the most welcome thing a lot of people could ask for, and will need, is a vacation. You can give it to them. Travel Country Outdoors (1101 E. State Road 436, Altamonte Springs; (407) 831-0777) offers kayak tours you can buy on a gift certificate. Put in any amount and let the recipient book the date and you can buy them the great outdoors.

But Travel Country is also a retail outlet loaded with all the stuff a happy camper needs, like a Lexam Java Press 10 ounce coffeepot that makes "gourmet coffee in three easy steps" in case you can't face the wilderness without your white-chocolate French roast. And there is a pair of underwear thermals called ZeO2 Mountain Hardwear, the big draw of which is "permanent odor control" and "molecular moisture management." I can only assume these are in case you see a bear outside your tent. They cost $38. I think underwear that cost $38 should vibrate or talk to you. But these are for you, not me, so it's really none of my business.

Stuck way out there

The more stores you go to, the more you want to get away. And boy, have I got out-of-the-way for you.

Florida Cactus (2542 Peterson Road, Plymouth; (407) 886-1833) is your miniroad trip away from the packed parking lots and out into the back roads beyond Apopka, which, in case you have forgotten (how could you!), is the Indoor Foliage Capital of the World. There are a lot of nurseries out here but I bet few like this one -- greenhouse after greenhouse of every kind of little pricker, and a few big ones. And with the 6-feet-wide maps of both the United States and Florida entirely made out of cacti, this feels like one of those old Florida places that are just about extinct.

A Sensa style

Relax the Back (2622 E. Colonial Drive; (407) 897-3399) is a store I've passed many times and never thought of going in, but let me tell you, sampling massagers is not the worst way to spend a little time. I used to think "personal massager" was a clumsy euphemism for stuff you found at Fairvilla Megastore and Liberty Video -- and it is -- but there really are personal massagers, and my favorite was the Mini Pro-Thumper, a machine professionals use ($229.95), followed by the Panasonic Reach Easy (shut up), a close second at a fraction of the cost ($69.99). They have those nature tapes ($9.95) and CDs ($14.95) to further help de-knot you, a buckwheat-filled neck pillow ($24.95), and Hot-Cold gel compresses for microwave or freezer ($9.99).

Anyone with muscles would appreciate any of these gifts and the other comforting things they have here, and since half the staff are massage therapists they can answer any of your questions. Mine was, "What's a good gift?" Their answer was a Sensa pen with a comfortable gel grip that writes upside down and underwater ($50 and up).

What's in it for you? You get to test out this equipment.

You take the wheel

So you don't have the Martha Stewart touch, but you like that crafty stuff, making gifts that you put a little work into, not just the work it takes to pay the bill.

If you want to indulge in a little creativity and have homemade gifts, you can go to All Fired Up (364 W. Fairbanks Ave., Winter Park; (407) 644-9363), pick yourself out a few nice ceramics, chose your colors and go to it. They fire them for you, you pick them up a week later and you could knock off everyone on your gift list and have a great time doing it. You can bring your own food and wine, and there are some studio fee specials for fall. The therapeutic relaxation of making stuff, which you might not have done since grade school, is what's in it for you.

If you're a real purist you might not just want to paint those ceramics, you might want to make them yourself. Terra Potta (1245 Michigan Ave., Winter Park; (407) 647-5109), an out-of-the-garage-type operation where they teach you how to use the wheel, glaze the pieces and fire them for you. You can give a gift certificate for studio time -- $75 a month for unlimited access, or $145 for a five-week wheel class -- or show up yourself and make your mom a matching companion to that ashtray you made her in sixth grade.

And one for me

And so this is Christmas, and what have we done? Hopefully given you a few good ideas, or at least a few places to go that you won't see advertised on TV every 10 seconds. It takes a little more time and effort than making the one-stop fits all mall trek, but the gift of cool and unusual is worth it.

Come to think of it, if you want to show your appreciation by sending me (almost) anything on this list, feel free to do so, which should prove that I wouldn't plug (almost) anyplace I wouldn't go myself. After all, the more you give, the more I get. That's what the holidays are all about.


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