What Gives? 


A lump of soul

A few years ago, if you hated someone and still had to give them a holiday gift, you gave them one of those flowers that played awful, tinny pop music and danced. Last year, you gave them that singing mounted bass. This year, the novelty object of musical annoyance could be the Dancin' Shoutin' James Brown. James is out of jail and standing ... well, about two feet tall. His head turns around; he swings his arms to the music and moves his mouth to the words. If you feel moved to make him a little cape to throw over his shoulders and pretend he's overcome with emotion, you have that option. James sings five verses of "I Feel Good," and he cannot be stopped. The box notes that there is a "choking hazard" connected with the product, which might simply come from having to hear five verses of "I Feel Good" until you don't feel so good.

You can pick one of these up at most Walgreen's (although, like the singing bass, they are proliferating and can be found many other places, as well) and pay just $29.99 to drive someone absolutely out of their minds. This usually takes years of careful planning and might run you afoul of the law, so Dancin' Shoutin' James Brown is a pretty good deal.

--Liz Langley

Hang time

Tree-trimming parties need not be stuffy affairs, if you've got enough egg nog and gift the party-giver with an ornament from A Christmas Story (605 Market St., Celebration; 407-566-1113). The new shop features walls filled with intricate glass ornaments, the most fun ones being an Imelda's ransom of high-heeled shoes ($9 each) and sleeping, striped cats ($8.50). While you're dreaming of holiday cheer, check out the giant Santa head teapot ($45). Grinning like the crazed purveyor of dry goods that he is, Mr. Claus looks more like he needs to be filled with 90-proof holiday cheer than tea, which is why this would make an ingenious present: Everybody has enough teapots, but you can never have enough cocktail equipment.

--James Crescitelli

Moving stationery

A card shop is a card shop, you say? Hardly. It's not just about kittens and bouquets and piles of balloons anymore, is it? Red Marq (308 S. Park Ave., Winter Park; 407-647-2336) has cards, of course, and plenty of them -- but it's accessories like fur-trimmed gift bags that set Red Marq a few notches above your standard mall sentimentorium. For example, they carry journals by Anne Taintor ($10), the covers of which are decoupaged with high-falutin' ladies from the '30s, '40s and '50s (which, if you take out all the wars and stuff, were innocent and deliriously contented decades), each one captioned drolly ("Domestically Disabled," "Maybe I Want to Look Cheap"). Naturally, there are tons of unusual calendars and blank books, but there's also the Raika line of leather desk accessories such as folders and checkbook covers ($32-$200), with a book of swatches so you can pick out the shade of leather that best matches the recipient's demeanor, from midnight black to an optimistic, seaworthy turquoise. It's perfect for the executive secretary in your life, assuming you haven't had to let her go.

--James Crescitelli

Soily love song

Large and airy, Apenberry's (151 E. Welborne Ave., Winter Park; 407-644-5709; www.apenberrys.com) is a gardener's heaven. There's an al-fresco feeling inside which makes you think: Hey! I can do this in my yard! Which is the whole point: You can! Create a focal point behind your Casselberry Tara with a tiered fountain, or simply place a stack of wallowing concrete frogs by the front door to greet the wolf when he comes calling ($42). For $1,000, you can place a metal arbor studded with fleur-de-lis at the entrance to your own personal Versailles, or fill a $35 Macbeth tolle petite vase with quality garden tools. No property to speak of? Then, a tin of Canned Land ($10) will attempt to satisfy, and you can decide whether you want the just-water-it earth to bring forth basil, parsley, chives or cilantro. When you're done, a swab of Rainy Afternoon Shea Butter Hand Cream ($17) will soothe those calloused hands. It's all about being safe in seclusion, you know. Once you slam the garden gate behind you and wander down the primrose path, nobody can breach your rarefied heights.

--James Crescitelli

Supplies, surprise

If you pass it while whizzing by in your car along the busy stretch of Colonial Drive where it sits, Sam Flax Art and Design Supplies (1401 E. Colonial Drive; 407-898-9785) looks to be strictly an art-supply store, and if you have no artistic temperament you might just keep on whizzing. But there's more inside than what's visible outside, and if you can't find something here to delight the person you're buying for, consider chucking them off the list.

Enter from the front and you're immediately confronted with office furniture and accessories so mod, like loudly colored, funny shaped fabric lamps ($32), that they could make you enjoy working in an office. Moving along you'll find a collection of rubber stamps and ink for Those People Who Do That Kind of Thing, plus a great selection of photo albums, the most endearing of which put the kibosh on sentiment and get straight to the point, stating on the cover that these are pictures of "My Pious Friends and Drunken Companions" or your "Dysfunctional Family Album" ($27.50). There's also a terrific supply of packaging, whether you're packaging your letters with a selection of seals and sealing wax, or packaging your gifts in unusual ribbons and wrappings.

To go inside those wrappings are items such as tiny hand soaps shaped like a hand (85 cents), the Disappearing Van Gogh Mug (pour in a hot beverage and his ear vanishes, $9.95) and flashing lights to stick in your belly button called Belly Lights, perfect for the currently chic bare-midriff look ($6.95). There's also the all-time genius gift of gifts, the Sigmund Freud and Couch finger-puppet set ($11), so if you can't afford therapy you can just stick your finger into Siggy and pretend someone is listening to your troubles. Even if you don't know any starving artists, surely you know someone who needs finger-puppet therapy, and badly.

--Liz Langley

Femme and fortune

According to the U.S. Census, women outnumber men in America by more than 5 million, so statistically it's likely you have a few on your gimme list. A good place to shop for them is Bijou's Boutique (3026 Corrine Drive; 407-894-4204), which is chock-full of unique girl stuff but doesn't crush you with that mall-sized tidal wave of merchandise until you've looked at so much you can't see anymore.

Some of Bijou's offerings are relatively inexpensive, especially considering their wonderful uniqueness. There's a selection of evening bags shaped like Chinese take-out boxes, handle and all, wrapped in gorgeous Chinese silk fabric ($26); animal print ashtrays, the kind with the knob you can push down so all your ashes disappear -- and what girl doesn't like to hide her butt? ($11); and, if you're keeping it very simple, delicate gift cards that come with incense sticks and a tiny holder ($6). The words "exotic" and "patchwork" don't usually appear together, but Bijou has a selection of exotic patchwork pillows, pieced together from the fabric of antique saris ($28), and if your recipient wants more stuff for the house, there are lots of other nice-but-not-expensive things like floating candles in the shape of butterflies ($6 for a set of four) and beaded identification rings to wrap around your guest's wine glasses to keep track of whose is whose ($18 for a set of eight).

Home accessories aside, Bijou is mostly filled with personal accessories, a great selection of unusual watches, jewelry, purses, hats and, for the more daring or those who know someone well enough to buy clothes for them, a selection of casual and upscale items, most of them right for our moody weather. Bijou has another location in College Park, so whichever side of town you end up in, you'll be able to find a higher end of girl gifts here -- and you want to get us something nice. After all, we do outnumber you.

--Liz Langley

Golden nugget

Would you like to make someone moan and sigh in ecstasy without ever having to actually touch them? Almost next door to Bijou is Farris and Foster's Fine Chocolates (3022 Corrine Drive; 407-894-1981), but if you were anywhere near this place you wouldn't need a guide to help you find it. The heavenly scent of mouth-watering chocolates being made on the premises would hit you right in the nose and drag you helplessly inside and, unless you're one of those freaks who doesn't go knock-kneed at the sight of mountains of sweets, you'll be all the happier for it.

The display case is stocked with seductive delicacies like hand-rolled truffles, cremes and jellies in every flavor from vanilla to pumpkin, plus enough chocolate-covered Sugar Wafers, Nutter Butters and marshmallows ($19.81 per pound, but remember, there's quite a lot in a pound) to make you sweeter just by looking at them. Their caramel apples are more beautiful than anything you're likely to find in an art museum, drizzled with various shades of chocolate and able to make you fall down like Snow White in a deep swoon ($4-$5, and exactly the kind of gift that will elicit an "oooh" when opened). As the name suggests, Farris and Foster's is a two-family operation, headed by folks who have been in the local candy biz for 14 years, so between that and the fact that you can watch all their delights being made by hand, you can count on quality. As for quantity, you can get anything from a tiny two-piece box for those mini-gifts you might like to hand out to office mates to a five-pound box for someone whose diet you are slyly trying to sabotage. If you don't see exactly what you want, ask; they take special orders. Anything you buy from here will top out so highly on the delicious scale that the other kind of scale will be forgotten in short order.

--Liz Langley

The bisque is back

You'd think a place that invites you to paint your own pottery would be filled with grannies diligently decorating ceramic Bo Peeps or those horrible wide-eyed dolls that everyone used to place upon their toilet tanks in 1967. Not so at Glaze Under Fire (460 N. Orlando Ave., Winter Park; 407-644-8088; www.glazeunderfireonline.com). The shop offers ready-to-finish bisque ware from sensuously shaped vases and fashionable crockery to martini glasses and even miniature couches and chairs with tiny pillows attached. There are many items priced from $10 to $50, plus a fixed rate ($6 per day for small items, $9 for larger ones) that covers all materials and firing. Holiday items are always available, too, so you can actually get started on presents way before the frenzy of gift selection settles in. Just choose a piece, and the helpful attendant elves will supply all the paints and brushes and traceable templates you need; within a couple of weeks you get to claim your professionally fired gift item. And you'll actually find grannies here, but groovy ones, and they're more often than not sharing a table with a group of pregnant yuppie housewives, or a clutch of style boys from College Park. Saturday night is especially convivial: It's called Date Night, and you're encouraged to bring food and drink and desserts. Think of the design concepts you'll come up with after a couple of glasses of cabernet. And you can be sure your creations won't end up in somebody's bathroom.

--James Crescitelli

They shell themselves

Here's a gift that will go over easy. The giant hand-painted egg lamps ($55 with shade) at El Colorido de Mexico import shop (307A E. First St., Sanford; 407-302-9907) are made of clay, and they sport oval-shaped bases with cracked sections out of which a variety of wildlife bursts free. Depending on the lamp you choose, giraffes, dolphins or sea turtles will emerge; one clever model features rainbow-hued fish that seem to be swimming into and out of the egg's interior. With a lighting concept like this, your giftee will never be in the dark again.

--James Crescitelli

As good as it sweats

During the holidays you're invited to more parties than you are at any other time of year, and since you're making all these public appearances, you naturally want to look your best. It follows that this is also the time of year you can expect to put on weight as though you were pregnant, even if you're a man. Who says irony is dead?

Presenting people with a certificate to a gym is a great gift, and one spot to send them is Cardio Club Fitness Center (in the MetroWest area at 6449 Raleigh St.; 407-822-3900, www.cardioclubusa.com). Cardio Club looks and feels friendlier than your average gym, and it is. Classes include aerobics, spinning and martial arts, but there's also belly dancing and "groovology," which promises to teach the latest dance moves. The room where these classes are taught isn't your standard box, either; it's curved -- and heavy bags that hang from the ceiling and descend for boxing and kickboxing classes -- confirm that you're not in a standard gym space

The locker room is worthy of a spa, and in the adjacent Sunbody salon you can buy yourself either a massage or a good tan. Both places offer gift certificates, so you can help someone get as fit and gorgeous as your budget will allow. Membership is month-to-month, so there's no nightmare three-year contract to deal with. But the real kick is this: If, as a member, you need a little motivation, Cardio Club will, upon request, give you a wake-up call to remind you that it's time to come in and work out. So you have a personal trainer nudging you before you even get into the building, a brilliant idea since it's actually getting out the door that is the hardest part of exercising for most of us. Sometimes one of the nicest things you can give a person is a nudge in the right direction.

--Liz Langley

Return to sender

Sometimes in this computer-driven society, it's hard to tell whether there are any signs of civilization left. With e-mails piling up faster than we can delete them without even bothering to open them, life can be frustrating and frenetic. Sometimes we just want to put the computer to sleep, brew a cup of tea, curl up on the couch and write letters. When you surrender to that impulse, get over to Art Angels Market (430 E. Central Blvd.; 407-872-3884; www.artangelsmarket.com) and pick up a package of stationery designed by artist Kitty Blanton. Fifteen dollars will get you a set of five beautiful cards featuring Blanton's watercolor of Lake Eola, the fountain and our ever-changing skyline. Her bright colors and happy way with a brush make these gorgeous reproductions a wonderful gift -- or a nice addition to your writing desk, assuming you haven't sold it on eBay.

--James Crescitelli

Speaking volumes

You are walking around downtown, thrilled to see how the town has built itself up in the past few years, drinking in all the scenery that wasn't there on your last visit, or that you just didn't notice before. You're happy at how citified the place has become and it occurs to you that, you know, it would be really nice to see a good bookstore come in here.

Did you like the second-person narrative? That's my Italo Calvino impression from his book, "If on a winter's night a traveler." If you don't know who Calvino is you can find out at Urban Think, the new downtown bookstore you were wishing to life in the first paragraph.

Urban Think (625 E. Central Blvd.; 407-650-8004; www.urbanthinkorlando.com) is exactly what a bookstore ought to be -- a comfortable space to browse where you can be entirely in your own head and out in the world at the same time. Since Urban Think isn't a chain it doesn't have the gigantic selection of a Borders, but the titles it does have -- along with the big comfy couch for slouching, the swanky little bar for imbibing, and the community room for watching the TV and VCR, all arranged around roomy aisles and beneath a wonderfully high, airy ceiling -- are bound to please.

There are enough cookbooks and gardening books to make a Martha Stewart out of anyone. If you like the impersonating idea, you might also pick up Be Elvis! "A guide to impersonating the King!" ($16.95), with tips for doing exactly that. (There's a similar volume if you'd care to be Marilyn Monroe.) If you don't want to pay homage in public, you can get a kit that promises to teach "Everything You Need to Make Art Using the Approach of Roy Lichtenstein" ($19.95). This place will make Somebody out of you yet. And if you'd rather not be Somebody but instead be Somebody's Friend, you can get the remarkable Andy Warhol collector doll ($35). It looks just like Andy and, since he wasn't really known for being verbose, you probably could take him with you to Knock Knock after the store closes and he would act very much like he did in real life.

--Liz Langley

Buy now, pray later

They keep telling us that houses of worship are packed thanks to the horrors of Sept. 11, which means that a lot of people are searching for answers, or at least commiseration. You might find it in a sermon or simply by meditating within the stillness of a chapel. But you might also find it for someone else in the enormous gift shop at Mary, Queen of the Universe Shrine (8300 Vineland Ave.; 407-239-6600; www.maryqueenoftheuniverse.org). It's that really big church across the interstate from Disney, a tile-roofed monolith that invites you to splash around in its holy-water basin after you've spent a few days whooping it up at Splash Mountain. Built entirely with tourist donations, Mary, Queen of the Universe isn't like those dim Gothic cathedrals you remember from Italian Brooklyn or Polish Chicago. Instead, it's a vast, airy space, cool and silent and featuring a gift shop the size of Rhode Island. Here you can wrap yourself in glittering rosaries (starting at $13 for glass, and topping off at $64 for one made of Swarovski crystal) or, because we're told to pray in private and not loudly at all, buy a ring that allows you to count off the prayers with nobody being the wiser ($3). There also are statues of every bent and for every purpose, including the little St. Joseph that you're supposed to bury in your lawn when you have to sell your house and get out of town quickly. The shop also features beautifully detailed cr?che settings by Fontanini ($135-$200): action figures that have been a fad for 2000 years.

--James Crescitelli

The die is cast

If the real world still has you down, create a perfect, stress-free, colorful world populated with play families by Playmobil and Brio, available at The Rune Stone (326 N. Park Ave., Winter Park; 407-644-9671). These wooden-headed, eternally happy miniatures live in a wonderland you can accessorize with farmhouses and cows and tiny sports cars. Everything in your new world is bright and cheerful; you just know that the mailman's sack is filled with nothing more threatening than birthday cards. Pigtailed blonde milkmaids vie with cherubic paperboys to labor in this serendipitous make-believe country, and why not? Set up a few Elysian dioramas on your table and you're bound to be able to tear yourself away from the television. As the pieces de resistance, guard the Lilliputian periphery with beautifully detailed die-cast miniature soldiers by Britains ($6.99-$20), and hope they never have to fire a shot.

--James Crescitelli

Drool, Britannia

The past is to the present as the present is to the future, or something like that -- math is not a strong subject of ours -- and a nostalgic little shop in Thornton Park indulges your love for yesterday's things that bring you comfort today. Imbued with a British Colonial sensibility (think princesses Elizabeth and Margaret up a tree in Africa, sitting with their ankles crossed, sipping tea and murmuring, "charming wildebeast, wot?"), Past & Present (817 E. Washington St.; 407-428-0306) features gift items and gorgeous furniture that recall eras which, though we never knew them personally, appear flawless and civilized. Foot-high bronze and brass obelisks ($30-$50) conjure cozy, mysterious late afternoons in Edward Gorey-land; a Tradewinds patinaed-metal table clock ($56) looks like an openwork Big Ben; even a stack of Harlequin-motif hatboxes printed in purple ($13-$30) makes you smile and want to hop aboard the Trans-Congo Express. These and other accessories will give your home a sense of time and place, and you won't have to spend a queen's ransom, either.

--James Crescitelli

Gift for a greaser

Every household has at least one person who knows the difference between radishes and radicchio, or portobellos and port wine, so why not help them dress the part? Affordable Restaurant Equipment and Supplies (5744 E. Colonial Drive; 407-273-1117) carries a great selection of kitchen uniforms suitable for restaurant work, yet they're good-looking enough to wear at home. Why should the culinary expert in your house splash grease on her/his one good Brooks Brothers' button-down when it can be protected with a spotless white chef's coat? ($16.50-$22). Add a hat in white or a bright primary color ($10.20), or forego the ensemble entirely and choose a durable bib apron ($5.95). Splurge on chef pants in a red-hot-chili-pepper print ($37.50), which will inspire your gift recipient to achieve even greater gastronomic heights -- which may well be to your own benefit.

--James Crescitelli

Lenins 'n things

The Russians are our friends now, we keep reading. And being Americans, we welcome tens of thousands of them and their complex culture onto our shores. It's empowering (even though we hate that word) to embrace faces and languages strange to us. And you can start at Lacomka Bakery & Deli (2050 N. Semoran Blvd., Winter Park; 407-677-1101). The proprietors make incredibly sinful Russian pastries, layered items filled with cream and fruit and airy pastry dough; their five-layer honey cake made with milk-whipped cream is astounding. Among their holiday gift items, the one that most impressed us was a six-inch-high wooden honey pot made in Russia. Intricately carved with tiny figures and fretwork embellishments, it recalls the round wooden churches found in Russian forests. Plus, it's filled with good stuff. At $25.50, it's a work of art that can be displayed once your gift recipient has sucked out all the savory sweetness.

--James Crescitelli

Science is golden

The Orlando Science Center (www.osc.org) may be the best place to enjoy the wonders of nature without having to actually go into the hideous, hot, bug-ridden outdoors to do it. Stroll around the ground floor and you can see a giant soft-shell turtle, baby alligators and lots of fish hang out together while being thankful you can do it all in the air-conditioning.

And there aren't too many wonders-of-nature type places where you can shop. But the Science Center gift shop has great and unusual gifts that go way beyond the expected educational videos. The Bug Gun flings bugs (rubber ones, we hope) with "catapult action," and if the kid on your list is already smarter than you, pick up the Robotix Vox, a 425-part robot which stands three-and-a-half feet tall and, once constructed, "talks in your voice" ($220). You can pick up some excellent stocking stuffers here, too, like a sheet of dinosaur tattoos ($1) and various Marshall Brodein and Lance Burton magic kits. Sentiment makes Sea Monkeys ($8.95) an all-time favorite, and there's even an updated version, the Sea Monkeys Space Shuttle Exhibition where, instead of their usual unadorned digs, you can watch your sea monkeys not do much of anything in a shuttle-shaped container ($26.95).

If mere material goods don't seem like enough, you also can get gift certificates for admission to the Science Center for either a day in the complex, a big-screen Imax movie or a combination of the two. After all, why just keep the kids busy in the house when you can keep them busy somewhere you won't have to clean up?

--Liz Langley

Heavy metal holiday decor

Pine Traditions (918 Aloma Ave., Winter Park; 407-671-1201; www.pinetraditions.com) is filled with wonderful, warm wood furniture. Funny, then, that the item we pounced on wasn't created of pine, but iron. Standing proudly in a corner was a three-foot high Christmas tree made of charmingly distressed (which is what a lot of us feel at this time of year) metal, but this little item ($130) guarantees cheer. With seven attached holders for displaying fat round candles, it promises to brighten the darkest evenings. The best part is that there are no needles to vacuum up next February. Leave the pine to the gorgeous furniture, where it does more lasting good.

--James Crescitelli

All the right grooves

If you think CDs are the latest in consumer audio technology, it just goes to show that you are old. If your level of hipness is above average, your musical medium of choice is records. You heard right, records. They still make them and charge full price for them despite the advent of allegedly better things. Underground Record Source (926 N. Mills Ave.; 407-894-5944; http://urs-dancemusic.com/index.html) specializes in vinyl discs -- particularly jungle, hip-hop and scratch tools. (If you have to ask what that means, you're a very old person and should write a will right now). The shop has 12 listening stations, in case you'd like to find out firsthand what all this stuff sounds like. And the store carries all the accessories needed to complete one's DJ persona. So if you're the kind of person who thinks you're culturally informed but have no idea what to get the younger music lovers on your shopping list, or if your friends or kids aspire to DJ hipness, spend a little time at URS and get brought up to speed. And for those of you who are starting to get AARP solicitations in the mail, they also have CDS. WE SAID THEY ALSO HAVE CDs. Sheesh.

--Liz Langley

Player's club

What are we all going to do when the economy really takes the escalator down to the bottom of the barrel? We won't be able to afford movies. We won't be able to afford to go out drinking. We won't be able to afford HBO. But there's one thing that can amuse us indefinitely for one set price, and it might be a low one: games. At Games People Play (in the West Oaks Mall; 407-523-0966), there aren't just electronic games, but good old-fashioned board games: items like Cranium ($39.95), a very popular adult team challenge that asks you to do stuff like draw with your eyes closed, impersonate a celebrity or answer trivia questions to win. Also intriguing are Pass the Pigs ($9.95), a modernized version of a classic drinking game with porcine-shaped dice, and Roadside Rescue ($14.95) in which you have to save the day when bad things happen in gridlock traffic. (And they say games are unrealistic).

--Liz Langley

The cat's meow

As if you need your heartstrings tugged on a little more during the holidays, let us paint a picture of our few moments at the Orlando Humane Society (2769 Conroy Road; 407-352-4390 www.ohs-spca.org/): You meet a friendly staffer and before you can say, "I'd like to adopt a ...â" you'll notice a blob of kittens cozied up together in a corner cage. At your approach, they unfurl and start sticking their little paws through the spaghetti-thin bars and then they bring out their secret weapon: They start mewing. One in particular sounds like he hasn't tested his vocal powers much yet, so he croaks in that extra-tiny kitten way, sounding like he's been smoking two packs a day for a few years. Before you know it, all the felines in this block of cages are front and center, like applicants who need the job of being your pal.The dogs are beautiful, too: healthy, well-cared for, and any of them look like they would be a great date to take to the park.

If you are thinking of buying someone a pet this year, getting one from the Humane Society would not only be a good gift but also a good deed. Kittens or cats can be adopted for $35; puppies or dogs, $45 ($15 if the animal was spayed or neutered previously). The fee includes spaying/neutering, necessary vaccinations and testing for illnesses. But don't take one of these sweet things home unless you're sure your recipient will be receptive -- this is not the kind of gift you'll want to return.

--Liz Langley

Good tidyings

Watch out, Donald and Daffy. Ducks are all the rage these days, especially little yellow ones. At White's (715 Bloom St., Celebration; 407-566-1007), the Just Ducky line occupies a prime spot in the store's chock-full showroom. There are bright yellow ducks on everything from children's rain boots ($31) to tiny slickers ($36) to Soap-on-a-Rope ($6.50). Within this happy feathered world, however, was one Just Ducky item ostensibly aimed at the adult duck-lover in your life: a brush featuring those ubiquitous orange feet to stand sentinel in the bathroom corner, ready to waddle to hand whenever the bowl needs a good tidying ($30).

--James Crescitelli

Right to arm bears

In other years it might have seemed a little strange to have yourself a military Christmas, but in the current patriotic climate, Orlando Outdoors Army Navy Store (6525 E. Colonial Drive; 407-381-7977) has an item that can appeal both to the military enthusiast and the child in you. One of the store's most-requested items this year is the Bear Forces of America teddies ($40-$50), cute little plush bears dressed in highly detailed uniforms of combat-ready soldiers. There are also models attired as policemen and firefighters. When you're stumped for a gift idea, these heroes will surely save the day.

--Liz Langley

For your trophy spouse

Face it; it's been a rough year for a lot of us, but being the indomitable creatures we are, we've come through well enough. Doesn't that deserve some kind of recognition? We thought you felt that way. Your recipient's reward could be the Silver Flask from the gift collection at The Awards Store (1829 E. Colonial Drive; 407-894-8411). Contoured to slip into anybody's pocket or purse unobtrusively, it's big enough to hold a few nips, yet small enough to be excusable should anybody question the imbiber's motives. At only $35, this nifty little item includes engraving, so it will be sure to find its way back to its owner no matter where it's left. Help your loved ones ring out this year in style, and let's all hope that 2002 is better -- and wetter.

--James Crescitelli

Monumental gifts

Want to keep the big bad wolf away from your gift-recipient's door? Then, consider purchasing for him or her a dramatic stone winged griffin poised for flight ($150) from Modern Age Pottery (1420 S.R. 436, Altamonte Springs; 407-261-0384). Its gaze is equally piercing and sardonic and certain to ward off all threats. The store that sells it is even spookier. The place looks very much like a cemetery; its inside and outside are filled with the kind of sturdy statuary that adorns the plots at Forest Lawn. But, don't be intimidated; the merchandise is made to be placed in the garden, not over your body. There's a layer of nostalgia built into every piece, and you get the feeling that everything was rescued from abandoned estates built in Victorian times: There are monumental and romantic things like life-sized ladies carrying urns ($500), placid deer ($85) and angels of bounty reaching out to embrace you ($80). There's even a cherubic little guy poised and ready to be turned into a fountain ($60).

--James Crescitelli


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