City Paper's Annual Gift Guide
As we head into an exciting new year--with a president we can actually get excited about, and let's be honest, it was going to be an improvement either way--one teeny-tiny unrelenting fact keeps popping up to spoil our Yule: We're still broke. We know we can't expect Obama to magically fix the economy before he even takes office, but damn, our bank accounts are a joke and we're not laughing. Still, we're dedicating ourselves to making merry this year, and the best way to do that is by exchanging goods and services with those we love. (And that person you don't really like that got you something.) This year to help you find the perfect present for everyone on your give list, we've broken our guide into two categories, categories used by generations of children: Socks and Toys. For our purposes, Socks are things that your giftee can actually use--they're still awesome gifts, though, no lame gift certificates for a free oil change. Toys, on the other hand, are things that your giftee can use to distract themselves from layoffs and plummeting stock values. Just remember, we're all for practical gifts, but nobody wants to unwrap any actual socks on Christmas morning. Nobody.
Since the age of throw-it-away-and-get-a-cheesy-new-Chinese-one are fast coming to an end, it's time we all learned how to make stuff. And to make stuff we need tools. Since 1925, forged struck-metal hand tools have been made here in Baltimore, by hand, by Baltimoreans at Baltimore Toolworks. From pin punches to heavy-duty cold chisels for breaking up concrete, these are the kinds of heavy-duty, professional tools you buy once and keep forever--unless you loan them out.
The Bay Area-based ReadyMade magazine anticipated the current explosion of DIY everything going on right now, from home repair and design to clothing and transportation. And the 7-year-old, bimonthly magazine is the ideal gift for the green-living, improvisational furniture-designing, recycling and repurposing friend who'd rather turn liquid laundry detergent bottle tops into a hanging light fixture--an actual ReadyMade design--than toss them into the rubbish bin. Celebrated designers often suggest ideas--Texan cutie Todd Oldham maintained a long-running column in the magazine--and rethinking the way you live your life is rarely depicted as fun as it in ReadyMade's pages.
The Naked Clown Calendar is the brainchild of the clowns at the San Francisco School for Circus Arts, now known as the Circus Center. It is a 12-month, 21-clown naked salute to the school's founder and mentor, Judy Finelli, a master juggler (10 pins) who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1989. There is no Full-Monty clown action here, just tastefully-posed nude clowns, their naughty bits concealed behind top hats or ukuleles. Proceeds from calendar sales go to the Judy Finelli Fund, an arm of the Circus Center associated with the nonprofit MS Foundation of Florida.
Pit bull lovers are a special breed--even the most straight-laced fan of the American pit bull terrier has a little something edgy about them, otherwise they probably wouldn't have what it takes to put up with the crazy comments, occasional rude gestures, and other reactions they often get just for taking the dog for a walk. So, when purchasing a gift for the pit bull enthusiast on your list, remember that just any old cute doggy wall calendar will not do. Go for something that shows you understand them a little better than that--get them the Pinups for Pit Bulls 2009 calendar, which features pinup models posing with their pit bull pals. Proceeds are donated to various pit bull rescues across the country, including Bad Rap in San Francisco, To Hell and Back in Connecticut, and Street Tails in Philadelphia.
If you've eaten a locally grown organic red pepper, or bought a bunch of arugula at the Waverly Farmers Market, then you've probably eaten One Straw Farm--the area's largest organic farm supplies tons of produce to local markets, restaurants, and groceries. You can give the gourmand or health-conscious parent in your life a share of their 23-year success story by purchasing a membership for $23 a week. It's much cheaper if you buy a yearly membership, though, calculated by the number of weeks during the growing season--about 24--and the number of items they can pick up each week--eight certified-organic veggies. Once a member, your pal can pack a One Straw Farm bag with his or her weekly allotment at the Waverly Farmers' Market or other convenient locations.
When Cockeysville couple Kim and Brian Gross couldn't find shoes for their toddler that were both fashionable and functional, they decided to design some of their own. The result was Rileyroos, a line of flexible shoes that move with baby's round little feet. And the footwear is undeniably cute, from sweet Mary Janes to sporty sneaks--minor demerits for making baby Ugg boots--all with the realities of having a little furniture cruiser kept in mind.
A decent chemistry set won't guarantee that your kid will win the Nobel Prize, but it just could set them on the right path--even if our increasingly litigious and fearful society has made it harder to procure. Nobel Prize-winning chemist Kary Mullis credits that childhood gift with sparking his interest in science, because he used it in a sober and responsible manner. Har! Of course he didn't. He was a kid. He used it to blow stuff up, and so will yours. Thames and Kosmos make a good series of chemistry sets that walk the line between so-safe-they're-boring and holy-crap-the-house-is-a-smoking-crater, starting with the CHEM C500 (ages 8 and up) for around $35.
This past election was supposed to be a sign that America was finally the land of equality it claims to be. But that wasn't the message sent to the nation's lesbian and gays when three states banned same-sex marriage. Well, you can do your part to stem the tide of separate and so-not-equal rights, while also supporting a native Marylander and the awesomeness that is Project Runway, by buying everyone you know the Fierce Equality tee designed by Season 4 winner Christian Siriano for the Human Rights Campaign, an organization that fights for gay, lesbian, and transgendered rights. Make it work.
As former bike messengers and not-frequent-enough bike commuters, we recognize the extreme functionality of an intelligently designed and constructed messenger bag, the perfect bag for your everyday work, travel, and shopping needs. Today, a few companies out there are wisely making bags from recycled materials. Keen's Cornell bag ($70) uses repurposed rice paper and recycled rubber and aluminum in its construction. Mountainsmith makes a small bag ($40) available in three colors and constructed from 100 percent recycled PET fabric, which comes from post-consumer plastics. Swiss designer Freitag makes some very stylish bags that include recycled inner tubes, seat belts, and truck tarpaulins, but they also come with Swiss price points. But for our money we'd go with Seattle's Alchemy Goods ($148-168), which recycles seat belts and inner tubes to create its waterproof, multi-pocketed, roomy bags. And just dig those belts and wallets it makes too.
Back in the late 1970s, when the inflation-adjusted price of oil jumped to $100 per barrel, Jimmy Carter asked Americans to turn down their thermostats in winter and start donning sweaters. To set an example, he appeared on TV wearing a cardigan and ordered government buildings to be kept at 65 degrees. Well, we're entering much more dire times, and 65 isn't low enough. Try setting the thermostat in the 50s, just enough to keep pipes from freezing, and instead of a cardigan, cough up $50 for a pair of Walls Blizzard Pruf Insulated Coveralls. Wearing them is like wearing a sleeping bag, and slightly more fashionable.
There is nothing more frustrating for a knitter than sitting down with some soft, sumptuous yarn and an exciting new pattern, only to realize you don't have the right size needles for the job. If you have someone like this on your gift list, pick up the Denise Interchangeable Knitting Kit, and they'll never be without, If you splurged for the more expensive pink kit, the extra $5 you pay goes to breast cancer research. But more importantly, your knitting friend will be able to make you more and cooler stuff. See, everyone wins.
Dunno where you were on election night, but we couldn't help but hear competing cheers of "We're all still fucked!" through the revelry. Yeah, we're not putting our apocalypse preparations on hold, and as for tools for getting through the post-civilization winters, you'd best have a way to cure all that meat you killed with your bloody bare hands during the summer. Think about it: Not only will you survive, you can make a small Ragnarok fortune--whatever that entails--selling dog jerky to the starving hoards of bankers.
If there's someone on your list who's fearful about disaster, social collapse, contagion, whatever, nothing says "There, there" like a reliable emergency-power source. Just like electric shavers and laptops, there are a range of options and price points, from low-end 2,000-watt models up to wheeled 15,000-watt powerhouses--even generators that run on handy-dandy propane. You won't be able to use that shaver or recharge that laptop when the zombies come without one.
If someone you care about has been watching their retirement fund melt down, or worse: they don't have any kind of savings plan at all, now is a good time to nudge them into a meeting with a certified financial planner. Go with a fee-only planner. It's more expensive up front, but their allegiance is only to you--they don't get commissions from brokerage houses or mutual funds who'd like to have your money. Many certified planners offer the first half hour consultation for free, during which they assess your financial goals and planning needs. At the end of this they'll usually provide a bid for their services, typically from $500 to about $5,000. Most advisors say you should get at least three quotes before engaging a financial planner. Sending your loved one to their first meeting--hopefully to a planner who is recommended by someone you know and trust--can help get the ball rolling.
You can smell the sweet fragrance of spiced rose hips the moment you walk in the door of Red Tree's Hampden store. The scent is pleasantly pungent without being cloying, and best of all, it doesn't choke the breath out of you if you get too close. In fact whenever we go to Red Tree, we like to stir the little red berry-like rose hips, which are displayed in huge wooden canoe-shaped bowls, to draw more of the scent into the air. For a mere $5 per scoop, you can buy your friends or family a little bit of the aromatic goodness (the available scents vary, but Red Tree usually has a couple of varieties on display at any given time) for the holidays. If you're feeling the pinch of the miserable economic times, it's a super-frugal but unique gift you can give on the cheap--if you've got a little cash burning a hole in your pocket, you can probably even find an affordable bowl, glass, or jar to go with.
Ah, Radio: While we look fondly at the days when the medium actually meant something to music--well, music as an art form anyway, as opposed to a cynical business model--and we do in fact mourn it, the hyper-democratization that the internet has brought to broadcast is exciting beyond words. Yes, even you can have your own radio station on the interwebs, free to bombard the unsuspecting world with Insane Clown Posse, the Kottonmouth Kings, and, uh, Slightly Stoopid. (Kidding: we have more faith in you than that.) All you really need is a microphone and a means of distribution. Live365 makes it easy. With a monthly subscription, you get music file hosting, coverage for those pesky royalties, and an allotment of listeners ranging from five to 100--all you need to get started as an internet-radio sensation.
A bottle of anything makes for a lovely gift, but two factors put the finger in the bow of perfection: local and love. Brewer's Art finally started bottling its beloved Belgian-style ale this year and has decided to listen to us whiny drunks and do the same for our beloved Ozzy. For a limited time starting Dec. 15, you can purchase Ozzy or Canard ales in a bottle and bring local, liquid love to the folks on your list who enjoy microbrews, miss Baltimore, or, erroneously, rave about Rolling Rock. Tell them when they pop the cork on the 750 ml bottle, it's rude not to share. Now, if Brewer's could just figure out a non-gross way to stuff a Christmas stocking with its rosemary fries.
Baltimore won't be healed any time soon from the untimely, tragic loss of Baltimore "club queen" K-Swift. The DJ, one of the most ubiquitous and beloved in town, was on the verge of releasing her first nationally distributed release when she passed, a mix album slated to come out officially on Dec. 9 via national indie Koch Entertainment, which recently inked a deal with her home label Unruly Records. It will make you wonder how something that slams so hard can also be such a touching memory.
You have a holiday party to attend, and you'd like to bring a little gift for the host or hostess. You want to go with the safe standby, a bottle of wine. You go to the wine store, though, and you just don't have enough wine knowledge to select one bottle over another. Do you select by price? By reviews posted on the shelf? By color? We suggest you make it easy on yourself and select a bottle of Boordy Vineyards' Eisling Riesling. It's a Maryland vineyard, which gives your selection purpose (buy local). It's a reasonably priced wine, not too spendy but not bargain-basement either. It's a unique wine (Riesling is not just another white wine, it's a rather sweet but tasty wine that originated in Germany and goes great with poultry and fish), making it more interesting than whatever random bottle of Pinot Grigio is on sale that day. And most importantly, it is a delicious wine. Too many people think a Riesling just has to be sweet to be good, but Boordy's done American Rieslings proud--it's somewhat sweet, but also a little bit tart with good body and smooth finish. It's a wine you can be proud to bring to a dinner party.
If you worry that a young child on your list is having his or her brain chemistry permanently altered by au courant kids' TV like Chop Socky Chooks or Total Drama Island, here's what you do: Give them this Criterion DVD and then figure out how to trick them into sitting down in front of it for a few minutes. Albert Lamorisse's 1956 Oscar-winning short follows the adventures of a boy and the red balloon that follows him around the streets of Paris like an oversized latex puppy. It's quiet, whimsical, heartbreaking, uplifting, and very nearly perfect, and if you can get the recipient watching it, he or she will be sucked in and deposited on the other side, half an hour later, a better person, practically guaranteed.
Meet David Simon's secret weapon, the multi-talented screenwriter, producer, songwriter, film producer, and crime novelist, George Pelecanos. Ever wonder where The Wire's Cutty, the redeemed ex-soldier with a dream of owning a boxing gym, came from? Or who stepped in to resolve Simon's and Ed Burns' disagreements about The Wire's story and narrative? It was Pelecanos, whose novels first appeared in the 1990s and explored the grimy edges of Washington, D.C.--but always with an understanding nod to Baltimore as being in the pantheon of crime cities. With The Turnaround, readers can experience the fully matured range of Pelecanos' favored themes, and if he gets under your skin, go on back to the beginning to explore his trajectory as a distinct regional voice.
Give a taste of the New South with Garden and Gun magazine. Sporting culture, music, food, art, literature, it's all there, in a clean glossy print format that will practically jump off your coffee table and shout: "I have style--Southern Style." With Garden and Gun, you not only can learn about the aesthetic beauty of firearms, you can read all about the secrets of Atlanta, how Southerners throw an oyster roast, how to mail order pork products, or how "Bo Diddley Saved My Life," by Jimmy Buffett.
Local mystery writer Laura Lippman's latest book is her first official collection of short stories and the perfect complement to her long list of Tess Monaghan novels and the stand alones that dot her resume. Hardly Knew Her includes four parts: women murderers; tales from cities not Baltimore; Baltimore stories, including a profile of detective Tess Monaghan "published" in the Beacon Light; and the novella "Scratch a Woman," about a single mother and manager of a upscale call-girl ring. Whether taking place outside of the Brass Elephant on Charles Street or in a dark parking lot in New Orleans, almost all of the stories in this delightfully wicked book concern an almost flippantly performed murder, giving the reader an idea of what it's like to be in Lippman's head where murder must be a daily occurrence.
Gus Van Sant's Milk is one of the most anticipated December movies, a biopic about the first openly gay man elected to California public office and coming from a filmmaker currently working in supreme command of his cinematic gifts. Do a friend a solid before rushing to see it, though, and give them director Rob Epstein's absolutely essential 1984 documentary about this political vanguard, The Times of Harvey Milk. Epstein's warmly moving, politically vital, and painfully sobering story of Milk's inspiring political life and brutal 1978 assassination alongside San Francisco mayor George Moscone is vital recent history to be remembered right now.
It's been 18 years since the first box set of songs by the black-clad man from Amarillo, Texas with the coke-bottle glasses and the enigmatic high-tenor voice, Roy Orbison, was released. Nearly two decades later, Orbison still holds up. These four CDs contain previously unreleased material, including a recording of his last concert in Akron, Ohio, in 1988, that captures the dark, painful, and dreamy sounds of the Prince of Agony. Warning: Recipients of this emotionally charged collection should not be prone to self-injury or bouts of violent depression.
From a studio in Hampden, Lisa Cimino creates feminine baubles that mate the industrial with the natural: little branches or sea grass sprout from ribbed discs, pearls nest in sterling spheres, birds sit on a branch pin or swing from a hoop earrings, and snakes curl and swirl suggestively in our favorite, the Creatures line. Recently, she's been working with crushed gem stones in the prettiest vermeil. Her branch pins are equally nostalgic and modern, perfect for a simple handmade stocking cap or sharp tweed jacket, but just as handsome on leather or denim. Her style has evolved over the years, branching out in an organic way perfectly in step with her earliest pieces, instilling a confidence that this local designer has staying power.
Seen worn with suits, jeans, and casual trousers in various men's collections in recent years, the bulky brothel creepers aren't just for tapered-jean-clad ska-punks anymore. Once a required part of the uniform for rockabilly greasers, London punks shopping at Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren's stores, or hangers-on in Jim Jarmusch movies, creepers--extremely platform soled, lace-up shoes with a penchant for designs and patterns emblazoned on the vamp--are once again smart, comfortable footwear for the man sick of the basic slip-on loafer and lace-up oxford. Why settle for basic black when you can have brushed blue suede or leopard print covering your tootsies?
Yes, we know, American classics The Godfather and The Godfather Part II have been on DVD for years, even in fancy-schmancy special editions. But this special edition is truly special: Series auteur Francis Ford Coppola has overseen a painstaking restoration, including a beyond-high-def 4K image rescanning, frame-by-frame clean-up, color correction, the works. The result is undoubtedly the best look at the films since their opening weekends; if you've got a good HD set and a Blu-ray player, you'll be able to plumb the film's murky moral and photographic depths like never before. The usual special-edition heap of extras comes with, and the films are available individually, too, in case you don't want the thought that counts to have anything to do with Godfather III.
Bringing decent wine, good beer, or respectable hooch to each holiday can get a bit dear. Instead, get a bushel of oysters, a cooler, a cutting board, an oyster shucker, and a pair of thick gloves, and you'll stretch your party gift out over the entire season. Do this in time for the first party, and by the time the last one comes around, you'll likely still have oysters to share. Between parties, safely store the oysters in a chilly part of your house or garage, regularly refreshing the ice as needed.
Know any armchair sailors? They're easy to ID--they've got all the Patrick O'Brien books, maybe a subscription to WoodenBoat magazine, and an unaccountable fondness for sea chanteys. This is your chance to send them out on the high seas. The crew of The Pride of Baltimore II takes a small group of passengers with them wherever they go, and they pretty much go everywhere. It ain't Two Years Before the Mast, but it's a lot closer than a cruise ship. They're still finalizing the ports of call for 2009, but they're looking at traveling up and down the East Coast. Last year they hit the Great Lakes, with prices ranging from $290 (for a two-night trip from Bmore to Cambridge) to $1,400 (for a grand voyage from Cleveland to Prince Edward Island). Seriously though, lay off the sea chanteys. They won't endear you to the crew, or really, anyone else.
When your loudmouth buddy opens that box to reveal a 12 inch doll with a minuscule likeness of his head, he'll laugh his ass off at first. But later, as he stares at his little self, it'll be hard for him to not take stock of his shortcomings. His abs are hardly that shiny and rock-solid, his chest is woefully out of proportion to his idealized waistline, his joints have only a fraction of his doppelganger's flexibility. But there he is, the li'l guy, in camo pants and T-shirt (or a yellow jumper or a pinstripe suit or another outfit for a few dollars more), staring down his master with lifeless, unselfconscious eyes. It's the best kind of creepy fun payback. For extra yuks you can send them a short recording of his voice--we suggest you ask him to "say something funny" while holding a digital recorder. He won't suspect a thing. Don't want to spend so much? Put his head on PEZ dispenser for about $125 less.
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