Giving the Gift of Gifts
The City Paper Staff's Suggestions for How to Buy Your Family's Love this Year
Unlike the children on your list, grownups rarely let you know what they’re hankering for. Instead, you’re forced into the ever treacherous holiday guessing game. How much should you spend? How much will they spend on you? Do they already have a George Foreman Grill? Somewhat risky homemade gifts or scented candles for everyone again?
As always, we’re here to help, with a list of 30 gift ideas that fit a variety of budgets, from $2 seasoning packets to a $1,000 antique pocket watch. We’ve even broken them down into five helpful categories: Baltimoreana, for hometown buffs; Indulgences, for those who need pampering; Practicalities, for the utilitarian set; Style, for the looks-matter crowd; and Playtime, for silly gifts, be they naughty or nice. So, happy shopping, if that’s not a contradiction in terms.
Chunk of Baltimore
Second Chance Inc., 1645 Warner St., (410) 385-1101, prices vary
The old sign from the Grand Theatre in Highlandtown—huge, paint-flaking steel letters that spelled G-R-A-N-D—sat outside for a while, but it’s gone. Last time we checked, they still had some of the benches from the old Southway bowling alley. But they may be gone, too. At Second Chance hundreds, nay, thousands of pieces of Baltimore’s architectural story are for sale, from doorknobs to marble shower stalls, wrought-iron gates to turn-of-the-century stoves. It’s perfect for friends who are repairing the historic details of their rowhouse or an uncle who’s a local history buff. Some of the stuff isn’t cheap—a beautiful mission-style chandelier fetched a grand or two—but there are plenty of odd, curious, or elegant reminders of the city’s exquisite past well within your budget.
Wick-edly Sent, 3608 Falls Road, (410) 467-2760, $12.99
Every time we go to a store that sells candles, we’re baffled by their esoteric scent names. What exactly do Sweet Dreams smell like? What is the olfactory equivalent of True Love? Well, Wick-edly Scent, a store in Hampden that produces its own hand-dipped candles, takes it a step further by naming scented candles after Baltimore neighborhoods. Canton has the musky aroma of happy hour and too much cologne, while Roland Park evokes the tree-lined streets of the ur-suburb. We do disagree with some of the choices though. Shouldn’t the Fells Point candle—which has a light, fresh fragrance—smell like bread? And Charles Village really ought to smell more like puking college kids and less like a meadow (not that we’d line up to buy a vomit-scented candle). Whether you think the candles are representative or not, they smell nice, look pretty, and give a shout-out to your favorite part of town. We also like the SPCA candles, which benefit that organization and smell like Febreze.
The Wire—The Complete First Season DVD set
Various locations, $99.99
Much as we love the new season of HBO’s The Wire, there are times when we miss the Towers and the old orange couch and the days when D’Angelo was still alive and Stringer Bell was just another gangsta ordering the corner boys around. If you want to treat your fellow Wire addicts extra special this Christmas, get them a copy of the show’s first season recently released on DVD. You get all 13 of the episodes that originally got you hooked, plus commentary from creator/writer David Simon, producer George Pelecanos, and director Clark Johnson. Plus, you’ll get to relive the chilling moment when Poot and Bodie whack fellow teen slinger Wallace. Makes us shudder just to think about it.
The Great Baltimore Fire, by Peter Petersen
Various location, $30
The old Baltimore disappeared when an errant cigar touched off a 25-hour conflagration a century ago, consuming 70 blocks and 1,500 downtown buildings. A new Baltimore arose in its place, with wider streets, buried telegraph lines, and a better harbor. Peter Petersen’s chronicle tells the story in facts, figures, and anecdotes, and features black-and-white photographs of the scene as it happened and full-color renderings of artifacts. He covers the characters—the heroes and the not-so-heroic—and the politics of the rebuilding effort. This book is the next best thing to having lived through the fire.
Season of Life, by Jeffrey Marx
Various locations, $18
We guys suck when it comes to giving us stuff, because we don’t like anything but games. Video, online, and anything with a ball—ooh, or with wheels!—and that’s about it, gift-option-wise. But you keep trying to give us stuff that you think is good for us, that’ll enrich us, or make us think. Foolish, foolish loved one. At least this year there’s Season of Life by Jeffrey Marx. It’s a book, so you can feel like you’re improving us, but it’s, y’know, about sports. In it, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Marx chronicles the heroic struggles of Baltimore’s own Joe Ehrmann, former Colts star and current volunteer football coach at the Gilman School, where young men, black and white, rich and poor, learn about the game, cooperation, each other, and becoming men. There aren’t any pictures, but it’s not very long and the print is relatively big, and there’s a picture of a football on the cover, so we might actually look interested when we open it. Thanks, honey.
By a Spider’s Thread, by Laura Lippman
Various locations, $24.95
The eighth book in Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan P.I. series, By a Spider’s Thread opens with a heartbreaking scene: Issac Rubin is punished by his mother’s “friend” and placed in the trunk of the car he and his twin younger siblings are traveling in—away from their father. Thus begins a tale of Jewish tradition, crime, and family. Sounds like perfect holiday giving, no? The appeal of Lippman’s Tess mysteries lie in her poetic language, intriguing plots, and hometown loyalty; each mystery unravels Baltimore with all of its charm and violence. The ex-Sun reporter’s latest novel offers yet another slice of Mobtown for those of us who live here, and for those who have never set foot in the city where homicide seems never more than a heartbeat away.
Latin American Foods, 249 S. Broadway, (410) 534-9070, $9.55 per case
A barley-and-hop drink brewed in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., has to be beer, right? Wrong. The Cerveceria Goya, located in Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley, brews Malta Goya, a nearly nonalcoholic (0.5 percent) high-calorie (230 per 12-ounce serving) soda-type concoction that’s dark brown, sweet, and stocked at Latin groceries. Some may find it an acquired taste, others take to it immediately, but mixing it, half and half, with your favorite beer makes a delicious and refreshing Latin shandy, just right to calm those holiday-party jitters.
Curry Shack Spice Blends
Downtown and Waverly farmers markets, one-ounce bags $2 each
If you know folks who line up each weekend for the Curry Shack’s grub, perhaps the yummiest food to be found at the local farmers markets, leave some in their stockings. No, we’re not suggesting that you drop a couple of veggie samosas or a scoop of Jamaican curry chicken and rice in their socks. Instead, grab a few bags of Curry Shack’s spice blends—we like the Classic Herb Blend and the Jamaican Style Curry, but plenty more are available—download a few recipes off www.curryshackbalto.com, and, voilà!, instant gift. While you can order the spices off the Web or pick them up at a few stores around town, we insist upon getting up early and buying them at one of the Curry Shack’s farmers market stands. Owners Didi and Brian’s enthusiasm and always-smiling faces will cheer even the grumpiest of Christmas Grinches.
The Gift of Pie
Dangerously Delicious Pies, 2400 Fleet St., (410) 522-7437, www.dangerouspies.com, $20
Pi r squared, but pie? Man, that’s anything but square, especially when ’tis the season for meetin’ and greetin’ and eatin’ holiday-style. When the festive invites are upon ye for the feast-ive holiday functions, it’s never a good idea to show up empty-handed, so fuck fruitcake and show up with an armload of one-size-fits-all 100 percent handcrafted custom-built pies from local piemaster-general Rodney Henry’s Dangerously Delicious pie palace and please the palates of a preponderance of peckish holiday-party people. This most wonderful time of the year is an especially good time for pie, what with the addition of the new “Savory Pies” line, a formidable array of baked beauties comprised of, uh, savory ingredients such as spinach and goat cheese, ham and swiss, sausage and roasted veggies, and led by the awe-inspiring Steak Chili Pie. Not to mention the pietastic possibilities posed by the Dangerous lineup on the sweet side, notably the cherry, mixed berry, lemon chess, rhubarb, and a few specials cooked up, uh, special for the holidays. And hey, in case there’s a lumpa coal in your future, it wouldn’t hurt to leave one out for the Fat Man; we heard he’s all about DD’s “Full Custom Custard.”
Slippers and Chocolate
Ma Petite Shoe, 832 W. 36th St., (410) 235-3442, www.mapetiteshoe.com, $39.99 for slippers, prices vary for chocolate
OK, let’s say you’re an Old Milwaukee-swillin’, backward ball cap-wearin’ über dork, but you’ve somehow letched on to a real cool chick—you know, the kind who sips wine from fluted glasses and wears a leopard skin pillbox hat. How can you show her your sensitive side? How can you demonstrate your hidden hipness? Shoes and chocolate, bunkie. That’s right, take that blender back to Lechters and instead get her the frilly, silly rose slippers from Goody Goody ($39.99) at Ma Petite Shoe in Hampden. Throw in a little box of bonbons, and you’ll maybe be allowed to keep that half-restored ’39 Phaeton in the garage for another season while she parks her Beetle on the street.
Karma Native American Art Gallery and Gifts, Towson Town Center, 825 Dulaney Valley Road, Towson, (410) 296-9288, $45
You know the two of them—they’re the it couple. Two people who just make you nauseous because they are too cute, too in love, and too happy together. And of course they have it all because they’ve been together for-ev-er. Guess what you buy them? A Native American wedding vase. It’s perfect. First of all, they would never think of buying it for themselves—nobody would—so you know they don’t have it. And it will totally play into their cutesy-wootsy lovefest because the vase has one base and two flutes at the top, representing the fact that two have become one. We know it’s sickening, but it totally fits, because these two inextricably intertwined people will look across the hallway and see their wedding vase displayed on a foyer table and say, “See, honey—that’s our symbol.”
Baltimore Symphony Orchestra Tickets
Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St., (410) 783-8000, www.baltimoresymphony.org, $98-$912
For that creepy someone over 30 who still lurks pedophile-style at rock clubs, a gift subscription to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra will make the Ottobar safe for post-teens again, as well as help out a deserving institution hungry for new blood. The BSO offers six series, at prices ranging from $98 per cheap seat for the four-show “Symphony With a Twist” series to $912 for a dozen Grand Tier Box seats in the well-programmed “Celebrity Series.” We suggest buying the nosebleeds and sneaking into to the orchestra; there are usually empty seats down front And despite a management shake-up this spring, the musicians are still topflight and the concerts are generally very good—and often breathtaking. Gift certificates for individual concerts are also available.
Exuberance: The Passion for Life, by Kay Redfield Jamison
Various locations, $24.95
For the sad and lonely—or for those who think too much about toxic turkey and the global environmental havoc wrought by commerce—the holidays can be cripplingly depressing. So it may be a good time to read about scientists, writers, politicians, and others who get knocked down and get back up again, those who thrive even when times get tough (think Teddy Roosevelt, Louis Armstrong, Winston Churchill). Kay Redfield Jamison, author of Night Falls Fast and An Unquiet Mind, dubs this personality trait “exuberance.” And in her new book, the renowned Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine professor of psychology corrects an imbalance in her profession by focusing on this largely positive emotion. Exuberance can also lead to mania, poor judgment, and annoying behavior, but sometimes that is exactly what’s needed to prepare a Thanksgiving feast for 20.
Texsport Folding Tripod Stool
H&H Outdoors, 424 N. Eutaw St., 410-752-2580, $6.95
The homeless tend to end up having to sit in the most uncomfortable places—often on cold, hard pavement or unforgiving earth. Public seating that’s encouraged for use by regularly housed folks is generally not for urban campers’ long-term enjoyment, and the shelter-challenged eventually get ushered off by the dutifully pro-tourist cherubs of justice. Give the homeless a portable way to take a break from their long shifts of pacing the sidewalks—an accessory of timeless, simple design: a lightweight, foldable three-legged stool. Then they can sit wherever they please, with perfect posture to boot, until they’re herded away to the next rest spot.
Walk the Dog Gift Certificates
Walk the Dog, (410) 366-0400, www.walkthedogbaltimore.com, $12 a walk or sit, $5 each additional dog
You go on vacation and just get a friend to feed your cat, right? You work all day and said kitty sleeps. Cat people have it easy, while dog lovers know their pets yearn for leisurely walks to release, ummm, energy. The local entrepreneurs behind Walk the Dog provide all the services you’ll need to keep the canine in your life from eating a shoe out of boredom. For $12 a walk or check-in while you are away, WTD offers even feline-friendly gifters a chance to give to the doggy crew with gift certificates. Whether used for a li’l dog sitting or a treat walk in the middle of the workweek, the pooch in question will feel the love. Cats just want catnip.
Loading Dock Membership
Loading Dock, 2523 Gwynns Falls Parkway, (410) 728-3625, www.loadingdock.org, $10
Keeping a house in running order drains your wallet even if you buy the cheap imported goods at the home improvement megastores. Windows, doors, toilets, sinks, and tile—the stuff adds up. And, as anyone who owns a house can testify, the work never ends. If you’ve got a budget-conscious (or budget-hampered) homeowner on your list, get them a year’s membership to the Loading Dock, Baltimore’s nationally recognized housing supply warehouse. They can get hardware, paint, wood and fixtures on the cheap. Some of it’s used, some of it’s donated by contractors. “You could build a house with what people throw away,” Loading Dock’s motto goes, and every trip back proves it. Grab an application online and help a friend stay ahead of the work curve.
Crumpler Messenger Bag
Broadway Bicycle and Motorsports, 415-417 S. Broadway, (410) 276-0266, www.broadwaybicycle.com, $80-$130
Whose favorite cyclist isn’t perpetually on the hunt for a better way to lug their junk (or “gear” as the snooty ones call it) around town? All the more reason to visit Broadway Bicycle and Motorsports to pick out a holiday gift for your favorite two-wheeler. Broadway Bicycle carries our favorite line of bike-messenger bags made by Crumpler. They’re lightweight, versatile, colorful, and designed to stay on your back, like a good bike bag should. Last we checked, Broadway had Crumpler classic styles like Seedy Three, Super Snipe, and our favorite, the Weenie bag. They’re not exactly cheap, but they’re cute enough that while we are shopping for our friends we may have to pick one up as an early Christmas gift for ourselves.
Trixie’s Palace, 1704 Thames St., (410) 558-2195, $28-$56
Bags are kind of like men: Sometimes you want them to be useful, and sometimes you just want them to look pretty. When we’re in the mood for the latter we grab a purse by Monka, a line designed and produced by local ladies Momi Antonio and Rachel Minka. Each has her own line of bags as well, but it’s their collaborations that really make us wish we had more arms to hang them on. These retro without being cutesy bags combine patterns and fabrics to create accessories that instantly make a thrown-together outfit look intentional. At a recent designer showcase we scored a reversible shoulder bag made out of brown corduroy on one side and a sweet floral pattern on the other. Trixie’s Palace in Fells Point has a wide selection of Monka’s clutches from a simple pink polka dot design to a more mod orange and brown bag with a black satin bow. They’re understated enough for blue jeans and dressy enough for cocktail hour. Uh-oh, we’re starting to drool a little.
Bored? Studio Tee Shirts
Back in the day a retro T-shirt was the shit. Not only was it bitching to thrift, but nobody else had that same well-worn budweiser or garden state T. But now faux vintage ironic Ts are a dime-a-dozen, fresh from a gazillion different sources ranging from Urban Outfitters to Target. The future of funky Ts is both original and local courtesy of Bored? Studio. By God, yes, we were bored until we saw these cool cats’ Web site selling hand-did, baby-soft Ts and tanks with clever sayings (i was probably your 1st) and artsy-fartsy graphics. Bored? is the new black.
Crocheted to Order Hats
Natural Feelings Funky Accessories, (410) 464-0456, $30
The weather outside is frightful, and while the fire may be delightful, when you go outside you’re going to need a hat. And so does Cousin Sue, Aunt Betty, and Uncle Thelonious, so you’d better call Maria at Natural Feelings. She will crochet you a made-to-order hat—perhaps in chartreuse and marigold, or a pink- and peachy-hued flapper style hat with a crocheted flower, or maybe a funkdubious ’70s-style cap with a enough headroom to cover the largest of Afros. Maria’s got a hat that will look good for every style and on every head shape—even the gigantic ones. And don’t think you don’t need a hat, because when you’re running around Baltimore in this winter during flu season with heat escaping from your head, you’re going to wish you had bought you, and your relative or big-headed best friend, a nice fuzzy, furry, fashionable friend.
Maryland Historical Society Museum Shop and Bookstore, 201 W. Monument St., (410) 685-3750, $100 and up
If most necklaces, rings, and bracelets you see today wear an unmistakable (and unacceptable) patina of “mall,” check out the hand-beaded works of Jen Santos, in the glass cases at the Maryland Historical Society’s gift shop. Necklaces of sterling silver or gold fill feature freshwater pearls and crystals, most in a three-strand design. For the bolder of wallet, the case also contains unique consignment items such as a five-piece silver-plated dresser set ($300) and an 1890 pocket watch in solid 18k gold ($1,100). Inventory changes often.
The Rim Source, 2351 E. North Avenue, (410) 675-4988, $TK
Believe us, we know. That friend or family member has just gotta junk that hoopty they still drive. You know the one, dating from that other Bush administration. And, yeah, we know why they don’t. It’s paid for, the insurance’s cheap, and nobody ever breaks into that bitch. Sure, we can’t all be Xzibit and extreme-makeover the car, but you can give them a little something to make their ride feel a bit pimped. A new set of rims won’t break the bank, and can make you feel like you’re rolling on 20s even when driving a Datsun.
Operation: Playtime, by DJ Lil Jay
various locations, www.morphius.com, $9.98
If you want to give some too-cool-for-private-school tunes to the almost adult in your life, pick up DJ Lil Jay’s Operation: Playtime (Morphius). Discovered by local club music honcho Rod Lee, the 15-year-old Lil Jay works the one and twos like, well, a 15-year-old, but that’s the fun. Operation: Playtime is stripped-down and club-winnowed even further, with Jay working cuts from heavyweights such as Lee, K.W. Griff, and King Tutt. And Jay keeps club’s frequently R-rated mix down to PG, so the parents won’t give you the evil eye when they hear this blaring through headphones.
The Music According to Lafayette Gilchrist>, by Lafayette Gilchrist and the New Volcanoes
Various locations, $11.98
Got someone on your list into jazz or funk or even hip-hop, but you don’t know what to get him or her? May we suggest some one-stop shopping with Lafayette Gilchrist. The up-and-coming Baltimorean pianist’s recordings typically wind up filed in the jazz section, but he doesn’t do the usual moody background music or cerebral squonking. On his newest, a remastered compendium of the cream of his self-released CDs, Gilchrist and his long-time band step off lively on the head-noddin’ strut of “Assume the Position,” and from there dip frequently into both arty harmonies and ass-grabbing grooves. The hard-hitting moments here oughta make crate-diggers take notice, while “For Vince Loving,” dedicated to the Volcanoes’ late bassist, switches up the vibe with the musical equivalent of one of those heartfelt manly half-hugs. If you’ve got hip music fans to buy for, this’ll only make ’em hipper.
Handmade Leather Floggers and Corsets
Chained Desires, 136 W. Read St., (410) 528-8441, www.chaineddesires.com, floggers $20-$160, corsets $375 and up
Sure, Santa Claus is comin’ to town, but it still seems the only way some boys and girls will ever learn to be good for goodness sake is through a little discipline, so stuff your misbehavin’ one’s stocking with a naughty-but-nice handcrafted leather flogger from the incredibly comprehensive selection at Chained Desires, where in addition to the different floggers in flavors like “heavyweight” and “chrome-handled,” the racks sport all kinds of spanking-new stuff such as leather straps, gags, canes to get the attention of your fave schoolgirl or boy, luxurious personally fitted handmade leather corsets, and custom leather harnesses for just hangin’ around.
Kreative Plaster Krafts, 6014 Harford Road, (410) 426-4315, prices vary
You remember plaster craft, don’t you? The ’70s precursor to the trendy little shops where you can glaze prefab ceramics? Back then you’d get a chunk of plaster molded into a plaque that said NO. 1 MOM or a crouching panther, paint it to the best of your shaky abilities, and wrap it up for Mother’s Day or proudly display it on your dresser. Well, you can go back—check out Kreative Plaster Krafts in Hamilton. Surely you have a fan of kitsch on your list who’d appreciate a striking cobra or an Elvis head. Maybe you know an earnest, obsessive collector of all things frog, leprechaun, bear, or motorcycle. Or you have some kids who would go nuts painting teddy bears or ferocious-looking realistic bears. Kreative has a mind-boggling selection of plaster-white heads, plaques, animals, cars, nautical stuff, and pop-culture flotsam. Paint your own or buy one ready-made. Organize a painting party for the little ones. We saw some pretty funny candidates for well under $20, so choose well. The right choice will keep your gift from ending up at Value Village someday, where we see so many of those plaster statues someone like us painted 20-odd years ago.
Various locations, $12.99-$49.99
Parents—especially fathers—are known for buying sports equipment for their children—especially sons—before the kids can even hold their soft little heads up, much less hold a bat or ball. Still, it makes some sense to get those gross motor skills working as early as possible, and here in lacrosse-crazy Maryland, it makes even more sense to go with gear from Baltimore-based STX Lacrosse’s FiddleSTX line. No kiddie toys, the sticks—excuse us, “STX”—are the real deal, albeit cut down to 30 inches, and the balls are soft enough to go relatively easy on the household breakables and tiny eye sockets. The sticks sell individually, in sets of two, or in larger game sets with a goal and a goalie stick; there’s even a glow-in-the-dark line. And if your little LAX-er is still too young to grasp the finer points of the game, well, kids always love sticks and balls.
Su Casa, 901 S. Bond St.,
(410) 522-7010, $40
There comes a time in every infant’s life when they outgrow his or her swing. We know it’s a scary thought, because where will you seat them while you’re curling your hair, throwing on your clothes, or otherwise remembering you’re more than a baby-making machine? And since you can’t put them in a crib for long without them pulling a Houdini on you, we are recommending the perfect panacea: Su Casa’s animal chair. It comes in pig, monkey, elephant, crocodile, bear, cow, and bunny. Don’t just buy one—get the whole zoo. And the best part? This chair is so comfy and irresistible that the child won’t want to get up and leave it. It’s also perfect-for story time, or for Barney or The Wiggles watching, or for re-enacting those famous barnyard moments from Babe.
Say and Send Friends
If you work at a newspaper, you get sent a lot of weird things. Most of it is boring, cheesy, or both, but every once and a while you get something so cool—though not always in the way the sender intended—it makes up for all the hate mail and carpal tunnel syndrome that go with the job. The Say and Send Friend we received was one such item. These adorable little teddy bears allow you to record your own message on them. You can do it pre-gifting, personalizing the toy to say “Merry Christmas to the world’s best niece” or “Happy 90th birthday, Grandma.” But we think the bear has much more entertainment potential if you let the giftee do the recording. We’ve already spent hours playing with ours, making the smiling stuffed animal say things like “You’re adopted” and “I wonder what Mommy’s pills taste like.” It’s re-recordable, so you can use the bear to tell off your boss in the morning and for dirty talk with your significant other at night. And it’s not just our skewed minds that make this a great gift. Put it into the hands of any relatively imaginative kid, and it will soon earn a new moniker: Swear Bear. Now, excuse us, we have to get the bear to express our feeling on holiday shopping.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201