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When In Doubt...

Classic gifts

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Let's fast-forward to a possible, even likely, not-too-distant future. Think of this as an allegorical passion play, if you will. It's December 24, and our hapless perfectionist of a protagonist, who shall remain unnamed, is braving the borderline chaotic and ever-maddening crowd of like-minded procrastinators in one of the city's many malls. For seven hours he or she (for the purpose of this story, our hero shall remain gender-neutral) has been in this environment, this environment that can only be described as a sheer love-fest. Having already witnessed loving parents morph into fire-breathing demons and fighting over the last Blue's Clues talking Steve (which comes complete with his own working light saber in this season's most bizarre cross-promotional marketing blitz engineered by that behemoth of promotional overload, George Lucas, in anticipation of next summer's Star Wars -- Attack of the Clones) and unable to find the perfect gift for that special someone, our hero decides that originality in gift giving is entirely overrated. So that special someone (child, spouse, parent, etc.) will yet again this year be receiving something extraordinarily unspecial. And while money in a card can lead to wonderful things, it just lacks the pizzazz of something more tangible.

Now, this is probably a bit of an exaggeration (and any cross-promotion taking place at Christmastime will no doubt have something to do with some movie about magical golden rings or some snot-nosed little wizard in training), but the scenario is one we're all too familiar with this time of year. We wait, and then at the very last minute set out to find that one item that will win the much-coveted prize of "best gift of the year." Often-times, though, we forget that some of the most endearing gifts that can be given at the holidays are the most tried and true staples of the Christmas season. It's so easy to get caught up in the trendy, next-big-thing mindset that today's marketing gurus push upon us.

Renaissance Platinum is available in Houston at jeweler Louis Tenenbaum.
Renaissance Platinum is available in Houston at jeweler Louis Tenenbaum.

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Visit our Holiday Guide for more holiday ideas.

So this year we set out to make life a little easier for you...and for ourselves! We're going to offer a few suggestions for finding that totally perfect gift, that timeless treasure, that gift that will win us all the love and adoration we could ever hope to buy, and hopefully make the whole pro-cess a little less stressful.

Gifts for the Kiddos

When everything is said and done, Christmas is all about children. When-ever a picture is drawn depicting the Christmas season, it more often than not has a child at the very heart of it. Think about it. How many times have we seen images of children sitting around a Christmas tree, children building a snowman, having snowball fights, or skating on an icy pond, or a child lying wide awake in bed, waiting eagerly to hear the bells of Santa's sleigh? Even the religious imagery of Christmastime re-volves around a child, the Christ child. In fact, the image of the baby Jesus lying in a manger is perhaps the single most recognizable and meaningful image the season has to offer.

It's not an accident, then, that Christmas takes on a whole new meaning when pertaining to kids. For a child, there is no greater time of year. So this year, make Christmas just that much more special for your little one. If they are into being outside, get something that will make them enjoy it even more. A bicycle makes a great gift for kids of any age. There are so many different models to choose from at so many different stores. If you're serious about finding a good two-wheeler for your kiddo, though, be sure to check stores like Sun & Ski Sports (713-783-8180), Academy (713-520-1795) and Toys R Us (713-785-8697). You can also visit local area Target stores, Wal-Marts and Kmarts for some more basic models.

Kids today are becoming more and more adept in using computers, in many cases more so than their parents. As a result, a new classic for holiday gift giving is computer game units and games. Whether it's Sony's Play Station 2, Nin-tendo's soon-to-be-released Game Cube, or the upcoming X-Box from Microsoft, all offer a level of excitement of unrivaled proportions. Check stores such as Best Buy (713-552-1512), Circuit City (713-777-7550), Wal-Mart (713-977-2099) and Tar-get (713-975-6876).

Board games, the precursor of video games, have always been a great pastime for kids, and today, many of the top-selling games are the same ones that were at the top years ago. Games such as Mono-poly, Scrabble, Clue, Candy Land, Life, Operation and Hungry, Hungry Hippos are still as fun today as they ever were. Another game of sorts that seems to be primed for resurgence into popular culture is the Rubik's Cube. Now a whole new generation can get addicted to that incredibly frustrating puzzle of immense impossibility. Most of these games can be found at stores like Toys R Us, Target, Wal-Mart and Kmart.

There's a world of discovery for every child who has the good fortune to own a model train set. Brio train and track sets, along with their compatible counterparts from Thomas and Friends, offer enjoyment beyond compare. They can be found at The Train Store (713-521-4587), The Toy Maker (713-521-2251) and Trains and Planes Hobby Store (713-977-1420).

And if you're looking for the ultimate in classic children's gifts, then you need to go to FAO Schwarz (713-623-8292) and Stop, Look, and Learn (713-528-6508). Both stores have great selections of stuffed ani-mals (some of them big enough to ride). Also, look for the blast-from-the-past, state-of-the-art rocking hobbyhorses. And if you really want to experience that feeling of nostalgia, then we dare you to get the tykes a broomstick horse just like the one you had when you were a kid.

Gifts For the Kid in All of Us

Just because we've aged a bit since our days of playing freeze tag and hide-and-seek, that doesn't mean that Christ-mas is no longer exciting and fun. Quite the contrary! For who doesn't like the excitement of shaking a package and trying to figure out what's wrapped inside? And if I had a nickel for every time I se-cretly unwrapped a gift before... um, seeing as Mrs. Malibu might possibly read this someday, perhaps I ought to keep some things to myself. Suffice it to say, though, that I would indeed have a lot of nickels! So for the child in each of us, here are some ideas to that are sure to bring a smile each and every time they are given.

Jewelry is perhaps the most timeless of all gifts for women. Necklaces, earrings, rings, bracelets and so much more, it makes no difference. As long as it is sparkly and shiny, then it will be a winner. Earn extra marks if you add that one little accessory that all women love to whatever jewelry you buy: a diamond! When Moses came down from Mount Sinai and shared with his people the commandments given to him by God, the first was undoubtedly "diamonds shall forever be a woman's best friend." Or was it Mel Brooks who said that? Regardless, I.W. Marks is the place you need to go. I.W. Marks, 713-668-5000, is the largest independent jeweler in greater Houston. The legendary store surpasses local and national diamond jewelry sales averages for a single store and does as much business as a 15-store chain.

If diamonds are a woman's first love, then chocolate would have to be her secret (or maybe not-so-secret) fantasy. The Chocolate Bar (713-520-8599) has an unrivaled selection of tempting treats. Other places, though, that can help calm that sweet tooth are Chocolates, Etc. (713-522-7488), Chocolate Designs (713-622-5990), Elan (713-355-2100) and See's Candies inside Rice Epicurean stores.

What woman wouldn't love to be treated like a queen? Well, if royalty for the day is the order, then Cite is the place for them to be. Cite (713-789-7820) is a full-service hair salon that specializes in the art of helping a woman get in touch with her inner royalty. When she leaves the salon, she will walk with a new purpose in life...or at least she'll look like she does. And that's what counts.

Another gift that's always a favorite for a man to give a woman is lingerie. Who enjoys the gift more is obvious, but wo-men are typically fond of it, too. Any-thing that is soft to the touch is a can't-miss gift idea for the fairer sex. Top Drawer Lingerie (713-993-9931), Linens Unlimited (713-529-4446) and any Vic-toria's Secret store have fantastic selections of soft, silky and sensual delicates.

For the men, watches make a great gift idea. You can find a watch to fit your taste (and budget) at Walzel (713-627-7495), Surprises (713-877-1900), Saks Fifth Ave-nue (713-627-0500) or department stores such as Dillard's and Foleys. While you're peru-sing the watches, look around. A new wallet might make a great choice. How about that leather CD case? Or a new pair of cuff links? All would make for wonderful gift ideas.

Speaking of watches, we all know someone who has an old watch that doesn't work buried in a drawer somewhere. Actually, if we're all painfully honest, we may ourselves have an old watch that we once loved just sitting around, unused and forgotten, collecting dust now. Diamonds and Time (713-974-4040) can help you get that old gem of a timepiece back in working condition. They buy, sell, and trade jewelry and watches. They also have an expert watch repair technician on site.

Off the Beaten Path

Looking for something to give to your married friends? Ligne Roset (713-629-7722) is the place to find that traditional gift of sophistication. Here, you can find a Reve d'Edo aluminum tray bowl for only $305. Other ideas include a Reve d'Edo wood box for $155 or $200, a Plix aluminum flower stem holder for $50, a CD rack for $305 or $415, a Nelly table lamp for $196, or a Revue magazine rack for $200. Whatever it is you're looking for, you'll find it at Ligne Roset.

Why not give the gift of...furniture? Yes, furniture. Norwalk - The Furniture Idea (713-599-1599) is Uptown Park's fur-niture store that helps you create the home that's right for you. Whether someone is furnishing a new home or redecorating an older one, Norwalk has something for everyone. They can make a custom sofa in only about 45 days. So plan ahead, and visit the place that's been serving the public since 1902.

Are you looking for a gift for someone who has been itching to start a collection but has had no idea what to collect? Paleo Arts (832-687-3100) can help. They offer fossils and minerals dating back millions of years. They have gifts in the range of $50 to $5,000, so you're sure to find something in your budget. Their selection is perfect for the novice collector as well as the more advanced. For more information about what they have to offer, you can also visit www.paleoarts.com.

Stocking Stuffers

If stocking stuffers are what you need, then Buffalo Exchange (713-523-8701) has got you covered. Their accessories make for great stocking stuffers. Choose from novelty socks, funky rings, brace-lets, naughty fishnet stockings, trendy Japanese candy, Chinese paper wallets and more. Or if you're just not sure what to give, they offer gift certificates. Z Bead (713-526-2216) also has great many ideas from which to choose. Located in the Village, they are in the heart of the artistic community of Houston. They specialize in beads, gifts, and jewelry for men and women. Stop by and check out their selection of super-chic artistic imports.

The Gift of Knowledge

There is one gift idea that just keeps on giving, and that is the gift of knowledge. It doesn't matter how old or how young a person is, learning can be an extraordinarily exciting and rejuvenating thing. Many places around town offer classes in everything from foreign languages to cooking. A great place to start is Leisure Learning Unlimited (713-529-4414). Call them for a free catalog of what they offer, or visit them on-line at www.llu.com.

Know someone who is interested in the visual arts? The Glassell School of Art is the teaching wing of the Museum of Fine Arts. They offer a full schedule of classes for the spring, summer and fall semesters. For information, call them at 713-639-7500 or visit www.mfah.org/ Glassell/default.html.

Cooking is always a great skill to have. It's an even better thing to know how to do it well. The Rice Epicurean Cooking School has been home to many of the greatest chefs in the country. For more information, call them at 713-954-2512. Their offerings include classes in caviar appreciation, cooking with game, ethnic cuisine, and courses for the kids. Sur La Table also offers cooking courses throughout the year. Stop by and pick up a gift certificate for that aspiring chef you know. When they get good, invite them to cook for you.

And for those parents you know who never seem to find enough quality time to spend with their children, there are en-richment classes at both Gymboree (713-953-0444) and Stop, Look, and Learn (713-528-6508) that allow the parent and child to spend time together learning something new. Time with a child is a gift that all parents should be fortunate enough to be given, as should we all.

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