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Being Unique Without Going Broke

Wine & Beer Kits from The Brew Stop

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Christmastime: a time of happiness, a time of togetherness with those closest to us, a time when families get together to spend some invaluable time with each other, which is usually enough to last till the following year. It's the time of year when we all go into debt and take out second and third mortgages on our homes just so our kids can have the brand-new flavor-of-the-month toy that they will no longer be interested in the day after Christmas. Yes, what a great time of year!

It doesn't have to be this way, though. This year, don't max out those credit cards, but don't short-change your friends and family either. Instead of spending a fortune on run-of-the-mill gifts, be a little creative. There are some really clever ways to get amazing gifts at even more amazing prices. We've done some research and come up with a number of gifts that won't bankrupt you that will also set your gift just that much above what someone else is likely to give. It's always nice to give someone a gift; it's absolutely great, though, to give someone an unforgettable gift without serving time in bankruptcy court. So choose your price range, and get shopping! And remember, as the song says, "It's the most wonderful time of the year."

Now, for those who may not be worried about any type of budget, may we suggest you visit Vespa of Texas, 713-787-9455. Vespa is a company steeped in history, as its primary product is its own namesake: a scooter. It's not just any ordinary scooter, however. The first Vespa was designed and built in 1946 after the second world war and has since inspired many to attempt to copy its design. But the knockoffs are simply that. They lack the heart of the original. If you have the money, the gift of a Vespa signifies elegance and class at once.

Under $100

If you're on a budget, though, one failsafe gift idea that you should always have tucked away is a gift certificate to Uptown Day Spa and Salon, 713-961-0952. This gift can accommodate any price range, and it can be given to both women and men. At Uptown Day Spa and Salon, their mission is to "create the image you have always envisioned for yourself within a tranquil environment that showers you with love and impeccable service." With that as their goal, this is definitely a can't-miss gift idea.

The gift of aromatic delight is often one of the most romantically inspired choices of the holidays. This year, though, add to the novelty of the gift by choosing one thats not available at every department store in town. In fact, Facade, 713-552-1545, is the first high-end makeup boutique in Houston. Here, the finest quality skin care and cosmetic lines such as ILONA, Vincent Longo, Body & Soul, LeClerc Powders and others are available in an exquisite, luxurious surrounding unparalleled in this city. For $75, you can give a gift box of Fleurage perfume, or you can choose to give the bottle of perfume alone for $65. The Fleurage bottle is a unique work of art in itself, hand-cut and polished in France.

By now, most of us have had the opportunity to see at least some of the Houston Cows that have been parading all over town. Well, Silver Bead, 713-623-0328, has Cow Parade merchandise for sale now through the end of the year, and holy cow are they affordable! Each piece is guaranteed to moo-ve you to complete and udder euphoria as you marvel at the exquisite detail and creativity with which each was made. A gift like this will un-doubtedly be talked about for quite some time, and that's no bull!

For the woman who loves to accessorize, Veneto Collection, 713-622-4244, is simply heaven on earth. Veneto Col-lection is an upscale women's boutique bringing the best and latest in designer clothing and accessories from around the world to its clients. Their wide selection of handbags, jewelry, tops and belts, as well as more than 15 different lines of clothing, makes them stand out above the rest. Whether the occasion is formal, business casual, or anything in between, Veneto Collection offers distinctive options for every wardrobe.

Pure Bliss... The name speaks for itself, as it is here that you can find the truly decadent indulgences of life. Pure Bliss, 713-622-2771, is a natural bath, body and soul shop set in a turn-of-the-century Covent Garden marketplace. For something genuinely unique, give a Kama Sutra "Tin of Earthly Delights" for only $66.

If jewelry is what the lady desires, then 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.  

For the athletic, fitness-minded people out there, Sun & Ski Sports is the top-of-the-line provider of clothing and accessories. At Sun & Ski Sports, merchandise is stocked in only four categories: ski (snow and water), bicycling, in-line skating and camping. This specialization allows the customer to receive more of what they want in a specialty store. Stop by one of their five Houston locations, or call 713-783-8180 to locate the store nearest you.

Key Map Atlases make a great gift for any driver. This is an especially great idea for that certain someone who is without a doubt prone to getting lost, and that's just driving from home to the office. Visit the amazing Key Map store for a plethora of unique gift ideas. Call 713-522-7949 or visit their Web site, www.keymaps.com.

Under $50

Need an idea for that hard-to-buy-for, ADD-suffering, Ritalin-downing friend whose attention has always been held by every gift you've ever given for exactly two seconds? Mars Music has a fantastic supply of bongos. It doesn't matter if your friend is musically inclined or not. Bongos make for an amazingly unique gift that will no doubt never be forgotten. Check out the Mars web site at www. marsmusic.com.

Cowboys and Angels, 713-622-5437, has a great gift idea for the kiddos. Their "Slumber Party Bags" are perfect for your little one's sleepovers at either a friend's house or Grandma and Grandpa's. These precious bags feature an assortment of decorative fabrics and hold a sleeping bag, pillow, pajamas and more. The bags sell for $38. You can add a monogram for an even more personal touch.

Spice up your love life with a great idea from Pure Bliss, 713-622-2771. For over 30 years, Kama Sutra has made a fabulous gift idea for any occasion, or no occasion at all. It is an outstanding line of natural, healthy, and edible indulgences beautifully packaged to capture the eye. Their "Chocolate Paint Kits" retail for only $40.

Always a good staple for gift giving is flavored coffee. There is nothing quite like a mighty fine cup o' joe to warm the body and the soul during the holidays. Starbucks, 713-529-1571, has a number of holiday-inspired flavors to make the gift just that much more festive an idea.

For those looking to give something a bit more festive, The Brew Stop, 281-397-9411, has just what you need. Sure, you can buy beer, but why settle for the ordinary? This is your chance to show off. The Brew Stop is Houston's premier source for all your homemade beer in-gredients. Make your own and take it to that Christmas party, or give someone else a starter kit. The kit includes the ingredients for the first five gallons of beer. It's easy. It's fun. And it is definitely different.

Under $25

Always the perfect gift is the gift of music, and there is no better place to find that esoteric music than Cactus Music, 713-526-9272. Cactus Music is an eight-time winner of the title of Best Record Store in the Houston Press Music Awards. Here you can find music in almost every genre from pop, rock and country to jazz, folk and swing. They also have a tremendous video selection and the coolest odds and ends to make any music lover happy.

Facade, 713-552-1545, in Uptown Park, has Vincent Longo Gel Stains for only $20 each. They have five colors that wash the cheeks and lips in a long-lasting and rich color stain. The staying power of the stain means only one application will give the desired effect.

Phone Center, 713-974-7464, is a great place to shop for those hard-to-find cellular accessories. Whether youre looking for a battery or a car charger or a hands-free device, they have it all.

Don't have a lot to spend? Head over to Wherehouse Music, 1-800-WHEREHOUSE, and check out their amazing supply of used CDs. You might find that long-forgotten gem that you-know-who has been looking for for years.

Another inexpensive gift is the gift of literature. Borders, 713-782-6066, always has tremendous deals on everything from new releases to timeless classics. Need some expert advice on what to get that finicky reader? Check out "Rose's Picks" and you can't go wrong. She has her finger on the pulse of the world of literature so you don't have to. There are also many other bookstores around town. Waldenbooks, 713-951-0041, located in-side The Park Shops in downtown, Bookstop, 713-529-2345, Barnes & Noble, 713-629-8828, and Quarter Price Books, 713-520-5009, on South Shepherd, also have fantastic deals just waiting to be found.  

Don't forget to pamper your pet during the holidays. Carlisle's Groom and Board, 713-521-2273, is a full service grooming and pet salon. Indulge Fido with a shave, a haircut and a pedicure. Also, pet owners that don't want to leave Fido at home alone while traveling during the holidays can board their furry friend at Carlisle's. Boarding ranges from $13 to $15 per day and daycare is only $5 to $7 per day. Carlisle's Groom and Board is located at 423 Southwest Freeway.

Loft & Home Essentials, 713-522-5638, is a specialty candle, apothecary and home accessory store located in historic Mon-trose. They feature a large selection of unique gifts as well as wonderful fragrant candles. If you're looking for pretty things for the home, then this is your place.

And for the ladies, a smoking idea would be the Houston Firefighters 2002 Calendar. Always a hot item during the holidays, the proceeds from the calendar benefit the Houston Firefighters Burned and Crippled Children's Fund. The calendar is $15 plus $2 shipping and can be ordered on-line at www.firefighterscalendar.org. But be warned, ladies, looking at these men will do very little to extinguish your flames of passion. It'll take a cool hand to handle something this hot!


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