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10 ways to simplify holiday gift-giving ... and soothe your jingle-jangled nerves 

• Get everyone (or as many people as you can) the same thing. This way you will only need to shop in one place! Ideas: books, CDs, wine for adults, potted amaryllis or other plant or flower. Fund-raising poinsettias from your local school or civic group are nice, too.

• Get everyone a gift certificate. Don't forget about gift certificates for non-material things, such as dinner at a favorite restaurant, a manicure or pedicure, a massage, yoga classes, museum memberships, quilting lessons from Thimble Pleasures in Carrboro, pottery classes from Claymakers in Durham, decorate your own ceramic pieces (an especially nice idea for children) at Amazing Glaze, with Raleigh and Cary locations; Durham's Glaze N Blaze; and Paint the Earth in Chapel Hill.

• Never underestimate the pleasure of homemade things, for both giver and receiver. In addition to baked goods and other food items, think about homemade candles, soaps, etc. (get how-to info off the Web or at the library). One year my family made a cookbook of favorite recipes.

• And then there's the coupon. What it's for is limited only by your imagination--it could be for babysitting, a promise for an outing with a child, an agreement to plant something, build something, clean something, do something. A super gift for parents of young children would be a babysitting coupon accompanied by a gift certificate to a local restaurant.

• Have a gift-giving theme. For example, if it's animals, everyone can buy everyone else something related to that--bird houses, wild-bird food, zoo membership for the family, sweatshirts, socks, clothes with animals on them. Having a theme helps direct the buyer, reducing the angst associated with obligatory aimless present buying. Angst can be further reduced by keeping each present under $10 (or some other arbitrary but reasonable number).

• Shop by web or catalog only. The year my husband and I had a newborn and a 1-year-old (pre-Internet), we put the babies in their cribs and sat down with a list, some catalogs, a telephone, and a bottle of wine. Before the bottle was empty, our Christmas shopping was done. Some local Web sites are www.ladyslipper.org (music by women) and www.cottonbras.com (natural fiber clothes).

• Give to charities instead of purchasing stuff. Write a message to the recipient about why you chose that particular charity and put it in a special card. Some especially meaningful community charities at this time of year are the Wake County Foster Parents Christmas Tree Project, 233-1182; Durham's Share Your Christmas, either by adopting a family by calling 680-0140 or checking out the Foster Children's Christmas Tree at Northgate; Orange County Department of Social Services at 245-2810 for their adopt-a-family information; Warmth for Wake, 781-799; Habitat for Humanity (Durham: 682-0516, Orange: 732-6767, Wake: 833-1999); Urban Ministries of Durham, 682-0538; the Durham Rescue Mission, 688-9641; or the Food Bank of North Carolina, 875-0707.

• Instead of giving gifts to each member of a family or a couple, think in terms of a single gift for the household.

• Dispense with gifts entirely and plan a family holiday vacation, or a party for friends and family (give it in January or February, when everyone can use a lift).

For further ideas, get your hands on a copy of Unplug the Christmas Machine or Hundred Dollar Holiday. These books contain a wealth of ideas for simplifying the holidays and reconnecting to the true spirit of the season.

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