It's not easy.
Most of the ideas we've come up with will not result in maxing out your credit card and none of them involve a trip to the mall. We've tried to focus on local businesses rather than national chains, and places where your gift dollar will do some good, like museum shops instead of Wal-Mart. We've emphasized the low-tech and the old-fashioned and the fun-loving. We've included some ideas that won't cost you a dime, and others that won't require you to leave the warmth of your hearth to execute.
We hope that you'll be inspired by our efforts, and that you'll have time left over for cookie-baking and carol-singing, and friends and family--you know, some of that peace and joy.
Harvey's Bags, $75-$95. Dilly Dally, Raleigh. These extremely cool woven bags are made of real seat belts and come in a variety of colors such as Cadillac Pink, Buick Brown and (my favorite) Ferrari Red. They are made to be used as purses, although Dilly Dally carries them as offbeat diaper bags. This children's store has locations in both North Raleigh (844-7557) and Cameron Village (833-8822).
Keepsake Growth Chart, $18. Dilly Dally, Raleigh, 844-7557 and 833-8822. Colorful chart with stickers to mark important growth moments, like the first day of first grade. The chart comes in various themes such as baseball and castle.
Beer Charms, $16.99. Stuf 'n Such, Raleigh, 878-8733. Wine charms are everywhere, but beer charms may be just the ticket when Super Bowl Sunday rolls around. The charms come in sets of six and are designed to fit over the necks of glass beer bottles.
Rocket Balloons with Pump, $12.99. Learning Express, Raleigh, 881-4141. This was a favorite birthday gift of my 9-year-old nephew. After the gifts are opened, you can send the younger set outdoors to blow up and launch their own balloon rockets. Along the same lines is the Super Stomp Rocket ($12.99; extra rockets, $4 a pack). Museum of Life and Science, Durham, 220-5429. Stomp on the plastic launcher, and an air-powered plastic rocket travels up to 100 feet.
Page Stand FM Radio, $15. Quintessentials II (785-0787) and Divine Collections (786-0301), Raleigh. This mini-radio is shaped like a computer mouse, can hold papers upright and comes in fun colors such as silver, orange and lime. I also saw them at the N.C. Museum of Art Gift Shop (839-6262) for $18.95.
Oven-shaped Recipe Box from Tatutina Company, $26.95. Zest Café and Home Art, Raleigh, 848-4792. This hand-painted wooden recipe box is a good choice for your favorite foodie. You can make this gift even more special by putting a few favorite recipes in the box.
Brown leather picture frame and bureau caddy set from Wolf Designs, $32. Lydia's Gifts and More, Raleigh, 846-0555. This is a nice gift for a guy, especially if you put a photo of the kids (or yourself) in the frame.
Magnolia Marketplace Located in Cary (319-0505) and North Raleigh (841-1103), these marketplaces are basically mini-malls with numerous small vendors selling everything from candles to pottery to antiques and furniture, including many one-of-a-kind items. One of my favorite vendors, seen at the North Raleigh Marketplace, is The American Album Art Company, 846-9571. They sell framed LP cover art, ideal for the nostalgia buff. The album covers include everything from familiar classics to Songs for Swinging Mothers and Music to Help you Stop Smoking. Prices vary and start at around $30.
Cats with an Attitude Refillable Catnip Pouch, $6.37. Pet Mania, Raleigh, 676-3225. For the cat or cat lover on your list. These come in whimsical styles from the traditional mouse to (my favorite) a jalapeno pepper. For the canine crowd are Greenies, chewable toothbrush-shaped doggie breath fresheners at $1.29 and up. Phydeaux (get it, sounds like Fido) in Carrboro (960-3606) is another place to shop for the pet-lovers in your life.
Decorated birdseed wreaths, $6.99 and up, many under $20. Wild Bird Center, Chapel Hill, 933-2030. The Wild Bird Center has a great selection of beautiful wreaths made of birdseed and other natural materials. And while you're there, keep in mind that a birdfeeder and a field guide is a great gift for practically every age and gender (also a nice gift for a family). And if you really want to go all out, you can add a pair of binoculars. Owner Cynthia Fox and her knowledgeable staff can help you pick.
Patterson's Mill Country Store, Farrington Road, Chapel Hill, 493-8149, really is what places like Cracker Barrel pretend to be. There are second-hand books, antique furniture, glassware, record albums, old kitchen utensils, pickles and preserves under the store's own label, and dozens of one-of-a-kind items. And if that's not enough, the store also is a mini-museum displaying all sorts of collectibles including old typewriters and cameras, food containers (ever hear of Pluto Laxative?), doctor's and pharmacists equipment, and lovely old bottles and jars.
Galia Goodman cards, $3.50. Womancraft, Chapel Hill, 929-8362. These cards are reproductions of works by local collage artist Galia Goodman. Each card/collage features an interesting or inspiring quote. Put one in a 5-by-7 frame and you have a unique yet inexpensive gift. You can also frame Sarah Deacon cards, available at Raleigh's Little Art Gallery in Cameron Village (890-4111) for $12 apiece. The price tag reflects the fact these cards are not copies, but original works of collage/calligraphy art.
Clothes on West Franklin Street Teenagers and fashionistas will appreciate clothing and other accessories from Love & Peace (968-8350), Time after Time Vintage Thrift Shop (942-2304), and Modern Times (929-8119), three stores right next to each other in downtown Chapel Hill. Love & Peace takes you back to the '60s (they even have fishnet stockings for $3.50), Modern Times carries trendy designer merchandise, and Time after Time has an incredible selection of hip second-hand togs. I also spied some feather boas at both Time and Love ($11-$12), a fun addition to the dress-up box. (If you can't make it to Chapel Hill, try Retro Alley, a new vintage clothes shop at 1101 W. Main St. in Durham, 956-8200; or try Old Habits on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh, 833-2747).
Business card holders, $10-$28. North Carolina Crafts Gallery, Carrboro, 942-4048. This craft shop carries a great selection of deskware, including business card holders of wood, ceramic and other materials. As its name indicates, everything in this store was made by a North Carolina craftsperson.
Copper pinwheels, small, $17.95; large $22.95. Stone Bros. & Byrd, Durham, 682-1311. These eye-catching pinwheels are part of a line of yard art from the Bird Brain Company. While you're browsing there, you can also pick up a pair of plastic flamingos for the bargain price of $11.95.
Oaxacan Animal Carvings, $9 and up. Color De Mexico, Durham, 286-4221. These fanciful wooden creatures are hand-carved and colorfully painted. Several displayed together would make a special gift. The store also carries handmade tin mirrors, some with ceramic tile borders.
Vintage Vinyl Record Bowls, $35. Zola Craft Gallery, Durham, 286-5112. These whimsical bowls are made out of real records. Zola also carries the ultimate in seasonal cheer, White Trash Fridge Magnets, for $11.
Eno River 2003 Calendar, $12.95. Available at bookstores and other locations throughout the Triangle and by calling 620-9099. A calendar is always a welcome holiday gift, especially when the purchase supports the work of the Eno River Association. This year's calendar (the 31st in an annual series) is especially beautiful, featuring scenic photographs of the river and surrounding landscape.
Fish Sticks and Dragonflies, $36 each. No, not the Mrs. Paul's frozen variety, these colorfully painted creatures are made by Durham artist Bryant Holsenbeck. Holsenbeck creates art exclusively from "trash"--discarded and found material. But don't let that mislead you; fish sticks and dragonflies would look great in anyone's home. She also makes unique journals from recycled paper ($20-$65). Holsenbeck can be contacted at email@example.com or 286-4712. You can also purchase her work and the work of other talented local artists on Dec. 14 during Durham's Annual Art Walk, a self-guided tour of artist's studios and galleries. Maps are available at the Durham Arts Council.
Local Getaways A gift certificate for an overnight or weekend stay at a local bed and breakfast is sure to be appreciated by your spouse or significant other. Some suggestions are the Oakwood Inn, Raleigh 832-9712; Old North Durham Inn, 683-1885; Morehead Manor B&B, Durham 687-4366; Arrowhead Inn, Durham 477-8430; the Inn at Bingham School, west of Chapel Hill 563-5583; and The Inn at Celebrity Dairy in Siler City 942-5176 (Celebrity Dairy makes goat cheese--available locally--and their inn is located on the farm).
Mobiles A great selection of mobiles is available at the N.C. Museum of Art, 839-6262 (a good choice for a family gift). There are abstract ones in the Calder style (about $32 to $57) and Skyflight Mobiles for $34.95, hung with birds like ruby throated hummingbirds, snowy owls, and goldfinches.
Mint Julep Cups, $17.50. Trillium, Raleigh, 783-0030. These silver plated tumbler-shaped cups are perfect for the dyed-in-the-wool Southerner on your list, and maybe for some Northerners too.
Framed Family Photos Having a family photograph or photographs framed is a great idea for a relative. Jill Flink Fine Art in Raleigh (821-7172) and Arete Frame Gallery in Durham (286-7607) have an excellent choice of frames. (Get Arete owner Holly Benazerga to show you her linen mats, which look gorgeous next to sepia-toned old photographs.)
Italian Ceramics Hand-thrown, positively gorgeous Italian pottery is the only thing carried by Raleigh's Patrizia (755-6361). The envelope-shaped letter holders (small, $59; large $79) would make an unusual gift. Pottery and a few other things Italian can be found at the Vietri warehouse in Hillsborough (732-5933, open weekends only). The warehouse carries overstocks and seconds at prices that range from somewhat reduced to incredible bargains.
Chenille Scarves are popular this season. The most sumptuous ones in the area are the hand-woven ones found at Lavender and Lace in Raleigh's Cameron Village (828-6007). They come in a gorgeous array of colors and are $85. Vaguely Reminiscent in Durham (286-3911) and Love & Peace in Chapel Hill (968-8350) carry the non-handwoven variety for around $20.
Hand-beaded Purses from Nepal At only $16, these brightly colored hand-beaded purses are a real find. They are sold in the Raleigh City Market at Dechen Collections (899-6817), a store carrying gift items from Tibet and Nepal. Owner Dechen Paldon also stocks raw silk envelope-shaped purses embroidered with flowers for a mere $12, and zippered coin purses of woven silk thread for $9.99.
Magic Christmas Tree, $6.99. Stuf 'n Such, Raleigh, 878-8733. Based on the Magic Rocks concept (if you don't know what they are, ask a Baby Boomer). Magic Rocks themselves can be found at Durham's Museum of Life and Science (220-5429) for $5.49.
Creedmoor Candles, One World Market, Durham, 286-2457. These hand-rolled beeswax candles are made by developmentally disabled people. They come in a variety of colors and sizes, including 10-inch tapers for $7.95, and 12-inch tapers for $8.95. Speaking of candles, Durham's David Fruchtenicht makes lovely hand-dipped beeswax candles for $6 a pair. Contact Dave at 489-0428.
Bag Balm, Stone Bros. & Byrd, Durham, 682-1311. Originally designed for the sore udders of Vermont cows (really!), there's nothing better for rough skin. It comes in a cute little green tin, too. 1 ounce tin, $5.49; 10 ounce tin, $8.89.
Magnutz, about $6. Morgan Imports, Durham, 688-1150, and N.C. Museum of Art, Raleigh, 839-6262. Tiny in size, mighty in strength, these just may be the world's greatest fridge magnets. They come in a set of six assorted colors.
Brass Frog from Garden Watchers Brand garden art, $8.95. Stone Bros. & Byrd, Durham, 682-1311.
Flamingo Spoon Rest, $8.95. Zest Café and Home Art, Raleigh, 848-4792, Raleigh. You just can't have too many flamingos.
Ceramic Switch plate covers, $6.50 single, $8.50 double. Color De Mexico, Durham, 286-4221.
Good Dog Hook ($9) or Fish Hook ($8) by Blue Handworks. Zola Craft Gallery, Durham, 286-5112.
Change purse, red or black leather, opens to nylon tote bag, $6. Vaguely Reminiscent, Durham, 286-3911.
Art Mouse Pad, $9.95. N.C. Museum of Art, Raleigh, 839-6262. These computer mouse pads sport famous paintings by the likes of Monet, Mondrian and Andy Warhol.
Kids Under $10
Oval Playing Cards in plastic eyeglass case by Ante. $5.50 at Zola Craft Gallery, Durham, 286-5112 and $6 at Trillium, Raleigh, 783-0030. Trillium also has egg-shaped Umbra cards for $6.
Magna Box, $5. Museum of Life and Science, Durham, 220-5429. Nifty little clear plastic box of different-sized magnets.
Glow in the Dark stickers for walls and ceiling. $4.99 a package. Museum of Life and Science, Durham, 220-5429. Stars, butterflies and other such stuff.
Mad Libs, $3.99. Playhouse, Durham, 286-1317. This old fill in the blank word game is still around. There's even a Christmas Mad Libs.
Snap Watch, $9.99. Learning Express, Raleigh, 881-4141. Unisex bracelet-style watch with a strap made of thin climbing rope. Also available at the N.C. Museum of Art, 839-6262.
Plastic animal toothbrush holder, $1. Vaguely Reminiscent, Durham, 286-3911. Attaches to the bathroom mirror with a suction cup. My teenaged daughter loves her frog holder.
Coin-Struction, $5. Playhouse, Durham, 286-1317. Small plastic clips are attached to coins to make objects such as a robot and an airplane. Larger sets are also available at $10 and $15.
Origami. N.C. Museum of Art, Raleigh, 839-6262. For under $10 you can pick up both the Easy Origami Book for $3.95 and a set of origami paper and instructions for $3.95 or $4.95.
Rat-A-Tat-Cat, $10. Playhouse, Durham, 286-1317, and other Triangle locations. This simple but infectious card game for the 6 and over crowd has long been a family favorite. For a slightly older crowd (and for slightly over $10), there's Quiddler, a word-making card game that's also a house favorite, $12.
Trouble Dolls, $2.50. American Indian Company, City Market, Raleigh, 934-9655. Guatemalans believe if you tell your troubles to these six tiny dolls before going to sleep, and put them in their tiny box, they will try to solve your troubles while you sleep.
10 Food Gifts
Women's Bean Project Mixes, One World Market, Durham, 286-2457. Firehouse Chili Mix, $5.50; Toni's Ten Bean Soup Mix, $5.50; 6 Bean Organic Soup Mix, $6.
Stone Bros. & Byrd's own Blueberry Syrup, $4.79. And I wonder what their Deathly Garlic Salsa, $5.19, tastes like. 682-1311.
Red Bell Pepper & Ancho Chili Jam, $9.99. Stuf 'n Such, Raleigh, 878-8733. Owner CeCe Denny says she sells 10 cases a week of this condiment during the holiday season.
Ginny O's Cheese Rings, homemade from an 1850s recipe. They come wrapped up with cute pink and green raffia ties. You can find these at Quintessentials II in Raleigh (785-0787) or contact Ginny O. directly at www.ginnyo.com or 782-5302.
Ethnic Food Basket. Buy a basket or two (thrift shops are a great place to pick up some cheap), head out to one of the Triangle's many ethnic markets and put together your own ethnic food basket. Try D'Amici's (866-1980) or Conti's (836-8368) in Raleigh or CapriFlavors in Morrisville (462-9255) for Italian food; one of the many Oriental markets for Asian specialties (check the yellow pages); or a Hispanic market for chipotles, salsa and real tortilla chips.
Pan Forte, $7.50. Ninth Street Bakery, Durham, 286-0303. Translated as "strong bread," this Italian holiday treat is not bread at all but a rich, dense confection of fruits and nuts baked in a circular shape and covered with powdered sugar.
Guglhupf Bakery, Durham, 401-2600. Guglhupf carries a variety of authentic (and delicious) German-style pastries very appropriate for holiday giving.
San Ramon Coffee, Durham Food Co-op, 490-0929. This shade-grown organic coffee is roasted by local Quakers. It comes in French Roast or Breakfast Blend. Non-members are welcome to shop at the Co-op.
Cheeses from Chapel Hill Creamery The Creamery makes Carolina Moon (a Camembert), Calvander (a creamy washed rind cheese), and Hickory Grove (a semi-firm cheese). Gift-sized rounds run about $10. You can find these cheeses at the Wine Market in Carrboro, the Carrboro Farmer's Market, and Maple View Ice Cream Store in Hillsborough.
Banana Butter & Red Pepper Jelly These treats are made by Amy Sugg of Bonlee Grown Farms in Chatham County. Contact Amy at 837-2937 or firstname.lastname@example.org.