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Holiday Shopping

Traditional Gifts

Janet Bennet and Alexa Beattie
washingtonpost.com staff producers
Thursday, December 9, 2004; 2:00 PM

Alexa Beattie, washingtonpost.com food and dining editor, and Janet Bennett, washingtonpost.com fashion and beauy editor, have decided to ditch high-tech gift ideas this year in favor of more old-fashioned Christmas presents. They were online Thursday, Dec. 9 at 2 p.m. ET.

What are you planning to give your nearest and dearest? Tell us your ideas for gifts $15 and under and your thoughts about non-techy toys for toddlers.


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washingtonpost.com: Hi, everyone, Welcome to our shopping special. Alexa and I have decided to foreswear technology (yes, really) at least for this Xmas and focus on old-fashioned presents. So, tell us what you're thinking about giving and we'll tell you our ideas. Ho, ho, ho.

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4th Street, Washington, D.C.: Hi -- thanks for doing this chat. I have an urgent gift question! I'm looking for one of those milk frothers, they are handheld, separate from home cappuccino machines. The New York Times mentioned they'd be a good gift for food lovers, but I can't remember what the brand was. Do you know it? Or where I could find it? I tried linens and things, but no luck. Thank you!

Alexa Beattie: I happen to know of two -- one called a Fluffig from IKEA that is non-electric and comes in bright childhood colors for $4.99. The other, sexier model, is the Primo from Williams Sonoma for $19.95. You could make it even cuter by giving a small bag of quality beans (Route 66 from Misha's Coffee House, say) and one of those lovely glass bottles of organic milk from somewhere like Whole Foods alongside.

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Washington, D.C.: Janet & Alexa -- Happy Holidays! Do you two have any suggestions about where to find great holiday wrapping paper, ribbons, etc. in downtown DC? Suggestions near Farragut, Metro Center or Chinatown metro stops are preferred. Thanks in advance.

Janet Bennet: Can you make it to Gtown? Paper Source is brandy new and crammed full with wrapping paper, boxes, ribbons, et al. Give it a try.

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Washington, D.C.: How easy is it to return items to Amazon.com? I want to buy one of those CD players that fit underneath the kitchen cabinets and they have very competitive prices. If for some reason I need to return it, will it be a huge pain?

Janet Bennet: I have no personal experience, but my colleagues say that they bought and returned things with no problem at all. So, don't worry.

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Annapolis, Md.: I am a new employee and I supervise three women, all of whom are at least twice my age. What can I get them (or make them) for Christmas that is inexpensive but thoughtful?

Alexa Beattie: Annapolis, you sound nice. I salute your willingness to make something. Let's think. What do you know about these three? Are you a baker? Could you make a batch of fudge that you would then tie up prettily in cellophane? But fudge can be hard. What about dipping your own ginger or dried fruit spears in chocolate and bagging those up. Everyone likes blooms. An amaryllis bulb each? A gorgeous bar of handmade soap? A candle?

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Arlington, Va.: I bought my 2 1/2 year old niece a classic Mrs. Potato Head for christmas. My husband, of course, lobbied for something with flashing lights and that makes lots of noise, but I think a simple toy inspires far more imagination and creativity. Plus, you know, it was $7, can't beat that.

Alexa Beattie: A-men to that. Yes, as the mum of a four-year-old wild man, I say slim right down on the sensory-overload stuff and have their minds do the work. I'm for potato heads, blocks, a set of food-scented markers and the biggest pad of paper you can find at the craft store.

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Bethesda, Md.: Thanks for taking my question. As a treat for my wonderful, but incredibly stressed-out husband, I'd love to buy him a massage (or a series of massages) as a holiday gift. Any suggestions for where to send a guy for a massage in the Maryland suburbs?

Janet Bennet: What a nice treat for him. I know Serenity Day Spa offers massages for men. It's not exactly in the md. suburbs but close enough, I hope. Alternatively, try Aveda in Bethesda.

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Gaithersburg, Md.: I just got my fiance' an engagement ring right before Thanksgiving, do you think a follow up Christmas present of the DVD Fight Club would be good enough, since she knows I laid down a hefty amount for the ring? (She loved Brad Pitt by the way)

Alexa Beattie: You are hilarious. What about Rambo uncut? No, I bet she'd LOVE it.

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Help!;!;: I am searching for a stocking with a sailboat on it. My boyfriend loves to sail so I'd like to get him a stocking and stuff it for his Christmas gift this year. I've searched everywhere (Christmas Attic, LL Bean, Lands End, christmasdepot.com), but to no avail. Do you have any suggestions of where I might find a sailboat stocking?

Janet Bennet: Hmm. I would have thought LL Bean would have had something. Alternatively, how far are you from Annapolis? It might be worth a trip to browse the stores there. You can look for presents for other people on your list as well.

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Washington, D.C.: Okay, so I know the brooch is on its last legs (or so "they" say), shawls are unlikely contenders for mainstays, ribbon belts I can only assume are on the chopping block - so what to get for the holidays? I love giving fun accessories as gifts, but don't want to be guilty of buying the gift that goes into hiding January 1 never to be seen again. What are some other things to look for? Thanks.

Alexa Beattie: Well, just yesterday Janet and I came across two things that might suit -- a Manhatten clutch bag (think of a black and white aerial shot of the city, plasticked 'til stiff and fashioned into a little retro purse. Cute as can be). And, a crochet-your-own-bikini kit. We loved both so much we wore them home.
Both were seen at Shoefly in Clarendon and were under $25.

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Germantown, Md.: Inexpensive gift idea: I travel often for business, so last year my girlfriend got me a simple toiletry kit filled with all the travel-sized essentials. I thought it was thoughtful, very useful and can be done relatively cheap.

Alexa Beattie: Yes that was extremely thoughtful, GermanT. What are you thinking about for her this year?

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Frederick, Md.: I'll give my dad gift certificates, and nice towel set, and some postal stamps.
My brother will get sneakers, a small pocket knife, and a bottle of rum.
My sister-in-law will get a pair of blue jeans, socks, and a bottle of wine.
My supervisor's wife is expecting a baby soon and I will give them a wind-up musical teddy bear and pajamas at the baby shower. Nothing high-tech in my gift giving!

Alexa Beattie: And a partridge in a pear tree.
Good for you. Are socks and underwear still frowned upon as gifts? If so, they shouldn't be.

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Clueless: What is the price range for an iPot?

Alexa Beattie: I'm assuming you mean an iPod? As far as I can tell from the apple website, they begin at $299.

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Arlington, Va.: I am all for non-techy toys for toddlers! For my two-year-old, this year I stocked up on wooden puzzles, big blocks, and books. I got her a couple Little People sets because she loves playing with the sets she already has, and it's a good imagination builder. (They are over $15, though.) No electronic toys in the bunch. I figure I will save a bundle on batteries this year and avoid hearing all the annoying sounds and music to boot! And these things should last for future siblings and cousins to play with for years to come.

Alexa Beattie: Yes, the noise gets old about two minutes in.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi - Any suggestions for a cool gift for late-20s female best friend, in the $25 range? In the recent past I've gotten her bath stuff, that cool new Built wine bag, and the handbag hanger (as seen in the Post). But this year I'm drawing a total blank. Thanks!

Janet Bennet: I love that Built wine bag -- great choice. As Alexa mentioned, we shopped yesterday at Shoe Fly in Clarendon and found a bonanza of well-priced, cool stuff, like fleece-lined knit mittens on a string ($15), printed silk eye masks ($15) and glass rings from Argentina ($14). Have fun.

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Arlington, Va.: For the iPod question--you can get them cheaper on amazon.com

Alexa Beattie: Thank you. Or eBay perhaps? In fact, a little tekky bird here in the office says people are dumping their second and third generation pods on eBay to get the newest version. Quite a hot tip in this non-tech chat.

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Handbag hanger?: What is this product that was just mentioned? It sounds useful . . .

Alexa Beattie: Anyone care to enlighten...

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Arlington, Va.: I'd like to get my sister a spa gift certificate (having a baby in January and I don't want her xmas to be all about the kid), but her town in NY doesn't have any and the nearest city is Ottawa. Do you or anyone else have any suggestions for a day spa in Ottawa?? Thanks!!

Janet Bennet: Hi, there, Ottawa,
Too bad our Canada connection has left us. Sorry, don't know of any spas in Ottawa. Anyone have a suggestion?

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Washington, D.C.: What is an appropriate gift(s) for a man for Hanukkah? I have never celebrated this holiday...is it too late to get him something?

Thanks!

Janet Bennet: Hanukah lasts seven days, so it's not too late. I don't there's anything specific that I can recommend. Pretend you're getting him a Christmas gift.

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Toys for kids: I've got a very precocious four year old nephew to shop for, as well as another nephew that is just about to turn three. Any suggestions for the four year old? I think that I've got him covered, but my mom and grandma have no idea. For the almost three year old, I'm planning on getting him a My First Leap Pad -- any suggestions for a pure fun present to get him along with that?

Alexa Beattie: I think that one of the very best things you can give a child is Robert Sabuda's pop-up Alice in Wonderland. If you haven't seen this magical thing, go at once to a bookstore and take a peek. It's remarkable and teaches, in one fell swoop, the enormous value of books.

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Holiday Paper: The poster should also try Pulp on 14th Street...

Alexa Beattie: Yes. Pulp.

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Washington, D.C.: My favorite low-price-big-wow gifts this year are the nifty behind-the-head earmuffs you can get at sporting good stores -- they custom-fit to your head, and there are some nifty colors, for around $20. I also like the idea of buying someone a cocktail shaker (I got a cool metal and red one at Crate and Barrel for $15) and packing it with a mini bottle of flavored vodka and some cocktail picks.

Janet Bennet: Thanks, D.C.,
I think those are all good ideas.

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Washington, D.C.: This is perhaps not quite as holiday, but I wanted some guidance. I'm meeting my boyfriend's entire family next week for his mother's birthday dinner. I've already planned to give Harry and David pears to her for Christmas, but am tapped out of ideas for something "birthday" that makes a good impression other than the standby candle or hand lotion. I've asked my boyfriend if his mother has any hobbies, but she evidently doesn't that he knows of...no help at all...Any ideas?! I'm looking to spend $20-35...I'd be forever indebted!

Alexa Beattie: Does she like tea? A cannister of Mariage Freres tea from Paris makes a lovely present. Some say it's among the best tea in the world. It's not cheap though -- around $15 for a handsome black tin. Casablanca and Vanille des Isles are my faves. What else might she like?

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Washington, D.C.: X-mas, this year, needs to be a cheap affair. Under $20 per person. Can you offer some interesting suggestions for in-laws and sisters around the $20 mark? Thanks.

Janet Bennet: Cheap but chic. Last year I got some friends atmosphere sprays from Demeter. They come in very unusual scents, like "Dirr" and "Sex on the Beach." They're $12.99 at Target. Just for Christmas, there's Mulled Cider and Fraser Fir.

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Washington, D.C.: ummm, Hanukkah lasts EIGHT nights!

Janet Bennet: Soo sorry. I forgot one night!

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Sailboat Stocking: They have a couple on ebay -- spell Sailboat and Sail Boat

Alexa Beattie: eBay again.

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Spas: Check spafinder.com -- they have lots of spas (I'm not sure if they go to Canada, though) and you can get a gift certificate through them.

Janet Bennet: For the poster in search of a spa ....

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Virginia: Can you give me suggestions on how I can find a gift for a teenage (12 year-old) boy but avoid the malls? I don't want to order online and don't want to get a gift certificate for CDs or best buy either.

Alexa Beattie: A nicely bound edition of Harry Potter? It's hard to say without knowing anything about this lad. Any more details? Is he too old for a National Geographic Bubble Gum science kit? I've seen those at Target.

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Arlington, Va.: How far in advance should you make reservations for the holidays? Is it too late?

Janet Bennet: Hi, Arlington,
Are you in the right discussion? I'm not sure what you mean when you say reservations for the holidays; reservations for what????

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Washington, D.C.-Wrapping Paper: Container Store in Tenleytown has lots of really cute wrapping paper and accessories...

Janet Bennet: Yes, D.C.,
Container Store does have a good selection of wrapping papers. And lots of stuff you can use for decorating or having a party.

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iPod: You can get them much cheaper than $299!; Look on ebay (they aren't used), jandr.com, amazon, etc...

My dad is going to love me so much this year - got him a massage chair from the Sharper Image.

Alexa Beattie: Those chairs are deluxe. Well done. A lavish gift.

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Bethesda, Md.: I generally want to avoid the traffic at the malls but I know I'll be missing really good deals. What is your assessment on finding deals at stores in the mall? Do you think there is anything still out there now or has everything good been sold during the weekend of Black Friday?

Janet Bennet: What kinds of deals do you think you'll be missing if you don't go to the mall? We like to support local, independent businesses that make shopping a fun experience. Try the Eastern Market, for example. The weather promises to be good. Get out and enjoy. They're not giving anything away at the mall.

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Washington, D.C.: Help! Meeting my boyfriend's mom for the first time this holiday, and staying at her house. I need the perfect hostess/holiday gift that can be carried on a plane. I can always do bath stuff, I know, but something more creative would be great.

Alexa Beattie: I say a foodie gift from a local spot would be nice. Kingsbury Chocolates on King Street in Old Town does some lovely truffley things. Or a box of homemade holiday cookies from the Del Ray Dreamery in Del Ray. Where is she? Would she like wine from a local vineyard?

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Springfield, Va.: I would like to purchase a set of cool martini glasses for a hip 30-something female friend who has everything. Glasses with color embellishments. Thoughts? Thanks for your great ideas!

Janet Bennet: You're in luck, Springfield. This is the season of the martini, and I've seen glasses in all price ranges. The party martini glasses from cb2 (crate & barrel's younger, hipper sidekick) are only $2.95 now and great looking. Neiman Marcus sells them as does Williams-Sonoma, which has an amber-hued set on sale for $41.99. Another place I really like is American Studio in Gtown.

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Virginia: Strange question but where can I find a smurf or scooby doo bandana? I've looked on the web and can't find one.

Alexa Beattie: Target's pet department.

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Fairfax, Va.: Ok I'm in a jam- I can either get my boyfriend a portable DVD player and that's it or nice jeans, polos, stuff he asked for (because he would never ASK for a dvd player, but I think it'd be fun to suprise him). So what do I do?!?! The practical clothes or the DVD player which I know we'll both use.

Janet Bennet: If you think he'd really love the DVD player, why not go with your instinct??

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Stuffers: Target never fails to amaze in the stationery department (okay maybe not AMAZE, this is just stationery.) They have some cute boxed sets of four similar, but different themed notecards. And economical.

Janet Bennet: It never fails to amaze me how many fans there are of Target out there. You can't beat the style for the price.

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Virginia: Re: teenage kid.
He's too old for bubble gum machine. He likes basketball, science, writing and he's tall. He skateboards, listens to music and loves playing video games. We made a promise to not buy him any video games or electronics this year.

Alexa Beattie: No. Not bubble gum machine, bubble gum making kit. You say he's into science. Or I might take a trip to the Spy Museum store, see what they have. A gift certificate for lunch at ESPN Zone?

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Bogota, Colombia: RE: Fudge as a gift. It's easy to make!;

3 Ingredient Fudge

1 can sweetened condensed milk (14 oz)
1 bag semisweet chocolate chips
1 teaspoon vanilla

Heat chocolate and milk in small saucepan over low heat until completely melted. Quickly stir in vanilla, then pour mixture into 9 by 9 inch pan. Cool in refridgerator for two hours.

I give everyone fudge for Christmas - it's really easy!; Baking cookies is a pain in the rear, especially when you live at high altitude like I do.

Alexa Beattie: Bogota. You rule. I'm going to try it.

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Washington, D.C.: For boyfriend's mom: Maybe too similar to Pears purchased for xmas, but Williams Sonoma has some interesting food stuffs, but also interesting soaps. I know soaps, lotions can seem generic, but I don't think she expects you to be an expert (yet). CostPlus (world market here?) is also great for giant mugs, ceramic tea pots, Sur la Table has great dish towels in prints at prices you'd never buy for yourself, but are great if a gift. Pricey paper cocktail napkins are always fun too.

Janet Bennet: World Market and Sur La Table offer interesting food-related gifts as does La Cuisine in Alexandria.

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Bethesda, Md.: Here are some of my favorite toddler gifts -- play dough, do a dot paint set, new fat crayons, wooden puzzles with big knobs. And for the nice aunt looking for gifts for a four year old boy, may I suggest Working Trucks, it's a set of magnetic pieces that fit together to make zillions of trucks. More than $15 but a great gift.

Alexa Beattie: Working Trucks sound fun. I'm making a note of that myself.

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Washington, D.C.-Foggy Bottom: For an Amazon return, be sure to keep the transaction number. I returned a gift i got for my birthday 1 1/2 years ago, and still have not received anything from amazon, despite numerous emails (i couldn't find a customer support phone number on their web page, go fig).

Janet Bennet: Here's a word to the wise for the person who was leery of buying and maybe having to return something on Amazon.

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Help re: fudge!;: What size bag of chocolate chips?

Alexa Beattie: Quick! Are you there Bogota?

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Gift Idea - Maryland: I've gotten some family members the Entertainment Coupon book - ranges between $20 and $30 and it's something they can use all year round - I get one every year and it encourages my husband and I to try different restaurants, do different activities in the area. People who are new to the area are really grateful -- gets them acclimated to their new hometown!

Alexa Beattie: Thanks for the idea, MD.

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Wine bags: What are these wine bags, and where can they be had (bricks and mortar, don't have time to get online)... I have a wine lover friend who I think would appreciate. More info, svp??

Janet Bennet: They're made from neoprene so when you take along a bottle somewhere, you can rest comfortably that it won't break. You can find them on www.wineenthusiast.com.

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Washington, D.C. via McLean, Va.: Hi guys!

I am stumped on what to get my BF. This is our first X-Mas together so I want to get something kind of nice, and spend a total of about $70. He's quite the adventurer, and likes sports, military history, traveling, dvds. Not a foodie or a clothes horse, and his condo is pretty well furnished already. He has a ton of books, so I would prefer not to get him more. Any ideas?

Janet Bennet: If he likes military history, why not sign him up for one of the Smithsonian Associates' great lectures on the subject. I know they do a lot of lectures devoted to the Civil War, for instance.

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Arlington, Va.: Re: Reservations. Sorry, I meant restaurant reservations.

Janet Bennet: Our resident expert on restaurant reservations, Alexa, says it's not too late to make them.

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Washington, D.C.: Re. size o' bag-o-chocolate chips:
Does it matter? I'd say the bigger the better.

Alexa Beattie: Yes, it matters. This is science.

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NW Washington, D.C.: My boyfriend loves to cook and I'm looking for a series of cooking classes that aren't super expensive to give him as a Christmas present. Any suggestions?

Janet Bennet: Try Lebanese Taverna, Sur La Table or Arlington County.

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Arlington, Va.: The Container Store has the wine bags, single bottle only. Upstairs, with the ice snakes and thermos-y things. I received a double bag as a gift, they are great.

Janet Bennet: Thanks, Arlington,
For the person looking for a source for the wine bag.

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Help!;: Where can you find the Working Trucks? Just did a web search, didn't see them.

Alexa Beattie: Yeah. Me too. Nothing comes up.

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Bogota to the rescue...: 2 cups/12 ounces chips.

Sorry, chocolate chips only come in one size here, when you can find them at all.

Alexa Beattie: Thanks Bogota. I'm going to miss you.

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Re: milk frothers: They're so much more useful than for just frothing milk!; I got one just because and I use it quite often, most times for other tasks, mostly light blending in servings of food and drinks for one or two people. Could be cocoa powder in milk, or grated cheese in a soup, or just about anytime you have to deal with clumps but don't want to wash too much afterwards (as it would happen with a full-size blender).

Alexa Beattie: Thanks for that, Milk Frother.

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Alexandria, Va. : My mother in law has too much stuff. I'm running out of non-stuff ideas - theatre tickets, salon gift certificates, etc. any more ideas?

Janet Bennet: Does she like to cook?? If so, how about cooking lessons?

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Is it too late???: What do I get the man who has everything and doesn't need much more? Enjoys sports, gambling and friends!;

Janet Bennet: What guy would pass up tix to his favorite sporting event???

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Washington, D.C.: What do I get for my (male) boss whom I really, really like??? He likes the finer things in life, but I really don't want to spend a lot of $$$. Just something to let him know how much I appreciate him??

Janet Bennet: If you can find out what wine he likes or if you know, why don't you get him the best bottle you can find for the dough?

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Teenage science boy: Book - What Einstein Told his Chef or any of Alton Brown's cookbooks.

Alexa Beattie: Yes. Great ideas. And this: "Earthsearch: A Kids' Geography Museum in a Book" is supposed to be tremendous. Now we're really cooking for the teenage boys.

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Arlington, Va. again: Found the trucks - search on Magna Tiles.

Alexa Beattie: Thanky.

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Personal Gift: I'm getting my boyfriend a daily planner.
On each day, I'm writing something to him...anything from a simple "I love your laugh" to sharing a memory. We're in a long-distance relationship so this is a way for him to know that I'm thinking about him every day. And yes, I have come up with 365 things to say to him!

Alexa Beattie: That's devotion.

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Re: Mclean boyfriend gift: You say he's adventurous and likes to travel? How about some nice maps and cool map reading gadgets (I got my boyfrien this electronical tool you drag along a road map used to calculate how long a trip will take at target for $5) Or a nice compass?

Janet Bennet: Love those ideas. Also, how about a telescope for star gazing??

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Re:Entertainment Coupon book: Hey, I'm new the the area, I like coupons- where do you get these? How much are they?

Alexa Beattie: Beats me. Are you still there Coupon person?

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RE: Mini frothers: You can get these on QVC.com as well.

Janet Bennet: Thanks!

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wine bags: I've seen them at the Dupont Whole Foods in the wine section.

Janet Bennet: Really. Good to know!

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Janet Bennet: Thanks, everyone. Your questions were great. Happy holiday shopping!

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