There were the flowers you meant to send but didn't, the box of chocolates you presented with a flourish and then ate yourself, the reciprocal parties you planned but never gave and another year has passed without properly thanking the host/esses who have entertained you through the year.
Ah, but Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat, and the stores are getting fatter, stuffed to overflowing with ways to say thank you.
Rosemary's for remembrance, and when the memory is of a good meal, what better gift than a herb that can be harvested to flavor a leg of lamb or a hearty stew. The Earthworks Herb Garden Nursery, 923 N. Ivy St., Arlington, will be open three days only, Dec. 18, 19 and 20, to sell their jumbo rosemary plants ($4.95 each, or 6 for $26.75). It's a good idea to call 243-2498 to place your order in advance.
You could also give a collection of dried herbs ($1.10 a bottle) from the Washington Cathedral's Herb Cottage, Massachusetts and Wisconsin Ave. NW, or let the Cottage make the selection for you. An attractive basket stocked with six herbs and a herb chart is $12.85. For serving up holiday spirits, there are handsome reproduction ladles ($17.75 for the small one, $30.50 for the large), a colorful and inexpensive assortment of coasters and cocktail napkins and a number of useful books on herbs.
If you would like to inspire your hostess to greater feasts, cross the driveway to the Cathedral Gift Shop and pick up a copy of a book called Fabulous Feasts, Medieval Cookery & Ceremony, by Madeleine Pelner Cosman ($14.95). Another place to find books for the cook is secondhand book stores.
The Georgetown Coffee House, 1330 Wisconsin Ave. NW, stocks a variety of inexpensive demitasse cups as well as sacks and sacks of coffee beans. You could make a selection of the more expensive types, buying half-pound bags, wrapping them up in red ribbon and decorating them with cinnamon sticks (89 cents each for the tall, 75 cents for medium, and $3.50 for a bundle of 13 short ones).
To solve the problem of where to set the hot pot, Phoenix, 1514 Wisconsin Ave., NW, has a heart-shaped trivet in hand-forged iron ($40).
Life is not all food; there is also finery. Liberty, 1513 Wisconsin Ave., is stocking a wonderful, white lace-trimmed apron ($42), sure to make any hostess feel like a delightfully giddy upstairs maid in a French farce. To bring her gently back to earth, add a pair of Provencal dish towels, softly colored in blue/white and rose/white ($10 each).
Williams Sonoma, in Mazza Gallerie at Wisconsin and Western Avenues NW, has the perfect table cloth for Christmas Eve, cherry red, squared with white ($30 to $40 depending on size, with matching napkins, $3.75 each). The store also stocks the makings for the ultimate chocolate mousse, Godiva's sweet cooking chocolate ($6.50 for eight 1-ounce bars). For the giver who can't make up his mind, the store has a variety of already-prepared gift baskets -- several herb vinegars, or a selection of purees and jams to serve on fruit or ice cream, packed with an ice-cream scoop and a melon baller.
For Christmas with a country touch, the Rocky Road to Kansas, 215 S. Union St., Alexandria, has 42-inch-square patchwork tablecloths ($38), table runners ($33), a set of two patchwork place mats and napkins ($20), a variety of appliqued aprons ($15 to $25) and quilted potholders ($5.50 to $7).
According to the old cookbooks, the ideal way to make a syllabub is to milk your cow into the bowl. Like all ideals, this one is not likely to be met, so we should be grateful to La Cuisine, 323 Cameron St., Alexandria, for stocking a handsome syllabub churn ($22). Equally handsome and of perhaps greater general use are the Vermont soapstone griddles ($65) to brown the Christmas pancakes. The griddle is in limited supply and may have to be special ordered.
To say thank you with food, offer two dozen oysters from the Maine Avenue wharf, accompanied by an oyster knife. There is a stainless steel one ($4.19) with a finger guard to reduce nicks and cuts, at The China Closet, 6807 Wisconsin Ave., Chevy Chase, White Flint, Md., and Loehmann's Plaza, Virginia. For the perfect present, open them yourself.
Instead of roses, give rose water, useful in puddings and Indian cooking, or orange flower water, an essential ingredient in the dangerously delicious Ramos gin fizz. Crabtree and Evelyn, 1101 Connecticut Ave. NW, and 3222 M St. NW, in Georgetown Park, usually carries them ($5 a bottle).
The Kitchen Bazaar, 4455 Connecticut Ave. NW, and Seven Corners Shopping Center, has a variety of French Porcelaine d'Auteuil dishes, among them six salad plates -- each decorated with leafy greens -- packed in a wooden crate ($66.50).
Or, if you are feeling really guilty about all the dinners you've accepted, all the brunches eaten and the drinks drunk, say thank you with the Kitchen Bazaar's ultimate hostess gift: a 2-gallon covered copper chafing dish on a brass stand, costing a mere $1,000.