Karen Mack runs her own image consulting company in Washington.
There isn't a generic corporate style of dress, like the old IBM style, anymore. Clothing for working women is very personal now. A pashmina shawl is a wonderful gift because it's soft, warm and luxurious. Pashmina is a durable wool, drapes beautifully, comes in different colors -- it's a classic that will never go out of style. A pashmina shawl looks great over a leather or wool coat, or a suit in mild weather.
I've seen a lot of faux-animal purses this fall. They also come in several colors, and are appealing to animal lovers because they aren't real fur. A woman can wear them with solid colors. And they're fun -- they attract attention. They're somewhat expensive, so one of these is more appropriate for an adult than a teenager. An adult who doesn't mind expressing her creativity.
David Hearn, two-time world champion canoeist, is training for the
Sydney Olympics. The Potomac River is a fantastic natural resource. The best way to get someone out on the river is to give them a kayaking lesson as a present. You don't have to be particularly athletic to be good at kayaking; good general health and swimming ability are the only essentials to begin. Two schools, Calleva and Outdoor Excursions, give lessons, with equipment provided. The lessons start on calm water, and work up to flowing water. In winter, in a swimming pool, you can learn how to Eskimo roll -- that's when you roll the boat back up again after a flip. And then in spring, you can start lessons outdoors.
Kayaking lessons, about $45 each or $110 to $120 for a three-class package, including equipment, in pool or on river, at Calleva Outdoors, Darnestown (301-216-1248; www.calleva.org), or Outdoor Excursions, Boonsboro, Md. (800-775-2925; w.outdoorexcursions.com).
Eric Samuel owns La Concierge Premiere, which runs errands and suggests entertainment ideas for individuals and businesses. A salsa dancing lesson is a great gift for friends or your spouse; it's even become a big thing for business executives. The dance steps are similar to swing, so it's something people can relate to, and you can get through the night without looking too bad on the dance floor. Cecilia's in Arlington is a great place to go for lessons in salsa and merengue. Sunday nights, you can go for a lesson early in the evening. And then when the band comes on, you can dance, and as a beginner you'll see a lot of people who are in the same boat as you. It's a good idea to dress nicely, because there's always a chance you'll meet someone new.
Dancing lessons, $10 each, Sundays from 5 to 7 p.m. at Cecilia's
Restaurant and Night Club (2619 Columbia Pike, Arlington).
Bill Dupont oversees the care of 265 old buildings owned by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The most useful tool a homeowner could ever have is a cordless drill. Makita makes one that's top-quality. It's beautiful and lightweight, it goes forward and backward, and there are all kinds of bit attachments that go with it. And it's cordless, so you can take it anywhere. Once you have one, you can't imagine how you ever lived without it.
Another practical gift is a tiny Mag-Lite flashlight, to see into areas where you need to do work. Many problems with buildings occur in attic crawl spaces or in basements or at sill plates, where you have difficult access and low light. And a Mag-Lite is indestructible.
A pair of field glasses would also make a great gift. In order to maintain a building, you need to be able to make a close observation of it. With the field glasses, you're able to look at places you can't reach, so you can take care of maintenance needs before they become bigger problems. And of course, field glasses are also useful at a sporting event or a concert -- though at the opera they might not match your tux. Mag-Lite flashlights, $10 to $15 at Hardware City (10504 Connecticut Ave., Kensington; 13711 Annapolis Rd., Bowie) and Home Depot (area stores). Nikon Travelite V field glasses, $109 at Penn Camera (area stores). Makita cordless drill (see page 21), $179, including attachments, at Home Depot.
Silvana Straw won the Washington Poetry Slam in 1993 and 1994.
For an adult or a more mature teenager, maybe 17 and up, I'd get Anne Sexton's Complete Poems. I read her as a teenager. She's one of the original performance poets, although back in the 1950s and '60s no one really called it that: She was an entertainer as well as a writer. The way she wrote about certain things -- sex, mental illness, God -- was considered taboo at the time. She quotes Franz Kafka: "A book should serve as the ax for the frozen sea within us." Her poems do just that.
For children, about 7 and up, there's a book written and illustrated a few years ago by Lane Smith, called The Happy Hocky Family! It's the illustrations that make it. It's a playful story about the disappointments in life and the shenanigans that siblings play on one another. It's a picture book for both adults and children, though it's probably a little dark for younger children. The Complete Poems, by Anne Sexton, $18 at Politics and Prose (5015 Connecticut Ave. NW) and Kramerbooks (1517 Connecticut Ave. NW). The Happy Hocky Family!, by Lane Smith, $4.79 plus shipping from www.amazon.com.
Alberto Gaitan composes experimental music on computers. The Kensington Video CAM Super VGA is a great gift for all ages. It's a webcam -- a video camera that lets you video-conference with others via the World Wide Web -- and it raises the bar for the product genre. It offers great image quality, as well as a lovely industrial design, a microphone and a snapshot button. Its software is the best of its breed, and lets you make video clips and then save, e-mail and/or print them. The software interface is elegant, functional and user-friendly; it installs almost without user intervention. Nearly anyone can use it, as long as they have Internet access and a USB port, and the price makes it hard to pass up. It's a fun way of staying in touch from afar. Kensington VideoCAM Super VGA, $130 at Office Depot (area stores), CompUSA (area stores) and www.kensington.com.
Chef and restaurateur Jessie Yan owns Yanyu, Oodles Noodles and Spices.
I like to give friends and family ceramic ware as gifts, especially tea sets. Or if you're looking for a gift for a couple, two rice bowls, chopstick stands and teacups are wonderful for the holiday or as a housewarming present. It's practical, but also exotic and beautiful. You can find Asian-style ceramics in department stores, but I like to buy them imported from Japan. Japanese ceramic ware is handmade, so each piece is unique; the quality is excellent and the colors differ from piece to piece. The prices vary greatly: You can buy a Japanese teacup for $10 or $200. But even the pieces that are less expensive are well made.
Teacups, $16 each, chopsticks and rest, $19, and wooden tray,
$39, all at Ching Ching Cha (1063 Wisconsin Ave. NW).
Julia Forbes develops educational programs at the National Museum of American History. Mah-jongg is a great family game. It's an incredibly old game from China, but I think it's making a comeback. It's a lot like playing gin rummy. It comes with little tiles, and on each of the tiles are pictures of bamboo, Chinese characters and dots; they're like the suits in a deck of cards. You can buy a wonderful antique set, if you want -- I've seen them with ivory tiles, beautifully painted, with the bamboo represented by a bird in a lake with bamboo, and the dots made into intricate wheels, and dragons painted red, white and green. But you can also buy a perfectly good set at a toy store.
Mah-jongg set, $127 at Ginza (1721 Connecticut Ave. NW).
Noah Forman is in eighth grade at Green Acres School in Rockville. My favorite computer game is an online multi-player game called EverQuest. It definitely involves your brain and your imagination. You're in a 3-D universe and you get to interact with other players. You can invent your own character, his personality and the deity he worships. Lots of players team up to develop a guild of characters that work, travel and hunt together. The programmers are constantly updating it, which allows you to advance the personality of your character. You have to purchase the CD and then pay a monthly fee of $10. It's worth it, though, because it's a fairly addictive game.
EverQuest game software, $50 at CompUSA (area stores).
Matthew Melmed is the executive director of Zero to Three, a nonprofit group that researches infant and toddler development. Everyday objects, such as your old clothes and accessories, can engage toddlers' imagination because they use them to try out different roles. Toddlers learn how the world works, and what makes people tick, through pretend play. Hats, dresses, briefcases -- they're all great for dress-up. When your toddler puts on the overcoat, grabs the briefcase and announces that she is now leaving for work, she's mastering her feelings about separation. Encouraging and joining in this kind of play promote intellectual and emotional development because you're helping toddlers develop ideas, moving them from concrete to abstract thinking. This developmental leap also helps them develop crucial skills such as using language and reading. Secondhand clothes, about $2 to $25, at such stores as Montgomery County Thrift Shop (7125 Wisconsin Ave., Bethesda) and Meeps and Aunt Neensie's Fashionette (1520 U St. NW).