Holidays in a handbasket

Nifty packages for all the people on your list

What’s the most fun about the holiday season? Duh, opening presents, as any kid could tell you. And which is more fun, opening one big gift or a whole bunch of little ones packaged together? Well, dang, they’re both fun, but getting a whole basket full of gifts to open is always cool.

That’s why this season, for our annual Holiday Gift Guide, we’ve put together some righteous gift baskets, each one designed with a different person, or persons, in mind. They’ll give you some fairly brilliant ideas for the folks on your list, even if you don’t go all the way and actually put some gift baskets together. We’ve especially sought out locally made goods, in the belief that giving a product made by one of our neighbors is good for everyone, the maker, the community, ourselves—hey, even the family dog.

Happy Holidays!

Beyond video games
Gifts for the post-toddler, pre-teen set

The recently opened Lyon Books on Fifth Street is a clean, well-lighted book store where the owners offer you cider and coffee. Here we found The Dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins, written by Barbara Kerley and illustrated by Brian Selznick. A Caldecott Honor Book published by Scholastic Press ($16.95), it recalls the story of a 19th-century artist, Waterhouse Hawkins, who in the mid-1800s first put skin on the skeleton of a dinosaur. Before then we had only bits of bone and tooth fossils. It’s a good read for kids interested in dinos, and what kid isn’t?

Over at Bird In Hand, knightly offerings of castles and horses and crusaders are the order this holiday. The Silver Knight Deluxe Play Set from Supreme Toys sells for $27.95 and is sort of a Lego-style activity without all those little pieces that find their ways under your bare feet in the middle of the night.

Big this year, according to the help at BIH, are the Groovy Girls, which, and we quote, “are better than Barbie.” Borderline blasphemy in the toy world, we would think. The Groovy Girls from the Manhattan Toy Company are a bit more reflective of reality than Mattel’s blond bimbo and are made of cloth rather than plastic. The individual G Girls, of which there are at least a dozen from different countries, ring in at $10.95 each. It’s the accessories that add up: cars ($44.95), backpacks ($55.95), vanity make-up desk ($33.95) and the “Super Cool Stage” ($67.95). There is also a 3-foot-tall Groovy Girl ($64.95).

There are some cool educational games and toys at Bird in Hand, as well, like Smart Mouth ($16.95) from Binary Arts ("The smart toy people) that is simple in its concept but could be a lot of fun. The plastic dealer lays out two letter cards—Y and D, for instance—and the object is to come up with a word that begins with Y and ends with D: “Yard!” we shouted. The opponent then has a chance to come up with a longer word.

The best educational toy we came across was the Odyssey III Interactive Talking Globe ($139.95), “The world’s first talking Atlasphere,” as the box said. Using a globe and electronically connected pointer, the set-up allows for mental competition, facts and education. Learn the capitals, anthems, sizes and populations of countries. How far is one point on the globe from another? Chico to Rome? Eleven hours flying time. For the younger kids there is the less challenging Junior Explorer at $89.95.

We also came across a simple classic at Bird in Hand that reminded us of our humble youth: a Whiffle ball and bat from Whiffle Ball, Inc. of Shelton, Conn. Hours of fun for $5.50. (Note: In our experience, it doesn’t hurt to wrap the plastic Whiffle ball with a few rolls of electrician’s tape to give it a bit more, uh, lift.)

Tom Foolery has plenty to offer, but the coolest things we found were the scale-model ships (Nautical Collection and Berkeley Designs), ranging from row boats (about $20) to clippers ($250). These babies are not for rough-and-tumble-aged kids. They are more for setting on the bookshelves and sailing through the seas of imagination.
—Tom Gascoyne

Buy, yuppie scum
Don’t even think about slippers and robes

Shopping for a 30-something couple requires imagination and tact, because the one thing you don’t want to do is call attention to their advancing decrepitude. These kids get real sensitive about their age, you know. At the same time, you don’t want to give them something fit for a teenager, because they’ll wonder why they don’t “get it” and end up spending the whole holiday season mired in depression.

Still, owing to the brave efforts of our corporate comrades in dividing and classifying every American consumer into clusters of target demographics, young couples are now easier to shop for than ever. Our professional shoppers took the sensitivities of today’s no-longer-youth into account and got a gift basket that should brighten any Gen-Xer’s tree. (By the way, these kids don’t like being “labeled” with the Gen-X tag. Let’s all be considerate this holiday season and refer to them as “Slackers.")

And now the gifts:

Not everyone plays chess, but with something as cool to play on as the Simpsons chess set we got at Tower Records for $36, they’ll be signing up for chess classes at the Learning Annex before you can say “premature midlife crisis.” Also at Tower, our shoppers picked out a very topical Arnold Schwarzenegger Terminator action figure (they love that irony, these kids) and a huge poster of Tupac Shakur for $12—they have other posters, but really, you can’t go wrong with Tupac. Thug Life 4-eva, Dawg!

You also can’t go wrong with liquor. Well, actually that’s not true, you can go really wrong with liquor. But with advanced age comes maturity, right? Put it to the test with this lovely gift box ($14 at Long’s), which includes a big bottle of Wild Turkey and two commemorative glasses. Then invite yourself over and help them drink it—smooth!

For that personal touch, go to Jean Farm on East Third Street and pick up some cool doodads, like an eight-ball wallet or a Chapmantown T-shirt. Even better, get them each a vintage Playboy from the month and year of their birth—just $5 each.

If you’ve got any money left over, just keep it, or better yet make a small donation to your couple’s favorite charity. That ought to make them feel all warm and fuzzy—although it could just be the Wild Turkey talking.
—Josh Indar

She’s the one
Gifts for the woman (or women) in your life

If it’s a lovely lady you’re shopping for this holiday season, Chico’s local merchants are here to help. At Grace Jr. we found $8.50-$20 charms with inspiring words (try “patience,” “create” or “bliss") as well as such recipient-specific charms as a buffalo and handcuffs. For some glitz, head to the Phoenix Gift Shop for a fake diamond pin that spells “Chico,” $19.95. Also consider a visit to Katherine’s Cottage, where you can stock up on those ubiquitous Italian charms, about $18.

To up the “pamper” factor, Artifax is one of several stores carrying the immensely popular and edgy Dirty Girl brand soaps, cosmetics and lotions. For variety, try the Spa Day Gift Pack for $22. To accompany the bath, pick up a Golden Spirits Candle Works candle, made in Paradise and available at Made in Chico. Top it off with little scented bath beads shaped like pigs, cows, bananas and more, three for $1 at Body and Bath.

If wine is her thing, jazz up a bottle with a $15 fabric cover—think leopard or velvet—by Sewn by Chris, at Made in Chico. For a humorous touch, consider a Bombay Duck key ring from Blue Frog. They’re silver, $4.95, and come in “Spare key,” “Back door,” “Office” and even “Dad’s House” and “Mistress.”

Zucchini & Vine stocks a one-of-a-kind, peppermill-style walnut grinder by Fredricks Farms of Biggs. It’s $49.95, and is presented alongside a wide range of local olive oils, including Z&V’s private label, Olio di Limoni, for $12.95.

Finally, head north on Highway 99 to the new Old Glory Mercantile, where you can find a lunchbox-style tin filled with Cowgirl Chocolates truffles for $29.95.
—Devanie Angel

Man like toy
He may be pushing 30 or even 40 now, but he’s still a kid at heart

Don’t buy into the hype. Grown men are not that hard to find gifts for. The idea that by the time a man begins a career he is already set in his ways and has no desire to try new things is nonsense. The man animal will always like toys.

Don’t freak. This doesn’t mean you have to mortgage your future on a Circuit City or Sharper Image credit card. Plenty of unique and inexpensive treats are just a caroler’s stroll away, along the friendly sidewalks of downtown of Chico.

Melody Records is the ultimate stop for any man with a soul. From vintage blues collections to Joy Division box sets, Melody is not just a vinyl store. Surrounding the shop is a clothesline draped with dozens of vintage concert art posters of The Who, Beck, and all the Morphines and Anthraxes in between, beautiful pieces of artwork that could actually hang in the living room instead of the garage, for around 20 bucks apiece.

If you have a wife or a girlfriend, you know about Grace Jr. The locally owned boutique on Fifth Street next to the Stansbury House has the one-of-a-kind jewelry, decorations and miscellaneous “stuff” you can’t find anywhere else. What you may not know is they have great toys for the boys as well.

Between the old-fashioned/kitschy toy section and the Mexican “Day of the Dead” room, there are too many choices. A few samples include: wind-up sushi ($3.50), all-metal rocket racers (from $9.50), cool wooden fighting skeleton toys ($10) and my favorite, the scary clear-face mask with painted-on eyebrows for only $2.50.

To add a touch of flavor to your gift basket—and to do your part to support fair trade—head over to the weekend open houses held at the Chico Peace and Justice Center for your politically correct and organic chocolate bar ($3.75 for 3.5oz.), green tea ($4.25 for 25 bags) and French roast coffee ($8.40/lb.). Also check out the very cool hand instruments from places like Kenya and Cameroon, especially the awesome little drums-on-a-stick with the little “knocka-knocka” balls that beat as you twirl it back and forth.

With all the money you’ve saved, it’s OK to go ahead and splurge—just a little. Right on the outskirts of downtown, after Broadway goes from Oroville to Main to Park Avenue (who thought that up?), is the local military-goods palace and pawn shop, Gates Resale. This is the perfect place to stock up on winter basics, and nothing could be more of a winter treat than a sturdy pair of wool pants. Only 20 bucks and your man is more than prepared for anything Chico’s version of winter can dish out.
—Jason Cassidy