Your last minute, shop local, gift guide

The greenest gift of all

Hard-to-please pal a challenge to shop for? Stumped on that little spoiled brat who already has every toy you can think of? Here’s a gift that’s easy on the eyes, easy to care for and teaches responsibility. Yes: a plant. What? That sounds lame? Um, noooo.

Consider their awesomeness: They’re naturally beautiful, don’t require batteries, one size fits most and they improve air quality (thanks, photosynthesis!). Staffers at independently owned local nurseries, such as Talini’s Nursery & Garden Center , can help select the right plant for your recipient. Talini’s also has a wide selection of pots to place the green gift in, including biodegradable ones (by EcoForms ) or locally made gorgeous clay pots (by Mark Barnes ). They’re stocked with brown-thumb items, too, like stunning ceramic birdfeeders and incense. And the coup d’état: They gift-wrap. With a substantial selection of ribbons, they’ll make your gift presentable. Pun intended. Oh, and if that ungrateful spoiled brat frowns at the flora present, Talini’s also has bat guano. Giving rules! Talini’s Nursery & Garden Center, 5601 Folsom Boulevard; (916) 451-8150.

Live it up with live theater

It’s a quick and easy solution for the friend with few needs and many interests: tickets to local theater. Fortunately, there are a myriad of theatrical choices available.

For instance, season packages at Celebration Arts start at $75, and include a production of Athol Fugard’s intense and thought-provoking play about labor and racism in apartheid South Africa, Sizwe Banzi Is Dead. Celebration Arts, (916) 455-2787,

Then there’s the most frugal deal in town for professional theater, a $48 package of tickets to the remaining shows in Capital Stage ’s season: The Scene, Mrs. Warren’s Profession, Back of the Throat and a world premiere from the Capital Stage’s Playwrights’ Revolution. Capital Stage, (916) 995-5464,

If you’ve got one of those “Music! Music! Music!” friends to buy for, consider introducing him or her to the edgiest, most energetic new musical theater company in town, Artistic Differences . Support packages start at $25 and include a ticket; the next production, See What I Wanna See, is scheduled for April. These are the youngsters who’ve consistently delivered five-star productions of shows like Hair, Bare and Assassins, so it’s pretty much a sure thing.

But the choices and possibilities don’t stop there. All of Sac’s performing-arts groups have got great gift opportunities available; if a season’s worth of support is too much, buy a pair of tickets to one show. The B Street Theatre ( and the Sacramento Theatre Company ( both offer special deals for limited subscriptions; Lambda Players ( has an outstanding season underway; Runaway Stage ( is doing both Evita and Fiddler on the Roof this season; and there’s always Music Circus ( next summer, a local favorite.

Give me a museum

Finding a gift for a nerdy friend can be just as difficult as finding one for the host who always entertains out-of-town company.

The solution? Get them the same gift: a membership to a Sacramento museum. Memberships include free admission for one year and other benefits, such as free train excursions (California State Railroad Museum ), free admission to classical concerts (Crocker Art Museum ), guest passes and discounts in the museum store. A membership to the Discovery Museum doubles the fun, with free admission to the Gold Rush History Center and the Science & Space Center for one year. It’s perfect for the wannabe Jeopardy! player and the sightseeing enthusiast.

Memberships start as low as $25 for individuals and increase for additional benefits. There also are family packages and extensive memberships for supporters, which range from $50-$10,000. Many can be purchased online, making the “last-minute” possibilities a little larger. Visit for a list of all Sacramento area museums.

Get out your dancing shoes

For a footloose friend, consider a dance lesson. Ballroom dancing is a great way to get in shape, have fun and share a few laughs (provided your knees can take it). Why not give a gift certificate for a private lesson with a pro—and support Dancing in the River City, too? Dancing in the River City is Sacramento’s first-ever same-sex ballroom dance competition, scheduled for January 18, 2009. To raise funds to support the competition, world champion and Gay Games gold medalist Robert Tristan Szelei is providing private dance lessons that include a donation to the group. Or how about spectator tickets for the competition, if learning to dance seems like a bit much? Dancing in the River City,

If classical dance is more your style, how about a pair of tickets to the Sacramento Ballet ? Surprise a friend—or lover—with some truly inspirational dancing. The season includes Noches Calientes (“hot nights”), a program suggested for “mature audiences,” with performances scheduled February 12-15. Or make Christmas merry by giving tickets to Icons & Innovators, the mixed program scheduled for March 26-29, which will include a new ballet by Trey McIntyre and will mix up traditional ballet with work that might be described as “new wave.”

Individual tickets range from $28 to $63 for adults, or (if you’re feeling flush) the Sacramento Ballet also offers three- and five-production subscriptions starting as low as $121.50. Sacramento Ballet, (916) 552-5800,

Best books for the holidays

Here are some new books for the readers, both obsessive and occasional, on your holiday gift list. Not only are they quick gifts (presented here in no particular order) perfect for the procrastinating shopper, most will be available at independent local bookstores, such as The Avid Reader at the Tower (1600 Broadway, (916) 441-4400, and Beers Books (915 S Street, (916) 442-9475, For a wide selection of nearly new and gently used books, we heartily recommend Time Tested Books (1114 21st Street, (916) 447-5696,, and our favorite place to pick up local poetry is The Book Collector (1008 24th Street, (916) 442-9295).

Speaking of local poetry , let’s start by suggesting you check out some of the little gems, also known as chapbooks, from Rattlesnake Press . Add a bottle of wine, a loaf of bread, some good cheese and put it in a nice basket, and she might forgive you for not buying a diamond. Highly recommended among the recent publications from this fine small poetry press are Among Neighbors by Taylor Graham, Small Crimes by Anne Menebroker and He Drank Because by Moira Magneson. All are available at The Book Collector.

For poetry lovers, it’s certainly a year with a glut of choices. Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems has just won the National Book Award for Mark Doty. Then there’s Kevin Young’s latest, Dear Darkness: Poems. And it’s impossible to go wrong with either Robert Hass or Billy Collins, and both have new books out this year. Hass’ Time and Materials: Poems 1997-2005 is his first new book in a decade, while the prolific Collins has been turning out roughly one per year; Ballistics is his latest.

But some readers would rather have a novel to take them through the winter nights. Here, again, is no shortage of possibilities. The last U.S. Nobel laureate, Toni Morrison, has returned to the history of race and heartbreak in America with A Mercy. Meanwhile, Philip Roth’s latest, Indignation, is concerned with masculinity and potential denied.

Dennis Lehane, author of Mystic River, has a new novel set in Boston at the end of World War I; The Given Day is the story of two families, one white and one black, in the turmoil of the postwar period. And Lush Life, by Richard Price, turns the storytelling skills that helped make The Wire such a great TV show loose on what at first looks like a random shooting in New York. And finally, there’s Curtis Sittenfeld’s intriguing take on the quiet (and sensible) half of a presidential marriage, who may or may not be a dead ringer for a certain current soon-to-be former first lady, American Wife.

A number of the year’s best books are political , which would be in keeping with the kind of year we’ve had. If there’s anyone who hasn’t read it yet, though, the less political of the two books by our new president-elect is most definitely the better: Dreams From My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama. It’s a great way to introduce the conservatives in your life to the reason behind Obamania.

Other political books of interest include Rick Perlstein’s spellbinding history of the Nixon years, Nixonland: The Rise of a President and the Fracturing of America. Perlstein actually makes sense of what Richard Nixon did to politics in this country. If you need the option of a more radical gift, there’s always Naomi Wolf’s Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries. If you’re buying for someone with a strong stomach, try Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency by Barton Gellman or The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals by Jane Mayer.

Or just settle for The Drunkard’s Walk: How Randomness Rules Our Lives by Leonard Mlodinow. And maybe a bottle.

It’s a wonderful Davis

Start your “shop local” Davis morning, naturally, at the Davis Farmers’ Market . A 30-year-old institution, this market is one of the region’s stunners, with its colorful splash of fresh certified organic fruits and vegetables, locally baked goods, flowers and—you guessed it—tons of gift options. The market (open Saturdays in Central Park at Fourth and C streets) is a great place to put together a gift basket brimming with dried fruits, olive oils, nuts of all variety, coffee beans and flowers. Next go downtown to The Artery (207 G Street, (530) 758-8330), a one-of-a-kind artists’ co-op, owned and operated by those whose work is displayed there. The shop features everything from pottery to handmade jewelry, paintings to home-crafted artsy gifts. Another place to find gifts you feel good buying (though these ones aren’t made locally) is at De Colores Trading Co. (713 Second Street, (530) 758-9417), a store dedicated to the ideals of fair trade. De Colores offers handmade creations of native artisans, including ornaments, music, jewelry, books and clothing. Finally, get over to the Davis Food Co-op (620 G Street, (530) 758-2667). Still in the throes of a giant remodel, DFC has gone vertical and become a fabulous place to buy gifts, like woven baskets, artsy cloth bags, natural kitchenware and gadgets, eco-wise cards and wrapping paper. For more “shop local” Davis tips, visit

Sacramento’s ‘winter’ sport

Once the holidays are over, there’s not much to look forward to except a couple more months of crappy weather. You can’t avoid the inevitable, but one place in Sactown tries to make the most of the colder climate by getting folks off their butts and outside. Every year, Sacramento’s outdoor ice-skating rink at St. Rose of Lima Park sets out to please the would-be Olympian in all of us (and helps us realize that we are not and never will be Olympians). Fortunately, this is a cheap gift: two hours of skating for $6, with $2 skate rentals. That makes it the perfect gift for a Michelle Kwan wannabe; pick up a gift card and fulfill her dreams. It’s what Brian Boitano would do. Westfield Downtown Plaza Ice Rink at St. Rose of Lima Park, Seventh and K streets; (916) 442-2500.

Vino in a pretty bottle

Wine is always a perfect gift for winos—and even for those who enjoy an occasional glass. Wine brings with it a fine blend of moods: relaxation, happiness and enjoyment of family and friends. Therefore, a personalized bottle of wine is sure to add even more enjoyment at that holiday dinner party. Scribner Bend Vineyards offers personalized engraved wine bottles of their classic vintages. And they range in price, so people of every budget can enjoy giving the gift of vino. For those feeling particularly creative (and not too rushed), try personalizing a bottle yourself. This is a good alternative if your friend’s favorite wine is not from a local winery. Simply apply labels printed from your computer or remove the existing label and paint your own masterpiece on the bottle (with paints from local art stores, of course). If your friend’s favorite kind of wine is wine in a box, well, I’m not sure to how help you there. Scribner Bend Vineyards, 9051 River Road; (916) 744-1803;

Last-minute chocolate gift basket

This is the season of eating too much and enjoying every bit of it, before being racked by guilt and resolving to buckle down and eat better at the start of the New Year. But you have one last chance to indulge the lovely people in your life! Make a gift basket of delicious chocolate concoctions created by Sacramento chocolatier Ginger Hahn. Find chocolate pastries, macaroons, chocolate-covered candied almonds, milk-chocolate bars, cakes and more at Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates , Hahn’s Midtown boutique (her all-natural creations contain no artificial preservatives). To complete the food theme, stop by The Avid Reader on Broadway and pick up a cookbook, then swing by the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op to purchase a reusable stainless steel water bottle (the recipient of the gift basket is going to need some liquids to wash down the yummy treats!). Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates, 1801 L Street, Suite 60; (916) 706-1738;

Diversity in a bottle … no, really

Our wannabe “Euro” friends may present a problem when we’re on a last-minute holiday hunt, especially the ones that love anything French and can’t stop mentioning the cigarettes or the wine or the scarves from the last time they were abroad. The idea of presenting them with a gift may be daunting when facing that “everything is better in Europe” standard. However, a quick stop at the UC Davis bookstore may provide just the right gift for the cosmopolitan friend—the university calls it “Diversity in a Bottle.” For two years, the school has been producing their own olive oil, pressed from olives on campus heritage trees. They also make red and white wine vinegar, so the whole set will be just like they do for baguette-dipping in a Parisian cafe. It will undoubtedly delight and impress your sophisticated amie and prices start at $15. Look for UC Davis Centennial Blend Olive Oil , UC Davis 2008 Blend Olive Oil , and UC Davis 2008 Wine Vinegar: Dinny . Go in person to the bookstore or order online. UC Davis Bookstore,

DIY custom drum video

Wait, before you buy that overpriced drum set for your favorite brat, read this for a chance to buy something totally unique and hyperlocal. Folsom resident John Dutra —drummer and frigging genius—created a custom drum-building aid in the form of a first-of-its-kind, 86-minute, professionally filmed and edited DVD. When I first heard “make your own drum set,” I imagined a kid banging on cardboard boxes with a pair of chopsticks, but get that idea out of your head. The finished product is so nice and so professional-looking that the drum set could retail in stores for thousands of dollars. And you don’t have to be a craftsman to put it together. “It’s pretty much geared toward the layman,” says Dutra, who’s gotten a lot of great response so far from people who have built a drum set as a family project. You don’t need a toolshed, you just need this video, a bit of patience and a desire to rock. As they say, buy a kid a drum set and they’ll play drums for a while; teach a kid to build a drum set and they’ll get tons of slobbering groupies. And they’ll rip it up for a lifetime, bro. Seriously, check out the site and be amazed. Guerilla Drum Making DVD,

The gift of getting there

Freedom is never having to feed another meter or pay another parking ticket. Freedom is not bringing your uncle to make sure you don’t get screwed on auto repairs. Freedom is not wandering around in search of your sedan in a stadium parking lot in the late-night, post-concert hours. Freedom is the sound of a car alarm you don’t have to worry about. Freedom is letting someone else do the driving for you. Why not give yourself or your loved ones a real taste of freedom this holiday season? Sacramento Regional Transit sells books of single-fare or daily passes for our local bus and light-rail systems. At $20-$50 for 10 of ’em, they make excellent stocking stuffers, and a great introduction to true liberation. (916) 321-BUSS,

CDs—Music gifts for old-schoolers

Maybe these suggestions are for your parents, but let’s face it: Downloads are hard to wrap. The Beat (1700 J Street, (916) 446-4402, even sells those nifty little CD gift-thingies that you can slide ’em into and not have to mess with tape. In any case, here are a few music suggestions that lean local:

For the folkie-Americana type, consider these albums: Jolie Holland’s The Living and the Dead or the “undeniably dulcet songs” (sez Shoka) on Fleet Foxes’ Sun Giant. Or if you’re buying for someone who leans toward country-rock, the newest from the Bittersweets (yeah, they left San Francisco for Nashville, but you’ve got to make a living) is out: Goodnight, San Francisco.

On the jazz/blues front, there are a couple of ladies with new releases worth stuffing in a stocking—but only until you have time to play ’em: Marcia Ball’s Peace, Love & BBQ and Janiva Mangess’ What Love Will Do.

And for the jazz lovers, the latest from local light Ross Hammond, Duets, is sure to be a winner. Just make sure they don’t already have it.

Because Sac only pretends to hate hip-hop, we’ve got a boatload of CD suggestions. A number of compilations have a nice mix of what’s keeping Sacramento on the radar musically: DJ Oasis Presents: Cap City Connection; The Real Sac Kingz Mixtape Vol. 1; and Sac Hates Hip-Hop (one song takes a shot at Sac’s favorite hip-hop writer). For single artists, you can’t miss with Crazy Ballhead’s The Children of Hope or Anticipation by Anxious.

For indie rock, try out the Inversions’ What’s the Cannon For? After all, a bit of limey charm goes a long, long way.
K.M. and J.F.

Just stuff it

When it comes to stocking stuffers, each family has a different tradition. Some hide the best gifts in the stocking’s toes, while others stuff that thing with awesome randomness. That’s the best part of stuffing stockings; you technically don’t have to think about it. You just have to get off your bum and find the craziest faux gifts. Yet it can create a dreaded conundrum of the holiday season: Where do you find such randomness? Follow the wooden-plank sidewalks in Old Sac to Evangeline’s . It’s like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory for the practical joker. Sure, you can set aside an afternoon to sift through whoopee cushions and chattering teeth for gifts to match the recipient. However, it can be even more fun (not to mention, a timesaver) to grab things sporadically and stuff those stockings like you do a turkey. Evangeline’s, 113 K Street; (916) 443-2181;