Here it is practically zero hour, and the gift list for the adults in your life is still in the evolutionary stage. Evolutionary! That's a euphemism if you ever heard one -- it's still in the amoeba stage, isn't it? Like this?
*Sister -- lurid underwear?
*Younger brother -- gift cert. to Charles?
*Bosom buddy -- tix to BSO?
*Brother-in-law -- Sierra Club calendar? (not again!)
*Mom -- crystal (not again!!!)
*Dad -- God help us.
*Husband -- thank God, the Gap.
OK, so one person on your list is easy, but with the others you have a serious question-mark overload. It's time to get serious.
LET'S START WITH SISTER. PROFILE: Thirtysomething. Married. Harried. Two kids and a full-time job -- no, not a job, a profession; for years she's given dirty looks to anyone who didn't know the difference. Lately, though, she seems to be caring less about stuff like that. In fact, now that you think about it, didn't she say she went to see "Pretty Woman" three times last summer?
So there are two ways you can think of presents for Sister. (OK, so she's not your sister, but you know her, don't you? She's somewhere on your list, isn't she, or someone like her? You don't need to get literal about the people on this list, you know.)
So anyway, two ways to think of gifts for Sister: 1.) give her stuff that addresses the externals of her life -- her profession, her image, her house. Or, 2.), give her things that address the Secret Sister, the person behind the persona, the woman who is full of wishes and longings she'd never admit to during a business lunch.
Gifts that speak to those longings are the best gifts there are if they succeed, but also the riskiest; if you're not a gambler, stick to the other stuff. Such as a short single strand of pearls, $26, from Brooks Brothers in the Gallery or Chevy Chase -- you know she can use that. Brooks Brothers also has a stole-size 100-percent-wool scarf with an Hermes-like design for $130, and if that's too pricey, Units (the Gallery at Harborplace, Marley Station in Glen Burnie, Columbia Mall and Lake Forest Mall in Gaithersburg) has a snappy polyester version for a modest $22.
South Moon Under, in Bethesda, Annapolis, Ocean City and Rehoboth, has washed silks, those softer-than-suede garments that every Sister wants to wear this season: Try the sarong skirt, $76, andthe shirt with embroidered collar, $79, in office-worthy black or deep royal blue.
For entertaining, oven- and burner-proof serving platters from Arts/Objects (the Gallery and Owings Mills Town Center) look like handsome pewter but can stand up to the test of wear; $45 and up. More modestly priced are brightly colored decorative papier-mache fruits and vegetables from Accento in the Pratt Street Pavilion at Harborplace, from $2.10 to $7.85. And if Sister's taste tends more to the weathered-looked artifacts of the Southwest than to vivid veggies, Harold's in the White Flint Mall in Kensington has sun-faded-looking wood picture frames, either with whipstitch braid trim, $26, or with concho inset, $18.
Then there is the other Sister. For this unbusinesslike second self, flowers are a sure thing, especially in the form of chintz, which she won't have to remember to water. A big chintz-covered "treasure chest" comes in the same romantic, rounded-top shape as Bluebeard's, but it opens to reveal modern-day drawers and racks. The large one is $199 and the smaller one $125 at Tezio in White Flint.
Secret selves also often enjoy being given undergarments that project all the sexiness the public self must eschew. So consider almost anything from the Victoria's Secret chain, or the silk camisole, $30, and tap pant $25, at Caprice in the Village of Cross Keys.
Hot water bottles that come with cuddly sheep-shaped and shearling-like covers aren't sexy or even romantic, but they are comforting; they're $16.95 and $21.95 at Night Things in the Gallery. Also comforting are Belgian chocolate truffles, $12.99 or $22.99 for the box, from Coco's in Owings Mills; they'd be wonderful paired with a copy of the "Pretty Woman" video, $19.99 from the Erol's chain.
ON TO YOUNGER BROTHER. YOUNG-er "bro" is what he'd say. He's twentysomething, lives downtown and always wears button-fly jeans, often black, which he pairs with a vintage motorcycle jacket and a T-shirt. The T-shirt often has some kind of statement or picture on it that your Dad inevitably insists needs translation: "What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
Thus Younger Bro might not turn down a Bart Simpson sweat shirt saying, "Peace, man," which costs $24.95 at Destination USA in the Pratt Street Pavilion at Harborplace. But if you want to get classier than Bart and messages, check out the beautiful shirts at Saeno in Baltimore and Rehoboth. Especially tempting are the white cotton ones by Studio Tokyo, each with something unexpected about it, such as covered buttons on a button-down model; $55.