Annually, I pause a week before Christmas to be thankful that all my shopping is done, and, dare I say, most of the presents are wrapped.
I'm not trying to rub it in. Well, maybe a little. Still, I know plenty of people who thrive on the rush of last-minute gift-buying, while others now start to panic because they've either put it off too long and realize they are almost out of time, or there are those just-right gifts that can't seem to be found.
I'm here to help. I'm out in the shopping trenches weekly, and while Santa has not officially designated me as an elf, I think I qualify. (Why else would he send me an illustration of a red-headed girl elf for this story?)
So, let's get to it. As I say annually: Good luck. Wear comfortable shoes. And to coin a phrase I've seen way too much of this year, Keep calm ... and carry an extra shopping bag.
For the kid in all of us
Surely, you have a friend who would see the humor in wearing a scaled-down basketball hoop on his head so you and your friends could pelt him with mini basket balls? If so, head to World Market, where you can buy this boxed set for $9.99.
Here's a gift idea for that outdoor griller who knows how to save the barbecue ribs: A Superman (or Batman) apron. They're $24 at Fuego at St. Clair Square in Fairview Heights.
Does your boss need help getting the attention of his employees? Buy him a catapult pencil. It looks more like a slingshot to me, but it's a mere $6. Just don't put anybody's eye out! You'll find it at, of all places, Francesca's at the mall. Yes, it's a girly shop, but it has a table full of cool off-beat gifts for guys, too.
For the kids
Does someone you know live outside the city of Belleville, but still wants to use the library? Give a gift that will last an entire year for an entire family by buying a gift certificate for a Belleville Public Library card. The cost is $63 and is activated when the recipient brings it in to get a card. The card is good for an entire household and accepted at the main downtown branch and the west-end annex. More questions? Call the library at 234-0441.
Play tic tac toe, checkers or super checkers (shown here) on this giant "board" from Cracker Barrel in Shiloh. The set includes the roll-up woven rug and red and black big discs. Cost: $14.99.
Scary, creepy giant arachnids crawling across the floor! Just what some boy would want for Christmas. These remote control creatures, a bit bigger than lifes-size, have eyes that light up and "realistic" movements. Batteries included (thank goodness) and a USB charger is included. They are on sale for $10.79 at Sports Authority in Fairview Heights. Look for them near the front door.
Show your pride in Belleville with a Belleville Bicentennial T-shirt ($15). The word Belleville is spelled out using architectural letters from buildings downtown. Can you tell which "L" was used from the Lincoln Theatre? When you buy the shirt, you'll get an explanation of where each letter came from. You can purchase the shirts, as well as a special 2014 calendar ($10) at Local Lucy's, My Vintage Addiction, both downtown on East Main Street, and The Abbey, on the West end of Belleville. Sizes are youth to adult XL, plus extended sizes for an additional $2.
For a mere $2.99, you can pick up an Auto Coaster. These stone discs collect moisture from the bottom of your drink holder. They come in a variety of designs, including monogram letters. (I have two and they really work.) Find them at Ben's in downtown Belleville.
A perfect gift to ward off the chill are fleece capelike wraps from Cracker Barrel in Shiloh. Very roomy and with several styles and colors from which to choose, they would make a nice last-minute gift at a reasonable price: $19.99.
Cute, cute stocking stuffers to keep your feet warm. These $5 knit socklets with puppy faces can be found at Forever 21 at the mall.
Here's a great inexpensive gift idea for anyone who has up to a 15-inch laptop: A colorful variety of zippered sleeves from World Market in Shiloh. The water-resistant covers are on clearance for $7.48, with a good supply on hand.
Time is on your side this week at JC Penney at St. Clair Square. Look for classy clocks that will be centerpiece time pieces clad in leather or colored glass. The large round glass clock in the background comes in black or pale blue ($79); the tabletop version in the same colors is also $79, while the leather mantel clock is $65 and the foldable version is $50.
When all else fails, gift cards more than make up for creative giving. At Wehrenberg's, for every $30 gift card you purchase, you'll get a free $5 card for yourself. And, remember, they're good not just on tickets, but food, too.
I'd be remiss if I didn't include the newest movie theater in the metro-east: The Edge in Belleville. Get a gift card there, and you can use it for the theaters, lazer tag and the restaurant and bar. edge618.com or 236-2101.
If the kids enjoy swimming, consider a gift card from Splash City in Collinsville. Buy a season pass for 2014 now and get 20 percent off. Go to Splashcity.com to see prices/packages and 346-7529 to purchase.
If you know folks who enjoy eating at Eckert's, pick up a handful of gifts cards and reward yourself: When you buy $50 worth, you'll get a $10 bonus card.
I didn't realize there was an indoor kart raceway in St. Louis until I got an email from PolePositionRaceway.com. offering gift cards. It's a place for all ages, and even offers a free Kart Racing, Safety and Technology program for Cub Scouts. Go online to see about gift cards and registering for any programs. The indoor raceway is at 8800 Watson Road.
Applause, applause. Buy $100/$200 in gift certificates for tickets to the Repertory Theatre on the campus of Webster University in Webster Groves, Mo., and get a $10/$20 bonus certificate. The offer is good through Dec. 31. Call 314-968-4925, visit the box office or purchase online at www.repstl.org. (Click on Get Tickets, the scroll to the bottom for gift certificates. Bonus will be mailed to you.) Of course, you can purchase a gift certificate -- it looks like a theater ticket -- in any amount.
If someone you care about enjoys browsing recipes and cooking, consider Eat Your Books as a gift. It's a website that indexes printed books, magazines and even some newspapers, plus blogs and websites. It allows cook to build their own libraries, so they can search their own collection as easily as you can Google. Membership is $25 a year. Holiday promotion: Buy one gift-certificate membership, get one free. www.eatyourbooks.com.
Keurig coffee brewer owners may like something from CrazyCups.com. The online company offers K-Cups in an amazing variety of flavors, from Peppermint Chocolate Mocha and Spiced Gingerbread for the holidays to Fair Trade and Columbia. Plus, there's 35 percent more coffee in the K-cups and they're recyclable. Send them as gifts with sampler packages that are $15.50 and include 20 K-cups. Sign up for special offers and you'll get 10 percent off. Shipping not included in cost.