Shopping for that Impossible-to-Buy-For Friend

Originally, this post was titled Christmas Shopping for that Impossible-to-Buy-For Friend. Yes, I know. It's not even Halloween yet, let alone Thanksgiving, but I started putting this post together months ago, thinking it would be a fun pre-Christmas post. What I didn't expect was that the post would grow the way it has. I already have enough stuff for at least four blog posts and there's no sign of stopping. And then I got to thinking, well, birthdays happen year round and there's wedding and graduations that come up. So maybe I'll try posting one of these every month or two and see how it goes.

So what qualifies me to write about gift giving for hard-to-buy-for
people? Well, in my circle, I'm that hard-to-buy-for person. Frankly, I'm your basic Nightmare Before Christmas. But if I do say so myself, I'm really good at buying the right gift for others, so I thought I'd give you some insight on how I do it.

The most important thing about getting the right gift for someone is simple.


Listen for clues all year long. Back when my Christmas list was longer, it was normal that all my shopping would be done before Thanksgiving simply because, in the back of my mind, I listened for that voice in my head that said, "So-and-so would love this." If that voice spoke in February, I bought that gift in February. Strike through one name on the list.

So how do you know the gift will be perfect. Again, you listen. You're friends will often give you ideas. The clue may come in a conversation you have in May, two weeks after their birthday *sigh* but it will come. And Christmas always rolls around. Once you master this skill, you might remember in December what they said in May, but until you reach that level of proficiency, make a note somewhere. Build a wishlist on Amazon if you have to, so you'll remember. And there's an advantage to having that list. If you check it regularly, you're more likely to see when something goes on sale. Imagine that. The perfect gift AND a bargain! 

The hardest part about shopping this way, I found, is that I can get so excited about having the perfect gift, it's hard to keep my mouth shut about it. That usually passes in a couple of weeks. Once, I nearly blabbed about "the great gift I got you" but at the last second, I changed my script to "Socks. I got you socks."

I've even helped friends find the perfect gift. Once, a friend mentioned that her daughter wanted a cameo broach. I was big into consignment store shopping at the time (Seattle has THE BEST consignment shops I've ever seen.) A couple of weeks later, I was in one of those shops and saw they had a couple of very nice broaches. I alerted my friend and she went down and bought one. Turned out to be worth far more than she paid for it because it was an antique. You can really find some treasures in places like that.

Some of my best coups have been things that weren't under the tree.

I have a friend who loves to entertain. That includes making dinner. I hadn't figured out what to get her that year and it was a month before Christmas. Then I opened a Groupon email and they had a deal on French cooking lessons. Now being able to surprise the recipient is nice, but in my book, it's secondary to getting the perfect gift. I called her and asked, "Would you like this?" She said yes, so I bought it. She didn't redeem it until February, but she said she had a ball at the class. And I got dinner--Chicken Cordon Bleu (one of my favorite foods)--out of the deal. I'd call that a win-win.

Then there's the "event" present. Last year, I took my niece and her husband to see Star Wars. Not the premiere. None of us felt the need to see it the night it came out. But we did see it in 3D at the local IMAX.

And one year, I took my best friend to see The Phantom of the Opera when the Broadway show came to town conveniently near her birthday. That was fun for both of us. She's one of my few friends who was actually good at getting me gifts because she does a lot of "event" gifts too. Things like Neil Diamond or Stevie Nicks concerts.

Event or activity gifts have the bonus of a memory that will last long after a physical present has lost it's luster, but they do work best when you know the recipient well enough to pick the right event.

For those you don't know well enough, there's always movies or music or books, and I may explore this more thoroughly in the future.

If all inspiration fails, the one thing that works well is to simply ASK that hard-to-buy-for person what they want. Trust me. As someone who has received a lot of gifts I wouldn't have bought for myself (Really. Not even if I had a million dollars.) it's better to get your family and friends something they're excited about even if it's not a surprise than to give them a surprise dud.

So now that I've warmed you up to this idea, what do you think? Good idea?

How do you shop for difficult people? Any coups you'd like to share?

Thursday Writing Quote ~ Hesse

Among the many worlds that man did not receive as a gift from nature but created out of his own mind, the world of books is the greatest… Without the word, without the writing of books, there is no history, there is no concept of humanity. And if anyone wants to try to enclose in a small space, in a single house or a single room, the history of the human spirit and to make it his own, he can only do this in the form of a collection of books. ~ Hermann Hesse

Thursday Writing Quote ~ Parker

When my story stalls on me, I’ve played my hand too soon. ~ T. Jefferson Parker

Thursday Writing Quote ~ King

One of the really bad things you can do to your writing is to dress up the vocabulary, looking for long words because you're maybe a little bit ashamed of your short ones. This is like dressing up a household pet in evening clothes. The pet is embarrassed and the person who committed this act of premeditated cuteness should be even more embarrassed. ~ Stephen King

Tuesday Teaser/Opening ~ Agent Zigzag

There's not much I like better than a good spy story except for a good, true spy story. Agent Zigzag: A True Story of Nazi Espionage, Love, and Betrayal by Ben Macintyre is a true spy story, so it's right up my alley.

Eddie Chapman was a charming criminal, a con man, and a philanderer. He was also one of the most remarkable double agents Britain has ever produced. Inside the traitor was a man of loyalty; inside the villain was a hero. The problem for Chapman, his spymasters, and his lovers was to know where one persona ended and the other began. Based on recently declassified files, Agent Zigzag tells Chapman’s full story for the first time. It’s a gripping tale of loyalty, love, treachery, espionage, and the thin and shifting line between fidelity and betrayal.


The policemen agreed they were living with a most peculiar fellow. One moment he was reading classical literature in the original French and quoting Tennyson, and the next he would be discussing the best way to blow up a train. 

What do you think?

Share the first paragraph (or a few) from a book you are reading. Here's the link: Bibliophile By The Sea

Research odds and ends and one pet peeve

It's really fun to share these, but posting them here also has the added benefit of giving me somewhere to look when I vaguely remember reading something useful "somewhere." So here's what struck me as interesting in the last month or so.

"A human female skeleton has a more rounded pelvis, more rounded shoulder blades, and thinner bones than male skeletons. Women tend to have narrower rib cages, smaller teeth, less angular jaws, less pronounced brow ridges, and a small protuberance at the back of the skull; the carrying angle of the forearm is more pronounced in females than in males." (from The Skeleton Crew by Deborah Halber)

The most common phrase in suicide notes is "I'm so tired."

A thirty-second earthquake generally has a magnitude in the mid-sevens. A minute-long quake is in the high sevens, a two-minute quake has entered the eights, and a three-minute quake is in the high eights. By four minutes, an earthquake has hit magnitude 9.0.  (

If you ever have to write battles but you're not a tactician, two books that might spark ideas (or work as models) are Les Miserables by Victor Hugo and Texas by James Michener. Les Mis has way more information about the battle of Waterloo than I ever desired to know and section VI of Texas explains clearly not just how the Alamo was taken but how Mexico won subsequent battles, and the remarkable battle at San Jacinto where Sam Houston's 900-man army outfoxed Santa Ana and his army of 1,200 in a battle that lasted a mere eighteen minutes, ending the war with Mexico.

Moose, unlike other members of the deer family, can kick in all directions, including sideways.

Due to postmortem fermentation when a body is not kept cool after death, there can be “false positive” blood alcohol reports up to 0.20 grams/% (

And as promised, one pet peeve.

Hazel eyes are not some shade of light brown. They are not brown with green flecks. They are either brown with green around the iris or green with brown around the iris (true hazel.) I know this because hazel eyes run in my family. My dad had them, I have them, and my youngest niece has them. Also, green eye shadow does not make them look green; it makes them look brown. And visa versa. And when you're pupils dilate, they look whatever color the outside of the iris is (in my family, that's green.)

Thursday Writing Quote ~ Cherryh

It is perfectly okay to write garbage-as long as you edit brilliantly.” ~ C. J. Cherryh