We once heard of a woman who gave almost everyone on her Christmas list a pair of cashmere socks: little booties for a friend's baby, pink-striped knee-highs for a girly-girl niece, impeccable argyles for a button-down brother, better-than-another-shawl for granny.
Her strategy may have lacked variety, but you have to applaud its universality. The most time-consuming part of holiday shopping is figuring out what to give and where to get it. But settle on something such as cashmere socks - what's not to like? - and you're halfway home.So, that's what we've looked to include in this gift guide: a one-great-idea-fits-all solution to last-minute shopping. Gifts that mix practicality that almost anyone would appreciate with charm that no one could resist.
Have fun with this strategy. Giving one rubber spatula would be weird, but a bright bouquet of them in all shapes and sizes is wonderful. Our suggestions can be found in lots of stores, in many styles and at a range of prices. So, even if you haven't started shopping, here's a way to get your list all wrapped up.
1. Novel approach
Avid readers can never have too many ways to display books. But when you think of it, bookends are a thoughtful present for nonreaders, as well, one that might just open up a whole new chapter in their lives. They are widely sold in bookshops, boutiques and antique stores, for starters.
2. Hourly updates
Any time is a good time for a stylish little clock that can look right at home on a night stand, a bookshelf, a desk or that little table in the hall.
3. Carry over
Everyone needs a sturdy, good-looking tray to carry coffee, cocktails or chicken soup from here to there. They come in silver (a tad formal, expensive and in need of polishing), colorful acrylic (tend to be slippery) and lightweight rattan (cool-looking but often a bit flimsy). We found a better selection in furniture stores, being sold as accessories, than in kitchen stores.
4. Rubber's ducky
Know any cooks who are just scraping by with flabby, discolored spatulas? You might think this item is a bit too practical, but the humble spatula has improved so much - heat-resistant, in lots of sizes and colors - that a bundle of them qualifies as a genuine treat. They're widely available in kitchen and department stores.
5. Pour it on
Orange juice at brunch? Martinis at 5 p.m.? Pitchers are plentiful in kitchen and housewares stores. Some will hold a batch of tulips and are prettier than most vases.
6. Cool mouse
So many computer accessories are dull in color and design, but we found this new desk pet from Microsoft. The company teamed with French design wizard Philippe Starck to create the sleekest mouse ever, in burnished silver with orange or blue. It sells for $14.95 at CompUSA and many places where computer accessories are sold.
7. How-to help
What's the best way to clean wedding rings or remove chocolate stains? "Home Comforts: The Art & Science of Keeping House" by Cheryl Mendelson has those answers plus thousands of others. It's widely available in bookstores, and last week it was on sale at www.amazon.com for $23.10.
8. Gardening basics
We'll buy just about anything from Oxo, the company that makes ergonomic Good Grips kitchen tools. So, we were immediately drawn to the $25 trio of two trowels and a cultivator. They're perfect for the patio gardener on your list and a good backup set for any serious horticulturalist. They're available at many of the same stores that sell Good Grips kitchen tools, but any hardware or garden store will have similar items.
9. Pictures perfect
Who couldn't use a terrific photo album? No one, we venture, except for those who have every shot filed, and who wants to give them a present?