"You know what would be great?" said my husband last summer. "One of those heavy grill press things that keeps meat and bacon from curling up when you're cooking it." You know what he's getting for Christmas? A heavy grill press thing that keeps bacon from curling up when you cook it. He never bothered to put it on his wish list, I just made a mental note and bought one, and I plan to pat myself on the back every time he uses it.

This, I like to think, exemplifies a crucial aspect of skillful gift-giving: listening. Another crucial aspect: remembering. Also crucial: time, money, and feeling some affection for the person you're buying for.

But what if it's December 22 and none of those aspects are in place, and suddenly you need to pick up a little something for the person in your office who invited you to cocktails Friday night? Or your husband's step-sister who suddenly decided to fly in from Norway? Or the sitter who's coming. over. right. now?

Not everyone has a gift closet they can dip into at times like this. (Note to self: make a lot of money and move to a house that has a lot of extra closets, then fill one with gifts.)

So in case you, like me, aren't blessed with the foresight to start shopping in October for people you don't know will exist come the holidays, here are a few things that can be picked up online or put together out of toothpaste and Popsicle sticks.

For the relative you didn't know you had: A subscription to Archives.com, where they can study their genealogy, have their DNA analysed and added to the database, and search newspapers back to 1753. It's thoughtful, it acknowledges that family is somewhat important to both of you, and it's less that $25.

For the co-worker who deserves a break: Lunch. With you, of course. Write up a little note card to make it official. "I am taking you someplace nice for lunch after the holidays," you might say. Choose someplace you can afford, but that's also a little bit special, e.g., not the sandwich shop everybody goes to every day, and maybe no plastic forks. When the day comes, dress up a little! You look so nice when you try.

For the sitter who hasn't killed your child(ren) yet: A box of nice thank you notes. I appreciate the fact that society now accepts the thank you e-mail as sufficient, but there's nothing wrong with prompting a little good manners in the young. If you don't have a drug store or stationery shop nearby, you might be able to draft your children into creating something interesting, depending on how much glitter glue you have on hand. (Here's a nice tutorial on how to make your own envelopes.)

The boss who unexpectedly got you something personal, oh NO!: A hive of bees ($30) or a flock of ducks ($20) or a share of a pig ($10) from Heifer.org. This is an insanely great charity that helps people in developing countries help themselves by giving them animals that will in turn give them milk, eggs, wool, honey, wax, pollination etc. that will benefit entire communities. Maybe not as immediately gratifying for the boss as a tie or a plate of cookies, but it's a gift that can, possibly, make both of you better people.

For the person who has everything: A gift card log. I know! What a great idea. I can't tell you how many gift cards I've misplaced, or neglected to use and then the store went out of business. Sadly, this is the one gift that you probably can't get in time for holiday giving, but it's the perfect thing to start your gift closet with! For next year, when you will have a gift closet, right? Or at least a gift drawer, once you get rid of all your husband's old tube socks.

And let's not forget that sometimes being a great gift-wrapper can make up for a lot of gift deficiencies. A gift bag, colored tissue paper, oodles of curly ribbon, and a big smile can make that half-price chocolate Santa look like $100.

Are you scrambling to find any last minute gifts?

 

Photo via Waferboard/Flickr.