Better to Give … ?

by Zoë Sharp

First of all, what are you doing, sitting here looking at your computer today, of all days? Surely you should be eating and drinking and making merry? 

I'm writing this on Christmas Eve. As soon as I realised that I had the dubious honour of posting on Christmas Day this year, I've been trying to think of something suitable for the occasion. I don't do sentimentality well, and this time of year holds very mixed emotions for me.

So, I thought I'd focus on the ridiculous instead.

With this firmly in mind, I asked all my fellow 'Rati three questions: What's the Best, Worst, and downright Weirdest presents you've ever received. Or, what would be your Dream present.


Tropical island DREAM GIFT: "My fantasy present would be a writer's month or two on a gorgeous island where all my meals were taken care of, I'd have an endless supply of paper and reference books, wi-fi, a computer in every room but the bedroom, a comfortable bed and absolutely no responsibilities beyond writing for hours daily. Oh, and I'd like to be paid a reasonable amount of money for being creative, too.

"So, someone would have to take care of the kids at home, make sure the cleaning and the cooking were done and that my husband wasn't too lonely (notice the 'too' part of that last one. A little loneliness makes the heart grow, um …), pay the bills, etc. Then I could write without feeling guilty or like I should be doing something else."

WCrucifixORST: "A crucifix. I have nothing against other people's religious beliefs or symbols, but this gift felt inappropriate. Hey, I wouldn't give free circumcision to a guy for Hanukah, either. Y'know?"

And WEIRDEST: "The gifts I've gotten have been fairly conventional – money, books, clothing, food. Perhaps people are frightened to offend?

"So, I'll tell a story about a family Christmas from more than 30 years ago. The reason we celebrated the holiday was that my stepfather liked it.

Deli ceiling "Back in the early 70s, a certain deli display was all the rage in interior decorating magazines. Across America, women mounted pipes from their kitchen ceilings and hung balls of provolone and other cheeses, fancy looking dry salamis, etc, from them. My stepfather decided to give my mother all of the components for such a display … one piece at a time. She had no idea this was what I was doing. The look of astonished disappointment on her face when she opened that first package with the pipe was unforgettable."

Of course, if you're looking for the perfect (late) Christmas gift, or something to spend those book tokens on after the Holidays, you could always pick up a copy of Pari's latest, THE SOCORRO BLAST.

We have to be very careful in our house how Christmas presents are arranged under our tree, owing to the fact we have underfloor heating. Anything chocolate or edible has to be put down on top of an insulating non-meltable gift!


Rain in Malaga WORST CHRISTMAS: "I must have papered over all the memories of the Best and Worst Christmas gifts over the years, but I surely remember The Worst Christmas Ever. It was 1973 … Richard Nixon was in the White House, albeit temporarily … and I was living in France, getting my Masters Degree in French Literature. It had already been a strange year … freezing temperatures, general strikes that shut down everything from garbage collection to the electricity, calf's head and chestnuts for Thanksgiving dinner. So a girlfriend and I decided to go to sunnier climes, the Costa del Sol in Spain, for the holidays. It rained and sleeted in Málaga for seven days. I came down with strep throat. And there's nothing sadder than eating rubbery, overcooked octopus for Christmas dinner while watching a dubbed version of Julie Andrews singing 'There's No Place Like Home For The Holidays' on a little TV suspended in a corner of the dining room."

And, of course, Louise's latest – THE FAULT TREE - would also make an idea gift!

Louise, you have my sympathies. Andy and I once decided, many years ago, to go away for Christmas. We went to Tresco, a tiny island in the Scillies, just off the coast of Cornwall. The only way in was by helicopter from Penzance and the gales were so bad that a 14-minute flight took 11 on the way out and 22 minutes on the way back. Andy went down with something nasty and was so ill that the doctor was threatening to airlift him to hospital on Christmas Eve. I ate my Christmas dinner alone in the hotel dining room. Now we stay at home …


Nordic track treadmill "Okay, my WORST present?  The year my husband gave me an orange pantsuit.  And I mean BRIGHT orange.  He has since learned NEVER orange, never again.

"BEST present?  My Nordic Track treadmill.  (Of course, I helped pick it out!)  During the winter, when it's too cold to go outside, I use it  every single day.

Orange pantsuit WEIRDEST?  I would have to go back to the orange pantsuit."

One of the fun things about putting together this post was trying to find suitable pictures to go with the various things the 'Rati members came up with as their Best, Worst and Weirdest. So, I put 'orange pantsuit' into Google images, and this is what I found on the first page that came up. Is this something close, Tess? Sorry about the model …

And, of course, Tess's latest – THE KEEPSAKE - is another ideal gift!


Ornament BEST: "I don't kiss and tell!" (Er, is that Best or Dream, Rob?)

WORST: "A Christmas ornament. I mean, come on.

"WEIRDEST present? I'm stumped. Got nothing for you there."

And Rob's latest – KISS HER GOODBYE - could be just the gift you're looking for.

Sorry about the ornament pic. You wouldn't believe what people hang on their trees, though …


Electronic typewriter WORST: "Probably the 'electronic' typewriter my parents gave me in college. It was some weird model by Casio that was almost immediately discontinued, so ribbon cartridges became almost impossible to find and had to be mail ordered from the manufacturer. (I assume that's why it was so cheap). It functioned in a really bizarre way; as you typed, the words would appear on a tiny LCD screen above the keyboard, but only 15 characters at a time. When you got to the end of the line, then it would suddenly come alive and start putting the words on the paper. The worst thing was, you couldn't fit a business size envelope into the roller, so you either had to use labels, which always got stuck in the machine, or hand address envelopes. I still have the damn thing in a closet somewhere."

WEIRDEST: "The gift my mother in law gave to me a couple of year ago. I think it's supposed to be a device that holds messages on your desk, but I swear it's actually a roach clip."

BEST: "I'd have to say the 100 dollar gift card. I immediately ran to the computer and went nuts."

If anyone else receives the same gift, then copies of Dusty's latest, BREAKING COVER, would be just the thing!

I believe I learned to type on one of those self-same typewriters in college, Dusty, although anything was better than the elderly manual typewriters that had a keyboard as steep as the north face of the Eiger and had a nasty tendency to trap your little fingers if you slipped off a key.


George bush doll BEST: "Would have to be books. No question. It's like getting a present of the world, since books can take you anywhere. In fact, it's more than just the world, since when I was younger I was huge into sci-fi!"

WEIRDEST: "Got a singing and dancing George Bush doll a few years ago. It was hilarious and weird and I didn't know what to do with it."

Christmas_footie_pajamas WORST: "Most definitely clothes when I was a kid. What kid wants to open a present and find pajamas inside? Really, parent. Think twice."

Of course, if you're going to give books, Brett's THE DECEIVED would be a good choice.

I, too, am a huge fan of books at Christmas. It's usually one of the few times of the year when I have the opportunity to read. And I think this could possibly be the very doll you were given, Brett? Have you thought about re-gifting?


Three-stones-engagement-ring DREAM PRESENT: "An all day all expense paid shopping trip to every stationary store in Manhattan. My BEST present was the Hot Wheels Super Grand Prix electric racetrack. Damn, I loved that thing. And my engagement ring."

WORST: "I'm not terribly fond of Raggedy Ann dolls, and I know I got a few while I was growing up. Barbies, too."

Raggedy ann dolls JT's latest - JUDAS KISS - is just out and another great gift idea!

I was never a fan of Barbie dolls, and don't recall having one as a child. I had a Meccano set, though. And the equivlent of a GI Joe, which was great – until I hit my sister with him and he snapped off at the knees, which severely curtailed his macho adventures …


Snowy owl BEST: "The best presents I can remember getting as a child, hands down, were animals – our first puppy Poca was a Christmas present and somehow I always got my cats at Christmas. I also got numerous rabbits, hooded rats, mice, snakes, lizards, turtles –  and one Christmas, an injured Great Snowy Owl, at least until we were able to nurse it back to health.
"All other presents pale beside someone who loves you back for their entire life."

Ugly clothes WORST: "Hmm, worst – have always been clothes I don't want. It's just a pain to pretend to be happy about it when you've said repeatedly – 'PLEASE don't buy me clothes.'"

WEIRDEST: "I can't really remember any. As far as weird goes, you have to remember who you're talking to, here."
Alex's latest book, THE PRICE, would make yet another wonderful gift…
Some friends of ours were given some truly awful sweaters by the wife's parents for Christmas. They dutifully opened them up and put them on and made all the right noises, and then immediately went upstairs to remove the offending items, muttering about what awful taste her parents had. When they came back downstairs, it was to face thunderous silence. At this point they realised that they'd removed their presents in their infant daughter's room, where the baby monitor had broadcast their comments … an awkward Christmas was had by all!
Hot Wheels BEST: "My Hotwheels Loop-the-Loop Racetrack ™ in first grade. Orange tracks with two Hotwheels car included. Awesome."

WORST: "The necklace my husband comissioned for me from a jewelry-making relative, the first year we lived together, which looked rather like a large and very uncomfortable copper tumor."

Ugly necklace WEIRDEST: "Actually a gift to my mother, about thirty years ago … a can each of creamed elephant and creamed rattlesnake, which she made us eat over noodles several months later. Nasty."
Cornelia's THE CRAZY SCHOOL should be in everyone's Christmas stocking.
In searching for a picture of a strange necklace, I stumbled on a site that records the awards for the Ugliest Necklace of the year. This was the latest winner. Those charming baubles are actually made from … something that comes out of the rear end of a horse. I do hope they sealed them in some way, otherwise they'd be the perfect gift for the anosmic in your life …
BEST: "I think best will be this year, as my oldest son and his wife are able to travel and be here on the holiday. We just celebrated with my youngest, so even though they won't get to be here at the same time, I will have a week of listening to their funny stories and watching their faces as they open gifts. I'm not sure it gets any better than that."
Pink knickers WORST: "Worst present? Probably the year my step-grandfather was shopping hastily and picked up what he thought was a scarf. It was pink (not a fan of pink) and shiny (ditto), and I'm not entirely sure which one of us was more horrified when I opened it and held it up and we both realized at the same moment that he'd picked up a very ruffly large pair of women's underwear. I don't exactly know why any woman on the planet, no matter what size, would want to buy shiny pink ruffly panties, and I'm hoping whoever decided to manufacture such an atrocity has to stare at them for all eternity until they have a seizure, because to inflict that on the world? Just wrong, on so many levels.

"I'm pretty sure that one ties for 'weirdest' present, too."
Of course, nothing weird about giving a copy of Toni's latest - BOBBIE FAYE'S (KINDA, SORTA, NOT EXACTLY) FAMILY JEWELS - to your nearest and dearest.
Unfortunately, Allison was keeping very quiet about her Best, Worst and Weirdest, so we'll have to guess. Her latest, PLAYING DEAD, would make an ideal pressie, though.
Cat towel holder As for me, I think my best Christmas present was waking up on the first morning we slept over in our new house, the Christmas BEFORE we actually moved in, to find snow thick on the ground. Perfect.
Our weirdest present has to be from last year, when some friends gave us this charming tea-towel holder for the kitchen. I wonder where the designer got the idea for tha one?
Castrol GTX And my worst Christmas present? Possibly a tub of Castrol GTX motor oil for my car. Not that Castrol don't make a fine product, but it wasn't quite what I had in mind, wrapped in seasonal paper and sitting under the tree on Christmas morning. That relationship, incidentally, didn't last …
Of course, I ought to mention that, if you've a few pennies left over from buying the books of my excellent fellow 'Rati, then my own latest, THIRD STRIKE, is also available …
What about you? What's your Best, Worst and Weirdest? And if you received them today, so much the better!

31 thoughts on “Better to Give … ?

  1. joylene

    I’m coming back to read this later, but I just wanted to say Merry Christmas. Thanks for all the wonderful conversations. The only thing missing was tea and cookies.

    Best in 2009.

  2. Jim Winter

    BEST: Well, this year. I got to spend my first Christmas with my wife and stepson, and after I’d been convinced I’d be spending a lonely Christmas in an empty house.

    WORST: The year my mother died, it was a waiting game, so understandably, no one focused much on shopping. That said, my former sister-in-law had to restrain my brother, who thought a ceramic Elvis bank would make the perfect Christmas gift. So what did he get when his then-wife wasn’t looking? A three-foot tall bank of Sylvester the Cat. I believe I heard a spinnning sound coming from the direction of my mother’s grave when I opened it.

    WEIRDEST: See above. Scott gets me gift cards anymore.

  3. Louise Ure

    Merry Christmas, ‘Rati! I’m hunkering down in San Francisco. We’re not traveling this holiday season … maybe only the second time in twenty five years. And hoo boy, did I pick a good year not to be on the road.

    I wish you all success, happiness and a sense of joy. Stay warm!

  4. Laura Benedict

    I love that both JT and Cornelia both ranked their Hot Wheels sets as best gifts! I feel so lame that mine was a Barbie Dream House….I think that Pari wins The Worst Taste Gift prize with the crucifix. That’s just bizarre.

    My worst gifts came one Christmas from my second husband–I think he went shopping at Pier One at 5:30 on Christmas Eve. The wool gloves he got me had horizontal, primary-colored stripes and they itched horribly. There was also an oddly-shaped ceramic pot as well as a ceramic dog. I still have the dog. We call it “Bowser the Ceramic Hunting Dog in an Action Pose.”

    My MIL is a fabulously, uh, imaginative gift-giver. A couple of years ago, she gave my husband a well-carved walnut stash box (should’ve gone to another family member–but I digress), a cassette tape of cowboy songs, and a phases-of-the-moon wall calendar for the previous year.

    Hope you all get lovely things in your stockings this year!

  5. pari

    I loved these stories, Zo, and can’t wait to read what others will write in the comments.

    A joyous holiday season to all.

    This is the first year we won’t be celebrating Christmas day with my in-laws (we did last night), so I promised my kids I’d find a Chinese restaurant for dinner tonight. I hope I CAN find one open in ABQ today.

  6. pari

    Um, Zoe, I do know your name; “Zo” is a major character in the manuscript I rewriting for the umpteenth time.

    Sorry about that. And maybe I’ll even learn how to put that umlaude on the e by the end of next year!

  7. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Laura

    Never had Hot Wheels, sadly, but had various Scalectrix tracks and cars instead. Great fun, but they always crashed at the corners. The vague smell of something burning they constantly seemed to generate is one of those odours of my childhood …

  8. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Pari

    Good Chinese food is welcome any time of year. Because Andy and I are officially directors of our own company, we’re allowed a ‘staff’ Christmas party – just the two of us.

    We had Japanese. Not a turkey in sight, but the raw tuna was divine …

  9. Zoë Sharp

    Lots of people I know call me ‘Zo’ because, without the umlaut, it does indeed rhyme with ‘Joe’ instead of ‘Joey’.

    On a PC, you get the dots over the ‘ë’ by holding down Alt and pressing 137 on the numeric keypad. No idea how you get it on a Mac, though …

  10. Rae

    Hi there,

    Best Christmas present was, over the course of a number of years, my Spode Christmas Tree pattern china. My mother and grandmother completed the set, a bit at a time, during about a 15 year time frame. I’m drinking coffee from one of the mugs right now, and it recalls fond memories of both of them.

    Worst present? On a couple of occasions, I’ve been given things to open that were clearly afterthoughts. Not fun.

    Weirdest present? One year, my mother gave me this very strange crocheted skirt and top, that were sized for a hobbit. She always put a lot of thought into her gifts, so I’ve never quite been able to figure that one out.

    Hope everyone is having a great day…..

  11. Fran

    Merry Christmas, one and all!

    What a great post, and of course it brings up memories.

    I don’t remember many Christmas gifts, although I know there were some good ones. Perhaps the best was this house, that Lillian and I bought a few years ago around Christmas. Our first house together.

    The worst was the Christmas the kids were supposed to come up and got snowed in in Denver. I was a misery all holiday.

    Lillian’s best Christmas was when she told her mother she wanted snow for Christmas and got it.

    Weirdest was when my crazy aunt sent my then-five-year-old son three size 40 DD bras. No earthly idea.

    Merry Christmas, one and all!

  12. woodstock

    Dusty – I also had one of those Casio electronic typewriters. You described it better than I ever could. It was/is a very strange item indeed.

    BEST – I had seen a woolen shawl in a lovely dusty blue plaid, and took my daughter and husband to the store and pointed it out to them. We were newlyweds, and husband and daughter were still learning to cooperate. It didn’t always go smoothly. Approaching Christmas, no box under the tree which might have been the shawl. On Christmas morning, no shawl. My daughter gathered up her presents rather quickly, and excused herself to go to her room. I was trying to be a big girl, but I was dismayed to have her check out of the family circle so soon. She returned with a large box – and yes, it was the shawl! Not only did I receive the shawl of my dreams, the two most important people in my life had cooperated to surprise me.

    WORST – I’m not sure I remember one which completely missed the mark. Quite a few unwanted gifts of clothing.

    WIERDEST – A collection of large, oversized coffee table books on topics I was only minimally interested in. And the giver knew I didn’t have a coffee table! Still pondering that one.

    Merry Christmas to all ‘rati – your comments and musings enlighten many a day for me!

  13. Allison Brennan

    Allison was late on a book and apologizes for not responding to Zoe’s fun question! I didn’t read 99% of my email for the last two weeks . . .

    So to answer very late . . .

    Like Pari, my dream gift would be a fabulous trip far away with no worries, no stress, the kids safe at home, and the most incredible spa in the world . . .

    Best? The Kindergarden Christmas handprints and pictures that the teachers do for the kids to give their mom’s, or the Mother’s Day handprint and poem. I got another one today, and it’s just as cherish as the rest . . .

    Worst? I’ve been pretty lucky. But one year, my husband gave me a pastel yellow sweatsuit. I just stared. He told me he thought I would like it because I didn’t have anything yellow in my closet. Hmm, there’s a REASON for that . . .

    Weirdest? My husband gave me a custom-made bobblehead of myself for my birthday. I’m holding a Glock. Which is cool (though I own a .357.) I couldn’t stop laughing, and I still smile seeing it. It’s definitely not something I would buy for myself! 🙂

  14. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Laura, I was into the Barbies, too. But you’ll appreciate this – I mostly spent my playtime tying them up.

    I DID get a dream present to an island from my MIL this year! She’s giving Michael and me her timeshare in the Bahamas next month – and guess what? My fifth book is set in the Bahamas! Vacation without guilt!!!

    Now, is that a Christmas present or what???

    Wishing love, joy, creativity, peace and prosperity in the New Year to ALL of our beloved Rati – readers, writers, rabble-rousers and all.

  15. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Rae

    What a lovely ongoing gift idea – and didn’t it make you easy to buy for?

    Knowing my luck, they would have discontinued the pattern when I was halfway through collecting the set …

  16. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Fran

    “Weirdest was when my crazy aunt sent my then-five-year-old son three size 40 DD bras. No earthly idea.”

    I had to laugh about that one – she couldn’t even claim he’d grow into them …

  17. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Woodstock

    What a nice surprise! I make an effort not to even try to guess what might be contained inside a wrapped gift. I’d rather it made itself apparent as I actually open it.

  18. Zoë Sharp

    Hi Allison

    Thank you for sending this. I knew you were up to your neck in the latest WIP and I hated to add to chase you when there was no reply to my emails, so I’m really happy that you were able to stop by today. (I always make a point of not hassling people who own .357s, by the way!)

    But I think I might have struggled to find a pic of the bobble-head you mention … ;-]

  19. Zoë Sharp

    Anyway, folks, it’s past midnight here in the UK and it’s been a long day of over-indulgence. I’m beat.

    Thank you so much to everyone who stopped by today.

    Health, luck and happiness to you all!

  20. PK the Bookeemonster

    Best: a kid-type drumset when I was in grade school. I loved the drums. My cousin the next day put a hole in the bottom one. But still, a very cool gift. Really big box.Worst: one year my husband didn’t get me anything because we were having some problems that eventually were overcome.Weirdest: nothing really stands out though in general strange things come from my MIL. This year (and I’ve been in the family for 11 years now) she gave us knick knacky reindeer. She knows I don’t like knick knacks because they don’t do anything except collect dust but she always gives unnecessary (read stupid) stuff like that. (teapots, a vodka drinking set when we don’t really drink, ribbons around Scotch washing pads, jewelry I think she’s trying to get rid of, etc.) (sigh)PK the Bookeemonster

  21. J.T. Ellison

    Merry, Merry Christmas, everyone! Sorry to be late to the party – it’s been a full day of in-laws, then travel to my folks. But we’re here, safe and sound, and for that I give the most thanks of all.

    Blessings to everyone, and see you tomorrow!xo

  22. Zoë Sharp

    Hi PK

    A drum kit would be very cool … but possibly not to those who had to listen to you learning to play!

    We once lived in an apartment directly below a teenager who was learning to play the clarinet. I won’t say she was dreadful, exactly, more that she appeared to have very little natural aptitude for that particular instrument and it took her a long, long time to learn a new piece of music.

    By which time, we knew it, too ;-]


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *