Larry's Tenth Annual Holiday Gift Guide

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Each and every year, since 1996, this blogger has sent out, as part of his Holiday wishes, a list of suggested gifts, in many categories, for the last minute shopper, the gift giver who goes through great pains to find something unusual, and for a bit of reading while one is stuck in any of the major airports in this great country.....

My favorite site to order thoughtful gifts from.....

RedEnvelope.com---I have used this site for several years now. All gifts are wrapped in nice red box with ribbon, plus a little printed card explaining the gift and its origins. There are so many categories and price points that even the most fastidious shopper will be pleased. I heartily recommend this site.

Magazine subscriptions....

Vanity Fair is my monthly read, no matter what. From conservative politics, with Christopher Hutchins, to the front lines of Afghanistan, to the newest hot actor or actress from Hollywood or Bollywood, VF has it there.

Portfolio-a new business magazine, that not only has great coverage of the world of business, especially lessons to learn from business failures. One of my favorite recent articles was how the web has ruined the porn industry. Sounds cheesy, but the article helped me understand that I needed to focus my goals on our websites more as well as the need for a proper business plan for the web. One of their best treats at Portfolio are their newsletters via email. I am on three-culture, business and finance. A good gift for the business geek who understands well written features and news of the odd.

Financial Times-the newspaper, this has replaced, for me, the Wall Street Journal. I love the global view of the articles, the well written and well thought out analysis of what is going on in the world, and the columnists are superb. My favorite issue is the Weekend, with Homes that I will never have, and the Arts section with reviews of bands I have to travel to Morocco to see. Well worth the $9 or $10 a week. Also, their daily news alert via email is perfect.

Books to read......

Darkly Dreaming Dexter...Dexter is a serial killer, with a conscience. It is also a wonderfully witty black comedy on Showtime. The book is a great couple hour read about how the guy exists, killing and dismembering bad guys at night, and being a top forensic expert during the day. Well written, witty, it asks that basic question about the end justifying the means. Dexter does not lie to himself-his brutal honesty is part of the fascination with this book.

Welcome to the Monkey House...Kurt Vonnegut..one of the greatest writers in American literature died this past year. If you have never read Vonnegut, this is a nice start, with a dozen short stories. My favorite is the story of how he convinced his wife to break off her engagement with another guy and marry him. Vonnegut is best known for Slaughterhouse Five, a novel based on his real life experiences as an American prisoner of war in World War two, and being held in Dresden as one of Germany's last cities is burnt to the ground near the end of the war.

Carp Fishing on Valium....by Graham Parker... Parker is one of the best rock and rollers, with a pedigree that goes back to the sixties. He would tell his band and family stories on the road and they begged him to write some of them down. Well written, very unusual, the stories will keep you guessing. After that, buy the best of Graham Parker, with his cover of the Jackson 5's I Want You Back. Now, there is a gift pack!

The Hot Zone, by Robert Preston-this is a real life thriller. A highly infectious airborne virus appears in the Washington D.C. metro area. The virus is from the Central African rain forests. True, scarier than any Steven King novel. This will make you stop worrying about the sniveling rocket scientist sitting next to you on that flight from Newark to LA-that, or you will tell them to go wash their hands.

The Lonely Breed, by Ron Clarke and Norman Harris--Ron Clarke, holder of world records galore in the sixties, was, and is a fine writer. This book, out of print for a decade, shows up at trackbooks.com and amazon.com. Clarke and Harris chose to write about 21 of the greatest runners and coaches of all times, from Walter George to Arthur Lydiard to my favorite, Jim Hogan. Hogan was the 1966 gold medalist of the European championships in the marathon. He was a good club runner, Clarke called him a "trier". Hogan was, and is the epitome of a good bloke doing his best, whatever the outcome, in this wonderful piece, Jim finally wins the big one. A true classic in sports writing that has never received its recongnition.

The Sunflower, by Simon Wiesenthal-true story of the famous Nazi Hunter, who was taken from a death camp to care for a dying Nazi. The Nazi admits to the young man of his participation in mass murders. He begs for Wiesenthals' forgiveness...what follows are commentaries by several ethicists and historians. Well written, thought provoking..

Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein...I read this book to Adam when he was little. Shel Silverstein died a couple of years back, he was a poet and an artist featured in, among other things, Playboy. This book of poems is quite whimsical and is perfect for bedtime reading with your little ones, or to get you feeling like a little one again.

Garden of Earthly Delights, Hieronymus Bosch-published under Prestel monogram--Bosch was a painter from the Netherlands who was not of his time...or any other. He lived from 1450-1516 A.C.E., and his paintings were misinterpreted and still are. Philip of Spain purchased some his paintings, which probably kept him from being burned at the stake for being an Adamite. This was the heretical sect I wanted to be part of-they believed that one could achieve a state of innocence, pre Adam and Eve, by living a promiscuous and wild social life.

Actually Bosch never explained his paintings. But this book gives you a view of his most famous triptych, where he looks at Paradise, Heaven, Hell . The book will surprise any young artist who thinks that the only surrealists who existed did so in the twentieth century.

Holidays on Ice, by David Sedaris-a series of whimsical, satirical short stories based on a Christmas theme. My favorite is Front Row Center with Thaddeus Bristol, who is the worlds' worst theatre critic, as he reviews a Christmas play at the local Catholic school. Hilarious. This story is even more fun if you can convince someone, who can actually read, to read this outloud. One of the funniest books in existence.

Clowns of God, by Morris West--I have written about this book for a decade now. It is not Christmas to me until I read this, as it reminds me of the good and nobility in man. Suppose the pope, the head of the Catholic church, has a vision telling him of the end of the world-should he tell the world? When he is found out, he is forced to resign. Written in 1980, this book, each year, gets closer and closer to describing the real world-oil prices through the roof, global economies in trouble. It also begs the question about modern society, with all of our technology, how does anyone believe in anything? What about God? a higher being. Amazing book, each year, readers write back about finding the book in Goodwill and not putting it down. Read it and you will feel good about being a human being again.


Culinary ideas....

Harry & David's catalog has a monthly fruit and veggie gift package that is very cool. You can order it for one month, three months, six months and a year. They also have superb smoked Salmon packs that make a great gift for a holiday breakfast!

For wines, I have been to a couple of wine tastings recently, only for the development of this article. Some of my finds....

Las Rocas-a tempranillo from Spain, this wine is $5.99 to $9.99 and will stun you with its full bodied flavor. Buy a case for now, and get a case and save it for 2009-2011-it will be worth it!

Da Vinci Chianti-fun label, the wine is worth the $9.99 and the search. A well developed Chianti, perfect for pasta and just enjoying the pleasure of some friends'
company. Find it, buy it, drink it.

Mirassou Pinot Noir-$9.99 a bottle. Here is my beef with Pinot Noirs-either they are wonderful or they totally suck. For the price, this is a surprisingly drinkable wine and can be enjoyed with everything! Drink it, and watch Sideways at the same time.

Best table wine-B & G-Barton and Gustier, from Southern France, about $3 to $4 per bottle, make a Merlot, Cab and Pinot Grigio. Great dinner wines, I learnt about this from my French brother in law, Gervais, who is a superb chef. Gervais cooks like some great artist paint. What is refreshing about Gervais is that he loves to find good inexpensive wines and foodstuffs. B&G is our find of this year.

Movies

A Good Year--Russell Crowe is a quite versatile actor. In this movie, Crowe portrays a very successful manager of a stock brokerage, who inherits a French winery from his uncle, who he dearly loved, but had not spoken to in twenty years. The scenery is wonderful, and the way Crowe creates the character-a man who has lived a less than ethical life, who rediscovers his morality and his ability to love someone else.

Pan's Labyrinth-this movie is about a dreamlife of a young girl whose mother marries one of the most brutal Fraconista's in post civil war Spain. The characters are lyrical, the fairies, the nymphs and the satyr are amazing.

Garden State, written and directed by Zach Braff of Scrubs fame. His character, Andrew Largeman, has been drugged for most his twenty years by his shrink father. Returning to his home in New Jersey, he meets Sam, played by Natalie Portman. He has just given up his sedated life and Natalie Portman portrays this goofy, free spirit who challenges his notion of living a full life. One of my favorite movies of all times.

Volver, directed by Pedro Almodovar, who is , in my mind, one of the greatest movie director's of our times. This movie celebrates his love of women and the hardness of their lives. Penelope Cruz portrays a mother who must protect her daughter from a justified murder and at the same time, come to grips with a terrible life secret that has halted her from having a relationship with her mother. Cruz also runs this very casual Spanish restaurant to make ends meet, a place we would all like to have in our neighborhood. The photography is sensual and adoring. Almodovar has this relationship with Cruz, that most directors do not have with their actors. Penelope Cruz is wonderful in this modern morality play.

And finally...music, ....ah music

For your Ipod, here are, courtesy of my tastes, a few mood changing series of songs, all available on ITunes, for your time stuck in airports, on the runways, and

I buy stuff that I like, and I make no excuses about it...

Music to stop one from doing bodily harm to the guy next to you in the airport,
speaking as loud as he can on his cell phone about his intimate life:

Please note that there is a right way and wrong way to develop a music mood-start the listener off slowly before you beat them over the head....

Rotten Peaches, by Elton John
When the Morning Comes, by Jesse Colin Young
Cut Across Shorty, by Rod Stewart
Wild Horses, by the Rolling Stones
Mississipi Queen, by Mountain
What do you want from Life? by the Tubes
Wild Thing, by the Troggs
Are You Experienced, by Jimi Hendrix
Satellite of Love, by Lou Reed
Modern Love, by Peter Gabriel
I Want You Back, by Graham Parker
Mellow, by Elton John

This song list will take just over ninety minutes and should get you through those long waits at the airport over the holidays!

Music Videos

Concert of Bangladesh-filmed in 1970, this was the first benefit concert. The footage is fantastic, from George Harrison singing "My Sweet Lord, with Peter Ham, from Badfinger, to a long haired, hipster named Eric Clapton performing " While My Guitar Gently Weeps." My favorite is Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, George Harrison and Leon Russell covering several of Dylan's songs. A true historical capsule of a time not so long ago...

A Tribute to Graham Parsons...Parsons was one of the most prolific song writers of his day, a founding member of the Flying Burrito Brothers, and the founder of country rock. His voice, his lyrics and his life were tragic...some vintage video of his singing with EmmyLou Harris are touching and soulful.

Happy Holidays from runblogrun.com

In honor of our readers, I am making a contribution to Rainbow Hospice, a hospice in Southern Wisconsin and the Second Harvest Food Bank, which helps people who need are having a real difficult time putting food on the table.

Enjoy your time with family and friends over the holidays. Take a quiet walk or run. Experience the present. Most all, do something to challenge yourself, do something to help someone else who is having a not so good day, heck, just say hello and smile.

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