Tag Archives: Xmas

Best Bets: Best Christmas Gifts under $10

Maybe your workplace is doing a secret Santa this year. Maybe you got an invite to a holiday party and want to bring a gift for your hosts (which is proper and good form). Maybe you need something for the mailman or your kid’s teacher or someone else you don’t really care about at all. Maybe you’re just cheap.

Whatever the case may be, we all sometimes need to find gifts that cost as little as possible. Just because you’re not spending much though doesn’t mean you’ve got to give up on good taste. They say it’s the thought that counts, and if you put a little thought into your smallest gifts, you can make them count, too.

Magazine Subscriptions

You’ve probably heard by now that print media is dying, and that iPads and Kindles are the wave of the future. All that aside, light reading is as enjoyable as it ever was. Magazine subscriptions are ridiculously cheap right now, with most running just over the cover price of one issue, and in most cases you can get two full years for around $10. The Chop recommends Esquire, Baltimore Magazine, Interview, W Magazine, The Atlantic, and Juxtapoz. It’s a breeze to order gift subscriptions online, although shipping of the first issue typically does take some time.

Alarm Clock

Ikea is well known for three things: good design, low prices, and shoddy materials. Their DEKAD alarm clock is two of those three things. Made of nothing but glass and steel, it’s as solid as it is stylish. Clean, classic design and a $6 price tag put it right at home in any room. Alternately, their lower level has a ton of housewares, textiles and decor items at budget friendly prices.

Handkerchiefs

A tie may be the default last-minute generic gift idea for men, but a set of handkerchiefs is a fraction of the price, and he’ll probably get more mileage out of them than any tie. This set of Dockers handkerchiefs from Kohls is on sale for $10, and presents well in that cylidrical package which might double to hold pens, change, or whatever.

Christmas Ornaments

A Christmas ornament is another pretty standard go-to gift, but the ones available at Ten Thousand Villages in Fell’s Point are anything but ordinary. This set of three is handmade in China and marked down to the ridiculously low price of $5.00. There are also options from India and Nepal as well as other handmade gifts from all over the world.

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Whether you’re stuffing a stocking, sticking to a budget or treating yourself, any of these gifts will be money well spent. Have you received something inexpensive that made you smile? Come up with the perfect solution for secret Santa, maybe? Post your own economical gift ideas in the comments.

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The Do’s and Don’ts of Christmas Lights

We’re forgoing any Christmas decorations this year. Call it an austerity measure. Call it Grinching. Call it (most accurately) laziness. With the amount of traveling we do every year, and not knowing when we’ll next be home for the holidays, it didn’t seem prudent to invest time, effort and money in decorations that may not see the house-front again for another 3 or 4 years, especially with no wife or children to share in their enjoyment.

With Christmas just 10 days away, we’re guessing that everyone who’s going to decorate already has, so we may be a bit late with this, but we’re certainly not too late to judge the good, the bad, and the ugly as far as Christmas lights in Baltimore go.

We’ve noticed that the vast majority of inner-city rowhouse dwellers are disinclined to decorate at all, and most will only bother with a tree if there’s a Santa-aged kid in the house. It pains us to admit that the County’s got it all over us as far as decorating goes, but no matter which side of the city line you’re on, you can’t go wrong if you’ll follow our advice to the letter.

This house on Peacock Lane in Portland is a masterpiece of taste and understatement. It's warm, welcoming, and wonderful.

Do: Use white lights. When you light your house, the idea is to show off the house not the lighting itself. Colored lights have a way of clashing with each other, and with the features of most houses. With white lights, it’s nearly impossible to go wrong. They can be accented with small strands of red or green lights if you’re really craving a little color, but white effects the soft, warm glow that makes a home look most inviting in the dead of winter.

Do: Work with the symmetry of your house. If you’re going to light up the door, be sure to light up the full length window next to it. Any architectural features like gables or overhangs should be lit, otherwise you run the risk of an incomplete aesthetic. If you have an attached garage, that should be treated as part of the house as well.

Do: Understand that less is more. Resist the urge to compete with your neighbors or add just one more ‘finishing touch.’ Too many lights, wreaths, bows, etc. can go from festive to cluttered very quickly.

Do: Take note of what your neighbors and others are doing. If someone with a house style similar to yours gets it right, don’t be afraid to borrow some of their ideas. Just because you’ve always done it some specific way, doesn’t mean you can’t try something new this year.

Do: Place your tree in the front window. This isn’t mandatory, of course. Some people will want to set up their tree in a non-fronting room. If you’ve got the room and the right windows (bay windows, picture windows) placing the tree at the window will serve to bring the inside out a bit and make the whole effect that much more unified, cozy, and inviting.

Yes, there is actually someone's house under there.

Don’t: Buy any of those giant inflatable snowmen. Just look at the picture. Even with only one of those, your house is a considerable fraction of being that ugly. All those inflatables that light from the inside and require you to run an air compressor half the night are always, always, always tacky. The first Clark Griswold who ever bought one of those probably thought he was pretty clever, but now that Wal-Mart is moving them by the truckload in every town in America they look more ridiculous than ever.

Don’t:Put a bunch of wire statues all over the yard. All those little deer skeletons are junky and trite. One look at them and all we can think is “Welp, that’ll be in a landfill somewhere sooner or later.” That’s not the thought you want in your head at Christmas time. Also, along the same lines, we’d like to mention that we fully endorse natural wreaths and trees.

Don’t:Light deciduous trees. If you’ve got an evergreen, go ahead and light that. Most types of bushes and shrubs are good for lighting as well. Once they lose their leaves though, deciduous trees look dead and have no symmetry. Lights tend to look more like they’re tangled than neatly strung.

Finally Don’t: String all purple lights and football decorations. Christmas is supposed to be about the little baby Jesus. It’s not about the little baby Ray Lewis. Harbaugh, Reed, and Flacco are not the three wise men. The Yinzers in Pittsburgh may have a memorabilia-based economy, but as Baltimoreans, this kind of thing is beneath our dignity.

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Bi-Weekly Political Roundup: Everyone Is Still Pissed Edition

Got to admit… We weren’t too impressed with that Monument lighting this year. It was freezing. It was packed. It was so much puppets and choir music. It was also pretty anti-climactic, as those sorts of things usually are.

For those of you looking to come to Mount Vernon and be just as festive (read: tipsy) indoors and without the crowds, we’d encourage you to come by the Midtown Yacht Club tonight for the regular meeting of the Baltimore Chapter of Drinking Liberally.

Baltimore's Drinking Liberally chapter meets at Midtown Yacht Club tonight. 7 pm.

When we were in the Middle East last summer, the Chop and everyone with us basically spent a long, hot Ramadan complaining about the concept of the month-long holiday. Of course, Christmas isn’t much better as it’s now transformed into a full-on 40 day circle-jerk. It’s strange to watch the world around us grind to a halt just because there’s one day of gift-giving and family time at the end of the month, but that’s what’s happening nonetheless.

People may not be shopping as obsessively as they used to, and there may not be as much phony-baloney Jesus guilt as there once was, but nothing is getting done regardless. Everyone we know is pretty much giving over the entire month to social obligations and high calorie, high fat comfort food, as well as getting excited for the sake of being excited.

This is as true in DC as it is anywhere, and you can count on nothing being accomplished by either side until at least State of the Union time.

In the meantime, everyone is still pissed. People who are pissed at Wikileaks are on a witch hunt for Julian Assange, while his supporters are pissed that they’re pissed.

The Democrats (including the Chop) are pissed that Obama is going to give away billions of dollars to people who already have billions of dollars.

The gays are pissed that they do not have equal rights, and if the president continues to act like a pussy, they won’t any time soon.

And the Republicans are pissed that even though they’re about to be in power in the House, they still have to lead their lonely, empty, stupid, meaningless, hypocritical lives.

So come on down to Midtown and have a pint of good seasonal ale. It really helps to take the edge off.

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Midtown yacht Club is at 15 E Center Street in Mount Vernon. Look for the table with the red, white, and blue bottle.

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Best Bets: Compass Box Scotch Whiskies

Words like “craft” and “artisan” are thrown around much too freely these days. Everything we buy now has to have some grand, romantic story attached to it. From furniture to farmers’ markets, from apparel to accessories, stories sell. If you don’t know the name of the guy who made it and you can’t drop by his charming little Gepetto-style workshop on a whim, well, it’s just not worth having, is it? Of course, nowhere is this more true than at your local liquor store.

Let’s face it, wax seals and hand-written barrel numbers are the exact same thing as putting your vodka into a glass skull. It’s selling the bottle, not the spirit. (Although to be fair, there’s a lot of really good whiskies in some of those bottles, whereas all premium vodka is a joke.) In an era when every ultra-premium vodka has a celebrity pitchman, and every distiller in Kentucky is offering single barrel this and small batch that and putting the cute little hand-written batch numbers on the bottle, It can sometimes be hard to tell what’s inside, and whether it warrants its price tag. These days, everyone’s an artisan.

Spice Tree. The best way to warm up this winter.

John Glaser is an artisan. Take that statement for what it’s worth. Compass Box Whisky has a story. We’re not going to bother telling you the story. You can look it up on their site. It’s a lot of technical stuff about wood and blending and aging, which really is interesting if you’re into that sort of thing. What we are going to bother to do is to tell you that this stuff is really, really good.

Of the two lines that Compass Box produces, Signature and Limited Release, we’ve so far had a chance to try three different examples of their whisky. Each one was markedly different, but all were equally excellent. Bottles in the less expensive Signature line are generally available in the $35-$40 range, and compare favorably with bottles costing twice as much. To our palate, a Peat Monster is every bit as good as a Laphroaig, and We’d reach for an Oak Cross over a Glen-Whateveryoulike any day of the week. Seriously.

With Winter now firmly digging in, we’re in all-brown-liquor-all-the-time mode here at the Chophouse. We’re declaring Compass Box to be our house Scotch going forward, and by the time the Winter’s out we expect we’ll have three or four different bottles on hand. We suggest that when you head to the liquor store this weekend you go ahead and buy two or more bottles. They make a great holiday gift, but make sure to keep one for yourself.

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Best Bets: Christmas Shopping at the AVAM Sideshow

Remember the first time you ate at Paper Moon Diner? You were probably in your first year of college, or maybe it was even over the summer in high school. Remember how you had to put your name on a list, and amuse yourself outside for like half an hour while you waited for a table? Remember how all the girls were unabashed about making eyes at the dessert case and how it was a big discussion whether or not to sit in the smoking section?

Most of all, remember the first time you saw all those toys?

Of course you do. You had a good buzz on. Maybe you were even a little high, and you sat down in there and had to put forth a Herculean effort not to roam around the dining room touching everything you could reach, putting figures in dirty poses and telling everyone crap stories from your childhood. You did that. We all did that.

The Sideshow gift shop at the AVAM has toys for kids from 6 to 66.

That, Baltimore, is the very same feeling you will get the first time you step foot into the Sideshow, the gift shop at the American Visionary Art Museum.

Far from your typical museum gift shop, the Sideshow’s curiosities rival the museum itself. Part Dime Museum, part Toys-R-Us, and part Art Mart, this place is literally a one-stop non-mall Christmas shop with gifts for kids from six to sixty-six.

The last time the Chop was down that way, the Sideshow was closed because it was nighttime and the time before that the place was packed because the museum was free, so we didn’t spend as much time browsing and playing around as we might have liked, but we were definitely impressed enough that we’re planning to make a separate trip down there just to see the gift shop, which you can do without paying for admission to the museum.

This time we’re going to block out at least a solid hour for playing and perusing among their shelves, which are densely packed from floor to ceiling with everything from the highbrow (art books, tea sets) to the lowbrow (plastic dog poop, fake vomit) and everything in between. We can’t wait to get a proper look at all those toys, as well as their selection of original artworks and goods curated from around the world. We’re also especially interested in their archive of screen printed posters from indie rock shows around the country, which are art in their own right and suitable for framing.

We’re going to be bringing two lists with us when we go: one of the people we’ll need to shop for for Christmas, and a blank list for all the stuff in there we’re going to want.

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Sideshow at the Visionary is located at 800 Key Highway in Federal Hill. 443-872-4926. Of course, we’re not actually going today, because like everything else in this crummy town they are closed on Mondays. Their hours are Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-6pm.

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