It's almost December, and time to make up your holiday list of wonderful gifts to shower upon friends and family and all you can think of is ... bubkes. It's a complete blank, right? What the heck do these people really want? What would really make their day? Well, one thing's for sure: somebody else has probably already shopped for them at Restoration Hardware. Look instead to the odd, the quirky, the individual -- this list of eight items sure to tickle, delight, or maybe even teach self-survival skills.
SHOP, NOT SHOPPING
Be like Prometheus and bring the gift of fire to your fellow man -- and woman -- with welding classes at West Oakland's the Crucible. After all, who doesn't like a good blowtorch? After fears this über-industrial shop would fold after getting into hot water with the city of Berkeley last year, it moved to new digs in January 2003 and offers a full roster of classes in everything from welding to neon arts to woodworking. The new winter session schedule comes out in early December; classes run through March and range from $165 for a single class to $650 for a ten-session class on building your own propane forge. Your sis doesn't need a propane forge? Not to worry: There are plenty of classes for the beginning shop fiend.
1260 Eighth Street, Oakland, 510-444-0919. TheCrucible.org/classes
STUFF THAT'S STUFFED
For the person on your list who seemingly has it all, here's something that's gotta be new: taxidermy. Elmwood's Tail of the Yak has a limited supply of vaguely creepy but strangely appealing stuffed birds, bugs, and even a squirrel. These Victorian treats aren't cheap: an emu will set you back $2,500. Then again, it's an emu. Their tableau vivant of a whole load of birds and a lone squirrel set behind glass will have your loved one singing a happy tune -- no feeding or watering required! The artist-run store also has a whole variety of less pricey but still precious butterfly displays ranging from $375 to $500.
Tail of the Yak, 2632 Ashby Ave., Berkeley, 510-841-9891.
THE ART OF CRAFTS
If God really helps those who help themselves, then the deity must be feeling pretty wiped out since Berkeley-based ReadyMade magazine launched two years ago. The mag is a must for hip do-it- yourselfers, with easy-to-follow directions to make soap, absinthe, pillowcase skirts, coat racks -- you name it. ReadyMade is going bimonthly in 2004, making this the perfect time to order a gift kit subscription for crafty types. One year's worth of handyman nirvana along with a ReadyMade T-shirt and carpenter's pencil is $30.
2706 Eighth St., Berkeley, 510-549-6400. ReadyMadeMag.com
WHOLESOME, NOT FOLSOM
A golden palomino and an Old West-style poker diorama greet visitors to Golden Gate Westernwear in Richmond. This is the real deal, with Stetsons, cowboy boots galore, and beautifully embroidered Western shirts featuring yellow roses, musical notes, and more. But some of the best finds are upstairs with the tack (that's saddlespeak to you non-horse folk). Yes, they have chaps. Chaps that don't necessarily call to mind the Folsom Street Fair. Fringed suede chaps for that special someone will set you back about two hundred bucks, while even the littlest buckaroo can get his cowboy on with a red, white, and blue fringed suede chaps and vest set for $80.
12153 San Pablo Ave., Richmond, 510-232-3644. GoldenGateWesternWear.com
BITTER, BUT SWEET
What could say "group hug" more than a private tour at Berkeley's Scharffen Berger chocolate factory? Give thirty of your favorite kids-at-heart friends that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory feeling on a trip to visit the roaster and mélangeur (that's fancy French for mixer), who take cocoa beans and churn out delicious chocolate products (bittersweet is highly recommended). Private tours are given everyday at 11:30 a.m. and 1 p.m; reservations are necessary, and kids must be at least ten to take the tour -- remember what happened to Augustus Gloop. Private tours cost $30 for up to thirty guests, and include $1 gift certificates for each person to use in the factory store. That means two three-gram chocolate squares -- in bittersweet, semisweet, or mocha -- each!
914 Heinz Ave., Berkeley, 510-981-4066. ScharffenBerger.com
STUFFERS AND STOCKINGS
Got a pal who likes to spin a great yarn? Check out Oakland's Article Pract, a cozy and unintimidating knitting shop-cum-crafting school in Temescal. The store's name is a spoonerism for "practical art," and nothing could be more practical than the makings of a nice, warm, fuzzy scarf. Pick up a free pattern at the store's Web site, then jet to the store and ask the friendly, probably-knitting-behind-the-counter sales clerks to help you pick out an appropriate yarn in everything from wool to cashmere. For stocking stuffers, grab a handful of point protectors -- a two-holed device that prevents any knitting needle-type injury -- for fifty cents each.
5010 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 510-652-7435, ArticlePract.com
BANZAI FOR BONSAI
Master woodworkers are hoarding a secret: Japanese tools rock. And in addition to amazing saws and knives, Japanese garden tools also rock. So if you know someone who's into gardening -- really into gardening -- check out the not-your-ordinary-garden-tool hoes, hatchets, and clippers. In fact, nothing really beats gardening with a hatchet ($42 to $58). Plus, while you're picking up your gift for your green-thumbed friend, you can also buy some good-luck kitties for yourself.
Hida Japanese Tool Co., 1333 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley, 510-524-3700. HidaTool.com
Everyone loves accordions, right? Well, okay, at least some people love accordions. And if your giftee so happens to be one of the proud, the few, the squeezebox-inclined, head over to Smythe's Accordion Center pronto. If you're not ready to splurge on a thousand-buck beauty, check out Kimric Smythe's toy accordions, which come in three flavors: little, littler, and littlest. Button babies will set you back $16, while piano-keyed little and littler cost $70 and $27 respectively. On the largest little accordion, you can even play a whole sea chantey if you dare! While you're at Smythe's, you may as well pick up one of the last copies of Planet Squeezebox, a fabulous four-CD set of international accordion tunes (really!) that's now out of print.
Smythe's Accordion Center, 449B 23rd St., Oakland, 510-268-4084.
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