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Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2007 04:27 am

Odds and ends

This year, give something uniquely Springfield —

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Untitled Document Don’t tell anybody, but Springfield really is an odd place — or, at least, there are many odd things about it. With gift-giving season officially in full swing, we gave ourselves the task of finding some Springfield oddities that would make dandy presents this holiday season. Invariably, the more we shopped, the more we found things we wouldn’t mind unwrapping ourselves this season. Here’s a sampling of things that struck our fancy.
Shabby chic Boasting an eclectic mix of the antique and contemporary, the festively lit and brightly painted Gi Gi’s Attic is a must on the list of hot Springfield shopping stops. The owners often remind their customers that, yes, that attractive green Bombay chest holding the Anne Geddes books is also for sale. Enchanted shoppers will find everything from vintage jewelry (ranging from $5 for simple charms to $85 for a lovely pink rhinestone bracelet) to funky black-and-white polka-dot lamps ($72) to a traditional mahogany drop-leaf table ($265). Swing in soon — sales are plentiful and the gift wrapping’s free. Gi Gi’s Attic, 1425 S. MacArthur Blvd., 217-793-0967
No monkeying around You can avoid the mall, the crowds, and the chaos by doing your Christmas shopping in practical places. Take Big R, for example. We found such stocking stuffers as a 9-inch-long double-barreled-shotgun lighter for $3.49. It’s not for the cig smoker (nobody cool smokes these days); it’s for the grillmaster in your life or anybody who has a real old-fashioned wood-burning fireplace. We don’t want to suggest whose stocking you should stuff with Anti-Monkey Butt Powder ($4.49), but it comes in a cute yellow-and-red canister, and it’s bound to bring a grin to the face of somebody on your holiday list. Got any cooks on your Christmas list? Big R has gizmos galore, and not the same ol’ same ol’ stuff you see at the big-box stores. Where else can you get a cherry stoner ($11.99)? Or a hand-cranked meat grinder ($12.99)? Or an Apple-Mate ($15.99), one of those cool thingamajigs that peels and cores an apple while transforming it into a corkscrew of crunchy sweetness? Trust us — when you elevate apple-peeling into gadgetry, you can even get surly teenagers to abandon their video games and cell phones long enough to make apple curls for everyone. For macho cooks, Big R sells an assortment of seasoning and drying kits to help make sausage or jerky. And to help holiday dinner conversations go uninterrupted by “Pass the salt” or “Please pass the butter,” Big R stocks some spacious 18-inch lazy Susans crafted from beautiful solid wood that would look great on almost any dining table. Finally, if you’ve got a deserving tyke to treat, Big R has a surprising array of toys unlike anything else you’ll find in town, including an entire aisle devoted to Radio Flyer’s fine line of red wagons and accessories. Big R of Springfield, 2804 N. Dirksen Pkwy., 217-528-6675
Shake, rattle, and roll Looking for the perfect gift for the fun, flirty, and feminine? Look no further — try belly-dance classes! Send her to Karida’s School of Orientale Dance, where gift certificates are available for such classes as Intro to Bellydance ($40 for four weeks) and Level 1 Bellydance ($68 for eight weeks) or for a Girls’ Day Out, during which she and five of her friends can take a one-hour basic bellydance lesson and give a performance ($85). Gift certificates can also be used in Karida’s Bellydance Boutique, located inside the school, for exotic hip scarves and performance costumes ($25 and up) to show off in her new classes. Karida’s School of Orientale Dance, 1432 E. Sangamon Ave., 217-241-8370, www.karidazahava.com
Charm school Etiquette is about more than just knowing which fork to use. It’s a lifestyle, according to Keena Small, who operates Keena’s Etiquette and Business Protocol. “The art of etiquette is no longer valued. It doesn’t seem important anymore to say ‘Please’ and ‘Thank you’ and to be courteous,” says Small, who specializes in training people, often children and young adults, in what she calls the soft skills — projecting a positive self image, enunciation, and common courtesy. These skills are in especially high demand around this time of year as and families prepare for holiday meals and the frequency of employer-sponsored events increases. Through Jan. 1, Small is offering inexpensive dinner-training courses. She even offers a 16-hour Royal Protocol seminar, which focuses on etiquette, image enhancement, and wellness. Gift certificates and telephone and online coaching are also available. Keena’s Etiquette and Business Protocol, Chatham, 217-483-7370, keenasetiquette@aol.com

Hiding in plain sight We found some cool gifts at Farm & Home Supply, which has a stunning array of camo. We’re not just talking your ho-hum pants, shirts, jackets, hats, gloves, and bibs, either. No, we’re talking a camouflage recliner. That’s right, a recliner. How you hoist it up onto the deer stand is your problem. Farm & Home can also outfit even the tiniest hunter, offering camo onesies, camo diaper covers, and infant-size camo pinafores trimmed in white eyelet lace. We don’t know whether your 18-point buck would see the lace before or after smelling the Desitin and hearing the baby cry. But what would you care? You’d probably be dozing in your camo recliner. For those people who have to have a gift even though you don’t really want to give them one, Farm & Home is Monopoly central. There’s a bastardization of the classic game for every hobby or interest: Farm-opoly, Horse-opoly, Wild Turkey-opoly, White Tail Deer-opoly, and (for people unfamiliar with the truth about Springfield) even Mayberry-opoly. The most popular version at Farm & Home is apparently Fishin’-opoly. Customers who buy Fishin’-opoly might want to also pick up Farm & Home’s 5-foot-long fish pillow (a great photo prop for the unsuccessful fisherman), available in catfish and largemouth bass varieties for $14.99 (it’s in the toy section). If there’s a lady you like, she’ll definitely enjoy a Milkhouse Candle Creamery candle from Farm & Home. These candles are made of soy and beeswax, so they’re not sooty, and every scent Milkhouse makes smells great (we’re partial to Barn Dance). The votives cost $2.99; sizes and prices go up from there. Farm & Home Supply, 2900 N. Dirksen Pkwy., 217-753-3276, www.farmandhomesupply.com.
Share the spirits Walking into The Corkscrew might leave you feeling a little overwhelmed, especially if you aren’t exactly a wine connoisseur, but don’t fret; the store’s veteran staff of nine years and counting immediately come to the rescue. Just by asking a few simple questions — Red or white? Sweet or dry? Snacks or sweets? — they can design a custom-made gift basket that’s wrapped and ready to put under the tree. Baskets range from a holiday-inspired collection with a bottle of $10-or-under wine and chocolates ($35), to an Italian-themed arrangement with a bottle of Italian red wine, pasta, sauce, breadsticks, and chocolates ($50). The Corkscrew, which specializes in fresh imported cheeses, can also provide cheese-and-sausage platters for your holiday parties ($35 and up).
The Corkscrew, 2613 Chatham Rd., 217-698-1112, www.thecorkscrew.com

The ghosts of politics past Ah, the sounds of the season: the Temptations, Bing Crosby, Nat Cole King . . . Everett Dirksen? Before podcasting, before the invention of compact discs, even, it was fairly common for the voices of American political figures to appear on vinyl, and Illinois has been home to a several giants of politics and history, including Honest Abe, the Great Communicator, and a vice president, governor, and U.S. senator all named Adlai Stevenson. Listening to these historical recordings is a great way to usher in the upcoming election year. Recycled Records offers a wide selection of recordings by and about former Illinois pols, ranging in price from $12 for Stevenson’s The Voice of the Common Man to $30 for Freedom’s Finest Hour, narrated by Ronald Reagan. Recycled Records, 625 E. Adams St., 217-522-5122
For your favorite cowpoke At Horse Creek Outfitters you can deck your favorite cowboy or cowgirl with bling — jewelry, rhinestone belts and bags, even cell-phone cases made of tooled leather and adorned with rhinestones. Of course, the main attraction here is the boots — boots for every size and taste. Horse Creek is the only local retailer that stocks our favorite, Ariat’s “Fatbaby” line. Not your grandmother’s stiff pointy-toed cowboy boot, Fatbaby boots are low-heeled, round-toed and rubber-soled, and they weigh about as much as a running shoe. Sound hideous? They’re not. They come in an array of leathers, from traditional black and brown bomber to pinks and greens and camo with rhinestones ($99). At Horse Creek we also found a few Western-themed Christmas stockings (one made of Wrangler jeans) and a way cool infrared shoot-’em-up set for the child (no matter how old) in your life ($30.95). Horse Creek Outfitters is at 600-A S. Dirksen Pkwy. 217-544-2740
Divine intervention Whoever said that you couldn’t open presents early obviously didn’t know that Springfield’s very-own cheesecake bakery is set to move into downtown just in time for the holidays. The creators of the newest spot for all things cheesecake offer a full line of ’em, fresh, made from scratch, and made to order, including a season-inspired sweet-potato-praline cheesecake, featuring sweet-potato filling flavored with cinnamon and brown sugar on a gingersnap crust, topped with praline sauce and toasted-pecan streusel ($35). Other sweet confections, such as cheesecake-stuffed strawberries ($25 per dozen), cheesecake truffles ($20 per dozen), and cheesecake buckeyes ($8 per dozen), are available, too. Orders can be placed online or over the phone until the bakery opens, and local or national delivery can be provided for most items. Dulce Vida Bakery & Cafe, 321 E. Monroe, 217-753-8930, www.allthingscheesecake.com
         
Dough for the Breadline St. John’s Breadline serves more than 200,000 meals each year. The Breadline’s importance to Springfield was further demonstrated when city officials asked the agency this spring to house a storage container because the days of many people in Springfield who don’t have homes begin and end at the Breadline. Staff and volunteers also maintain a comunity garden to prepare meals with fresh vegetables. Now that the growing season has ended, the Breadline, which offers two meals a day year-round, would like donations of veggies and fresh herbs (and food in general). Community-services coordinator Carol Harms says that around the holidays the staff also likes to give away blankets and have toys on hand for the kids. Of the shut-ins to whom the Breadline delivers food, Harms says, “We like to give them something Christmassy to lift their spirits” in addition to their meals. Donors may also make a memorial gift in the name of a loved one. To see the wish lists for other Springfield charities, see “Lend a hand” page 13.
St. John’s Breadline, 430 N. Fifth St., 217-528-6098
It’s still a helluva town To heck with Twentieth Century Fox — and the state of Vermont. There’s only one Simpsonville, USA, and it’s right here in central Illinois. The Simpsons Movie, whose world premier our burg narrowly lost the opportunity to host this summer, will be available on DVD one week before Christmas (Dec. 18). All pain and bitterness aside, it was a pretty good movie, so you can pick it up wherever movies are sold. Plus, local retailers such as Penny Lane Gifts and Twisted Pipes carry a totally awesome selection of posters, T-Shirts, stickers, and more, for the Springfield Simpsons-phile. Penny Lane Gifts, 2901 S. MacArthur Blvd., 217-787-2996, www.pennylane.com
Twisted Pipes, 406 N. Dirksen Pkwy.,
217-744-0420


This story was written by  R.L. Nave, Dusty Rhodes, and Amanda Robert.
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