The holiday spirit of excess and indulgence doesn't sit well with this bleeding-heart liberal, especially when it's corporate America that ultimately reaps the bounty. So here's a list of things I really want, the purchase of which benefits local nonprofits and businesses. This way, both the giver and givee can feel good about stimulating the local economy. Even better, sometimes the goodwill extends way beyond Orlando.
After a visit to the Mayan-influenced chapel and gardens at Maitland Art Center (www.maitlandartcenter.org; 407-539-2181), it's always tempting to bring a piece of it home. Of course, you can't without vandalizing a historic landmark, but the gift shop does offer a regular supply of similarly inspired decorative cement pavers that are locally made (but they won't say by whom). The top seller and most expensive is the square sunburst ($29.95). Also offered are a series of octagon shapes bearing imprints of Mayan masks ($19.95). There's an empty spot in my garden just waiting for a sunburst. And if more than a few make their way under the tree, a walkway to anywhere would be stunning. (Occasionally, when a new shipment arrives, there are some cracked or broken "seconds" for sale for as low as two for $10 and they sell out real quick.)
Navajo weavings in general bring together two criteria that make sense to me they're made to take a beating and thus last forever, and they're beautiful from every standpoint. The brightly colored patterns appear at once ancient and contemporary, though they are distinctly recognizable as Native American in origin. As part of its current exhibit, Art of the Navajo, which will continue through Jan. 5, the Mennello Museum of American Art (www.mennellomuseum.com; 407-246-4278) is carrying a small selection of saddle blankets that make for striking wall-hangings. My eyes went right for the aged ones that carry a price tag of somewhere between $700 for a 2-by-3-foot weaving from the 1930s and $1,350 for a 3-by-5 weaving from the 1950s. To understand the intrinsic value of the gift, it would be nice to have a copy of Navajo Saddle Blankets: Textiles To Ride in the American West edited by Lane Coulter ($29.95) that's also sold at the museum.
The mounting number of dead, diseased and starving people in war-torn South Africa can't be ignored any longer I don't know how President Bush sleeps at night. The problem is so ugly in a country filled with so many rich aesthetic traditions, such as hand-beaded Ndebele dolls sold at the Orlando Museum of Art gift shop. As the legacy goes, the dolls were presented to young Ndebele girls as part of their initiation into womanhood, but now they are made and sold by scores of indigenous collectives. The Ndebele tribe has always been noted for its artistic culture and distinct fashion the women wear a grouping of metal rings around their necks and native attire is adorned with colorful beads. OMA carries a variety of doll sizes (from a couple of inches to a couple of feet tall) and styles (from a stiff ceremonial maiden to carefree rasta girls). My favorites were the tiny angels with halos ($6) and the hand-sized sangoma ($16). The sangoma appeals to me as much for the visual as the story printed on an attached note: "The sangoma is an important specialist, a diviner who claims contact with the ancestral spirits. It is believed that she reveals the will of the spirits. The sangoma is revered as the protector of society, and her opinion and judgment are highly valued." Buying the dolls may be just a drop in the bucket, but that's how it starts.
There are also a number of relief efforts where donations could be made on my behalf (such as www.artaidsafrica.com), and that would be a gift that would make me sleep better at night.
Sleep is a wonderful thing and if you're fussy about what touches your skin, you'll understand why I want the PJs made from organic cotton by the all-women Apopka startup company Chandler & Greene Inc. (www.chandlergreene.com; 407-786-3784). The catalog came out just before Thanksgiving and shows eight signature styles from founders Barbara Greene and Sheila Chandler. Each design itself is offered in different types of cotton (it's not all the same) and either white or ecru colors. The company starts with organic cotton grown in New Mexico, which goes to Switzerland to be turned into yarn, then to North Carolina to be turned into cloth, then on to the cut-and-sew facility in Hialeah. One couldn't go wrong with the tank top and shorts made from the "interlock" design ($45 made from combed, ring-spun jersey or rib, $50 pima) or the tunic ($40, combed, ring-spun wide rib knit). These lovelies are built for a lifetime of sweet dreams sans guilty conscience, and there couldn't be a better gift than that.