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Christmas Brings Annual Shopping Angst

Local business owner Julie Sandberg helps me narrow down the perfect gift.

What do you get your mother for your favorite gift-themed winter holiday? It’s that horrible, torturous feeling that attacks many a child once they get old enough to earn their own allowance.

Growing up, I revered my mother. Finding her a killer Christmas present was, well, not necessarily the highlight of my December, but close to it. That was reserved for the moment just before I surgically removed the wrapping from my present to see if that pin or whatever had been good enough to get a huge Lego pirate ship that year.

But there was a dark side to this, too. Gift giving was sometimes a competitive sport for me. Chalk it up to some kind of twisted, brotherly competitiveness, but I, as the responsible child, whose tastebuds had matured much faster than my younger sibling, almost relished.

I fretted and procrastinated—more like willfully forgot—if I didn’t divine what my mother might have wanted. More often than not, I wound up at a certain little gallery in my hometown on the evening of the last day of school before Christmas, feverishly poring over their cases of pins and necklaces to find something Mommy might wear to work.

By guess and by golly, I often found something that worked. But there were just as many misspent dollars as smashing successes. I like to think I’m a wiser child now, but I frequently find myself in the same spot. To find out how to dodge that bullet this season, I dropped by Jodi Sandberg’s shop in Tangletown, called A Little Bird on Grand. 

“Well, I usually want to know a couple of things,” Sandberg told me. “How do they carry themselves when they enter a room? Are they a ballerina? Do they make a statement?”

She strode over to a nearby rack of bracelets, picking out a mix of thin, brightly patterned resin ones and delicate-looking piano-wire pieces with just a hint of sparkle in one hand, and a chunky silver-plated thing in another, as examples.

“A few weeks ago, a man—a regular customer—came in looking for a present for his wife,” Sandberg said. “We started looking at these pieces: recycled silver made in lost-wax moldings, because she has something of an artistic side to her.”

She tapped a bowl of mixed rings with an index finger.

“But I thought this, was too much bling for her," she said, picking out one with a large crystal set on top.

"I would never picture her being this," she said next, setting the ring down and lifting up three plain bracelets joined together. She bounced them in her hand.

"She’s more the type where you look for the little flourishes.”

I think, if I’d known someone like Sandberg in my youth, the week before Christmas would have been much less stressful.

Now, if only my mother wore rings or bracelets.

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