advertisementSmiley face

Whether we’re ready or not, it’s the holidays again. That means (for those who choose to participate) that some well-worn practice of frantic holiday shopping is in order.

And why wouldn’t it be? It’s been a trying year, where worries about health, the environment, the political climate and economic issues all seemed to collide. The holiday season can be a nice reminder for us to slow down and show some care for the people we love and appreciate.

Gifts are not the only way to do that for those people, or even the best way. But we at the Phoenix concede that the convention of gift-giving can feel pretty good. We think it feels even better when we can support our local economies while we’re doing it. And, since supply-chain issues and inflation have been such dominant themes this year, doing it on a budget feels best of all.

So this year, four Phoenix staffers set out on a challenge. The goal was to buy three holiday gifts in greater Portland that reflected some genuine care and thoughtfulness, and which collectively totaled no more than $50. 

Our crew — editor Marian McCue, staff writers Evan Edmonds and Colin Ellis, and sales executive Natalie Haberman Ladd — spent the week scouring the city for treasures that would delight their friends, families and adoring pets. Here’s what they found.

Evan Edmonds, staff writer

Devenny pottery
A selection of Devenney Pottery items, made by a family of artists in Jefferson, sits on a shelf at Lisa-Marie’s Made in Maine. (Portland Phoenix/Evan Edmonds)

Item #1: Bird Dish
Price: $18
Location: Lisa-Marie’s Made in Maine, Portland

I consider myself fortunate to have succeeded in my one-stop-shop goal. I got all my gifts at Lisa-Marie’s Made in Maine, a family-owned store on Exchange Street that specializes in products crafted in Maine by Maine artists. I started with a little dish — courtesy of Devenney Pottery, based in Jefferson. The couple, Mary and Joe, make mugs and more but for my sister, a sophomore at the University of New Hampshire, I figured a piece of Maine could add some color to that dorm room. Maybe she can leave her keys or some jewelry in there, or whatever college kids carry around these days (said the 2021 UNH grad).

Wild Rosie tea towels
Tea towels by Wild Rosie, a wife-and-husband duo of artists Nina Devenney and Patrick Ralls, at Lisa-Marie’s Made in Maine. Nina is the daughter of Mary and Joe Devenney, potters from Jefferson whose wares are also at the shop. (Portland Phoenix/Evan Edmonds)

Item #2: Strawberry Tea Towel
Price: $22
Location: Lisa-Marie’s Made in Maine, Portland

For my English dad — infinitely difficult to shop for — and stepmom’s new apartment, I picked out a tea towel with a strawberry design. I loved the art from Wild Rosie artist Nina Devenney and knew it would be a perfect fit when I learned that Nina is Mary and Joe’s (above) daughter! This talented family is a great story to be revisited later. And for now, I’m thinking about how my dad won’t have the tea towel to mop up any spilled drinks from the big England vs. France World Cup match (it’s coming home!).

a locally designed heart magnet
A heart Magnet by Love Rocks ME artist Ellen Thayer, completed Evan Edmonds’ one-stop holiday shop at Lisa-Marie’s Made in Maine. (Portland Phoenix/Evan Edmonds)

Item #3: Heart magnet
Price: $6.50
Location: Lisa-Marie’s Made in Maine, Portland

With just $10 to spare, I found the perfect stocking-stuffer for my better half. We moved to Portland about six months ago, and I think the heart magnet from Love Rocks Me artist Ellen Thayer is a great memento to commemorate our time so far in Maine. What’s cool about Thayer’s work is that she’s collected heart-shaped rocks for years, and uses those to form and photograph her designs. December’s warm weather so far hasn’t felt super “Christmas-y” but picking out handcrafted gifts from these talented Mainers definitely did.

Total cost: $46.50

Colin Ellis, staff writer

golden girls socks
Phoenix staff writer Colin Ellis found these Golden Girls socks at the Hallmark Store and intends to give them to his sister. (Portland Phoenix/Colin Ellis)

Item #1: Golden Girls socks
Price: $15
Location: The Hallmark Store, Portland

My sister has a few favorite things. She loves Fran Drescher in “The Nanny.” She loves Danny and Sandy in “Grease.” She loves Patrick Swayze in “Dirty Dancing” (and nobody putting Baby in a corner). And she loves “The Golden Girls.” So, when I came across these socks, I knew she’d be a fan.

a bag of gourmet dog treats
There’s no chance that Max, Colin’s dog, will be disappointed to find this bag of treats in his stocking stuffer. (Portland Phoenix/Colin Ellis)

Item #2: Gibson’s Prairie Bison dog treats
Price: $14
Location: Loyal Companion, Portland

My four-legged roommate Max has some refined tastes, so he’s a hard dog to shop for. But one thing he loves is an expensive treat. So, for the holidays, your run-of-the-mill snausages wouldn’t do, and I stopped in at Loyal Companion.

bottles of gourmet olive oil and balsamic vinegar
LeRoux Kitchen has a nice selection of olive oil and balsamic vinegar bottles, perfect for Colin’s mother. (Portland Phoenix/Colin Ellis)

Item #3: LeRoux Kitchen balsamic vinegar (375 mL)
Price: $19
Location: LeRoux Kitchen, Portland

I went to college in Vermont, and one of the things my mom loved about visiting me was it gave her a chance to go to an olive oil and balsamic vinegar store. That’s all they sold, different kinds of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. I couldn’t get my act in gear to get to Vermont to get her a bottle, but luckily, I knew a spot that was just as good.

Total cost: $48

Natalie Haberman Ladd, sales executive

a thesaurus
A worn copy of this sophisticated thesaurus found at Goodwill makes a good gift for Phoenix production manager Suzanne Piecuch. (Portland Phoenix/Natalie Haberman Ladd)

Item #1: Specialty thesaurus
Price: $3
Location: Goodwill, Falmouth

Gut instinct and divine intervention guides my gift-giving mojo and it was the latter that led me to “The Highly Selective Thesaurus for the Extraordinarily Literate,” by Eugene Ehrlich. This used hardcover book was face forward on the shelf at Goodwill in Falmouth and I knew at once it was meant for Suzanne, the Phoenix’s production manager. Suz’s headshot should be next to the word “Bibliophile” in the dictionary because she adores books, word etymology, tricky puns and nuanced meanings. The three dollar price tag is a bonus since the frugalness will thrill her, even though I would have paid more for such a well matched gift. 

Aura on Center St. in Portland
The nightclub Aura, on Center Street, runs a two-for-one ticket special on certain winter shows, prompting Natalie Haberman Ladd to grab a pair so that she and a friend can see an Eagles cover band in February. (Photo courtesy Aura via Facebook)

Item #2: Two-for-one concert tickets for an Eagles cover band
Price: $15 (plus $14 for drinks at the show)
Location: Aura, Portland

When it comes to BFF, our mutual gifting goal is “to do rather than have.” That’s why the two-for-one concert ticket special offered by Aura in Portland was a no-brainer. The deal is limited to three different shows. As for BFF, I bought us two general admission tickets to the Dark Desert Eagles for $15. Singing along to “Life in the Fast Lane” with an acclaimed Eagles tribute band is our idea of big fun. And, I’ll have cash left over for adult beverages. 

beeswax-based paw protector for dogs
An all-natural beeswax-based paw protector, found at Maine Street Bee in Freeport, will help Natalie’s dog Mellie walk the city streets this winter. (Portland Phoenix/Natalie Haberman Ladd)

Item #3: Beeswax-based paw protector
Price: $18
Location: Maine Street Bee, Freeport

This Paw Protector from Maine Street Bee in Freeport tops the list for my other BFF, my sweet dog Mellie. Made locally with beeswax and Fair Trade ingredients it comes in an earth-friendly, mess-free push-up tube. Just as I need to slather moisturizer on myself, I also have to protect Mellie’s paws from the buildup of snow and ice between her toes as well as prevent cuts caused by salt and ice. Mellie loves a good four-paw massage after a long day at doggie day care and Paw Protector is our functional beauty product of choice.

Total cost: $36 (plus $14 worth of drinks) = $50

Marian McCue, editor

baby hat and mittens
A lovely set of hand-knit baby hat and mittens, found at a holiday church fair in Falmouth, makes a good gift for Phoenix editor Marian McCue’s newborn nephew. (Portland Phoenix/Marian McCue)

Item #1: Hand-knit hat and mittens
Price: $8
Location: Holiday fair at St. Mary’s Church in Falmouth

For the discerning holiday shopper, nothing beats a good church fair. There are trinkets and handmade items for sale, plus baked goods, especially the Cookie Walk. (I do a cookie sprint.) My own church, Saint Mary’s in Falmouth, puts on one of the best; two Saturdays ago, eager shoppers lined up in the pouring rain for more than a half hour before the doors opened.

I work at the fair with a highly skilled team of cashiers. I acquired my change-making skills during a yearlong stint behind the cash register at the famed Bartley’s Burger Cottage in Harvard Square. These skills come in handy, as the early hours of a church fair resemble the happy scrum of Filene’s Basement.

My goal at this year’s church fair was to find cute baby apparel for my new great nephew, Michael, born in November in Austin, Texas. I was happy to find a nice little blue-and-green hand-knit item, a little hat and mittens.

Phoenix production manager Suzanne Piecuch in the office
Phoenix production manager Suzanne Piecuch made out like a bandit this year, netting two gifts on this holiday challenge. Here she stands in the Phoenix office with her gift of mini-bottles of liquor. (Portland Phoenix/Marian McCue)

Item #2: Set of 50 mL miniature adult beverages
Price: $8
Location: Walgreens

We are blessed with a great small team here at the Phoenix, and every member plays a crucial role in producing this news product. Our production manager, Suzanne, is our nerve center and production guru who assembles the paper to send to the printer and post online.

To cope with these pressures, a small bottle of a strong, brown, adult beverage lurks in her drawer. I thought I should replenish her supply. The local Walgreens carries an extremely attractive display of tiny liquor bottles. I purchased a set of 50 mL bottles of Tito’s vodka, Jim Beam bourbon and Dewar’s scotch for her. 

a book of Maine trivia
A copy of Maine Trivia: A Storyteller’s Useful Guide to Useless Information, by John McDonald and Dean Lunt, makes a great gift for Marian’s nephew Will and his family, who are stationed abroad. (Portland Phoenix/Marian McCue)

Item #3: Book of Maine Trivia
Price: $21.95
Location: Maine Historical Society gift shop

My nephew, Will, and his family are stationed abroad in Jordan. In my gift-giving to them I try to send reminders of their home state of Maine, which they miss and look forward to vacations here. A visit to the Maine Historical Society gift shop on Congress Street is a great place to find those Maine items, from pine soap to an unrivaled collection of books about our state. 

And I know my nephew’s family likes to keep their brains fresh with Maine knowledge, so a book of Maine Trivia seemed perfect. Written by professional storyteller John McDonald and Islandport Press publisher Dean Lunt, the book includes such questions as “What forgetful singer sang a tortured version of the National Anthem at the Clay Liston heavyweight bout in Lewiston?” (Answer: Robert Goulet, who forgot some of the lyrics.) Another: What is the most overused place name in Maine? (Answer: Mud Pond.)

Total cost: $37.95

Smiley face