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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: It's the time of year to consider what to buy people for Christmas gifts. As a senior who is also handicapped, I would like you to know about one of the nicest gifts I ever received.

Last year, my neighbors presented me with a calendar. They told me to circle one day each month when they could take me out to dinner. I selected the 15th. They pick me up and take me to a nice restaurant I could never afford. I greatly enjoy their company.

Each time I get into their car -- even in July -- I wish them a Merry Christmas. -- SENIOR IN RICHMOND HEIGHTS, OHIO

DEAR SENIOR: What a terrific idea. It seems no sooner are the dishes put away from Thanksgiving dinner than it's time to start Christmas and Hanukkah shopping. And that means it's time to publish my list of gift ideas for senior citizens.

Readers, if you plan on sending holiday gifts, first let me tell you what NOT to send. Forget the cologne, aftershave and dusting powders unless you have first checked to see if they are welcome. Scents are highly distinctive (no pun intended), and not every perfume works on every person.

Never give a pet to anyone unless you are absolutely certain the person wants one and is able to properly care for it.

Do not give wine or liquor to people unless you're sure they imbibe.

Candy, nuts, confections and fruitcakes make beautiful gifts for folks who aren't counting calories, but have compassion for those who are, and don't lead them into temptation.

With the price of groceries going through the roof, many people on fixed incomes would appreciate a gift basket of goodies. How about small cans of tuna and chicken? Also include crackers, assorted flavored instant coffees, herbal teas, soup mixes and cookies.

Gift certificates are always welcome: for groceries, haircuts, manicures, dry cleaning, restaurant meals, theater tickets, videos and department stores. And don't forget prepaid long-distance calling cards.

Not all seniors drive, so bus passes and coupons for senior transportation or taxis are always welcome.

Large-print calendars with family birthdays, anniversaries, etc., marked and personalized with family photos make useful gifts, as do large-print address books with information transferred from the recipient's records.

Payment of utilities for a month or two can be sent directly to the utility -- then let the recipients know they have "extra" money to spend as they wish.

A cordless phone or answering machine is a handy gift.

Membership in a gym if the person wants to exercise.

A magnifying glass.

A cuddly robe and slippers with non-skid soles.

Sweatpants, sweatshirts and jogging shoes.

For someone who has a pet, send it a treat -- a can of dog or cat food, or a rawhide chewstick or catnip toy.

A subscription to a magazine or newspaper you know the person will enjoy is a thoughful gift.

Because medications are expensive, a gift certificate to the neighborhood pharmacy would be much appreciated. (Trust me.)

Stationery and stamps come in handy year-round. If you send them, be sure to include felt-tipped pens, too.

Loneliness is the ultimate poverty. Holidays can be depressing for people who are alone. So, if you know someone who could use an outing, give him or her the best gift of all -- an invitation to have a meal with you and your family.

If you ain't givin', you ain't livin'!

Dear Abby is written by Pauline Phillips and daughter Jeanne Phillips.

To order "How to Write Letters for All Occasions," send a business-sized, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds) to: Dear Abby -- Letter Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

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