DEAR READERS: The bells are ringing and the air is brisk with winter chill. If you haven't already started, it's time to compile those Christmas lists once again. Every year readers ask me to suggest thoughtful gifts for seniors -- especially those living on fixed incomes.
First, a gentle warning: Do not send cologne, aftershave or scented bath powder, unless you're sure it's welcome. Scents are highly personal; not every perfume works on every person.
Never give a pet to anyone unless you have made absolutely certain the person wants one and can properly care for it.
Unless you're sure they imbibe, refrain from giving alcoholic beverages to people. Also, while candy, nuts and holiday confections make beautiful gifts for those who are not counting calories, please show compassion for those who must, and lead them not into temptation.
Many folks on fixed incomes would welcome a gift basket of goodies. Include small cans of tuna, chicken or stew; assorted flavored instant coffee and herbal teas; soup mixes, crackers, cookies, nuts, dried fruit and hot breakfast cereal. Or fill their freezer with frozen homemade meals that can be microwaved in minutes.
Gift certificates can be a godsend. Give gift certificates for groceries, haircuts, manicures, massages, dry cleaning, restaurant meals, video rentals and department stores. Tickets make great gifts -- to movies, concerts, the opera, a play (could be at a local community theater) and sporting events.
Homemade coupons for "Honey-do's" (Honey, do this -- and Honey, do that) make thoughtful presents. Create some that are redeemable for chores such as window washing, painting, gardening; washing, waxing and car detailing; replacing light bulbs, cleaning ceiling fans, changing air-conditioning filters; moving heavy furniture for spring and fall cleaning, and transportation for shopping or doctor's visits, etc.
Because not all seniors drive, bus passes and coupons for senior transportation or taxis can come in handy.
Prepayment of utilities for a month or two can be sent directly to the utility company. Then inform the recipients they'll have "extra" money to spend as they wish. We all know medications are notoriously expensive. A gift certificate to the neighborhood pharmacy would be greatly appreciated.
For pet owners, remember their furry, four-legged family member with a treat -- a can of dog or cat food or a rawhide chew stick or catnip toy. (They'll lap it up!)
A subscription to a magazine or newspaper you know the person will enjoy is a gift that keeps on giving. Large-print calendars with family birthdays, anniversaries, etc., marked and personalized with family photographs, are welcome, as are large-print address books with information transferred from the recipient's records.
Give a small radio or remote-controlled television, if finances permit. A cordless phone or answering machine makes a practical gift as well.
Other suggestions: a cuddly robe, slippers or socks with non-skid soles, sweatpants and sweatshirts, and stationery (be sure to include felt-tipped pens and lots of stamps).
And remember, the holidays can be a depressing time for people who are alone. If someone you know could use an outing, give that person the most meaningful gift of all -- an invitation to have a meal with you and your family. The greatest gift you can give is a gift of yourself.