12 Months of Christmas 

The gift guide that keeps on giving

You could make the argument, based on the pre-Christmas starting line threatening to supplant Halloween on the holiday calendar, that the gift-giving season is too long. Not us. We think it’s entirely too short to accommodate the true fullness of our giving (and getting) natures.

Why (expense aside—and since Christmas is mostly about fantasy of one sort or another anyway, let’s not fret over expense if we don’t have to) not give a gift for every month? Why not be thought of nicely 12 times a year, not just once?

We tried to make it easy for you and we tried to have a little fun. We found 12 gift-of-the-month clubs we wouldn’t mind finding ourselves signed up for, and most transactions can be effected via Internet.

But just because you can pump money into an anonymous economy without leaving wherever you keep your computer doesn’t mean you don’t need an announcement gift, something to put in the box to put under the tree, or to hand off over coffee some morning soon. So we’ve recommended a locally purchasable teaser to accompany each idea. For the right person, and with the appropriate budget, they’d make fine and dandy gifts all by themselves.

But whatever you give, or don’t give, or get, or don’t get for Christmas this year, don’t miss the opportunity to let someone know they make your yearlong days better. They’ll appreciate it.

Thrill the Griller
Barbecue Tool of the Month Club
Toll-free: (800) 630-8665

It’s a common sight during the grilling season: barbecue MCs roasting their knuckles while using a fork to roll the brats over and melting the end of their plastic spatula flipping burgers, all over a barely scraped grill.

The lack of proper utensils doesn’t stop most of us from cranking up the grill and gobbling up whatever greasy meat lands on our plates, but the backyard chef in your life could do much better.

The Tool of the Month Club’s barbecue tool club is a good way to set them up proper. It’s got all the basics: a fancy baster, a stainless steel spatula, tongs and, thankfully, a grill brush. It’s also got tools that could transform a rank amateur into a serious barbecue gourmet: a mechanized meat tenderizer, a chile grill for making jalapeño poppers and an assortment of sauces.

The Tool of the Month Club’s barbecue tool club can be purchased in three-month increments, starting at $45.99 and going all the way to $183.46 for the full year of implements.

It’s no stretch to suggest that the recipient’s barbecued food output will actually taste better as a result of your gift, especially after the last three seasons worth of char is scraped from the grill.

Localize it: To make sure your giftee’s raw materials are up to snuff with his or her gustatory gadgets, stop by Farm to Market Pork in Kalispell. The company raises and butchers its pigs locally, without hormones or antibiotics, and sells bratwurst, chorizo, roasts, ribs, chops, whole hogs and every other imaginable pork product. Call toll-free: (866) 747-1739 or visit www.farmtomarketpork.com.

Cheesehead’s Delight
WisconsinMade’s Gourmet Food of the Month Club
Toll-free: (877) 947-6233

You may not have kids. It’s conceivable you don’t even have a dog. But if you live in Missoula, you’ve definitely got friends from Wisconsin, whose stated population of 5,536,201 would be substantially higher if all the cool ones hadn’t long ago moved into comfortable exile here, where they yap on sadly about the Packers and break out their not-so-secret bratwurst recipes at the pop of a Milwaukee’s Best.

What to get them? Wisconsin Made.com offers a selection of Wisco-centric whatever-of-the-month options, including cheese of the month, chocolate of the month, ice cream of the month, kringle of the month and pie of the month, but you’ll get the broadest bang for your buck by signing your nostalgia-state buddies up for WisonsinMade’s Gourmet Food of the Month Club, which spreads the love (you’ll need your own tablecloth) across the whole year with monthly mailings of cheddar cheese, flavored pancake mixes, Applewood-smoked bacon, maple syrup, summer sausage, cranberry grilling sauce, garlic- and jalapeño-stuffed olives, hot mustard, cherry salsa, smoked brats from Nueske’s, cranberry chutney, and clover-, raspberry- and cinnamon-flavored honey crèmes, whatever those are. They sound sweet.

WisconsinMade.com offers subscriptions in increments of three months ($70), six months ($145), nine months ($199) and 12 months ($260) so you can calibrate your giftage to the precise quantity it’ll take to keep your cheesehead friends sufficiently occupied with motherland morsels to allow you, the thoughtful one, a tolerable level of reprieve from their otherwise incessant mouthing about some guy named Brett Favre. Apparently he used to be a quarterback or something.

Localize it: Even the best cheese won’t cure what ails a homesick Wisconsinite. Attach their flagging fortunes to a real winner with Griz gear, available in all possible shapes and sizes—though only one color—from the University of Montana bookstore in the UC Center, (888) 333-1995.

Gift on a Stick
The Blue Quill Angler’s Fly of the Month Club
(800) 435-5353

Fly-fishing, like hunting, mushroom picking and gambling, is a hobby based on patience, expectation and eventual payoff.

The earth turns, glaciers advance and recede, wars are won and lost, and the fly-fisher casts and casts, building anticipation, until bam!—the electric jolt of a big trout sends a shock up his or her line. There’s a too-brief moment of ecstatic reeling, netting and unhooking, a quick photo snapped to remind them later that fish can actually be caught, and then it’s back to casting.

As a gift for the holidays, The Blue Quill Angler’s Fly of the Month Club plays right into the mentality of the fly-fisher. While fly-fishers await the coming season they can stare at their new flies, which arrive in sets of either six ($119.95) or 12 ($199.95) each month. According to Blue Quill’s website, the flies are all premium quality, and come tied to chemically sharpened hooks. By the time the season starts, the recipient of your largesse will have a pile of flies to test. And once those have been tried, they can anticipate a new shipment each month.

Localize it: If you’d like to help the fly-fisher in your life shorten the time between anticipation and landing a big fish, check into lessons and guided tours in the Flathead. At least 18 companies in the valley offer lessons and tours geared to accommodate a range of abilities.

Deformity on the Installment Plan
Unfortunate Animal of the Month Club

Do you have a sibling who tears up (or laughs inappropriately) at the Island of Misfit Toys scene in “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer”? Test the boundaries of their sympathy (or the depths of their morbidity) with a subscription to the Unfortunate Animal of the Month Club, run out of Washington state by somebody calling herself Cat Grey under the loose auspices of the one-woman International Society of Animal Recyclers, which aims to “give EVERY used animal a good home.”

To that end, the Morbid Tendencies website offers a smorgasbord of gruesomely whimsical artwork made from “bone, fabric, spite, malice, cotton, plastic, [and] anything that doesn’t run fast enough.”

On the fluffier side (though still occasionally including honest-to-god animal skulls), Grey offers The Unfortunate Animal of the Month Club, a sampler of gin-fueled stuffed animal reconstructions featuring two-headed, alien, mostly armless, “gnasher” and baby-safe variations on the theme, among many others.

For $50 a month you’ll get a handmade, one-of-a-kind creation suitable for cuddling, scaring children, and messing with people who think that just because they don’t eat meat, animals don’t die. Subscriptions are also available at the $40, $25, and $5 levels, depending on the complexity of the work, and customers can even specify a morbidity rating from 1 (“slightly twisted”) to 5 (“sick”) so you can fine tune your thoughtfulness to the strength of your loved one’s stomach.

Localize it: with therapy, available from a variety of fine practitioners just about anyewhere you look, any one of whom would be happy to listen to you talk about your trauma.

Smoke Signals
The Premium Cigar of the Month Club
Toll-free: (800) 625-8238

Just because indoor fireplaces are verboten in Missoula doesn’t mean man, or woman for that matter, has lost the primal urge to stink the joint up with satisfyingly smelly smoke. So while cigars are still legal, why not give the Cohiba connoisseur on your gift list a sharp little inhalation of pleasure with membership in the Premium Cigar of the Month Club. For $24.95 per month (plus $5 S&H; subscriptions available in two- to 12-month increments) your stub-sucking friend will receive five stogies a month from Equador, Honduras, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic and other fine cigar-producing nations, each one well-aged, hand-rolled, and expert-selected.

Don’t know cigars from a hole in your face? No problemo. Club members also get a monthly newsletter, The Society Brief, to help them make sense of—ahem, properly appreciate—the wide assortment of tobacco blends, wrapper colors, lengths and gauges they’ll be called upon to wrap their grateful mouths around between now and next year.

Whether your lucky pal is an established aficionado looking for a monthly dose of adventure or just got a job at a bank and requires a crash-course in the appropriate affectations, they’re sure to give you a hug when they get their first installment in the mail. Just don’t let ’em kiss you.

Localize it: You can’t smoke a fine cigar without a sharp cigar cutter any more than you can savor fine wine out of a Dixie cup, and you can pick up one of the sharpest cutters in town, from $2.50 to $50, at Bell Pipe and Tobacco Shoppe, 136 E. Broadway, Missoula, (406) 728-2781.

Tree Huggables
Bonsai of the Month Club
Toll-free: (800) FLOWERS

Bouquets are beautiful but bound to suffer a withering fate, which should make you wonder: Do you really want to give your loved one something predestined to die? No, much better to let them do the killing. That’s where the Bonsai of the Month Club comes in. If your love’s got a green thumb, then all the better, because a different beautiful bonsai—gardenia, bougainvillea, pomegranate, plum, camellia and seven other flowering surprises—will show up each month pre-potted and ready for loving cultivation. If your love’s got a black thumb, then that’s just fine, because the fresh start that shows up each month on the doorstep in the form of yet another tiny tree will be a welcome, if ultimately unsuccessful, opportunity to let love live. Regardless, these bonsai—potted plants shaped to look like miniature trees through careful pruning of leaves and roots—will add manageable bits of beauty to an office or apartment that can’t handle full-size foliage.

A bonsai may cost more than a measly bouquet, but remember that bit about undying love and its accompanying symbolism, and then get ready to shell out $438.99 for the full 12 months, $220.99 for six months, or $112.99 for three months.

Localize it: Increase the odds your gift will stick around by bringing its caretaker up to speed. Stop by Missoula’s Caras Nursery & Landscape, 2727 S. Third St. W. (543-3333) for a book on bonsai care ($16.95) and a variety of bonsai gardening tools.

Green Beans
Grounds for Change Coffee Explorer Club
Toll-free: (800) 796-6820

Each morning you spend upward of half an hour standing in line at your favorite local coffee shop just so you can spend a few precious moments of your morning sipping a locally roasted, organic, free-trade, shade-grown and hand-crafted java drink from a rarely rinsed, coffee-stained, earth-conscious, slogan-sticker-covered reusable travel mug.

Great for you.

But what about that loved one who doesn’t live within 500 miles of the Left Coast…or within a few blocks of a bulk coffee importer and barista?

Sign him or her up for the Grounds for Change Coffee Explorer fair trade, organic, shade-grown coffee of the month club.

The Coffee Explorer Club will treat that caffeine fiend in your life to a different 1- or 2-pound bag of coffee each month for three months ($54.95 for 1 lb.), six months ($104.95) or 12 months ($204.95). The club features both single-origin and blended coffees from exotic locals like East Timor and Agate Pass (wherever that is), and arrives each month with a card that educates your earth-friendly coffee connoisseur about the new brew’s country of origin, or fair-trade bona fides, or just coffee production in general. There’s even a Decaf Coffee Explorer Club, the perfect gift for the ulcer-plagued coffee lover in your life.

Give a Grounds for Change Coffee of the Month Club subscription this Christmas and earn 137 bonus Karma points, redeemable next time you flip off that smug pedestrian who steps off the curb, causing you to stomp on your Outback’s brakes and dump a hot Americano in your lap.

Localize it: There’s no eco-friendlier way to grind those eco-friendly beans than with a human-powered European Gift & Housewares Old World Classic coffee grinder, $42.99 at Liquid Planet, 223 N. Higgins Ave., Missoula, 541-4541. And since coffee filters are for chumps, toss in an unbreakable and super-stylish stainless steel Frieling French press, $69.95 from Butterfly Herbs, 232 N. Higgins Ave., Missoula, 728-8780.

Chew Toys
The Original Lucky Dog 12 Month Club
Toll-free: (800) 4TREATS

There’s no truly comparable way to repay your furry, four-legged friend for her unwavering willingness to hear out your neuroses, your gripes, and whatever else you pour into your dog’s ear because she’s the only one who will pay attention. That is, the only one who will listen without expecting a fat check at the end of the hour-long session. So think of this as payback, not beneficence, and understand that your dog would prefer a steady supply of biscuits to the sympathetic ear hanging off your head any day.

Having come to those twin realizations, go ahead and make your dog’s year by signing her up for the Original Lucky Dog 12 Month Club, offered by the Three Dog Bakery, a dog biscuit bakery based in Missouri. Your pooch will learn to love the postal worker who’s carrying this monthly delivery, which includes a surprise treat of the month and a 3-pound bag of cookies made with all-natural ingredients. If you don’t want to over-spoil your mutt, you could always downsize to the Mini Lucky Dog 12 Month Club, which includes the monthly surprise plus a 1-pound bag of treats each month. The Original version will run you $16.95 (plus shipping) per month, while the Mini club is $12.95 per month. Either way, you’ll have more than enough treats to encourage your dog to sit through yet another monologue.

Localize it: The first law of doggie physics is, “What goes in, must come out,” so prepare yourself for the inevitable treat your dog will squeeze out of her own little oven by picking up the spring-loaded, poo-snatching Jaws Scoop ($19.45) or the Flexrake ($30) at Go Fetch, 627 Woody St. in Missoula, 728-BARK.

Warm Feelings
Holistic Wisdom Lubricant of the Month Club
Toll-free: (800) 490-8165

Let’s face it, there’s only so much snowboarding, skiing and sledding one backcountry couple can do before even the gnarliest of deep-pow winters gets to be just too damn long and too damn dark. The sun has set by the time you and your sweetie return to the yurt, chilled to the bone after a full day of carving fresh lines, so what better way to warm up and fill up a few of those seemingly eternal hours of darkness than to strike up that Yule log and get frisky with the help of one of 12 lubricants from Holistic Wisdom’s Lubricant of the Month Club?

Members receive two full-sized bottles of lubricants monthly from a wide selection of arousal gels, warming lubes, flavored gels, desensitizers and silicone-slick lubricants to help heat up those long, cold Montana evenings. Holistic Wisdom offers seasonal memberships of three months ($69.00), or, if you’re stuck in one of those long-term relationships, try a six-month ($139.99) or one-year ($279.99) subscription featuring brands such as Kama Sutra, ForPlay, Sex Tarts and Nipplicious. And if you sign your special snow bunny up now for a one-year membership, he or she will get an extra free full-size bottle of lubricant the first month. You know, just in case you need more than a year’s worth of lube.

Localize it: Nothing says “I love lube” better than spicy undergarments to set the mood. If you really want to get in the Christmas spirit, wrap the Missus in “Velvet Santa” lingerie, $46, from Midnight Dreams, 2700 Paxson St., Missoula, 542-6227. And no, dude, you don’t look hot in a G, but if that’s her thing, indulge her with Midnight Dreams’ “Jingle My Bells” Christmas G-string.

Like Champagne, Only Beer
Michael Jackson’s Rare Beer of the Month Club
Toll-free: (888) 380-2337

You know someone who wishes he were Michael Jackson. No, nobody wants to be that Michael Jackson. We’re talking about Michael Jackson the Beer Hunter. His job is to find beer, drink beer and rate beer. A lot of beer. And he takes his job—and, in a staggering, bleary-eyed sort of way, himself—very seriously.

For all his work in beer, it makes sense that the Beer Hunter lends his name to one of the more prestigious (read: hoity-toity) beer of the month clubs around. And since Missoulians take their beer almost as seriously as their coffee and their Subarus, which is to say, as seriously as the Beer Hunter, membership to his monthly club seems like a no-brainer gift idea for the dedicated drinker on your list.

As the club’s literature professes, “In some countries, the regard usually reserved for wine is accorded also to great beer, and rightfully so.” The Beer Hunter’s club focuses on these rare brews, offering 750 ml bottles that have usually been aged or fermented in oak barrels and sealed using corks, wire hoods and individual tissue wrapping. This past year’s roster included fancy suds from three domestic breweries (Dogfish Head’s Zwaanend’ale is one example), five Belgian breweries (the Beer Hunter admits a deep bias for this country) with the rest culled from the United Kingdom and Czech Republic. Plans range from three bottles per month ($450 plus S&H) to six ($900 plus S&H), and customers also get literature from the Beer Hunter covering the individual brews’ history, ingredients, brewmasters’ style and suggested food pairings. Not sure if your neighbor’s beef jerky will make that last list, but this is still a perfect gift for the local beer aficionado.

Localize it: Fine beer deserves fine glassware, and Missoula breweries (who also make mighty fine beer, just to be clear) offer a few different options. Bayern Brewing (1507 Montana; 721-1482) and Kettlehouse (602 Myrtle St.; 728-1660) both have a variety of logo-ed pint glasses for around $4, and Big Sky Brewing Company (5417 Trumpeter Way; 549-2777), which also has pint glasses, sells a fancy tulip glass for $6.

Warm Fuzzies
Endangered Species of the Month Club
Toll-free: (800) CALL-WWF

The true spirit of holiday giving goes beyond meats, cheeses and sexual lubrication. It’s really about charity, that big warm hug of good will that makes the freezing guy outside the grocery store stop ringing his bell, and the tele-operators from the law enforcement fundraising association, the environmental campaign, the alma mater, whatever, stop calling for another year. Helping others and contributing to the community’s—nay, the world’s—greater good is what the holidays are all about.

For the more morally and socially conscious, nothing expresses good tidings like stuffed animals. The World Wildlife Fund will send the endangered species supporter of your choice a different plush toy every month as a reminder of the plight faced by the denizens of the world’s most fragile habitats. The gifted species include lemur, sea turtle, bison, snow leopard, panda and tree frog, but the two best for our money—oh, and these good deeds do cost money—are the cute little pygmy elephant and the adorable blue-footed booby bird. It just breaks our hearts to see the pictures, but it also kind of breaks the wallet to put these cuddly creatures under the tree: $500 a year gets you a stuffed animal, a fact sheet and a non-personalized adoption certificate every month. For an additional $500 you get the same package plus one helluva WWF gift box. But remember, this is charity, so the money doesn’t really matter.

Localize it: with an adopted puppy or kitten from The Humane Society of Western Montana (1105 Clark Fork Drive; 549-3934) that can rip the everlovin’ stuffin’ out of all those little plushies, making them doubly endangered.

Tender Moments
Exotic Meat of the Month Club
Toll-free: (866) 234-8499

With the general hunting season over and your favorite hunter’s freezer full of venison, meat may not seem like the perfect holiday gift right now. But what about in a few months? Come February, after eating that same deer divvied up into stew, jerky, steaks, etc., you and your hunting friend are going to be jonesing for some variety, and laws being as they are, grabbing your rifle and orange vest and hitting the woods isn’t going to be an option.

Meat of the Month clubs are a dime a dozen online, but only a few offer buffets eclectic enough to merit mention. We like Brentwood Trading Group’s Exotic Meat of the Month Club, which offers four servings of tasty rarities each month (currently on sale for $599.99 for the full year; $149.99 for three months). The lineup starts with bison strip steaks and proceeds to alligator sirloin steaks, pheasants, Kobe beef burgers, guinea hens, bison ribeye steaks, rattlesnake, venison filets (not scheduled until August, don’t worry), elk steaks, racks of venison, wild boar and ostrich steaks. Recipes for each are included and each is shipped frozen overnight to guarantee a thawless arrival. It’s not quite the same as sitting in a tree for eight hours somewhere in the nether regions of the Rattlesnake, but then again, last time we checked there was no use hunting for rattlers up in those woods, either.

Localize it: Nothing goes better with most of these cuts then a fine pinot noir. Luckily, we have some excellent examples of that varietal made right here. Mission Mountain Winery’s (849-5524) 2003 Pinot Noir ($24.99) is specifically recommended by the winery to complement wild game, and Missoula’s Ten Spoon Vineyard and Winery (549-8703) suggests its Moonlight Pinot Noir ($17.58) for pairing with bison. Both are available through local retailers.

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