Recommended diversions

NPR’s All Songs Considered Podcast

Admittedly, I’ve been slow to catch on to the iPod revolution. I received a green, personalized iPod mini almost two years ago, but just this month began puttering around on iTunes’s Podcast Web site to find a treasure trove of information.

I had no idea that This American Life is available for free downloading — a miraculous discovery, as where I live I do not pick up NPR over the airwaves and sitting in the car for an hour in the Ingles parking lot just to listen in is a bit much.

But along with the TAL Podcast, I found the brand spanking new to me All Songs Considered. I’ve never heard the program on any of my various local NPR stations over the years. I assume its something they reserve for some of the more hip locations, which is a shame. Host Bob Boilen spins a marvelous array of music from Tom Waits to the Black Keys, live Cat Power concerts to Etta Baker, the weirdly intriguing harpist Joanna Newsome to Coldplay mixed with Cuban beats. He even sits Weird Al Yankovic down for a serious discussion about his new record and has the artist take a turn playing records from his own past that have served as an influence for his music.

Gift giving

The season for bestowing presents is upon us and for those of you out there struggling for ideas and coming desperately close to deadline here are a few of my own personal recommendations.

For just about anyone who has ever been caught without a pen, pin, ruler, knife, pair of scissors, toothpick, nailfile/flathead screwdriver, or tweezers pick up the Swisscard. It’s the basic Swiss Army knife made for everyday use, and artfully repackaged to be the size of a credit card, making it an excellent wallet addition. They come in a variety of colors and run $30-35. Mine came from Mast General store, but you could also pick one up online at

For the hosts of holiday parties or those folks who just seem to have everything else, food always is welcome. Why? Because if you send the gift to folks a little early, they can put it out for guests — it’s a little less out of their pocket and a little credit to your good taste. One absolutely tried and true item is Harry and David’s Pepper and Onion Relish. Mix it with cream cheese and you’ve got a fantastic veggie and cracker dip. Three jars are $19.95 at A gift basket with some local flavor also is a fun way to send your extended family members a taste of the South. Great places to pick up items include the Barber’s Orchard Fruit Stand near Waynesville (grab a turnover while you’re there) and Annie’s Naturally Bakery in Sylva (I’m a big fan of their cranberry walnut scones). Check some of your favorite places for special treats too. Joey’s Pancake House in Maggie Valley has their pancake mix packaged and ready to go and there’s bags of beans and ground coffee at Panacea in Frog Level great for giving.

For readers and cooks, head to your local book or music store for ideas. A great ethnic cookbook, a few of the required spices and a CD from your country of choice is a cool package. Thai and Indian are really big these days and with a jar of cardamon running about $11 it’s a present in and of itself.

I could go on and on....

And if the folks on your list just don’t want any more “things” period, either pick up a few gift certificates for services they’ll use (oil changes, hair cuts, lawn care...) or make a donation to a local charity on their behalf. For the environmentally conscious there are organizations such as the Conservation Trust for North Carolina, which also provides contact information for more local Land Trust organizations ( For the animal lover, the Animal Compassion Network is a no-kill organization operating throughout the region ( Really, there’s no end to the great groups out there working to better our world. Do a little research, send off a check and give the person on your list a handwritten card explaining that a donation has been made on their behalf.

— By Sarah Kucharski

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