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Image Courtesy of Sally Schneider

Who really wants to go shopping at the holidays? Okay, it can be fun, especially when kids are aching to go, or children come back to visit and actually view expeditions as fun (like my cool stepdaughter, who lives in cool Park Slope).

But too often it's forced, and not when you want it. So for relief, I recommend our contributor Sally Schneider's site The Improvised Life, which includes posts about the marvelous food she makes in places likely and un-, like the corn cakes with slow-cooked meat she recently and satisfyingly scrounged together in a friend's cabin in the West Virginia Appalachians.

But the meat of the site is reports from her eye, and it's enormously wide-ranging. Sally is a stylist by trade and, more important, inclination--someone who by nature constantly trains her eye, and is always looking for something she hasn't seen, and something she finds appealing. As with many people who have style in their bones, that tends toward great simplicity.

You have to give a few real objects, and she's got good ideas for those. And how to make the way you wrap them as personal and, well, improvised as the style she embodies.

So you'll find links to videos, posters, living rooms of other people's houses she's come across herself or on the Web, and explanations of why she was struck. I wasn't surprised that one image was a holiday card designed by Maira Kalman, one of my favorite visual observers--and that it was for a much better gift that something found at the last minute: a contribution to the charity of your choice.

Of course, you have to give a few real objects, and she's got good ideas for those. And how to make the way you wrap them as personal and, well, improvised as the style she embodies. I like the way she lays out her holiday philosophy:

If you start with the idea that the holidays are about really giving a part of yourself rather than STUFF, and spreading joy, and celebrating what we have, you instantly start to eliminate the nonessential and stressful. These are the things that are more obligation than fun - too exhausting, too expensive, or just TOO MUCH - like shopping for the perfect gift for too many people, or giving the perfect party with a million homemade hors d'oeuvres. Where do we get these notions of how the holidays are supposed to be?

I like her suggestions too. Have a look at what she's looking at.