Thanksgiving is over and it's officially the Christmas shopping season. I can't put off buying stuff for my loved ones any longer. I simply have to do it.

Thanksgiving is over and it's officially the Christmas shopping season. I can't put off buying stuff for my loved ones any longer. I simply have to do it.

Not that I hate giving to my loved ones. Normally, nothing pleases me more, especially when I find a great gift that's reasonably priced and doesn't require renting something - a truck, a winch, a team of Clydesdales - to get it home.

But this is Christmas, the season of having to find things that are perfect for people, of being compelled to produce beautifully wrapped morsels of thoughtfulness at every whipstitch, of forced benevolence and don't-argue-with-me consideration.

Perhaps you think I've forgotten about the religious aspects of the holiday, that beautiful mystery that has profoundly influenced men, women, children and nations for more than 2,000 years? Not at all. But holiday gift-giving is another story altogether. It's a project - nay, a full-time vocation - in itself. Done right, gift shopping takes hours and hours, tons of money, extensive travel and intelligence. Not brain intelligence, though that helps too; I mean governmental intelligence, the business of making someone else's business your business. How else will you learn that your niece likes anime and her mother wants a goldendoodle puppy?

I'm going to assume here that your family members are like mine: gloriously undemanding. "Don't worry about getting gifts for us! We don't want anything! The real fun is getting together!"

Don't you just love it when your grown children say wonderful things like that? Doesn't it make you want to surprise them with all the things they want and need?

Exactly. And we wonder how holiday gift-giving got so out of hand.

Except - and here I come to the real problem - you can't for the life of you think of anything they want and need.

You could think of things in July. In July, great gift ideas were coming to you every two minutes. Same with August and September and October But then the Official Season of Gifts began and your mind went blank.

Well, my mind went blank. Yours may be as prolific as ever, but my imagination shut down on the day after Thanksgiving very much the way everything fades out when the anesthesiologist starts the IV before surgery. One second I'm full of ideas; the next well, the next I'm waking up in January and Christmas is over. I'm full of ideas again, but what good does that do me when Christmas is 50 weeks away?

This year just might be different, though. Not because I planned ahead, not because I made a list or shopped early or did anything as sensible as all that. It might be different because a Hammacher-Schlemmer catalog arrived in the mail.

Hammacher-Schlemmer! The very name spells hope. Instantly, I started paging through for the ideas that would be my salvation.

"What's Hammacher-Schlemmer?" someone asked, as if Hammacher-Schlemmer might be a dog breed, or the latest hybrid car or anything except what it is: fabulous, perfect, ideal gifts for everyone you love best.

Granted, some of the gifts are a little pricey. The cover picture is item 11812: a flying car. " converts from a street-legal automobile to a Light Sport aircraft in 30 seconds," the description reads. Yes, it costs $350,000 but it's otherwise so tempting. I can think of three or four people who would love a flying car. They might wonder, as I do, why the ability to convert from one form to the other in just 30 seconds is such a selling point - personally, I wouldn't care if it took all of a minute and a half if in the end I had a car I could fly. Or a plane I could drive.

And look at this: a voice-activated R2D2 from the Star Wars movies. It finds its way through rooms and hallways, plays games and obeys more than 40 commands.

Forty commands! I have to pause a moment to think about this. One or two commands, yes. But 40 seems like a lot. If I had to program a droid to obey 40 commands, I'd be resorting to dumb stuff like "Rummage under the couch cushions for money" and "Um, call the pizza place and order a large with extra cheese."

Fortunately, though, I don't have to program R2D2. All I have to do is buy him for someone who would love to have a shiny movie star around the house.

And how about this remote-controlled spider? A voice-recording ballpoint pen? A telekinetic obstacle course, "the game that forces your brain waves to maneuver a ball" through a series of challenges?

I pause again. In fact, I pause so long I run out of space. But anyway, I have shopping to do.


Margo Bartlett is a ThisWeek staff writer.