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“What if we skipped Christmas cards this year?” I asked my husband Patrick.

“What if we just told the kids Santa had swine flu this year?” he replied. “You’re just stressed. Let’s take care of that.”

Janet Casey of Taskmasters San Diego (619-316-0574, sdtaskmasters.com) was just what I had in mind. “Everyone is overwhelmed right now,” she said, “and that makes it hard to enjoy the holidays. That’s where we come in. We do as little or as much as people need — our service is driven by your goals and budget. We do all kinds of holiday decorating — lighting houses, helping to decorate trees, even getting trees. We’ll help people get their decorations organized and come up with a game plan for making them fresh and festive. We can work with the decorations you have or augment with new things or start from scratch.”

Despite the talk of shopping, Casey said that this year, “with the economy, people are searching for things that make them feel comforted. They’re moving away from the commercial and toward the homey and down-to-earth. They want to renew the simpler times — to make gingerbread houses and have the kids put the gumdrops on it. They want to take family pictures and listen to Christmas music. They want to make gifts, as opposed to spending $50 for everyone on the list and having anxiety about paying off the debt. We can help create those memories by taking care of people’s detail work so that they are free to spend the fun time with their families.”

Or their friends — Casey also specializes in party planning. “Most people want something festive yet economical. So, this year, we’re suggesting hors d’oeuvres or dessert parties; that way, you’re not spending a fortune. Again, we can do as little or as much as people like.”

I knew I wouldn’t be throwing any parties this year — I would be too busy making lists, shopping, wrapping, mailing… “We do a lot of personal shopping for people,” added Casey. “We’ll interview the person, help them come up with ideas they may not have had while still keeping it personal, so that the gifts are gifts they would want to give. We’re always looking at different stores, catalogs, and websites for ideas, and we have a great database.”

I asked about my dear Aunt Azelda. “For an elderly grandma-type, I would do something personal. There are wonderful online services that allow you to create a fully bound book. We can help facilitate gathering old photographs, getting new ones, mixing in shots of the grandchildren. You could give a lovely, personal coffee-table book.” And for my niece in the throes of teenhood? “It would depend on her personality. Bookstore or music gift cards are great. But people also appreciate something that creates a memory, like a membership to a museum or the zoo. And people like events. There’s a wonderful company in La Jolla, Surf Diva. They offer group surf lessons, and they sell surf clothing and jewelry. A niece might appreciate a gift card from them.”

Casey and her team of elves will also wrap presents. “Most people just give us the gifts and a list of who gets what. But some people want a theme — we’ve done all white and silver, and we can do retro themes with grosgrain ribbon and handmade materials. And we can go back to basics…maybe use butcher paper and paints, sit down with the kids one evening and have them decorate the paper. It all depends on the client. Oh, and we do Christmas cards. We can make cards using a recent family photo, or we can just take on the stressful part — addressing, stamping, and mailing them.”

Taskmasters has a two-hour minimum and charges $25 an hour for most services. Organization services run $35 an hour, and party planning is $55 an hour.

Next I spoke with Cara Chace of Apparel Therapy (appareltherapy.net; [email protected]). “Most of what I do is wardrobe consulting and the personal shopping that goes along with that,” she explained. “Usually, in December, I’ll have clients who need accessories for holiday parties, but for that one month, I will also shop for people’s gift lists. They don’t have to be clients. If they need help coming up with gift ideas, I can do that. Mostly, people just don’t want to deal with malls. Some will give me a very specific list — what to get and where to get it. Others will say, ‘I need a pink scarf’ and give me a price range. I’ll pick up five pink scarves, then bring them to the client. The client selects one, and I return the rest.”

Chace has a two-hour minimum and charges $60 an hour. For $70 an hour, she will shop with the client and give on-the-spot fashion counsel.

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