Dagwood came into the room, took one look at his kids, Cookie and Alexander, and said, "You two sure look troubled!" Cookie replied, "We're having a hard time figuring out what to give Mom for Christmas."

Dagwood said, "Oh, don't worry about your Mom. She'll love whatever you come up with." Alexander responded, "We don't know what to get you either!" The next frame was Dagwood sitting in his chair, looking very despondent. Blondie walked up and said, "Boy, somebody looks troubled!"

That was just one of a half-dozen comic strips in one day this week dealing with the process of shopping for Christmas gifts. It wasn't even the big Sunday comics section! If that is any indicator, I am not the only one who often has had trouble in picking out Christmas gifts.

Partly this might be because there are so many informal rules for doing so, such as being affordable, appropriate, something the other person needs, and something I want to give them. Back in another life, it should have been easy because as many young marrieds were then, we were pretty broke and needed just about everything. But that is exactly when we could afford very little, and gift giving had to be pretty creative.

Not being able to afford expensive items, we tried many ways to at least spread it out, so sometimes we celebrated the Twelve Days of Christmas. That meant that my at-that-time very young son could unwrap one present every day for 12 days in a row. And at least one year we made up coupon books for gifts, each page of which could be exchanged for something he really enjoyed doing, such as a coupon good for a movie or for three lanes of bowling or a day in the country to go target shooting. That spread out the modest cost over a longer period of time.

When he got old enough to have a paper route, he was already pretty frugal with his income. So when Christmas and birthdays arrived, he no longer did the handmade things. Of course now some of the most cherished items I have are ones he carefully picked out for me, the result of many an early morning's trudge around his long paper delivery list. Maybe the best is a combination of something he made and something he bought: in his shop class, he made a wrought iron chain and ring. Then with his hard-earned cash, he purchased a heavy blue glass bird to perch in it. That bird has caught sunshine in many windows over the years because it has moved right along with me.

In the "For Better or Worse" comic strip, the father and son were on their way to the store to do some Christmas shopping. The father said, "Whew! I hate Christmas shopping. Your mom is so hard to buy for!" The son said, "How come? You said she told you exactly what she wanted." The father replied, "That's the problem. I can't remember exactly what it was!"

That happened to me more than once. In that same former life, I was asked what I wanted and I said I needed a blouse or a sweater, but please, just not white. Of course, Christmas Eve and gift opening arrived, and I had to be like Blondie, loving whatever I got. It was a beautiful mohair sweater - and of course it was white! I wore it for years, and while I never really loved it, it was appreciated. Another time, it seemed clear the romance must have been gone: I got a frying pan, something which had never been on any list I had ever made!

In "The Family Circus" strip on that same day this week, daughter Dot is standing with pencil and paper in hand. She is saying, "Is a Christmas list s'posed to be the stuff I want or the stuff you want to give me?" That reminded me of a Peanuts strip I had seen years ago in which Charlie Brown asked Lucy what she was doing. She replied, "I am making up my list of what I want to get for Christmas." Charlie Brown responded, "That's your 'get' list. What about your 'give' list?"

And there is the "Hi and Lois" one that same day this week in which the mother, Lois, asked son Chip, "Where's your Christmas list, Chip?" He said, "I stuck it on the fridge." So Lois turned around and looked at the refrigerator, where there was taped a large piece of paper with one thing "writ large": A dollar sign. Chip said as he walked away, "That's all I want."

It is tempting and easy to just give money. Or just get a list and pick something from it. But that to me is as sterile as a wedding registry: It hardly seems personal and certainly doesn't reflect any thought having gone into selecting something especially for the recipient.

But then, in the end, maybe it really is the thought that counts. So, I guess I need to find a creative way to wrap and send thoughts.