Ah, the season of giving

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As the holiday-shopping season and mad scramble to find the perfect present begins, Neil Romain already knows what he is buying for his wife of 15 years: a gift certificate.

Lest you peg his selection as unimaginative, this particular gift certificate is for a $300 appointment with a cosmetic surgeon to blast away her varicose veins.

With gift cards and certificates booming for all manner of retailers-experts say they top most holiday wish lists-perhaps it was inevitable that they would eventually venture into treacherous territory. These days, you can get gift certificates for such delicate areas of personal development as plastic surgery, marriage counseling and anger-management classes.

Search and you will find a gift certificate for almost anything, ranging from liposuction and hair-loss treatments to online dating services and sex-therapy workshops.

"We live in a country where many people have pretty much everything they want," says etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore. "It's getting harder and harder to find gifts that they don't already have, so people put a lot of energy into finding that one-of-a-kind, personal and creative gift."

Take for example, a new mom opening a card to find a certificate for an hour's worth of Mommy-Muse, a service for women who might be overwhelmed with the "profound transition to motherhood."

Just imagine the boss' face when he or she receives a Coaching Circles certificate from employees for an executive stress package, which comes with aromatherapy, calming oils, candles and, yes, a life coach.

-Dan Thanh Dang, Baltimore Sun, Nov. 27

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