The holidays and toys go together like egg and nog. For kids, toys are tools that help them to do their job: play. Adults use toys to relieve stress and take their minds off the pressures of daily life. So toys are certainly useful, but they're also fun, fun, fun. Keep the holidays happy this year; give a toy.

It's never too early for kids to learn a trade, and who knows when they might end up in Micronesia? The Brio Loom ($69.95, Kids at Heart, 3445 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 231-2954) is a classic weaving machine made from sturdy hardwood. A kid's (or grown-up's) creations are only limited by the imagination--and the amount of usable fibers in the house.

The threat of biological infiltration is no joke anymore, so it wouldn't hurt to have a diagnostic tool lying around. The Deluxe 900x Microscope Set ($79.95, Kids at Heart, 3445 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 231-2954) opens a whole new level of awareness. The set, made by Educational Insights, includes all-glass lenses, a tough metal exterior and pre-prepped slides that offer microscopic glimpses into the friendly elements around us.

Many seemingly strait-laced women keep a deep, dark secret: Heavy-metal front-hunk James Hetfield is hot! Now Metallica fans can make music magic in the privacy of their own rooms with Metallica Super Stage Figures ($69.95, Things from Another World, 4390 SW Lloyd Ave., Beaverton, 643-4222, and other locations). McFarlane Toys' Harvesters of Sorrow set includes all four band members, instruments and a stage with sound and flashing lights. Snake not included.

Don't forget that Christmas is all about a certain infant child. If Jesus were born this year, he would probably receive a baby Gymini ($54.95, Thinker Toys, 7784 SW Capitol Highway, 245-3936). Baby lies on a soft, colorful mat and bats at the interesting items that hang in the space above. This award-winning item will occupy the little Arnold for hours (pssst...Mom and Dad will appreciate this gift most of all).

The world of make-believe has never been so important for kids. Let them create their own reality in puppet theaters from Manhattan Toys ($108) or Alex ($84-$215) (Treehouse Toys, 4907 SW 76th Ave., 292-4447). Manhattan Toys' theaters are lightweight and a snap to set up. Kids crouch behind them and wax dramatic through the characters mounted on their hands. Don't forget to check out their mind-bending selection of puppets.

The classic sock-monkey toy, big in the 1930s and '40s, is making a huge comeback. One version, the Really Big Sock Monkey from Think of It ($59.95, Things from Another World, 4133 NE Sandy Blvd., 284-4693, and other locations), is four feet of soft gray sock fabric topped with a garish sock-monkey face--what's with those red lips? This simian snoozemate will be at home in anyone's bed--or anyone's nightmares.

New Age pagans in need of a lengthy meditative ritual often head down to the neighborhood life-size labyrinth for a few hours of babysteps along an intricate maze. Those who live in a maze-free zone might get the same results from the Original Labyrinth ($63.95, Thinker Toys, 7784 SW Capitol Highway, 245-3936), a wooden table-top version that Brio has been making for more than 50 years. Winding the silver ball through the tilting maze will bring new meaning to the word "meditation."

Until we find out what kilt 'em, dinosaurs will remain one of life's great mysteries. They're scary and sexy, bad and beautiful. B.C. Bones 3-D dinosaur puzzle kits ($54.95-$99.95, Thinker Toys, 7784 SW Capitol Highway, 245-3936, and other locations) are fun and challenging to put together. And the finished product is an attractive wooden skeleton of your favorite extinct reptile. As seen on the Discovery Channel's Walking with Dinosaurs.

Is your child an aspiring Caprial or Cory? The CafePlay Kitchenette ($130.99, Bridges Toy and Book Store, 402 N State St., Lake Oswego, 699-1322) is a miniature stove, oven, sink and cupboard--everything a young celebrity-chef-in-training needs to begin his or her culinary career. Although Small World Toys makes a variety of utensils to accompany the sturdy wooden kitchenette, publicists are not included.

quick gift ideas

Playmobil Sets Whisk away to another land. Super-cool playsets ranging from a pirate's ship to a fairy-tale castle--they're not quite action figures yet not quite dolls. Ship $80, castle $200. Finnegan's Toys & Gifts, 922 SW Yamhill St., 221-0306.

Kettler tricycles Let's roll. Get the little tyke on your list her own tricycle. Brightly painted multicolored German tricycles will be a winning gift. $100-$200. Toy Bear, 130 N Main Ave., Gresham, 661-5310.

Original Atari 2600 game system Feed your '80s nostalgia with that all-too-familiar black and simulated wood-grain game unit. The refurbished system comes with some games, joysticks and everything you need to power it up. $79.75. Ground Kontrol, 610 SW 12th Ave., 796-9364.

Thomas the Tank Engine Sodor Airfield set Toot-toot! Enjoy the excitement of an airfield with plenty of tracks, a realistic flying action biplane, the control tower and, of course, two engines. $99.95. Thinker Toys, 7784 SW Capitol Highway, 245-3936.

Harrisville Design Easy Weaver loom Do-it-yourself weaving. Kids can make their own stuff and be inventive with a real wooden weaving loom. Comes with beginning materials to get started. $89.95. Thinker Toys, 7784 SW Capitol Highway, 245-3936.

Neurosmith music blocks The next Mozart on your list? Encourage musical talent from an early age with fun and interactive Music Blocks. So fun even adults will enjoy 'em. $70. Finnegan's Toys & Gifts, 922 SW Yamhill St., 221-0306.

Food/ Kitchen
Jewelry/ Watches
Beauty/ Skin
Outdoor/ Garden
Books/ Music
Home Fires
Package Deals
DVD/ Tech
Sex/ Bedroom