She once wrapped a candelabra
Standing before a cheering crowd, Sylvia Houston contemplated the challenge in front of her.
Wrap a helmet and a pair of in-line skates, without a box, in less than 10 minutes.
And make sure it looks great.
"I like to take my time when I'm wrapping, so I really had to shift gears and move into a faster mode," said Houston, one of eight finalists to recently compete in the 14th annual Scotch Brand Most Gifted Wrapper Contest at Rockefeller Center in New York City. "It made me kind of nervous."
Contestants competed in three rounds, each one more difficult than the last, wrapping up with a charcoal grill and an All Terrain Vehicle.
They were judged on appearance of the gift, technique used and speed.
The grand-prize winner was a woman from the Bronx, who took home $10,000.
Houston came home with $250 and priceless memories.
"There are some things in your mind that you just think 'gee, wouldn't this be fun?' This was definitely that kind of experience," Houston said.
To enter the contest, Houston had to write an essay about past wrapping triumphs.
She's got a few, like the time she wrapped a freestanding candelabra.
"Wrought iron doesn't move," Houston said. "You can't squish it into a box."
Instead, using tissue paper and fake fur, Houston transformed the candelabra into a Christmas caroler, who was holding the gift card as if it was a book of music.
"I like to do things that are shaped like something else," Houston said.
That's why, when Houston's wrapping, a bottle of wine might become a turkey or airline tickets become airplanes.
Ron Riddel, Houston's husband of 20 years, fondly remembers the time she presented him with a pair of airline tickets that she had wrapped into a cardboard tube and decorated with wheels, wings and a propeller.
"She really gets into it and has a wonderful time," Riddel said. "You remember the package as much as you remember the present."
A particularly memorable experience for Houston was when she discovered invisible tape and admittedly went a little crazy on her sisters' presents.
"They were having a horrible time getting into their gifts," Houston said. "To get me back, they taped everything in my room shut with invisible tape, including the dresser drawers."
Lesson learned: make the present pretty but easy to get into. Houston said wrapping gifts is becoming easier all the time, what with the advent of wrist-wearing dispensers that pop out a pre-measured strip of tape.
Smaller pieces of tape are best, she said, otherwise it might get caught on a part of the paper you don't want it to stick to. Houston also suggests cutting out paper with a gift-wrapping cutter, because scissors tend to leave jagged edges on the paper.
If you're using thin paper or have a heavy gift, fold the paper to double it up before wrapping, Houston said.
But most of all, she said, have fun.
People see love in the present, and sometimes there's more love in the budget than money," Houston said. "I love wrapping and making a gift special for the person I'm giving it to."
And she's not ruling out future competitions.
"I found one about making ornaments out of tape," Houston said. "Doesn't that sound like fun?"
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