Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Actual Christmas Shopping

I felt like a relic from a forgotten time yesterday. I went to four different actual retail stores, bought at least one thing in each of them, and succeeded in getting a good portion of my Christmas shopping done. I do not have to buy anything more for my children and three of my sister's kids, and I have very little left to get for my mother, my nephew, and my sister's fiance. I still have a few things to buy for Lauren, and I have to buy for my brother, both sisters, and my brother-in-law. But still, I didn't think I did bad for about three hours worth of shopping. The cost wasn't prohibitively expensive, either--less than a full paycheck, to be sure.
But more to the point, I felt like I was actually putting some thought into the gift-giving. I have gotten in the habit of buying gift cards in recent years, and honestly, it hardly feels like Christmas when I go over to my mom's house on Christmas Eve with one small bag with a dozen gift cards. I want to get my kids something they actually can use, that they can look at it and think, "Dad got me that." I want my siblings to know that they are not an afterthought or an obligation, but someone whose presence in my life I value, as much as I can get aggravated with them at times. I want my mother to know that in spite of the fullness of my life and the general busyness that doesn't allow me to see her as much as I used to, she still means a great deal to me. I want my in-laws to know that I appreciate that they have made positive differences in my sisters' lives.
And a 1-by-2 inch slab of plastic doesn't really say any of that as much as something I actually had to put some effort into finding an actual gift.
It is the thought that counts. Or the effort, to be more accurate. I was talking to a friend last night and this subject came up, and the friend was curious as to why I was buying Lauren's stuff now--"She's not going to be able to use any of it until February." Well, for two reasons: 1) It seems really hypocritical of me to tell someone how much they mean to me without including them, whatever their circumstances at the moment, in my Christmas, and 2) people who are not able to be home for Christmas need to know that they are loved and appreciated and cared about even more than those that are going to be present. When I saw her Saturday, we talked about this, and the one concession to her situation is that I don't have to wrap any of what I am getting her. But I am going to take pictures of what she is getting and mail them in plenty of time for her to see them by Christmas Eve, and although the 24th is not a visitation weekend, it is a phone weekend, and I will be able to include her, however much it won't be for long enough, for a period of time in our holiday.
And her situation was the catalyst, really, for the return to a traditional gift strategy. I hate to sound like Charlie Brown or any of those other fictional characters that populate our Christmas TV offerings, but the undeniable truth is that we have, as a society, not only over-commercialized Christmas, but we have allowed technological advances to depersonalize it, too. Gift cards, when they first started becoming popular a little over a decade ago, were a nice convenience and a bit of a novelty--but quickly, the inherent flexibility of the idea made it all too easy to simply take a shortcut on the investment of time and effort that I feel I should take to let my loved ones know how much they mean to me. And with rare exceptions, I'm not going to do it anymore. Or at least in years when my finances allow me to indulge a little, as is the case this year.
And now some notes about the actual places I went. Walmart isn't really all that bad, if you go at eight in the morning, and I have to say that one of the main complaints about shopping there has been alleviated by the self-checkout lane, which is the greatest invention since the roof. The experience was dampened somewhat by the need to use the men's room there, which is something that really should not be undertaken unless under the influence of mild hallucinogens, but I survived, only a little worse for wear. I went years without shopping at Walmart, in a symbolic flip of the bird at corporate America, but in recent years, that's changed. I'd like to blame it all on shrinking budgetary resources or the increasing lack of alternatives--but honesty compels to admit that it's a mostly a matter of convenience; it's a three-minute drive from my house, and it's at least a fifteen-to-twenty minute drive to get to any store remotely comparable. And it's open 24 hours, which wasn't an issue yesterday, but has been at times like when the coffee pot shit the bed at 4 AM.
I grew to appreciate, if not necessarily like, Dick's when Sabrina was playing softball; you're going to pay more than you should, but anything sports-related, you can find there, and they offer enough coupons and specials that usually you don't get too butt-hurt shopping there. They also offer an extensive selection of brand-name clothing--and something I wasn't sure I was going to be able to find was there yesterday.. Unfortunately, it was more money than I wanted to pay, and so I will look other places and online before going back there.
I spent a lot of time and a fair amount of money in Tom's yesterday. Tom's is an old-fashioned gift shop, a sort of buffet line of arts/craft stuff, good-but-pricey food items, and clothing for the hippie/free-spirit types, of which there are a good number of around here due to the university. I've gone back and forth about Tom's over the years; some of their ads are misleading, and the employees aren't even remotely subtle about following you around the store in order to "prevent loss," which is a pain right in the ass at times. But they have a tremendous selection of coffees and teas, and a lot of other food items which are not found anywhere else in this area. The mustard I bought for myself there yesterday is absolute nirvana for those of us that like spicy brown mustard, even if it cost ten bucks. It was my Christmas present to myself; it's that good. And there's a lot of stuff like that in Tom's. If I made a hundred grand a year, I would be in there all the time.
And lastly, grocery stores often offer sneaky-good deals and carry items that you would never notice for eleven months out of the year. I used to split my grocery shopping between Price Chopper and Wegmans, but in the last couple of years, 1) Wegmans has gotten more expensive, and isn't a clear winner on price like it used to be. As a matter of fact, it's generally as expensive as Weis, although of better quality. PC is more expensive at list price than both--but half the store is usually on sale of one form or another, and I've adjusted my budget enough so that PC doesn't break me, and 2) the proximity thing again. Price Chopper is four blocks from my house; although I hardly ever do, I can walk there if I need to. It's convenient as hell, and I'm in there enough that I know where everything is. And they were the first place I remember with the self-checkout; the only time I have to wait for any length of time in Price Chopper is early in the morning or late at night when those lanes are shut down. Wegmans doesn't have self-checkouts, an issue that is exacerbated by 3) Wegmans is the de facto retirement home for the extensive elderly population in this area. I don't care what time of day or what day of the week you go there, Wegmans is full of old people. Not only old people, but old people with world-class entitlement complexes, that act like they're the only people in the store, whose locomotion setting is set on "glacial," and that act like, when they get to checkout, they are at some bazaar/market in Istanbul instead of a grocery store, often berating the clerks because their Boston Baked Beans are 98 cents instead of 89 cents like they think they saw back in the aisle. It's infuriating, honestly, and you just don't get that in Price Chopper.
So that was my day off, mixed in with a meeting with my sponsor and a meeting I usually don't attend in the evening. But with 18 days until Christmas, I am glad to report that most of the heavy lifting is done.

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