Saturday, December 12, 2009

Last-Minute Shopping for Crazed Elves

I HATE Christmas shopping at the last minute (a week before Christmas, in my book), especially at a mall. I have done both in the past. I will never - ever - do so again.

Remember the big torturous machine that sucks away life in The Princess Bride, that the villains hook up to Wesley, when one of them softens and shouts a warning about the power level: "Not to 50!"?

That's what it does to my soul to leave any Christmas shopping - especially at a mall - until the last minute.

Before I began any online shopping, I vowed my soul would never again be shattered by the hot, dry mall air pumping around pretzel kiosks, the jostled elbows in narrow aisles, the rows and rows - and rows - of Bath and Body Works lotion. So I began year-round buying and planning. I started emailing myself links to sites with good gift ideas for people I know. I buy Christmas cards during clearance sales right after Christmas - sometimes wrapping paper, too.

Well, when the economy slides towards a telephone pole like your vehicle on a poorly salted winter road, not much shopping takes place, period - at the mall, online, or year-round. Instead of browsing catalogs, you browse craft ideas. This year, our Christmas giving looks more like "tokens of appreciation", sprinkled with a few things from gift certificates I've won - especially with the approaching arrival of our own little Christmas bundle of joy, Jack.

But maybe your stock actually rose, or you left all your shopping shamefully late, or your boss had a stroke and started handing out hundred dollar bills, or you woke up from a coma and said "Crap! I need to buy gifts for all the nurses who cared for me during my 18-month hiatus from the conscious," or maybe you're the only person who is making a lot of money during this recession - the inventor of the Snuggie. For those of you who've been hiding from the Christmas shopping you know will be more painful the longer you wait, here are some last minute ideas.

The Gifts That Keep On Giving: Treats from Non-Profits & Faith-Based Organizations

Do you have a Secret Santa work party with a $20 limit? Did you draw someone's name and realize all you know of her is that her cubicle is covered in dog calendars? Help furry friends -and save yourself a trip in the frigid air - by ordering these slippers from the Humane Society; the organization's shopping page even has a separate "dog store" and "cat store." With such a high foreclosure rate, local humane societies are overflowing with pets - there are a lot of stories of guilt-ridden owners dropping off animals at a shelter and speeding off, without leaving any history on the dog or cat, like shot records, age, behavior around children, etc. This shelter actually had to euthanize 600 animals in one month. Or, if you'd rather keep your giving local, donate dog or cat food to your area shelter and give your Secret Santa pal a card with animals on the front, explaining the gift.

The Humane Society also has Christmas cards you can purchase - at $17.50 for 16 cards,
they're much more pricey than the Wal-Mart bargain box, but much less pricey than the thick, calligraphied cards nestled in gold-lined
envelopes at the bookstore. Personally, I would consider these cards to be a part of the gift, or would purchase a box to use sparingly for a few dear friends or family members. Of course, if you know an animal lover/stationery nut, the box of cards in itself could be the gift.

Do you need a gift for a seminary-attending, coffee-guzzling brother-in-law? Mystic Monk's Jingle Bell Java blend is a gorgeous mix of holiday aromas that would warm the hearts of Scrooge and the Grinch all at once. I was given some last Christmas and give my solemn oath of product endorsement. Roasted by monks in a Wyoming monastery, Mystic Monk coffee is a quirky alternative to a Starbucks gift card, and is helping out a fellow faith-based organization, not just a large corporation. (Not that there's anything wrong with Starbucks. Starbucks and I have a beautiful relationship.) At $10 for about 2/3 of a pound of whole bean or ground, it's comparable to the prices of the massive chain, too.

Speaking of yummy Catholic goodness, have you tried Gethsemani Abbey's Bourbon fruitcake? The Wall Street Journal has. Made down the road right here in the Bluegrass,Gethsemani Farms' sweets are mouthwatering. Alright, so not everyone is into fruitcake - although if they had this fruitcake, they would be - but the monastery - and former home to famed Thomas Merton - also offers Bourbon fudge...a great hostess gift.

These beautiful blankets are near and dear to my heart - mostly because one of them came

home to me as a gift several years ago, and has been my favorite blanket ever since. Sari Bari provides training and work for women coming out of the sex trade in India. The blankets and bags are hand
stitched by women who use this labor as a means to provide for themselves instead of working the streets, as they used to. They're crafted from old saris, a haunting reflection of the redemption at work in these ladies' lives.

But sometimes you need something smaller - a stocking stuffer, a gift for kiddo's teacher, a small-budget "token" - and then, I say, Send In The Nuns. Check out these beautiful Sugar Plum soaps made by, you guessed it - some sisters in New Jersey*. At $4, you can't beat the price,

and reportedly, this soap works miracles (aaahahahahaha) on dry, sensitive skin - they have a bar for "gardener's hand." They also have more seasonally-flexible scents like the alluring vanilla bean and pink grapefruit. And if you have an ongoing, friendly religious debate with a Catholic pal, well, what better to get him or her than nun-produced soap. Of course, if you're Catholic, you can give it to your Protestant buddy and tease that they'll need it to cleanse their Pope-rejecting soul! Either way, the purchase supports a faith-based organization - and makes your shopping easier.

If you'd like to get something special for your Old Testament-loving pastor

(and people, show your appreciation to your pastors/priests this
time of year!), and you'd like to support food pantries (all of the demands are up at food pantries right now), you can get an Isaac/Ishmael representative treat basket from Foodzie - featuring rugelach and ma'amoul cookies (Jewish...Arabic...get it?). Anyway, all of these products featured on the Chow Charity page include charitable donations to major food pantries this Christmas season, which means when you make a purchase, you're supporting a small business, you're getting something unique,and a portion of the profits support food banks. Wow, that's making your money work for you. And after all, who doesn't need more bacon peanut brittle in their life?

And to finish it off, because sometimes, you're looking for a gift that doesn't donate to any charity, feed any hungry, or multi-task in any way - when you need something simply to make a person laugh - well, I would go amiss without directing your attention to this keeper:

For additional ideas, visit:

And don't forget to Save the Publishing Industry, and give magazine subscriptions! I was given a Martha Stewart Living subscription for Easter last spring and continue to love, love, love it!
Because if you don't have time to flip through a magazine, you're too busy.

*Recommended by The Anchoress Online.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Bright Copper Kettles and Warm Woolen Mittens...

It's that time. There is peppermint ice cream in the frozen food section of the grocery store. Josh Groban's technically proficient, if interpretively tepid version of "O Holy Night" is reverberating the icicles via Christmas radio stations. Churches have been greened. Bluegrass residents are wearing their annual look of shock at cold temperatures, and schools are being closed when a light dusting of snow gathers on sidewalk corners. (The first dusting of snow led to over 100 accidents in Lexington alone. Kentucky is perpetually Surprised at the Arrival of Winter. I think it's because it always coincides with UK basketball season - and of the two, UK basketball is on everyone's mind more. Need I remind you of the sweet nursing home lady who couldn't remember how many children she had, but who knew quite certainly that she was a UK fan?)

Advent has been a little stop-and-go for me. I love Christmas in all its tinseled, theological glory. This year? A blur. I'm pretty sure it's related to expecting a child in early January. Normally, I'd be indulging in crafts, lots of baking, lots of movies. Now, I don't want to be on my feet a lot, the crafts are for the nursery, and I'm too tired from finding great stroller dealers at consignment shops to stay awake for much Dickens or even Chevy Chase.

That, and having an essay deadline hanging over me (essay's not due til the end of January, but since the baby is due before that...must get cracking, and I'm not talking The Nutcracker...). Freelance projects are still popping up, baby shower thank-you notes lie blank and ready to be written, I'm literally months behind on long chats with far-away friends, Christmas cards lie blank and ready to be written, and hey, I still want to bake those Martha Stewart lemon cookies featured in my recent Christmas edition of her excellent magazine. Oh, and I need to add things to my It's Labor Time bag for the hospital. There's a letter of reference to compose, and fabric sitting on the dining room table next to a silent sewing machine. Has the tree been watered recently? Yes, yes, Sweet Husband did that the other day. Did I write the follow-up email to the interview? Yes, yes, I did that the other day. Whoa, but the secondhand dresser for the nursery still needs painted with something that has "cashew" in the name. Dayquil and Nyquil for Sweet Husband? Check. Juice? Check.

When all these thoughts begin to pile up like evil, leering presents under a monstrous, consuming nightmare tree, it's time to step back. If it doesn't get sewn, okay. Daniel Martin Moore's "Christmas Time Is Here" plays in the background. I breathe. If it doesn't get baked, okay. I write long lists to organize my thoughts, my tasks, my emotions. I think about Mary and Joseph and the third trimester trek across rough roads and how she didn't go to childbirth class and I wonder if Joseph delivered Jesus or if some seedy-looking hotel manager's wife cut the umbilical cord. I wonder how much Jesus weighed. I wonder if anyone gave Mary breastfeeding tips, or if she got frustrated and cried against Joseph's shoulder. I hope the shepherds knocked before they came in.

I think that times like these, it's important to step back a bit and consciously adopt a posture of receiving, rather than one of acting. There are times when you build character, and times when you draw on character - and I think, in seasons of fatigue or unexpected limitations, it's important to passively allow God to take you where he will. Overachievers, take note.

Advent is to be received, not performed (pastors - take note). Childbirth will be both acting - hey, there's a reason it's called labor - and receiving - you're receiving this child, this experience, whatever it entails. Jesus' Incarnation was not initiated by humans: that is one of the most important implications of the Virgin Birth. Jesus came, unexpected, uninvited, uncreated.

Receive Christ, then, this season, as you do in Holy Communion. You can put up a tree: you cannot create Christmas. You can get a great deal on The Toy for your kid: you cannot create Christmas. We receive Christmas.

Receive Christ, and the celebration of his birth, this year, and be blessed.

Monday, December 7, 2009

We Are The Champions...

Ah, Queen: what a triumphant anthem of victory; no false modesty, just a blaring shout of visceral good cheer.

And I Am That Champion.

Okay, okay, it's through no skill of my own. And I'm not so much a champion as a winner. And I'm not really doing anything To Win other than fulfill basic requirements. But that doesn't kill the buzz, all the same.

And I've prayed this little tongue-in-cheek, yet sincere, prayer: "Lord, you know the year we've had. Lord, we've been laid off since March. And oh Lord, I know the winners of these giveaways are determined by random number generators on - but Lord, you directed the casting of lots in the Old and New Testament, which means you can do it now..."

What's all this about, you ask? Turns out there's this whole teeming world of Mom Blogs on the internet - mostly stay at home moms. Turns out advertisers have discovered that word of mouth promotion via Mom Blog sites is really productive. So there are a bunch of Mom Blogs that review products - but those advertisers are wise. They often give one to review, and one to give away to A Lucky Reader.

So I started entering these giveaways because of the baby stuff you can get - small things, like onesies, to large things, like strollers. The host Mom Blog always has a basic entry ("go to Graco's website and tell me one other product you like") as well as other additional entry opportunities. I never do all of those, usually just one or two, but it ups your odds of winning.

And so far, my personal winning tally is...

A toy Oreck vacuum cleaner (not received yet)
A toy Hugg-A-Planet stuffed globe with labeled countries (in the nursery as I type - educational, woohoo!)
A $75 gift certificate to (coupon code available for use any time)
A $25 gift certificate to (coupon code available for use any time)
A Wicked Jack's Tavern rum cake from Aroma Ridge (already digested by friends and loved ones)'s creme de la creme....

A new XBox 360 Elite prize package for Sweet Husband!!!!!!!! Yes, I can type that safely here, because Subtlety Is Not My Strong Point, so when I got the confirmation email, I screamed, and when he came into the room, I clapped my hand over the monitor and wheezed, "I won you something!", but of course was too excited not to tell him, for which he was very grateful.

"I wanted to try to wait to tell you, but..."

"WHY would you wait to tell me???"

And so on.

The source of scanning all these marvelous giveaways?

You'll notice a "select category" drop-down bar, from which you can choose to look at giveaways for baby stuff, giveaways for tech stuff, etc. I never check the "sweeps4bloggers" giveaways, they look too generic to me. But the other avenue is that in gleaning extra entries for things, I've become an email subscriber to a lot of these blogs - which yes, means that I get like 15 emails a day from them, but I just quickly glance through and delete them if there's nothing I'm interested in, or follow the link to new giveaways they have going on.

There have also been a few giveaways I've gone ahead and entered that I personally wouldn't have a lot of use for, but that would eBay for a very nice sum, thus making it totally worth it if I win.

'Tis the season to be frugal.

The Internet: The Gift That Keeps On Giving. Thanks, Al Gore. Thanks.

*Examples of giveaways: baby stuff, baby stuff, kid stuff, cosmetics, electronics, foods, toys, baby stuff, purses, maternity wear, Etsy seller items, personalized Christmas cards, gift certificates, etc...

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Taking the Turkey on a Roadtrip

Many women I know would say, "yep - I've traveled with my husband, too" - ba-dum-bum. But no, I just mean taking Thanksgiving on the road. This year - lo, with child - Sweet Husband and I packed up the car and the dogs and headed from Kentucky to Texas. Ooooh, boy: 8 months pregnant, people. If there's a bathroom between here and there, I've been in it. But the last Big Trip Before D-Day (delivery) went well. Well, except for a Starbucks crisis.

I hate being so stereotypical of a certain generation, but ya'll, there are NO STARBUCKS on the route we took between southern Kentucky, down to northern Nashville, and over to Little Rock. NONE. I was shocked and appalled and goaded into making it my personal mission to find one.

Texarkana. It was Texarkana before I got my half-caf, nonfat grande Gingerbread latte with whip. Just typing that makes me drool. The Gingerbread latte is a slam-dunk.

The other entertainment Arkansas offered on the long drive through was a radio station's name. Yep. "You're listening to OINK, The Pig - where our music is never a boar..." I'm not even kidding. It was real. Unless it was a Starbucks famine-induced hallucination...

We had a great time with Sweet Husband's family: my sister and mother in law threw me a great baby shower; we went swimming with "Grandma" at her senior center pool (dang, is that a nice facility!!), where there are 20-foot slides. Sweet Husband went down them and came up sputtering and bewildered - apparently they're faster than they look! (The life guard actually quietly told him that sometimes the old folks like to go down the slides, but shoot out so quickly that they get disoriented in the water, don't know which way is up, start swimming the wrong way, and have to be helped out by the lifeguard...) Sweet Husband and I were living jungle gyms for our adorable nephews - we now have four; there will be five boys within three years apart soon when Jack is born, and a brave, lone niece is slated to join the gang in January. "Where's Ewisabef? Ewisabef, I'm gonna gobble you up!" Love it. I got to hold new baby boy Davey, which reminded me how satisfying it is to get a smile from a baby. I know, I know, it's pretty arbitrary - will they smile or scream when you hold them? - but a baby smiling at you is like a You Must Be A Good Person badge. We decorated for Christmas. We saw loads of Sweet Husband's extended family. We visited a fantastic Cuban-American restaurant in Dallas, Free Cuba. Gorgeous food, and I'm still dreaming about it at night. Personal chef! Hey, you, personal chef! Go make me that again!

What? Oh. I don't? Dang.

On the way out of town, I got a newspaper - I like skimming newspapers on roadtrips - and discovered that beloved Pioneer Woman was going to be in Dallas. The day after we left.

NOOOOOOOOOOO. Poor buddy Emily has a similar story. It's okay, Emily. We'll just drive to her house someday. I'm sure she won't mind. Let's just go.

So that was turkey on the road...oh, and a fantastic, idyllic touch football game occurred in the backyard after dinner, with the guys roaring and yelling and scrambling and throwing the ball over the fence into the neighbor's yard.

Okay, that only happened once. But it was hilarious.

How was your Thanksgiving? Did you have turkey on the road? Are you one of those rebellious we-have-lasagna-on-turkey-day families? Did you get up crazy early, or even stay up all night, for Black Friday? Is your tree up?

I hope it was a blessed time, a peaceful time with family or friends. With or without "OINK, The Pig!"