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.