Adventures of a Christmas H.O.

This isn't me. It's some other H.O.

I am generally an excellent H.O. (Holiday Organizer) but this year I got sidelined with the flu right after Thanksgiving and was sick for 10 days.  My lists and plans had to wait until I could breathe and cross a room without hacking up a lung.  Thankfully I’m fully recovered (well, mostly- still have a cough), so yesterday I tackled my lengthy Christmas list, hoping to get it all done in one day.

I left the house armed with coupons, discount cards, store ads, debit and credit cards, and a good attitude (most important!) and donning a Santa hat.  I had an organized list and knew exactly what I was getting for almost everyone.  What a H.O.!

First stop, the ATM for some cash.  Next stop, Starbucks for a venti peppermint mocha to get into the right mood.  Then onto Target for electronics.

Target has a GREAT deal on digital cameras right now, something both my kids have been coveting. I wanted to see them in person and make a decision between two of them.  I hoped to beat the crowds with my mid-week, mid-morning shopping trip.  I hadn’t figured on a 6 person-deep line and a frazzled young man behind the counter who continuously got distracted because he kept getting interrupted, answering questions and helping others without completing one transaction.  After this happened 3 or 4 times I was ready to just leave when the man ahead of me barked, “HEY!  There’s a line here!  I don’t care if you just have a ‘quick question’.. get your ass to the back of the line!”

Whoa.  The man had READ MY MIND!  I was impressed and took a sip of my mocha with a holiday smile on my face.

When it was finally my turn, I asked my question (“Why is this camera $30 more than that one?  They look identical.”)  His confused look and his nonsensical answer (“uhhhh, one is red and one is silver. I’m going to help this other guy while you decide.”) left me annoyed but still patient and chanting “It’s ok..I’m a H.O.  I can do this.” in my holiday brain.

After inspecting them more closely I realized the more expensive camera had 10 megapixels vs. 8 for the cheaper one.  I made up my mind about what to get, got the attention of the clerk again, asked for two of them, then waited several minutes while he rooted around looking for them only to find out that they were sold out.  That might have been nice to know right off the bat!  Could have saved everybody a lot of time!  Grrrrr.  I suggested that he put a sold out sign in the display to save the next person the same aggravation, and he give me a look I see quite often as the mother of two preteen girls.  Kind of condescending.. a look that says, “Whatever, lady..”

But the clerk was sweet enough to call another Target for me where they had 7 cameras left, so I took my time leaving the store, sipping my mocha and picking up other odds and ends (mini candy canes for the class party, stocking stuffers, batteries, laundry soap, wrapping paper, birthday cards for my daughter) then checked out.  It wasn’t until I was in my car  and making my way across town that I realized I hadn’t crossed one thing off my list, even though I’d spent 90 minutes in that store.  Dude!!  That was more than 25% of my ‘shopping alone’ time!

Feeling more panicky now and determined to stay focused, I pulled into the lot of Target #2, grabbed a cart, briefly considered stopping at the bathroom but after looking at my watch decided to keep going, put on blinders, and headed to the back of the store.  This electronics department was busier but better staffed, with three people working who actually seemed to know what they were doing.  I waited my turn, got the cameras, two cases, memory cards, and even allowed myself to get talked into extended warranties, all with a smile on my face because the clerk seemed to really know what she was talking about.  I liked her.  She was nice.  She liked my hat .  And she thought warranties were a good idea.  I never buy warranties, ever, but maybe I should.

And then I ran into my neighbor.  “Lisa, oh my gosh!  It’s been ages!  You look great!  How are you?” and this is where I made my fatal mistake, when  I said, “Hey!  I’m fine, HOW ARE YOU?” because then she proceeded to tell me.. and tell me.. and tell me..  Meanwhile, the mocha is hitting my bladder, hard.  A couple of times I said, “I should get going” and “I’m sure you have a lot to do” and “Oh, wow, look at the time” but finally I had to say, “I need to go, I really have to pee” and she laughed and said, “Ok” and then KEPT TALKING.  It’s difficult to interrupt a person who is spilling their guts about their impending divorce, so I crossed my legs and prayed, “Dear Lord, please don’t let me wet my pants.”  Finally I had to say, “I need to find a bathroom, now” and walked away as she was still talking.  Folks, I barely made it..  One more minute and I would have been standing in a puddle.

A quick stop for food, a (not too) quick stop at Borders, then suddenly it was time to pick up Kid #1 at school #1, then Kid #2 at school #2.  Then, after a flurry of phone calls back and forth with my sister for sizes and likes/dislikes of her son, we were off to the mall.  Shopping is much slower with kids in tow.  They are under the mistaken idea that we must look at everything they want for Christmas when we’re supposed to be shopping for other people.  And a trip to the mall wouldn’t be complete for them without a visit to the pet store.  So it all took forever, but we had fun, and I finally finished.

The most difficult gift selection of the day was for my best friend.  She always comes up with the perfect thing.  She never spends too much or too little.  It’s always something thoughtful and meaningful.  So the pressure is on..  I found a lovely Lennox holiday bowl that was regularly priced at $50.  It was on sale 40% off, then with my discount coupon it ended up with a final price of $18.  I was happy until I thought, what if she returns it?  She’ll know how little I spent!  She’ll think I don’t care about her as much as she does me!  Then I was thinking maybe it was too impersonal, maybe I should have gotten her a sweater or a bracelet or a fuzzy robe or.. I don’t know.. something BETTER.

My husband thinks I’m cracked.

ANYway!  Ho, ho, HO!  My shopping is done!  Except for my husband, who wants a weight bench and weights, because, “Honey, THIS is the year I’m getting in shape!”  Whatever, honey..

Are you the family H.O.?  How are you doing with your shopping?

Book Fairs Create Young Readers or Young Shoppers?

Recently I chaired the Scholastic Book Fair at my daughters’ elementary school.  It was labor intensive, but my kids are always so happy and proud when I do things at their school.  My 4th grader said, “Mommy, I hope you run book fair EVERY year!”  This was my fifth and hopefully final time, so I just smiled at her and gently said, “We’ll see” while silently screaming, “HELL NO!”  My 6th grader has the mistaken notion that because I run the fair, I somehow own all the merchandise, and she can just save things for me to buy for her each time she visits (several times a day throughout the course of the week).  “Put this in my stack behind the counter, Mom.  We’ll buy it later.”  We will?  And with who’s money, Missy???  Certainly not mine! 

I have something of a love/hate relationship with book fair and with Scholastic.   Obviously, reading is important to me, and any chance I have to promote it in kids, I’ll take.  But sadly book fair isn’t really about getting kids to read.  It’s about getting kids to BUY.  

Year after year I’m disgusted by some of the things that are sent out from Scholastic.  Expensive toys and activities that have nothing to do with reading (i.e. a plastic Venus flytrap for $19.99) have no place at book fair, in my opinion.  I just leave many of the items packed up rather than putting them out on the shelves.   I was happy to see that they finally got rid of the Bratz (or, as we call them, Slutz) items.  According to this article, Scholastic has pulled them for good, and I applaud them for that. 

I don’t understand the mass quantities of computer software and games that get sent out either- getting my kids (and myself) OFF the computer is the only way to get any of us to read.  When a kid brings a computer game up to the register, I always ask, “Do you think your mom would want you to buy that at book fair?  Do you think maybe she’d rather have you buy a book?  Are you sure that game is compatible with your computer at home? Because if it’s not, you can’t return it.”  They usually put it back.  

It makes me crazy when a kid comes in with $20 given to him by his parents, who presumably wanted him to buy a book or two- and the kid blows it at the cashier table on scented highlighters, a doggy pencil sharpener, erasers shaped like $100 bills, giant hand-shaped pointers, and a Camp Rock poster.  Or the adorable 6 year old who comes in and buys a pink sparkly blank journal with a skull and crossbones on it for $12. and a $4. purple pen with feathers on top.  Does the tiny girl even write her name yet, let alone write in a journal?  And why are kindergartners attracted to the whole skull and crossbones thing?  

Or the kid who comes to book fair with a blank check and brags, “My mom said I can buy whatever I want” as he fills in the check for $78. for a coffee table sized (and priced) football book, a toy ATM machine and several posters.  Or the kids who buy a book and have 58 cents in change and say, “What can I buy for 58 cents?”  I say, “You don’t have to spend every dime you brought” as they laugh and I point them to the bookmarks and erasers.  

I’m disgusted by the parents and grandparents who let their kids lead them around by the nose, demanding this and this and THIS.  One grandparent was there every day after school buying more stuff for the same bratty child, whipping out her checkbook and rolling her eyes as said child piled more stuff onto the teetering stack.  I heard her say, “This is the last time we’re coming in”, three days in a row.  Or the mom who told her 2nd grader, “You can pick out 4 books”, as the kid had a fit because she wanted 7 books.  Mom whined, “Why do you always do this to me?” as she pulled out her credit card for all 7 books.  Who’s in charge here, people?  

After a week I’m sickened by the rampant consumerism. Where is the love of reading, I ask you??

Adventures at a Discount Retailer

I’ve gained a few pounds in the last year (let’s not talk about it) so I have nothing decent to wear to my one big social event of the month (book club).  Ok, it’s not really a big social event, but it is the only time all month that I hang out with other women away from my kids.  I want to look nice.  But I hate spending money and I loathe the mall, so yesterday I headed over to the store with Big Designer Names for Less (I won’t name them but “You should go” is their slogan). 

Treasure hunting through rack upon overstuffed rack of mostly out of season or weirdly colored clothing takes time.  I spent a good hour sifting through things to find 8 items to try on.  One thing I picked up was something I was curious about rather than something I planned to buy- a pair of Seven for all Mankind jeans (the same brand worn by Jennifer Aniston and Cameron Diaz) for $79.  In the big department stores, these go for $189 and up.  I intended to find out why they were so pricey. 

So into the dressing room I went with all my treasures.  I put on the Seven jeans.  Oh. My. God.  THE softest jeans ever.  Slouchy in all the right places, snug where you want them to be.  Faded to perfection.  I turned in the mirror and just couldn’t believe how much I loved these jeans.  I left the room and walked over to the bigger 3 way mirror.  Yep, they looked great from all angles.  Sexy, even.  Really!  I felt great!  And I looked hot (well, as hot as a 40something mini-van driving mom of two with a couple extra pounds can look!)  

Shoot.  I’ve never spent that much for jeans, but how often do you find the perfect pair?  I’ve spent a lifetime looking for them!  How much money have I wasted on many pairs of less than perfect jeans?  I don’t even want to think about it. 

They were indeed perfect- and I had talked myself into buying them- until I sat down in them.  Turns out they are super low in back, and half my ass hangs out when I sit down. Well, that’s not gonna work.  The book club girls don’t need to see THAT.  I even thought, could I STAND through the entire two hours of book club?  Or sit in such a way that my backside remained plastered against the couch?  But common sense prevailed and I put them back on the rack. 

Nothing else looked right.  Other jeans I tried on were too short (I’m 5’10” so that’s a common problem).  I liked one cute top but the side seam was crooked.  Another top would have been perfect in a different color.  There was a green hoodie I really liked but the zipper felt like it could easily break.  

I also looked at shoes.  My gym shoes are thrashed and I could really use some new Nikes- but not in neon green or orange, which is all they had in my size!  Since sandal season is over, I need some flats to wear with jeans- but with my size 10 boats I just want a normal color.  There were some purple patent leather pointy toed flats- cute on a size 6 maybe, but definitely not for me!  Might as well wear a sign saying “Look at my giant feet”.  

After about 90 minutes, I left the store empty handed. I’m at a weird age, clothes-wise.  Everything seems either too young or too old for me.  There must be clothes out there that are stylish but not too trendy, classic but not matronly.  WHERE ARE THEY? 

Weekend Update – From Chef Hats to Santa’s Lap

What a weekend! It was nonstop action around here.

On Friday, the Girl Scout troop descended on my house for a holiday party and sleepover. We turned my kitchen into an Italian Trattoria, complete with opera music (Russell Watson “The Voice” ) and red and white checked tablecloths. The girls donned homemade chef hats, then proceeded to whip up a batch of brownies, a green salad, garlic bread, and huge amounts of spaghetti. After pouring the sparkling cider, we all sat down to an awesome meal. I was amazed at how well these 10 year olds knew their way around the kitchen. They prepared everything with minimal supervision.

After cleaning up, the kids got into their pajamas and had their Secret Sister gift exchange. Later they watched Ratatouille and ate popcorn while the leaders (Sara and I) pumped up the air mattresses. The girls finally conked out around midnight. After a quick breakfast of cinnamon rolls and oj, the girl scouts were all picked up by 9am Saturday morning.

It took a while, but I am finally in a holiday mood. On Saturday, hubby, the girls and I hit the mall. I didn’t have a very detailed list, so my shopping was sort of haphazard. The big event was the visit to Santa. My kids are believers, pretty much (this may be the last year), and the Santa at the mall is very good. He picks up on the littlest things. For instance, he overhears me say their names, and then he uses them as if he knows them personally. My 8 yr old said, “Mom, I don’t think he’s a helper. I think he’s the real one. He knows my name!” Even my jaded 10 year old was impressed. After the obligatory photo, we did a little more shopping, and then left the mall in search of the perfect Christmas tree.

After a sunny afternoon, it started to rain lightly as we were leaving the mall. “Rain..just what you want as you traipse around looking for a tree,” my Grinchy mind thought. My plan of taking a picture at the tree lot to use on Christmas cards was looking like a soggy bust. I grumbled my displeasure to my husband as we drove to the lot near the mall, but then we turned a corner to see an enormous, brilliant, perfectly formed rainbow. Was this God’s way of telling me to put a sock in it??

It was cold (by California standards–56 degrees) and still raining lightly, so we quickly walked the lot. I wanted a 6-7 foot Noble, and they had scads of them, all beautiful. In past years, we’ve gone to 2, sometimes 3, lots before finding the right tree. This year, it couldn’t have been easier. We found a gorgeous tree, the rain stopped, we asked the man helping us to snap a picture, and we were in and out in 15 minutes.

Once we got home, hubby and I had a heated discussion about where to put the tree. Good sense won out (mine). We got the tree into the stand and put it in the room, but decided to leave the decorating for Sunday. That settled, we made dinner then snuggled up and watched The Grinch (not the classic cartoon, but the mildly creepy Jim Carey version. The kids liked it, but I read my book instead).

On Sunday, we played all the Christmas cds, everything from Elvis to Bing to Diana Krall, while decorating the tree. This is definitely the most beautiful tree we’ve ever had. It’s got a great shape, with lots of spaces for ornaments. The girls got bored halfway through, so they decided to play Santa and reindeer. L. dressed like Santa, K. dressed like Rudolph, and they recruited our neighbor to be an extra (lesser) reindeer. They gathered up some of their old toys that they no longer play with, put them in a sack, and off they went in the wagon taking toys to the 3 yr. old twins down the street. It was very cute.

Once the tree was done, I took the tree lot picture in to have cards made at the drugstore. 30 minutes later, cards in hand, I left to do some grocery shopping (so easy when I’m by myself). After shopping and dinner, I addressed 60 cards by hand while hubby and the kids set up the train around the tree.  It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Please consider sending a Holiday card or a Thank You card to a recovering soldier. It’s important for them to know they are remembered and appreciated. My Girl Scout troop sent a stack of them. Here is the address:

Recovering American Soldier
C/o Walter Reed Army Medical Center
6900 George Ave. NW
Washington DC 20307-5001