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Please Have Snow and Mistletoe*

The sand is draining from the hourglass and the flying monkeys are on their way.  A sensible holiday shopper realizes it might be time to panic.  Just a bit.  Perhaps you spent this weekend (with the very best of intentions) perusing the malls and holiday markets?  Perhaps, like me, you awoke slightly exhausted, a bit dehydrated and with a mild pit in your stomach thinking something along the lines of; “I didn’t really buy that dancing troll dressed as Santa, did I?”  Before you indulge in a refreshing bout of robust self flagellation, let’s consider reassigning the blame.

The dancing troll is not (entirely) your fault.  You were probably tired, overheated and improperly fed.  In that weakened state you had trudged through the maize of malls and markets with layouts and repetitive merchandise like Escher drawings.  At every turn you were face to face with that same sequined scarf, knit cap, knock-off Van Cleef & Arpels necklace.  After an hour or so, you could be easily convinced that those items are really all there is.  In your already weakened state, your hopes dulled and dashed by the stunning lack of retail creativity, you found yourself in line, clutching your troll as if it were the bronze medal.

If you don’t want to spend the next few weeks feeling you are settling (and why in the world would anyone ever want to “settle” let alone during such a festive time) I offer you some tips:

  • Prepare.  Sit down with a nice cup of tea and a notepad (virtual or paper) and write a list.  Do not venture out (in December) thinking you will be magically inspired.  You may, but that’s not a plan, it’s luck.
  • Stay away from “Holiday Markets” unless they are specifically artist or craftspeople organized.  Often they are just outdoor malls, which will waste your time and deplete your stamina.
  • Authentic artist/craftspeople markets, antique stores and real vintage flea markets are a veritable pot of gold.  Unique, lovely and often reasonably priced items are just waiting for a good home.
  • Museum, library and arts organizations often have gift shops.  Venture carefully, and preferably with a membership card, as often items can be pricey.  However, you really can find some very special items, and support a favorite institution.
  • Memberships and/or tickets to these institutions can also make lovely gifts.  Do make sure the recipient is a fan and lives in proximity, otherwise you may fall into that “I’m giving to my favorite charity in your name” trap.
  • Food and Drink should always be considered.  A carefully chosen bottle of wine or spirits can be very thoughtful.  Perhaps a bottle of the wine your friends are still talking about which they had in Napa?  Maybe a lovely bottle of sherry to go with those vintage glasses you picked up for your sister at the flea market?  Chocolate lovers make the best gift recipients, don’t they?  There is no shortage of artisanal selections out there.  Strangely, the same can be said for salamis.
  • Music.  Anyone who can hear, enjoys listening to music.  Steer clear of any genre which conjures associated attire (country western, heavy metal) and stick to classics if you are not entirely certain of someone’s preference.
  • Books (electronic or paper) make splendid gifts.  You may want to stay out of the chain stores however, as their displays may lead you to the literary equivalent of a dancing troll.

Remember to bring a snack, stop and sit periodically, and don’t bring a shopping companion.  There are too many distractions as it is.  So have another cup of tea, and go find the troll receipt.  And remember, like most things in life, with gift giving; “I suppose this will do” shouldn’t be the goal.  Happy Holidays!

* and presents by the tree – I’ll Be Home For Christmas (1943)

 
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Posted by on December 5, 2011 in Cultural Critique, Holiday

 

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Dewey Memories

Some of my most romanticized childhood memories take place in the library.  Child-height wooden shelves, overflowing with old favorites and new discoveries.  Child-sized tables and chairs and warm, helpful child-friendly librarians.  I don’t think my reading capacity was any more voracious than other children in a pre-cable television, text messaging, googling world.  In fact I would go so far as to say that it wasn’t the reading per se, which drew me to libraries.  I suspect it was the tranquility and order.  But we’ll save that particular chapter of self-analysis for another day.

The school libraries were slightly less charming than our town’s public library, but filled with entertaining delight.  In my elementary school I discovered a tape of War of the Worlds and shrunk in bug-eyed terror in my carrel (knowing full well it was all fake!)  I also discovered Arizona, (or was it Colorado?) magazine, filled with luscious photography of pink and orange canyons.  In my junior high school library I mostly discovered a safe haven from the social warfare of the hallways.

Our public library was a world unto itself.  The children’s room had a real honest to g-d working fireplace.  The shelves were filled with yet undiscovered Helen Keller biographies (don’t ask) and Judy Blumes.  It being a regular after-school hangout, I would run into friends I had not seen for years (we had two junior high schools and it was easy to lose track of friends.)  Throughout the year, the adult periodicals room would be turned into a movie theatre.  I watched every Marx Brothers movie one year.

As an adult I seem to be in fruitless pursuit of those golden library experiences.  I still appreciate a good children’s room, but find the plethora of paperbacks and franchise series just a tad disheartening.  Where are the Betsy-Tacy books, the Nancy Drews?  Sigh.  I still frequent the film festivals and gird myself for the unpredictable onslaughts from the dwelling optional.  In truth, I should just cherish those memories of new discovery and calm predictable beauty which the libraries provided and recognize those very gifts in new adventures.

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2011 in Cultural Critique

 

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