Saturday, December 3, 2011


"Would you like to try some wine?" a man wearing an evergreen sweater and a smile asked.

"Sure. Do you have Pinot Grigio?" I responded.

"Absolutely. Do you prefer a fruity or oak flavor?"

"Can you explain the difference?" I asked, a touch embarrassed. I never quite understood what that meant.

He explained and went on to tell how the wine I was about to taste was fermented in Northern California. The man, who introduced himself as...gosh I wish I could remember, maybe Jeff, pointed to a platter of cheese and crackers set on a table adorned with garland. "Help yourself."

I did.

Where was I?

Not  a swanky holiday party...Not an expensive wine bar...Not a really good dream. I was shopping on Black Friday.

While other shoppers were stampeding to purchase $2.00 waffle irons and dodging mad women with pepper spray, I was being treated like a socialite in a small wine shop in Saratoga Springs. Thank goodness. I don't know about you, but I think the Black Friday craziness has gotten out of hand. Just look at some of the headlines:

The L.A. Times:   Wal-Mart's Unhappy Holiday Tradition: Black Friday Violence

Bangor Daily News:    Man Accused of Stabbing Tire Over Black Friday Dispute

Chicago Tribune:   Violence, Pepper Spray Mar Black Friday Shopping

Tis the season to be jolly?

Despite these disturbing headlines, I still believe holiday shopping can be delightful and I proved it at that wine shop. You're probably thinking, but how expensive? Surprisingly, not very. I bought a variety pack of six as a gift for $60.00. Plus, I received  a mini seminar, had questions answered, was treated to friendly greetings, conversation, music and food.

After placing the wine in my car, I continued shopping. I experienced a store front window frosted with snowflake etchings, bells that chimed when I entered a shop, a platter of cookies, hot apple cider and various scents like pine, chocolate and peppermint. I came home energized, cheerful and ready to delve into the holiday season.

I can count myself lucky. An informal survey conducted by Shop Talk found that most people do feel stressed about holiday shopping regardless of their budget. Reasons include crowded malls, outrageously chaotic traffic conditions, uncertainty of what to buy as a gift, and more gifts to buy than the wallet can accommodate.

Well, I believe for every problem there is a solution. So if one of these stresses is causing a frazzled feeling to accompany you while shopping for those perfect gifts, here's my "top ten" solutions to shoo it away:

  10.   With the exception of Black Friday, start early in the morning. Parking spots will be more abundant, crowds will be less and stampeders will most likely be sleeping off their spending spree hangover from the previous night.

  9.  Go to at least three small shops on a street as opposed to the mall. Chances are you'll be treated to delicious snacks, greeted by friendly merchants and offered gift suggestions for those hard to buy for folks on your list.

  8.  Enjoy the ambiance. The music, decorations and scents are amazing this time of year. Don't ignore them.

  7.  If you don't have small children of your own, spend five minutes watching other people's kids as they step up to greet Santa. Scenarios you may encounter are beard tugging, screams of apprehension and eyes filled with awe.

  6.  Buy a cup of hot chocolate and find someplace to sit. Watch the bustle pass by you.

  5.  Don't fret if you can't find the perfect present for someone. People love gift cards. They really do. If you think it's too impersonal, put it in a decorative gift bag along with an inexpensive universal favorite like candy, gloves, a book, lotion, a candle, gourmet coffee, etc.

  4.  Don't forget an important person who is often ignored during the holidays -- You. Treat yourself to lunch at your favorite spot when shopping is done.

  3.   Don't pull all of your hair out trying to find that special someone a "must have" item. If they are that special, they'll understand you did your best. Yes...even kids...especially kids. Remember his or her birthday is less than a year away.

  2.  Stay within your budget. The credit card bill that comes in January can be more frightening than trying to get your hands on a $3.00 towel at Target on Black Friday. Believe me. I've received one of these shocking statements before -- not a kick back moment.

1.  Enjoy that giving feeling. Don't worry about the actual gift. Most can't even remember the presents they received the previous year. What they can recall is the warmth that came with it. Don't lose it at the mall.   

Kick Back Book of the Week:

I'm going with a classic short story this week, The Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. No matter how you celebrate this season of giving and peace or what your beliefs may be, this simple tale tells how the best presents don't always come in a package. It begins:

"One dollar and eighty-seven cents. That was all. And sixty cents of it was in pennies."

To read the entire story click here:

Kick Back Song of the Week:

If holiday shopping really does become horror shopping just start humming In My Mind I'm Going to Carolina. Hopefully it will take the edge off. Here it is sung by one of my favorites, James Taylor:


A Little Something Extra:

Saratoga Springs, NY
Happy Holiday Shopping!