Holiday Shopping Madness

Every year it’s the same. You’d think, by now, I would have learned, but no. I say to myself, this is the year I’m not going to break the bank. Just get gifts for my kids and that’s it. After all, I’m not made of money.

That’s the intention, and it lasts about 24 hours. Which is when, I realize my plan is not going to work. Okay, then. Just my kids, and my brother who lives in Chicago because he always remembers me this time of year and sends me something that he knows will be meaningful to me. But, how can I get him anything without getting my brother in Florida a gift, too? And isn’t my sister going to be in Florida with our brother, like she is every year at Christmas? I can’t forget about her.

Just a little gift to remind him of home. That's all Henry wants this year.

Then, I remember the two Secret Santa groups I’m in. At work we draw names every year. And the ladies I met one year at a gym for women, also do Secret Santa, though by now Santa is no secret. Each has a $25 cap, and already I can hear the cash register bell going, “Cha-ching!”

There’s also my neighbor and friend who used to take walks with Henry and me before she got sidelined with a foot injury. Cha-ching. Oh, and my handy friend, Gale, who stops by everyday at lunch time, when I’m at work, just so that Henry can take his mid-day stroll through the neighborhood. And, what about my cousins who moved here last year, and my niece who’s stopping by on her way to spend Christmas with her partner’s family? I can’t forget any of them. Cha-ching, cha-ching!

Then, there’s the woman who does my hair and who gave me a small tin of butter cookies the last time I was in, as a hint that she wants a big tip. I don’t even like butter cookies, but I got the hint just the same. There’s also the woman who waxes my eyebrows, once a month, so that I don’t end up looking like Frida Kahlo. Not to mention, the guy who delivers my water, so I don’t die of thirst. There’s the one who protects me from ant infestations and came to my rescue when I was confronted by a rat in my garage. There’s the UPS guy, who wears spiffy, brown shorts all year long, looking quite dapper as he delivers all my packages from Amazon, without suffering any breakage. He’s been looking at me as if he expects somethin., After all, he more than meets his delivery quota with me. And, while I’m at it, I can’t overlook the team of women who arrive like kamikaze cleaners to spit shine my home every other Thursday. I know they’re expecting a little something. Cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching, goes the cash register, as I watch the dollar bills flying out the door.

Even Henry gets miffed if I don’t bring him home a new toy or biscuit. “Something to remind me of home,” he says, looking forlorn. And by home, I know he means England. I don’t dare tell him he was actually born west of the Mississippi. Instead, I bring him a box of crumpets from the bakery, and a DVD titled, The Lost Prince.  This makes him deliriously happy.

Then, there’s my son’s new girlfriend. This is her first Chrismukkah with him—and us (yes, we celebrate both). Already, she feels like part of the family, and I couldn’t be happier. So I have to get something for her and of course it can’t be just one thing because I have so many ideas on what she’d like! Cha-ching!

And what about myself?  I can’t see a Black Friday sale or any other sale, for that matter, without getting something for me. Which is why I buy two of everything! CHA-CHING, CHA-CHING, CHA-CHING!!!

Oh yes, every year it’s the same. But next year, it’s going to be different, I am certain of that. Next year, I’m going to keep it simple. Which is why, next year I’m planning to sleep through December, and not wake up until the strike of midnight, January 1st.

So how about you? How did your holiday shopping fare this year? Were you good, or did you go overboard like someone I know, whose name I’d rather not mention, ahem.

No Discount For You!

Even if you managed to steer clear of Black Friday, it’s hard to avoid the shopping milieu this time of year. You can fast forward through the commercials on TV, you can quickly turn the pages of your favorite magazine and not look at the ads. You can even turn off the unwanted ads on the car radio. But there’s always email.

On this Fine Print I must have missed when it said, "This offer not available to anyone named Monica."

I get emails daily from all the online and retail stores that I have frequented at one point or another. Amazon, Banana Republic, Mrs. Beasley’s, Harry & David, Macy’s, and Pottery Barn are just a few that contact me at least once a day this time of year. All offering me the deal of the day: 40% off, 20% off. Free shipping today only! I’ve heard them all.

Most of these I ignore. But every once in a while, I can’t resist. After all, some offers are too good to refuse.

Of course, I quickly learn, not everything is as it appears.  There’s always a catch. You know what I’m talking about. Otherwise known as:

The Fine Print

I’m very well familiar with The Fine Print which is why I read it the other day when I decided to take advantage of a $10 discount on purchases of $25 or more, that was being offered by a nationally known skin-care company (that begins with the letter “O”).  The special included free shipping, which definitely was enough to pique my interest. A quick scan of The Fine Print  indicated that the offer was not valid on gift collections. Which didn’t matter to me, since I only intended to buy a small jar of facial cream, that women of a certain age tend to need, and, based on its price, more than met the minimum purchase requirement.  What a deal, I thought. Easy, peasy.

The email mentioned an offer code I needed to use, “TENOFF.”  I found the item I wanted, added it to my shopping cart and began to checkout. And this is when it all went awry. I went to check out and typed in the code, but it said my purchase didn’t qualify for the discount.  How can this be? I was following the rules. This solitary item was not part of a gift collection. I tried a couple more times. No dice. So I called the 800 number and Nancy, the lady on the other end of the line, was baffled, too.

“It should work,” she said. Check.

“But it’s not,” I replied. Mate.

Well, you can place your order now with me, at the full price and then call back later to get your discount.”

“But I don’t want to call back later for my discount. Can’t you give it to me now?”

“No, because it’s not working and I don’t know why. “

“Neither do I.”

Were we at a stalemate? Nancy said she’d ask her supervisor and promised to call me back. She didn’t.

The offer was supposed to be good for 48 hours. Later that same day, I tried again. Still nothing. The offer still wasn’t kicking in. Worse, my shopping cart indicated that the product was now temporarily out of stock.  The web site has a live chat option. I tried it, only to find that live chat hours are only available weekdays from 9 to 5.

So, I sent them an email describing my problem.

The next morning I got a response to my email. The tech crew asked what server I was using as they’re pretty sure that’s the problem.  I wrote back and said I have tried placing my order on two different servers on my computer and also on my iPad, to no avail.

Later, I called their toll-free line again.  A different woman answered. Midge, as in Barbie’s best friend back in the day. (So this is what happened to Midge? She became a toll-free customer service operator?)  Midge takes one look at my cart and surmises the problem.

“Well here’s the situation. You want an item that’s out of stock. This offer is only good for items that are in stock.”

“Well The Fine Print doesn’t say it’s not good on out of stock items. Only gift collections and, Midge, this isn’t a collection.”

“Well, honey, you can order this item and pay the full price. Then, when you receive it, you can call us back and ask for the discount.”

“But why can’t I pay for this item and you give me the discount now? Why do I have to wait for the discount. It’s not as if giving me the discount now is going to break your bank!”

“No need to be sarcastic. You know we can’t do that.”

“Why can’t you do that?”

“Because it’s not in stock, dearie.”

“But, Midge, when I first put it in my shopping cart, it was in stock!”

“Well, it isn’t now. You should have purchased it when it was in stock. Then you could have gotten the discount.”

“But, Midge, your site wasn’t letting me have the discount!”

“You can still buy it now at the full price and call us when you get it, so we can give you the discount!”

“Yeah, but by then I’ll forget. I’m no spring chicken, Midge, which is why I need this facial cream. Trust me, I already can’t remember the discount code!”

We go it another round or so and finally, I hang up, completely frustrated and defenseless against Midge and the corporate inanity she represents.

Just then, I receive an email message from the tech crew. Ah, I think. They’ve come to their senses and are going to give me the discount!

I open the email and here’s what it said:

“We apologize that you are still experiencing difficulty with our Web site.  Thank you for providing us with additional information that we require to further assist you.  We ask that you please follow the steps provided below to help resolve the issue you have experienced.”

They then proceeded to tell me how to get my server to accept their cookies. As if that’s the problem.  Well, I don’t want their darn cookies, so I hit the delete button on the email and empty my shopping cart.

Tomorrow, I’m finding a new facial cream. Let’s just hope my face doesn’t completely sag by then.

How about you? Ever have any trouble with alleged special offers or shopping online?

A Winner, a Baker & BF

First of all, congratulations to Annie of Annie Off Leash! She’s a winner!

Annie is the lucky reader who is getting my first giveaway–a beautiful Art Meets Glass original, pomegranate pendant, created by Marsha Anderson. So, Annie, please email your mailing address to monicastangledweb@gmail.com, so it can be shipped out to you. And, thank you to everyone else who participated. I so appreciate you tweeting the news!

Thanksgiving was at my house this year. Once a year, I cook to my heart’s content, and this was it. I made just about everything from scratch, which is why it’ll probably be another year before I do anything like this again. The best part was that I decided to bake the bread for our meal, something I haven’t done in over 15 years!

Here's what my Grand Champion Dill bread looked like just before baking.

Some people think baking bread is a daunting task. I know, because I used to be one of them. And I don’t know why I stopped (blame it on not enough time in the day), because baking is such a pleasure. It’s soothing, relaxing and rewarding. Now, I do not own a bread machine, as I don’t consider using one to be really baking.  If you ask me, it feels a bit like cheating.

I prefer the old fashioned way. I take the temperature of the water before I mix in the yeast. I let my dough rise several times. I split it in thirds and make long strands, which I then braid together. Brush on egg yolk, then I pop it in the oven.

Voila!

I’ve baked this bread before and the recipe I used, Grand Champion Dill Bread, is from the 1979/80 issue of Better Homes & Gardens Creative Ideas: Baking Ideas. If you happen to have that issue around, as I do, it’s on page 16. If not, please see recipe below. Let me tell you, the aromas while it’s baking are absolutely heavenly and the bread itself, piping hot from the oven, delicious.  I was afraid I might have forgotten how to bake bread, but, happily, it all came rushing back. Like riding a bike. So, I may be baking bread again soon.

Now, here’s how I managed BF (Black Friday).  My son and I went on a reconnaissance mission. Which means, we gathered by his computer to review the Black Friday circulars at a website devoted to just that (bfads.net). We then made a list of what we both wanted and, while I manned our secret headquarters (aka, my home), he plunged into the night, to stand in line at Best Buy.

Traveling incognito, he arrived a half hour before opening, and quickly discovered the parking lot was already full. He was about to yell, “ABORT, ABORT!,” when suddenly he realized there was parking available across the street. He then fell in line, with about several hundred BF shoppers, a line that wrapped once around the store. By 12:15 a.m. he was in, and our mission was underway: to search out the items on our list.

Meanwhile, my job was to be on standby (like one of those phone operators in India). Periodically, he’d call me to have me check prices online, verify product codes, and check availability. Isn’t technology amazing?

I only had two items on the list we made: the latest Harry Potter film just released on DVD, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2. It was on sale for $9.99. Also on my list, a blu-ray disc player selling for a low $39.99, which we knew would be a long shot as, at those prices, they always go fast.

Success! More or less. Despite being told they were out of the blu-ray disc players, he found a lone one, discarded in another aisle, no doubt by someone who had changed their mind. As for the DVD, he picked up the right one, then at the last minute, he switched the it  for a version that claimed to be in 3-D, as he had recently purchased for himself a 3-D television and wanted to try it out.  Unfortunately, in the excitement of the moment, he didn’t notice that the 3-D version was actually part one of The Deathly Hallows and not part two.

The upshot was that I got to lounge around and relax with a movie on TV while he ran around like crazy gathering his purchases.  He did say that everything was nice and orderly and the people, including the customers, were rather helpful. The worst part? The line to pay. It took him over an hour to get through that line.

So how about you? How did you spend Thanksgiving and Black Friday?

Grand Champion Dill Bread

1 package active dry yeast

¼ cup warm water

1 cup dairy sour cream

1 beaten egg

1 tablespoon butter or margarine, softened

1 small onion, finely chopped

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon dill seed

1 tablespoon dried dill weed

1 teaspoon salt

4 to 6 cups unbleached flour

1 beaten egg yolk

In large mixing bowl, sprinkle yeast over warm water. Stir in sour cream, beaten egg, butter, onion, sugar, dill seed, dill weed, salt and 1 cup of the flour. Beat with spoon till well blended. Stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can with a spoon. Turn out onto lightly floured surface; knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately stiff dough. Continue kneading till smooth and elastic. Place in greased bowl; turn once to grease surface. Let rise till double, 1 ¼ to 1 ½ hours. Punch down; divide in thirds. Cover; let rest 10 minutes. Roll each third to an 18-inch rope. Place on greased baking sheet; braid. Combine egg yolk and 2 teaspoons water; brush atop loaf. Bake in 350 degree oven for 35 to 40 minutes. Makes 1 loaf.

My Two Cents

From time to time, I have random thoughts spinning through my head, which I need to get out. Like today. These are my musings in a nutshell, which I’m happy to share, rather, unload, on you.

And They’re Off!  I don’t know about you, but I keep getting all stressed out by Black Friday, which is just days away. The anticipation, the frenzy, the mad rush to buy, buy, BUY! But, if you ask me, BF has become a holiday in and of itself. Our annual duty as Americans, to open our wallets and hand over our cashola, to the retail industry. Needless to say, Black Friday is as integral to our way of life as eating deep-fried Twinkies at country fairs, and voting for the next American Idol.

It seems to me, this holiday is buried next to Thanksgiving and is in danger of getting lost in its shadow. Indeed, we’re doing it a disservice by wedging it between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Throw in Hanukkah and Kwanza, and it’s a recipe for disaster, my friends.

Which is why I’m proposing we move Black Friday to sometime in the summer, away from all the holiday hysteria. Cyber Monday, too, for that matter.  Let’s move them both and spread out our national holidays, once and for all.  It’s time we let Congress know we won’t stand for anyone squishing our holidays together anymore, unless of course, we’re talking about the 12 Days of Christmas or the eight days of Hanukkah. Those, we can still keep together.  Incidentally, have you thought about what you’re getting me for Black Friday this year?

Queen of America — Adventures by the Book does it again!  Looking for something fun to do this holiday season?  Get lost in a book or two, with exciting opportunities to meet really cool authors. I always enjoy these events and the rare experience it gives you to get to know an author and the backstory of their book.

First up, on December 3rd, you can spend an intimate evening with renowned author and Pulitzer Prize-winner, Luis Alberto Urrea.  Enjoy a margarita and appetizers while learning about Urrea’s latest novel, Queen of America (and no, it’s not about me!). This sequel to The Hummingbird’s Daughter is, as Vanity Fair magazine puts it, “vibrant, larger-than-life fiction based on the ‘Saint of Cabora.’” Listen up, you folks in the Northwest:  Adventures by the Book is planning a similar event on December 7th in Portland, Oregon.

Silver Sparrow – On December 6th, Adventures is hosting a divine dinner with author Tayari Jones, who also happens to be a member of She Writes! I’m reading her book right now, Silver Sparrow, and it is wonderfully told from the perspective of a young girl whose father is a bigamist. He has two separate families and only one of them knows about the other. It is a story of deceit (a tangled web, if you ask me), and when the teenage daughters from both families finally meet, well, you just know something’s going to hit the fan.

After Happily Ever After  — Now that I’m blogging for the Huffington Post, including its Divorce section, I’m making all kinds of connections. Which is how I came to link up with Kate Schermerhorn. She has produced a fascinating documentary, After Happily Ever After, inspired by her own marriage and divorce—and subsequent second marriage. Kate asks, why do so many people marry when half those marriages will end in divorce?  Which reminds me of an observation I heard on the pilot episode of the struggling, NBC sitcom, Whitney. In it, Whitney observes, that 50 percent of marriages end in divorce. Yet, if we were told that 50 percent of planes  crash, would we still by as likely to fly? Hmm….Definitely something to ponder.

Kate talks to many couples, young and old, dressed and naked. (Yes, one of the couples believes in a nudist lifestyle, which is probably why their marriage is working.)  She also talks to psychologist John Gottman, who can predict divorce with 90% accuracy. Kate and her second husband are seen throughout the documentary, and as it progresses, you see their own marriage beginning to dissolve. It’s a candid film, with a humorous flair, and recommended viewing for anyone in a relationship or wanting to be in one. Visit the website for more info.

The End of an Era – Last Friday was the final taping of One Life to Live, a tearful day for the actors of my favorite soap opera. My heart goes out to the cast and crew who worked on the show for so many years, and then were unceremoniously kicked to the curb (Thank you, ABC).  Some of you may know I was planning to “retire” in Llanview, USA, where the fictitious soap was set. Now, who knows? I may have to work forever.

There are plans to move One Life to the web, but only time will tell how well that works. For now, I’ll just cry my eyes out, for the loss of so many juicy storylines and appealing characters.  I mean, where else could you see on TV, characters grow up, from infancy to adulthood, in about five years?

Art Meets Glass — Don’t forget! You still have until this Friday to enter my first giveaway! Read the post, Art Meets Glass and Then Some to find out how.

So, Happy Thanksgiving everyone! Happy Black Friday, too.  And if you’re looking for me on BF, I’ll be the one with the blithering, far off, uncaffeinated stare, waiting on a line about six blocks long, just to fulfill my civic duty as an American consumer.

And proud of it.