Sure Cure for a Shopping Hangover

I have a shopping hangover, and I’m not proud of it. Black Friday and Cyber Monday caused it, making me feel like I had to be part of the rush to get the best deals. Would they be gone if I had waited? Probably, but does that really matter? What has me troubled is this hangover doesn’t affect my body so much as my spirit. Judging from the news coverage of the number of shoppers Thanksgiving weekend, I’m sure I am not the only one who felt this way. Watching the Black Friday coverage on the news was enough to make me sick to my stomach. Has the Christmas season really become this commercialized today?  I know there has always been a focus on the commercial aspects of gift buying, and I realize with the economy still in the tank, retailers wanted and needed to have a great kickoff to the holidays. I understand that, but what has shopping at all hours, and for hours, done to the average person’s psyche? Does anyone else feel used up and repulsed by the buying frenzy?

Something strange but wonderful has happened to me in the past few months. I’ve become accustomed to a slower pace of life and to NOT shopping. Since my husband just landed a new job, I was looking forward to being able to spend a little bit of money this year for presents, but I wasn’t anticipating the all out assault on the senses retailers have unleashed on the public. What I also didn’t expect was how easy it is to get caught up in thinking I need what they are hawking, especially when the deal only lasts for two hours at the crack of dawn. So I had a come-to-Jesus meeting with myself. I did some soul searching and realized I don’t need all these items I thought I wanted. Because, when you get down to it, they are just things. Will those “things” actually improve my life or will having one more thing actually complicate my life?

When we didn’t have any money a couple of months ago, I missed being able to go to the stores to buy what I needed. Now that I can buy what I need, I realize just how little I actually want. This past weekend I realized just how caught up I was in the deals which seemed too good to pass up at first glance. That first seductive glance is the problem for us as consumers, but the point of the constant bombardment by advertisers. They appeal to our hunter gatherer instincts of fear of scarcity. We don’t want to be without, so they keep tempting us over and over with each commercial and with each email alert, upping the ante each time. As a result, we don’t often take the time to determine whether what we are seeing is what we need or simply what we want, an impulse we might regret later on.

At the end of the day on Cyber Monday, I felt exhausted. I had been trying to find exactly what my family had asked for and also find an item or two for myself since the sales were so good. (I’m actually a little embarrassed to admit that last part.) When I went to bed that night, I realized I had wasted most of a day I will never get back doing nothing more than plotting how to spend money! I had little to show for the amount of time I spent looking and comparing. In fact, I’m not even finished with my shopping. What I have started to do today is delete most of the emails I receive from retailers, and I’m throwing out many of the catalogues I love looking at because they satisfy the urge to shop without my having to spend any money. I’m removing temptation.

Something else I am doing is supporting Small Business Saturday. This past Saturday I shopped at two retailers here in my town, and you know what? I enjoyed myself. Not only did I find some great deals, but I also renewed ties with people in my community, both merchants and patrons of the stores I went to. Those small businesses are trying to make a living without spending millions on advertising. What they do instead is to spend time…on their customers. They take the time to talk to you and understand what you are looking for, and if they don’t have it, they will suggest something equally wonderful or will try to find it for you, even if it isn’t in their stores! I went home satisfied and pleased with my purchases and knew I had made connections with the people I encountered.

Despite seeing and hearing commercials for Christmas shopping for weeks now, I know the Christmas season doesn’t last long. In fact, I can’t believe it is almost December first already. The season’s parties kick off in a week at my friend Barb’s annual cookie exchange. I have several other parties to attend, but I intend to continue my slower pace of life, to savor the moments of the season, a sure cure for the shopping hangover.

For me, the moments I treasure focus on the true meaning of Christmas, not the commercialization of the holiday. The season truly begins this weekend at my church for the first Sunday in Advent. On that day we will begin a ritual shared by millions of Christians for hundreds of years, the ritual of preparing ourselves and waiting for the Son of God to be born. Every Sunday until Christmas each part of the story of Christ’s birth, each hymn, each prayer will impart anticipation rather than anxiety, peace rather than impatience. Each service will fill me up with the love of God and leave me content.

We are in control of what we allow the Christmas season to be about. This year especially I am aware that I can wait for some of the things I thought I wanted. I will instead prepare my heart for the season. I am choosing how to spend my days this holiday savoring the moments and counting my blessings, reflecting with gratitude on what I already have not what I might acquire. I hope you’ll take time to slow down and spend your time at a pace that brings you peace with friends and family who love you. In this season of Advent, I hope you ponder what Christmas is all about, a sure cure for the shopping hangover.

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A Toast to a Happy Thanksgiving

This time of year I am homesick for family, for foods that have been made by generations of Southern hands, for places that seem like places in dreams it has been so long since I visited. It’s Thanksgiving and I am once again not with my family in Georgia. Even as I write this, I know my sister is preparing the dressing for the turkey, either baking the cornbread or the biscuits or putting them together with the other ingredients to have ready to bake tomorrow. She and my mother will be making ambrosia for dessert, and Jessica, my niece, will be making the sweet potato soufflé. Tim, my brother-in-law, will be frying the turkey in the morning, while Tricia, my brother’s wife will be cleaning the house and getting the dining room ready for tomorrow and probably making chocolate delight. Tomorrow the dining room will be full of my extended family, even my nephew and his wife who recently married. Only we will be absent from the meal.

Since I can’t be in Georgia, I try to keep my Southern traditions here in Wisconsin as much as possible. I make cornbread stuffing rather than the dressing I grew up with and not so secretly yearn for, but I can’t get the proper stone ground cornmeal here in the north that I could at home, so I improvise. I put sausage, Jimmy Dean sage flavored, and pecans (rhymes with “we can” when pronounced properly). I now incorporate dried cherries with a nod to our Wisconsin ties. I also make my Mema’s recipe for sweet potato soufflé and have the Ocean Spray jellied cranberry sauce, the kind where you can see the rings from the can, because that is what we always had when I was growing up. I make pumpkin pie for my husband and boys, but I also make an apple pie, something my husband never had at Thanksgiving until he knew me, but I remember my Mema always had an apple pie too.

This time of year I miss so much about my Southern hometown, which is never more apparent than right now at the holidays. I miss the weather, of course, and the familiar streets of Sandersville, my hometown. But mostly I miss feeling like I belong somewhere, not the feeling you get from friends and in laws but the bone deep feeling that you are amongst your people, those who look like you do, whose gestures trace back generations, who get your sense of humor because they share it, who remember the embarrassing things that happened to you but don’t care. In fact, that is what endears you to each other. Your family know all there is to know about you and still love you, no matter what.

Perhaps I miss my home so much now because,  before I moved away from the South, I only knew holidays with my large extended family. We converged on each of our grandmothers’ houses on both sides of the family to celebrate together at least once each year at the holidays. I married into a small family. My husband’s mother was an only child, and his father only had one sister. Now my husband’s brother and sisters live far away from us and are traveling to see their in laws this holiday, but for us Georgia is too far for us to travel with so little time to make the trip and get Travis back to college when he needs to go. Therefore, here we are.

Though our celebration will be small in number, it will be large in sentiment. This year especially, I am thankful for many things. Now more than ever I appreciate the way I was raised with cousins as far as the eye could see and aunts and uncles in abundance who took the time to come together to be with family. I am thankful to have grown up with so many great cooks in the family and for my sister Andrea learning the recipes I haven’t been around to learn. She is teaching those recipes to my niece Jessica so they will never die. I am thankful for my brother hosting my Georgia family so they can be together at the holidays. Even if I can’t be with them, I know they are carrying on the traditions our family established so long ago. That is a comfort. I am also thankful my husband has a job again so we can provide for our Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners this year as well as the other necessities of life.

I could go on and on with what I am grateful and thankful for this year, but I will leave you with one thought for this holiday. Be thankful for the family gathered at your table this Thanksgiving, whether they have traveled far to be with you or just came from across the street. Remember how much you love them. Look past the whining children, the overindulgent uncle, the aunt who changed the recipe of the favorite pumpkin pie because she wanted to make it special even though everyone preferred it the way it had always been. Look past the details and forget about the perfect Thanksgiving meal. There is no such thing. As you look around the room at your family, be thankful you are together and remember those who aren’t with you, even though they want to be. Drink a toast to them and to each other, and have a happy Thanksgiving!

Ordinary Things

You may have noticed my absence in the past two weeks. I have been in an agitated state since the week of the 2012 election, partly because of the whole election frenzy but also because that same week my husband was finally offered a job. In the past four years he has been unemployed for two and a half years of those four, not all at once except for the two years just after Barack Obama’s first inauguration. Over the course of this time our faith has been tested as has our patience and our budgeting abilities. Our children, both of whom entered college during these turbulent financial times, had to grow up and help fund their own educations, not a bad lesson to learn, but one which I wish they hadn’t had to endure.

Our faith in employers, in government, in people doing the right thing was shaken at times, but I won’t go into the details about all the nail-biting days we shared. Our shared hardship brought our family closer together, and we became more appreciative of each other and of the little things in life. Although I want to talk about what I’ve learned in this time period, I thought today I might start small with “things” I’m thankful for. The important items in my life, the intangibles also deserve some time on this blog, but not right now. Now I want to revel in the little things, so here is my list of things I am thankful for after unemployment.

  1. Hot water—Our hot water heater ignition is failing. I live in Wisconsin but grew up in the South. Can you imagine getting into the shower after being chilled outdoors on a long run and stepping into tepid water. It’s a shock and not a pleasant one when you are expecting hot water. We couldn’t afford to have it fixed until now. Hooray for the plumber who is coming on Friday to fix our hot water heater ignition!!!
  2. Oatmeal—I know. I know. Not everyone likes oatmeal, but I have learned to appreciate the comforting things in life which don’t cost a fortune. I have even learned to like it without much sugar or syrup (maple is the best). I do cut up a banana in it or add berries or apples to it. I also add chopped pecans. It keeps me full for about four to five hours, and when you are trying to save money, that is a blessing.
  3. Books—I have a book obsession! I read anything and everything, but I love a really good book. I used to buy my books. Just walking into a good bookstore, whether big or small, is a religious experience for me. One here in our small town is a particular favorite, Dragonwings Bookstore, owned by Ellen Davis. I haven’t been able to patronize her store much in the past four years, but to keep from going through withdrawal, I have learned to use our equally welcoming Waupaca Public Library. For such a small town they do wonderful work there. The library has had two book festivals in the time we have been unemployed. Through that venue I have met some wonderful authors. At this last festival I met Erica Bauermeister, Michael Perry, and Judy Bridges. Judy is coming back this weekend to host a writing group at the library here in Waupaca!
  4. Our garden—Gardening is a joy for me. I love learning the Latin names for flowers and shrubs. I love the scents of the herbs and flowers we planted, and I love going out to the garden on a summer evening to pick supper. Only in the past week or so—and it is mid-November—have we finished picking everything in our garden. Two nights ago we harvested the last of the carrots. If you’ve never had a home-grown carrot, you need to clear a small patch in your yard and plant them in the spring. They are fantastic. I still have the rosemary we planted amongst the collard greens. I dug it up and planted it in a large pot which stands in my kitchen near the sliding glass doors to catch as much sun as possible. Tonight I am stewing some apples with rosemary a la the Fabulous Beekman Boys. Yum!
  5. Old clothes—Since we haven’t been able to shop in a while, I have been inventive about putting together new outfits with old clothes. One of the benefits of not having much money is  you don’t waste anything, so I haven’t bought a lot of snacks and have lost some weight as a result, enough to fit into my old clothes. Thank goodness I hung on to some of them. I know what the professional organizers say about not keeping something around if you haven’t worn it in a year or so, but some things were just too nice to toss. Now I’m glad I kept a pair of old Levis and a pair of Eddie Bauer camel corduroys. Although I’m no fashion icon wearing them, they’ve come in handy recently.

I know this list might seem ordinary, but that’s just the point. I am thankful for the ordinary things in my life, things which I appreciate now more than ever because I might have lost some of them if our fortunes hadn’t turned around. Tell me, what ordinary treasures you are thankful for?