Tag Archives: shopping

What Special Time of the Year?

     This is an open letter to all retailers, mall managers, and shopping center moguls.  I fully understand the financial significance of the time period historically referred to as the holiday season.  I know that many retail establishments show annual profit for the first time each year after Thanksgiving when most people head out to shop for Christmas gifts.  I also know that the advent of Internet shopping has cut into this revenue stream in recent years.  Beyond  these, I know that every year the shopping season gets moved back further and further from the holidays so that it no longer has any real connection to any holiday.  This concerns me for several reasons.  First, as I mentioned, the increasing separation of the shopping from the season that spawns it; second, the undermining of the reason for the season; and third the detraction of other holidays which can lead to confusion for the shopper as to what month it actually is.


     People have historically spent more money in the weeks leading up to Christmas than they typically spend all the rest of the year.  This shopping has historically happened starting the Friday after Thanksgiving where crowds rush the malls, shopping centers and big box stores trying to get the perfect gift.  Retailers have fueled this frenzy by offering significant savings on select items to entice shoppers into their stores.  This commercialism, while often rightfully criticized, is understandable.  Retailers need to make money.  There is no other reason to be in business.  The problem is that the retailers, in an effort to garner more profits, have figured that since they make so much money in the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas, surely they could make even more if customers would shop even earlier.  Now several retailers are opening on Thanksgiving day–typically a holiday where all stores would close so employees could spend the holiday with family–and offering the sales that would normally happen on Friday.  This is offensive.  The hapless employees, working for near minimum wage, are being forced to miss time with family; miss time off work to relax and enjoy the holiday and miss an opportunity to give thanks for the jobs they have just so they can work that job.  This is pure unmitigated greed.
     Christmas is a season special to Christians.  While many secular activities have become affiliated with Christmas, it is still primarily a Christian observance.  It draws its name from Christ, its purpose is to celebrate His birth and honor Him by giving gifts much as the Maji presented the Christ-child with gifts.  The amount of gifts and the dollar value of the gifts are not the most important considerations.  As more non-Christians celebrate the holiday, the true reason for the season gets lost amid the cash flow of excess and avarice.  Some of these people express offense at the religious connotations of Christmas.  The media, in an attempt to pander to the most viewers as possible introduces the term “Holiday Season” to describe Christmas and Thanksgiving and urge people to wish each other “Happy Holidays” rather than the more religious sounding “Merry Christmas.”  This is pure unmitigated political correctness.
     One of the more pleasant memories many people have of their childhood Christmases is going shopping for gifts (after Thanksgiving) and seeing the stores festooned with Christmas decorations of glittering gold, bright red and festive green while Christmas carols played over the store speakers.  It, more than any other sign, indicated that Christmas was just around the corner and Santa would soon stop by their house to leave presents under their Christmas tree.  These decorations would go up immediately after Thanksgiving for the Christmas rush.  Today, these decorations are up before the end of September.  This is ridiculous.  There are still two holidays to go before we get to Christmas.  One aisle of the store is filled with Halloween costumes, paper witch door decorations, annoying fake spider webs and enough candy to put California into insulin shock while the next is filled with glitter, pine wreaths, fake trees, lights and wrapping paper.  One goes to a WalMart and has to check one’s calendar app on the smart phone just to figure out what month it is.  Memorial City Mall is having their tree lighting show the weekend before Thanksgiving.  Why? I don’t have an answer.  This is pure unmitigated confusion.
     So, big retail executive/store owner/manager, I say to you: step back and let people enjoy the holidays as they come.  Let the Halloween candy be eaten and the Thanksgiving turkey digested before we get bombarded with Christmas sales.  Let’s not make the entire year nothing more than an extended Christmas shopping season.  To that end, I am making this pledge and encouraging all my friends and family to follow suit: I will not patronize any store that has Christmas decorations up before Halloween ever again.  This means that once the decorations come down after Christmas, if they go back up before Halloween, I stop shopping there.  Yes, this includes WalMart and the Malls.  I will resort to shopping at mom and pop stores, downtown retailers and online e-tailers for all of my Christmas gifts before I subject myself to listening to “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” being played over the speakers while being visually bombarded by Christmas decorations in October.  It pure unmitigated commercialism driven by greed and political correctness that creates confusion and ruins the Holidays for many Christians.

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The Secret is in The Planning

In the time-honored traditions of middle-class America, we are on vacation this week. This is Spring Break for Houston-area schools, so we decided to take advantage of the time and get back to nature to unwind. There is nothing like communing with God’s creation to put one in touch with the basic joys of life. Yes, relaxing in the great outdoors can change one perspective, alright. Camping, hiking and fishing are such simple joys. Simple. Joys. It just takes a bit of planning.

We started planning this trip several weeks ago, having altered our original plans of a trip to New Orleans. In fact, my wife and I love to travel. In the three years we’ve been together, we have been all over the country and to Europe. We love nothing more than a spontaneous road-trip to some out of the way, small, historic town. We have even been camping a time or two.

Now, I come from a long line of campers. My grandfather and granny were both outdoors types. They raised my mother to be an outdoors type; and she, in turn, raised me and my siblings to be outdoors types. Some of my earliest memories are of camping. When my father, an Army officer, was transferred to a new command, we camped en-route. When we visited Disneyworld, we stayed in Frontier Land instead of the fancy new Contemporary Hotel with the Monorail going through it. That would have been such a cool place to stay—but no, we stayed in the Hotel Starcraft, the pop-up tent camper my parents bought. Not that I’m bitter or anything, I thoroughly enjoyed Frontier Land. Movies and cartoons in the amphitheater every night, listening to my mom real us to bed from the classics of literature like Moby Dick and other camp related activities are some of my most fond childhood memories. But to a 10-year-old—who loved science fiction—a hotel with a monorail is hard to beat. I was also in the boy scouts and went on every camping trip they had planned.

When I was in my twenties, I decided that minimalist camping was the truest nature of camping. Planning was simple: I took a tarp, a sleeping bag and a cooler and cooked over a fire. This served me well in the military, where they bivouacked in similar fashion. Now that I’m well into my 40’s, camping takes on a whole new dimension. I need an air mattress, a nice sleeping bag, a cabin tent, Coleman stove, cook table, lanterns, axe, flashlights, etc etc. Basically, I’m talking about a portable version of home. This involves logistics. This involves planning. This involves…stress.

My brother and I have planned several camping trips for our traditional male bonding expeditions. In fact, we are currently planning another one for this summer. I have also taken camping trips with my wife and others with my sons. Sadly, I haven’t been able to go camping without at least one trip to Wal-Mart at some point during the venture to pick up some forgotten supply. You know what they say: if you can’t get it at Wal-Mart, you don’t need it. One time, my brother took us an hour drive to another county to buy beer.

At any rate, we are camping at this very moment. Lake Millwood is in the southwest corner of Arkansas and I have a history here. My grandfather and Uncles built a cabin on this lake a long time ago, and we used to have family reunions there. The cabin is long gone now, replaced by a subdivision or some other development, and the lake is a now state park. It is very beautiful here though. The sun setting through the trees reflects off the still waters of the lake. The crickets chrip, the geese honk, the frogs croak and you can hear an owl hooting in the distance.

We just finished dinner—one-man meals (also known as hobo meals) with hamburger steak, potatoes and carrots rolled up in foil and set on the fire—having eaten while watching that beautiful sunset. I am enjoying a bowl of my new favorite tobacco while I write this and Michelle is just enjoying the evening. Such peace. Not the experience we had last night.

We arrived yesterday evening around 6 pm just as the sun was dropping to the horizon. I planned to set up our camp kitchen so Michelle could prepare a wonderful dinner of campfire stew while I set up the tents. Everything worked like clockwork and the site was up before it got too dark to see. But with nightfall came the north wind. It was cold. I was in shorts, having left Houston with 72 degree weather and it was dropping into the low 50s here. I have camped in cold weather and I have a good sleeping bag and I have learned a trick or two from all those Boy Scout camps and military bivouacs about staying warm. The secret is to wrap in a cotton sheet inside the sleeping bag. Helps retain the body’s own heat. This works as long as you’re in the bag. The problem arises when something compels you to leave to bag. Something that makes you walk over to the wonderful facility the most experienced camper always sets up as close to as possible for just such an emergency.

But when it is 40 degrees, that walk is the last thing one wants to make. Going from toasty warm in a bag (OK, my nose was freezing, but I can deal with that) to a teeth chattering, shiver of a walk is a miserable experience. So last night was far from comfortable. Now, tonight, after a trip to Wal-Mart for more supplies, hopefully, we can make it through the night without chattering the teeth out of our heads.

We are looking forward to tomorrow with a hike in the morning (to warm ourselves after what promises to be a cold night again—just check the forcast: 42 degrees—with exercise to get the blood flowing) and canoeing and fishing in the afternoon. The weather says no rain all week, so at least we have that going for us.

Yes, getting back to nature is a wonderful time that everyone should enjoy. Plan carefully, make a list and pack warm and make sure a Wal-Mart is not too far away.

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You’re Just Saying That

“You look good.” “I love your hair that way.” “No, no, no…plaid slacks are making a comeback.” These are all things we say in answer to questions we’d rather not answer truthfully. And the response is usually “Oh, you’re just saying that.” And we are. But the alternative is hurt feelings and at best an apology and at worst a night on the couch.

There is one area of life that the phrase actually is beneficial—even if it is a lie. There are reports all over the news—TV, Print and Web—that the housing market is on the rebound and that the recession is over. Many skeptics poohoo these assertions as being overly optimistic. These pundits maintain that the economy will take at least five years to recover from this devastating recession. These are also the same pundits who maintain that the recession started seven years ago.

If there is one thing that is a constant in our society, it is that we will listen to what is said loudest and longest. If enough people insist we are in a recession, then we believe we are in a recession. And—this is the important part—we ACT like we are in a recession. When we act like we are in a recession, we create a recession.

Our economy is one that works when money is flowing. You earn a buck, you spend a buck. The store that took your buck gives it to a bank who then gives it to someone else. That buck is then paid to someone as wages, and that person then spends that buck and the cycle continues. But suppose that the person who got the buck decided he didn’t want to spend the buck. Then the merchant won’t get the buck and have no bucks to give to the bank. The bank has fewer bucks, so they stop giving the ones they have to others and pretty soon, no bucks are moving anywhere. This is a recession.

What would make a person decide to hold on to the buck? Fear that there won’t be any more bucks coming. This in turn makes it so that no more bucks come. Why was he afraid? The media told him there was a recession coming. How do we fix it? Tell him the recession is over.

Wait a minute…just a cotton-pickin’ minute there, bub! There are thousands of people without jobs. What about them? You can’t tell them the recession is over. Well, yes we can, and the reason we can is that once people start spending again, then employers will start hiring again to fill the needs of the growing marketplace.

This is the big issue. People behave in set patterns. If they believe the recession is over, they will start spending again, the bucks will flow again and then, guess what? The recession will really be over. Even if you think they are lying when they say it, believe it. So when you hear the housing market is rebounding, take heart. When you hear the recession is over, feel confident. Go ahead and spend your money.

They’re not just saying that.

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But I Need This, Don’t I?

Why do we do things we don’t want or shouldn’t? I’ll tell you why. We’ve been brainwashed, that’s why. Like some spy movie, we have had our minds altered by the nefarious villain. Our will has been sapped and manipulated by the evil forces of the enemy. They know us. They watch us. They control us like a puppet on a string. Who is this enemy? Is it Big Brother? Is it Kaos? Is it Spectre? No…it’s marketing companies.

Haven’t you found yourself buying something that you felt you had to have, despite the fact that—until the moment you got it—you never even knew you needed it? How do you think that happens? You watch TV. You read books. You surf the internet. Companies that make products have a simple mission: to sell their stuff. They don’t really care who buys it, as long as someone buys it. But those companies don’t know how to sell it to the masses. They hire people, or outsource to a firm, that specialize in convincing other people to part with their money.

I got a phone call from a company the other day that wanted to know if I would like to participate in a key contest where they would send me a car key and if it fit the lock of a Ford Ranger, I got to keep the truck. I said “Sure, why not?” If I don’t want the truck, I still get $10k cash (before taxes). No reason to pass up a chance at free money. Besides, I also will definitely win either a 300 bucks, a dream vacation, a flat screen TV, or a shopping spree (or some such nonsense). When I bought a car several years ago, the ad I took into the dealership had a similar consolation prize. I would win either a TV, 1000 bucks, a home entertainment system or a basketball. My son said that with my luck, it would be a flat basketball. I won the basketball. It was not pre-inflated.

So, I get this key in the mail. The company calls me to ensure that I got the key and set up an appointment for me to try it out. Now, I have had telemarketers call and give me the cue-card spiel, but never have they send a key in a hand-written envelope and made several calls to get me to listen to the spiel. I am somewhat suspicious of the whole thing, but now I am curious enough to go. And maybe that’s just what they expect me to do. Maybe I’m playing right into their evil clutches.

Their plan may be to lure me in with the promise of riches (ok 10k isn’t riches, per se; but it is money after all) then they spring the trap. Perhaps it will be a time-share, or maybe an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a real estate investment firm, or I may have a chance to start my own business with only a modest initial investment. Then again, it could be legit. It could be a company trying to get the word out of their new store and this is just a contest to build name recognition.

I hope so. I don’t need more stuff that I don’t need. Our house is too full of stuff we don’t use to go out getting more of it just because some marketing firm made me think I needed it. That is the scheme, you know. They use imagery of beautiful people (who remind us a lot of ourselves—in a deluded way) using their product to make us want to be those beautiful people using the product. That creates a “need” where one did not exist before. These firms have employed doctors and behavioral scientists to figure out the best way to get into our heads.

I guess the best way for me in this case is a chance at a free truck or cash. I’ll let you know what happens.

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When You Wish Upon A Book

There once was a time when the mailman was every kids’ best friend, especially around the holidays. That was when the “Wish Book” came in the mail and every kid could tear through the pages and check out the latest toys coming out and find the GI Joe with the Kung Fu grip, or the Big Wheel, or the Star Wars Lego sets or what have you. For those who couldn’t wait for the mail, you could always pick up a copy of the wish book at the local Sears store. This was at a time when Sears sold everything, unlike today when they have limited their inventory. Did you know there was once a time when you could buy a house from a Sears Catalogue?

The Sears catalogue was not just the Christmas wish book, though that was the “biggie” that kids loved because it included all the toys. Sears once put out several catalogues during the year-each for a different department. I remember many days as a child simply laying on the floor of the den, flipping through the glossy, full-color pages looking at all the toys and pestering my mom for the one’s that caught my eye (and a good many of them caught my eye back then) and having her tell me that I might get them for Christmas…if I was good. But my mom would spend more time throughout the year looking at the linen catalogue or the fashions catalogue or the home furnishings catalogue.

Of course, we also got catalogues from JC Penny and Montgomery Ward (RIP) and others. As I think of it, I don’t know if we actually ordered anything from those catalogues. We mostly shopped and then went to the mall to buy. Looking into the wish book was more of an exercise in virtual window shopping. It was like surfing the Sears website before there was such a thing as the internet or even a personal computer.

This Christmas I was in Sears and my wife noticed what looked like a weekly circular in a display by the mall entrance. When we picked it up, I got choked up. It was the Sears Wish book, 2009 edition. Where it used to be 9 by 11 inches, it is now maybe 10 b 6 inches. And where it used to be more than 500 pages chock full of full-color pictures of products, it is now about 50 pages of some products, but not even the full complement of stock available in the store. And there were no toys.

I cannot even see how kids would even care about a wish book in this time of online retailers and Amazon and Wal-Mart. But even if they were interested, there is no real Wish book for them to wish about anymore. Of course in this day of instant gratification, kids don’t really have to wish anymore. Most kids get what they want when they want anyway so there’s nothing to get them for Christmas.

But for me, I will honor the memory of perusing the wish book by perusing the websites for my favorite toys. I know that Microcenter.com has a cool NAS with 4 terabytes and RAID 0, 1, 5 and 10. And I know that Fry’s.com has the cool new ATI video card with crossfire technology. And even Sears.con has a sliding compound miter saw and the Jaw Horse work bench for my woodshop. These websites are only a click away, so I can view all these new wish books online. Call them Wish pages and they sell everything you can think of. Did you know you can buy a house online? And if you’re good, you can get your wishes for Christmas.


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Christmas Time is Here

Christmas time is here
Happiness and cheer
Fun for all
The children call
Favorite time of year
Snowflakes in the air
Carols everywhere
Olden times
And ancient rhymes
Love and dreams to share

These are the lyrics to one of my favorite secular Christmas songs ever. I love Christmas music. Secular music, religious music, orchestral music, carols, hymns, if it’s Christmas, I like it and I’ll listen to it. Christmas is important for so many reasons as Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ as well as celebrating the principles of giving to others.

Sadly we have lost focus of the season. Christmas has always been a Christian holiday (here’s a hint: Christmas and Christian both start with Christ) which has never been a real problem in a nation founded on Christian principles. It is those principles that are creating the big problem, however. One of the founding principles was freedom for all to practice their own religious ideals with no inference from Government. This is where the “separation of church and state” gets its meaning.

People get confused by this separation however. They seem to think it means that you cannot practice your religion if it offends someone, or you cannot practice it without including all other religions. Well, this is fallacy. Christians celebrate the birth of the savior in December. We know that he was not actually born on December 25th, but that is not the point. The point is that we set aside a day to celebrate the occasion. This sense of inclusion has led to the month of December being recognized as “The Holiday Season,” which gives everyone an excuse to celebrate something. Hanukah and Kwanzaa have been added to the mix which serves to further dilute the significance of Christmas.

Jews do not celebrate Christ’s birth, because Jews do not believe he is the messiah; they celebrate Hanukah in December. It coincides with the Christmas season, but not the actual day, and it has nothing to do with Christ, but rather celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple at Jerusalem. They light a candle for eight days to recognize the miracle of the candle oil, where the temple was out of consecrated oil and only had enough for one day. It lasted, however for eight days, which is the time it takes to press, prepare and consecrate olive oil.

Kwanzaa has no religious significance whatsoever. It is celebrated in December just to give African-Americans a celebration of their own separate from the dominate holiday of the season. It was created in 1967 but did not gain acceptance until much later. The founder of Kwanzaa claimed that Jesus was psychotic and that Christianity was a white religion that blacks should shun.

The media—having become the mouthpiece for the liberal agenda—has become an avid supporter of inclusion for the “Holiday Season,” even to the extreme of refusing to use the phrase Merry Christmas, opting to use the diluted “Happy Holidays” instead. Seems Merry Christmas is too Christian. Schools have dropped the Christmas Pageant and now have a holiday concert where secular songs are sung, but no religious hymns or songs.

Sadly, we as a people, do not help matters. The tradition of giving gifts has evolved into nothing more than a marketing scheme for retailers to gain profits. The day after Thanksgiving, traditionally heralded the beginning of the Christmas season, is now simple called “Black Friday,” because it is the day that merchants books actually show a profit. News broadcasts are full of stories of sales and people who do ridiculous things to save money buying things at stores. The stores do not even wait for Black Friday anymore. They start hanging “Happy Holidays” signs before Halloween these days. Celebrating giving has evolved into celebrating buying.

Christmas time is here and it used to mean something. It meant celebrating God’s love, Christ’s birth and giving of ourselves to others—and it needs to mean this again. This is what we need to remember this Christmas season. This needs to be held close as we gather family around the hearth and table and this is what needs to be honored as we exchange gifts with loved ones. Play your favorite Christmas music whether it be carols, hymns or secular. Merry Christmas to all.

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The Newest Sports Craze!

There is a new sport taking hold over the country (at least wherever I am) that no one is talking about. It’s fun! It’s exciting! It’s challenging! And it actually serves a beneficial purpose! What is this sport I’m talking about? It’s a simple but challenging game of skill involving timing and hand-eye coordination. It’s a game that anyone can play but few (ok several) can master. It is (drum roll) Shopping Cart Bowling!

The premise is simple: take your shopping cart after you empty your groceries into your vehicle, find the nearest cart corral, take careful aim from across at least one lane in the parking lot, time it carefully, ensure the front of the cart is lined up and then give it a good shove. If the cart fully enters the corral, you win 10 points. If your cart crosses more than one traffic lane and enters the corral, give yourself 10 points for each lane. If the corral is not lined up straight with your position and you still get the cart fully into it without moving your start point you get 10 more points. If the cart you pushed fully enters the corral AND docks with another cart already in the corral you get 50 bonus points. For the docking to count, both carts have to be fully in the corral and your cart must be fully inserted into the first cart from the force of the initial push only. No helping it along…that would be cheating.

See? Simple, challenging and fun. It gets more difficult on windy days, but if you’re good at gauging wind drift, you can compensate. Give yourself 5 additional points if you get into the corral when the wind is greater than 10 mph. Heavy shopping days where the parking lot traffic is high is another challenge. You get a 100 point bonus for threading your cart between two moving cars and still getting it into the corral without hitting any cars. It goes without saying you lose your points for hitting cars, not to mention you can get sued. But, hey, no sport is without risk.

It’s fun to play and it serves a beneficial purpose as well. How many times have you pulling into a parking spot only to find that it has one or more shopping carts already parked there? Ever been to the store and found that, although the lot was relatively empty of cars, all the spots were full of carts? I realize it is not the patron’s job to clear carts, but they put the corrals there for a reason. It is bad enough that we sacrifice parking spots for the corrals in the first place, but to lose those spots and still more spots to carts not in the corrals is lunacy. I saw a Wal-Mart with a corral in every 10th parking spot. But if they are used, they keep the carts from taking up spaces and it keeps them from rolling idly into your door creating that unique art form—the ding-dent.

So, let’s keep parking places clear and have some fun at the same time. Play Shopping Cart Bowling the next time you go shopping. See if you can set the high score! If you are buying a lot of groceries, you can challenge your spouse to a one on one match.

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