Oh Come All Ye Frugal

Sup, Peakers! The prodigal daughter (me) has returned from Beantown for a brief, tryptophan-filled respite from rocket science and dropped r’s. And I’m here today to allow my mother a break from entertaining you all. So I’m going to tell you a story. A story about what my grandmother, my mother and I all do on Black Friday. But it’s an ancient tradition, shrouded in secrecy, so you can’t tell anyone.

We maintain that we go shopping, just like the rest of America, elbowing people in the ribs in the name of Christmas. But we really don’t. None of us really enjoy shopping for an extended period of time, as demonstrated by the fact that at least two of us can be found on December 23rd, frantically scanning the internet for something to pass as a gift. (Bic pens! Everyone needs pens! Thoughtful and handy.) Instead, the day revolves around eating a truckfull of food (to cleanse ourselves of the truckfull of Thanksgiving food), and driving around bumping Michael Buble at questionable volumes. Below is the day’s itinerary:

8:30 am: Meet Mom in the kitchen, ready to go. Caffeinate heavily. Inquire as to Gma’s whereabouts.

9:00 am: Decide a cat nap on the couch is a better use of time than waiting for Gma in the kitchen.

9:02 am: Rudely awoken by blaring car horn as Mom and Gma await in car.

9:03 am: Receive scolding for “consistently being the last one out of the house.”

9:30 am: Arrive at the first stop of the day: a hole-in-the-wall Victorian era farmhouse that converts itself into a quaint antique shop for the holidays. At this time of year and day, the home is frequented by little old Tara-esque ladies who sit around the fire and talk shop about wreath-making. Gma meanders through the maze of lights, furniture and art, repeatedly asking me if I can “find this any cheaper on the Google?” My mother and I play a little game called Who Can Steal the Most Gingerbread wherein we see who can steal the most gingerbread baked by the homeowners and provided to the customers.

12:00 pm: Arrive at Starbucks for further caffeination. I order like a pro/sleep-deprived, sugar-starved college student. But for Mom, this stop is a much bigger deal, as she allows herself a single allotment of Starbucks sugary goodness per year. Therefore, there’s a lot riding on whether or not she springs for the eggnog latte or the crème brulee hot chocolate. So much so that one year, she had me try all of the winter lineup – and take tasting notes for her – before coming home for Thanksgiving. I am not joking.

12:30 pm: Pit stop for burgers and fries. Wait in line for a table for 30+ minutes while bickering about the need to go to the same, somewhat-stomachable place every year, just for the sake of tradition, despite the insane holiday crowds. Get seated, address hanger, rinse and repeat.

2:00 pm: The “shopping” begins. This misappropriation of the term basically consists of popping into various kitchenware and home retail stores to see if they have one ridiculously particular item. This year, the objective was a box of Mint Chocolate Meltaways, apparently sold by Crate&Barrel in 2003 and only purchased by my family. Another go to stop is a pop-up calendar store where Mom and Gma buy 2018 calendars for literally every single person they might encounter over the holidays, still adorably unaware that there are now apps for that. I am Not Allowed to enter this store with them (so that I don’t see my own calendar), and as a result, normally nap on a bench outside until awoken by someone dropping change in my lap.

6:00 pm: Cold, hungry, and overladen with purchases that were funny in the moment, we wander up and down the mall, burning time staring at twinkling window decorations and watching the children’s train ride up and down the mall until a dinner reservation. Gma moves slowly, and Mom and I keep pace. The train conductor seems to have it in for us, as she keeps driving up directly behind us and laying on the whistle. It’s only funny the first few times.

7:00 pm: Dinner at an established Italian joint (the day’s sole beacon of classiness) finally rolls around. We recharge with an embarrassing amount of pasta and resuscitate the kleptomania by playing a little game called Who Can Steal the Most Restaurant Mints. (I have a great strategy – repeated trips to the bathroom, past the mint bucket.)

9:00 pm – Pile up the car with our odd haul of stolen gingerbread and mints, creepy antique dolls, kitchen trinkets, painfully topical calendars, and leftover pasta. Crank up the Buble and jingle all the way home.

~Chloe

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Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

 

Holiday Shopping: a series of moments between meals.

I hate shopping.

There. I said it. And yes, I heard the collective gasp coming from a hefty portion of readers, who I believe (and this is strictly based on the pitch of each gasp) were largely female.

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I don’t like browsing for things I don’t need, but would love to have. It’s torture. It’s also a little like watching the cooking channel with an empty fridge.

I don’t like trying on clothing. Because who doesn’t need therapy and a support group after five minutes in a fluorescent-lit, warp-mirrored, foul-floored changing room?

And I don’t like having to leave my swivel chair, hairy hound and Everlasting Gobstopper cup of tea in order to wrestle with the rest of the world just for a parking spot. It’s times like these when I wish I had an old armored bank truck—you know, the kind that pull right up to the front door of any shop because they’re collecting bags full of cash from the overflowing tills, and everybody outside makes a wide berth of the truck so no one suspects them of foul play.

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Yeah, that could work.

Going shopping also means I have to change out of my yoga pants. Okay, that one doesn’t really apply, but it means I have to put on nicer yoga pants. And I’m trying to keep those for a special occasion. Like when I finally have to answer the doorbell.

HOWEVER, I do make one exception to my normally Grinch-esque disposition on retail therapy.

I give in for one day.

I dress up (as long as the definition of “dressing up” means spraying on perfume),

I get it my car (fingers crossed next year it’s an armored bank truck),

and I grab a fistful of colorful coupons I’ll likely not use (save the ones with the word chocolate in them) because once I enter into the world of Muzak-droning department stores, I lose all functioning memory. So many pretty sparkly things …

Some of you may be familiar with this one day of giving in to ‘mall madness.’ It’s known to many of us as Black Friday.

Where I grew up, it was simply known as the day when deer hunting season opened and 3/4ths of the town was in the woods and the remainder just met up at the mall for a cup of coffee.

But after many years, I’ve hung up my camo pants (just kidding, I still wear them) and have happily joined the throngs of others who have opened the door a few days early to the month of December. Here, at the massive galleria of glitz and gold, we bask in the twinkling lights, hear Nat King Cole and Bing Crosby harmonize with sleigh bells, and ride on the outdoor mall’s miniature kiddie train only because my feet are aching and it conveniently swings by the lot where I’ve parked my car and need to dump off a few heavy already purchased parcels halfway through the day. (Everyone does this, right?)

I’ve spent this day with my mom for a bucketload of years. And we have a set schedule that CANNOT BE VARIED.

We’re kinda traditional. Or set in our ways. Or totally uninventive.

It doesn’t matter because it works for us and we want to relive the experience each year thereafter. Although with each successive year, I have to fight harder to get a spot on that kiddie train. Last year, after I tried to wrestle a seat away from a seven-year old, she essentially flipped me the bird when I told her Santa was watching. Okay, that’s not exactly true. She was actually doing sign language, but it was close enough to a rude gesture that after telling the conductor about this child’s reprehensible behavior, he booted her off the train. Whew.

In truth, the day begins at Starbucks. And I’m fairly happy to spend it and end it there if I had my druthers, because once I’ve had one of their magical mind-blowing concoctions, I desperately want to try them all. It’s a good thing I only cross their threshold once a year. Likely I’d have to remortgage the house if I made it a daily habit. Some folks probably already have. I don’t blame them.

Next we jump to the calendar store. And this is where we stay for the next three hours. I really only need to buy myself next year’s calendar for the kitchen wall, but somehow along the way, I made the decision that I am now in charge of buying everyone’s calendar for the upcoming year. From the postman—who will “Love this!” because there’s a mailbox on the photo in the month of August, to the exterminator—whom I won’t see until March because he already came for the winter quarterly bug defestation, I cannot leave that store without picking out a calendar for nearly all the people in my village. I even found one for the woman who used to do the sheep’s weekly acupuncture sessions. I know, ridiculous, right? You’d think there’d be a huge section for animal acupuncturists, but no, only one wall.

Now it’s lunchtime. We eat at a fabulous American chain restaurant called The Cheesecake Factory. Just walking in and smelling what the factory is pumping out on its conveyor belt brings on the need to unbutton your pants to make room for the five pounds you’ve simply inhaled.

An inordinate amount of time is spent discussing what we should not eat because we’re busy saving room for dinner, which comes in about two hours. I remind myself that I’ll work it all off by walking around afterward, and then see the kiddie train chug by the restaurant window.

Following lunch, we pop into a furniture store so that we can sit in a few dozen armchairs we could never afford. Then we stretch out on the three or four sample beds made up with animals skins and furs and generally everything one would need to keep warm if living inside an igloo. It all helps with digestion.

After this, we’re feeling a little sluggish, so we make our way to the world’s greatest cooking emporium and spend time holding spatulas that will transform our future meals. We drool over table settings that one would expect to see on a buffet board laid out by God if there was anyone he was trying to impress. There are also a slew of edible samples that come from the store’s line of We’ll make you look like a pro. Just buy the box and add water. And don’t forget the spatula. We then browse through cookbooks in order to stimulate our appetites for dinner, which is a mere minute or two away.

And at last, we’re ready for the main event: Maggiano’s, the big family Italian restaurant whose menu theme is We hope you’re wearing your fat pants.

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God, I love yoga wear.

We are seated in a huge enveloping leather booth. We are surrounded by garland and greenery and silver lights. We hear every song that Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Tony Bennett ever recorded. We eat piles of pasta with cheese and cream and butter and that piece of parsley garnish because we need to be able to say we had some sort of vegetable. And then it’s time for a slice of their chocolate cake. I think they call it, Yeah, you wish you could make this. I don’t mind the slam. I bought the spatula in the last store, so I’m ready for the challenge.

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On the way home, we pull out the one thing we purchased besides half the calendar store, the spatula and four days worth of food squished into two meals: we put on the season’s first holiday album. Someone sings to us of faraway family, mistletoe and food. We sing along in the glow of the dashboard lights, nostalgic and doped up on carbs.

I get home and squirrel away my parcels, but pull out my new kitchen calendar. I put a big red circle around the day after Thanksgiving.

I can’t wait to go shopping.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.