How I survive December without entering a mall, or The beauty of small shops

December 13, 2010

I hate malls. I’ve always hated malls. Even when I was a teenager and worked in a mall for three years, I wan’t big on malls. I don’t like the crowds, I don’t like the cooped-up indoors feel of them. These days, I most hate the same-ness of the stores and the throngs of crowds. In fact, in our first months together, one of the first times my now-husband told me he loved me was when I told him I hated malls.

So you can imagine just how very much I hate malls around Christmas. I make an annual vow not to darken the door of a mall all of December (yet even I make an exception on Boxing Day to brave the crowds for sales, although I never queue up to enter any store).

While it’s easy enough to get my holiday shopping done before the deadline, especially this year with Hanukah starting December 1, that doesn’t mean I have no shopping to do all month. Sometime you just have to get something that you can only buy at the mall store.

On the weekend, I really needed to buy a certain-sized curtain rod. I tried driving across town to a fabric store, but they didn’t have the one I needed, which really just left me the department store at the local mall. I had to go the mall. But I tried to outsmart the mall. I went to the upper parking lot no one ever uses, came into the department store only, found my curtain rod and headed straight to cash. Five minutes–I could have held my breath — except for the ridiculously long waits at the checkout.

I thought I would collapse from anti-mall-itis, but someone with a huge basket of stuff let me cut ahead for my quick purchase and I escaped mostly unscathed.

The funny thing is the next day, still the weekend, I was walking along the street of my local shopping block, which features some of the same stores as the mall but also many smaller boutiques and coffee shops. And those stores were busy but not crushing. I could go in without hyperventilating, and I could get served and buy what I needed without huge waits or loads of frustration.

This has really renewed my faith in local shopping areas, in small shops and customer service, and has also renewed my vow to stay the heck out of a mall after December 1 every other year. I vow, never to return. At least, not until Boxing Day.


Almost finished my holiday shopping — can you believe it?!

November 20, 2010

The minute Halloween ended, Christmas season began. Or so says the retail world. November 1 I heard my first carol and saw my first splash of red and green. Are there people who like having two months of Christmas? Because I am not one of them.

Before you jump all over me and call me Scrooge, may I point out that I am Jewish and do not celebrate Christmas at all. In fact, ever since I was a kid, not celebrating Christmas was a big part of defining ourselves as Jews. Our Christmas tradition is to go out for Chinese food and go see a movie. Of course, these days all the goyim go see movies too, so it’s a lot more crowded than when I was a kid. So while I like the lights and the days off and the parties and food, I don’t like having Christmas thrown at me in an overwhelming way for such a long time.

Not that any of that has anything to do with what I’m about to brag about — I have nearly finished my holiday shopping. Despite being Jewish, I still have to keep up with the Jones and buy my kids presents, only for Chanukah (a very minor Jewish holiday that falls sometime around Christmas that has turned into a gift-giving occasion, not that it was that when I was a kid). And this year I hit the early November sales, made lists, and have bought all but a few of my gifts already. I know, you hate me.

If it makes you feel any better, Chanukah is early this year — December 1-8 — so I had to get shopping earlier. And I still have to figure out the food and clothes part (I have nothing nice to wear for the party I’m throwing!).

But come on, you hate me, don’t you. Ha ha.

Passing on traditions to the next generation — am I doing a good enough job?

March 30, 2010

It’s Passover at my house, so on top of all the regular running around, I’ve spent the last day or so cooking. On this major Jewish holiday, we host family and friends for two big meals. I usually only have to cook for one, but the friend we always go to for the second one can’t do it this year, so I’m doing two big meals. Lots and lots of cooking.

My husband says it’s all on me to do it, because no one else really cares what we eat for dinner or whether I make the chicken soup with matzah balls from scratch, or if I serve my famous chocolate torte for dessert. He might be right, that I’m putting myself through all the holiday stress for my own reasons and not for my family or my guests. But I feel obliged to do it and do it right, because it’s tradition.

As a child, both sets of grandparents were around, and each hosted one Passover meal each year. We kids recited the four questions and my grandfather read from the Hagaddah, the book that tells the story of the Jews being freed from slavery. My grandmother always had matzah ball soup, gefilte fish, and all the trimmings. My mother did some of this cooking in later years as my grandmothers’ health failed, and by the time I was in my 20s, I was hosting my own holiday dinners, trying to carry on the tradition.

Of course, these aren’t just my traditions, they go back hundreds and hundreds of years. But they are also personal traditions that I want to pass on to my boys. My kids attend public school, and don’t get a lot of exposure to Judaism that doesn’t come from me. But soon they’ll have to start Hebrew school to prepare for their bar mitzvahs (Yes, I’m insisting on them.), and hopefully one day will carry on some of my traditions.

But it’s tough to get school-age kids, boys in particular, to pay attention to that kind of thing. And I worry they aren’t picking up on enough of my family’s traditions. The entire weight of that is on my shoulders, and my husband is right to say it’s me that’s pushing for all that. I think I’m pushing for all the right reasons though, but I’m concerned I’m not getting through.

Still, now that both boys can read, they did read parts of the Haggadah out loud themselves last night. I think that’s a good first step in passing on my traditions.

My happy holidays email-in-lieu-of-greeting-cards inspires others, and that gives me a warm fuzzy

December 23, 2009

As a consultant, I usually thank my clients for their patronage, and like everyone else, I generally do it at this time of year. For big clients, I’ve done gifts in the past. And up until this year, I’ve send greeting cards in the mail to most clients and contacts. I stopped giving gifts a few years ago, and started making a donation instead, but this year, no cards, so I gave a bigger donation. This is the email message I send to my contacts this year instead of mailing them a card:

Happy Holidays!

I’ve been weaning myself off greeting cards slowly over the past few years, but this year I decided to go cold turkey, so everyone is getting a holiday email instead.

To celebrate the season, on behalf of my clients, colleagues, friends and family, I’ve made a donation to the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House to help them in their goal to provide healthy whole foods to DTES residents. As you know, I have become active in food policy work, so helping people on the DTES eat healthy food is one of my priorities.

You may have also heard that recently I sold my side-business, Movies for Mommies, to an enthusiastic new owner. To celebrate that sale, I’ve donated baby food, diapers and wipes to another worthwhile organization helping Vancouver’s downtown residents, Crabtree Housing, which offers 12 supportive housing units for young women with newborns.

On behalf of me and mine, I wish you and yours a very merry holiday season. Happy belated Chanukah, Joyous Christmas and a very happy and prosperous New Year!

And this year, in response to my email, I’ve had many responses back, saying my donation inspired them to give to these or other Downtown Eastside charities. And that makes me feel very good.

Happy holidays!