The Second Half: My shopping challenge

By Kathleen D. Tresemer


I figured with the Christmas season starting around Halloween this year, I could relax a little—you know, shop the sales, wait for the best deals, no rushing around like a maniac. Then, I read my November Horoscope by Susan Miller on the Astrology Zone Web site (

“You would be wise to get your holiday shopping done no later than Dec. 7, so that means starting now. If you put it off until the last minute, you will run into deep trouble, for Mercury will be sending out his little gremlins early in December, and you won’t be able to pull a rabbit out of a hat as you often do at holiday time. Times have changed, and stores will be low on stock this year. …Do yourself an enormous favor and begin now.”

I never had a horoscope be so darn specific—and accurate—about my shopping habits, causing me to get all superstitious and run right out with my checkbook. I actually went shopping with my son on the day after Thanksgiving, although I still can’t figure out how he convinced me to go out on Black Friday…or how he conned me into driving!

Nevertheless, we slept in and didn’t leave until 8 a.m.—imagine that! The good news is: we got started about the time those super bargain hunters who shop before dawn were going home, and before the afternoon “I just recovered from eating too much and feel like walking it off” crowd. I even found parking spots within visual distance of the stores, a Christmas miracle!

Usually, I am a lousy shopper, slow to make decisions and ready to stop for lunch after the first hour, whining, “Too much input!” Fortunately, my 20-something son is used to my shenanigans, and tried heading me off at the pass: “Could we stop real quick at the gas station, Mom?” he asked, jumping into my car. “I’ll buy you a cup of coffee and a muffin!”

Smart kid. It might not have been the greatest breakfast, but it kept me from sliding into a corner in a trance, overwhelmed by all the red and green sparkling stuff. When we were done, we stopped at Happy Wok for lunch. That way, I went home feeling refreshed and full of garlic shrimp, instead of wiped out and cranky.

Instead of getting wildly creative this year, I set some limits. I am only giving gifts in two categories:

1.) Stuff people need; and

2.) Stuff people want, but won’t buy for themselves.

I know, I know…that seems logical, but how many gifts have you given that are neither? I have handed out countless boxes of cheese- and sausage-type foods with the affiliated crap that no one needs or wants, like glass domes or cheese knives shaped like reindeer. For heaven’s sake, have you never gone to a garage sale and seen that holiday debris priced at “10 cents for the entire box”?

Or how about those bath collections of rose-scented bath beads and lotion and soap that you find on the discount table? Honestly, if it doesn’t have a name brand on it, the recipient is more likely to have a rose-colored rash than to smell good. Unless they totally LOVE the product (you know this because they always have some in their bathroom or on their dresser), DON’T GET THEM ANY! Leave the junky gifts, like Santa-shaped candy or “as seen on TV” stuff, to the younger-than-10 set. In my Second Half, I like to think I can pick out a decent gift, so here’s some last-minute guidance.

Stuff people need:

υ Food products—I gave young people in their own apartments gift cards for the butcher shop one year, but be sure they have a freezer bigger than a shoe box. I also like steak boxes or pheasants—just be sure the recipients will eat this fancy stuff, not pawn it off on their in-laws.

υ Clothing—Family members usually get some winter clothing item, since we live in the country and spend so much time outside (RULE: No socks or underwear, not even the good stuff.) Try shearling moccasins and earmuffs, or good-quality hoodies.

υ Tools—I am a fan of little tools that folks never think of, like flashlights and kitchen shears. Get only good-quality tools that are meant for work, though, not cheap holiday stocking stuffers that fall apart the next day.

Stuff people want but won’t buy for themselves:

υ Harley-Davidson products—Although to be fair, half the biker folks I know will buy this stuff in lieu of groceries or electricity.

υ Personal care products—My gal friends will go without pampering if life dictates, so I’m a big fan of spa treatments or high-quality nail care kits…I got one of these last year from my “little sis” and LOVE it!

υ Books—Includes magazine subscriptions like the Smithsonian or National Geographic.

“How’d she do?” you wonder. “Did she beat the astrological clock?”

I had all but stocking stuffers bought and wrapped by Dec. 7, even covered the two December birthday kids on my list. Now, I’ll never know what would have happened if I ignored my horoscope, but what I do have is time for a facial—I’m pretty and serene.

Merry Christmas to all, from me and mine!

In her second half of life, Kathleen D. Tresemer is both a journalist and an award-winning fiction writer. She lives with her husband on a small ranch in rural Shirland, Ill. Kathleen can be contacted by e-mail at

From the Dec. 23-29, 2009 issue

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