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It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas — so much so that my feet hurt whenever I think about the shopping I need to do.

Still, the season is on and with some guilt about being sucked into commercial mania, I'm aiming to please by buying the perfect gifts.

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I can't resist the memories of our children's delight when they were surprised by the presents they had received on Christmas morning.

For me, that element of mystery culminating in sheer delight when a present is opened — even by adults — brings me much satisfaction.

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That's why, in the past, my presents haven't included gift cards or checks.

As time rolls on, however, I'm finding that all is less than delightful at the shopping mall when you're not as hip on what your 23-year-old grandson wears, or what a 13-year-old could possibly want other than a video game.

And my husband always insists, "I don't need anything." Frankly, after many years of button-down shirts, ties, khakis and golf gear, I think he's right.

The female gifts are usually the easiest for me because, after all, I like searching the racks for things that I'm sure will look great on my daughter and daughter-in-law, though I suspect they might not always agree. (Gift slips are a necessity and I'll never know if they returned them.)

With all this said, I'm beginning to waver somewhat on the element of surprise by asking my family for suggestions of possible gifts.

Like a brave soldier — armed with my credit card as ammunition and gift lists — I begin my shopping on, if you can believe it, Black Friday.

Ever aspiring to get the bulk of my shopping done on that day, it never happens, probably because of my indecision and my plight to find the right gift among hundreds of shoppers' elbows.

My questions arise such as: "Would she like the black or the navy sweater?" and "I wonder if this dress runs small?" and "Is the slim-cut shirt too slim?" My favorite response from a salesclerk, also aiming to please, is, "You can always bring it back." (Really?)

With Black Friday behind me — which yielded about one-third of my gift list — I'm ready to start my second phase of shopping this week at an outlet mall across the Bay Bridge.

This is the one shopping trip — an annual thing — where my husband joins me to help select guy stuff from brand-name stores.

Though he usually has trouble finding the sizes and sales tags, he has a good eye for color and what goes with what.

As a result, we leave the mall at the end of the day, tired but successful, with lots of bags and no boxes (not given out at discount stores), hoping a return trip isn't necessary.

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Next month, the shopping will be behind me and I'll be thinking about the gifts that were a hit. As far as the ones that didn't press that delight button, a friend recommended this idea: online gift registries.

Yes, Virginia, there is a place where you can list all of your desires, from books to basketballs. Simply establish your wish list and your dreams may come true.

But will you be surprised?

Dolly Merritt writes from Westminster.

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