The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

December 24, 2014

The Sledgehammer 2014 Last-Minute Christmas Gift Guide: Procrastination is the Last Refuge of the Scoundrel

Filed under: Holidays, shopping — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 2:09 am

Well, you blew it again.  This year, you swore that you would do your Christmas shopping at a reasonable time so you wouldn’t need to scramble at the last minute.  You figured that you’d have plenty of time to do it, but just never got around to it somehow.  As the time creeps closer, you think you’ll take a quick trip to the mall and get everything done at once,  And then you realize that this is what you’re going to have to wade through to get to the mall…

And it suddenly dawns on you that maybe you’re in just a bit of trouble here.  Once again, you’re doing your shopping at the last minute, and once again, you’re pretty much doomed.  Well, I’m here to help…  Sort of.  You see, by the point you’ve waited this long, pretty much all the good stuff has been taken, packed up and placed under some unsuspecting tree.  By this point, you’re pretty much stuck with whatever happens to be left, and there’s a pretty good chance someone is going to be very disappointed in you.  But there’s hope.  In what has become a more-or-less annual tradition (although I didn’t do one last year due to spending most of the Holiday season in the Caribbean) allow me to present my Sledgehammer Last-Minute Christmas Gift Guide, filled with ideas for stuff you should be able to easily find on the shelves.  Of course, there’s typically a very good reason that most of this stuff is still sitting on the shelves, but that’s just a minor detail, right?  Anyway, without any further ado, let’s get to the gift guide, which you will find after the jump.

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December 27, 2013

Christmas in a Bubble

Filed under: Holidays — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:06 am

Photo by Flickr user Lee Jordan, Creative Commons

Once again, Christmas has come and gone.  All the usual festivities are in the books, the presents have all been opened, the Christmas stuff in the house has gone back into storage (actually, in my case it never even came out since I was gone for a lot of it and the Christmas stuff in the stores has hit the clearance rack, and aside from New Year’s Day in a week or so, it’s back to the usual routine, accompanied by the traditional three-month slog through the Seattle Winter (such as it is.)   And although the whole thing has been nice as usual, I just haven’t been able to shake the feeling that it all seems just a little bit strange this year.

I suspect that a lot of it has to do with the changes going on within my family this year (which included my parents moving into a new house some distance away, my brother moving out of the state and a new niece and nephew born this year, while I pretty much stayed put) and the various disruptions to the usual order of things that come with it, but we did still manage most of the usual traditions along the way.  We had the standard Christmas Eve get-together at my parents’ house with the extended family, but since my parents live much farther away from almost everyone now (it’s about a 42-mile drive on mostly backroads from my house, and as much as an 80-mile drive in each direction for some people)  we opted to have it a couple of days early on Sunday.  This meant that for the first time in recent memory I was actually on my own for Christmas Eve.  Fortunately, I did have some plans lined up (I attended a choir and symphony concert at Benaroya Hall) and managed to figure out the rest as I went along.  Christmas Day was celebrated in the usual fashion with a family gathering at my parents’ house, albeit a smaller one than usual (albeit just as loud, six young children running around the house hopped up on candy and presents will do that.)  In the end, all the usual highlights of the season in the family were checked off, and yet things still felt a little unusual.

Of course, the most obvious explanation for this was the cruise I took prior to Christmas.  As I alluded to in the last post, there’s something about a cruise ship (no matter how big it is) that places it off in its own little world, regardless of where it happens to be at any given time.  Even though you’re not truly cut off from the outside world while you’re at sea, most of what’s going on doesn’t really seem to matter much on board.  There’s a couple of news channels on the TV, but hardly anyone seems to pay any attention to them.  There is also ESPN, but it’s the Caribbean feed rather than the American one, which seems to concern itself mostly with Soccer and Cricket (although they do also find a way to get the NBA and NFL games whenever it’s convenient.)  Internet is also available, but it’s very expensive (unless you’ve been on enough cruises to get free Internet minutes on the ship through the cruise line’s loyalty program, and even then you only get enough to use about 20-25 minutes a day at most) and best used in small bursts.)  And even though the ship is decorated for the Holiday season, pretty much the only acknowledgement of the Holidays besides the decorations is that occasionally they’ll have some Christmas movies on the stateroom TVs or on the big screen on the top deck.  I understand that things tend to be a bit different if you’re on board the ship during Christmas itself, but even then it’s far from the traditional Christmas you might come to expect on land.  Combine this with the fact that (assuming you’re in the Caribbean) it’s 80 degrees and sunny every day, and it gets to be surprisingly easy to almost entirely miss the fact that the Holiday season is even happening.  Even in the ports of call that the ship visits (on this particular trip it was St. Thomas, Dominica, Grenada, Bonaire and Aruba) there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of Christmas in the air.  Sure, the decorations are out in force, and the reggae music playing in the shops and the flea markets includes a fair number of Christmas songs, but even with all that it’s still hard to take any of it seriously when it feels like Summer outside and the day’s schedule involves a trip to the beach.

And then after nearly two weeks away in that little bubble (as nice as it is, it still feels like living in a bubble) I get home just in time for Christmas to happen, and immediately start to wonder where all the time went.  I’m pretty sure I can account for most of it, but it definitely tends to distort things a bit.  As for the cruise itself, I’m sure I’ll be talking about it some in future posts, but in the meantime you can find a few of my thoughts on the trip in this post over at Cruise Critic.  To make a long story short, I really enjoyed the itinerary and the chance to see a number of different ports I hadn’t been to before, but there were a few minor quibbles along the way.  I’m not sure I’d be rushing to go do it all again at this point though.  I think it would be a good time to stay put (sort of) for a while.  After all, if I start needing a vacation from the vacation I needed after the last vacation that starts to complicate things a bit.

December 20, 2012

The 2012 Sledgehammer Last-Minute Christmas Gift Guide: The Thought Only Counts If You Give One

Filed under: Holidays, shopping — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 12:38 am

Whatever you do, don’t say a word about his purse.

You know, one of these years you’re going to actually get all your Christmas shopping done in a reasonable amount of time.  Or at least that’s what you keep telling yourself.  And yet, once again you’ve found yourself having to shop at the last minute, and naturally, all the good stuff has been taken already.  Naturally, your choices might be a bit limited.  Actually, you’re pretty much doomed at this point, but maybe if you play your cards right, you can end up slightly less doomed than you would be otherwise.  These… are not those gifts.  Think of this as a “what not to do” list of sorts.  After the jump, you’ll find some of this year’s hottest bad gift ideas.

Previous Gift Guides and other Christmas posts:

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December 24, 2011

The 2011 Sledgehammer Last-Minute Christmas Gift Guide: Good Things Don’t Come to Those Who Wait

Filed under: Holidays — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 12:38 am

Well, you waited until the last minute to do your Christmas shopping again, didn’t you?  Most people would learn their lesson on that one after the first five or six times they ruined Christmas with their novelty shaped waffle irons and dubiously colored sweaters, but year after year, some people continue to convince themselves that if they do their Christmas shopping in a blind panic at 2pm on Christmas Eve enough times, eventually it’ll all work out.  Here’s a hint for you:  It doesn’t.  As we’ve all learned from sad and repeated experience, waiting for the last minute generally results in a lot of sitting around in traffic just trying to get to the stores in the first place (and over the past couple of weeks I’ve witnessed quite a few fun little traffic jams pointed in the direction of Bellevue Square, which makes me really glad I don’t have to sit around in any of them,) lots of waiting for parking spots when you get there, and lots of wading through crowds of people who just happened to make the same mistakes.  In short, you really should have done all this weeks ago.

But in spite of your predicament, I’m here to help…  Sort of.  Once again, it’s time for the sort-of-annual Sledgehammer Last-Minute Christmas gift guide, chock full of gift-giving ideas that you should most likely consider not having if you can possibly help it.  As usual, you’re responsible for whatever consequences arise  if for some reason you happen to actually give any of the items on this list as a gift. If you try to blame me I’ll just deny everything.  You’ve been properly warned.  That said, you’ll find the complete list after the jump. 

Previous Gift Guides and Other Holiday Posts:

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December 25, 2010

He Knows When You’re Awake

Filed under: Holidays, Short Stories, Stories — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:47 am

(A semi-autobiographical short story…  Except for the parts I made up.  Which is is most of it.)

Although the clock had not technically ticked past Midnight yet, as far as I was concerned Christmas Eve was finished.  Another fine family Christmas Eve get-together was now in the proverbial books, all present had been well fed (with the possible exception of a couple stubborn children that seem to regard any food which isn’t made of sugar to be a necessary evil at best,) friendships and kinships had been renewed,   and all of the usual traditions had been carried on for another year.  Everyone had gone their separate ways to prepare for their various Christmas celebrations the next day, and as far as I was aware, nobody’s car had broken down on the way home this year.  I had retired to my own apartment to settle back into my usual late-night routine.  If Midnight Oil is a commodity to be burned, I seem to have enough of the stuff to supply a small country with a healthy strategic reserve, and don’t anticipate a shortage anytime soon.  When you frequently go to bed at 1:30 in the morning, the stroke of Midnight doesn’t often mean much more than a few numbers on the clock, and even though Christmas would be arriving soon, tonight didn’t seem to be any different from any other night.  With maturity and responsibility (sort of) comes a certain degree of pragmatism, and the knowledge that even if I had a stocking hung by the chimney with care (assuming I had a stocking or a chimney in the first place) the chances of it being filled with anything were slim.

So on this particular occasion when Midnight arrived, I found myself momentarily startled when an unexpected clatter arose from the roof.  Yet, after a brief pause as my mind sought out a plausible explanation, I dismissed it and went back to whatever task I had been working on. Until a couple of seconds later it started again, and sounded suspiciously like… hooves?  By this point my mind seemed to be trying to rationalize the noises in one way or another, and yet at the same time virtually every bit of Christmas lore I had squirreled away over the years was flooding back into my conscious mind with a vengeance.  I just knew that it couldn’t be possible, but at the same time I found myself wondering:  Could it really be Santa Claus?

Of course, this being an apartment building, I figured that even if it were somehow true that Santa Claus was actually here, he would have to be here for someone else.  And yet, morbid curiosity demanded that I investigate further.  I hastily put a semi-decent looking shirt back on, found a convenient pair of shoes, and slowly opened the door to my bedroom… And almost jumped at the sight.  There, in my very own living room, was Santa Claus!  Every last detail, from the impeccably polished black boots to the jolly red stocking cap, was just the way you’d expect it to be.  As quietly as I could, I closed the door down to just a crack to try to see what he would do…  But he didn’t seem to be doing anything.  He was just standing there, apparently looking out the window at something, until he turned in my direction:

“Oh, just come on out, I know you’re watching in there.”

As I slowly opened the door, my mind was racing even more than it was before.  What I was seeing was impossible.  There’s no possible way that what was happening right there, right before my very eyes, could ever happen.  And yet it was undeniable.  Santa Claus was standing right in front of me, staring me in the face.  If I had been thinking rationally at the time I probably could have come up with at least a dozen different questions I would have asked in this situation, but I had never anticipated the possibility that this would ever happen, and even if I had I  was clearly not thinking rationally at this point.  After taking a couple of seconds to try to regain some semblance of composure, I stammered out:

“Um….  Mr. Claus?”

“Please, just call me Santa, I’ve never been big on formality.”

For some reason I found some small degree of relief in that statement, and I slowly began to calm down a bit.

“OK Santa…  So…  Um…  What are you doing here?”

“Well, it’s Christmas, isn’t it?  Why else would I be here?”

“Yes, I know that…  But, why are you HERE?  I mean, don’t you have presents to deliver?”

“Oh, that?  Don’t worry, it’s being taken care of.  Everyone will get their presents on time.”

It was quickly becoming apparent that I wasn’t going to be getting any clear answers out of Santa, but still, I had to ask.  “I’m not worried about people not getting their presents, I’m just curious as to why you’re here, in my apartment.  I mean, I’m just some random single guy in a big city full of nice little boys and girls, I certainly haven’t done anything that would warrant a visit from Santa this year.  I mean, it’s not like I asked for a new bicycle or anything like that.”

“Hmmm…  You’re right.”  Santa paused for a second, almost as if to think.  “I don’t think we’ve received any requests from you since you asked for that electronic Animator thing back in 1987.  How did you like that one anyway?”

Pausing briefly to poll some of the dustier corners of my memory, I recalled the toy in question.  “Well, I enjoyed it, but I was never much good at drawing on it.  I think the batteries eventually leaked and it stopped working though.”

“Well, I’m glad you liked it, I had a particularly clever elf that came up with that one.”

“Wait, the whole elf thing…”

“I’m sure you’ve heard of the operation.  Granted, some people have taken a few creative liberties with that one over the years, but I’d like to say I’m pretty proud of the way we’ve been able to modernize the whole operation over the past decade.”

Although I probably would have been fascinated to learn more about the logistics of elf-based mass-production techniques, it seemed to me that Santa was dodging my questions.  It looked like I was going to need to take a different strategy if I was going to get any answers.  Although I remained in a state of shocked disbelief at this point, I figured that I could at least follow the standard rules for this type of thing.

“Oh by the way, I’ve got some extra cookies over here if you’d like some, and there’s some milk in the fridge.”

“If you don’t mind, I think I’ll pass.  I’ve gone through about 756 million cookies so far tonight.  A glass of water would be nice though.”

I fetched a cup from the cabinet, poured a glass of water, and handed it to Santa.  He accepted it, and quickly drained half the cup.

“Thanks, I was getting thirsty, and all that eggnog really gets to you after a while.  So, have you been good this year?”

I found myself taken aback by the question.  Pausing for a second to think, I briefly considered making up some sort of story, but quickly came to the realization that any effort to do so would prove futile.  After all, who in their right mind would think they could get away with lying to Santa Claus?  Finally I replied, “Well, um…  I’d like to think I’ve been good this year, but sometimes I’m not so sure of that.  I’ve got things I need to improve on, and things I need to stop doing, and some that I should be doing that I’m not.  For the most part though, I think I’ve been reasonably good.”

“Well then, let’s see here…”  Santa went to his bag, and pulled out what appeared to be an incredibly long list of names.  “Lute, Lutt, Lutto…  OK, here we go, Lutz.”

Santa paused for a minute, squinting into his glasses, providing just enough time for a certain degree of low-grade dread to settle over me, for reasons that I still couldn’t quite explain.  Finally, Santa looked up.

“Well, It looks like you made the nice list, but just barely.  You really should work on not judging others so quickly.”

At that moment I felt some relief, but at the same time a bit of reproach.  I still couldn’t be sure that I was seeing what I was seeing, but I could not deny what I had heard.

“So… Um…  What does that mean?  If this is about presents, I really don’t need any.  I have what I need, and can get what I want.”

“I know that.  I just wanted to make sure you know where you stand.  So, is there anything you’d like to know?”

By now, I had no shortage of questions, and almost no answers, but some of the sounds coming from the roof seemed to suggest that the reindeer (or whatever else happened to be up there) were getting impatient.  Knowing that time was of the essence, I quickly asked the first question that came to mind:

“So, what’s the deal with the whole Rudolph thing?”  Silently I scolded myself for asking something so frivolous, but Santa answered.

“Oh, Rudolph?  Yeah, he’s up on the roof leading the sleigh team tonight.  I do have to say that the whole thing’s been exaggerated quite a bit over the years though, The nose is more of a brownish-red really.”  A thud from the roof startled Santa for a minute, then he looked back:  “Well, I better be going, I’ve still got most of the West coast to finish up.  Have a merry Christmas, and remember that I’m watching…”

At this point Santa moved toward the door and went into his familiar laugh, which faded quietly into silence as he walked straight through the closed door and off to attend to the rest of his duties.  I stared blankly at the door for some time, still not believing what I had just seen, until I caught an unfamiliar glint in the corner of my eye.  Turning toward the Christmas tree, I found myself looking at a new ornament I hadn’t seen before hanging from one of the upper branches of the tree.  This ornament, although relatively plain compared to the rest of the ornaments on the tree, seemed to sparkle a lot more than one would expect it to.  I stared at this ornament for a few moments as rational thought slowly began to return to my mind.  As I looked out the window, I could see a faint glimmer of what almost appeared to be a sled  pulled by nine reindeer.  I could almost swear that I heard some jingle bells off in the distance too, but couldn’t be entirely sure of this.  Still a bit shaken by the whole experience,  I returned to my room, and prepared to settle down for what I suspected would prove to be an unexpectedly short Winter’s nap, with a lot more than visions of sugar plums dancing through my head.

Once again, I would like to offer a thank you to all of my Blog readers, and wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

December 22, 2010

Coal is Overrated: The 2010 Sledgehammer Last-Minute Christmas Gift Guide

Filed under: Holidays, shopping — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:53 am

Admit it, you’ve been putting off your Christmas shopping until the last minute.  Again.  Just like you swore you wouldn’t do a year ago.  And the year before that,  And the one before that.  And pretty much every year since 1987 for that matter.  And, just as usual, you haven’t got a clue what to get anyone.  Yes, it sounds like there’s yet another Yuletide disaster brewing under the tree.  You need help and you need it fast.  Well, we’re here to help…  Sort of. 

Once again, it’s time for the annual (in spite of better judgment) Sledgehammer Last-Minute Christmas Gift Guide, an ever-so-slightly popular list of some of the hottest (or otherwise) Christmas gifts that’ll be gracing the finest closeout racks and bargain bins three days after Christmas.  Guaranteed to cause blank stares, or your money back (you DID save the receipt, didn’t you?  No?  Well then, tough luck kid.)  As usual, I don’t actually endorse (or even recommend, for that matter) any of these items for use as Christmas presents and/or doorstops, and I feel it necessary to note that if I receive any of these items under the tree on Christmas day I’ll spend the next six months coming up with fun and exciting new ways to ruin your lives.  Why do I bring this up?  Oh, no reason really.  Just carry on with your shopping and think nothing of it.  Anyway, the roundup begins, as usual, after the jump.

Other Christmas gift and/or kitsch roundups on this Blog:

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December 9, 2010

Dear Santa, I can explain…

Filed under: Holidays, Random Stuff — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:56 am

To:  Mr. S. Claus, North Pole

From:  Brian Lutz, Bellevue, WA

Dear Santa,

You know, it’s been quite a few years since I wrote a letter, but if I recall correctly, it’s more or less customary to start one of these by talking about how nice you were over the past year.  I’ll dispense with this, mostly because I’m posting this on my blog, a fact which has the uncanny ability to turn such declarations almost instantly into egotistical blathering (well, more so than usual anyway.)  Not that it matters much, since I’m pretty sure I’ve already managed to make the naughty list, but still…  I’m not sure if there’s supposed to be some sort of formal appeal process for such things, but I’ve never heard of there being one, so I figure I might as well give this a shot.  If you would be so kind to ignore for a few minutes all that stuff I posted earlier this year about the inability to suspend disbelief, I would appreciate it.  In my defense, I should point out that I didn’t technically say I don’t believe in Santa Claus, only that I don’t necessarily believe in Mickey Mouse, in case that makes any difference.  If you can kindly overlook the fact that I made those nice carolers we had down the apartment lounge this evening sing Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer, I’d be grateful for that too.

Anyway, as a relatively new resident of a community populated by a significant number of ecologically-minded  citizens, I feel it necessary to point out that the use of coal is generally frowned upon here (and if that isn’t enough, I don’t think my apartment lease would allow it anyway.)  Some have suggested organic tofu to be a more Earth-friendly substitute for coal in naughtiness applications, but I feel it necessary to point out that I’d most likely just find some recipe to use the stuff in and promptly mess it up, which would kind of defeat the whole purpose.  To tell you the truth, I really haven’t been keeping up on the latest trends in Yuletide punishment technology, but I’m sure you’ve made a list of such materials and (apologies in advance for the old cliché) checked it twice, so I’ll leave that one to your discretion. 

But, as I stated earlier, I am not writing this letter to haggle over such inconsequential details as that, but to make an effort to try to prevent my impending naughtiness, if it somehow happens to be possible.  To that end, I shall attempt to explain a few things.  First of all, I would like to point out that I have now ceased my previous efforts to be “Mean Uncle Brian” to my four nephews.  I am under the impression that this act was in large part ineffectual, and efforts are now well underway to try to rebrand myself as “Crazy Uncle Brian” instead.  So far, this has provided decidedly mixed results.  I should also note out that Imola and Minardi most likely still consider me to be either their third or fourth favorite person in the whole wide world, even if I don’t let them dig holes in the dog park quite as often as they would like., and prevent them from licking off the plates in the dishwasher.  Isn’t that all part of the whole job description for a packleader?  Finally, I should explain that the use of words such as “Bunghole” and “Fartknocker” in some of my bug reports this year resulted from nothing more than standard professional necessity, as unconvincing as that may sound.  It’s a long story really, but let me state that I’ve already been through the whole undersupervised teenager phase once (minus the overexposure to questionable music videos,) and I have no  intention of revisiting that phase if I can help it.

If, for some reason, it so happens that I am able to successfully get myself reclassified into the “Nice” category, there are a few items which I would put on my list.  To be honest, I need practically nothing, and already have most of what I might want, so I don’t ask for much.  I also know some of these items are well beyond what I could reasonably expect to receive as a gift, but I put them here just out of sheer delusions of grandeur (oops, did I say “delusions of grandeur”?  I don’t have any of those, I swear!  Well OK, maybe 2 or 3, but who doesn’t?)  I also know that one or two people might be shopping for me this year, and might need some suggestions.  So, without further ado, the list:

  • A Cuisinart Mini-prep Food Processor.  I’ve seen these smaller food processors showing up in a number of places lately, and since I don’t really have the space for a larger one, I figure this would be a good compromise.  It’s also a lot cheaper than the full-size Cuisinarts too.
  • A silicone iPad sleeve.  For reasons I have yet to fully comprehend, I’ve been using my iPad since the day it was released, but have yet to purchase any sort of case for it.  iPad cases seem to be one of those annoying situations where everything seems to be either overpriced, hideous, or a combination of the two.  I’m not looking for anything fancy here, just a simple silicone sleeve, preferably in black or blue.  I’ve seen a few of these floating around at Marshall’s/TJMaxx, and can be had relatively cheap.
  • A good wooden/bamboo cutting board.  Not too big though, since kitchen space is, as I have already stated, in somewhat short supply.
  • A new set of snorkeling gear to take on the upcoming cruise in March.  I actually had an old set of snorkeling equipment I used for the cruise I went on in 2005, but I had to fight off about six or seven giant spiders to get at it when I cleaned out the storage closet at my old apartment in the process of moving, so I decided it probably wasn’t worth the effort. 
  • Buckyballs:  I need some new desk toys for my new cubicle, and I’ve heard these are supposed to be fun.
  • An iPad Bluetooth keyboard.  With the previously mentioned cruise coming up , I’ve been looking at the possibility of using an iPad as a notebook replacement, and the biggest obstacle to this seems to be the on-screen keyboard, which is just a pain to type on for any length of time.  It’s not that I necessarily want to be giving Apple money or anything, but having an actual keyboard for the iPad would be nice.
  • Lessons for PADI open water certification.  I plan to do at least one Scuba dive on the cruise, and although the thought of diving in Puget Sound in the dead of Winter sounds really, really, REALLY cold, I’ve thought about doing the certification for some time now.  I’m pretty sure this one’s way too expensive to get as a gift though.
  • A Magnetic Poetry set:  Nothing too pretentious though.  I’m not quite that cultured.
  • A pair of 24″ monitors:  My computer at my new job came with dual monitors, and although I’m still getting used to them, it’s makes it a lot easier to get things done having two monitors to see stuff on at once.  The things are getting pretty cheap these days too, but I’m pretty sure these would be too expensive to get as a present.

Anyway, that’s my list.  I’m afraid that the whole chimney thing is a bit tricky around here, so I’d recommend the freight elevator as an alternative.  There will probably be cookies of some sort on the counter when you get here, but the milk is going to be in the fridge.  Feel free to help yourself, the things are probably bad for me anyway.  If you still find it necessary to deliver the traditional coal, I would ask that it be tendered in the form of commodity futures.  After all, what’s the worst that could happen?

Merry Christmas,

-Brian

Age 32 1/2

December 22, 2009

Deck the Halls with Something or Other – A Roundup of Questionable Holiday Decorations

Filed under: Holidays, shopping — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 1:41 am

As the guy in the red suit on the right is more than happy to remind you, Christmas is only a couple of days away.  It’s the season we wait all year for, the time of year when friends, family and others gather around the cozy little fireplace they build each year out of 12-packs of  Coca-Cola and an LCD television.  From there, they…  Wait, what do you MEAN you don’t build a fireplace out of Coke every year?  How do you even celebrate Christmas without the Fireplace of Coke?  No, I’m NOT crazy enough to use a real fireplace, you know how much of a fire hazard one of those things is?  And do those bricks contain enough caffeinated beverages to keep you awake until New Year’s Day 2013?  Didn’t think so. 

If you haven’t gotten around to doing your Holiday decorating yet , you should probably think about getting it done pretty quickly.  I should probably confess that I haven’t done any yet here, since the last time I tried pulling out the fake Christmas tree that gets stored in the Closet of Oblivion out on the back porch, it had a rather significant string of lights out AND a shockingly large spider which had taken up residence in the box, and I suspect at this point I might as well just get another one (which at this point probably means to grab one on closeout on the 26th.  Fortunately there’s still plenty of options available out there for your decorating.  Unfortunately, most of those options are somewhat less than ideal.  Although I’m probably just a bit late with this one, I thought this might be a good time for a roundup of some of the odd, kitschy, unusual or just plain tacky Christmas decorations that I have observed over the course of the Holiday season.   You will find this roundup after the jump.

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December 27, 2007

How to Tell When Your Holiday Has Overstayed its Welcome

Filed under: Cooking, Culture, shopping — Tags: , — Brian Lutz @ 1:33 pm

(Note:  This is a crosspost of an item I wrote over at buzz.mn.)

As you might have noticed if you did any shopping yesterday, it’s after-Christmas markdown time at your friendly neighborhood Target store, or whatever other “great big box full of stuff” store you’ve got nearby.  On the shelves, all the various baubles and trinkets shine and sparkle just as brightly as ever, seemingly oblivious to the fact that they’ve literally gone out of style overnight. In spite of this, the great big “50% OFF” signs tell the tale. The Valentine’s Day stuff is moving in a week from now, and it’s time for the Christmas stuff to hit the road (or the closet as the case may be) for the next nine months. Next door at the recently opened Kohl’s store (which, oddly enough, replaced a Mervyn’s that closed about a year ago,) they’re even more emphatic: 70% off.

In theory, this would be the best time to stock up on assorted paraphanelia in anticipation of Christmases yet to come, but that leaves the problem of storage. Are those tremendous savings really worth filling up the closet for? Sure, if you’ve got a large crawlspace to put the stuff in (as my parents have) this isn’t a big deal, but since I live in an apartment that accumulates an ever increasing amount of clutter over time, this becomes an issue. Besides, it’s not like they won’t make more of the stuff when the next Holiday season rolls around, right? Right? Um…  Better go ahead and stock up, just to make sure.

 

On the other hand, it’s not just the Christmas decorations taking a quick trip to the bargain bin. As you wander the aisles, it seems like anything even remotely festive is getting the big markdown. This is most visible in the candy aisle, where it seems like everyone’s been wrapping their stuff in festive Holiday packaging since roughly five minutes after Dia de los Muertos ended. In many cases (such as the package of chocolate shown above) a few sprigs of holly printed on the package will save you a couple of bucks over the same product in the standard packaging, even though the individually wrapped squares inside are 100% identical. I stocked up on these, but I don’t know why, since I still have these left over from last year’s after-Christmas clearance sale. If I was a food snob I’d call it “vintage” and claim that 2006 was a good year for chocolate, but I’m pretty sure most food snobs wouldn’t bother with this stuff anyway.

 

Finally, we see shelves and shelves of these red “gift” boxes full of generic Chinese merchandise (Now with 50% more lead than the leading brand!) all with the obligatory markdown. Granted, none of this stuff is particularly expensive in the first place, but if you ever wondered if giving this stuff as gifts would make you look cheap when they were at “full” price, seeing all the prices slashed in half a day after Christmas wouldn’t do much to reassure you. Still, there might be a couple of useful items here and there, so it’s worth looking through the pile. You’d probably feel ripped off if someone gave you one of these as a gift (or vice versa,) but buy it yourself and it’s a bargain.

December 20, 2007

The First (and Quite Possibly Last) Ever Sledgehammer Last-Minute Christmas Gift Guide

Filed under: Random Stuff, shopping — Tags: , , — Brian Lutz @ 2:52 am

OK, if you haven’t started your Christmas shopping by now, you should probably give some serious consideration to panicking at this point (hold on, I need to go panic for a few minutes. .  OK, back.  That didn’t help the situation any. but ar least I got it out of the way.)   For those of us who weren’t smart enough to get all of our shopping done back before the stores turned into a wall-to-wall mob of festively-minded rioters, we’re in a bit of a jam this weekend.  While it may be true that nothing would ever get done if it weren’t for the last minute, that particular axiom is best applied to situations in which everyone else doesn’t have the same idea. 

But never fear, I’m here to help…  Sort of.  I don’t know exactly how it happened, but somewhere along the line I managed to acquire a decidedly undeserved reputaiton for being good at Christmas shopping.  Somehow, I usually end up with just what whoever I am shopping for has always wanted, but doing so requires a long, arduous journey with plenty of not-so-great and/or downright questionable gift ideas along the way.  It’s these gift ideas, guaranteed to disappoint the whole family, that will be outlined in this gift guide.   See the list after the jump.

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