Tracey’s Gift-Giving Guide: Part 5 – Last-Minute Ideas

There’s only a week left until Christmas people! And yet I know that some of you barely have any shopping done…some of you even have NO shopping done. For shame.

For you people, here are a few last-minute, minimal-effort ideas.

Gift Cards

Personally, I’m not a fan of gift cards at Christmas. I can’t help but feel like there should be a note on them that says, “I don’t know you well enough to have any idea what you might like, so here’s some pre-spent money, and please do the leg work for me”. No offense to those who like to give gift cards…that’s just how I feel about them.

That said, there are certain types of gift cards that I feel are acceptable. Two of them are shown above. If you know a Tim Horton’s coffee lover, a Tim Card is an excellent choice because it’s money that you know they’re going to spend anyway. Alternatively, a Playstation Network card (or a Microsoft Points card for the XBox lovers) for the gamer in your life is a wonderful choice because it allows them to “load” their account with funds without having to attach a credit card number to their account. (For those of you who don’t get the whole gaming thing, your recipient can use the funds to download games or virtual goods for their games.)

Depending on what your gift recipient likes there are other good choices for gift cards, but I beg you to avoid certain stores…giving a gift card to a department store says, “I had literally thousands of choices around me, but still didn’t know what to get you”, and please, please avoid those Dollarama gift cards…even if your recipient regularly shops at the local Dollar Store, giving them a gift card for one screams “I think you’re cheap!”

A Themed Christmas Decoration

There are literally thousands upon thousands of themed and licensed Christmas decorations out there these days. They’ve always been available at stores like Hallmark and Carlton Cards, but they’re also prevalent at the department stores and supermarkets now, so you can’t possibly try to say that you can’t find any. For a few bucks you can get your loved one something cute and/or personalized that they can use to decorate their house for years to come.

Does your loved one love the old Rankin-Bass Christmas specials? There are tons of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer decorations out there. Do you have a kid on your list who is obsessed with a particular cartoon? I can almost guarantee you that you’ll find a couple of tree ornaments dedicated to that particular show. My daughter has her own miniature Christmas tree and it is covered in Ponies, Ninja Turtles, Spongebob, Sesame Street characters, and Disney Princesses. Take half a glance in the decoration section of any store and you’re bound to find something, I promise.

A Throw Blanket

Hear me out. If you live in a tropical climate, feel free to ignore this one, but if you live anywhere where, at some time throughout the year, the temperature drops below freezing, this is a great gift. There’s nothing quite like snuggling up on the couch to watch TV/read a book/play a video game/screw around on the computer with a soft, snuggly blanket wrapped around your shoulders. For a cost of between $10 and $30, depending on where and what you buy, you can share this joy. I’ve both given and received these wonderful little squares of material, and they’ve always been appreciated. In fact, I have one wrapped around me as I’m typing this post. Trust me on this one. Lovely, easy gift.

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With this last gift-giving guide post, I would like to say one last thing… Pay attention to your loved ones. The reason we all tend to have so much trouble (and stress) shopping during Christmas is because we can never think of what to buy, and the main reason that we can’t think of what to buy is because we simply don’t pay attention to one another. I’m not trying to give the impression that I’m exempt from that statement…I’m as bad as anyone. But the worst offenders, I’ve found, tend to be the parents of young children. Working in retail has shown me that a lot of parents pay so little attention to their children’s likes and dislikes that it actually frightens me, so here’s a hint: if you think that every video game is a “Mario” game, or you can’t name even one of the characters of the TV show that your child loves…you need to start opening your eyes and your ears and stop relying on sales associates to help you figure out what to get your kid for Christmas.

Do you have any gift ideas that you’d care to share with the panicked, stressed-out last-minute shoppers? Leave a comment! We’d all love to hear your ideas!

This concludes Tracey’s Gift-Giving Guide. I hope I’ve helped a few people come up with some ideas for great gifts for their loved ones, but now that we’re down to one week left I plan to not even think about any more shopping. 🙂

Happy last minute shopping, everyone!

Accountability Tuesdays: Week 50

~ You better not shout, you better not cry!You better not pout, I’m telling you why…
Santa Claus is coming to town! ~

We’re down to mere hours over one week to Christmas, ladies and gentlemen! And amazingly I can still list several people whom I personally know who have don’t next to no shopping yet. I am genuinely amazed. What is wrong with you crazy, masochistic people? o.O

In these last few weeks of the year I’ve been getting very little done toward my goals, because come on…there’s a lot of Christmas to do! But while I considered skipping my accountability posts for this exact reason, I decided against it because there are only three of them left. May as well finish up, right? Right.

Health and Body Image Goal

My husband has been playfully announcing day after day that the whole family is packing on the holiday pounds. He’s full of it, but that’s not to say that we’ve been the healthiest family in the world recently. Christmas treats and rushed suppers abound, and the only exercise we’ve been getting is shoveling snow and wrapping presents. It’s looking very good that this goal is going to carry over into the new year. But isn’t that always the way?

Editing Goal

Again, I didn’t even think about my manuscript this week, though I did get a little boot in the pants from a friend. Honestly, I’m very close to being done of all the wrapping and card-writing and what-not, so hopefully I’ll be able to find some time very soon. I’d love to spend the last few days before Christmas relaxing with a glass of rum-nog and my very-nearly-finished manuscript. Wish me luck!

1,000,000 Word Goal

Here’s the thing…amidst all the stuff mentioned above, I haven’t even been counting my words, so I have nothing to report this week. I know I have a small word count to add because I did write several blog posts, but I don’t have the time right at this moment to go back and count them all up, so I’m going to save it until next week, if that’s alright with you all?

These posts have been short and rushed, I know, but Christmas really truly is a very big time of year for me, and I’m almost finished preparing for it, so thanks very much for being patient with me! 🙂

Accountability Tuesdays – Week 48: NaNo Edition

Friends, I have been blogging on this site faithfully every Monday through Friday for many months now without missing a single scheduled day, so I hope you will kindly forgive me for my lack of post yesterday, Monday, December the 2nd. You see, on Friday (Black Friday, you might remember) my husband, daughter and I drove an hour and a half away to do some shopping. Fun times were had by all. Then, on Saturday, I had many, many things to do to get ready for my daughter’s birthday, which was accentuated by the fact that my sister-in-law and her daughter (my daughter’s cousin) came up to hang out with us a day early and have a sleepover. Then on Sunday I woke up early to decorate, survived a birthday party with friends and family, and then helped wrangle the daughter and the cousin all night while they played with the daughter’s new toys and generally had a major sugar high happening. Then, yesterday, when I really should have been resting after three days of non-stop stuff-to-do, we went shopping again and didn’t get home until almost 8 pm.

The seven or so hours of sleep I got last night were not enough. I’m just throwing that out there.

Also, I plan to spend at least one straight week doing nothing but playing video games. That is, as soon as we get the house decorated for Christmas (*cry*).

2013-Participant-Facebook-CoverHealth and Body Image Goal

Please see above paragraphs.

Seriously though, I’ve been having a few stomach-related hiccups that I assume are based on being too busy and perhaps a little stressed out, but I’ve actually been feeling half-decent lately and strangely I’ve lost a few pounds. I’m really not sure how, but there it is. Keep it up, body. Keep it up.

Editing Goal

November is officially over, which means that I can get back into the editing mode, but I don’t have anything to report this week because of [see above paragraph again]. Cut me some slack. It’s only been December for two days now.

1,000,000 Word Goal

I’m not going to tell you to see the above paragraph again, but you get the idea. Obviously I didn’t do any writing during that four days of madness spoken about at the beginning of this post, but I did get a hell of a lot done in the three days before that madness. I was determined to get NaNoWriMo over with before I had to start focusing entirely on the daughter’s birthday party, so I wrote like a complete maniac during Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and the result of those three days was a word count total of 11056 words. Not bad for three days, eh? I have to say, I was pretty proud of myself. That brings me up to just under 450,000 words. That means I have to do another 50,000 words this month in order to make it to half a mill, but I will tell you this right now. I am not going to stress over it. I would love to make that mark, but dammit, it’s Christmas. I’m not going to spend the entire month hunched over my laptop. 😛

NaNoWriMo Goal

As mentioned above, I wrote like a maniac during the first three days of last week, and the results were spectacular…I won! I validated my novel on the NaNoWriMo website and officially won my fifth NaNo out of the six that I participated in! I’m quite happy about that, if not a little exhausted. Most of my novel turned out to be complete and utter crap, but I really think there are some key things in there that I can work with to create something decent…that is, someday when I’m finished with all the other stuff I’m working on. 🙂

Thus ends another writing race season. I am definitely going to have a little relax now, please and thanks. 🙂

Accountability Tuesdays – Week 47: NaNo Edition

One wonderful thing about kids is their level of unpredictability, am I right? I’m using the word “wonderful” as a subjective term of course. I mean, who would have thought that after sleeping straight through the night for four or five nights in a row, my daughter would choose the night after I only slept about five hours to decide to wake me up every half hour?

Just saying, I mean, come on. That’s cruelty right there.

Moving on.

2013-Participant-Facebook-CoverHealth and Body Image Goal

My exercise this week has been cleaning. Don’t judge me. I have a birthday party coming up this weekend which will have quite a few people in my home, so I’ve been scrubbing. We also have Christmas approaching, so I’ve been deep scrubbing to ensure that everything is good for when we start decorating (right after the birthday party). And it’s been hard work, so I’m counting it as exercise.

On the food side of things, I’ve been a little healthier by drinking more water and forcing myself (most mornings) to have some kind of breakfast, but the key this week seems to have been Metamucil. I don’t know if it’s a coincidence or if I really did need the extra fiber, but I’ve been feeling so much better this week. No evil stomach pains in the middle of the night, no feeling like my guts were going to drop out of me immediately after eating. It’s been a good week. I’m really, really hoping that it will continue.

Editing Goal

This is the last week that I get to say “skip!” for this one. Editing activities will resume next week, and since there’s not a lot left I really believe that this is one goal I’ll achieve by year’s end.

1,000,000 Word Goal

I’m really proud of myself this week, not because I wrote diligently ever day (I actually completely skipped two days because of a shopping trip and a day of power-cleaning) but because I managed to squeeze extra writing in and beat last week’s total even considering the days off. All total this week I wrote 17,379 words, and over 7000 of those were yesterday. It proves that you can really get things done if you put a drive on. Unfortunately my drives don’t tend to come that often. 😛

NaNoWriMo Goal

There were some ups and downs this week (see aforementioned two day skip), but I managed to come out on top by the end of the night last night. I am currently hanging in at 43,023 words, which as of last night was over a thousand words ahead. Today I actually only need to write 203 words to stay on track, but my hope is to sit down and have another day like yesterday. I’m not holding my breath or anything, but if I can do even half as well as I did yesterday, and then do that again tomorrow, I’ll be done. Won and ahead of schedule. I had originally hoped to extend my goal this year from the usual 50,000 up to 75,000, but given everything I’ve been doing, Christmas shopping, cleaning, getting ready for the baby’s party, amongst other things, I think that just hitting the usual goal is a big deal. So wish me luck, and here’s hoping that at this time next week I’ll be telling you all about my fifth NaNoWriMo win!

To Avoid Holiday Insanity, Please Follow Me

This slightly late, fatigue-riddled post is brought to you by a mother who loves Christmas and loathes shopping.

Ladies and Gents, there are less than six weeks to shop before Christmas, and while that may seem like plenty I’m here to tell you that it is NOT. As I mentioned before, my husband and I have a method of shopping for Christmas all year through…if we see something in January that we think is a good gift for someone, we’ll pick it up. But we do still do some actual shopping coming up to the holidays because obviously.

Yesterday we made one of those such shopping trips to the city, hoping to tie things up as best we could so we wouldn’t have to worry about it. I won’t say that the stores and malls were packed, but for a Wednesday they were pretty darn busy.

And here’s the thing. It’s only going to explode from here on out. You just watch; before you know what happened it’s going to take you an hour and half a bottle of Advil just to pick up some milk after work.

This is the definition of hell, RIGHT HERE. – Image via www.bbc.co.uk

Tonight, at midnight, stores are going to be having late night releases of the Playstation 4. Shortly after, there will be similar releases for the XBox One. This is the first stage in insanity, because no matter how hard you try to explain to people that something is the biggest device of the season and that “we’re all sold out dammit, and no we’re not hiding any in the back, why the hell would we do that?”, people will still flood the stores, kicking and screaming and positively losing their minds because they weren’t on-the-ball enough to pre-order the most important thing that their loved one wants for Christmas. The stores will be packed with these people from tomorrow straight up to Christmas Eve, mark my words.

The second stage in the insanity comes two weeks from now. I’m not sure how many people have noticed this besides my husband and I, but I’m willing to bet it’s not many…see, because of the timing of US Thanksgiving this year, Black Friday lands at the very end of the month. The sales and warnings (ONLY X-NUMBER OF DAYS LEFT, DAMMIT!) that prompt people to run to the stores with credit card in hand are coming late this year, which can only incite further “Oh crap, I haven’t started shopping yet!” panic. On a similar note, Cyber Monday (which, reasonably, comes after Black Friday) will also be late, meaning that the post and shipping companies are going to be slogged with goods purchased online that absolutely must make it to their destinations by Christmas even though they have significantly less time to do so than they have in the past. (In other words, if you’re planning on shipping something to a loved one for Christmas, you better take into consideration that delivery times are going to be much worse this year than they were last year).

The third stage in the insanity is, quite simply, the same stage we deal with every year. People wait until the last minute. They rush in with heads full of stress, short fuses, and no idea what they’re going to buy. They traipse into stores with only the vaguest idea of the toy their kid wants and expect every sales associate to know exactly what they’re talking about when all they can offer is broad descriptions like, “this princess” or “this superhero”. They don’t plan ahead, is what I’m getting at here.

I beg you, don’t be these people. These people are the reason that Christmas turns into a huge, stress-filled ball of anger and frustration. Plan ahead. Start shopping NOW (if you haven’t already), and put some effort into it beforehand. It’s really not that difficult to open a Sears Wish Book and get your kid to point to the exact toys they want, or get them to write a letter to Santa. And (though it’s too late now for the PS4 and XBox One), if someone you love is super-excited for something that’s highly anticipated enough to be having huge midnight-release parties all across the continent, you may want to consider getting that item ordered in advance. If there’s one thing everyone should have learned the year the Nintendo Wii came out it’s that just because you want it doesn’t mean that the stores are going to have it for you, especially of ten million other people want it at the same time.

This Christmas PSA brought to you by a woman who watches this stuff happen year after year and wonders how nobody ever seems to catch on.

The 12 Posts of Christmas – Shopping

12. Uh oh…Christmas is coming fast and you’ve got presents to buy! Write about your shopping strategy and your feelings on the yearly panic.

Here’s the thing…I love buying presents for people. As I’ve gotten older I’ve found that, while I still love receiving presents, the greatest joy of Christmas for me is buying an awesome present for one of the special people in my life.

However, I absolutely abhor shopping. I don’t even really enjoy shopping for myself, never mind having to drag myself out to shop for others, and I especially hate shopping when there are approximately all of the people crowding up the stores around me.

In this regard my husband and I are very much agreed, and so it has become our custom to begin our Christmas shopping exceptionally early. We try to keep our loved ones in mind all year through so that if a great gift happens to catch our eye, we are able to snatch it up and have it ready when the time comes. We’ve been known to make purchases in the summer with the intentions of giving them as Christmas gifts, and as an extreme result, my husband tells me that he bought something last year during the Boxing week sales that he’s giving to me for Christmas this year. You don’t get a whole lot further ahead than that!

This year I began picking things up around September, and during my last stint home I officially finished all of my shopping. You cannot begin to imagine how happy I am knowing that when I come home from this work shift I’ll have absolutely no shopping to concern myself. I can just sit back and enjoy the holidays while watching everybody else lose their ever-loving little minds. Bwa ha ha…

The 12 Posts of Christmas

Since I began this blog almost 10 months ago (10 months!), I have regularly scanned the world wide web in search of ideas for posts. These searches would invariably turn up any number of blog post challenges, and those who have followed my blog will recognize that I’ve taken part in several of these challenges. In fact, I haven’t yet completed the 101 Blog Post Ideas list. But that list will have to wait for the new year because I have decided (after one of the aforementioned internet searches came up fruitless) that I am going to start a blog challenge of my very own. Introducing:

The 12 Blog Posts of Christmas

12. Uh oh…Christmas is coming fast and you’ve got presents to buy! Write about your shopping strategy and your feelings on the yearly panic.

11. One of the best things about Christmas is the food. Write about your favorite holiday treats and maybe even share some recipes!

10. Kids get SO excited over some presents. Write about a particular toy or other present that made you lose your mind on Christmas day when you were a child.

9. Depressing, perhaps, but we don’t always get what we want for Christmas. Write about the present you’re still waiting for.

8. Decorating can be half the fun or it can be the most dreaded part of the season. Write about which it is for you and why.

7. Nothing says “Christmas” like watching the holiday specials on TV. Write about the specials you watch every year and which are your favorites.

6. Toot your horn a little… Write about (in your opinion) the best gift you’ve ever given.

5. Presents are awesome at any age. Write about the best present you ever received for Christmas, whether as a child or an adult.

4. As much as we love Christmas, there are aspects of it that can drive us insane. Write about the most frustrating parts of Christmas for you.

3. We all have our own particular Christmas traditions. Write about some of yours.

2. Admit it…you tried to sneak a peek at a present or stay up all night and catch Santa when you were a kid. Write about Christmas sneakery you performed as a child.

1. Happy Holidays! Write about your hopes and plans for this Christmas!

I’ll be starting the list tomorrow, and I sincerely hope that a few people will come across this list and decide to write some posts along with me! If you do decide to take my list and use it on your own blog or other social media, I would greatly appreciate it if you would send a link-back my way. Inversely, if you would like to let me know that you’re planning to use this list, I’ll be happy to mention it at the end of my posts and send a link your way as well!

Happy Holidays everyone! The 12 Posts of Christmas start tomorrow!

Failure? No, not even close.

The best laid plans do not always turn out the way you expect them to. This is a well-known fact, often tested, the results reproduced with alarming regularity. As per this noble tradition of screw-up-ery, November did not turn out the way I expected it to. This is not surprising. What is surprising is the manner in which it did not turn out the way I expected it to.

I went into November with a simple goal: to participate in my 5th National Novel Writing Month. Though I was definitely going to put my all into it, I did not expect to win my 5th NaNoWriMo, due to the working conditions I’ve mentioned more than once on this blog. What I expected was to spend two weeks working out West, writing whenever I could snag a few minutes to keep my word count from plummeting miserably, and then when I returned home for the last bit of November I would write like a maniac to get as close to a winning word count as possible.

In a humorous twist, what I did was almost exactly the opposite. During my days out West I wrote like the wind. I wrote in a notebook during all my breaks, and typed like a madwoman when I got back to my camp room at night. I even scribbled out a few words here and there on buses and in lines for buses, and once or twice I lost an hour or two much-needed sleep because the scenes were just flowing out of me. I made the daily word count every day while I was out West, and even doubled it on some days.

And then I returned home, and I am completely unashamed to admit that I did not write one single word from the moment my plane landed until this blog post. What did I do during those two weeks off? Well, for one, I finished (yes, finished) all my Christmas shopping, cleaned and decorated the house with the help of my husband, decorated the tree with my husband and daughter, and wrapped every single present that was available to wrap (including embellishment with a plethora of ribbons and bows, thank you very much). But even more important than that, I (with a great deal of help from my mother) threw my daughter her second birthday party. She had a blast with her cousin and second-cousins, enjoyed her Sesame Street decorations and cake, and got some pretty awesome gifts in the process. Then we packed everything up and headed home so I could just enjoy being with her for a couple of days before flying back out for work.

The conclusion of this little tale, in case you hadn’t figured it out yet, is that while I’m disappointed that I couldn’t score a 5th NaNoWriMo win after all that frantic writing out West, sometimes there are more important things. And because I was able to accept that, I manged to put myself into a situation where I will have virtually nothing to worry about for Christmas when I get back home in two weeks, and I was able to enjoy my daughter’s second birthday without obsessing over a self-imposed writing challenge. Take that.

And just to make a good situation even better, even though I didn’t win NaNo, I wrote 37189 words of good stuff when I was writing. I’m happy with that, and I fully plan on continuing on with this story while I’m out West for this run. In fact, I picked up a cute little notebook on the way out here specifically for that purpose. I’m going to reinstate my goal from earlier in the year and try to write 1000 words a day. If nothing else it will help pass the time until I can go back home to my husband and my little girl and enjoy Christmas with them. Love you two! See you in two weeks! *kiss kiss; hug hug!*