SURPRISE! IT’S ANOTHER HOLIDAY AVALANCHE!

holiday avalancheLet me whisk you off to metaphor land. It’s snowing outside and has been for days. It’s time to take a look at the snow accumulation on the roof, so I head outside and step under the eaves. I extend a broom handle above me and jam it into the thick foamy protrusion hanging over the lip of the roof. Within a second I am engulfed in a frozen avalanche; left gasping for air from surprise and cold shock. Now let’s take that little fictional episode and say that the snowfall represents Thanksgiving, and the Siberian-style landslide is the approach to Christmas. Despite the same routines and expectations every year, the family winter holidays always result in a surprise crushing blow that leaves me frazzled and shaking stuff out of my ears for weeks afterward.

Preparations for visitors and their inherent tumult of food, bedding and activities; Christmas card photos, composition, addressing and sending; musical engagements like the kids’ school concerts and my band’s Christmas shows; presents and food shopping; family outings to ice skating, drummers, “Straight No Chaser” show, and botanical garden lights; various company and social parties…even writing this list makes my blood pressure rise, and I haven’t even started my craft beading projects yet or going to church! I can hear the roar of the avalanche in the distance, but my feet are stuck in the snow.holiday avalanche 2

Avert your eyes or skip ahead a couple paragraphs if you think I’m a generous and kind-hearted neighbor. I’d like you to preserve that positive impression you might have of me, and what I’m about to reveal will pulverize that illusion. Starting in early November I batten down the hatches on my social receptiveness and accordance. Over the years I’ve honed survival strategies intended to maximize my enjoyment of holiday sparkle and fun, but minimize my effort output. My first line of defense is to stop giving to as many places as possible. (Can you feel the Grinch squeezing his way in?) The holidays make me feel drained of energy, finances and creativity, so number one that gets flicked off my list is my Puget Sound Blood Center appointments. I literally feel drained, (of course) when I leave my pint of blood in the clinic’s plastic bags, so sorry car accident victims, you’re out of luck with regard to my B positive contribution from November through January. I don’t have much “being positive” to spare for 60 straight days, and I have to allocate it to other causes.

The next thing to go is excursions from the house with only a single intended stop. If I can’t pack in at least four errands in one trip, then I’m not using my iPhone apps wisely. And with all the new stores now open in the Highlands my shopping list of mascara, clogs, cranberries, candles and a screwdriver can get banged out in the blink of an eye. Sorry Santa, a visit to your lap gets lumped in with printer ink and an oil change.

You can now tune back in to hear how Big Giver Tami approaches the holidays meaningfully. Resources of time, talent and treasure are tapped more frequently in the last two months of the calendar year. I have to get creative with my treasure with all the gift shopping we do. Spreading out the financial squeeze, yet fully embracing the materialistic side of the season, I started my purchases in late September this year. As for talent, I just follow my skillful bandmates from one “Celtic Christmas” gig to the next, spreading cheer and sharing our joy of music with audiences across Seattle. (Shameless self-promotion here: be sure to pop by Blakely Hall Sunday, December 8 at 5:00pm to witness firsthand my bandmates’ genius on Irish instruments.) Finally, with regards to sharing time during the holidays, while there’s not much of it to spare, I try and keep everything meaningful and family focused. Being the Big Giver that I am, if I had to choose between doing the dinner dishes or lying under the Christmas tree looking up at the lights alongside one of my boys, I’m good with tackling caked-on food residue a few hours later. Let the avalanche spill all over me and shock me with chaos – it’s worth it!

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Getting Hit-on by my Retailers

suitorsI feel like I’m being hit on lately. I haven’t been paying particular attention to my physical appearance, nor am I sending out any amorous signals that I know of. It’s just that there’s a certain component in my daily life that REALLY wants to get to know me, and really wants me to get to know them. The feeling is not mutual. Apart from my husband, I am not interested in forming a meaningful and intimate relationship…with my large chain retailer.

I can’t remember the last time I made a purchase at a Big Box Store without feeling like I wanted to take a shower after walking out. Before I launch into my petty first world complaints I want to announce my disclaimer that I forgive all cashiers for what they are made to do. It’s not their fault that they are asked to make like a dog and do inappropriate things to the leg of every customer. It is disheartening that large retail corporation employees are asked to pry and prod their way into making “a great customer service experience”, at the expense of my patience and privacy.

In a perfect world, my loyalty to a store means I return. If I don’t return, I didn’t like my experience. Simple as that! Instead, at the hardware store I get to stand at the cashier and wade through questions, prompts and propositions – just to purchase a weed whacker. I’m just trying to edge my lawn, not marry you!

Here are my retail dating guidelines. If you are capable of adhering to #1-5, we might just be able to form a lifelong relationship. Otherwise, I’m not sure I see you in my future. If you want to date me…errr, have me as a repeat customer here’s what I want:

1. Unless you see me twice a week at your store, please resist the temptation to ask me if I’m going to do, or just did, anything special over the weekend. Trader Joe’s started this nice trend a decade or more ago. It works because their employees are familiar, neighborly and the question is delivered with genuine interest, not “Oh, I need to check off #8 from my customer service interaction list”. They get it, the rest of you huge retailers don’t. Just stop snuggling up to me.

2. You keep asking me for my phone number…to check whether I’m “in your system”. I don’t think I like “being in anyone’s system”. That sounds too visceral. Back off.

3. Stop asking me to “Just take this short survey about how your experience was today after navigating to a website, inputting a 10-digit code, identifying the location (amongst 50 states) that served you, filling in the boxes who your stellar clerk was…my name’s Percy!! Don’t forget, Percy! It’s circled right here on your two-foot long receipt!” Yeah, no. Thanks.

4. This isn’t American Idol. Don’t ask me to judge you. My lunch starts to come up in the back of my throat every time I hear “It would REALLY help me out if you could give us five stars when you take this brief survey!” Golly, I just bought a ream of printer paper. It was the most amazing experience EVER!! I’m giving you all FIVE STARS for creating a receptive environment for me to walk in and purchase PAPER!! Yes!!

5. Perhaps making note of any praise or discontent online is better, though, than having to look someone in the eye and tell them they really screwed the pooch on selling me a bag of pet sawdust bedding. “Yeah, I was going to say that I felt very inconvenienced having to go down three aisles instead of one to find the aspen wood chip terrarium liner…” (Has no one seen the movie “Office Space“? “You need more flare…TPS reports in triplicate…”)

6. Can you see where my eyes are going when I hear: “Would you like to sign up for our customer rewards program? It’ll just take a second and you’ll receive some wonderful email coupons…” Great, I get to do paperwork (that’ll assuredly take longer than a second) AND receive spam in my inbox! I love those rewards cards. I’ve got 67 in my wallet right now — may I please have a 68th?

I think I’ll take a break from all these clamoring suitors and go visit my small Issaquah retailers who don’t want to get to know me in such a meaningful way.

Tally Ho! Bellevue Holiday Shopping Strategies

Chihuly glass art

Not everyone’s holiday traditions are the same. Come November gift shopping becomes a highly disputed topic. Adventuresome folk look forward to Black Friday as a pre-dawn summons to joyful bargain seeking. Sort of like the bugle call at a fox hunt. Others find themselves on the side of the fox. When someone mentions, “Let’s go shopping”, they make a run for it, take cover, hide their tracks, and wait for the hunting party to pass. If you fall into the fox category, here’s a little insight on how to crack open the door on your seasonally self-imposed solitary confinement.

First of all, set yourself up with a retreat – sort of like a hunting lodge. When all the twinkly lights, bustling people, frantic fa-la-la’s, and shoulder bumping land you in a tightly-wound, claustrophobic puddle, relief is within arm’s reach. If your escape route involves locating your car on the 6th floor of a crowded parking garage and navigating it back home through 45-minutes of rain and idiot drivers, then you must like the sensation of shooting yourself in the foot as well. With a little advanced planning, shopping in Downtown Bellevue can be a breeze, and might even resemble a vacation.

With close proximity to The Bellevue Collection, The Bravern, and quaint Old Bellevue Main Street, the Hyatt is a perfect candidate for a refuge from a shopping overdose. Some readers may have just blurted out, “There’s no such thing as a shopping overdose!” I understand. Remember though, we’re trying to coax our timid foxes out into the open, if only for a brief chase.

Bamboo retreat at Hyatt’s Winter Garden

Recently renovated with upscale northwest contemporary styling, the Hyatt embodies serene grandeur. My family used this hotel as the launch pad (hunting lodge) for our first shopping trek. With a couple of heel-dragging foxes in tow we attempted to head out into the fray but immediately deviated off course and into the Winter Garden skylit atrium. Who wouldn’t seize an opportunity to benefit from a quick dose of vitamin D while surrounded by lush bamboo? But with an explorer’s agenda we didn’t stay long.

Across the covered skybridge lay a movie theater, bowling alley, the new Chinese restaurant Din Tai Fung, and shopping opportunities abound. Further down Bellevue Way Dishcrawl was about to debut and the iPad mini demanded investigation inside the Apple store. Even my skittish family couldn’t deny that they were starting to get into the spirit of the downtown shopping experience.

A few hours later we reconvened back at the Hyatt and paused next to the soaring Koa wood walls to recharge our batteries. We quickly became mesmerized in the multi-dimensional effect of the vertical and horizontal grains unique to this Hawaiian wood. The buzz that had started to build pressure after several hours of dazzling visual stimuli began to dissolve within the peaceful warmth of the hotel’s interior.

Breakfast of champions at Eques

The next morning, refreshed by plush accommodations the bugle sounded again, summoning us to once more join in the Downtown Bellevue experience. But first, we had to bolster our energy stores with breakfast at Eques. The restaurant’s manager, Erik Hannaway, pays fastidious attention to creating a comfortable atmosphere infused with sophistication. My children eagerly dug into the stuffed waffles that the adult in me interpreted as a beignet embellished with roasted seasonal pears and apples. You say waffle, I say utopia. Chef Jon Bishop came out with his northwest approach to Eggs Benedict. Nix the heavy hollandaise, give bacon the boot, and instead slide in some locally smoked salmon with a drizzle of light dill cream. Think globally, eat locally is my new motto thanks to Eques.

Holiday shopping does not have to be an overwhelming frenzy when done sensibly. The Annual Hunt can be satisfyingly carried out when balanced with nearby revitalizing accommodations and provisions. Consider this hunting strategy as December approaches when the nightly Snowflake Lane performances, the musicians at Bellevue   Square’s Center   Court, and the flurry of holiday activity all commence.

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