Archive for the ‘Shopping’ Category

Hipster Food Palace in Boston

July 31st, 2015

bpmsunsHipsters, foodies and the dwindling herd of yuppies have a new (and clean, make sure to say clean) food shopping place i Boston. The Public Market opened yesterday after a couple of years of planning. It’s not bad, but it has its limits.

Regular readers here know I’ve been a fan of the Haymarket here since late ’60s college days and weekly since we moved her in December 1979. The whispers in town are that the city wants to replace the always boisterous, much beloved, remarkably cost saving, and splendidly diverse Haymarket with with a more sanitary indoor facility better suited to the temperament of tourists and suburbanites.

You can forget that. The Haymarket has been at it since 1830 and serves restauranteurs and home cooks alike. The new joint is very different. Some locals may shop at both. Certainly visitors and nearby office workers will swarm like ants for lunch and snacks to the new market. There’s no way restaurants and plain folk would want to or afford to shift to the new one.

ABPMroomsll of that written, the new market has some fine offerings already. The vendors are all New England sources, for everything from honey to cheese to bread to ale to ice cream to cheese to flowers. In fact, A Taste of New England might be a subtitle or epithet here.

PR and ads leading up to the opening were, of course, hyperbolic. The predictable unique aired repeatedly…and inaccurately. For a few, Seattle’s Pike Place Market has been at it since 1907, much bigger, grander, diverse and still local sourced;  the concept of year-round, indoor, local vendors started in Québec in 1841 with its Le Marché; even in Rochester NY, its Public Market has been perking 3 days a week since 1905 with more vendors and even the most remarkable cheese shop I’ve ever seen, even including Manhattan. Oo, oo, and the Rochester market features Amish baked goods and crafts as well as numerous NY State vineyard offerings. It’s fab.

Ycheesegorillaet, for New England, the new spot down next to the Haymarket is a remarkable place, well worth regular visits. Truth be told, I won’t make special trips. However, I’m at the Haymarket weekly on Friday or Saturday and shall certainly augment my regular haul with speciality items from next door. I’m a food slut.

I won’t build a FAQ, but you need to know:

  • Unlike the Haymarket and nearly all of Boston, this shopper-friendly market has obvious public restrooms, water fountains, and tables for two or four. You can buy and then eat. In fact, the slugs clogging up the area around the ice cream vendor should get some manners.
  • jasperhillNext to nothing is inexpensive. An exception is fresh pasta (Nella Pasta) was only $3.99 a pound. Veggies and fruits are two to ten times higher than the Haymarket, where it has the same.
  • You’ll find goods that are hard to impossible to source elsewhere and you might not have known about. Several vendors had splendid, often huge, mushrooms of exotic varieties, for example. Unlike a friend who eats Japanese knotweed shoots, I think those plants are vile pests. Yet, Boston Honey offers samples of its wares, including knotweed honey. It’s earthy, powerful and damned good. Likewise, Hopsters Alley has a wide range of New England craft brews and wines, but hard-to-find spirits, like Berkshire’s Ethereal Gin. They don’t discount, but they have the goods.
  • 1% dinners are easy here. Those who don’t mind dropping several hundred dollars for a meal for themselves or a few chbpmsilberbrookums can buy prepared or frozen meals, mains, meats, desserts and such.
  • The market offers an hors-d’oeuvre paradisse. The few cheese vendors are very high priced (up to $30 a pound), but again they have the variety and quality for a memorable cocktail event. Likewise, the Boston Smoked Fish Company gets a bit silly about its small-batch products, but they are remarkable if very high priced.
  • The airiness and high ceilings and open spaces make for a good experience. I had to stop at Silverbrook Farm (Dartmouth MA) for its beautifully arranged stalls.

In the main, the new market is at the Orange and Green Lines’ Haymarket stop. It’s worth a visit. Bring cash.

Pix note: Published under Creative Commons . You are welcome to use them. Just credit Michael Ball once.

The case of the missing dagger

June 30th, 2015

Well, it’s nothing like the confidentiality or trust that goes with a doctor or priest or lawyer, but I have expectations of mail order. Yes, of mail order.

From the backs of comic books to cereal-box offers to catalogs and now for decades the internet, I order. Things arrive. It’s almost like Christmas, except I’m buying my own presents. I love it.

Now lately with Amazon Prime, my new stuff may arrive in one or two days. Mirabile dictu!

Stabbed by a dagger

Last week, the impossible (or so I’d thought) happened — an envelope came with an empty box inside. Somewhere in the chain of custody, my dirk went missing.

Amazon must not be as inexperienced or naive in the ways of missing mail-order goods as I. They responded in a few minutes to my email complaint. They arranged for UPS to show up the next business day with a label to pick up the envelope. They promised to refund the price as soon as they got the package.

They were better than their word. Shortly after the UPS guy picked up the envelope, they sent email confirmation of the refund. UPS possession was all they needed.

Granted that this was an inexpensive purchase. I would not have suffered financially if I had to eat the cost. Yet this small offense was against the order of things as I have long known them, since I was about 7 years old.

In a previous career, way back, I worked for the original materials-handling magazine. I learned much about manufacturing, warehousing, picking and shipping. With that tedious background, I wondered:

  • Did someone at the warehouse stock an empty box, leading the picker to read the bin and label, choosing a non-product?
  • Did someone at the warehouse lust after a cheap knife and just take one, returning the empty box to the bin?
  • Did someone in the shipping department take the dagger and prepare the envelope for UPS anyway?
  • Why was the envelope not really sealed and not taped or otherwise securely closed?
  • Did the UPS handling cause the loose envelope to disgorge the box, tempting some UPS lackey to take the stabby thing?
  • As the envelope arrived with our #10 mail in the same rubberband, I assume this was a UPS to USPS hand-off. Thus, the previous question goes to the Postal guys.

By Occam’s razor, I’d lean toward UPS pilferage. The vendor is likely blameless, particularly with such a cheap item. There were surely many hands and conveyor belts in the UPS chain of custody. Then there was the pretty much unsealed envelope. I can point to the seller for poor packaging but likely not theft.

Dirty dirk

I should admit that this dagger is to complete my costume. I recently decided to go ahead and spring for a kilt. My eldest son, DIL and even grandson are all kilted. She is very proud of her Scottish heritage.

Of course, the kilt is the least of it. As with the stereotypes of a woman buying a dress, only to need, absolutely need, appropriate dress, shoes, hoses, hat, purse and on and on, so goes the tartan skirt.

I ordered ghillie brogues, from Scotland, as a good mark of frugality, the selection and price was superior to U.S. purchase. I shopped for and bought, frugally, of course, a sporran, a ghillie shirt, kilt socks, and flashes.

Some accessories were flat out for me. You’re not likely to ever see me wearing a tam and certainly not that twee Prince Charles jacket.

I had avoided the affectation of the sgian dubh, the dagger that traditionally goes into one of the socks.Then with everything else in hand, it was, why not?

It turns out there is a good why not. After the failed order and then a reorder last evening, I wondered if my fair commonwealth restricts these. You bet they do.

Massachusetts has one of the tightest set of knife regulation sets around. For example, under our general laws, chapter 269, section 12, you can buy, sell or own virtually any knife. You just can’t carry or wear it. The exceptions are for folding pocket knives like for workmen or fishing sorts, or huge bladed things carried while hunting. Otherwise, the knife has to be locked in a car trunk or box. So there.

My reading of the law is that tucking the traditional sgian dubh is totally illegal, and God help you if you commit any crime and the cops find a knife in your possession. The fines and jail terms compound.

Once burned

I’m known to ridicule Scientologists as once burned, 10,000 times shy. That’s the only justification I can see for their engram fixation and spending all their time and money to go clear. I’m more in the get-back-up-on-the-horse mindset.

Clearly I need to order something today and something else tomorrow. A single purloined geegaw should not alter my self-present purchasing lifestyle.



Big Box Bourbon

August 14th, 2013


Oh my, late to the game again. I discovered that Costo private brands a small-batch bourbon. Today I was in the Avon, MA, store, which has a company liquor department and vot!

Turns out that everyone, his brother, cousin and niece already bought and tasted it. A net search gets lots of hits. For both flip and savvy comments, I point to a few:

I’m not a bourbon snob, but I do like like it. I started drinking in the South, where the choice was bourbon or beer. Also a mixed drink meant with ice cubes or maybe if you really had to a splash of ginger ale.

Now living in Yankeeland — a decade in Manhattan and three in Boston — I’m delighted that bourbon has come into its own. There are fascinating bars, like the 5 Horses (Somerville and soon the South End), and Beacon Hill’s Tip Tap Room for example, that have a good selection and knowledgeable barkeeps. Liquor stores too have a wide selection at many price points and even the most ignorant bartender doesn’t think Jack Daniel’s is bourbon.

I figured I’d try it. Costco’s bourbon also fit another criterion my chums and I often use, is it a good value? We like to find superior wines for $9 that blow away $39 ones, for example.

Turns out that I paid $19.99 for a full liter of the 103-proof stuff. (There’s no state tax on booze here.) Some of the net comments carped that for only $3 or $4 or $6 more, they could buy Knob Creek or some other familiar bourbon, but they don’t think that that is a third less booze for the price, making the Kirkland bottle that much more of a bargain.

A few things I did learn from the mash heads and blowhards commenting (sometimes without tasting the distillate in question) was that this definitely comes from Jim Beam. Also it is aged for 7 years instead of Beam’s Knob Creek version, which is 9 years in barrel. It is also that 103 proof (51.5% alcohol) instead of the more common small-batch bourbon release of 90 or 100 proof, or Wild Turkey’s 101 variety.

Some went though serious research, badgering Costco employees for all our benefit. The best finding was that this is not an open item. That suggests that for whatever reason, Jim Beam did a one-off for Costco, who like Job Lots or Building 19, bought something the distiller didn’t want to sell itself. Likely when this batch is sold out, it’s gone. Following this evening’s tasting, I’ll likely go back to Avon and buy a couple more bottles.

costcotasteHere, three of us tried it two ways. I set out six bourbon low ball glasses (actually made for Woodford Reserve, a fine sipping bourbon), three nude and neat, with three holding a single ice cube. Each glass got a half ounce or so. Who knows what the demons did to me in pouring?

Uxorial Unit, Son #2 (great to have children of drinking age), and I went at it. We certainly did not keep pace with the florid, hyperbolic, pretentious posts pointed to above. Yet, we tried to judge.

The punchline is that this is good stuff, worth more in market terms than competitors. There are other bourbons I like more, but this is a fair entry.

If you extrapolate the local price for Knob Creek ($26.99 for 750ml) and weigh it against Costco’s very own bargain bourbon ($19.99 for 1000ml), the differential is 1.8. That is Kirkland small-batch bourbon is 1.8 times cheaper per liter. So you ask, is KC worth almost two times more? Of course, in the larger scheme, Knob Creek at effectively $35.99 per liter is a relative small differential over Kirkland. As we learned many years ago, a $200 retail bottle of Chablis is not 20 times better than a $10 bottle. It’s a judgment call.

So, this evening, without hyperbole or poetry, we found the neat glass pleasant, powerful, a little too alcohol nosed. That was no surprise for over half alcohol. Certainly there was the predictable vanilla scent, but we didn’t the myriad herbs, spices and fruits the other online commenters strained to ID. We liked the look, smell and taste of the neat bourbon.

I like to sit with a snifter of great Scotch or bourbon neat and dwell on it. None of us thought this was worthy of that. However, with a single ice cube, it was a fine, fine drink. My wife thought it would be good with ginger ale, but to me that means heading to a lower grade of bourbon, like the serviceable JB Black or Evan Williams. Yet, we all liked it cut with a single ice cube, which I suppose would mean two for a full shot or three for a pony.

I already confess to being late to this party. We found Costco’s bourbon to be good but not great stuff. I’ll lay in a couple more bottles.


Clogs that Fit

May 31st, 2012

The best of shoes for the worst of weeks…by coincidence…

Lands’ End seems sure it can’t sell red-by-God shoes to men, at least not to men who aren’t comfortable in their character and confident in their sexuality. Thus, these clearly red clogs, which I wear as I type, are in their catalog as Orange Brick.

I just recently ordered these to replace two pairs of no-longer-waterproof/resistant Hummer and Lands’ End slip-ons. I’d gone to the sizable Dedham Sears, a major LE store to hear whiny jive from the saleswoman. It was size — my 13, or as she put it when I sent her to the storeroom for slip-ons in 13, “We normally don’t carry any shoes in that size.”

Well, I happen to know that LE makes and sells virtually all their men’s shoes in 13. That the managers at the Dedham store choose not to stock the range speaks to marketing and customer satisfaction skills and attitudes of those managers.

As it turns out, the online LE store had black all-weather mocs at $10 off. I wanted a second slip-ons pair and appealing to my frugality, a $50 total meant free shipping. There weren’t many choices for the fill-in second pair to make the minimum, but for my size (ahem, Dedham managers, most of the 13s were sold out) they did have the red clog, Sasquatch size.

I never had a pair of clogs, preferring the feel of a higher rise at the heel. A few days later, I was happy to own them.

Come the bike wreck — broken clavicle, cracked or broken ribs, agony bending, shifting or rising — shoes I step into and kick off are perfect…and all I’ve worn.



Phat and Fat: Call It Lifestyle

May 4th, 2012

I’m steeling for the next doctor visit. He’s sure to ask how I have been losing weight, without adding that following his and the nutritionist’s advice did not work. I’m sure he can’t begin to accept that the super-simpleminded just-eat-fewer-calories-than-you-burn-up cliché might be flawed. He’s like most medical professionals, totally invested in that conceit.

It’s likely that when he hears low-carb, he’ll react with the litany of provably false slams. It’s water weight that will come right back on, it’ll clog your vessels with fat and plaque, and you can’t sustain that loss, no one does. My case has been continual week-to-week loss of fat and pounds; if there were water loss/regain, it disappeared into the non-stop and net.

I did my research and continue to tweak and added knowledge that he doesn’t have though. The trick of course is no trick at all. It requires that overworked phrase lifestyle change.

I snort severally. That term lifestyle does terrific work. The anti-LGBT folk love to call homosexuality a lifestyle, so they can pretend that disdain and discrimination are not those at all. However, food choices certainly can be.

Fortunately, as the main cook and shopper around here, I have more than a one-man vote. I stock the pantry, fridge and food bowls.

My research has resulted in a new mini-library in that process. My low-carb books, printouts and PDF files almost all come with recipes as well.

Unfortunately for us low-carb converts, many of those dish and meal maps don’t excite us. Many of the docs and nutritionists who developed them tried sincerely, but seem to have been more concerned with paralleling their guidelines rather than pleasing the mouths, eyes and noses of the new lifestyle followers. I can project what these recipes’ output will be like from reading their ingredients and preparation steps. Many lack sensuality and attention to savor (a.k.a. sapidity).

I’m  confident that I can augment those to please me and my family and guests. I cook to please.

Meanwhile, I’m fine-tuning my planned food lifestyle as I add more carbs from the base level. I’ll report on both what I try in carb/fat/protein percentages/grams, and how I tweak those from the scale and body-fat analysis as I get into it. There are bound to be changes.

This series includes:

Call it Lifestyle on the intellectual and emotional commitment to low-carb
Watching the Struggle on my grandmothers diet woes
Wrestling with Fat on overcoming fear of dietary fats
Hunger? do you starve on a low-carb diet?
Low-Carb Eats on what’s on the menu in the regimen
How Much of What Food on calories-in/calories-out cliché
Dr. Cadaver on mindless trust in group averages
Who’s Counting on body fast v. weight
Part 1 on pants don’t lie


Cold, Lonely New England Nights

April 8th, 2012

The old cliché of chilly Northern nights was of a Mainer or Vermonter bored in the long, cold winters, making friends with a bottle of booze. Sure enough, like another cold clime, Russia, up here folk, particularly menfolk, are prone to alcoholism.

I got a new one tonight as I shopped the dowdy, plaid-favoring Vermont Country Store. We’d been there. My late mother-in-law, herself an Indiana hick, really enjoyed it and fell into nostalgic paroxysms there. Among the old timey treasures we bought and used regularly was its seemingly unique over-the-headboard lamp. We consider that the best in-bed reading choice and have been dismayed that after many years, its plastic shade lining is shedding chunks of off-white.

Well, they still have them and I ordered a replacement.

While I was at it, I checked the sale items (yawn). Then I looked at their left menu and top tabs. Nothing much there, but I checked Health & Beauty to see if there are country cures of amusement. On that pull-down is — What?! — Sexual Wellness.

Well, topple my stone fence. That’s a page of dildos.

Actually, it’s a page of almost entirely powered vibrators. There’s a yeast-infection soap and quite literally a douche bag. The page features 10 highly colorful sex toys for women.

Here’s one example. This is a WordPress blog. I hesitated for a moment before clicking on the Upload choice to Insert Into Post. Insert, indeed.

The various aids include the tiny and brown BonBon Massager (“Better than chocolate…Petite and Discreet…”), the one shown promising “Pinpoint Accuracy,” another “Serves Two Pleasure Points at Once,” and another anatomically realistic except for the lavender color “Feels Lifelike for Greater Pleasure.”

This clearly is my problem. Sudden images of villages of country women thrashing in pastel joy doesn’t jibe with butter churns and flannel nightgowns.

Of course, there’s no reason the Vermont Country Store shouldn’t include sex aids along with its home furnishings and horehound drops. I had just never run across this page. I had a pretty staid image of the store’s inventory.

Have at it. Nights are long, dark and cold up there.

Ubiquitous Obsolescence and Ephemera

March 21st, 2012

A lot of years ago when I was the editor of a grocery magazine, I wrote a feature about throwaway products. By today’s standards, it would surely fall into a rant.

The point was that our readers made a lot of money on items like disposable razors. These non-foods or HABA (health and beauty aids) as supermarket and convenience store folk call them are where the margins are. Overall, a grocery may average a profit margin of under 5%. Contrast that to, say, software companies that may have margins of 45% to 95%. Profits on toiletries are among the highest in the stores.

So when use-and-toss products like razors, condoms and such sell, store owners do little capitalist dances.

My concentration at the time, convenience stores, even measure inventory turn differently. They think in terms of square inches and not square feet. Turns per inch per month determine what they stock, which is why you likely won’t find your favorite brand of this or that unless it’s among the most popular.

This is also one of the reasons they put certain small, high-margin movers on the counter by the cash register. For those, they get paid twice. As impulse purchases at POS (point of sale), these items give great returns. Moreover, manufacturers want that space and turn level as well. For that, they pay an RDA (retail display allowance), which to many not in the biz would seem like a bribe to have the best position.

By the bye, when I was covering grocery, the best seller and highest turn per inch per month in convenience stores was rolling papers. When you gotta have ’em…

As so many posts here, this circles back to bicycles.

In my article decades ago, I waxed richly on my grandfather’s straight razor, as well as his long marriage. He was not into disposable anything if he could help it. Years later, I had a huge shock in the early days of PCs when my $1,300 24-pin dot-matrix printer malfunctioned. A Toshiba repair shop guy said sure he could fix it, but he noted that it was the chip welded into the motherboard. That would cost $900 to $1,000 to replace. A newer, much quieter, more capable and reliable model sold for about $500. It was the old almost-working-paperweight cliché. With regret at being wasteful and trapped, I handed it to a tech training school to fix or cannibalize for parts.

So this week, I found myself locked into the more fragile, higher tech replacement routine, this time for bike pedals and cleats.

I’ve used Shimano SPD cleats and pedals for eight or nine years on my road bike. The cleats were small, ugly, steel and damned tough.

A week and a half ago, one of my pedals came apart, irreparably, on a ride. The spindle and pedal separated. I managed to keep squeezing my shoe toward the crank to keep putting the pedal in play for the 10 miles home. Going up the steep hills was, shall I write, exciting.

Those pedals are so 20th Century. Shimano, among the others, has moved on. The bike shop didn’t have the old style, but I was able to order the newer version from the cycling cyclops Nashbar/Performance/Bikes Direct. (Pic note: I claim fair use from a cropped image from the box to show non-cyclists what a pedal looks like today.)

Modernity brings:

  • Easier clip into the pedal
  • Quick kick out as needed
  • Slightly lighter pedals and cleats
  • More comfortable, less noisy walking on the cleats (I tend to bring light mocs and swap out for beer bars)
  • Plastic pedal body covers
  • Plastic cleats

The instructions make it plain that I’ll be replacing the cleats and covers. It may only be once a year or two for the cleats, but like any good disposable product, new, improved, better means also costlier.

I bought spare cleats when I got a new pair of road-bike shoes that did not come with SPD ones. Those cost me $11. The list on the SL style models is around $30. A discount is about to $25, plus shipping or full price at a bike shop.  At every two years, replacement amortizes at about 4¢ a day, ride or not. In contrast, the much longer lasting old metal style might be in the range of 0.3¢ a day.

Those are still small beer in the world where people routinely buy a coffee for $2 or $3. On top of that, I estimate that I’ve put between 50,000 and 60,000 miles on that bike and that original set of Ultegra pedals. I don’t think anyone should say Shimano made a poor-quality product. I sure got my money out of the pedal that finally broke.

There is no metal equivalent of the new cleats. Were there to be one, it would surely damage the pedals with use — much more expensive replace than plastic cleats.

Here I am, again an alter kaker in a new world. Life in fact insists on going on, bringing me with it.

Backroom P.O. Treats

January 25th, 2012


My splendid yellow glasses continue to reward me. Sure, folk young/old, all shades call out praise. Just yesterday in a supermarket, a large woman with a laden cart leaving the checkout blew by several other customers, brushing them back into their chutes. She saw me, stopped and waved me through, saying, “Man with the yellow glasses. You go.”

Objects can be fun.

Also yesterday at the Cleary Square Post Office in Boston’s Hyde Park, I got preference in another mundane task, buying stamps. Asking for 40, I got a big smile from the clerk, who said, “I think I know what you’ll like.”

She turned on her heel and headed to the back. She returned with six varieties. All were graphically strong and perhaps most important colorful.

She said when she saw the glasses, she knew I’d want visually powerful ones. She was right.

I’m not an attention hound. I don’t make loud noises to keep folk looking at me. I set my cell to vibrate. I grew up hearing that making a spectacle of yourself shows poor breeding.

Yet getting positive attention without intruding strikes a fine balance between drabness and shouting.

Hardware and Footwear Mysteries

September 29th, 2011

mystery…and then there were four.

The sock-eating washer or dryer may be the most common imp befuddling us, but not the only one. This week a stranger, rarer variety of gremlin visited us.

Our range has five dials, one for each burner. That is the way the appliance gods designed, built and delivered it. Then suddenly, the far left dial disappeared.

While not in the stranger-than-fiction class, this played to several of my small neuroses. As the primary cook in this family, I am likely too involved in things culinary. I want to know what’s in the fridge, pantry and fruit bowls. I plan the week’s meals as I shop the Haymarket and groceries (always plural). I am emotionally involved in the kitchen.

Yet, there suddenly was one fewer range dials then there had been when I was away for two days and one night to NYC.

Our two younger sons manned the crenellations in our family fort. At 18 and 21, and OK cooks in their own right, they were in charge. Moreover, a friend was visiting from the wilds of Western Connecticut to accompany her daughter on a college-scouting trip. She’d stay while hers bunked with a girlfriend. So, there was cooking and hosting to occur in that same kitchen.

Neither son had any idea where the dial had gone. Neither had reason to remove one. As they became available, each in turn furrowed his brow and checked where I had — under the kitchen table, bookshelf, cabinet overhangs, and moved every object on the counters. We expanded into the pantry, living room and dining room. Nada.

Then we come back to my neuroses. I strongly prefer matching sets and things where (I believe) they belong. I remember various of my three sons using subs for efficacy, think a quarter for a missing rook.

For me, I’d have to find the dial or track down the source for either a matching one or a set of five that fit. That’s not a cliff-climb challenge, but an annoyance.

Our visiting chum was back home and running about, so I emailed her. She responded the next morning that she had cleaned off the range top after making a meal, but had not removed any dials.

But there were four instead of five, and a bronze finger presenting blatantly against the black control panel.

Ever methodical, I turned to the very unlikely. I prepared to move the stove on the off chance that someone had mindlessly removed a dial by accident or while cleaning and flipped or knocked it unnoticed behind the panel. Yeah, yeah, why would that happen?

I pressed my big old head next to the wall before moving the stove. Mirabile dictu! The dial not only was visible, it was reachable. It was just big enough that it has caught on a panel bulge and not plunged four and a half feet to the floor (and quite likely out of sight).

So, we know and yet shall never know. We know where the dial landed but not how or who propelled it there. My foibles do not extend to blame and stop at what and where.

Now, upstairs in a bedroom drawer with my bike shorts and socks, I keep three single anklets. I expect them to present themselves at some point.

Switching Legacies

September 2nd, 2011

For most of us, we realize somewhere in our teens or early 20s that the reality of gift giving was after all ephemeral. Why didn’t someone belabor this obviousness?

Grandparents and aunts retire or die or both in turn. Parents move from full employment. Suddenly there’s a lot less under the Christmas tree and far fewer massive boxes sent by distant relatives.

At the same time, brothers and sisters, friends and other near contemporaries make drastic changes. They marry and many have kids. Suddenly we are the uncles and such. The scales of giving and receiving weigh quickly and dramatically to the other side. We look at decades of giving more than we get.

It doesn’t take long to accept it. The reality of presents is indisputable, immutable and long-term.

What’s Mine?

As the hubby and dad around here, I have come to accept that what is mine is everyone else’s as well. Even before there were kids, my clothes, particularly both tee and dress shirts served as nightclothes, drag, garden garb, and cool weather gear. My wife is much smaller and that was one way.

As our three sons grew, that multiplied. Missing shirts, jackets and sweaters were often in someone else’s room or on their shoulders. Such as it is.

The only objections I had were for the likes of tools and bike gear. I am positively anal about putting my tools in the (labeled of course) drawers of the big tool chest. Over the years, everyone else purloined my high-end screwdrivers, wrenches, hammers, cycle tools and such. Sometimes those just disappeared. Sometimes they were left out to rust. Sometimes they too ended up in a different room or even permanently lent to one of their friends.

Now on the plus side, the guys have gotten big enough that I can filch shirts or trousers should I want. That is a surprisingly sweet turnabout. I can understand my wife’s pleasure at yet more clothing options.

A Pot to Plant In

I thought of this again and anew this morning unpacking the vestiges in the van. The oldest son has a new job in California, he and his wife took off recently, leaving bric-a-brac in the Davis Square condo. My (I’ll do anything for my children) wife agreed to liaise with a realtor for rental and took the other two sons to clear out the place as part of enabling that.


So we ended up with a fair amount of junk, but also some nice leavings from the next generation on our family continuum. That was pleasantly obvious as I hoisted three 18-inch ceramic plant pots from the van. Those are useful, modestly valuable, and we didn’t give them to “the kids,” rather they to us. That’s a wonderful symmetry.

I am not exactly sure when in my 20s the seesaw tipped. It likely was gradual. I somehow began planning for, shopping for, and forking over a lot more than people gave me. There were grandparents and a mother and a sister, brother-in-law, niece and nephew, and on and on. I never resented it. Rather I was daft enough not to project that this would the natural order of things. It just happened.

So, we have variations coming up. Sizable services and dollars for weddings, colleges and presents, maybe followed with all manner of boons for as-yet-unborn grandkids, and then? Amusingly, we oldsters care less and less for possessions, dumping vast amounts in the move of two years ago. I’m more like my grandparents and mother years ago who chanted sincerely not to get them more stuff. In practice, what I ended up doing was tailoring presents to just what they’d want, need and ideally eat or drink (think high-end chocolates, booze and coffees). It was a consumer version of leaving no footprints in the forest.