Because of my fixation between food and mood and season, two stores float to the top of my happy list during the Thanksgiving shopping blitz: Williams Sonoma and Costco.
Williams Sonoma has all the pretty, tasty things, and I will certainly be drawn in for the gourmet shaved hot chocolate and to pet the pretty turkey plates and serving platters.
But compared to Costco, at my stage of life, Williams Sonoma has a distinctly stingy reputation.
I’m talking sample stations.
(All the young mamas are nodding right now. Samples.)
Williams Sonoma has two, at most, both of which are delicious, but I have surgically attached a small person to the end of my arm lest she caress the pretty turkey plates and inadvertently adopt some cracked ones as pets. She demands to be fed at all the snack hours of the day. This makes a store with good samples a life saver for her, by which I mean, me.
Costco to the rescue.
I put my little turkey-caresser into a shopping cart the size of a Volkswagen Bug and with the turning radius of a pregnant blue whale. If I only have one girl with me, this arrangement is particularly suited to leaving the second cart seat (double wide carts, nicely done Costco) open and ready to receive the detritus of a plethora of samples stations.
We sail past the pre-lit 15 foot Christmas trees. Miss Turkey-Caresser campaigns, futilely, that we simply MUST take the LED-outlined lawn reindeer home with us. Slippers. Down jackets. Fuzzy pajama sets. Heat lamps. Keurigs. Christmas dresses. Play set kitchens. Christmas creep starts pre-Halloween at Costco, but I simply don’t care, because calling our ark onward is the siren of samples starting way in the back of the fresh foods section.
Butter goes in the cart. Cheese. Mega bag of broccoli. Avocados. Fresh salsa. Bananas.
We keep the front seat real estate open for the truly important stuff.
The first sample shows up in the drinks section. This would be disappointing—really? juice?—if it were the final sample station, but this is just whetting our tastebuds. Down the Turkey-Caresser’s hatch it goes. The station is in a lonely lull, so the kind gentleman busking the station offers to let my Turkey-Caresser try all three versions of juice (30% real juice, minimal sugar added, organic), or “Come back if you get thirsty later!” he kindly suggests, ignorant of the problems he’s just birthed.
We push onward past displays of pecans, cranberries, oranges, brown sugar, sweet potatoes, Ghirardelli chocolate. My head is spinning with recipes that would simply need all of these things. I want to reach out and caress them all.
About the time the sample cup of juice is licked clean, up pops a cocktail hot dog wrapped in a croissant. We listen to the sales pitch,($8.99 for a box, in the freezer stand right behind me and two aisles over as well, perfect for guests at a party), politely, but our mind is on more critical matters. Namely, has someone just snagged the last white cup off of the red tray I spy one aisle over?!
Frozen cherries go in the cart. Green beans. Flounder filets.
Broccoli cheddar soup dings a merry bell as it finishes rounds in the microwave and goes straight into a little white cup and down the gullet of Turkey-Caresser.
“MMMMMM, Mama! This is good!” she exclaims, licking the spoon and setting it aside in its reserved seat.
Next we find yogurt smoothie samples.
We make a u-turn, much like a beached whale fighting for watery freedom, in the middle of the aisle because we have somehow missed a lentil stew stop.
Sample station count is up to 5. Our all-time record is 6. I count 4 a satisfying snack and 6? Might as well call that lunch for the day. I’m getting more festive feeling by the moment.
Canned tomatoes go in the cart. Balsamic vinegar. Olives.
We pause for a long discussion over the child-sized snow-mobile sled. Turkey-Caresser’s eyes are huge. Her mouth, with dried broccoli cheddar soup in the corners, hangs open in awe. She wants to be Snow-Mobile Caresser. “Pleeeeeeeeease can it go on my Christmas list?” she begs. It can. Right up at the top along with the treehouse, full-sized tool bench, and trampoline that she’s added within the space of one aisle. I’m not alone in my Costco holiday shopping thrills.
We are nearing the front of the store again, but Costco knows we all need a bit of final stamina before facing the checkout lines. A sample station pops up conveniently near the lunch-portioned snack-cracker aisles. Turkey-Snow-Mobile-Caresser eagerly reaches her hand out, never mind that the skinny sticks of something dipped in chocolate costumed as a twiggy little guilt-free dessert don’t make much sense in this season of culinary excess. She trusts Costco. If they put it in a small white paper cup, she will see their challenge and raise them a tastebud.
At my count, we have hit 6 sample stations. This is a good day at Costco. My mood is only improved by the twinkling colored Christmas lights that are entangling an impossible-anywhere-but-Costco 10-foot-tall teddy bear which will be—yep, she spied it—has been put on the Christmas list.
Unfortunately, every holiday season needs a Scrooge. And that would be sample station number 7. Not quite as bad as samples of laundry detergent, but a close second: adult chewable vitamins. I turn my nose up at it, but my dedicated Turkey-Snow-Mobile-Teddy-Bear-Caresser offers to give it a try no matter what, especially because she is, by her own calculation, “A Tall Girl.” At this station, she is a disappointed Tall Girl.
We have checked off the grocery to-dos.
We have “lunched” for free.
We have added to our Christmas consumer list.
We have gloried in the delights of the season—nuts and spices and squashes and potatoes and chocolate and oranges and fuzzy slippers and cocktail hot dogs wrapped in croissants.
I am at war with myself over this Thanksgiving-Christmas holiday season marathon. On one hand, I’m consciously making decisions that put protective fences around our weeks—fences that let thanks in and keep busy stress out. Fences that let holiday music provide background music but keep Jesus and the impending celebration of his birth at the foreground. Fences that allow me to go undisturbed about my business of laundry-house cleaning-vacumming-dinner prepping-sock matching-bedtime story reading-showering-homeworking-errands without the added pressure of being “pitch perfect” with holiday to-dos of Christmas presents-cards-recipes-parties-memory making-advent calendars.
Doesn’t the excess of Costco seem to blow out the whole point of my protective fences? Yes, it’s big—big lights, big slippers, big bears, big sleds, big blocks of cheese and 10-lb bags of walnuts. But, Costco can also be a small, sample-sized gift to me this season.
I go to Costco for the samples. I push my mega cart through the aisles and have a 30-minute concentrated dose of all-things holiday. I sample holiday fever. Chew on it like a vitamin. Then, on my way out the door, I crumple up my little white paper cup, throw it in the trash, and get back to my normal life: miles on the minivan, collecting the final red leaves from trees, baking pumpkin pies for Thanksgiving festivities, shuttling school pick-up, and filling up the gas tank with that cheap Costco gas.
I am thankful for the small things. Things that fit in small white paper cups.
That, and Williams Sonoma’s gourmet shaved hot chocolate. Can I put that on my Christmas list, pleeeeeeeease?