Mama Madison: Introducing Thankful Thursdays

Tips for making the most of shopping, the seasonal necessity

It doesn't matter whether I'm stalking pointy-toed boots at a high-end boutique during Maxwell Street Days, haggling for spices at an open-air market or purchasing a mannequin with my son at a department store closeout sale. Anyone who knows me can testify to the fact that I am an engaged and masterful shopper.

I was raised in the mirrored, open dressing rooms of Loehmann's Back Room and almost cried when Filene's Basement declared Chapter 11 a few years back. For me, there is no greater high than when I get the chance to say "hello to a good buy."

At least for 51 weeks out of the year.

But if I had my druthers, I'd sit out the entire shopping week that follows Thanksgiving. Black Friday, for starters, has corrupted the fine art of bargain shopping and turned it into a gladiator sport. There is no percentage off that is worth losing sleep, or even worse an eye, over. Especially if you have kids in tow.

Cyber Monday isn't a whole lot better. Sure, clicking and dragging items into virtual shopping baskets doesn't run much of a risk of physical injury (carpal tunnel flare-ups notwithstanding). But to me, it seems pretty impersonal to be able to check everyone off your list in less than an hour from the privacy of your own couch or office. I guess I still think gift shopping should be somewhat of a sensory experience -- gazing at the holiday window displays lining State Street, the smell of the pretzel store at the mall. When it all comes in a cardboard box via UPS, part of the experience has been lost.

I do love the idea behind Small Business Saturday; there is little question that buying from independents does both the shopper and local economy good. But it's hard to achieve the serious Olympic level shopping I am capable of when still moving slowly from a tryptophan and pumpkin pie hangover.

Besides, this year I am trying to give less "stuff", anyway. What I really need is some sort of shopping event that could serve as a complement to Giving Tuesday, the movement that encourages charitable giving. And then it came to me. I will establish a series of "Thankful Thursdays." On every Thursday between Thanksgiving and Christmas I will challenge myself to buy gifts for my family that will not just make a difference in their lives, but also in the lives of others in Madison.

I'll start this Thursday by picking up a present for the kids that encourages reading and will live permanently in one of the city's hottest new buildings. I will dedicate a Book of Honor, in their honor, in support of the new Central Library. For a $250 gift, I can choose up to 40 characters that will be printed on the fore edge of a recycled book which will be installed in the children's section of the recently reopened library. I am thinking of going with "Turn Off the Xbox. Pick Up a Book. Love, Your Parents" for ours. Although I might need two books to say it.

And for stocking stuffers I can load up on some of the limited-edition black-and-silver library cards commemorating the new Central branch. They are available for a donation of $25 each.

For my mom, I'll go with a few $20 raffle tickets from Lily's Fund for Epilepsy Research. Not only will she have the chance to win the grand prize (a diamond) come the organization's late January luau fundraiser. But I'll also know I've helped support local researchers who are working toward finding a cure for the devastating neurologic disorder.

Thursday evenings can also be the perfect pre-weekend time to pore over the comprehensive United Way Volunteer Center's annual Holiday Wish List. It features dozens of area non-profits that are hosting seasonal toy and clothing drives.

And I certainly can't think of a better way to put my finely tuned shopping skills to use than in service of others.

Which is something I should be doing more regularly, and not just on Thursdays. But on many days. All year long.

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