2012.12.22 Good gravy! It's time for Christmas shopping

Written by David Green.


I’m getting a really late start on Christmas shopping this year. Actually, I think that’s been the case for the last several years. I used to shop throughout the year and store my finds in my big purple box. But my kids have voiced such vigorous opposition to purple box presents that it’s started to sink in: It’s not much of a gift if the recipient doesn’t really want it.

I have a really hard time accepting that; when I find something delightful, I think everybody else will, too. Wouldn’t everyone want a Chinese Fan Brush or a dozen Pocket Screwdrivers?

These screwdrivers are one inch in diameter, flat, washer-like steel things with a range of edge thickness from .030 inch to .090 inch. The catalog description notes that it “replaces dimes, quarters and table knives, all of which have width and strength limitations.”

The fan brushes (used for furniture finishes—so, really, their purple box use is limited: not too many of my friends and family are finishing furniture these days)  have fine bristles that make a smooth finish, and paddle-style handles that are the real attraction. I figure they would probably work well for painting trim, but the Chinese Conical Brush is featured for that purpose.

The Detroit Free Press carries the Detroit News Homestyle section on Fridays and there’s always something interesting in there. A few weeks ago, Nancy Szerlag’s gardening column featured a few catalog websites, one of which was Lee Valley Tool.

Nancy said their catalog contained “an eclectic collection of gifts for all” and recommended it as a source for quality yet inexpensive stocking stuffers. The fan brushes and screwdrivers are only two of some of the most intriguing items gathered in one place.

I didn’t find my way to Lee Valley until late Saturday night, but I quickly amassed more than $160 worth of stuff and I was just getting started. I don’t know how I’ve lived this long without a spurtle, but I’m getting one now—and one for each of my kids.

The spurtle is a traditional Scottish stir stick that dates from the 16th century. According to the website, it’s typically used for stirring porridge, where its small-diameter shaft easily cuts through the thick material to keep lumps to a minimum, and is equally useful for stirring thick sauces, soups or stews.

Shopping online is a huge time-sucker. I opted for it Saturday when I realized if I drove to Ann Arbor or Toledo, I’d be facing big crowds, limited parking, long waits in line, overheated stores (or, rather, I’d get overheated since I can’t leave town in the winter without wearing my heavy longjohns), and a spooky solo drive home late at night.

So I stayed home and did four loads of laundry while I spent endless hours trying to glean whether this site’s merchandise was better and cheaper than another’s, and if this color shirt would really look that pink when it arrived at my doorstep. Like I said, internet shopping: huge time-sucker.

After spending way too much time at Lee Valley, I was perusing another site, Isabella, when I noticed a Neti pot for sale. It was never a purple-box item, but my Neti pot purchase is one of the reasons I know that my kids aren’t being rude, ungrateful or obnoxious when they tell me purple box presents are not desirable. I know I tend toward the nutty when presented with an array of merchandise.

The Neti pot looks sort of like my gravy boat, only with a small hole instead of an open spout, and the overall goal is totally different. Both are designed for pleasurable purposes, though. Gravy, of course, is a culinary delight on mashed potatoes, and Neti pot snorting is theoretically a delight for the nostrils.

Fill the Neti pot with water, put the spout in one nostril, tilt your head and a stream of water flows through your nose, washing away pollens, viruses, mucus and bacteria. New to nasal irrigation? There’s a video on the Isabella site that shows how to do it.

I tried it only once. Or, I should say I once tried to try it. I must have done something wrong because it made me want to gag and left me with that horrible water-up-your-nose feeling you sometimes get when swimming—or when snorkeling and you forget to breathe through your mouth. I think you have to get the right angle to make the water stream out one nostril when you send it through the other.

Anyway, I watched the video and the gal makes it look simple as pie. When I do it, it feels like I’m trying to send gravy through my nostrils. And that’s even less pleasurable than shopping online.

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