5

Dollar Disappointment

My family has always exchanged stockings on Christmas morning. When I was little, the goodies always included a red apple, a yellow apple, an orange and a tangerine. I remember being disappointed that Santa was so health conscious. All I’d ever seen him eat were cookies. Years later, my son commented on always receiving shampoo and body wash in his stocking. You never see Santa bathing or changing his clothes either. I’m guessing Mrs. Claus has some influence on what gets included.

At one point, I spent a lot of money on stocking stuffers. (The amount I spend has never had any direct correlation with the amount I have, by the way.) I would wander the malls looking for things that would fit in a stocking. There are more than you might imagine. One day, a friend finally explained to me that the concept behind a stocking was that it was filled with little inexpensive things like candy canes and chocolate Santas. Oh. Like the idea that you break up with someone before you give him the expensive gift. I never was good with money.

Enter the dollar store. My first experience with dollar stores was not positive. It was located in a strip mall where I worked. The neighborhood had seen better days (I hope). It was poorly lit, crowded with merchandise, and not very clean. From what I looked at, the reason it was crowded with merchandise was that no one would take that stuff at any price. I could not understand why everyone was raving about dollar stores. Were my friends really that cheap?

A few years went by. I got another job, and drove past a dollar store every day on the way to work. One day I stopped to look around. It was incredible. There were office supplies, craft supplies, school supplies, candy, wrapping paper, all sorts of things. They even had the metallic pipe cleaners my son used to make rabbits (they look better than they sound). I’m not really a shopper, but I looked at everything. I was totally hooked. At Christmas, I fully stuffed all the stockings for under $50.

My dollar store was not part of a chain, so you can guess what happened next. I drove by one day and the owner had sold the shop. The new owner must have been related to the first shop owner I encountered. I was traumatized. I was not going back to spending $7.95 for a Mylar balloon. I had to find a replacement.

My next stop was what I’ll call a pseudo-dollar store. It’s a national chain. A lot of the stuff was one dollar, but the rest was brand-name at discounted prices. This store was the source of most of the health and beauty supplies I bought for a few years. They even had fashion-name make-up for a dollar. It had to be labeled ‘discontinued color’, but in Michigan who knows the difference? The odds of running into Beyonce wearing last year’s eyeliner are pretty low. Alas, I had just made the full commitment when it disappeared.

They opened a dollar store a few miles away from our house. Coincidentally, it’s the same chain that has a store on my way to work. My daughter wanted to stop by one night. It was great! The candy, the pens, the wrapping paper. All was well in the dollar world again. Last Christmas I even bought some nice wrapping paper at the one close to work.

Things were a little crazy this year getting ready for Christmas. Both my daughter and my mother have been ill, so shopping took a back seat to that. I didn’t get to stocking stuffers until two days before Christmas. No big deal – I’d just stop by the dollar store on the way home and I’d be set. We’d have a few more pens and pads of paper than usual, but it’d be OK.

Imagine the look on my face when I opened the door to find that the only wrapping paper left was covered with Justin Bieber. (I didn’t need paper, but it was still traumatizing.) I moved on to the candy. It was appalling – I could only get chocolate-flavored or chocolatey. There was no actual chocolate! Luckily I did have a back-up plan for that – I had bought some of the family’s favorites at work because I knew I would never find it in the dollar store.

I went to toiletries. No nail clippers. No floss. Icky toothbrushes. No body wash for men. No make-up. Large bottles of lotion from some company I’d never heard of, in a scent I didn’t know. This was totally unacceptable. What was I supposed to do?

I went to office supplies. Very few pens. A few memo pads. I tried to think of where else I might go as I wandered the aisles. I finally found some snacks – trail mix, peanuts, etc. Stain remover pens. Socks (not even from China). Packaged, non-Christmas candy. At the counter I found some lip balm.

When I filled the stockings, all was well (although there was LOTS of candy). I’m already planning to stake out the dollars stores next fall to find the best place to go.

In the meantime, I’m going to size up the fruit.

5

Peeps are Not Christmas Candy

I blame red “licorice”. At one time, licorice was black. It was made from licorice extract (a legume).  They added extra flavoring, beeswax for a shiny surface, and molasses to make it black. Some licorice candy was flavored with anise oil instead of or in combination with licorice root extract. Note that it contained molasses to make it black (and add sweetness). Then someone decided that the licorice extract wasn’t necessary and started making it in raspberry, cherry, strawberry, and cinnamon. Now you can even get it in apple, mango, black currant, and watermelon. Pretty much all I can find are Red Vines and  Red Twizzlers. But I digress.

In the Dark Ages when I was young (don’t you hate things that start like that), we had sugar plums and marzipan. Just kidding. But candy canes were peppermint, and came with red and white stripes. If you added a green stripe, it signified spearmint.

I went to the dollar store with my daughter this afternoon (I love the dollar store). While she was shopping for supplies to send to a child overseas she adopted for the holidays (you’d swear the holiday had something to do with love and charity), I looked around. The only full-size candy canes I found were blueberry and cherry. I’ve also seen sour candy canes (seems like an oxymoron), Jolly Rancher candy canes, and lime candy canes. They are candy, and they are cane-shaped. But it just doesn’t seem right.

I have also noticed that a lot of candy bars now come in Christmas versions. A Christmas Snickers bar is a regular Snickers bar with a special wrapper. If I dress a dog as a sheep for Halloween, it does not become a sheep. The only difference I can see is that the manufacturer needs to throw away all the candy that didn’t sell because it won’t last til the next holiday season (it probably would, but it would be embarrassing if they got caught changing the wrappers to pastel for Easter). You can buy Christmas Butterfingers, Almond Joy, Kit Kat, etc.

I won’t talk about chocolate except to say that some of what is masquerading as chocolate candy better make sure no one ever asks for its family tree. You can get chocolate-flavored and vanilla-flavored stuff for covering your Christmas goodies, like dipping your Rice Krispie treat in fake vanilla candy coating

All of this was traumatizing enough. Then I saw the Peeps boxes. You know what Peeps are – those bright yellow, pink, and blue (?) pseudo-marshmallow candies they sell at Easter in the shape of bunnies and chicks (peeps – get it?). Well now you can get brown peeps in the shape of Christmas trees. They are chocolate-mint flavored. There are probably others out there but I don’t have the heart to go over to the display. It was bad enough when they were stealing good candy ideas. Now we can get bad seasonal candy at all holidays.

So if you’re a traditionalist, you’ll want to look into the real barley candy at the Vermont Country Store. Of course, you’ll have to buy it on-line. There is no actual store.