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Blustery Pre-Game Day Prep

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Blustery Pre-Game Day Prep

So this blustery, damp Saturday finds me in our shop in what is normally sunny Surprise, AZ working through the oddities (known as ‘enhancements’) to the newest USPS system installed this past Thursday.  And, I’m chilled to the bone looking at our newest NFL dip dishes thinking about what we’re going to be munching on tomorrow.

Being a native Buffaloanian, I’ve decided its going to be a baked Buffalo Chicken & Blue Cheese Dip using a portion of a packet our Halladay’s Harvest Barn dip  of the same name (available here at Gifts To Go for $3.75 a packet or three packets chosen from a selection of 9 varieties for $11).

The recipe is quite simple and with a quick stop at my local Fry’s for a roasted chicken and a few easy pantry items, it will be a  cinch.  Mix following ingredients and bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes or until bubbling:

  • 1 cup cooked chicken
  • 1 cup shredded cheese (maybe mozzarella or cheddar or monterey jack or as I do a mixture of whatever’s in the fridge)
  • 2 TBSP Halladay’s Buffalo Chicken & Blue Cheese Dip
  • 1/4 cup parmesan cheese
  • 1 cup mayo
  • if desired, garnish with crumbled blue cheese and/or sliced green onions.buff-halladaysbaked-chicken-dip

Great with baguette slices or celery or pita crisps or taco chips or…  Enjoy!

Holiday Help Part 4: Gift Wrapping and Presentation

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Hard to believe but we’ve been working on our plan for a calmer holiday season since September.  Are you more in control, more intentional?

Now is NOT the time to panic but rather to look back and see how well you’ve thought through your gifting and budget and consider how you’ve managed time and holiday stress.  If you’re not as ‘together’ as you’d like to be, don’t beat yourself up.  Life gets in the way of our neat, clinical plans and we just adjust as we go.  I personally strive to live in a state of continuous improvement in every aspect of life – never really disappointed but never completely meeting all those idealistic goals.  And, if you’re more ‘together’ than ever, give yourself some well-earned credit.   After all, next year is yet another opportunity to become that the fine tuned organization maverick you’ve always wanted to be!

This month we’re going to tackle what can be the least favorite part of gifting – wrapping and presenting those special items.  Unfortunately, this is also often a source of cost over-runs.  The tips I share here are intended to get your packages wrapped in an attractive, cost and time effective manner.  This post will not land you a spot on your local morning news show as a ‘gifted wrapper’; best to you if that’s the notoriety you seek and please share your tips with our readers if that’s where your skill level lies, we’d love to hear from you.

Color Scheme

Save money by purchasing two large rolls of  sturdy weight, coordinating reversible paper.  I use rolls of Hallmark paper available at Sam’s Club.  Don’t be lured by multiple roll boxes of paper at low prices.  Often these are thin papers which easily tear and many only contain enough paper to wrap one-two boxes each.

Keep in mind the individuals whose gifts you’re wrapping as you’re selecting paper – are you wrapping children’s packages? men’s? co-workers?

Add variety to your packages by selecting two or three different rolls of ribbons that work with your reversible papers.  Again, Sam’s Club is a great source of ribbon at Christmas time.  Their rolls are well-priced, 50 yards and available in many coordinating patterns.  Plus most are wire-edged making it easier to tie a pretty bow and making the 50 yard roll a good investment as bows can be re-shaped and re-used for a couple years if properly stored.  But at the price of Sam’s Club ribbons, I don’t feel bad throwing them out each year when the unwrapping is done.

Will you need tissue paper?  For the inside of garment boxes? Or, to wrap around those odd-shaped gifts that are ‘un-boxable’?  If so, select a sufficent size package of a color that coordinates with those reversible rolls.

Tools Needed

In addition to the paper and ribbon, you will want boxes, tape, scissors and a large flat surface at a comfortable height such as kitchen table or counter.  An often forgotten wrapping space is the folding table/counter in the laundry room. A bed can also serve as a good surface if you first place a large cardboard box on top of it.

Appropriate boxes are available at dollar stores, drugstores and big box stores in a wide variety of size combinations.

Neatness Counts

The simplest step to achieving stunning packages is to be neat – cut straight lines, fold and crease paper; use small, strategically placed pieces of invisible tape.

I recommend you also keep your wrapping space neat so you don’t spend time searching for the tape, scissors, gift tags, etc.

Strategy

Some like to wrap as they buy gifts.  To me this means repeatedlygetting all the supplies out and cleaning up, having to remember what’s inside each box (this dilemma can be solved by writing the package contents on a post it note and attaching the note to the box).

I prefer to do as much wrapping at one time as possible by grouping each person’s gifts together.  I take a moment to assess how I’m going to use those two rolls of reversible paper and colored ribbons to create a wrapping ‘style’ for each person.  Sometimes I wrap all of one individual’s gifts in the same print; sometimes I use all the patterns.  My favorite way to personalize a set of packages for one person is to create a tower.  I affix the components of the tower with two pieces of tape rolled into continuous pieces so as to form two-side tape without the expense. I then tie a pretty ribbon around the tower with the bow at the very top.

A good solution for several smaller items is to wrap each in tissue paper and put them all in one box for final wrapping.  Makes a fun gift for the recipient to unwrap as well.

Ribbons and Bows

Tie ribbons and bows as you’re comfortable.  If you’re seeking a higher level of ‘bow-dom’ consider the tips  in this bow making video. The demonstrated bow making technique can be used with any width ribbon as you most likely won’t want the size bow make in the video.

If this wrapping stuff is not for you or there’s just no time this year, don’t hesitate to find a teen-ager or gift shop that will be happy to do your wrapping for you.  Teens generally work for gas money or rides; gift shops generally charge anywhere from $3 to $9 depending on package size and complexity.

When the wrapping is done regardless of who does it, be sure to take a well-earned break and kick back knowing you’re ready for Santa’s arrival! Have a Merry Christmas!

Holiday Help Part 3: Shipping and Packing

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blog-imageSo far you are ahead of your schedule and within your budget!  Congratulations!  But now it’s time to pack and ship those gifts either across town or across the country or across the pond. For many this is a stressful and financially unpredictable time.

At Gifts To Go it is our ardent wish to eradicate this stress and we’re starting with this post.  In the spirit of continuous improvement and community involvement, we look forward to your comments.

The Box

Aside from sturdy and clean, choose a box that allows space inside to appropriately cushion for the contents.  If re-using a box choose one that provides a clear space for the addresses and remember it will be weakened the more times it is used.   Avoid boxes that have lots of text or product pictures as it will make it harder for the delivery personnel to find and read the address. Do not re-use bleach or alcohol boxes such as the kind used at Sam’s Club or Costco. Draw several lines through any earlier barcodes.  Your role as the box packer is to make it as easy as possible for everyone who touches your box along the way to handle it properly. Keep in mind, many people and many cold-hearted, rough and tumble machines will handle your envelopes and packages.  And, those machines don’t know what treasures you’ve included.

Gifts To Go sells a small selection of new sturdy boxes ranging in price from $1.25 (6″ x 6″ x 6″) to $4.50 (15″ x 15″ x 15″).  The postage on these boxes will be based on the package’s weight and the distance it is being sent in conjunction with the speed of delivery.

USPS offers and Gifts To Go stocks several Flat Rate Priority and Flat Rate Priority Express boxes and envelopes for free.  Regardless of the shipment’s weight or US delivery location, the postage of these items is standardized and ranges from $5.75 to $44.95.  See the details below. Pricing is for US destinations but Flat Rate Priority and Flat Rate Priority Express boxes and envelopes can be used internationally.  Global rates apply.  Also, the top loading large Flat Rate Priority box postage is discounted $2 when sent to US military service personnel.

A Word About USPS Delivery Services

USPS offers three delivery services for items weighing 13+ ounces:  Retail Ground (less expensive but slower  includes package tracking online), Priority (2-4 day delivery speed in US, more expensive, includes package tracking online and $50 insurance) and Priority Express (generally overnight delivery in US, most expensive, includes packing tracking online and $100 insurance).

While boxes of all shapes are acceptable for USPS shipping, the measurement of the length of the box plus the measurement around the widest portion of the box must be less than a total of 130″; for Priority or Priority Express shipment the total of length plus widest portion must be less than 108″.  The weight limit of all parcels is 70 pounds.

Prepping Box Content

Keep in mind that alcohol or anything that contains alcohol such as perfumes or bug sprays cannot be shipped as alcohol is flammable.  Liquids can be sent but should be wrapped in plastic in case they leak and then cushioned. To the extent possible distribute the contents’ weight evenly as this will help reduce the number of times the box is dropped or mishandled. Cushion all contents and remove empty space with extra filler.  Generally rolling soft items is a more efficient packing strategy over flat folding.

Place a piece of paper with the sender’s and recipient’s addresses inside the box in the unlikely event the outer address is damaged beyond recognition.

Sealing The Box

Use tape that is at least 2″ wide and either clear or brown.  Avoid using duct tape which can become sticky.  Do not use string or twine which can become stuck in post office sorting equipment.  Keep in mind that tape will add weight that you’ll pay postage for so use only as much tape as needed to close the box.

Addressing The Box

Both the sender’s and recipient’s addresses should be legible and complete with full name, house number and street name (or PO Box number), city, state and zip code.  The sender’s return address is placed to the upper left side of the recipient’s address. Make sure the text is appropriate to the size of the box.  Either write directly on the box or affix a label.  If using a label secure all edges of the label so it cannot be torn off.  It’s a good idea to place a piece of tape across the address portions not just the edges of the label.

A Word About International Shipments

The above guidelines are appropriate for international shipments.  Bear in mind that the number of persons who will handle your package before it is delivered is greatly increased given the greater distances so sturdy box, weight balancing, sealing and addressing are even more important.

Packages sent outside of the US must be accompanied by a US Customs Form.  There are two different forms; one for packages under 4 pounds and the other for heavier boxes.  At federal post offices, the USPS postal clerk will key in information based on a paper form that you complete and sign.  At Gifts To Go’s Contract Postal Unit we are operating with the newest USPS deployed system and do not have the ability to key in data.  We will direct you to a dedicated laptop where you will input the required information, including weight, value and a description of the contents.  We will be available to assist you with this process which will generate a paper customs form with a bar code specific to your package.

Each country has specific prohibitions, restrictions and limitations as to the type and quantities of materials that are acceptable for delivery.  Before preparing any international shipment, be sure to check the requirements of the country to which you are sending.

We look forward to a season of stress free shipping and are happy to help with your questions or concerns.  We are increasing our daily supply of flat rate boxes and envelopes so come by for yours at your convenience.  We are open Monday – Saturday 9a – 5p; will be open on November 11, 2016 which is a USPS holiday.  We will extend our days of service after Thanksgiving by including a few Sunday hours through Christmas.

Holiday Help: Budgeting, Shopping & Traveling – Part 2 of a 4 Part Series

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If by now, early October, you don’t yet have a list of persons you’re planning to give gifts to this holiday season, take a moment and read our Holiday Help: Getting Started – Part 1 of a 4 Part Series.

In that post, I ask a number of questions to help determine your Christmas 2016 ‘who, where and when’ .  Gifting can quickly get complicated in our mobile, merged, multi-generation families and a bit of upfront planning and discussion can make the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of gifting much easier to handle.

As we proceed to budgeting, shopping and traveling recognize and accept this:  your plans are just plans. Even if your Getting Started list is perfect and fully discussed, there are hundreds of variables that will impact your acquisition of those gifts and the travel to your celebratory locations.  Here are a just a few:  weather that hampers travel, unexpected financial emergencies, unanticipated illness or injury (even the simplest of illness, injury at the wrong time can become an issue), the ability of online retailers and delivery services to meet your expectations and more.

So, why do we plan and budget?  Because without a plan, your sanity, relationships, stress level and financial control are all a free-for-all;  a plan, even with the undesired need to adjust it is healthier for all involved and puts you in the driver’s seat.

Starting with the who’s on your gift list, quickly brainstorm what you’d like to give that individual and an estimated cost.  Do the same with the travel.  If you need help with estimating the cost, use online tools but recognize some online pricing is designed to lure you into an immediate purchase.  Resist that temptation until you completed your budgeting.  Force yourself to put a gift and dollar value next to everyone person’s name on your list. Next tally up your spending based on those quick estimates.

If the total amount to be spent is within your budget, great.  All you’ll need to do is stick to your plan when you shop.  But for most of us, we tend to be more generous than we can wisely afford.  If this is true of your list and estimate, start by sharpening your pencil, do a bit more research on options and pricing, and possibly re-think another gift.

As you’re looking for ways to reduce your spending ask yourself whether there persons on your list that spend time together that could be given a great group gift?  We tend to think of individual gifts but many times a group gift is enjoyed more.

Now you need to get those gifts.  so start by planning your shopping.  Get the items within your budget that might have limited availability first.  Then plot your acquisition strategy to maximize your time, mileage and patience.  Before driving 35 minutes to the mall make sure you’ve identified all the mall gifts that need to be obtained.  While online shopping tends to be easier than the old fashioned brick and mortar store, you might benefit a stroll through a few of them.  I often find inspiration and new trends when I’m in a physical store and it always helps me to get into a festive holiday mood.  Observing brick and mortar pricing and selections can also help refine your list and budget. Use your judgement to determine if the current day’s price is likely to be the best price or will there be a sale?  If so, will that item still be available?

Determine if your ‘acquisition’ style is to spend a full day shopping and getting it all done or if you’re a slow and steady style shopper picking up one thing here another here and comparing both to online options. And as always do investigate and evaluate the retailer’s return policy.

Don’t forget about the ever popular Small Business Saturday which this year is Saturday, November 26, 2016.  SBS is the first Saturday after Thanksgiving and has been named and promoted by American Express since 2010.  We all know that Black Friday is the crazy early morning, late night shopping spree that historically follows Thanksgiving. Also online shoppers will hit the keyboards and tablets heavy on the Monday following Small Business Saturday know as Cyber Monday.  Pay attention to a store’s pre-Thanksgiving prices and specials.  Big Box and online retailers will start to reveal their deep discounts on a handful of items to get your attention (and business) 7-10 days before Thanksgiving.  At the same time Independent retailers  will reach out to you via emails, post cards, radio ads, event marketing to get a slice of your attention (and business).  Use your leverage as the buyer to get the best price from an independent retailer – ask if a particular item will be discounted after Thanksgiving and if so do they have a sufficient number or are they willing to discount the item in advance?  At Gifts To Go, we’re hosting a Holiday Open House with several discounts for same day purchases.  We also hold two week long sales on our popular Willow Tree items of 20% and will honor that discount during our Holiday Open House as well.

Start planning that holiday travel now as well.  Especially if you’re traveling by air, train or bus or renting a car as it will feel as though the entire country is traveling with you.  Seats will quickly become scarce and expected them to be pricey.

Finally, if you’re cooking or entertaining, get your menus planned and shopping lists created as the grocers will also be competing for your business and a plan will let you take advantage of great sales especially on non-perishables.

As with any well organized project, a good plan guides your actions and better equips you for those pesky adjustments that will most assuredly happen along the way to your envisioned holiday celebration.

By next month, you’ll have acquired a number of gifts and be ready to focus on shipping and gift presentation.  Here’s to a great plan!

 

 

 

 

Holiday Help: Getting Started – Part 1 of a 4 Part Series

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Holiday Help: Getting Started  –             Part 1 of a 4 Part Series

This is the time when we cling to the last glimmer of summer. The kids are back in school. The big box stores have, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas merchandise available.  But why do ‘they’ rush the holidays so much?  It’s time to start thinking about the holiday season you think.  Why can’t Thanksgiving goodies not appear on shelves until October 31st? Why can’t the Christmas and Hanukkah season kick off on Black Friday?  After all there is the better part of four months to do all that needs to be done to make the holidays special and create memories.   Why rush life away?  Why all the commercialism? Why be a pawn of some number crunching merchandiser tucked away in a big box home office?

Being relatively new to retail sales, I initially held firm to the thought that the end of one fall holiday signaled and actually permitted the next fall holiday to appear on shelves. During my first few years, I had a new shop in an developing area and witnessed people came in starting the last week in August ‘to just look’.  They indicated they’d ‘be back.’  Didn’t see them until the New Year.

I slowly came to realize that ‘just looking’ in August is code for ‘I-want-to-get-my-holiday-gift-giving-shopping-done-but-I’m-not-admitting-that-to-anyone-yet’ and their lives really did get so busy where they didn’t have time to come back until the Christmas wrapping papers had been recycled.

The truth is both retailers and consumers have pushed and pulled one another to the current reality where you can (and should) do your fourth quarter shopping by early September.

The 100 days will fly by and be filled with lots of “to-do’s” including those that get added to your list at the last minute by other people.  Gifts To Go has developed a four part approach to helping you stay sane by pacing yourself looking at the entire holiday season and developing your personal plan of attack. We’ll publish one of the four parts each month now through early December.

The series posts will appear as follows:

  • September 2016 – Holiday Help: Getting Started
  • October 2016 -Holiday Help:  Budgeting, Shopping and Traveling
  • November 2016 –   Holiday Help: Shipping and Packing
  • December 2016 – Holiday Help:  Gift Wrapping and Presentation

And now, let’s get started .   This month’s task is to sit quietly with a pen/paper or iPad and think through each of the bullet points we raise below. Once you have your responses sit with your significant other (and anyone else with the clout to alter your plans) to combine your thoughts and resolve any differences.  Here goes:

  • To whom will you be giving gifts?  Immediate family/household? Extended family within an hour’s drive?  Extended family living more than an hour away? Friends? Kids’ friends? Co-workers? Teachers? Service providers such as hair stylists, delivery persons, landscapers, drivers?

It’s too early to be overly-concerned about what those gifts will be, you want to determine who gets gifts first and then work on Budgeting and Shopping in Part Two.

  • Where will you be spending the holidays (consider Thanksgiving and Christmas or Hanukkah)? Will your significant other and other immediate family members be with you? Will you be the host? Will you be traveling? Will you need a pet-sitter? Do you need extra chairs for the dining room table?  Do you have sufficient place settings? Will you want to repaint the living room?  If you’re not at home, will you be staying with friends or family or hotel? Will inclement weather possibly affect your plans?  Do you have a celebratory back up plan if so?

It’s important to iron out the ‘where’ and ‘who’ question with everyone who might have an opinion that could impact you (spouse, college aged children, in-laws, close friends).  Don’t wait for them to start the conversation with you.  We recommend getting this one settled early as we’ve seen too many holiday plans turned upside down and budgets blown when a sister and her new husband decide at the last minute they were joining you at your home.

  • Will you participate in multiple celebrations?  In different locales?  Are you aware of all the people involved in each festivity?  When will each occur? Will you need a ‘divide and conquer’ plan where you and your significant other are in different locations on the holiday due to family/friends in different areas? Will you then celebrate again when you reunite?

When you’re comfortable you have identified and resolved the ‘who, where and when’ questions, start to tackle the ‘what’ question before we take your holiday planning one step further next month by establishing a budget and creating the to-do lists.

 

 

 

A Gift Shop Dog Day Summer Saturday

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I realize I’m far more interested in USPS stamp releases than the vast majority so I’d committed awhile back not to write about new postage stamp art (much).  It’s been some time so please indulge me for this post.

Earlier this month the USPS made available the following booklet of 20 Pets stamps.PetsThis morning, one of the two local writers groups we host every other Saturday is busily working on their critiques of one another’s work and I’m feverishly trying to plan our end of year book signings. (Why? Because the best gift is always a book and our great local writers get booked early during the holiday season.)

Because I’ve fallen prey to the ‘you must multi task in order to succeed’ mantra, my thoughts jump to my next to-do on my dog-day-summer Saturday list.  It is to review our favorite local publishers’ lists of children’s books because I know there are new goodies that we’re not stocking. I’ve already had shoppers looking for their grandson’s or granddaughter’s favorite author’s newest book.  (Yes, it’s mid-August and people are already talking Christmas gift giving.)

Those jumbled thoughts lead me to acknowledge that one of the Pets stamps is a hermit crab  which has been written about by two of my favorite locals (Anita Elco and Katherine Stelmach)  in Who’s in That Shell? for kids.  One of the other Pets is a corn snake which reminds me of Conrad Storad’s Rattlesnake Rules, another kid favorite.  Plus, parakeets and parrots are featured stamps, reminiscent of a book for the youngest readers that we love, GQ, GQ Where Are You? by Sharon I Ritt.

Dang it,  those multi-tasking “skills” have resulted in one more item on my Saturday work list:  identify additional children’s books about featured Pets written by Arizonans.  If you are aware of any candidates especially books about dogs, cats, horses, fish, mice, gerbils, please share and lighten my dog-day-summer-Saturday to-do list. In turn, I’ll happily  add to my end of year book-signing schedule to promRattote new local writers. Enjoy the weekend!

Can’t Thank Our Clients Enough!

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We are honored to have been voted one of  five Local Favorite Retailers in the City of Surprise and want to thank our shoppers and shippers for having faith in us and returning time and time again to purchase our products, use our services and to share life’s ups and downs in a friendly environment.  In our mind, that’s what being a local gift shop and post office is all about.

We accept this honor humbly along with what we both hope for and fear will be increased scrutiny and raised expectations.  Gifts To Go has intentionally developed slowly so as to get to know our patrons and to evaluate each step toward our ultimate goal of offering a comfortable, convenient gathering spot where life’s joys and sorrows are embraced within the context of local retail establishment.  So, while we’re proud today we’re also buckling down for the next steps along the development.  Thank you for your recognition and please continue to tell when we’re putting smiles on faces and if we should misstep along the way.