Having recently been out shopping for the first time since Thanksgiving, I suggest that you start by giving yourself some carol-canceling earplugs. Bill gets mine though Cabela's -- which is where he gets just about everything he doesn't get from Orvis -- but there is also, it turns out, a place called The Earplug Superstore, whose extensive selection suggests that noise pollution is every bit as much of a problem as you thought.
Earplugs are also widely available at bricks and mortar, of course. Sporting goods stores that cater to gun owners have the most effective models, but many drugstores also sell plugs rated at 30 decibels, the strength needed to muffle jolly shopping music without silencing the person who shouts "Look out! That beam is falling!!"
Can't Go Wrong Giving Any of These
They won't protect against major thorns and only the palms are waterproof, but other than that they are close to perfect because they combine their fabulous toughness with being so thin you can feel what you're doing almost as well as you can barehanded.
Warning: Once you start in the dot-org direction it's easy to fall down the slippery slope and start thinking that donating to worthy causes "in the name of" is a gift to the namee. This is of course completely bogus unless that noble person has already asked Santa for brownie points. Nothing hugely wrong with it - assuming you also give them a present that actually resembles a present - but please don't forget that if part of the deal is a grateful acknowledgement from the cause, the other thing you have given your friend is a mailbox polluted with pleas for more, for the indefinite future.
After you've established a relationship, there's no way to block these mailings without asking each individual organization to please stop. And the same is true for catalogs sent by any store that you've bought something from. But as you well know if you have ever, even in the distant past, subscribed to a magazine, the bulk of the catalog avalanche comes from companies that bought you (or at least your name and address). To turn back a fair amount of this tide, sign up for the MAILING LIST OPT-OUT offered by the Direct Marketing Association.
But gift certificates good only for shopping at a particular store have all the impersonality of money with far less of its convenience. And the fact that they're sold in rounded amounts makes problems of its own. There is probably someone living who chooses things that cost less than the gift and walks away from a few dollars in change; but most people end up with something that costs more, paying the difference out of their own pockets. Nice deal for the store.
Note to bakers and would-be bakers: Only 20 baking days until Christmas. To make them less stressful (and more likely), stock up on large quantities of probable ingredients asap, even if you haven't chosen recipes. Butter, eggs, chocolate, nutmeats, dried fruits, flour and spices will all keep fine until you need them - even if it isn't 'till Twelfth Night - and if you have everything on hand already it's much easier to Just Do It when a crumb of free time appears.
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