A friend of mine was in town for an appointment today so we had a late lunch together at Cracker Barrel. I love Cracker Barrel -- I know it's marketing and as my mother said the one time I took her there, "It's a tourist trap full of crap." OK mom, but I like it. I love the food, and I could shop there for a couple of hours every time I go in. In fact, I usually do. Like today.
Friend needed to find some small gifts for a Secret Santa exchange at her work. She hasn't participated in this kind of exchange before and really, wanted nothing to do with it. I offered to help, feeling confident that we could find several small, inexpensive items that would be appropriate.
So off to Cracker Barrel we went.
First, we fortified ourselves with a hearty, warm lunch. Chicken and dumplings with okra and fried apples for me. Chicken and rice for her. We were both sated and happy for the second phase of our mission.
After we paid our dinner checks, we mosied around the store half. Perfect time for our efforts -- there are Christmas ornaments galore for sale right now. The Halloween items and almost all the Thanksgiving things have been pushed off to the discount corner where prices are cut 50 percent to 75 percent. Oh, but back to Christmas...
My initial suggestion was to get several of the old-fashioned candies and treats that you can only find at Cracker Barrel and other nostalgia vendors these days. Ah, first snag... so many people are diabetic these days that candy is a no-no. OK, continue.
Here's another thought: They carry Yankee Candles (my personal favorite! my preferred scent being Home Sweet Home, but I also like Sage and Citrus and Midnight Dream. Today I picked up a Harvest votive.) Oh, but not for the exchange. Too many people allergic to scents. Hmmm. This is getting tougher.
Next suggestion: Old fashioned toys, like a Slinky, or a kazoo, or ...
There it was. A bottle of bubbles waiting to be blown. Ka-ching, we have our first sale!
The kazoo also made it into the shopping basket, but alas, the Slinky, at $5, was a little over the budget.
Next was the bonanza. There are several small Christmas trees set up among the sale displays, each containing a particular collection of ornaments. Bingo! We quickly find some really, really cute ornaments that complete our job. She's happy. I'm thrilled.
We pay for the purchase -- five items for less than $8. THEN the clerk says "Would you like those gift wrapped, for free?"
Our eyes and mouths opened wide and we said in unison: "YEAH! HOW COOL!"
A good half-hour later, our tiny little purchases are individually dressed boxes wrapped in rustic gift paper with small burgandy bows. Cute as can be. Getting the wrapped packages will be as much fun as opening them for the presents inside, I'm thinking. Very good.
So let me suggest it to you. If you're hunting for gift ideas, go have a good, better-than-home-cooked dinner at Cracker Barrel, then browse the store. Get your friends some good candy, some almonds or cashews or peanuts. Then check out the toy section for checkers, Slinkies, Wheel-Os and board games for anyone and everyone. Pick up a CD of nostalgic music, gospel songs or old radio programs. And let them wrap it all up for you, for free.
You can even get a holiday dinner to go, complete with pie.
They're open for Thanksgiving, serving the whole meal with dessert for less than $10 a person. Count on the lines being long. Maybe I'll see you by the fireplace.