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One Woman's Search For Shopping Success

We humans are such crazy creatures. Instead of being clever like the bears and hibernating for the winter, we venture out in subzero-degree weather to go shopping. The downtown core of Toronto can be as congested as it was when the Blue Jays won the World Series. I put on extra padding not just to keep warm, but to protect myself from the shoving and poking I often experience on the subway.

But experiencing human bumper cars as you run into people shopping along the aisles of Toy Town is not just physically exhausting. It's also mentally absorbing. It takes a lot of thought and money to buy the right gift. I have a slight advantage; I have a crystal-clear memory from my childhood that helps me choose presents for children. I remember receiving a dress the color of the underbelly of an old rusting car. It was adorned with the biggest, most grotesque white plastic elephant belt buckle. And w ouldn't you know it, there was no way of detaching the belt from the dress. At that moment, I made a vow that I would always buy toys instead of clothing for children.

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And when buying for grown-ups, I learned fairly early not to believe my grandmother Maben's advice. She told me that the best method of gift-giving was to buy a present that I would like someone to give me. After the second Christmas of buying my father a Betty Crocker bake set, I was gently encouraged by my mother to think out another strategy.

One year, my brother, James, and I were determined to complete our shopping in record time. We headed to Simpson's. That was in the days when department stores were laid out in a grid format so it was easy to find what you were looking for. Of course, the key word we looked for to aid us in our shopping was ''SALE.'' I saw the word in large bold letters off in the distance above a big bin of sweaters. The sweaters were a good buy -- only $19.99. A sweater would be just the right gift for Dad. So I proce eded to pick one out.

''Oh my gosh. Is this ugly!'' I mumbled under my breath, remembering my elephant-belt dress.

Like the dress, the sweater was the color of the underbelly of a car -- but even worse, a car that had gone through a mud puddle. I held it at arm's length so my brother could get a good look at it, too.

''Have you ever seen such an awful sweater, James? Who would buy it?'' And I proceeded with a few more energetic yet disparaging remarks.

I was just about to toss it back in the bin when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned. A stranger was standing in front of me holding a very attractive purple sweater.

''Excuse me, Miss, that's my sweater.''

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I looked at James for some reassurance. ''He didn't hear what I just said, did he?''

My brother couldn't say a word. He just nodded ''yes.''

I handed the man his sweater. I wasn't sure what the interplay was going to be; we humans can be so unpredictable at times. I expected him to scowl at me and stomp away. But instead, he must have felt some sympathy for my awkwardness. He gave me a big smile in exchange for his sweater, and as he walked away he said, ''My daughter gave it to me last Christmas.''

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