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PULLING OFF SOME SEASONAL MAGIC : You can ensure that festivities are a celebration instead of a chore by making use of speciality services


Tick. Tick. Tick.

If you hadn't noticed before today, the sight of Santa Claus bringing up the rear of a Thanksgiving Day parade probably pounded the point into your head: The holidays are upon us, big time.

With Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year's looming ahead, there are parties to host and attend; out-of-town guests to house, feed and entertain; food to buy and prepare; cards to send out; gifts to select, pay for, and deliver; houses and trees to decorate.

Time is tight enough February through October for the average Ventura County resident. But add on the extra holiday chores (sorry, make that pleasures) and there's not much time left to breathe. And better make that a shallow breath. A deep one and you've wasted a good three to five seconds.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Wasn't it about this time last year you said, "Next year, I'll shop early, say no to hosting the family get-together, and just keep it simple?" Oops. Forgot about that, didn't you?

We don't mean to seem Scrooge-like--the holidays are a festive time of year. Time can be a problem, but as with most problems, there are solutions.

We here at Life would like to offer some suggestions on saving time this holiday season. You may be one of those independent types who likes to take on a challenge all alone, but don't be ashamed to accept help. There are plenty of businesses more than willing to lend a hand as the holidays gain momentum and the stress builds.

But before we get to the tips, let's talk briefly about the stress. With relatives visiting and malls packed with shoppers, lack of time is only one aspect of holiday stress.

Judith Sitko, a Ventura therapist, sees another.

"What I hear most about holiday stress is the guilt, the feeling of obligation," she said of the mandatory gift-giving and party-throwing. "If someone doesn't have the time to do everything, but they don't feel guilty about it, they just say, 'I'm just not going to do it this year.' "

Thus, no sense of obligation, no guilt, no stress over the shortage of time. It's great if you can do it. But for those of you who do feel that obligation, and do hear the ticking of the holiday clock, here are some suggestions regarding gift-giving, party planning and house decorating.


We'll begin with the gifts. Sitko suggests limiting the list of recipients to a precious few--maybe just the very closest relatives and friends. "I buy gifts just for the children," she said, "and that has eased a lot of the stress for me."

There's always the generic gift certificate, to save on time. And don't forget, you can always invoke that "naughty or nice" clause for the undeserving.

Catalogues and home shopping networks are two other ways to go. You can shop to your heart's content by phone without leaving the comforts of your favorite chair. Unfortunately, it's a little late in the game, since you often must allow four to six weeks for delivery.

If it ultimately comes down to conventional department store shopping, however, there's still no need to feel overwhelmed. At Bullock's in Thousand Oaks, there's a person on staff who helps people shop. And if you can afford to spend an extra few bucks, you can hire someone to shop for you. We tracked down a few of them.

Robin Albanese of Simi Valley loves to shop. She had considered turning the pastime into gainful employment for several years, but it wasn't until a couple of months ago that she finally started her Shop Around Town service.

"My husband is a crisis negotiator for the city of Los Angeles (Police Department). He was at the mansion when O.J. surrendered. There was all this hoopla around him," said Albanese. "I said, 'You know, honey, you get to do a lot of fun things. You've done what you wanted to do your whole life. Don't you think it's time I get to do what I want to do?' "

Thus, Shop Around Town was born.

"There are a fair amount of people in our community who have the financial resources, but they have those financial resources because they are workaholics. They have the money, but what they don't have is the time," said Albanese. "Most of my clients are men because they lack the real desire to shop. Absolutely one of the most distasteful things for them to do is enter a mall."

Sometimes Albanese's clients know exactly what they want her to buy, other times she needs to conduct an interview. She may offer suggestions, or let them browse through her couple of hundred catalogues.

"Most of us buy gifts we enjoy receiving, so it's not so much that I need to understand who the recipient is, but who the giver is," she said. "I try to please the giver. If they are proud of the gift and pleased to give it, then my job is done."

Oak View's Lynne Stanfield, operator of Santa's Little Helper, a year-round personal shopping service, sees her business as a way of helping people prioritize their chores during the holidays.

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