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HOUSTON, TX -- Are the bathrooms clean? Is there enough toilet paper downstairs? We need to stock up on eggs and cereal! Even though we have known for weeks, it’s as if time has been sucked away from us. My family is coming to visit for the holidays.

Here we go again, rushing through the to-do list making sure everything is ready. Let’s be honest. The house is never ready.

The real question is – am I ready to shop? But let me start at the beginning…

I welcome the opportunity to receive relatives. After all, it’s the time when my children experience the full effect of “la chorcha,” - the precious time spent talking, eating and laughing with family without the frantic pace of everyday life. There is something to be said about a lounging in your pajamas with other people that creates a kind of emotional bond.

While still in our pajamas, usually the morning after the arrival, there it is the ever-present dark force that will start permeating future plans. It is a monster, an inevitable black hole, invisible but incredibly powerful. Sooner or later, this black hole will swallow my relatives – and eventually me. Even thinking about it makes me cringe. The shopping! The almost compulsive desire to acquire everything from aspirins to electronics to the piece of luggage my relatives have to purchase at the end of the trip because, if one more thing goes into their suitcase, it will explode!

I have always found it interesting how el shopping is usually preceded by the sentence “No voy a comprar nada,” (“I am not going to buy anything,”) and soon transforms into: “Aceptan tarjeta?” (“Do they accept credit cards?”)

All of a sudden my family members act as if they live in a remote village. Last time I checked, Mexico and Latin America had a variety of stores selling all types of merchandise.

It is, however, no laughing matter. As the days are consumed with comprar compar y comprar, I can’t help thinking, “Are you here to visit or to shop?”

In my family there are two types of shoppers. The first comes with a detailed list of items, complete with names, models, sizes and colors. The second has no list. No game plan.

Both groups are entertaining - for the first day of two. After that, it's mostly frustrating.

Case in point: one of my family members once became fixated on finding a particular brand of lipstick; the shade was “Red Passion.” Mind you, It wasn’t for her. It was an “encargo," an item “commissioned” by one of her mother’s friends! The drugstore chain that carried it had closed. Only one other drugstore in town had it. So there we were driving for hours and hours - for a lipstick.

Then there are those relatives who come to buy the bigger items - fur coats and horseback riding equipment. And of course, the visit to the dollar store never fails, followed by the last minute visit to the supermarket.

At the end of each day while my familia is here, exhaustion takes over. I even had one relative tell me once, “Can you leave me alone to spend time by myself?” I don’t blame her. If I had spent that many hours shopping, my head would be spinning too.

I wish I could spend quality time with them with no shopping in sight. But no, I love them too much not to recognize that they, in their own way, are enjoying themselves. I love them so much that soon, I will forget about the dark monster, the black hole, and I will be ready to do it again…

Now, does anyone know where to find "Red Passion" lipstick?