posts tagged with 'shopping'
Yesterday some of us had occasion to visit Whole Foods. We went by bicycle, and at least three people tried to kill us with their cars over the course of the 3/4-mile trip, so I wasn't in the best mood when we reached the store—which meant the things I dislike about it were more present in my mind than usual. Leah and I have a significant disagreement over what makes us feel comfortable and welcome while grocery shopping. She's a big fan of Whole Foods—she appreciates the high-quality produce and meat and the lovely ambience created by the lower lights and calming earth tone color scheme. Me, I hate those things.
Haha, no not really. There are things that are objectively very nice about Whole Foods, not limited to those I mentioned and how close it is to our house. But when I'm there I can't shake the feeling that I'm being suckered—that all the positive features of the place are just tricks to get us to spend way more for less food than we could get somewhere else. It doesn't help that WF used to be owed by a multi-millionaire libertarian and is now owned by Amazon, and that it came to us by way of buying up countless independent health food coops and local chains.
My favorite grocery store is Market Basket. I still like it even though the one we go to got much bigger within my living memory. There's no luxury or pretension there: the value proposition is just: here's some food, for the lowest prices you'll find it for. Lots of food. And there are lots of people there who want to buy it, and lots of cashiers and baggers to help make that happen. I love all that—but those things make Leah feel overwhelmed and anxious. We have a lot in common, but some important differences too! Luckily, getting the best groceries means going to both Whole Foods and Market Basket. The organic produce and (relatively) humane and sustainable meats at Whole Foods are much better than anything at Market Basket, and given our budget it makes sense to save something like $1.50/lb on butter. So she can handle the Whole Foods shopping while I go to Market Basket... and we can cement marital harmony by bonding over our mutual dislike for Stop and Shop.
This weekend was the LexFun sale. If the phrase LexFun doesn't immediately start you salivating then I will provide you some context. Okay, I'm actually going to provide A LOT of context. The LexFun sale is a very big deal.
Let me start by saying that Dan and I are not rich, but we grew up in a rich town. Lexington Massachusetts, the birthplace of American liberty, is the sort of town where any tiny house sells for half a million dollars because the public school system is so good. It's so good that the math team is depressed if it's only ranked second in the nation. It's so good that the student jazz combo tours internationally. It's so good that the running question every year is HOW MANY high school seniors are accepted to Harvard. In my year it was six.
This is the sort of town that attracts a certain kind of family, the kind of family that is SECURE in their finances. The kind of family where the mother may have had a high-powered career for the past ten years, but now she is EXTREMELY FOCUSED ON HER CHILDREN.
This town has a very active mothers group. Once a year they run a consignment sale.
Man, do they ever run a consignment sale.
Imagine all the half-million-dollar homes populated by intense mothers researching THE BEST PRODUCTS for their Harvard-bound children. Imagine how many Lexington babies every year grow out of their ergonomic high chairs, how many 5-year-olds grow out of their bikes, how many kids of all sizes grow out of their JCrew polos and jackets... Every year in a rich town there is A LOT of shit to get rid of. And thanks to the amazing organizational skills of women with masters degrees who are now EXTREMELY FOCUSED on their children, all this merchandise gets dumped on the LexFun sale.
Two-hundred-dollar strollers selling for $20. High chairs going for practically nothing. You need a pack-and-play? Take a swim in an ocean of pack-and-plays. Melissa and Doug dollhouses, American Girl dolls, car seats oh the car seats, and I haven't even gotten to the clothes. Miles of brand-name clothes priced at a few dollars a piece. BabyGap is almost the bottom of the barrel for this town.
Are you starting to get the picture? The LexFun sale is a BIG DEAL.
The first year we went, Harvey was a baby and we scored clothes. A mega load of clothes. JCrew and Gap and soooo many pairs of shorts for his big baby bum. The second year he was walking and we made out like bandits with rain boots and shoes. The third year we didn't come early enough and escaped with only a few wooden toys.
Then someone told me about the "presale."
Are you ready for this?
The LexFun sale requires a mega amount of setup: sorting and displaying some thousands of donated items. The highly capable LexFun board can't do it all themselves. So they ask for volunteers. And if you volunteer to help set up for the sale you get to shop the presale. The presale is a two-hour window of time BEFORE the sale is opened to the public. This is how poor mortals get the best shot at the best of the best rich-person gear. The best stroller before anyone else grabs it. New rain boots in your child's size. A wheelbarrow filled with clothes for a family of five.
This was the second year I volunteered in order to shop the presale. You might ask: is it really worth it arranging childcare and donating three hours of your afternoon for a slightly better deal on kids' crap? This is how worth it it was for me. On Friday afternoon I dropped Harvey and Zion off at Grandpa's. Then I held Elijah in the front-pack for two hours while I moved tables across the floor of the Lexington High School field house. Then Dan met me and took Elijah and the car, while I spent an additional hour rolling concrete posts into place for signage. Then Dan picked up the other two boys and I RAN 5 MILES HOME because I didn't have the car anymore. I got there just as we were about to host Small Group, for which I had set the table and laid out snacks first thing in the morning before I left the house. All that to shop the LexFun presale.
Does that sound insane? Because it wasn't nearly as insane as the following morning, two hours before the main sale was set to open, when I queued up along the edge of the field house with 60 other volunteers all with our game faces on. We passed the time chatting with each other tensely. "What are you trying to get this morning?" I'm not sure if we were being cheerful, or just scoping out the competition, seeing who we might need to elbow out of the way if she happens to lunge at OUR child's bike.
Why was I doing this? Two words: Thomas trains.
My kids play trains a lot. Train tracks are expensive. So every time Harvey or Zion mentioned a piece they wanted I uttered this cop-out: "Maybe we'll find it at the LexFun sale."
"We need a roundhouse," Harvey would say.
"Maybe we'll find it at the LexFun sale."
"I wish we had Cranky the Crain."
"He's forty dollars. Maybe we'll find one at the LexFun sale."
Absentmindedly for months I had been building up in my children's minds this mythos of the LexFun sale that rivaled that of Christmas. And then the weekend was finally here, and if I didn't come home with some flipping train tracks I was going to have to stop at Toys R Us in order not to crush their spirits.
So while everyone else waited at the starting line, pointing their little mental arrows at the bikes and strollers, I had my eye on one particular toy table in the middle of the floor. The TRAIN table. And when the starting gun went off (okay so it wasn't really a gun but when the lady said it was okay to start shopping) I ran to that train table and grabbed everything I saw that was wooden Thomas. EVERYTHING wooden Thomas. Two sheds, two crains, two bridges. A round table that shoots trains in multiple directions. A clock tower with an elevator that I didn't understand how it worked. A box of assorted track pieces and wooden men. I grabbed ALL OF IT. $40 for what I later estimated is $120 worth of infrastructure.
Then I calmly moseyed to the baby section where no one was shopping and grabbed the best looking play-mat for Elijah. Skip Hop brand, with little dangling gender-neutral animals. Seventy Five dollars retail, and I got it in new condition for twelve.
Then I paid for that stuff and put it in the car and tried to take some deep breaths. "You did it, Leah, you got the trains. The stressful part is over," I told myself. Then I went back for the clothes.
Thirty dollars for the following items: a new swimsuit for each of my children (shorts and rash-guards, plus a swim diaper for Elijah), two pairs of pants for Elijah, several baby sleepers and onesies (I lost count), two t-shirts for each of the big boys and a collared shirt a piece.
On the way home I had to remind myself to drive slowly. "These are surface streets, Leah," I coaxed myself. "There might be runners out here. You need to calm down."
But I was ON FIRE.
Adrenaline was pulsing through my veins. I was like a mama bear coming back from the hunt. "I did it!" I thought. "I scored the Thomas! My children asked for Thomas and I delivered the Thomas. Nobody loves their children as much as I love my children. Do you hear me? Nobody fucking loves their children as much as I fucking love my children. I MOVED TABLES WHILE WEARING AN INFANT and then I RAN HOME IN THE RAIN and then I LINED UP BEFORE 8AM to bring home these Thomas trains. If loving my children is a contest, then today I am the mother fucking winner."
I burst into the door, at 8:45am, "I come to you like a conqueror returning from battle!" I announced.
The children dove into the boxes. They were amazed. They were elated. They grabbed out the toys and started playing and it was every bit as magical as Christmas.
I went back to the car and got the playmat. I tried not to look at Dan's face as he watched me bring this monstrously large thing into our household. Instead I laid it on the floor. I put Elijah under a hanging monkey. The baby grinned like a madman and batted at it.
Let me repeat that: he batted at the toy. He INTERACTED WITH AN OBJECT, the first time he'd done that in his ENTIRE LIFE SO FAR. Because clearly I'd been depriving my baby of the right kind of stimulation. Rich people know the right kind of objects to stimulate 2-month-old brains. I didn't up until today, but now thanks to LexFun, I am now loving my baby like a rich person.
For five minutes I was on top of the flippin world.
Then my LexFun high wore off. It turned out I was STARVINGLY hungry. Harvey started screaming at Zion and Zion threw a train at his head. Dan started putting all the new toys away. I realized that two of the things I had bought make a noise, and one of those noises was exceptionally annoying.
And then I started to have bigger doubts about my life. Is this really the best high I've felt in months? BUYING TOYS? AT A TAG SALE??? What is the matter with me?
Some new track pieces, a better place to put the baby down, this is my whole entire life right now. If I get worked up to the point of profanity, it's because these things are IMPOSSIBLY IMPORTANT.
It's not that I don't like the life of a stay-at-home-mother. It's the extreme opposite. I LOVE my life TOO MUCH. I love my children so much that I don't know what to do with myself. I love them so big it practically bursts out the sides of my brain. So I focus on these random things, learning toys, wish fulfillment, because I don't know how to just sit and let the floodgates of love open. It scares the crap out of me.
Then once a year the Lexington mothers host an event the intensity of which matches the intensity of my feelings for my children. And "This is me," I think. "I AM an 8am toy runner."
Yesterday we went to Ikea with Grandma Judy. She'd never been, and wanted some help navigating the store; we could have just pointed her to the famous walkthrough, but we're always up to a trip down to our favorite furniture-store-slash-theme-park.
It was Zion's first time too, thanks to the fact that since he before he was born our house has been full of furniture and also we're poor. Perhaps due to poverty I still have the same phone now as I did then, though its camera seems to have declined in quality since the other boy played under that same bed (that was another fun and well-documented trip). The picture of Zion above isn't that good, and I include it only for historical comparison; this one is better.
It's not like the only thing they played on was beds; that's just the only time either one of them stood still enough for my lousy phone to capture. But beds were an appropriate theme, because one of the few things we brought home was a new pillow for Zion, whose old one is made out big feathers and pins and knives. He was involved in picking the new one, naturally.
To break up the shopping we ate a great deal of delicious Swedish food, including authentic Swedish chicken fingers for the boys. Since Grandma was treating us, we also sampled several of the deserts for the first time and were not disappointed. I didn't take any pictures because I was too busy enjoying and being a normal sociable human who doesn't take picture of food.
Much fun, all told; we'll have to go back in another year or two.
We went to IKEA today. I write it in all-caps because they do on the sign, and also because it's THAT AWESOME. I can't believe some people don't like it. It was Harvey's first visit as a sentient being, and he certainly had a grand time; he mostly enjoyed the lying down, as in the cute loft-bed setup pictured above. Or on this sheepskin:
Or this rug display:
This being vacation week the crowd was mostly young families, so no one minded his flopping around on the floor. As for the beds, he had to fight for space in those with the thousands of other kids with similar ideas of the ways to enjoy a shopping trip.
The food is also a big draw at IKEA for young and old alike:
Swedish meatballs for me, chicken fingers and fries for Mama and Harvey. We hit the cafe just in time, before the crowds; overall, it was a grand expedition for timing. No traffic, no waits: we were about a half-hour ahead of the rest of the world this morning.
We finished the trip off with desert of $1 cinnamon buns and frozen yogurt. Harvey approved. As we drove off, he asked us, "Ikea nother day?" Yes, my son, we will return.
Even though all modern grocery stores are part of chains, they still each have their own individual personalities. One of those personalities met its end this weekend. I knew that the Burlington Market Basket would be moving to (much) bigger new digs next door, but I didn't know how soon; so I was surprised when I visited yesterday evening only to find the original store an empty shell.
A lot of people I ever talked to expressed their dislike—disgust, even—with the old store. I actually kind of liked it. Sure, the place wasn't big, the aisles were super narrow, and that basket of pancakes in cellophane was really in the way in the baking needs aisle. But it felt cheap, which I liked. Cheap is good when you're poor! Wide, spacious aisles and faux-stone flooring cost money—money that I'm afraid will need to be recouped by higher grocery prices.
Still, the new place is kind of impressive. Super huge, certainly, so there will be room for a wider variety of culinary choices. I guess they felt a need to compete with the also super huge H-Mart that went it around the corner earlier this year. There's now a fish counter, for example, instead of four feet of freezer, and no doubt much more which I will have to explore another day when I don't need to rush home to a sick mama and baby.
I'll also, I'm sure, discover where things are. I knew the old Market Basket well, having shopped there for years and years: all the way back to when I was dragged along by my mother. I don't remember if it was so far back that I was riding in the cart—I think not. I wonder if Harvey will have any recollection of the old store? I'll have to be sure to tell heroic stories about it, so it lives in his memory as the glorious palace of affordable food that it will always be to me.
Traditionally, December 1st marks the beginning of the regular season of Advent (last Sunday was kind of a preseason game, as I understand it). Increasingly, though, Advent isn't much of a thing these days; so instead December marks the beginning of Christmas itself, the shopping and decorating part of the holiday. Unless of course that already started before the Thanksgiving turkey was even digested.
It's natural to object to the treacly consumer-fest that Christmas has become in the United States. Especially during a holiday that purports to celebrate God's loving presence on earth, it makes sense to want to turn away from the frenzy of desire for a moment, even if that means turning away from traditional celebrations of Christmas. Hey, the Puritans felt the same way all the way back in the 17th century! And you don't have to be Christian to hate American consumer culture, either. For anyone thinking about sustainability and socially responsible living the seasonal shopping frenzy kicked off by "Black Friday" looks pretty terrible.
And yet, I don't think that we should stop buying each other Christmas presents or support Buy Nothing Day. On the contrary, I think that campaigns like that—and apparently AdBusters is now talking about a whole "Buy Nothing Christmas"—are actually a part of the consumer culture that they're reacting against. Because you know, you don't need a break from buying things in December if you haven't been buying things all year long.
Believe it or not, there are people who don't go shopping every weekend (or even every month). Whether it's due to poverty or intentionality (or a happy combination of the two, yay!) many people manage to not buy a whole lot all year round. Rather than ratcheting up an already overwhelming race to consume, then, Christmas provides an opportunity to bust out just a little bit from our non-consumerism and treat loved ones to some special gifts: things that they wanted all year long! And if Black Friday lets us get some good deals, so much the better!
Now, don't think that this means I'm heading to the mall for a carful of designer clothes and consumer electronics. We're having a pretty homemade Christmas here at the squibix household, as is our custom. But not entirely homemade! Even back in the pioneer days our doughty DIY ancestors had to buy things every once and a while, and Christmas is as good a time as any to do it.
In short, don't make Christmas special by not buying things in December: rather try to buy less all year long. Then make your Christmas shopping special, and rejoice in giving thoughtful presents, sometimes homemade but sometimes carefully chosen at select commercial establishments, to your loved ones.
But you can still grump about the terrible Christmas music on the radio.
We hit up Trader Joes this afternoon for a delightful hour of shopping with free money. The plan was to spend the whole $100 on staples, Trader Joes specialties like nuts and smoked salmon, and a few special treats, but in the end spending that much money—even money we didn't earn—was too hard for me. It's just like when we were putting together the gift registry for our wedding: Leah was trying to add items at a range of price points to make sure that everyone could find something they'd be happy to buy for us, but I kept taking things off the list. "No, we don't need another paring knife," I told her, "we already have a perfectly good one!" See, I don't even like spending other peoples' money! Does that mean I'd make a good Republican congressman?
Even with the issues I have as a result of my Scots heritage, we very much enjoyed the expedition. We picked up some fruit and frozen fish and nuts for holiday baking, and a bunch of other things too, counting up how much we were spending all the while. Harvey pushed one of the cute miniature carts they have at that store for a while, and picked out a few items of his own—sliced olives, chocolate bars, all quietly returned to the shelves when he wasn't looking—until he got tired. Then he declined to ride in the big cart, instead preferring to sit in the mini version and have mama push him around, never mind the difficulties this caused to her back. A wonderful time, in other words, was had by all. And since we have about $20 left on the gift card, we get to do it again another time! Thanks, anonymous donor!
The last two times I've been to the grocery store I've gotten into conversations with fellow-shoppers over the red onions. Well, not conversations, really; just brief shared exclamations over the size of the onions DeMoulas Market Basket insists on trying to sell to us. They're really big! So much so that many people are unable to refrain from comment. There actually may be a certain demographic that notices and remarks, now that I think about it: older folks who have been buying onions for fifty years and have a considered opinion about what they should look like. And me, I suppose. I rather enjoy the camaraderie.
And really, who wants a five pound red onion? If you're cutting it to put in a salad or on sandwiches, even a regular-sized onion is more than you want at once. As for cooking, on those rare occasions when I want a red onion instead of the default, regular onion, I expect the replacement to be of a size with what it is replacing. Otherwise my calculations are thrown off! So I don't know what these growers are thinking. They should stop it.
Our local hardware store, the one in which I spent many happy hours as a child shopping for spray paint and parts to build weapons, closed down last fall. It was clearly on its last legs as a business for some time before then, so I suppose it wasn't a huge loss—but still, it was nice to be able to pick up a packet of nails without a major expedition. This week, though, a new store arose from the ashes of the old, kicking aside the dark and dusty remnants of the old premises to emerge and spread its gleaming well-lit white butterfly wings. It's much bigger too, which must be some sort of dimensional trick since I swear there didn't use to be that much room in that building.
In any case, among the more typical hardware supplies the new store also offers clothing—specifically, Carhartt brand work clothes for real workers. I bought a pair of trousers, so (like the store) I have been transformed! There's a hammer in my hammer loop and a tape-measurer hanging from my pocket (well, not right now); I've got some lumber, and I am going to Build Something. Out of Wood. With Nails.
Well, maybe tomorrow anyways. It's a little late to be banging with the hammer.
We finally made it to the mall this evening, and it is indeed true that they are making a movie there. This involves, we find, Christmas decorations, fake vendor carts, and a crew of portly, pony-tailed men in t-shirts and black jeans testing air cannons buried in a giant ball pit. Clearly, a classic film for the ages is in the works! The strangest thing about the scene, Leah and I both felt, was how all that artifice makes you doubt the reality of the world as a whole. There were fake plants and fake marble pedestals, as well as the aforementioned fake vendor carts (complete with dopey looking signs); what else might not be genuine? Is that a real soda machine, or another prop? How about those funny looking people over there: real mall-goers, or movie actors?
"This is probably what people feel like all the time in LA," Leah says.
We were trying to go to the Apple Store, but again we were denied; just as we were approaching the alluring portals there was some sort of alarm within, and we arrived to the site of the motley crowd of Apple personnel escorting would-be customers from the premises. Now there's a crowd with not a single tinge of artifice: the movie execs would never cast crazy looking folks like that as computer salesmen. It just wouldn't be believable.