posts tagged with 'shopping'

we need more bicycles

With Harvey and I doing lots of off-road cycling, and a few of our friends into it too, Zion started to think he'd like to join us. Only he needed to upgrade his bicycle: the bike he's been riding is heavy and its 20-inch wheels aren't really enough for rocks and roots on the trail—and worse, while it's ostensibly a 7-speed it's impossible for Zion to shift. So we started looking for a new bike for him. Actually a new one, unlike every other bike he's ever owned; not having paid money for a bike since 2005, we thought the budget could stretch as far as a good mountain bike for our beloved middle child. Only then it turned out that 24-inch bikes are another unobtainable pandemic shortage item. After many hours of searching, though, we found a bike available at REI, placed the order, and rejoiced that soon three Archibalds would be hitting the trails together! Then the next day Harvey broke his derailleur hanger.

Ordinarily that wouldn't put his bike out of commission for long; after all, derailleur hangers are meant to break and be replaceable. In order to make it happen quickly we brought it in to the bike shop to ask them to do the repairs (he also needed new shift cable housings). Sadly, the bike shop was not at all helpful. Since the bike is so old (2005, actually; see above) they suggested that the part needed would not be able to be located; and they further suggested that a bike of this vintage would be better scrapped and replaced entirely. That may work for the rich folks who come in to look at the four-figure road bikes they stock, but not so much for us. We're savers, and repairers! We don't need new bikes! Except for the one we had ordered for Zion. But then, after some discussion, we decided that since Harvey is the one who's already been putting in hours riding he deserved a new bike of his own. Extra-small adult bikes are much less scarce than kids' bikes (at least to someone with Leah's exceptional online shopping skills) so we no sooner made the decision than the order was placed.

It was exciting. We kept looking at the pictures of the bikes. And waiting. All this happened twelve to eight days ago, and we still have no new bicycles. It turns out "in stock" means that the pieces of the machine exist in a warehouse somewhere in the United States, but we find it takes some time for said pieces to be shipped to a store and put together into something a person could ride. The anticipation is hard, and even harder is not riding all this time; this must be the first time Harvey's gone a week without getting on a bike since he first learned to ride, about half his lifetime ago. And the weather's been so perfect! The worst part is, neither company gave us anything like a firm date that we could expect the bike to be available, so there's a new disappointment every day. But it can't be long now!

During the waiting period—and technically we're also still waiting for the bike shop to call with a quote for fixing Harvey's older bike, which they said they would do if they could locate the part—I did some research online into bike maintenance and repairs that we could do at home. And it didn't take long for me to locate the amazing resource that is derailleurhanger.com, and once there to locate the part we need. So now the plan is to fix the old bike ourselves. Then we'll have a backup, which is comforting: I don't ever want Harvey to be bikeless like this again!

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everyday outings again?

It's been a long time since we went on an outing that wasn't an adventure in the great outdoors. In former days we used to go shopping, visit playgrounds, and spend lots of time at the library. Oh the library! How we miss it! Well, the library is still closed but the playground has reopened, and kids aren't barred from stores any longer, so yesterday we took a trip to the center of town just like old times. One difference, of course, was that Elijah rode his own bike: up the hill for the first time! We played on the playground for good long time before doing a little shopping at Whole Foods and Marshalls (for shorts: two out of three boys had holes in the ones they were wearing on the trip). When we got back Mama asked the kids what it was like going into a store for the first time in four months; pretty much regular, they said. It still feels kind of like a milestone.

Another milestone was returning (almost) the last of the library books we checked out back in March. While they're not letting us in, the library is now open for curbside pickup, so the book drop is back in action as well and they're sending us overdue notices for the books we've had for four months. It felt strange looking through them as we bagged them up to take back: we've read some of them so many times it felt like we owned them, while others, read once back in March, reminded us of how much time has passed since all this started. We used to go to the library at least once every week, often twice! We miss it. I'm psyching myself up to use the online catalogue and put in an order for pickup, but that's just not how I want to find books. We really want is to be able to browse the shelves again! The town just cancelled all town activities through the end of the year, so it doesn't look good for that. We're ready when they are.

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strange pandemic shortages

With the Covid 19 and all we figured we wouldn't be getting out to pick berries this year, so we want to make sure we're taking good care of the ones we're growing here. And after all the strawberries got eaten by an animal that got through the netting, we want to make sure the blueberries are protected! I've never netted them before, but since the pandemic has also given me lots of time for gardening they're doing better than ever, with lots of fat almost-ripe berries that are apparently very tempting for squirrels, chipmunks, and robins. A few days ago I built a frame to put netting on, but our supply didn't quite cover it and on Sunday I headed out to the hardware store to buy some more, plus some chicken wire to run around the bottom for extra security. They didn't have either—no chicken wire or bird netting of any size. OK... today I went to Home Depot, where I was sure to find at least chicken wire. Nope: they were cleared out of both items as well, plus pressure-treated 2x4s, the other thing I wanted to buy.

The flour shortage I can understand, and the toilet paper thing has been explained to me in a way that I suppose makes sense. And both of those supply chains are pretty much back to normal now anyway (except that Market Basket has mysteriously stopped stocking whole wheat flour or bread flour, boo). Now I guess everyone is gardening? It seems strange to me, but I suppose it shouldn't be unremarkable that other people have planted berries and, I guess, started raising chickens for the first time? And the hardware stores didn't anticipate this? Whatever reason it's happening, I hope the supply gets sorted out soon because I hate seeing all those almost-ripe berries disappearing! Plus the frame looks pretty dumb with the netting stopping three feet short of the ground...

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varying protocols

I had to go to the grocery store yesterday. Since the last time I was there they've taken down the markers for lining up outside; there was someone at the door ostensibly counting to control the numbers in the store, but it was pretty crowded regardless. I don't know if he was actually paying attention. Stocking levels were pretty much back to normal too. But at least everyone in the store was wearing masks. Still, it was clear that people aren't all taking the disease threat with the same degree of seriousness. As I was putting the bags in the car I noticed one shopper disinfecting her door handles before taking off her gloves, in what was clearly a practiced and well-thought-out maneuver. Then I saw someone else coming out of the store and immediately taking off his mask; when he needed to reach into his pocket for his keys he just held his mask in his mouth to give himself a free hand. So there was that too.

My own practice was in between those two extremes. Stay safe, everybody!

food security

As I mentioned yesterday, on Saturday we drove an hour away to pick up some flour (and go to the beach, of course). That's kind of crazy, I know. But here's how it happened.

First of all, we're not hoarding. The boys and I went to Costco back in the first week of March, and I deliberately didn't buy toilet paper. We had plenty! But the reason I was there was to buy flour—we usually buy our all-purpose flour at Costco, at a rate of 25lbs every month and a half or so. Maybe more frequently. Well, on that trip they were out. And a few days later Leah made it to Market Basket to find they only had one 5lb bag of King Arthur AP flour left. The pandemic hadn't even really started yet and our supplies were running low!

And that's just the all-purpose flour: there was a separate crisis in whole wheat flour stocks at Market Basket that predated the pandemic, so I was already feeling nervous about that. My one Market Basket trip of the pandemic time—alone! So strange going without the kids!—netted us 15 pounds of AP flour and 10 of bread flour, but once again no whole wheat. Last week's bread used up the last couple cups and was still whiter than we'd like, and the pancakes with all white flour were definitely not as good as we're used to. It was ever on my mind, which is why Leah mentioned it to her cousin (her mom's cousin, really) on the phone last week. Well, people in Leah's family get things done, which is why on Saturday we found ourselves driving down to the South Shore to pick up 30 pounds of whole wheat flour (plus some brown sugar for good measure).

So baking here continues apace. There's bread! There's cookies! Good pancakes! Of course, now the next worry is the AP flour again. It's really stressful not being able to run out to the store, and not being able to trust the store will have what you need. And we're down to four rolls of toilet paper left in the basement...

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a tale of two grocers

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.

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it's not fun, it's LexFun!

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."
"More bridges?"
"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.

the big score

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.

so happy!

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."

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shopping adventuring

Harvey in a modernist kids chair, Zion waiting his turn

as fun as a playground

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.

Zion on a mattress under a low lofted kids bed

a favorite spot for kids

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.

Zion lying on a bed with flowered sheets

even comfier

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.

Zion putting his new pillow into the shopping cart

it was too heavy to carry

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.

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IKEA

Harvey under a lofted kiddy bed

he wants a cave like this at home

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:

Harvey on a sheepskin

more fuzzy?

Or this rug display:

Harvey on a rug display

just getting tired now...

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:

the food at ikea

a cheap feast

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.

Harvey in the car with his ice cream

good times!

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the end of an era

the old Burlington Market Basket at night

shining brightly no more

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.

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