Down the IKEA Rabbit Hole

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Miles run today: 3

Unnecessary items purchased at IKEA: 4

Scary moments we were sure we were lost in IKEA forever: 12

“I’m just telling you right now that I don’t approve of this kind of furniture,” my husband said as we approached IKEA yesterday for the very first time. 

“Got it.”

“Really. I’m not interested in expensive things we feel pressured to buy.”

“OK. I completely understand.”

I didn’t mention that IKEA is known for being low-cost or that I wasn’t looking to purchase any furniture. We had dropped the kids off with my mom a couple of hours earlier and were making the drive back home. We now had wide swaths of free time at our disposal. We could wander around the side of the road for hours. Or peruse convenience store shelves without hurrying back to the car. The free time was problematic. Had there been a time when we did stuff and had free time? I couldn’t remember. Back when we may have had free time, I wore black a lot and went out for coffee to talk about Big Things. But what those things were, I’m not really sure.

Now, heading towards IKEA, I was looking for An Adventure. And come on, people: IKEA has an entire boulevard named after it. A boulevard!

We followed large groups upstairs, a route we were directed to follow without question. There were yellow bags and carts at the start of the route, but my husband walked past them with his nose in the air. “Ha. They think they can make us buy something,” he said. Two seconds later: “Oooh. Yes. We need a vase like this. Seventy-nine cents? What? I thought this place was expensive. Think about all the flowers we could put in a vase like this.”

IKEA is like a grown-up, pre-fab Disney World of home stores. There are bright lights and circuitous pathways and maps and things for sale everywhere. Everywhere.

And they have all these nifty things that I am sure would make my life better. I wasn’t even sure I needed a pasta serving scoopy thingie. But I became convinced. It was so shiny, and just the right length, and I’m positive I had been thinking I needed one for the past 15 years.

We became mesmerized by a giant canvas world map that had lots of countries that didn’t exist when we were learning geography back in high school. Azerbaijan! Turkmenistan! Slovenia! 

We picked up 100 tea lights for our dining room table and carried them all over the massive second floor, though every twist and turn, past every corner that did not contain a bathroom, which was what my husband was seeking… desperately. The route through the upstairs became daunting. With every new vase, every granite countertop, every metal chair, my husband became increasingly concerned.

“Are you sure we haven’t already been here?”

“Well, there’s new stuff,” I said, dubiously. “I mean, we haven’t seen outdoor chairs before. Or desks and filing cabinets.”

“But we haven’t gone upstairs or downstairs. How big is this place? Is there an exit? Can you imagine if I had to drop you off at the front door to run in for one little thing? I’d never see you again! I would have to… skip dinner.”

Skipping dinner is my husband’s worst nightmare.

I was becoming certain that I should throw away everything in our house and start from scratch only with items from IKEA. Our chipped plates? Replace them with white plates from IKEA that come in packages of four for roughly 33 cents each, or something equally ridiculous. I now needed a water pitcher and large packages of Swedish faux Tupperware and even mangy-looking faux Tempur-Pedic pillows. It would be so easy to haul it all out to my car and send all of our current items to Goodwill so Mackelmore and his friends could pop some more tags.

As we emerged into the cafe area after what felt like an entire day of following twisty paths, my husband dashed for the restroom as I pondered a birdie-patterned plastic tray. I knew I could use a birdie plastic tray like nobody’s business.

We wandered some more, through aisles piled high with self-serve furniture, whatever that was. At the checkout, my husband wandered off again, and I discovered Lingonberry Preserves. I had been waiting my entire life for Lingonberry Preserves. Lingonberries have not even been invented where I live, and they are probably the best thing I’ve ever tasted.

So I bought two jars, along with the tea lights and pasta scoopy thingie. My husband raised his eyebrow at me, but I’m sure he’ll soon discover that lingonberries are the thing he has been missing his entire life. 

Our adventure did two things: it made me realize that there was a time when we used to spend time together, just wandering, and that we have probably managed to stay financially solvent because our children have prevented us from visiting IKEA. Thanks, kids. 

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New Shoes and Friendship

An old building near our house with a sheltering tree.

Miles run yesterday: 4.5

Chapters revised in my novel so far: 6

Times I had to listen to Paolo Nutini’s “New Shoes” for this post: 4

“Hey, I put some new shoes on, and suddenly everything’s right.”–Paolo Nutini

You would not believe the amazing boots my best friend brought me today. She bought them for a penny.

Just between you and me, I may have a shoe problem.

But I have always been very, very fortunate in the friendship department.

When I was young, I was a girly girl. My 4-year-old dress habit had introduced a dress trend in the preschool set. All the moms who couldn’t get their girls to wear dresses in the past were thrilled.

And one does not wear dresses with laced shoes; dresses certainly don’t belong with tennis shoes. My shoes had buckles.

So when skill tests made the rounds in kindergarten, I passed all of them with flying colors: telephone number, parents’ names, address, cutting with scissors… all except the Shoe Tying test. When we were sitting in Circle Time, I held paper phones, paper houses, paper scissors… and the other kids held paper shoes. With ties. I ignored them.

My mom couldn’t figure out why I kept asking for buckle shoes. When she discovered the reason, she went right out and bought me shoes with ties.

I was devastated.

But I had a secret weapon: my best friend in kindergarten whose middle name, she had told me, was “Bing Bong.” I found this fascinating.

Every day after naptime, I asked her to tie my shoes for me. She did, for many weeks. And then, one day, she said, “Why don’t you tie them yourself?” And then she tore the ears off of my favorite, miniature, blue rubber rabbit. And we weren’t the best of friends after that.

I am still thankful for her shoe tying skills and for the way she encouraged me to be independent.

In college, my best friend was one of the smartest, most well-read people I’ve ever met. She could remember conversations verbatim, and when I cried on her shoulder for the fiftieth night in a row about the same boy, she never once said, “He’s a horrible, no-good idiot.”

She also put up with an awful lot of talk about shoes. When you walk miles and miles around campus and up to Franklin Street and back to the dorm and then out on the town again, you have to have shoes that go the distance.

One Halloween, I had bought nifty black shoes (with ties!) that had a cool, hip granny vibe about them. We dressed up as black eyed peas (before the music group existed) and joined the throngs of people showing off their costumes at the big Halloween celebration downtown.

Me: My shoes are getting ruined! Look at them.

Her: We can clean them off later.

Me: They won’t clean off. They won’t. Maybe I should just stop walking.

Her: Stop walking, and we’re sleeping in the street. Is that what you want?

There was an element of tough love in our relationship.

And she saw me through very many pairs of shoes; shoes with soles that had been walked right through, and new ones that we exclaimed over together. Sometimes, because of our shared interests and big, curly hair, we looked similar from our heads right down to our toes.

People would say, “Are you two sisters? You look so similar!”

And she would reply, “Yes. I’m the pretty one.”

I will never forget when I was going for my first job with a salary, and I was unsure whether I had a chance at getting it.

She looked me straight in the eye and said, “They would be fools not to hire you. There’s no doubt in my mind that you’ll get it.”

And I did.

Yesterday, I went out for lunch and a quick shop with my BFF. She may have a bigger shoe problem than I do, but don’t tell her I said that.

We are bound together by the excitement about new running shoes, new boots, the joy of wearing rain boots in the puddles.

While we were shopping, I found a pair of lace-up (!) black boots with faux fur that had been $220 and were reduced to $33.

I carried them around the store and then put them back. I didn’t need the guilt.

“I could get them for you for Christmas! I don’t have any ideas!” she said.

“Please don’t, it’s fine. Really.”

Today, she showed up on my doorstep with a hug, a card and The Boots. When she drove back to the store and went to the register, they rang them up and charged her a penny because they were out on the floor in error.

A penny.

I told her she was the luckiest person I knew.

But really, I know I’m the lucky one to have such a good friend, one who never has to buy or give me another thing to make me feel rich. My life has been blessed by all of the friends who have changed me… for good.

El Traje de Bano

She is fortunate she does not have to shop for el traje de bano.

Words written in my novel so far: 25,398

Miles run today: 4.5 (in the rain! Heaven!)

Bathing suits bought yesterday: 0

I remember sitting in the Language Labs at college, playing and rewinding conversations in Spanish. On a tape deck.

“Cualeselnombredesuperro?” “Jose.”

Csudfdosaugfoisdgjkinagoinsdoisdfogoisagjosd.

“Cualeselnombredesuperro?” “Jose.”

And rewind again.

See, the problem was not that I was horrible at Spanish, but that the people talked so darn fast. Speedy Gonzales fast.

And my brain needs some processing time, muchacha. Even in English.

I had taken Latin in high school, and I remember it to this day. I remember a lot of Spanish words, too. Just not strung together, like in a cohesive sentence.

My Spanish I grad student teacher had a big head, long dark hair in a ponytail and a serious manner. She couldn’t have been more than eight years older than I, but the gulf between us felt insurmountable. It was clear she had been too busy speaking Spanish and writing dissertations to join the rest of us in the 1990s.

The fact that twenty-five real live people sat in her classroom each Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 8 a.m. seemed to surprise her each time. She spoke the real Spanish Spanish, none of that foolish Mexican stuff for her. So each “denada” morphed into “thaynathah.” It was very proper, but I couldn’t help feeling like I’d developed a lisp.

One day, a few weeks into class, we got to study something I could wrap my head around: la playa (the beach). The textbook had lots of children’s storybook illustrations of sand and sun and buckets and towels. I was in my element.

After our teacher introduced us to these fun, new beach words, she arrived at our next class with a box of beachy things. She attempted to overcome her schoolmarm rep by jumping into the room with a beach ball and shouting, “Pelota de playa!” and tossing it at an unsuspecting boy. She pulled out all sorts of la playa-ready items: a beach towel, sunscreen, a bucket and shovel… and passed them around the room, with each of us repeating the Spanish words aloud.

And then she pulled out a bathing suit.

“El traje de bano!” she shouted.

We all sat in horror as she passed the bathing suit to the boy in the first row. “El traje de bano,” he muttered, trying not to touch it too much as he shuttled it down the row.

The boys held it gingerly by one strap, tossing it like a hot potato, but I was fascinated. Did they really make bathing suits with busts that big? Without exaggeration, my bikini top could have fit into the bust of that suit seven times over.

It was mesmerizing.

As the suit got passed to me, I marveled over the almost-steel-plated bra part of her traje de bano. It could serve as a bullet-proof vest in a pinch.

Fast forward to yesterday.

My kids were fighting, and I was done, done, done with the mediation. Punishment: no pool. And: they had to go shopping with me. At the mall. For bathing suits. Because, as every good shopper knows, this is the time to get a whale of a deal on bathing suits.

So we headed to the department store bathing suit area.

You can now start calling me a Tweener, because here were the two types of suits: El traje de banos that are too matronly for my 84-year-old grandmother, and bikinis that only pretend to cover parts I’ve managed to keep private, lo these many years.

There was angst. There were suits examined in M, L, even XL. The XL ones appeared to have no more actual fabric than the M ones, just a band that stretched farther in a horizontal fashion. Do they think people who require an XL bikini bottom have three foot hips and no bum? I am mightily confused.

My kids stood outside the dressing room, and I emerged to find them inside a rounder of beach cover-ups. I wanted to join them.

We were much more successful at the LEGO store.

All of the LEGO figures were wearing more fabric than a traje de bano.

Conclusion: I will require more traje de bano fabric if I buy a 50-percent-off bikini roughly the cost of completing three freelance articles. I shepherd dos ninos to la piscina each day… help a Midlife Tweener out, el traje de bano designers!