Beware the Grocery Grumps

I recently passed a woman going into our neighborhood grocery store. She paused at the door and gave herself the sign of the cross.

“Way to go,” I thought, even though I’m not religious.

Now maybe she was praying for someone or something outside the store, but I like to think she was asking for blessings to survive the next hour inside.

I dislike shopping for food, but I have to go since I enjoy eating and cooking (mostly) healthfully. There’s only so much I can forage from the drugstore and the 99 cent stores. I mourned the day when the local CVS stopped selling tomatoes and a few pieces of tired fruit.

I wish I were like my friends who love grocery stores. The more they can peruse in one day, the happier they are. Each one fills a different creative culinary need and evokes visions of exotic dishes THEY ACTUALLY MAKE.

Asian Market in Cleveland taken by my friend Sandy Woodthorpe who loves grocery shopping
Asian Market in Cleveland taken by my friend Sandy Woodthorpe who loves grocery shopping

No such visions for me. There’s something about walking – or I should say squeaky wheeling – my way down the grocery store aisles that sends me into a grumpy coma, the same way I used to feel when looking at sewing or wallpaper catalogues. Alas, farmer’s markets have the same effect. The plethora of colors and shapes blurs together. I know I should be thrilled to find 10 brands of organic kale and 20 kinds of peppers, but my brain goes into hibernation mode. Or is it fight or flight?

I go early to avoid the aisle hogs, the cell phone blabbers and the mothers with screaming children in SEPARATE carts shaped like cars. Once I followed a woman who blocked every aisle. I turned each corner and there she was. When I finally left and was trying to get out of the parking lot, her husband pulled a car in front of the store, blocking the exit for everyone.

Lately I’ve been avoiding the store that is closest to me, only a half block away. It is like a huge dark cavern inside, hard to see, worse, the clerks are like crabby trolls maybe because they see no sunshine. Every few months they get to work rearranging everything. I try to follow the good eating advice – stick to the outer edges of the store. This works for two sides: produce and fish and meat. The third is a bakery with enough bagels and chocolate chip cookies to feed a convention. The fourth contains a Starbucks and Jamba Juice, a bank, a cleaners and a complaint desk. Oh yes, the deli – where you have to yell to get attention, then wait 10 minutes while a sandwich is put together, then be told you have to take it to the checkout line, even though they are standing behind a cash register.

So I usually go to smaller stores, recently checked out a new Haggen, formerly Albertsons. As far as I could tell, nothing had changed except the workers were wearing green instead of blue. Fortunately they are friendly and the store and its parking lot are easy to navigate. I can usually get in and out before the brain fog does too much damage.

I can also survive Sprouts and Trader Joe’s when not crowded. Sprouts is a mini version of Whole Foods with the healthy food but without the exorbitant prices and warehouse interiors. At Sprouts I like the bins of nuts and granola, although scooping them into narrow bags and writing code numbers on plastic ties is a challenge. Also, the cosmetics and vitamin section has that weird smell shared by all health food stores. What is it anyway? Gag me with tea tree oil.

Trader Joe’s takes some getting used to – layout, placement and packaging. Being a writer, I love the way their Fearless Flyer is written and it makes me want to buy several dozen items. Unfortunately, when I get to the store, the coma sets in and I usually get far more – and far different – items than I planned to and have to stagger to the checkout stand, since I didn’t get a big cart. At least the creativity here gives me some pleasure.

I realize I could probably buy many food items online. It just seems so decadent. Yet my grandmother, a great cook, ordered her groceries by phone several times a week. The local market delivered. She NEVER went to the grocery store. In fact, it would have horrified her.

By odd coincidence, her home phone number was one digit off from the store’s. So people were calling all day with their orders. She would yell, “I’m not the grocery store, you idiot!” and bang down the phone receiver.

Maybe it’s genetic.


When the Old New is New Again

It was bound to break eventually. In fact, I’m surprised it hasn’t already – having survived decades of two sons, many visiting children and dogs, a dozen resident cats.

Yes, my grandmother’s Chinese vase she converted into a lamp lies in pieces too numerous to reassemble. My cats took off in the middle of the night, launching themselves off our bed, down the long hallway, into the living room, across the back of the couch – and crash! – onto the side table and into the lamp.

I got up in a hurry. What were they chasing? Nothing I could see.

I’ve heard this crash before and usually it’s the wood-based lamp on the other side of the couch. Also a Chinese antique, but strong enough to survive assaults. No, this time it was the turquoise and coral vase/lamp. I burst into tears, which set the cats running back down the hall in the opposite direction. Since then, I haven’t had the heart to pick up the pieces behind the table in a corner on the floor.

The vase was given to my grandmother by her father, a Scottish sea captain who brought it from China in the late 1800s or early 1900s. After retiring in Scotland, he came to live with her and my grandfather in GranMontreal and her home included many of his Chinese treasures – statues, plaques, screens.

My grandmother was a creative woman who loved to cook, sew and garden. She wrote letters to me that were little gems of poetry. If she were alive today, she’d be a writer or an artist.

She was also modern in her tastes, despite the Chinese antiques. In the 1950s, she redecorated her living room with lime green couches and blond, kidney-shaped tables. She made the housepainter repaint the walls because they weren’t the right shade of pale lime green.

When she and my grandfather followed us out to California in the ’60s, she furnished their tiny apartment overlooking the ocean with Scandinavian teak – clean, simple, elegant lines perfectly suited for their new, smaller home and lifestyle. A nearby store featured ultra modern home accessories and she became one of their favorite customers, buying items from Finnish Marimekko cushions to space-age Danish silver bowls to Swedish crystal glasses.

When she died, a year after my grandfather, my sister and I inherited several of her pieces. I loved the lamps because they fit in with my furniture as my own tastes and budget changed. I also adopted and immediately loved their two matchingmid-century friends Danish modern teak bureaus. My grandparents initially mounted them on their bedroom wall. Talk about streamlined! Then my grandfather added slim legs.

I used them for years in my bedroom and in recent years in my dining room as a side buffet. They too seem to fit in with any décor. My favorite was in front of a wall I painted orange.

Now this look that was once new and is now old is new again. It’s all the rage, mid-century modern. We want to go back in time to a simpler age.

As I scale down in my own life, I want to live with less, distill to the essence. I mourn the passing of 100 years, now in fragments.

I think I’ll move the teak bureaus back into my bedroom, get rid of the rattan monstrosity, and welcome in the modern spirit of my grandmother.