In which Trader Joe’s and I bury the hatchet

In the interest of full disclosure, when Trader Joe’s first came to the old home state, I was indifferent at best. And then I shopped there a few times, found it organized in a way that didn’t make sense to me, not much better price-wise than the regular grocery stores, and generally overwhelming and my indifference turned to animosity. That people who didn’t live near a Trader Joe’s would send grocery lists with friends who would be traveling past one blew my mind.

Also, when I found out one July that the chocolate truffles are seasonal and that season is winter, I almost punched a kitten in the face.

So for many years I have loathed Trader Joe’s and saw no reason to change my mind on this.

Then we moved to Virginia and the Trader Joe’s (Traders Joe’s?) abound(s?). I found myself slipping into the Old Town location now and then, for the wine, and always under duress. The place frustrated me with its big, bubbly signage that is hard to read, its constant rearranging of products, and the stupid conveyor belt-less check out lanes. Plus, the orchids are by the dog food…what? Why? What?

And so I bought our wine there and continued to hate it.

But then I noticed that flowers were a good price, a better price than our corner Safeway. And nicer looking. Target, where I do 94% of all my shopping, doesn’t carry flowers. Well, maybe I could stand to get a bunch of tulips when I come for wine.

And then I started to host one of my book clubs more often, and the cheese and cracker options at Trader Joe’s really were second to none, and decently priced and without the additives and preservatives in my standard Target choices. Well, since I’m already stopping in for wine and flowers, I may as well get cheese and crackers, too.

Soon I was buying all of our wine, flowers, cheese, and most crackers at Trader Joe’s. On a semi-weekly basis. And we eat a lot of cheese.

Then I realized that .19 cents per banana really is a deal, and those were often in our cart when we checked out. Then so was the broccoli. And then the coffee.

Still, I would have called my relationship with Trader Joe’s cordial, but not friendly. Not even the cookie butter had swung the pendulum as far as friendly.

The staff at our Trader Joe’s is kind, and each time we go in, the little oyster is greeted with smiles and pinches and happy chatter. I soon realized that these people are happy to be there and they love to see a jolly little girl roll in, applauding other shoppers and dancing along with the music that is always playing. More than once we’ve been in an aisle minding our own business and heard, “There she is!” as one employee brings another to meet “the cutest baby you’ve ever seen.”

It has certainly seemed for some time like Trader Joe’s wanted to be friends with us. But I wasn’t willing. Mostly because it’s always crowded no matter what time of day we go, they still use that stupid bubbly, colorful signage that makes my brain twitch, and the dumb cash registers! I can’t see what my kid is doing, find my ID for the wine, make pleasant conversation back at you, put the nice paper bags into my cart, and still remember to pay!

I figured that Trader Joe’s and I would always be on speaking terms, but never truly friends. We’d be those classmates who go to school together for 13 years, don’t mind working together in chem lab, but would never end up at the same lunch table, much less each other’s houses. But after months of dancing around the subject of whether or not we could really become friends, something happened today that settled the debate for good and in the affirmative.

Today I discovered that Trader Joe’s sells milk for $2.99/gallon.

You know what, Trader Joe’s? You can put your orchids and dog food wherever you want, I’m just going to help myself to a few of your $2.99 gallons of milk, move my flowers and wine and cheese in the cart to make room for them, and be on my way. Good buddy.

Floating on my cloud of new friendship with the place, the oyster and I checked out at one of the lanes quaintly named after the picturesque streets of Old Town. And suddenly the no-conveyor-belt thing didn’t annoy me so much. What’s the point, really? Who needs a conveyor belt? You just hang on to my bags on that side of the counter until after I have paid you and have room for them in my cart and we’ll be golden. No harm, no foul, no petty larceny. Ahh, my friends.

Also, our cashier today pointed out the prominent bite marks on the cheese he was ringing up and asked if they were from my shopping companion or if I would like to choose a new piece of cheese. No no, said I, we broke it, we bought it.

Also, our cashier today pointed out the prominent bite marks on the cheese he was ringing up and asked if they were from my shopping companion or if I would like to choose a new piece of cheese. No no, said I, we broke it, we bought it.


The oyster and I got our parking slip stamped (oh yeah, our Trader Joe’s and its parking lot are half-way underground because that’s the only place left to put anything around here) and waved at other departing patrons–my sisters! my brothers!–as we gamboled back to our car.

One thought about my new friend still niggled in the back of my mind. The signage. The unreadable signage. Trader Joe’s signs are like a unibrow. I know that other people find it quirky and endearing. I find it puzzling, hard to look at, and not something I’d ever go for. But what I call difficult to understand, someone else would call a style choice.  And on a friend, like my new friend Trader Joe’s, I can respect a style choice. Especially when my friend sells me milk for $2.99 a gallon.

I’m so glad we’re friends now, Trader Joe’s. Unibrow signs and all.


A credit union, a flower, and six strangers


Her favorite “toy” in the kitchen is the box of garbage bags. She likes the sound it makes when
she pops the cardboard “lid” in and out of the box. Preferences.


One of the most exciting and most humbling parts of being a parent is realizing, usually a little more each day, that this tiny person I’m taking care of isn’t just a baby, she’s another person. A whole, complete person and that means she has a personality and preferences of her own. It’s cool to see and like I said, humbling. I think the earlier parents learn that our kids do and will have their own preferences that may not be the same or even similar to ours, the less hurt and offended and frustrated we’ll be as those preferences and personalities develop and gain mass. Helping these little people do just that is part of the whole idea, after all.

Yesterday the little oyster and I went to Old Town with the little sister. We were heading for the used book store on King St. and the little sister had to stop at the credit union. She dashed inside and the little oyster and I sat down on the edge of a large cement planter in a courtyard. Planted behind us was a colorful tangle of little flowers. Tiny white, pink, and yellow blooms were cuddled up with vibrant greenery, each delicate petal and leaf swaying gently in the light breeze.

I love flowers. I love to look at them and take in the colors and decide which blossom I think is the prettiest and which one is the most tenacious and which one I’d want to live in if I were Thumbelina and there were no such thing as ants. I like watching the wind move things. So I faced the little oyster toward the planter and pointed out the different colors. “Flower, baby girl.” “Yellow.” “Petals.” “Bumble bee.” The oyster watched the flowers quietly until a city bus drove by behind us and she craned her little neck over my shoulder to see what she was missing.

I turned us both around to face the street. As the bus chugged by the little oyster squealed with delight. A tall gentleman walked past wearing sunglasses, a messenger bag over his shoulder. The little oyster waved frantically at him and when he smiled, waved back, and greeted her with a “Hello, little girl!” she applauded. As he went into the building she looked for someone else to “talk” to. An older man dressed in gym shorts and a shirt that didn’t match shuffled by. The oyster waved both hands at him and chirped when he paused to wave both hands at her. A woman on a cell phone–smile and wave–delight on both their faces. Six strangers walked by between the time we turned toward the street and when the little sister came of the credit union. Six strangers in my estimation, six new best friends if we ask the little oyster.

By no means is anyone required to acknowledge my sweet baby when we’re out and about, but she’ll do her best to get you to. When we shop, she leans out of the cart and around displays when she hears people talking so she can see them and wave. She grins, her little eyes squinted up like an anime drawing and all six teeth showing, when someone walks by. Sometimes people see her and greet her and she claps for them. Sometimes they walk by unaware of the beaming little face shooting silent friendship rays at them. I make it a point to look people in the eye and smile at them when we pass, but I don’t seek them out the way the little oyster does. I was grabbing a box of Milk Bones off the shelf at Target the other day when a repetitive motion coming from my cart caught the attention of the only other shopper in the aisle. The oyster was bobbing her head like a turkey, staring down the other dog owner. When the lady smiled at the oyster and told her she was such a happy little baby, the oyster let out an ear-splitting shriek of sheer delight. Hear that, Mom? She likes me! We’re friends! I made another friend!

The little oyster is like her dad in this regard. Less shrieking on his part, but the outgoing, “How about those Nats, where are you from, I’ve been there before, let’s get a drink” is the same. You expect big personality from big people, but a lot of people see babies and figure they’re all the same, they’re all “just babies.” Sure they’re babies, but babies are wee people and their personalities may come in earlier than their teeth. I will be a better mom if I learn early and often that my daughter may prefer to watch traffic and wave at strangers instead of stopping to smell the petunias. That’s fine, the bees were getting too close for comfort anyway.