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The day after Christmas...

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While visiting my in-laws in Amish town, Ohio last Christmas, my mother-in-law, Bonnie, my sister-in-law, Edna, and I decided to do a little “day after Christmas shopping.”  Prior to leaving for what I believed would be an hour or so excursion, we compiled a list of essentials needed for that evening’s dinner and dessert. Applewood bacon. Refried beans. And of course, caramel sauce for a traditional dessert in the Phile family, Better Than Sex Cake. The cake is delicious--chocolate cake with a layer of caramel sauce, whipped cream, and topped with bits of Butterfinger candy bars. Prior to marrying into this family, I had never even heard of such a cake, and on this particular day after Christmas, I was still unable say its name with a straight face. Not around my in-laws.
“We can check out the after Christmas sales!” my mother-in-law exclaimed, as the three of us hopped into the car. Of course, I thought. We can buzz right through the remains of the Christmas bows, stale candy canes, and gingerbread houses.
In Ohio, the Amish own and operate salvage stores. Generally, these stores contain name brand items like Starbucks coffee and Rice a Roni for a discounted price. While these stores are fun to browse through, they serve as a scavenger hunt of sorts. You need to check the dates on the items, because purchasing a bag of Doritos for 25 cents and then realizing that the date is “sell by 12/2011” will just leave you out a quarter—unless, of course, you like stale Doritos.
That day the three of us bounced through a few salvage stores, an Amish bakery, and Dunkin Donuts (per my request), before we spent our grand finale at the Middlefield, Ohio Wal-mart. Since we had written a shopping list, I assumed we would quickly grab the items on our said list, stand 15 minutes or fewer in the “20 items or less” line and escape the terror.
Almost immediately, I realized I was mistaken. Just a few steps into Wal-Mart, just past the greeter, the carts, and the bin of half off Christmas candy, I heard Edna exclaim, “Well, Hello, Louise!! Hi Jimmy!!” My dear sister-in-law and mother-in-law then began greeting people, hugging people, and exchanging Christmas greetings as if they were at an actual Christmas party right smack dab in the Wal-Mart entrance. I smiled awkwardly for a minute, and then shyly stepped away to investigate the Christmas clearance items, since checking out the Christmas clearance items was what we had planned.
Five minutes later, sister and mom were still talking. No biggie. I checked my phone. No new calls, texts, emails, or Words with Friends games. I consciously breathed, like I had been taught to do in yoga class. Breathe in hold…for five seconds. Let it out…I browsed the marked down Christmas cards and ornaments. People scattered around me, also interested in the Christmas clearance items, and I smiled politely.
About ten minutes later after the “goodbyes” and “so great to see yous” Bonnie and Edna wandered over to me in the Christmas clearance section. By this time, I had finished browsing and held two small Christmas tins, only .99 each, to vouch for my time. Two minutes later I heard my sister shriek, “Alberta!” and she scuttled over to yet another person of interest in her life. I glanced at our unmarked list and willed myself to be patient and to chill out. I felt borderline panicky, ready to leave.  I knew there wasn’t really a time limit; although at some point we had to go home to make dinner.  I told myself that this shopping trip would not last forever; this was only a test in patience and surviving awkwardness. Yes. And I would ace it.

But the theme continued. Every few steps, Edna saw someone else she knew from her thirty-something years of life and stopped to talk to him, her or them, and I grumbled as I tried to find natural peanut butter, refried beans, and of course, caramel sauce. We had been in Wal-Mart nearly an hour and she could not even walk five steps without stopping.  She needed blinders, like the Amish horses had.
Around three hours later (ok, maybe not that long), we were finally in the check out line with way more than we intended to buy. Everything on the list was finally checked off, and I had written more items on the list, after they had been dropped in our cart, just for the satisfaction of checking them off.
As we placed our refried beans, caramel sauce, and clearance Christmas bows on the conveyer belt, Edna’s cell phone rung. It was my other sister-in-law, Martha.
“Hi!” Edna chirped. “Yes, we are still at Wal-Mart….We need sour cream and vegetable oil for dinner? Yes, we can grab it. Yeah, we are kind of in the check out line, but no worries, we can go back.”
Kind of in the checkout line? I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
I froze when I heard this new information. There was NO WAY we could send Edna BACK into Wal-Mart when we were this close to finished!  My face probably gave away my feelings because then Edna said into her phone, “Actually, we can stop at Giant Eagle on the way home, and Renee can run in. Mom and I will stay in the car. No problem. See you soon. Love you bye.”
Shew. Relief. That was so close. I slowly let out the breath that I had been holding. Realization that I was kind of being a jerk and needed to chill slipped into my thought process.  I wanted to be one of those people who could just go with whatever happened, enjoy the journey, and not always fixate on the end goal. By this point in my life I should have known that “things” never go as planned, even when, especially when, I made shopping lists and went to Wal-Mart the day after Christmas with my sister and mother.
I started laughing. “What’s so funny, Renee?” Edna asked. “Are you thinking about Better than Sex cake?”
“Yeah, that’s exactly it.” I chuckled. Suddenly, everything about this shopping trip from the “Hi Bob and Marys!” to the half off Christmas lights, to the caramel sauce for the cake, was just hilarious.
We stopped at Giant Eagle on the way home for the sour cream and vegetable oil, and to PROVE that I had changed my attitude, I said, “Edna, you just run in. Mom and I can stay in the car.”
“No, you run in, Renee. It will be quicker,” mom said. Oh yes it will be, I thought, and run into the store I did, and was out within four minutes (but who’s counting? Oh, just me). Back at my in law’s house that evening we cooked a delicious dinner of tacos, rice, and beans and yes, Better than Sex cake, and all was good and fun.
See, everything turned out just fine, and I lived to write about it. I may not have aced the patience test, but I at least got around a B- or C+; plus I said “Better than Sex cake” without smirking. I’m making progress, one day after Christmas in Amish town Ohio Wal-mart shopping trip at a time.

Now, where’s that cake?
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