There is this aisle in every grocery store where you can find all kinds of sugars, flours, baking soda, chocolates, corn starch and these pastel-colored sugary decorations for cakes. Not long ago I referred to it as the mystery aisle. As in I don't bake, am seriously phobic I'll burn down my house, and therefore am just going to skip over this one and pretend I have no idea what's down there aisle. Brownie craving? No problem. I knew just where to find them: toward the front of the store in a fancy little display right next to the fresh-baked chocolate cookies and apple turnovers I never knew I definitely needed.

Then followed the I don't bake period. I had discovered a love for cooking, food, and how fun it was to experiment in the kitchen and come up with something for which people came away asking for a recipe. Cooking? Yes. Baking? [In a cheesy Italian accent] Faaget abaaut it. I wasn't dumb. I knew my limits. Well, mostly. There was that one time I tried deep frying rice noodles and caused a kitchen fire. But I digress. In the IDB period I had overcome my total denial of it's existance, yet continued to avoid it because when I peered in from the threshhold, pretending to be interested in the latest version of Cheerios that was on the end-cap, I could clearly see most women down there knew exactly what they were doing. You know the type. The super-mom with 6 kids in matching, hand-sewn outfits, all of whom manage to behave while grocery shopping? Yeah, that just wasn't going to happen.

My demise began when, not long after we moved to Portland, I began making treats for David's weekly staff meetings. [Sidenote: Not only is this an excellent way to make your husband's employees love him, but it also comes in handy when his boss has a mouth full of sweet teeth.] Lucky for me, we had a stash of flour, sugar, baking soda and salt at the house, in addition to a shelf full of stellar cookbooks. Alas...I eventually ran out of sugar. Drat.

I'm happy to say I have recovered from my baking-aisle phobia and can now enter without intimidation. And those scary ladies? They're actually quite helpful. Did you know it's called The Baking Aisle? Yep, there is an actual name for it. Who knew?

We grocery shop on Monday mornings after we hit the gym because of two reasons: (a) my husband hates grocery shopping, and (b) most people there are moms and retirees. My favorite grocery-shopping crowd. If Emily has a meltdown, it phases no one. They've either been there or are going through it. This morning we hit the baking aisle to pick up some dark chocolate chips for these evil loaded rice crispy treat thingys for David's staff meeting tomorrow. But we also needed marshmallows. Did you know these things come in chocolate, multi-colored, strawberry, plain, large, extra large and mini? That's quite an industry.

I slowed at the front of the aisle, where we usually breeze on by. I looked at Em's face and waited for her to realize where we were. She looks over at the mallows, back at me, back at the mallows, and screams, "TEAPARWEES!" Then, she immediately forces herself to calm down, puts her arm out, palm up, and says, "please Mommy, marmawows for teaparwees?" Of course as soon as I smiled back she let it out: the classic Emily giggle. The kind of giggle that comes with an all-over body wiggle and a smile that reaches to Texas.

What is a tea party without snacks? And lumps for the sugar bowl? She goes all out for teaparties. She invites us and a couple of her stuffed animals, and sits us down. She goes to her dress-up stuff and decorates Daddy with a tiara (which is almost always on backwards), choosing who is going to wear the floppy blue hat and who gets the Pollyanna-ish bonnet with the ribbon in the back [don't worry, honey, after much internal struggle I am choosing not to post the photo]. She pulls out her dishes: a tea pot, sugar bowl and spoon, creamer, napkins, plates, tea cups. She folds the napkins into triangles and hands them out. Then she serves everyone tea, asking them whether they'd like one lump or two of "sugar" (enter: mini mallows), doing likewise with the cream. It's absolutely one of her favorite things. Daddy's too, make no mistake.

So, in a sacrifical-lamb sort of way, I suppose it's good that I overcame my Baking Aisle issues. Because what is a tea party without the marshmallows?


High Maintenance.

There was a time when the only circumstance under which you'd find me in a shop with baskets of plush toys and brightly colored cardboard books was because I had a client whose kiddo was having a hard time with their move, and I was seeking some goodies for a care package.

No, the shops I frequented at that time were of a slightly more grown-up variety. The kind where if a woman entered with her 2 year-old, she received immediate and constant attention. The retailers would nod at one another and slyly follow her around at a 10-foot distance to ascertain whether her child was going to be a bull in their china shop. They were full of pretty, shiny things. Glass and silver, newly polished and openly displayed. Silky collections of clothes and gobs of fabulous shoes.

Since a year ago when Emily began walking, the only circumstance under which you'll find me at one of those pretty, shiny stores is with my 2 year-old strapped in (tightly) to a stroller with plenty of snacks. For instance, I lost my sunglasses less than a month before we went to Hawaii this past May. Just days before our trip I sucked it up: I packed up the stroller with what had to be a pound of goldfish (a sure thing in our house), dried cranberries, water, a powdered juice packet, and the promise of a treat if we survived the excursion. We headed to the sunglass store at Nords where I made sure the attendant overheard my pep talk with Emily about our special treat afterward if she sat in her stroller while Mommy shopped, and went for it. All of a sudden I knew exactly what I wanted, was able to recall in great detail exactly what my lost glasses looked like, and 5 pairs later I was done. I had never found a pair of sunglasses so fast in my life. Not exactly the slow, 'let's try something new and exotic' (before we go back to the same old thing), type of sunglass shopping I had done in the past, but successful nonetheless.

Last week a girlfriend of mine who is roughly 9 months ahead of us kid-wise sent me a text I'll not soon forget: "Wanna do a kid-swap next week?" Seriously, as much as I loved her before, the woman is a genius. A freaking genius. For a week I daydreamed and formulated my plan.

1. Starbucks.
2. Thou shalt not plan anything that can be done [properly] with a 2 year old.
3. If it isn't raining, you will be outside.
4. If it is raining, you will be outside.
5. Thou shalt enter stores with pretty, shiny things, and look back and smile when no one is following you.

So I decided on the only place I could think of that was Amanda-friendly and kid-unfriendly. NW 23rd. If you're familiar with this part of Portland, it requires no explanation. 23rd is a wonderful street of shops and historic homes in the Alphabet District of Northwest Portland, between Burnside and Northrup. There is a Starbucks at one end, Restoration Hardware in-between, and dozens of boutiques along the way. About the only part Emily would enjoy is the bumps in the sidewalk from the old, shady trees.

As romantic as it sounds, I realized why being a stay-at-home-mom is far more affordable than I originally thought it would be. If you don't enter Pottery Barn, you don't buy anything at Pottery Barn. If you aren't invited to view the new bath collection upstairs at Williams Sonoma [A dream, by the way. I'm totally moving in.], you can't buy anything you suddenly can't survive without. I had snatched a great street-side parking spot just a few storefronts down...which came in handy as I had the need to carry my bags to the car after leaving each shop.

In my defense, I texted David as I was spending all his money. He didn't reply, come to think of it, until hours later...but he did come home last night. So I suppose I can toss the receipts, right?