Lessons Learned from Ana’s Birthday Presents

We traveled up to NJ this weekend to christen Ana’s 27th year of life and have a nice Father’s Day grill on the Mendes family’s new deck. Other highlights from the weekend: We saw the movie “Saved!” (in which Macaulay Culkin plays a cripple, which alone makes the movie delightful), I beat Petey Piranha on Super Mario Sunshine (a mercenary mission, I should add, that I was issued from the triplets), and Portugal beat Spain in the European Cup to make it to the quarter-finals. However, it was on the quest for Ana’s gifts that I made my most useful (and disturbing) discoveries.

1. Storehouse kicks Pottery Barn’s ass
For months now, I’ve been angling to buy a nice queen-size wooden bed frame–ideally in time for Ana’s birthday on June 20, effectively killing two birds with one piece of wood. Yet no matter how many furniture stores I went to, nothing was perfect. The frames from places like Restoration Hardware were nice, but criminally expensive and imperfectly made (faux-wood veneers, plywood boards in the non-visible portions). Ikea was–well, Ikea (semi-stylish and practically free, but cheaply made and Scandinavian). Antique auctions seemed promising, but the few I went to didn’t pan out and I couldn’t invest the time commitment to go to more. Penn Forsale (both the newsgroup and the message board) and Craig’s list were also, in turn, promising and disappointing. So, I was thrilled when, on our way to the wedding invite lady, we stopped into Storehouse, a furniture store in Bryn Mawr. The pieces were all handmade, incredibly high quality, and priced right smack between Ikea and Pottery Barn. A bonus: The shipping charge is a moderate $85 for anything under $2,500. We found ourselves suddenly in need of just about every furniture option in the store: console tables, sofa chairs, china cabinets. We settled on an $899 bed frame, for which we got an additional 10% off by signing up for a credit card. Remarkably, the price ended up being $100 less than the cheapest bed I saw at Costco!

2. If you’re scouting restaurants in Jersey, check out The Artful Diner.
When we decided to go to Jersey for Ana’s bday/Father’s Day, we knew it meant sacrificing our plan for a fancy birthday dinner in Philly. Still, I didn’t want to scrap the idea entirely. I set out to research restaurants in North Jersey, but with Zagats now a pay website and little help from ana’s brother, it was proving impossible to find something classier than Benihana’s. Then http://www.artfuldiner.com graced my Google search. The website is run by the food critic for New Jersey Online. His reviews are often lengthy–and, sure, there’s a little mental masturbation going on–but by and large his comments are exceptionally helpful. Thanks to the A.D., I was able to treat Ana to one of the finest meals I’ve ever had in the Garden State, a three-course Prixe Fixe at the Stage House Inn, in Scotch Plains.

3. I need to stop accompanying Ana to shoe stores.
The reason? I’m getting too damn good at shoe shopping. Sickeningly good at it. To explain: For Ana’s final bday gift, I picked out a pair of red Mary Jane-like flats at Macy’s, which I thought Ana might like, given past browsing history (and I had a fat coupon, which didnt hurt). Still, she’s way picky about shoes, and went on three fruitless shopping expeditions this weekend, so I wasn’t optimistic. Suffice it to say that I was shocked when she declared, “yeah, these are just right.” For a second, I gloated over how astute a women’s shoe shopper I’d become. But then the buyer’s euphoria wore off and I just felt pathetic. When did I start caring about women’s shoes? Hell, when did I start caring about men’s shoes.