One of my favorite summer activities is shopping with my mom and aunts. Since I was in elementary school, these shopping excursions have taken place almost weekly. Before you get the wrong idea, you must know that although we call them shopping trips and shopping sometimes happens, most of the time it’s all about running errands and eating lunch. And when they do shop, there are no three people more likely to find a great deal and an even better time than Cecile, Kay and Mom.

It just so happens that there was a particular sale at Garden Ridge last Thursday, one featuring patio furniture cushions at 50 percent off. For those of you not familiar with this store, you should know that although it offers a wondrous assortment of items, it is a mecca for outdoor living aficionados.

While I went along more for the opportunity to eat out than shop, I admit that Garden Ridge did tempt me with colored umbrellas, chaise lounges and my favorite lawn ornament of all time: pink flamingos. Pretty soon my cart was filled with flamingos and I was even chatting away with other shoppers as they admired Fred — the four foot flamingo riding in my cart.

As I checked out, I made a few changes to my cart of flamingos. At $52, Fred was not much of a deal, so he was replaced by the smaller, cheaper, but just as cute Fred Jr.

My mom and aunts had just as much luck, having found 14-plus furniture cushions for a steal, one wool rug, three fountains and dozens of other items. Standing with our carts next to the SUV we drove, we realized just how well we had done finding good deals. Our reactions at the amount of stuff we had to cram into our vehicle gave new meaning to “shock and awe.”

“There is no way this will all fit.”

“Maybe we can rent a U-Haul.”

“Don’t worry, it’ll fit. We can sit on the cushions.”

“The cushions could be tied on top.”

“There is no way.”

Optimism won out and we began to load our treasures, learning one important thing: four women cannot agree on the best way to pack. A half an hour later and we had four carts’ worth of stuff crammed inside with room enough for the five passengers to ride safely (notice I said nothing about comfort).

I was feeling pretty successful until I noticed that we still had seven large chair cushions and the rug. We stared at the pile of items, agreeing on one thing: “We’ll have to tie them on top.” I don’t remember who said it first, but that became our plan.

“We’ll need rope or something, won’t we?”

“How about bungee cords?”

“What about one of those net thingies?”

Oh, we were full of ideas. Kay ran back into the store to get something to tie down the cushions. She returned with, of all things, an extension cord.

“This is all they had. But I got it for free!” (Add one 20 foot extension cord to our list of prizes). Once again, four women had their own ideas about how to lash the cushions and the rug to the top of the truck.

The heat and humidity made us miserable and prone to snapping at one another, but we eventually got everything tied down. If you can, visualize this: four chair cushions stacked two by two and covered by a rolled out Oriental rug. The extension cord made a V-shape, starting at one side of the luggage rack, traveling down the back, looping through the trailer hitch and back up to be tied to the other side. It was a lovely arrangement, if only it would work. The best part is that the rug was rolled out “pretty side up.” We drove out of the parking lot looking like gypsies, or maybe the Beverly Hillbillies, or maybe that Magic Carpet Ride at Disney. Whatever we looked like, it was about to get real messy without some help. Two bungee cords later and we were on our way.

Yes, we stopped periodically to check our load. Although there was some initial sliding and necessary readjusting, we made it back home without losing anything but our dignity.

My only regret was that I did not get to buy Fred. He was way too expensive and could never have fit in the van, but he would have looked snazzy riding on top.

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