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  1. Please allow me to chronicle for you my quest for a simple patio umbrella over the last week. Let me start by saying that we in this household are not a patio umbrella people. We simply lack the discipline to care for an umbrella properly - taking it inside during inclement weather, remembering to fold it up, etc. Not to mention that patio umbrellas are expensive. It always seems to me they cost about 5 times what I think they should. For instance, we recently purchased a new patio table and chairs. The cost of our table and six chairs to go around it? Under $300. The cost of the coordinating umbrella? $160! Crazy! But the scorching heat bouncing off our concrete patio during July and August renders our patio worthless until the sun goes down, and I always find myself wishing that we had caved in and bought one by the end of the summer.

    As luck would have it, a popular home decorating store has been running advertisements for an outdoor furniture sale - featuring patio umbrellas for the low, low price of $29.99! Unbelievable! At that price, it's practically disposable, so who cares if we wreck it in the first season! The downside - said store is hardly in my neck of the woods, so it's going to cost me $15 in gas to make the drive over there. Oh well, $45 is a lot cheaper than $160, so it's still totally worth it!

    Attempt #1: I arrive at Garden Ridge on Day 2 of the sale and enter the door to find an array of umbrellas in every color! I'm so excited, I can't wait to purchase my very first patio umbrella! I picture myself on a hot summer's day, sipping a fruity beverage under the comfortable shade of my sporty new umbrella...... After reviewing all my options (wood or plastic? tilt or no tilt?) and weighing the multitude of color choices against the palette of my flower beds and the house's siding, I settle on the kicky multicolor striped umbrella. Chic! Hip! I get it home and tear the bag open with my three year old son Logan dancing all around me to find........a 4 foot tall umbrella with a 7 foot diameter?? How is this supposed to work? Unfamiliar with the ins and outs of umbrella shopping, I consider that perhaps the pole is an implement purchased separately from the umbrella part. I consult my mother.

    Mom: "Well, I suppose that could be..." (Obviously I am not descended from a line of umbrella people either) "...but maybe you should call to be sure."

    I call up the store, (whose number is not conveniently located on the store receipt and which I had to find by using 411 at an additional charge) and get a sales person on the other line who seems genuinely surprised that my umbrella did not come with a pole, and invites me to simply return to the store for an exchange.


    Attempt #2: Another $15 in gas finds me the following day perusing my decidedly reduced umbrella options. Gone are the flashy multicolor striped umbrellas. In fact, gone are about 50% of the poles to any of the umbrellas. (Now that I am a savvy umbrella shopper, it is the first thing I look for. Where are all the poles going anyway?) I finally decide on a teal green color which will coordinate nicely with my home's pale yellow siding and my flower palette of blues, pinks, and white. Plus, this one has a nice built-in tilting option, which will be perfect for when the sun starts to set! Maybe it was good fortune that I only bought half an umbrella last time, because this one will be soooo much better! I race home, yank it out of the package and assemble it outside. I crank it open and revel in its beauty. Logan encourages me to "do it again!" I crank it closed and back open again to hear a craaack - and the umbrella goes limp. I attempt it again and the umbrella once again dies as soon as I let go of the handle. Peering underneath the canopy, I spy the cheap plastic ring around the pole has cracked. My umbrella is useless.

    But, my umbrella spirit is not broken. My quest continues!

    Attempt #3: I can't bear another trip back to the store, so I send my husband Skip back with the useless umbrella (he takes his gas guzzler - another $20) to collect our $30 refund. But once again, the umbrella-sale fairy has sprinkled good fortune on us, and this time it is right around the corner at Target! Gas cost: 50 cents! Although my color options are dramatically reduced to khaki green, khaki brown, and black, surely the powder coated steel post will be much improved over the other store's plastic variety, and for only $10 more! There's no jaunty tilt feature, but I settle on the khaki green which will coordinate beautifully with the seat cushions of our new patio table and bring it home. Once home, I again assemble my beautiful new umbrella. It was a gorgeous day - perfect 80 degree temperature with just the lightest breeze blowing. And the umbrella looked so awesome out there that I decided to leave it up as a nice surprise for Skip when he got home from work. It was time to pick up Logan from daycare, so I left the house and came back, eager to see how my sensational new umbrella will look from the road as I'm rounding the corner to my driveway. I pull in to umbrella. Who moved it? Was it stolen? I know this is unlikely since I have only been gone for 10 minutes and the gates to our fence are locked. I consider the possibility that perhaps the breeze is not as gentle as I had perceived and begin searching the yard for the errant umbrella. It is nowhere to be found. Puzzled and irritated, I am standing on my patio next to my umbrella-lacking table, when an odd sort of shadow catches my eye. I look up to find the source of the strange shadow, and that's when I spy my umbrella. On the roof. Knowing there's no way I'm going to be climbing on top of the roof to retrieve the umbrella, I call Skip.

    Me: "When are you going to be home today?"
    Skip: "I'm having a few drinks after work with everyone, but I won't be late"
    Me: "Ok, but how late? Because I kind of need you to come home."
    Skip: "Why do you need me to come home so bad?"
    Me: "Because there's an umbrella on my roof."
    Skip: "Ok....well, get it down."
    Me: "Did you hear me? I said there is an umbrella on my roof."
    Skip: "Right....but why can't you get it down yourself?"
    Me: "There. Is. An. Umbrella. On. My. ROOF!"
    Skip: (pause) "Of your car?"
    Me: "Of my HOUSE!"

    Irritated, I hang up and hear the baby crying inside the house. I go in and am in the middle of a diaper change when I hear the clackety clackety clackety CRASH sound of the umbrella rolling off the roof and smashing into the tempered glass patio table top. Luckily there is no damage to the glass, but my umbrella has suffered a broken arm and I am once again the owner of a completely useless patio umbrella.

    Attempt #4: Back at Target two hours later, I find there has been a run on patio umbrellas and my smart-looking khaki green has sold out. I note that for only $70 I can upgrade to a 9 foot diameter umbrella with the addition of the tilting feature that I love so much. I'm relegated to boring khaki brown, but sold on two additional feet of shade and the option of tilt, I pay the $30 price difference and return home with my purchase. I carefully unpack my new umbrella and assemble it - this time being sure to tighten the base around the pole. I crank up and tilt, and am cautiously optimistic that I have finally found the patio umbrella of my dreams!

    And where is my patio umbrella now you ask? Sitting in my living room because who can take the chance of leaving their patio umbrella on the patio?