my mother told me to be in belmont by 8am, so we could drive down to wrentham village premium outlets, get breakfast at cracker barrel, before doing our shopping. i woke up around 7:15am, mary having already gone out in what i can only assume to be her daily morning run. after quickly using the bathroom, i took a shower and left. early saturday morning there isn't a lot of traffic.

now that i have a smaller camera, i left my regular suite of canon dSLR equipment at home: 60D with 18-200mm lens, my 60mm macro lens, and my external flash. my backpack felt light stuffed with only my laptop.

we didn't leave until almost 9am, but made good progress and got to wrentham around 9:40am. first stop was the cracker barrel restaurant. i'd experienced this chain for the very first time when i was down in tennessee with john when we went to the smoky mountains last year. the food isn't anything fancy, but i liked the novelty of sampling southern cuisine, and was excited when i discovered there was actually a cracker barrel here in massachusetts. for my parents, it was their very first time.

it seems like a lot of people were getting their breakfast on before shopping (the outlets don't open until 10am), because the parking lot was completely filled. we had to park in an adjoining lot of another restaurant that hadn't opened yet. despite being busy, there was still some a good number of empty tables and we managed to get served without waiting. i was disappointed that they had a special breakfast menu, because i wanted entrees. i ended up going with the chicken-fried chicken, with came with scrambled eggs, apple bake, mashed potatoes, grits, and biscuits. both my parents got more traditional breakfast items. one of the great things about eating at cracker barrel was we didn't see any other chinese people. it felt like the good old days, where anywhere we went, we were probably the only chinese family around. as this day progressed, that wouldn't be the case.

after breakfast, we drove a little ways into the mall parking lot. we always like to park by the end of the mall, near the visitor's information center. not only is there a bathroom, but you can pick up special discount booklets that can give you additional savings on top of the already discounted outlet prices (i actually learned that today).

the weather was a tad chilly with a bit of wind, but it was a nice blue sky day, so walking in the sun kept you warm. we began to systematically work our way from one side of the mall to the other. i was primarily getting presents for sunmeng, but if anything else caught my eye, they could be potential presents for others. the two things sunmeng specifically asked for were a coach bag and a timex watch.

the first place where we spent some money was at the columbia outlet. a lot of items were discounted, but i wasn't impressed with any of the selection. but one can find some real bargains on the clearance ranks. they had a bunch of 3-in-1 interchange jackets that normally sold for $240 but were discounted down to $100. on top of that, there was an additional 40% discount, making each jacket just $60. as if that wasn't enough, there was a special code in the savings booklet my mother picked up earlier for an additional 10% discount, cutting the jacket down to only $54. my father found one that he liked, kind of this hunter orange. nothing really caught my eye, but at that price, i couldn't resist. finally i decided on an olive-grey jacket with black arms. i'm still not in love with the colors, but in regards to winter outerwear, i put more value in functionality than style. when it's crazy cold outside and you've got a warm coat, you don't really care about how it looks. my father loved his new coat so much he removed and tags and wore it out the store.

we found the watch store where i bought my timex weekender the last time i was here. sunmeng had asked me for something similar, but with a pink wristband instead. they had a nice lady's watch with a calendar window, but the number fonts didn't look good. i ended up buying a weekender with a pink band.

we didn't arrive at the coach outlet until close to the end of our mall tour. for some reason it's always crowded with chinese people, enough so that they hired some chinese-speaking attendants. nothing seemed attractive and everything looked expensive, until somebody told us that everything in the store was 50% off. i know nothing about purses and bags, so i picked one that was small but not the smallest, a pink leather money pouch (they call that a wristlet i learned later) which seemed reasonable at $47.50 after discount. that was probably the end of it until we turned a corner and there i saw a pink handbag i knew sunmeng would like. retailing for $295, but discounted to $147.50, i thought it was pricey but doable, and it was definitely what sunmeng would want. at $200 i was maxed out in regards to handbag budget, but then we made another circle around the store, and saw a bunch of people snatching up small hand purses. i picked up a pink one more out of curiosity. why the sudden interest? i asked my mother. a nearby chinese attendant answered our question: items marked with red numbers are clearance items, and clearance items have an additional 50% discount on top of the storewide 50% discount. so that little hand purse (a double phone wallet is the correct terminology) was going to sell for $170, but 50% of that was $85, and another 50% dropped the final price to $42.50. this would be the perfect present for sunmeng's mother, and i told my father this, and he said he thought the same thing.

the last store we visited was crabtree & evelyn. i just thought it looked interesting from the outside, don't ever remember setting foot in this store before. turns out this was the store i ordered the hand lotion from when i was in china, as gifts for people when my parents brought them to chongqing. i ended up getting a few more small tubes, 3 for wangyan, and 1 for sunmeng (pomegranate).

we left wrentham by around 3pm. heading home, we took a detour to the waltham costco. this used to be a favorite costco for my family before we started going to the everett costco instead, much closer and near many other stores we frequent as well.

food photos taken with the ZS40 don't look very appetizing. how i normally shoot food photos is with a ceiling-bounce flash.

watching my father disassemble and reassemble his interchange jacket, my mother regretted not getting one of her own, and now wants to return to wrentham next weekend for more shipping.

sunmeng asked me a few days ago if i could get her some bee propolis. i'd never heard of it before, it's a type of glue made by bees to repair their hive, and apparently it has all sorts of beneficial health effects, from as little as allergy prevention to as big as cancer cure. she originally sent me a jd.com link to australian comvita propolis tablets, about $100 for a year supply (365 tablets). i found a lot of different brands here in the US, each with different concentration. my feeling is a lot of these health food and supplements companies are fake, touting products that supposedly have all these benefits that are scientifically unproven. because they don't have to go through the FDA, there's low overhead for their manufacture. they throw out words like "natural" and "organic" but everyone has a different definition as to what they actually mean. i wanted to find a company that only sold propolis from US bees, not propolis imported from elsewhere (which means mainly china, because they produce the majority of the world's honey supply). it was actually kind of difficult, as most of these companies don't say the country of origin of their ingredients, which makes me think they buy in bulk from china and repackage it for US markets. i did however find a few US-made companies, and finally went with three containers of durham's bee propolis 500mg 120 capsules ($12.95/each).