The Desert and How To Shop An Outlet Mall

A gorgeous view from the beautiful Ritz Carlton, Rancho Mirage

I almost never travel for work and my friends who do would rather not, generally.  But at the end of September, I was asked to represent my employer at a charity event in Rancho Mirage.

As any mother knows, leaving town can sometimes present myriad obstacles.  Often, it isn’t until we are forced to communicate our family’s schedule to someone else that we realize just how many balls we’re juggled on any given day.  Sports practices, carpools, homework, school projects, playdates…and that’s just on a weekday!

Despite the hassle of coordinating replacements for myself back at home, I headed out to the desert, grateful for an unexpected day to myself and a night in a quiet hotel room, alone.

Typically, I am a fussy packer; my Virgo penchant for list-making is unapologetically unleashed the day before a trip.  I’ve learned that if I don’t plan ahead and write everything down – down to the paltriest of details – I will forget something.  Maybe even something important and obvious.  I should say, rather, I thought I had learned that.

Apparently I needed to re-learn it because I packed for my over-nighter with atypical insouciance and – low and behold – I forgot stuff.  Important stuff.  Like a skirt.  (Packed the blouse!)  And a bathing suit.  (Temps reached 103!)  So much for insouciance.  Lucky for me, the Desert Hills Premium Outlets are about a 30 minute drive from the Ritz Carlton hotel where I was staying.


An Archetype of Americana: The Outlet Mall

High-quality outlet stores, like those at Desert Hills, are seductive.  It’s easy to be lured in by the low prices and then over-buy.  (The same thing happens to me at Target.  Every time!)  Here are my tips for shopping smart at outlet stores:

CASH.  Whenever possible, bring cash.  It will force you to be disciplined and use careful judgement.

PREPARE.  If possible, preview the stores online beforehand and make a list of the stores you want to visit.  

FOCUS.  Set a specific goal or theme for the types of items you want to buy before you start shopping.  It will help you stay focused.  

TAKE INVENTORY.  Visit every store you want to see BEFORE buying anything.  If you’ve narrowed your theme well, you’ll find many of the stores on your list have similar items to one another.  It’s useful to compare similar products and price points before making a final selection.

WALK AWAY.  For splurge-worthy items, most stores (even outlets) will place an item on hold for you for an hour or so if they know you’re serious about buying.  Take advantage of this.  Even if you only leave for 15 minutes, take a second to walk away and think about whether or not the item is worth the splurge.

Caught sleeping on the job. Tsk, tsk, tsk.


Little did I know at the time that I’d be visiting a totally different type of desert soon.

Metaphorically, the desert represents spiritual aridity, death, loneliness; a barren place where nothing grows.  Harsh, unforgiving.  The lushly landscaped resorts of the Coachella Valley, with their crystal-blue swimming pools and burbling fountains, belie the scorched, thirsty earth that surrounds them on all sides.  Just a few weeks into this new, emotional desert I’m in, the oases of my former life looks like a mirage; so tranquil, it doesn’t even seem real.

But a “barren” desert is a misnomer: most deserts are teeming with organisms and life.  Even the rigid thorny desert plants grow flowers from time to time.

Deserts are also mystical places.  How many stories have you heard or read about a great spiritual journey that began in the desert?  In each one, there is the suggestion – the promise? – that something new and fruitful will grow inside of us only after we are stripped bare.  There is hope in that.

As difficult as it is, I know I need to embrace the emotional desert as part of this bizarre, confusing process I’m going through.  But looking at these pictures, I am reminded that, despite the connotations of death, the desert is actually exceptionally beautiful.


My Loot

I definitely returned home with some good finds.  Like these cashmere sweaters by Equipment.

Conveniently, I also snatched up this classic black sheath dress by Vince, which I was able to wear to my event that night. (If they’re out of your size, try this dress which is similar (and on sale).

And maybe best of all is this fabulous bordeaux crossbody saddle bag by Coach. I haven’t purchased a Coach bag since they started (in my opinion) over-branding all their bags ten or so years ago. But the fact is, they’ve always made great, high-quality, durable bags, so I’m glad to see they’re taking their branding strategy in a more low-profile direction.



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