Category “Thinking Big”

Exactly the Right Amount

Posted in: Thinking Big

It’s my new routine (I love routines):  Husband drops me off at work (we’ve been riding together since my In-laws, aka our life-saving live-in nannies, arrived two weeks ago to keep Lil Mil who is not yet in the daycare we thought she’d be in by August 1st), and I go into my building and down to the concourse level where there’s a Starbucks and a little takeaway cafe that sells hot breakfast food.  While I’m waiting for my coffee, I walk across to the cafe and order a small oatmeal with walnuts, almonds and brown sugar, a delectable concoction that costs $3.51.  Not exceptionally cheap, but not expensive enough to use a credit card  (the cafe has a $5 minimum).  Knowing this, I ’ve started carrying cash.  Today, however, I walked in knowing that I only had 2 one-dollar bills in my wallet, and thus was fully prepared to add a banana I wouldn’t eat or package of cookies I shouldn’t eat but totally would, just to meet the minimum.

As I was surveying my options, pretending there was a chance I’d pick something other than the cookies, I remembered that I had some change in my wallet, maybe even some quarters.  So I dumped all my coins onto the counter and counted it:

2 quarters

8 dimes

3 nickels

6 pennies

I had exactly $3.51 in my wallet.  Exactly the amount I needed.  Not a penny more.  Not a penny less.

“I have exactly the right amount!” I exclaimed, grinning at the guy behind the counter.  (The guy I love dearly because he doesn’t need to ask my order, but he doesn’t assume I want the same thing every morning.  “Oatmeal?” he’ll say as I walk up.  Giving me the option to order something else.  Not pigeonholing me.  Just remembering what I like.)

I handed him the 2 bills and opened my hand to show him the coins.  “That has to mean something, right?”

The man just smiled, taking the money and ringing me up.  “Exactly the right amount!” I said again, this time to the businessman behind me in line.  He looked past me, pointing at the counter.

“You missed one,” he said.

There, completely overlooked, was a single penny.

Not the right amount.  A penny more.

And just like that, the moment felt less shiny.  Somehow less true.

The guy behind the counter reached for it.  He set the coin on the lid to my oatmeal and handed both to me.

“Exactly the right amount,” he said with a smile.   ”For the oatmeal, and for good luck.”

Onwards and Upwards

Fail not for sorrow, falter not for sin,
But onward, upward, till the goal ye win.
- Francis Anne Kemble (1809-1893)

Only The Best

Posted in: Thinking Big

Six hours after leaving Lil Mil with my parents, I got a facial, the first one I’ve had in over a year. As aestheticians always do, this one asked me about my skin care routine. And, as I always do, I lied.

My goal was to ward off the inevitable product peddling that happens while you’re lying on a treatment table. Sure, I could be honest about the fact that I use Method hand soap to wash my face and then just say no when the aesthetician tells me, in a very concerned voice, that my skin needs $50 cleanser. But it’s just too much effort. So, instead, no matter where I am, I tell the person making a tsk tsk tsk sound as she examines my pores that I recently started using [____] (insert the name of an overpriced product sold in her spa), and invariably, her tone will change. “I can see signs of improvement,” she’ll say in an authoritative tone. And, more often than not, the sales pitch will stop.

Yesterday was different. When A asked about my regimen, I lied, but as soon as I did, I realized I didn’t need to. She wasn’t trying to sell me on products. She was just interested. So I asked her about her own routine, and she told me that she only uses three products: a cleanser, a daytime moisturizer and a night cream. She then told me that while the cleanser and moisturizer change regularly, she’s been using the same night cream for years, and she can’t live without it. I, of course, was immediately intrigued. The woman’s skin was amazing. Whatever she used, I wanted. So I asked her the name of it, and she told me. “It’s expensive,” she said, “but I’d rather have one phenomenal product than a dozen mediocre ones. So I gave up all the other products I was using — the eye creams, the serums, the masks — just so I could afford it. And my skin is better than it’s ever been because of it.”

She then proceeded to tell me that she buys this magic night cream once a year, in a 12-month supply, for $1000.

ONE. THOUSAND. DOLLARS. For night cream.

I cannot imagine a world in which I would spend $1000 on anything I put on or in my body. And yet, if you were to add up all the money I spend on beauty-related products each year — all inexpensive, drugstore brands, some of which I toss into the trash after one use — it’d probably come close. And what do I have to show for it? A bunch of crap I don’t need and skin that’s still needy.

My beauty routine is not the only realm in which I do this. In trying to be thrifty, I am wasteful. Of time. Of money. Of calories. So determined am I not to overspend that I end up with both more and less than I need. More quantity and less quality. I don’t want to spend too much money on shoes, so instead of splurging on a designer pair that I’d wear daily, I end up with three sale (and often ill-fitting) pairs that will sit in my closet unworn. I don’t want to spend too much time blogging, so I multitask: blogging while breastfeeding while browsing clearance items at Bloomingdales.com. Fifteen minutes later, I have an unwritten blog, a baby that’s still hungry, and a shopping basket full of heavily discounted things I don’t need.

Lying on that treatment table under a mega-watt light, the truth came into sharp focus: In trying to be saavy, I settle for the unsatisfying. For the mediocre. For Less Than. And, the worst part is, I’m not saving any time or any money in the process. Plus, I’m missing out on the delicious sense of satisfaction that comes from a resource well spent.

This realization stayed with me. Over the next 12 hours, a yearning began to take root. A desire for the Best. The Best food, the Best wine, the Best chocolate. Not the most expensive but the highest quality. The purest. The freshest. The most satisfying. Things that are truly worth the money I spend on them. Because if they’re not, why am I buying them?

So, yesterday afternoon, standing in line at the coffee shop at the Ace Hotel (quite possibly the Best place in Manhattan to spend hours on one’s laptop), I spotted a stack of chocolate bars by the register. Mast Brothers Chocolate, the oh-so adorable label read. 72% cacao and fleur de sel. Made in Brooklyn. Hand cracked. Date of birth: 5/25/2010.

Without tasting it (and having no idea what the hell “hand cracked” meant), I knew: I was in the presence of a Best (ah, the power of packaging).

“And this, too,” I told the barista, holding up the chocolate bar.

“The chocolate is ten dollars,” he replied.

TEN. DOLLARS. For a chocolate bar.

“Yep!” I said, as nonchalantly as I could, handing over my money. And carefully, as if it were a bar of gold, I put the chocolate bar into my purse.

Where it’s been for the last 29 hours.

You see, that’s the problem with getting the Best things. It’s harder to consume them. The instinct (at least for me) is to preserve them. To save them for a special occasion. To use them sparingly. To make an event out of them.

But what if – WHAT IF – each of us could live a Best or Nothing life? What if we reallocated all of our resources towards the Best Things, and stopped spending time and money and calories and energy on anything Less Than? Would every glass of wine, every slice of pizza, every bar of chocolate, become a moment worth savoring?

Maybe that’s a lot to ask from a bar of chocolate (yes, but it’s “hand crafted locally with organic cacao sourced from farms in Madagascar and roasted in small batches”!), but I, for one, am ready to give it a whirl.

As soon as I can bring myself to rip this pretty packaging.

A Lesson I Should Learn

The night before we left for Scotland, Sister’s boyfriend, 3G (a person, not the cellular network), gave Niece H a collection of trip-oriented presents:  a journal, a mini-accordian file for keepsakes, and a digital camera.  It was sweet, of course (I was instantly jealous that I hadn’t thought of it), but none of us were sure if Niece H would actually use her travel collection.  Was she old enough for a journal?  Would she want to collect keepsakes?  Could she operate the camera?

The answer was a resounding YES.

Niece H (who, by the way, was awarded the Best Traveler Award by her Grandad, an honor she richly deserved), journaled and collected and photographed her way around Scotland.  Her journal entries were drawings, but they documented our travels as well as any words could have.  An airplane.  A castle.  A bagpipe player.  A flower.  When the tiny accordion file wasn’t big enough for the brochures she decided to collect (which she informed Sister and me that she intended to sell, along with a glass of lemonade, for $1.00 each), Niece H turned a discarded cookie container into her Treasure Box.

The camera, however, was the biggest hit.  Niece H wanted to take pictures everywhere we went.  But she was discriminating:  she’d survey an object she encountered, making the shape of a camera with her little hands, trying to decide whether whatever it was warranted a photo.  Sometimes we’d hear her making a clicking sound as she looked through her imaginary lens.  Click click! Then, a moment later:  ”Mom, can I have my camera?”

Since the idea behind the camera was to take pictures for a scrapbook she and 3G would make when she got home, I wanted to make sure she had shots of herself on her camera.

“Hey, H, lemme get a picture of you,” I’d say.

“But I hate my smile.”

“What?!  You have a great smile.  Here, stand right there.”

And usually, she would.  Then, after I’d taken the picture and given back her camera, I’d see her looking at it with a pained look on her face.  ”I look so bad!” she’d moan.  And then, as often as not, she’d delete it.

I couldn’t tell whether she actually thought she looked bad, or whether she just thought that’s what you’re supposed to say when you look at a picture of yourself.  I’m not sure which would be worse.

On one level, I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.  It’s what we all do, right?  Edit immediately, erasing our bad smiles and awkward angles and limp hair and flabby arms.  Bemoan our unsightly whatevers.  We disparage ourselves so often that we don’t even hear ourselves doing it.  And on the rare occasion that we see a shot we like, we stay silent.

Watching Niece H grimace as she looked at a picture I’d taken of her, I saw myself at that age, when I first decided that I had an Eighth Angle.  My family is laughing (or crying) right now, because they’ve heard about the Eighth Angle for nearly three decades.  I discovered it while in a dressing room as a kid, looking into one of those accordion mirrors.  I was examining myself from all angles when — horror! — I saw one (of nine) that I deemed horrendous.  Since then, I’ve refused to let that particular angle be photographed (my wedding photographer was thoroughly  instructed on this point).

Niece H doesn’t have an Eighth Angle.  She’s objectively adorable.  But even if she did have one, I wouldn’t want her to start obsessing about it now.  Or ever.  She’s too smart, too funny, too delightful to be walking around with some stupid hang-up about her looks.

And so, as I watched her hit the little trashcan icon, I reached out and snatched the camera from her hands.  ”Don’t be like that,” I told her.  ”Be confident.  Confident people don’t waste time saying negative stuff about themselves.  Confident people are too busy being happy and having fun.”

She looked at me with her enormous blue eyes, weighing my words.  ”It’s cooler to be confident,” I said then.  Not particularly eloquent, but true.  She nodded, accepting this.  Then she took her little finger off the delete button and went back to taking pictures.

I looked up and caught my reflection in the car window.  There she was, the girl I’ve been criticizing for the past 25 years.  That day, I cut her a break.

You’re too smart, too funny, too delightful to be walking around with some stupid hang-up about your looks.

On or Off?

An elephant dressed in a clown costume could stroll by me and I wouldn’t notice it.  I know this, because it happened yesterday.

Kidding.

Seriously, though – how do I completely miss things that Husband sees when we’re walking down the same sidewalk?  The large dog careening towards us.  The altercation brewing between two neighbors.  The people waving at us from across the street.

He sees it all.  I see none of it.

I’m trying to be better about this.  More observant.  More aware.

I mention this because it’s the only reason I noticed the new Dos Equis billboard on Santa Monica Boulevard this morning.  Lil Mil and I were strolling from church to Husband’s lawyer league softball game when I saw it:  the face of the Most Interesting Man in the World and this quotation:

The bulk of your life should be off the record.

It’s an enticing idea.  It’s meant to be.  Instinctively, I want it.  A life lived “off the record.”  But here I am, putting more of mine on it.

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Do you wish your life were more private?  Does social media (facebook, twitter, myspace) make living *off the record* impossible?  Is a life *on the record* a consequence of blogging or the impetus for it?