The Cost of Convenience

When I told people that I was moving away from my small town in northeastern Ohio to the big city of Columbus everyone said to me the same four things. They were (in this exact order) “Oh that is so exciting!” then: “I LOVE Columbus, it is a great city!” followed by: “There will be SO many more opportunities for you there!” capped off with: “Too bad the cost of living is so much higher.” And I proceeded to nod and smile in agreement to all but ONE of their statements.

The cost of living is actually no higher here than it is in the region I was moving from. Lee, having lived here for over 15 years has observed on a regular basis that this truly is the case. Wages are higher—which is fantastic—but the overall cost of living is quite comparable. Or so I thought.

This week I discovered a few ways that a larger city is actually much more expensive than a small town. Lee, being a male, could not possibly have known about the disparity of which I am about to speak. I am talking about salon services. My recent post about beauty and perfect eyelashes accompanied by the gorgeous spring weather we’ve been having drove me out of the house in search of information on the local offerings in the personal beautification arena.

Although I have not yet secured full-time employment to help pay for these rituals, it never hurts to look… or to be prepared for that wondrous time when regular paychecks start rolling in again. At night I checked online for hair salons and during the warm, sunny afternoons visited a couple of nearby tanning and nail salons. Much to my shock and chagrin — it was officially time for my reality check and a reassessment of my rebuttal of Statement #4. Damn.

A cut and color costs twice what it did in my precious, little hamlet up north. And the ditzy, bronzed fetus seated behind the desk at the tanning salon looked at me like I was speaking another language when I inquired about anything at their facility. The only thing she knew how to do was blink, crack her gum and point to the giant, illustrated chart on the wall behind her… apparently showing all of the different options.

Without a little explanation, the chart, to me, may as well have been written in another language. I took a brochure (planning to decipher it later on) and passed by the lotion display only to learn that their least expensive bottle cost a mere $62 bucks. Top shelf lotions? Well over a hundred. Ouch.

But alas, my skin is pale, I need a trim and my roots are showing. I’m starting to look like Shaggy from Scooby Doo AFTER he has seen the ghost. And I don’t care whether you’re a small-town gal OR a big-city broad… That is never a good look for a woman.

I think I’ll start looking for Easter or Spring Break specials. Or perhaps they need someone to wash hair, sweep floors or clean the tanning beds in exchange for services while I wait for my dream job? Meanwhile, I’ll be calling my small-town stylist for an appointment the very next time I make it back to visit the family and slathering on a good self-tanner.

Lashing Out

From the beginning of time women have been doing things to improve, enhance, augment or completely alter their appearance. I for one regularly highlight my dishwater-blonde hair, whiten my teeth and have been known to frequent tanning salons in the warmer months to maintain that “healthy glow” (and also to keep from blinding the neighbors at the sight of my ghostly-white thighs). 

Add to that a few things that I used to do that I no longer do… such as: maintain perfectly-polished, lengthy, acrylic, french-manicured nails, receive regular pedicures and attend appointments for massage therapy and laser hair removal. Why (you might ask) did I stop doing those things? Well, I wish I could say that I saw the light and learned to love myself for the beautiful, natural way God made me. But I would be lying. I stopped because either I or my bank account grew weary of keeping up with all of those costly and time-consuming procedures.

So I’ve learned to simplify my needs/expectations of myself and work with what I’ve got by seeing what I can find in the cosmetics department. This can be a worthy endeavor if you’re careful not to go overboard, buying every beauty product on the market just because tv/radio/magazines tell you that you should. Some products seem to do what they claim while others just plain disappoint. Usually I’m pretty good about not falling for every marketing ploy by which I am bombarded. 

However, there is one particular product that is my cosmetic kryptonite. I fall prey to the advertising schemes for this item with stunning regularity. The article to which I am referring is mascara. For some reason I am a sucker for long, thick black lashes that sweep so high as to reach one’s own eyebrows.

Beauty barons like Cover Girl, Loreal, Maybelline and Rimmel London are amazingly adept at getting me to believe in their product. I really do think that I can achieve thicker, fuller, longer lashes just by shelling out $10.99 and brushing their magic, inky-black potion on the lashes that I’ve got.

Problem solved.

But enter a new wave of cosmetic trends and treatments now available to appeal to our insatiable lash lust. I’m talking about eyelash extensions and products to help you grow your own “better” lashes. Salons are popping up all over the place in order to meet the demand and you can now ask your family physician for a prescription for medication that will cure you of your unfortunate affliction.

Yes, marketing departments for lash-extension salons, services and/or products have given the desire for “better” lashes an actual name: “Insufficient Lashes” … And no, I’m not kidding. Retailers and manufacturers want us to believe that our own desire for prettier, more appealing lashes is a now a legitimate health problem!

Even a long, lush lash-lover like me isn’t falling for this one. Perhaps a few years ago I might have bought into it… to the tune of $90 per visit! But the newer, simpler me knows that here is where I must draw the line. Although tempting, my natural lashes lathered with a little of that lengthening livener a.k.a. old-fashioned mascara will do just fine.

Interrupted

Of all things, it was a simple basket of laundry and the unopened April issue of Martha Stewart Living that got to me the most. Yes I knew that she was gone. Or I was—at the very least—attempting to wrap my mind around her sudden, unexpected and premature departure. But these small, mundane pieces of normal, daily life suddenly served as monumental reminders of a life interrupted.

When my mother-in-law-to-be passed away a little over a week ago, plans were being made while food and condolances began arriving. All sorts of larger details pointed to the devastating reality that a wonderful, caring wife and mother was taken from us way too soon. And yet I wandered around her home… finding myself entranced by the littlest things.

Bread crumbs of regular life have a way of lining a path through grief — making it utterly impossible to forget that time is capable of standing still. We are shaken. Taken firmly by the shoulders and put in our place by a power that is far, far greater than anything we can comprehend or imagine. We are reminded that we are not immortal. We are reminded just how fragile life truly is. We are reminded that time is a finite thing.

And then an intriguing thing happens.

Our perspective changes. Dramatically.

The regular worries of this life don’t weigh quite as much. Former frets and concerns suddenly seem petty and paper-thin. The slight we experienced by someone we thought was a friend loses it’s sting. The opinions of others don’t matter anymore.

You see, as I found out a week ago… death has an uncanny way of clearing away the cobwebs in our minds to make room only for that which matters NOW. Living fully. Living intentionally. Giving our energy and attention to those who deserve it most. Not wasting one, single ounce of it on futile people or endeavors. And finding every bit of joy and beauty there is to be found before our living too, is interrupted.

Ode to Springtime

Say what you will about the sorry state of our Union … but some things just don’t seem to matter quite as much when spring is in the air. We tend not to concern ourselves with things like the upcoming election, the economy, our current unemployment rate or the soaring price of fuel.

Yes… when spring has sprung, there is very little that can get us down…

It is light outside when we drive to work and when we return home. Daffodils seemingly pop up overnight, dotting the landscape. Gardens are planted. Lawnmowers and laughter can be heard throughout neighborhoods everywhere.

Crisp, white lines appear on baseball diamonds across America as the Boys of Summer begin their recreational reign. Birdsong fills the air. Windows are opened up, rolled down or taken out and replaced with screens… allowing the fresh air to push away the last stale remnants of winter.

It is also during this magically transformational time of year that the SAME birds who sing to you each morning whilst you rub the sleep from your weary, little eyes… also fly overhead and unleash a torrent of crap on your newly washed car.

Spiders, centipedes and other unidentifiable creepy-crawlies from the pits of hell appear as if out of nowhere scaring the $#@! out of you, making you reach for the nearest can of Raid or Aqua Net—whichever is closest.

As trees and flowers and other living things burst to life… your eyes water and sting while you sneeze uncontrollably as though having a grand mal seizure.

The ground thaws and frequent rain waters the thirsty earth while flooding your basement and turning your driveway into Monster Truck Mud-Fest 2012.

The weather warms and grows psychotic causing you to leave the house dressed in a snappy tank-top-turtleneck-wool-sweater combo, carrying an umbrella, sunglasses, gloves and scarf, rain boots, bottle of iced-tea, flip-flops, thermos of coffee, an ice-scraper and a bottle of SPF 30.

A sudden abundance of sunshine pours obscene amounts of sunlight through your dirt-brown window panes revealing how truly filthy your house is after you and your family have been trapped inside of it for 5 months straight.

The snow and ice melt away revealing dozens (if not hundreds) of dead twigs and clumps of leaves that have been deposited all over your rain gutters, flower beds and patio furniture.

The climbing mercury propels you to rummage through boxes of spring and summer apparel—and as though trapped in a nightmare from which you cannot awake—you and everyone else is forced to see your thighs for the very FIRST time since Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year’s, Valentine’s Day and the pizza, brat and beer fest that is March Madness.

Ahhhh Springtime… We are oh SO happy to see you again!

The Most Valuable Thing

I am sitting at the computer in my childhood home. The windows are open and a fresh, cool breeze is lightly brushing my face and neck. The birds are singing and I can hear children’s laughter just outside.

It is definitely springtime and the world is coming to life again.

Recently I have been reminded that life is the most precious of gifts with health and family coming in at a very close second. These are the things which should never be taken for granted.

Sadly, Lee’s mother passed away suddenly yesterday afternoon after a brief illness. We were not prepared for this — though no one ever is. And it has been an in-my-face reminder that life can change in an instant. In the blink of an eye or the brevity of a single breath our lives can be altered eternally and irreparably.

This week as you’re rushing from here to there to take care of this and that and all of the other “things” that we may deem important — take a little bit of time to stop and look around.

As you experience your surroundings—hopefully enjoying the very life and health that has been given to you—say thank you and tell your people just how very much you love and value them.

The Itsy-Bitsy Spider

I saw a little black spider in the corner of the ceiling while in the shower this morning and even though I knew it would mean a slow, torturous death for the miniature monster… I also knew it that only one of us was going to survive this shower. It was either him or me. So naturally I chose me… and I drowned him.

Poor little guy. Here it is… finally, mercifully springtime and he crawls out of his tiny crevice either from wintering or simply because he was just born and he starts to build his first delicate web of the season… when all of the sudden some crabby bitch with a personal vendetta against all eight-legged creatures as well as the state of wakefulness in general has to come along and cut his life short.

And let me tell you that the shower isn’t exactly the easiest place to commit murder. Though it IS the cleanest. The problem with the shower is that said method of execution HAS to be what I like to call death by “splash drowning.” I call it “splash drowning” because one must repeatedly throw cups-full of water onto the offending beast and their fragile, new structure until they tumble from whence they came. 

Yes, death via splash drowning is far, far worse and deeply cruel compared to “direct drowning” in say, like… a sink or a toilet, because it is MUCH slower and the spider thinks for a bit that he actually has a chance of surviving this terrifying ordeal.

He’ll try to outrun the waves that continue to crash rhythmically upon him and he’ll do so successfully… for a bit… until, when out of sheer exhaustion, he’ll be spent. He’ll have nothing left and be forced to succumb to his fate, riding the river of death straight down the shower wall, across the floor of the tub… slipping anonymously and unceremoniously into his watery grave.

Now, you might ask: Did you, at any time, feel badly about torturing one of God’s creatures who was merely minding his own business, doing what he was designed to do by choosing your shower corner in which to innocently emerge from winter and spin his little web?

Well… I guess you could say that I did feel an itsy-bitsy amount of guilt and sadness as I watched him rushing helplessly “into the light”… until he got caught on one of the anti-slip treads on the bottom of the tub… and I gave him a swift, wet kick… right down the drain.

Comfort Zone

I didn’t need to call the cast of CSI to properly deduce what had transpired while my back was turned… A tipped-over plastic cup, a cell phone on the floor and a sheepish-looking cat hiding out beneath the table told me all I needed to know.

My 2012 vehicle registration form, passport renewal packet, voter registration application and my sister’s 40th birthday card (signed, sealed, addressed and stamped) laid purposefully on the dining room table. These items that were too important to forget or misplace and required attention in the near future were now soaking wet. Of course, the bill from the cable company (that I’d already paid) also sat there… dry as a bone.

The table was empty save for these items and we have no children running around so naturally I considered it safe to sit my cup of water and cell phone right next to them while I went to make the bed and check email. More wrong I could not have been. You see, Stanley has an affinity for knocking things off of the places where they sit. He especially like desks and tables. Pens, reading glasses, cell phones, pieces of paper, paper clips, keys and now apparently cups with liquid in them are not safe when placed on a table or desk. 

Here he is on my mom and dad's kitchen table... being entertained by a pencil.

Don’t ask me why these items are far more interesting to him than the dozens of cat toys I intentionally leave strewn about. If it has value, he wants to knock it over. Now, for some reason, end tables, shelves and coffee tables don’t interest him. Which is why it is safe to place breakable items on them. Thank God some places are still sacred.

But I can’t really blame him. It is my fault. I let my guard down and didn’t realize how comfortable he has become in his new home. He doesn’t go on his little sneak-attack, rampages of destruction when he’s in a new or unfamiliar place. He slinks around, literally lying low, slipping in and out of the shadows until he gets the lay of the land. It is then and only then—when he is truly comfortable—that the mischief really begins.

Well, welcome home Stanley. I’m glad that you feel happy and content in your new digs. I only hope the DMV doesn’t mind when I show up with a wrinkled registration form next week. And that they believe me while reluctantly taking the compromised form from my hand as I tell them in the cheeriest, most confident voice I can muster: “The cat did it. And I swear Mr. Motor Vehicle Man… it was only water.”

Blocked.

It happens every now and then to those who love to share their inner most thoughts via the written word. Writer’s block. And no I’m not beating around the bush in some flowery, creative way to lead you, the reader, to that conclusion. After all I haven’t the words to do so even if I wanted to. Though in struggling with this problem I decided to do what else… but write about it.

Who knows, maybe it will knock something loose in my brain and ideas will rush like rivers through my fingertips and out onto the keyboard. Maybe not. But at least you’ll know why my posts have been fewer and farther between as of late.

I don’t get paid to blog. Most of us who do this will never see one red cent for what we key and cast into cyberspace. But many of us do it because we love to write. We observe, experience and ruminate and after we’ve said all we can possibly say to anyone within earshot… we type because the words are still spilling out of us and need a place to go.

But what if there is nothing to say? Or what if I am too distracted to sit down and focus long enough to string together some cohesive or entertaining thoughts? A small audience of 150 people are planning on reading whatever it is I have to say and I feel I must deliver! Desperately I file through my mental rolodex, searching the events of my week, my day or the last hour seeking a precious nugget of wisdom, an adventure, a humiliating personal anecdote or a tale of some random idiot who crossed my path.

The woman I saw in the produce section wearing a parka when it’s 70 outside. Is that anything? The dude who showed up before me at an interview for a graphic design job… without a resume or portfolio. Could I possibly spin that into something interesting or entertaining? The adventure that was clipping Stanley’s nails yesterday afternoon. Is there a story/moral lesson/side-splitting account there?

Parka Lady. Unprepared-still jobless-SansPortfolio Dude. Clipping the cat’s nails. I told you I was desperate.

But I must remind myself that it happens every now and then to everyone who loves to write. We worry we will never have another original thought… ever again… for the remainder of our lives. And we think about it… and think about it… and then we think about it some more. Then we do what we do best. We write about it.

NYC: I Heart New York or The Post Vacation Funk, Part 2

On July 1, 2011 I wrote an entry called The Post Vacation Funk after returning to real life from an 8-day trip up and down the New England Coast with my then-boyfriend. It turns out it was a popular post and actually garnered me a spot on the WordPress home page, in the Freshly Pressed section… which ending up catapulting me OUT of my funk because I was getting almost 3,000 hits a day for 5 days!

Unfortunately while the Freshly Pressed lightning has yet to strike again… The Post Vacation Funk has struck full force leaving me void of words and cursing the cursor on my computer as I struggle to cobble together an entry for you faithful readers to (hopefully) enjoy.

Therefore… I have decided to compromise by borrowing my previous post and tailoring it to the city that never sleeps

I just returned from a 4-day get-a-way to New York City with my fiance… and it was A-MAZ-ING. However… it is now official. I am in the midst of a full-fledged, hard-core, post-vacation funk. And I am here to tell you that the fabled funk is very real and I would argue that it is an inevitable occurrence in the life of any vacationer.

All the fun you’ve been planning for, saving for and laid awake with great night-before-Christmas anticipation for … is over. The photos are now in your camera instead of the brochure and the t-shirt is hanging in the closet.

Mind you, the funk does not occur overnight. Rather it seeps into your conscience slowly and before you know it you are completely mired in it. Suddenly you find yourself knee-deep in the reality that you are neither: A. Independently wealthy, or B. Free from the obscenity that is Responsibility … with a capital “R.”

When you first arrive home—a weary traveler surrounded by the familiar sights, scents and sounds of your “stuff”—you can’t help but experience Dorothy’s “There’s No Place Like Home”  feeling and sleeping in your own bed (on the memory foam that still remembers you) is blissful.

The next day comes and whether at home or the office, it is a flurry of activity. You’re answering emails, returning calls and taking care of household chores with that rested, happy glow that only a true getaway can provide. You’re still sportin’ the amped-up attitude that comes from spending 4 invigorating days in a lively, noisy, pulsing city, surrounded by millions of people and you are recounting the details of your adventure to anyone who will listen.

People expect that you will not exactly be “at the top of your game” since your head is most likely still in the clouds (or on top of the Empire State Building, or on a sunny bench in Central Park, or at the comedy club or that really cool pizzeria you found and are determined is owned and operated by one of the Five Families) and minor errors and gaffs are swiftly forgiven.

Day three brings with it the bi!@# that is reality. The alarm sounds for the second time since you’ve been back and you suddenly remember that this was why you went on vacation in the first place … to escape that d@mn alarm and the daily grind that follows it.

Day four is the same as the third only worse. The alarm clock hits you like a punch in the face reminding you that yesterday was not a fluke or a joke or a drill or even a bad dream. YOU. ARE. NOW. HOME. And it is only Wednesday. This is when you begin to play a sadistic little game with yourself that I like to call: “Where Were You Exactly One Week Ago (or Two in this case) Today?” And a word to the wise about playing this game: The non-vacation version of you will always wind up the loser.

By the way… exactly TWO weeks ago today… we were having authentic New York bagels in Brooklyn (complete with lox) … but whatever. I’m not playing.

By day five you understand your fate, but you do not necessarily like it. Anger builds. You can’t stop playing the “Where Were You Exactly One Week Ago (or Two in this case) Today?” game every time you open the empty refrigerator, notice a heaping pile of laundry, encounter a pair of tall, sad, suede boots lying lifeless on the floor or reach into your purse in search of a pen only to grab your NY Metrocard instead.

It is at this point that you begin to entertain wild imaginings about how you might achieve the life of a full-time vacationer. What if I just disappeared?  What might be the consequences of that?  How much DO those people who serve over-priced cocktails, take tickets for the boat ride to the Statue of Liberty or sell I Heart NY t-shirts on the sidewalk actually make? Is it hard to learn how to make hand-rolled bagels like the guy behind the counter at that quaint little bakery on the Lower East Side? Is it too late to get a degree in Recreation or Hospitality and Tourism Management? Am I too old to become a bike messenger?

They say that there are five stages of grief: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and finally Acceptance. They are not necessarily experienced in order. The bereaved might vacillate between the five for several weeks or months languishing for a time at one stage or another. So far I think I have experienced all of them and it has yet to be two full weeks.

Hopefully by the time I post this, I will have quietly accepted my life just the way it is. It’s either that or you will likely find me behind a counter in a hairnet and apron, serving kosher pickles to tourists.

NYC: Does This Pizza Make Me Look Fat?

Remember the good old days when cameras used film? You took all of your vacation pictures home with you in little black canisters — their contents largely unknown. And when you got around to it, you would drop them off at the nearest photo developing place and get them back within one to three business days.

Ahh yes, the good old days of blissful ignorance when your vacation could not possibly become clouded by some random image of you frozen in time. The picture was snapped and everyone moved merrily on their way.

But now that we live in the digital age and have the opportunity to SEE that random image of ourselves almost frozen in time—that is before we hit the SAVE button—we often recoil at what we see and wish for a do-over. We reposition ourselves in an attempt to look happier, taller, thinner or ironically… more natural than we did in the previous snapshot.

During our trip to New York we took a lot of pictures. After all, New York is a magnificent city with so much worth seeing and remembering and Lee is a wonderful photographer who artistically and diligently documents the events of our travels by taking numerous fun and interesting pics.

Occasionally when he would snap one I would ask to see it before we moved on to the next destination on our “must-see” list. And occasionally I would ask him for a do-over… particularly if I felt that said photograph made my face look fat.

<<< As a side note, other than the scale and my clothing, photos are very revealing to me when it comes to a change in my weight. Oftentimes they are even MORE telling than clothing and if I so much as suspect that the scale is inching in an upward direction I refuse to get on it. So photos can sometimes provide me with that slap-in-the-face “AH-HA moment” (as Oprah would say) … and inspire me to get off my butt and do something about my upward mobility. >>>

OK… back to the story. Lee put up with my requests for do-overs for about a day. But then, in the early part of the second day when I pouted and complained about my ginormous moon face he sighed, put the camera down, looked at me and said something kind of like this: “Joanna. You know you are not fat. And we are in New York. One of the greatest cities in the world not to mention one of the greatest cities to EAT in the world… and you are complaining about your weight. I don’t want you to TALK about or even THINK about your weight until we get home. If you want to worry about it then, that’s your prerogative. But for now… Just enjoy.”

And he was right. I knew he was 100% right. I knew that I was being ridiculous and shallow and that if I really am unhappy with my current weight… Well… Sitting down in front of a gorgeous, large, authentic, New York-style pizza pie from Lombardi’s—the very first and oldest pizzeria in America—was most certainly NOT the time nor place to start worrying about it.