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.

The Last Day

When you’re actively employed—waking up early to the nagging of the alarm clock and slogging to work day after day—one cannot help but imagine that the day will inevitably come that is their “Last Day of Work.” Whether it be to retire, begin a new job or explore a life/career change… we imagine it will be miraculous and glorious with the choirs of angels singing and the clouds parting and all that jazz.

Well, dear friends and readers… today is that day for me and so far there are no choirs of angels or parting of clouds. Now, bear in mind that I have never and I mean NEVER left a position without another similar or better position waiting in the wings. Or at the very least several promising interviews on the books and resumes scattering the earth like propaganda leaflets being dropped by plane.

I have always worked. Since I was 15 years old I have held down at least one and as many as four different jobs at a time. So I never, in my wildest dreams, thought I’d be leaving a job with a generous, comprehensive benefits package behind in pursuit of “whatever happens.” But this time… THIS time is unique.

This time I have a supportive and encouraging man in my life who sees my full potential and recognizes that “it will be OK” if I don’t find that dream replacement job tomorrow. Words cannot express the peace and joy with which his calm confidence fills me.

In the interim, my plan is to try my hand at domesticity. (Please pick up reading wherever you left off after the laughter has stopped.) Martha Stewart I am not, but that doesn’t mean I cannot learn the artful ways of the domestic goddess. Right? You’re still laughing aren’t you? Until the dream job comes calling I plan to take full advantage of the opportunity to get back in shape and keep a home. I’m serious.

Ten of the 50 pounds I recently lost have moved back in and taken up residency on my ass and both of us abhor the wallpaper in the living and dining rooms. It’s officially time to tackle my fear of the oven and its cousin, the stove. My wardrobe needs a good looking over and some serious organization.

The jury is still out on whether or not I’ll miss the office gossip, dressing up for work each day and talking to other professionals… but I suspect there will likely be a bit of a honeymoon period for me, my sweats, my yoga mat and the cat. I promise to take as many of you who care (or dare) to join me along on this new expedition—and with the whole domestic goddess goal in the mix—I can also promise that it shan’t be boring.

Less is more.

Last night as I unplugged the tree I couldn’t help but notice how much less was beneath it compared to last year. At this realization, I smiled the whole way up the stairs and while I got ready for bed.

Yep. There are fewer presents beneath my tree this year and I couldn’t be happier. Sure its always fun to see a beautifully decorated tree with colorfully wrapped presents adorned with shiny bows and ribbons cascading out from under. But sometimes those mounds of gifts that may bring joy NOW, bring nothing but stress and misery in the months to follow when the bills come due.

I have known such misery. Maybe you have too. I have heard the scraping sound of the shovel digging deeper into the soil of my hard-earned resources. And I have peered into the hole as it grew deeper and deeper and deeper based on my poor decisions or lack of restraint.

Unlike many, I am fortunate that I have not lost my job or experienced a large financial shifting of any kind. But I am proud to say that the practices and wisdom of people like my mother and Lee—being my polar opposites when it comes to financial discipline and discernment—have begun rubbing off on me. The encouragement from my father to make smarter choices has helped as well. I am truly seeing the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel! And it feels both peaceful and exhilarating!

Fewer packages beneath the tree means I did not overextend myself by buying things I can’t afford or borrowing from my future to pay for my “present.” The people I love will still receive gifts from me, just not quite as much. Since when does the amount you spend reflect the amount of love you feel for someone? Since always I suppose. Since we’ve learned to worship the almighty dollar and ALL the “things” it can garner us… if only we had MORE.

I like having things and taking trips and spending money. In fact, I LOVE IT. A little too much. And just like everyone else… I want more. But I have to ask myself: How much more is enough? When does more cease being more if it comes at such great a price?

It has taken me almost 37 years, but I think I finally understand how less may actually be more. In learning to love the having of less… we make room in our lives for the enjoyment of financial freedom, peace of mind and so much more.

Made in the USA or… Ode to my White Corner Shelf Unit

In this troubled economy, it seems to have become popular here in the U.S. to “buy American.” Now, I think it’s ideal and patriotic (and all that crap) to buy stuff that says “Made in the USA” whenever possible… However, apparently the mere EXISTENCE of these words on the package of a product, does NOT necessarily ensure that the product is of better quality than something that says: “Made in China.”

Recently I purchased a white, corner shelf unit to put in my dining room. Ohhhh, White-Corner-Shelf-Unit, how I’ve longed for this day when you and I would be united and you would stand up for me in the corner of my dining room and I could place lovely little knick-knacks upon your surfaces! You will make my dining room look like a page out of ‘Martha Stuart’s Living’, and I, in kind, promise to dust you, and clean you and protect you from children, pets or vacuum cleaners that might color on, spill on, scratch, chip or ding you.

OK, sorry to be so dramatic, but it is imperative that you understand the extent to which I have pined for this shelving unit. I dream of it… how perfectly it will complete the room. It is my passion. It is my madness. The day finally comes. I find it! I have a gift card! I purchase it! I take it home! I can’t wait to put it together! I collect and purchase JUST THE RIGHT bric-a-brac in which to place on the shelves once it’s assembled! I open the box! I slide out the contents! I locate the pieces! I read the directions! I do not see all of the pieces! What the #@%$?!?! How can this be? How can it be MISSING pieces? I PAID for it, did I not?

It was enclosed in a box, on the shelf of a reputable store, IN AMERICA! This IS America, after all, land of plenty. Meaning, there are PLENTY of foreign-made goods for us all! Let me be honest… I don’t REALLY care where it comes from, just so long as I can decorate the rooms of my dwelling with calm assurance that the purchased item will look just like it does on the box. America: We want It = We seek It = We find It = We buy It = We have It! How can this be happening? It is an outrage. It. Is. An. Injustice.

This is really terrible. My parents are coming over later this evening to see this thing assembled and adorned, and for crying out loud… My mom made BROWNIES! Now I will have nothing to show them… nothing but an empty corner with a stray ball of cat-hair in it… sort of reminds me of a tumble-weed blowing down a long, lonely desert road.

Several heavy sighs and slanderous-remarks-about-the-incompetent-retail-chain later, defeated, and with slumped shoulders, I pack up the box with the pieces that ARE there, and start to re-calculate my game plan. As if peering into a crystal ball… I can see my future… an agitated phone call to customer service (waiting on hold for at least 10 minutes)… an angry rummage to find the blasted receipt (IF I still even have it!!)… A trip BACK to the store (wasted gas money)…

So I’m angrily SHOVING pieces back INTO the box, packing it up and calling my Formerly-Cherished-White-Corner-Shelf-Unit all kinds of nasty names and I think I happen to include the phrase “stupid-Made-in-China-piece-of-crap”… when I happen to notice stamped right on the bottom of the box: “Made in the USA.”

“Shoulding” On Ourselves

There is a little-known occurrence reaching epidemic proportions and running rampant through our culture these days. This problem may be affecting you or someone you know in some very harmful ways. Perhaps you’re already familiar with it… it’s called “Shoulding,” and it is a dangerous thing. I was first introduced to this concept by my mother who was frequently telling me that it is never productive to “should” on yourself. And even though she reminds me (almost daily) NOT to SHOULD on myself… I still do it.

It starts out harmless enough… with a few benign statements such as: I should clean my house. I should do some laundry. I should pay some bills. I should balance my checkbook. I should wash the windows. I should wash the car. I should wash the kids. These statements in and of themselves aren’t harmful. They can actually serve in a helpful manner by prompting us to take care of those things in our lives which need to be taken care of. However, there is a much darker side to “shoulding”… and this is the side that we ought to be concerned with.Let me demonstrate by sharing some personal “shoulds” I have dropped on myself over the years… I should be happy. I should be married. I should be a mother. I should be a successful graphic artist making more than enough money to meet my monstrous suburban mortgage payment. I should bake brownies and change diapers. I should be shuffling kids off to soccer practice and swimming lessons in between power lunches and networking dinner parties.

And I’m just getting warmed up…

I should be a size 2. I should have 8-minute abs. I should have Madonna’s arms, Angelina’s lips and Jennifer Aniston’s flawless skin. I should have thick, lustrous wash and wear hair (in the trendiest style of course) I should arise in the mornings looking like I have just stepped out from the pages of Vogue. I should start each day by running 6 miles and eating nothing but fiber, lean protein and organically-grown produce. I should wear fabulous clothes and drive an equally fabulous, environment-friendly, hybrid car. I should have a perfect mate who looks like Prince Charming and treats me like a queen. He too should earn an obscene amount of money… and together with our beautiful and well-mannered 2.5 children, we SHOULD be the poster-family for happiness and domestic bliss.

This process of “shoulding” can also work in another way… for there are just as many things that fall into the “Should Not” category. A few of my personal favorites are: I should not be divorced. I should not be single. I should not be childless. I should not struggle to pay my bills with a college degree. I should not have any debt. I should not feel the need to constantly defend or explain myself. I should not (occasionally) wish for a different life.

As you can see, “shoulding” is a lose/lose activity. An exercise in futility. Nothing productive or good can ever come from “shoulding on ourselves.” The moment the word “should” leaves our mouths, we are damaging our current and future happiness. This is what my mother is always trying to get me to see. As a woman of 60 she tells me how much time she wasted “shoulding,” when she could have just chosen to be happy and content with who she was and what she had in THAT moment. She hopes that by telling me this while I’m in my thirties, it might save me a great deal of heartache and disappointment and it might allow me to enjoy what I have right now.

So I guess if there is anything, ANYTHING that I SHOULD do… the singular exception to the “Thou Shalt Not Should” rule… it would be to stop all of this “shoulding on myself” RIGHT NOW and start accepting, embracing and enjoying the reality of what IS and what IS NOT.

A Life of Convenience?

I bit the head off of the girl at the Circle K convenience store yesterday morning. OK, I didn’t bite it completely OFF… but I’m not gonna lie… I did leave a mark. In all seriousness, I snapped because she didn’t have Cherry Pop Tarts AND she couldn’t do a cash-back transaction at her register, which would have enabled me to purchase future Cherry Pop Tarts out of a vending machine on campus.

Upon realizing what I’d done in showing her my “dark side,” I immediately and profusely apologized to her and said that I was having a terrible, horrible, awful, no good, very bad day and it was barely 8 a.m. And then I said that I hoped that SHE had a great day today (extra emphasis on GREAT)… and I smiled just a bit too wide to show her HOW MUCH I meant it.

I settled on some strawberry pop-tarts instead and drove to work like Andretti on crack. As I drove, I began pondering the potential speed bumps in the life of the Convenience Store Clerk (bad pun intended). Please understand, I mean no disrespect to anyone who currently is or has been a convenience store clerk. Nor do I mean to offend anyone who knows or loves a convenience store clerk. I am merely presenting my take on why I think THIS particular profession would be a toughie.

  • Creatures of the Night – You most likely work odd hours and therefore interact with odd people. Aside from shift-workers, I personally don’t want to know who is roaming about at 4 a.m. in desperate search of a Twinkie, a Ho-Ho or a slushie… nor do I want to know why.
  • Twinkies and Ho-Ho’s – You deal largely with people who either ARE Twinkies and Ho-Ho’s or whose diets consist largely thereof.
  • Midnight Heist  – You probably live in consistent fear of the “hold-up” for the “less than $50” you carry in your drawer. Anyone else ever notice the 7-foot, vertical rulers framing the entrance and exit doors and how the place is lousy with not-so-cleverly-hidden cameras?
  • Lotto Lady – You have to put up with the daily blue-haired ladies who insist upon scratching their scratch-offs AT the counter (despite the ever-growing line of impatient customers chomping at the bit behind them) and if they win even one freakin’ dollar, they will use it to buy yet another scratch-off from you and continue standing there while they scratch that one too. This cycle could continue indefinitely perhaps taking up the better part of an afternoon.
  • The Conversationalist – Every store has at least one of these losers who are clearly one-can-shy-of-a-six-pack and they love, LOVE, LOVE to hang around and talk to you… about everything. And where can you go? Nowhere. Even though you are clearly NOT interested OR listening, they’ll talk about the weather… about their sister spending 2 hours straightening her hair every morning…  about their mother’s psycho ex-boyfiend and a detailed account on why he belongs in prison… about the government’s conspiracy to monitor our every move through jars of Jif peanut butter… and about Stella—their goldfish—and her third nipple.
  • Road Warriors – If your store happens to be attached to a gas station (which they often are) you inevitably deal with a vast amount of misguided wrath over the current price of gasoline.
  • Tobacco and Booze Police – Anytime after 2 p.m., on top of doing your regular work, you must be hyper-vigilant in your efforts to keep illegal substances out of the backpacks, pockets and coats of minors and/or would-be thugs.
  • Breakfast of Champions – Each morning there is a decent possibility that you will be greeted by an angry, I-hate-mornings and the-world-revolves-around-me bitch, running late for work, who throws a fit when you run out of cherry pop-tarts.