I’ve got a new guest post up at the tiny homes site:
It actually went live yesterday and I forgot to post about it. You know what else I forgot yesterday? That is was Ron’s birthday, until I looked at Facebook and saw people wishing him a happy birthday there. The best part is, my birthday was two weeks ago and Ron did the EXACT same thing – we were up and about for a couple hours before he went on Facebook and then realized it was my birthday.
We weren’t trying to be callous. It was an honest mistake on both our parts, because we decided to delay celebrating our birthdays this year until June, when we’ll have more money to celebrate with. So we agreed that we wouldn’t do anything for each other this month on our actual birthdays – no card, no cake, no nice dinner, no gifts. We’ll do a joint celebration in June instead. As a result, when both days hit, they felt like any other day. I’m totally looking forward to our celebration in June, but I have to say, getting out of debt this month was the best present ever!
These past couple weeks have been rough. Some of it I have documented here – like our plumbing leak and Stella’s foot. Those were kind of the “highlight” bad things – but there have been a lot of other things that I haven’t mentioned.
For instance, about a week ago, I was out on my morning walk with Stella, when I suddenly felt a sharp stabbing pain, like a needle had gone deep into the skin of my left glute – a literal “pain in my ass.” I couldn’t figure out what had happened, so I turned around and started limping home, when suddenly I looked down and saw a couple yellow jackets crawling insidiously on Stella’s head. That’s when I realized I had been stung. I was wearing yoga pants and one had flown up my pant leg and stung me. In a panic, I frantically clawed the yellow jackets off of Stella’s head, getting stung again on the base of my palm in the process. But happily Stella escaped unscathed.
Less than a week later, I was on a film set in a house that had a big apple tree out front, with lots of rotting fruit on the ground. Yellow jackets kept getting into the house, and one of them almost stung the actress playing my mom in the face during a shot. A few minutes later, she and I were talking, when I felt something crawling on my wrist. I flipped up the cuff of my shirt, and sure enough, there was a yellow jacket, who either stung or bit me twice before I crushed him into a pulp – it didn’t hurt as bad as the sting I’d gotten a week earlier, but it left two little swollen puncture marks on my wrist. The crew brought me some first aid cream and ice and outside of feeling like I’d been punched really hard in the wrist, I was fine.
The next day, there was no visible swelling, but my wrist itched like fire, and like an idiot I scratched it with abandon. By that evening, my hand, wrist, and lower arm were totally red, swollen, and hot to the touch. Awesome.
But the real sting came later that night, when my Dad called to tell me that on Monday, my grandmother, whose 100th birthday we celebrated last month, had a massive stroke that was deemed “terminal and unsurvivable.”
It’s not that I’m shocked to hear that my grandmother is dying. She’s 100 years old, so I’ve been kind of braced for that type of news. It’s just that less than 30 days ago, I watched her zip around with her walker at her birthday party, laughing and chatting with family and friends and having a great time. Her mind was sharp as a tack, she knew who everyone was even if it had been a while since she’d seen them. She was alert and focused and completely present to everything that was happening. Outside of needing the walker, her health has been remarkably good over the past few years, and talking to her felt no different than it had when I was a little girl. So even though in the back of my mind I knew this would happen someday, her outward show of health and vitality made it seem so much further away.
I’m overwhelmed with sadness, but I’m grateful for the life she’s had for the past century. I’m happy that she was surrounded by so many people who loved her on her birthday, and that she was aware of them all. I’m glad she has not suffered from debilitating health issues in the last few years. I’m particularly thankful for my two aunts, who she has alternated living with so she never had to go into a care facility, or be alone. I’m sure a large part of how healthy and strong she has been can be attributed to the companionship and care she received from them. She has children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren who will always carry on her stories and memories. My cousin and I both inherited her middle name – Faye. We will miss her, but I have to admit we were blessed with her presence for a good long run. I’m comforted to think she’ll see my grandfather again, who died when I was in high school, who she loved so much.
And I love that my last memory of her will be of sitting by her at her birthday dinner, listening to her recount with delight and awe all the people that came to her party (“All the dental assistants from my Dentist’s office even came! And the man who bags my groceries at the grocery store!”). She was as happy and vibrant as ever. In my mind, that is how she will always be. It helps take away some of the sting.
Did anyone else have a totally craptastic May? We sure did. Ron and I looked at each other wearily last night and said, “June will be better, right? Because June HAS to be better.”
I started to make a list of what went so wrong, and as lists will often show you, it was a bit less dire specifically than it was generally. Truly, we have first world problems, and I should shut up about them. Most of our worries are financial at the moment, and May brought us a doozy of expenses: my birthday, my mother’s birthday, Ron’s birthday, my brother in law’s birthday, SAG/AFTRA dues, Equity dues, website hosting fees, medical bills, household bills, and of course our mountain of debt. It seemed like no matter how hard we worked to economize, cut back, go without, or do less, there was always some new expense staring us down.
It also was a month of “no” for both Ron and I in terms of things we were trying to accomplish with our work, which led to a lot of daily discouragement, and venting about it at home. And because we care about each other, we took on a lot of the other person’s angst and frustration. The dinner table has been a conversation no fun zone lately.
I agreed to serve on three theatre committees this year – two involving play reading, and one involving play watching, and everything culminated in late April/May. They were all unpaid, and took a serious time commitment. I’m really glad I did them all, and I have learned a LOT. But the process was not without it’s frustrations, especially in the moments where you are trying to come to an agreement with a group of smart people who all have strong and diverse opinions about a piece of work that you also feel passionately about (either because you love it or hate it). I know that the process and arguments often lingered with me beyond the actual meeting, and sometimes affected my general mood (see “dinner table no fun zone” above).
Ron got a surprise bonus (hooray!), right as his car started leaking fluid all over the ground and had to be fixed (aww…). We thought he might have to get a new one, and in the process of looking at options came to the realization that any car he actually wants we cannot afford. The repairs took the full cost of the bonus and then some. One of the repairs was for something he had done at the dealership a year and a half ago, and at the time they said, “If you do this now, you won’t have to worry about it ever again.” They lied. And did not stand by their work. When Ron asked, the guy scoffed at him and said “We only stand by it for a year.” Hey, Sunset Audi? You SUCK.
That’s really the worst of it, right there. See what I mean? Not a long list, and nothing that can’t be overcome. As they say, if I were to see a list of someone else’ problems, I’d probably want mine back. And some good stuff happened – I got a new computer, my desk is finally clean, we didn’t have any vet bills, and Portland had some seriously beautiful summer-like weather last month. I cut my credit card debt in half. The hammock is out in the backyard. I am blessed with such loving friends and family I tear up just thinking about them.
And I have a husband who continues to love and support me doing what I am passionate about, even when what would really help us financially right now would be for me to go get a desk job. With that on my side all year long, I think I can weather a bad month or two.
Growing up, my mom used to insist I acknowledge all Christmas and birthday presents with a thank you note. I hated it at the time, but I have to say, it created a good habit. I always appreciate a thank you note if I’ve given someone a gift, and I like giving them as well.
I won’t go so far as to say I always complete them in a timely manner – sometimes I can let a lot of time go by before I sit down and get them done. My friend Lori puts me to shame in the thank you note department – not only does she acknowledge all of her own gifts within a week of receiving them, she is training her kids to be just as gracious and prompt. There is nothing like getting shown up by a five year old and a seven year old in the thank you note department. But I take a small solace in the fact that at some point, I DO get them done.
This year, I actually had the time and the intention to write thank you notes right after my birthday, but because I’m so miserably broke, I couldn’t afford to budget a box of thank you notes over say, a tank of gas. Social etiquette is important, but not as important as getting from A to B.
Then I remembered my paper stash! I have a plastic storage container in the office closet full of all different kinds of colored paper. Why? Some of it is leftover from doing invitations/programs/placecards/thank you notes for our wedding, and some is from a brief interest I had in making greeting cards w/rubber stamps (our friends used to have a business where they taught classes in how to make them, and I got all crafty with it for a while. I’ve since tossed the rubber stamps, but I still have the paper). I have no idea where the rest of it came from. I’ve even considered getting rid of it.
But suddenly I was so glad I still had it, because I realized I didn’t have BUY thank you notes – I could make my own! For a moment, I was a little afraid people might think they were stupid and cheap. But then I realized that every single person I was going to send one to is a loving friend or family member who knows my situation and is very supportive of me, not a materialistic, judgmental jerk who would shun me for sending a homemade card. Not to mention, I’m going to guess most people read a thank you card, appreciate it, and then promptly recycle it – it’s not like it was going to be framed and hung on a wall for posterity.
So I made some cards. I found some retro clip art, and a fun free downloadable font. I think they turned out cute:
I made exactly the amount I needed, no more, no less, so…totally lagom. In the end, the only thing I had to pay for was a couple postage stamps. I may not have spent a lot of money on them, but they were made with a wealth of love for the intended recipients. That’s got to be worth something, right?
Every year, in May, my heart beats a little faster when I receive this particular postcard in the mail:
Anthropologie is my favorite store. I spend waaaaayyyy too much money there. Say what you will about it (Overpriced? Yes. Fashions can be weird? Yes. CEO is apparently not a great guy? Probably, if the rumors are true.), I still lovelovelove it. There is an Anthropologie right across the street from a theatre I work at a lot, and I have found it impossible not to stop in and browse all of the lovely things whenever I’m on a break. And I usually buy something. Or a couple things, especially if there is a sale. Just walking into the store makes me feel a little happier.
Because I am an “Anthro” member, and membership has its privileges, I get a coupon for 15% off any purchase in my birthday month, May. In the past, I usually have gotten a gift card from Anthropologie as one of my presents, so I have happily gone in to reap both the discount and the gift card at the same time. That has always been a very fun day for me.
But as you know, this year, I only got one thing for my birthday, my new Mac. I have no regrets – I love it. But in my current financial straits, and with no gift card to help out, and the average cost of most items in the store being over $100, 15% is not going to do much for me. I would have to put anything I bought on my credit card, and I am adamant about not doing that right now unless it’s an emergency. I am also in the process of completely re-evaluating my wardrobe, and it seems a little dumb to run out and buy new things before I’ve gotten what I already own pared down and organized so I can see where the gaps are.
So I’m not using my birthday month discount this year. Last night, just to be sure, I went online to see what was on display, and really, for the most part, there wasn’t anything that made me delirious with want – which was kinda surprising. Either I am getting more focused and less crazy on the whole wardrobe issue (let’s hope), or the stuff just wasn’t that great right now (maybe – it seemed to be a lot of sack-like things, or weird tops with peplums. I’m not big on peplums).
It makes me a little sad – my Anthropologie birthday splurge was always a ritual that brought me a lot of joy. But I’m open to that being replaced with some other happy thing – like being out of debt.
Ron’s birthday is coming up – May 22nd to be exact! It kind of crept up on me, and I realized today that I had better get down to the business of ordering a birthday cake.
Cake is very, very, VERY important to me. Anyone who knows me well, knows this to be true. I frequently buy single slices of cake at the supermarket because I’m craving it, and because I know if I bought a whole cake, I’d eat a whole thing–in like, three days or something. In my baby book, my first sentence is listed as, “I want cake.” The phrase “I would like some cake” is one of the only things I know how to say in Japanese, and it kind of seems like that would cover me for most situations. One year, Ron accidentally ordered the wrong kind of cake for my birthday (even though I had very specifically asked for the kind I wanted) and I almost broke down in tears of disappointment in front of everyone. I once stayed at a wedding reception where I hardly knew anyone and was super bored because I was waiting for the cake to be cut – and it was worth it.
So yeah, cake is a big deal to me. A big, BIG deal.
Ron typically wants an ice cream cake from Coldstone or a carrot cake for his birthday. We had a Coldstone cake for my birthday on May 10th, so he decided he wanted carrot cake for his. There is a bakery in town where I usually get his carrot cake, but this year we are pretty broke (okay, totally broke, May has been BRUTAL financially), so I decided to see if I could find a more affordable option.
Safeway, in my experience, actually does a pretty good job with cake, considering they are more of a grocery store than a bakery. And I knew they’d charge less than an independent bakery. I’ve bought individual carrot cake slices there for Ron as a treat, and I knew he really liked it, so I thought I’d give them a try. Good cake? Low price? Sounded lagom to me.
Here is a transcript of the actual conversation I had with the woman who answered the phone:
Me: Yes, I was wondering if I could get a price quote on a 2 layer 7-8″ round birthday cake?
Her: Oh, I have to ask (calling to someone else the room) Uh…how much for a (something unitelligible here)?
Guy in background: Huh?
Her: (louder and clearer, so I could hear it this time) How much for a python cake?
Guy: We don’t make a python cake.
Her (to me): We don’t make a python cake.
Her: (louder) WE DON’T MAKE A PYTHON CAKE.
Me: I didn’t ASK for a python cake. I asked for a PRICE QUOTE on a 2 layer round cake.
Her: Ohhhhh….uh, I don’t know. Let me ask. (to background guy) How much for a two layer cake?
Her: (to me) $15.99
Me: Okay, I’ll go ahead and order one. (Long pause while she doesn’t answer). Let me know when you’re ready.
Her: (surprised) I’m ready.
Me: Okay, I’d like a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting.
Her: You can get a frozen one.
Me: ….. Uh, what?
Her: You can get a frozen carrot cake.
Me: Uh..no. Just…no. A frozen cake? No.
Her: (surprised, a little huffy) They thaw out in like 30 minutes!
Me: WHY WOULD I CALL A BAKERY TO GET A FROZEN CAKE? WHY WOULDN”T I JUST GO TO THE FREEZER SECTION? THAT IS JUST STUPID.
Her: Well jeez…sorry.
Me: I think I need to call a bakery who likes to bake cakes.
Her: Well we could bake you a chocolate or vanilla one.
Me: So you sell slices of carrot cake, and you sell whole pre-made carrot cakes, but I can’t actually order a carrot cake.
Her: Would you like a cake?
I hung up the phone and wavered somewhere between bewildered and furious. Was it just this dimwit girl I was talking to, or would the Safeway bakery really not make me anything but a vanilla or chocolate cake, even though I knew they sold carrot cake? I decided to try calling a different Safeway. The woman I talked to there was definitely more on the ball than the first woman, but she did confirm that it was only possible to order a chocolate or vanilla custom cake. Which kind of defeats the whole “custom” thing, if you ask me.
Maddening as both conversations were, I have to admit, it was a good reminder – you get what you pay for. If I had called the bakery I usually ordered from, or any number of independent, customer service oriented bakeries in town, I would not have had such a craptastic experience. It would definitely cost me more, but I would have felt sure the cake would be good, and the experience would have been more professional. In fact, if I actually HAD wanted a python cake, a good bakery would have said, “Great! I’ve never made a python cake. But I’ll figure out how to do it. Sounds fun!” And they probably would charge me a small fortune for having a such a weird, complicated order, but I think that’s only fair.
If the product is “just right”, and the price is reflective of the quality and complexity of the product, then I suppose that’s lagom…right?
My Mom used to make our birthdays incredibly special. She made pinatas, she decorated cakes, and she would put a big red rattan “throne” at the head of the table for the birthday girl to sit in, along with a silver crown to wear from a Halloween princess costume she had made. There was always a special birthday breakfast that morning, even if it was a school morning, and sometimes I would come downstairs to find a florist’s box next to my plate with a fluffy pink corsage to wear to school. Often I had a new dress or blouse to wear too, and at some point during the day she would bring hand decorated cupcakes to my classroom (this was before schools were concerned about the cleanliness of student’s home food handling, and in a time where you never heard a grade school kid say, “Is that gluten free?” or “I’m lactose intolerant” or “I only eat organic”). Dinner was the birthday girl’s choice (I frequently chose to go to McDonald’s, klassy!). The year I turned seven, she made me an ice cream cake roll in the shape of the number 7, covered in pink frosting roses and powdered sugar. The year I turned ten (my golden birthday, since I was 10 on the 10th) she went all out and made me a three tiered cake, like a wedding cake, with light green frosting and pale pink roses (interestingly enough, pink and green ended up being my wedding colors too). It was all very elaborate, and made my birthday my favorite day of the year.
And oh, the presents. I usually would get one big item (Barbie dolls, a bike, roller skates, a camera, a new outfit, a watch, etc.), and then tons of little surprise items as well. In addition to the gifts my family gave me, I would also have a party with school friends, and a ton of loot would come in from that as well.
I am not a person who gets all shy and humble and “Oh you shouldn’t have I can’t accept this” about presents. I love getting presents. I love giving them too. I never expect them, but when they are given, I accept them with love, gratitude, and joy, even if it turns out to be something I don’t want. For me, it’s about the exchange of energy and goodwill, and that always feels great.
In recent years though, I have found that once the receiving glow has worn off, getting a bunch of new stuff all at once, whether it happens on Christmas or my birthday, has come with an under layer of anxiety as well. I think a lot of that has to do with feeling like I have too many possessions already, so adding to the pile is really stressful (where will I put it all? Do I actually need any of it? Do I like it enough to keep it? If it’s a duplicate should I toss the one I already have even though it’s still good?).
This year I had complicated feelings around the idea of getting gifts. On one hand, I am very happy with the progress I’ve made on not bringing a lot of new stuff into my life. But I am also in a serious state of withdrawal around not having a new stuff high on a regular basis anymore. So I wanted stuff, but also kind of didn’t. And I wondered – would my birthday feel forgotten and blah without presents?
But there was one thing I really did need – a new computer. My old computer is from 2006, and its limping painfully towards its end. I’ve killed the battery (it’s a laptop), I constantly get a “memory disk is full” message, it’s glacially slow, and there is some kind of problem with the power cord that causes it to suddenly disconnect without my noticing, until it suddenly shuts itself off in the middle of a project. I have been living in fear that it will croak while I am in the middle of narrating an audio book, and I will lose all my recording. I do a lot of my work on my computer, so it is not something I could live without – if I could only rescue a couple items in a fire, it would be my computer and my phone. So it was clear to me that sooner than later, I needed to figure out how to get a new one.
I’d been saving money towards the cause since December. I’d managed to amass over half of what I needed, and I figured my birthday could help me get almost, if not all the way, to my goal. When anyone asked me what I wanted for my birthday this year, I asked for either money or a gift certificate to the Apple store. And four days after my birthday, I found the the perfect computer for my needs, and paid 95% cash for it.
It was definitely a different birthday for me – no towering stack of presents to unwrap, just a handful of cards with money in them. But I couldn’t have been happier. The one gift I got was exactly what I wanted and needed, and I absolutely love it and will use it extensively every single day. I don’t feel any anxiety around trying to figure out what to do with a bunch of new things I didn’t really need, and the lack of a bunch of gifts didn’t make things feel any less special. I had a lovely birthday lunch and a birthday dinner with some of my dearest girlfriends, as well as a birthday dinner “date” with Ron. I felt very special, loved, and celebrated.
It was, in every sense, “just right.” It was lagom. I hope to make a habit of it.