Category Archives: Observations

Desire, Anticipation, Realization

Remember the old Heinz commercial with the Carly Simon soundtrack? Anticipation has been motivating people long before it was an advertising theme. I’ll bet Mrs. Caveman found saber tooth stew more appealing after waiting all day for Mr. C to bring home the goodies. (Imagine how a little ketchup would have helped!)caveman-159964_640

I’m not a patient person. But I love pre-planning vacations: reading about my destination; researching places to explore and eat; making and revising endless lists of what to bring and wear; creating a wish list of possible purchases. Anticipation extends the trip well beyond the actual time away if I start enjoying it months in advance.

I also find anticipation half the fun of baking – the long, slow rise of the bread or waiting for some delicious dessert to come out of the oven. And what’s nicer than looking forward to a hot cup of tea or coffee after being outside on a cold, rainy day – or a frosty beer after a blisteringly hot one?

Although it can be frustrating, time-consuming or confusing, anticipation is especially useful when purchasing something expensive. When’s the last time you bought a car or house on impulse before taking the time to decide exactly what you wanted? (If you did, you have far more disposable income than I do; please buy me a Bentley!)

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Psychologists tell us that desiring something is more satisfying than actually acquiring it (scientists call this “habituation”). There’s often a letdown after getting the object, which is why prolonging the process can be so enjoyable. (Check out a fascinating article on this topic in The Atlantic.)

I’ve been thinking about this since arriving at our summer house 20 lbs. lighter than last year and discovering that “I have nothing to wear” wasn’t hyperbole. I had exactly one pair of jeans and three sweaters that fit; everything else down to my underwear needed to be replaced.

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The surprise, for a dedicated shopper like myself, is that mass acquisition isn’t much fun. I’ve pretty much had to blitz-shop online (hello, The Outnet) to compile an instant wardrobe. As a result, I’ve been denied the pleasures of anticipation, window-shopping, weighing pros and cons, etc. as part of the experience.

Years ago, on a trip to Milan, my husband and I watched a group of young women return to our hotel laden with shopping bags from every high end store you can imagine (Chanel, Louis Vuitton, Dior etc.) woman-1329790_640

I’ve often wondered: Did those girls really appreciate everything they bought, after the shopping high wore off? If you could acquire anything you desire without a second’s thought, would it be special?

What do you think — is anticipation more satisfying than acquisition? And what about delayed gratification… does something have more value to you when you’ve saved up for it? Are there things you bought that you love as much — or more — now that you have them?

In other words, does the “high” always fade?

Absent Friends

A dear friend died suddenly last week.  A kind, gentle man with a keen intellect, life hadn’t always been kind to him.  He struggled with his weight, his sexuality, and a singing career that didn’t go the way we’d all predicted when we’d first heard his glorious voice.

Despite — or maybe because of —  these challenges, he retained a vivid sense of humor and appreciation of the unexpected. A new message in my inbox always promised something witty, intriguing or surprising.

Below is the content of one of his last e-mails to me.  It’s a fitting reminder that what’s on the surface often doesn’t tell the whole story.

The Parrot

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“This is not a bird. The parrot is actually a female model who posed for Johannes Stötter, a fine art body painter who used breathable paint to create the image of a parrot, brushstroke by brushstroke.  The model’s arm forms the parrot’s beak and head, and her legs form the wing and tail feathers.

Remember: always take a closer look, as things aren’t always what they appear to be. Once you see the woman, the bird disappears.”

Either way, both images are beautiful. As was my friend.

A Day in Hospital

Yesterday my husband had surgery and everything went well, for which I am truly and profoundly grateful.

Many people have been asking how he is (“Fine”) but I realized that nobody has been asking how MY day was. What’s up with that?

Since I’m sure my experience is AT LEAST as fascinating as any surgical patient’s, I thought I would share every detail of my incredibly long and stultifying day with you, my favorite people. I just know you’ll hang on every word!

6-8 AM

  1. We wake up bright and early and zip over to the medical center, arriving promptly at 7:30 for R’s 10 AM surgery.
  2. Shortly after we arrive in the reception area, R gets a special one-on-one interview. It’s almost as though they were waiting for him! The interviewer is obviously really interested in getting to know him because he asks all kinds of personal questions, such as, “Who is going to pay for this?”
  3. Then he gives R a nifty personalized bracelet with his name on it and everything! Meanwhile, does anybody want to know MY name? What am I, chopped liver??

8 AM  We are ushered to a private room where we wait. And wait. And wait some more.

10 AM  Discover that surgery is going to be delayed. A lot.

Apparently, the patient scheduled for the first slot didn’t bother to find out her arrival time and waltzed in two hours late. (This must be a person who has never attended a meeting, gotten a haircut, or flown on an airplane.) Consequently, everyone else’s surgery has been pushed back two hours.

Still, the day is young and the procedure should only take an hour and a half so no big deal.

11 AM Suddenly there is a flurry of activity and R is whisked off to do all kinds of interesting things: Get stuck with IV! Have catheter inserted! Gag while tube is pushed down throat! Breathe into nasty mask! Get pumped full of drugs! Sleep!!!!

Here’s what I get to do:

11AM-12 PM

  1. Walk down corridor through swinging doors to reception area and buy overpriced bottle of water from vending machine.
  2. Discover that no one is at the reception desk to buzz me back into the surgical area.
  3. Drink water and pace until Doogie Howser lookalike takes pity and lets me go through.

Once back in the room, I peruse e-mail, browse some online shopping sites without buying anything and drink more water.

12 PM

  1. Answer call from surgical nurse who says things are going well (See what I mean? It’s all about HIM.) I will hear more when they finish in another hour or so.
  2. Go down to cafeteria to buy overpriced hospital food for lunch.
  3. Return to room.
  4. Eat half of flavor-challenged lunch.

12-2 PM

  1. Peruse e-mail.
  2. Browse online shopping without buying anything.
  3. Watch Amazon Prime movie (“The Dressmaker” with Kate Winslet as glamorous seamstress returning to wreak havoc on the dusty Australian town which labeled her a murderer when she was a child.) Pretty good.
  4. Buy second bottle of water. Prop door open to avoid lockout.

2 PM

  1. Surgical nurse says R is now in recovery and should be there for “about an hour”.
  2. The day is almost over. Breathe sigh of relief.
  3. Eat mini Toblerone as reward for all my efforts.

4 PM

  1. R arrives back in the room, cheerful and groggy from medication.
  2. New nurse says he needs to rest for an hour and as soon as he can pee he will be discharged.

4–6 PM Wait for R to pee.

7-8 PM Continue waiting for R to pee. Show R pictures of waterfalls on iPad and run water in sink hoping his insides will get the message. They don’t.

8:30 PM

  1. Doctor recommends inserting temporary catheter so R can go home. (Hey, what about ME???? My contacts are burning holes in my eyes, I’m hungry enough to eat more hospital food, and I can’t read with all these people hopping in and out!)
  2. Watch catheter insertion. Try not to hurl.
  3. Pack up rubber gloves, alcohol wipes, portable urinal, discharge papers etc.

9 PM

  1. R is ensconced in special chair and escorted to my car by attentive nurse. Me? I get to walk by myself, thankyouverymuch.
  2. Realize my monovision is terrible at night. Can barely see road signs but luckily have a general idea where I am and R is alert enough to navigate.
  3. Arrive home without hitting family of deer strolling through neighborhood. Whew.

10 PM

  1. Dose R with meds and tuck him in.
  2. Have teeny tiny vodka. After all, I worked hard today!
  3. Zzzzz

2 AM

  1. Get up to empty the catheter. Was this a glamorous day or what?!?
  2. Say silent prayer to all the Carl and Clara Bartons out there. God knows, R has stepped up enough times to take care of me – it’s only fair I take my turn in the barrel.
  3. Zzzzz… until 6 AM.

The Upside of Bad Relationships

This year, two friends have become widows at a young age and I’ve been thinking how hard it must be to lose your partner, especially if you were together for a long time.

This in turn has led me to contemplate the opposite situation: how liberating it is to get rid of a bad relationship. Let’s talk about that instead of something sad.

Think about it: there’s a lot to appreciate about a crappy relationship!

The Upside While You’re In It

  • You can concentrate your anger and frustration on one individual instead of spreading it around
  • You develop a rich fantasy life, often involving that person being hit by a car or falling off a cliff
  • Your own faults pale by comparison
  • Your life is much more dramatic
  • There’s always a new story to share with your friends
  • You become much more knowledgeable about alcohol
  • You can be sure your tear ducts are working
  • There’s usually ice cream in the house

And When It’s Over

  • Your murderous rage subsides
  • You don’t have to watch endless sports/chick flicks
  • You’re no longer subjected to someone else’s bodily functions
  • You’re free from your partner’s annoying friends and family
  • You can wear, eat and do whatever you want
  • You can have sex with yourself, which is probably an improvement
  • You have lots more free time
  • You only have to attend your own boring business events
  • You’ll really appreciate a GOOD relationship

Am I What I Wear?

Lately, I’ve been going through an identity crisis. A sartorial one, primarily, stemming from the question, “Who am I if I’m not working?” combined with the dread of becoming invisible with the passing years.

As a freelance writer/retired (mostly) by choice, I could spend the day in ratty sweatpants and no one would notice. But that’s just not “me”; I worked in an office for 30 years and dressing for work is a difficult habit to overcome. Plus, I’ve always loved fashion.

This particular crise du jour is also accompanied by weight loss, which would normally be cause for celebration but is in fact cause for alarm/introspection/analysis as I have to decide: Since I have to buy new clothes that fit, WHAT should they be?

The delightful blogger Lady Sarah offers a brilliant suggestion: Create a pie chart for how you actually spend your time so that you can buy accordingly. Instead of shopping for a fantasy life, I’m taking this a step further to analyze not just how I currently spend my time but how I’d like to spend it.

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• At home doing chores, scrolling through online articles, contemplating working out, watching TV, contemplating cleaning, actually working out, reading, actually cleaning

• At home writing (want to project a professional image, if only to myself)

• Running errands: Stained tees are a non-starter even though the chances of bumping into someone I know — since I know virtually no one in Texas — are slim to none

• Lunch dates: All too few. Goal: expand opportunities

• Dinner dates with husband and friends: Ah, safe ground here. Need to look nice but not overly fussed over

• Opera/Symphony: Unlikely to run into anyone here either but a good excuse to dress up

• Entertaining at home: What to wear that is chic but won’t get stained while cooking?

• Travel: My sweet spot, wardrobe-wise. I’m a big-city girl at heart and enjoy being able to wear my favorite pieces without feeling overdressed. Not that anyone’s looking – but it’s all about how you see yourself, isn’t it?

• Playing with grandchildren: Not the time for a silk blouse, but surely I can do better than an old band t-shirt and leggings even if the baby is likely to spit up

• Summer hiking/walking: Anything goes, as long as it’s waterproof

• Wine tasting (a favorite summer activity): Upgraded casual, mostly dark colors in case I spill something – a real possibility around Glass #3

FullSizeRender 7All in all, what I’ve learned from this exercise is that I shouldn’t buy another leather jacket since I live in a warm climate (much as I adore them) and that I should create more opportunities that are appropriate for my favorite items rather than “dumbing down” my wardrobe to match my mostly-stay-at-home activities.

Sign me up for: adult education classes, more travel, more lunches/dinners with friends, more evenings out, volunteering at anything where you shouldn’t look like a slob, and so on.

Anyone else having an identity crisis as you change jobs, become a stay-at-home parent or approach retirement? Please share your solutions and insights with the rest of us!

Xx, Alisa

House Woes

Have you ever had your pet punish you when you go away for awhile? Sulking, hiding, refusing to be petted when you return home?

I think our house is doing the same thing.

“She” must be pissed off that we took a vacation, because we’ve returned to a garage door that won’t close properly, and then a new crisis yesterday when our sprinklers went all demonic and wouldn’t shut off. Needless to say, this happened on a Sunday.

Owning a home is a bit of a deal with the devil. You try to keep ahead of any possible issue but there’s always something that can leap out and get’cha. Still, it makes more financial sense in the long run than renting. Or so they say.

We have smudged, cleaned, painted, upgraded, decorated, replaced all the pool equipment piece by piece, and generally done everything we can think of to make our house happy.  So I’m convinced this is an abandonment issue. I could promise that we won’t go away again but every traveler knows this is an empty gesture.

If anyone knows a “house whisperer” please send along their number.

I Miss “Miss Manners”

Lately, my husband and I have been wondering, “Was he/she raised in a barn?” This week, I was particularly reminded that manners in general are going to hell in a hand basket. (And what the hell IS a hand basket?)

Too bad more people haven’t read Miss Manners’ (aka Judith Martin’s) Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior, a beacon of civility in an increasingly uncivil world.

As she might tell you, manners aren’t arbitrary rules dictated by some humorless expert; they exist to make people more comfortable. By knowing how to behave you put others at ease and everyone gets along with at least the appearance of grace and mutual respect.

When I was a kid, my parents bought my sister and me copies of a book called Tiffany’s Table Manners for Teenagers. Written by Walter Hoving, former chairman of Tiffany’s of New York, it’s a delightful step-by-step introduction to all the basics, from the moment the meal begins. Sample: “Remember that a dinner party is not a funeral, nor has your hostess invited you because she thinks you are in dire need of food. You’re there to be entertaining.”

Miss M would also insist upon a proper dress code to honor the host’s wishes and the occasion.

Recently, I attended a lovely afternoon interfaith tea, where each of the 10-seat tables had been dressed to the nines (an Old English or Scots expression dating back to the 1700’s, possibly a corruption of “thine eyes”, though no one seems certain). The women were also dressed nicely, in appreciation of the event itself and the time people spent planning it.

Later that evening, my husband and I attended a memorial service at that same synagogue. I’d have thought this would be a more formal occasion than a tea. Nope. Some attendees wore jeans and sneakers and most of the men — including the rabbi– didn’t even bother to put on a yarmulke. Call me a fuddy-duddy but I think death is one of those instances where people should make an effort, especially in a house of worship.

While I’m on my manners hobbyhorse, here are a few personal experiences that get my goat:

– Guests who bring uninvited extra people to a sit-down dinner and don’t even apologize; guests who show up hours late to a dinner party (not an open house); guests who don’t send a “bread and butter” thank-you note or e-mail. Is it just me?

– In December, one guest showed up at his colleague’s black tie holiday party – knowing full well that formality was important to the host – in faded jeans. The implication: “My comfort is more important than your wishes”. My grandmother would have said, “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.”

– And have you ever sent a gift to someone and not received a thank you card or acknowledgment, making you forever wonder whether it arrived, or if they hated it?

-Also on the subject of gifts: There’s a wealthy woman we know who attended the wedding of a young woman who’d worked for her — and whose parents were close friends  — who gifted the happy couple with a $20 picture frame she’d probably picked up at the drugstore on the way to the wedding.

Strictly speaking, this might not fall under the heading of “manners” but… isn’t a gift supposed to match the occasion?

I’m not advocating a return to white gloves, bustles, or waiting to the point of silliness for someone to open a door for you. But wouldn’t the world be a little bit nicer if everyone made a bit more effort?