Many Happy Returns

I don’t normally do this. When I buy something, I really do intend to put it into use.

But, the other week, I found myself looking at a couple neutral colored purses on the rack at a fashion outlet. I wanted something on the small side, but big enough to accommodate my cell phone and brush — something that would go with my new pink and green floral print linen dress. A summer handbag.

I found two contenders, neither very pricey, and couldn’t make up my mind.

As I stood in front of the register, with both, the clerk stared at me when I questioned their return policy. Well, of course, you can return an item within 30 days of purchase, if returned with a receipt and all the tags still in place.

She looked at me like I must have been living under a rock most of my life.

When I got home and examined both next to my summer dress and shoes, I formed a preference. I was surprisingly pleased, almost gleeful about setting both handbags in the seat next to mine for the short drive back to Riverpoint Plaza, so I could to transact the return.

It was easy. No cash was exchanged, only my credit card was re-swiped. I made a mental note to check on this month’s statement to make sure the credit was posted.

I kept thinking about the phrase, Many Happy Returns. I looked up the entry on Wikipedia.

“Many happy returns” is a greeting which is used by some on birthdays, and by others in response to “Merry Christmas” and “Happy New Year.” Since the 18th century this has been used as a salutation to offer the hope that a happy day being marked would recur many more times. “

I now had a vastly different understanding of the phrase.

I think of the fantastic sense of freedom I have when I can re-choose something, or make a new choice.

At restaurants, I love it when I find myself gravitating towards the Alaskan Salmon, then end up getting the duck when the waitress actually asks (I figure I can get a single portion of nice quality seafood more easily than prepare a duck leg the French way).

I might get a kick over picking out a route back home from a destination and find myself changing my route multiple times after I get a beat on traffic and construction.

And who doesn’t fight with their couch buddy over the right to hold the remote during a TV night at home?

There’s something about exercising your right to re-choose that’s almost more liberating than making the choice in the first place. It’s great to remind myself that there’s no judgment involved in exercising a preference, even in changing my mind.

I’m not a big shopper. I don’t consider it a sport or hobby. I don’t think I’ll ever plan a vacation around bringing something back home from a foreign land — even if it’s not something my friends will likely have (and I do like feeling special).

I don’t think I’ll look into ways to stretch a store’s return policy or shop with the intention of bringing something back as a strategy to feel the short-term thrill of stepping into something I can’t afford.

But I like to feel the freedom of changing my mind. I like being able to change my mind without the weight of any judgment, even my own.

A shopping do-over is no small thing.

 

Pocket Change

I don’t usually read the morning paper, but I had the urge to today. I have no work assignments and no obligations until this afternoon. The idea of sipping a cup of tea and slowly pouring over the paper was very appealing.

I could get nostalgic about the good ol’ days when newspaper boxes (vending machines), like shady trees, were planted on every other street corner. I won’t even go into the fact that either of the city’s major dailies could be purchased for only a quarter.

The price is now $1 and the nearest box is a couple blocks away. (The machine requires exact change.)

It’s still an easy destination. A pleasant walk. The hard part is finding four quarters.

Years ago, when I had to bundle up two weeks worth of laundry and haul it off to a Laundromat to do, I used to save quarters. I looked for excuses to pay cash for things hoping to build up a stockpile of silver that would keep the coin-op dryers spinning until my jeans were not damp.

But finding four quarters was no longer a slam-dunk, and I didn’t want to drive to a gas station or drugstore, where I could use bills, just to buy a paper.

I seemed to remember I had an empty cookie tin in which I had some quarters socked away. You know the kind, some sort of European butter cookie you can buy for almost nothing on closeout. I looked on the floor of my bedroom closet then on some shelves until I found the blue round tin.

It was dusty. I can’t remember the last time I looked for quarters.

Opening it was somehow like opening a treasure chest. I didn’t know what I’d find. I ceremoniously wiped off the dust before I pried off the lid.

Wow. Ten quarters and a few nickels and pennies. Around three dollars. Three dollars I had forgotten about, wealth I didn’t think I had.

I wasn’t exactly giddy, but I felt a rush of motivation to look for more change.

I checked the lining of my coat pockets. (I figured the coats had to go to the dry cleaner soon anyway.) I took out the contents of my purse and combed the lining and zipper compartments for coins.

I remember friends who used to save pennies or nickels in glass jars. When they finally took them to a bank — No, they weren’t able to go on vacation, but I remember once a friend cashed in $52 in pennies – enough to for a couple pizzas and a bottle of vino.

When I pulled my pocket change and purse change together, I realized I had about five dollars.

Just a few days ago, I was with friends playing a board game. We talked about different times in our lives when we were poor, when we felt poor; a little bit desperate and a little bit hopeless.

My friend Val shared that she remembered looking for fallen and forgotten change in her couch cushions. We all talked about odd things we did to earn extra money or how we found money in unexpected places.

As I counted my coins, I was happy about taking a little detour from my planned activities to perform a mental inventory of what change, what money, I had that I wasn’t accounting for. I came to an interesting conclusion:

You’re never poor (or as poor as you think you are) when you’re conscious of what you have.

Finding a cache of coins is no small thing.

Little Black dress

On most Sunday mornings, I go to a meditation center. It’s nice to take time to go inside yourself among other people who are doing the same.

Although there is no formal dress code, it feels appropriate to dress modestly and comfortably. In other words, long skirts serve the purpose well. It seems that I have a few suitable Sunday outfits for summer but not for these transitional months.

Not one to make a sport or pastime out of shopping, recently, I decided to check out some places for a long skirt that I could wear on Sunday.

I went to The Village in my old neighborhood, my favorite resale shop. It was a Green Dot Weekend (with special discounts on items marked with a colored sticker), and it was very crowded. I didn’t stay long.

Then I went to a couple strip malls on steroids. Anchored by a major discount retailer but not as big and overwhelming as a suburban shopping center, I checked out the racks at Marshall’s.

Slim pickings, for sure; a mish mosh of new spring arrivals, warm-weather vacation getaway tops and winter items tagged for clearance.

A deal is a deal, right? After a few tours of different sections within the store, I realized that there were no long skirts to try on.

I began looking at spring tops and winter items that had been marked down. When shopping for clothes, I often employ the same strategy as I do when wine shopping. I look at the original retail price then at the discount price. I tend to look more seriously at buys that represent a good value.

When I started thumbing through the clearance items, I came across a cotton-knit black dress with three quarter sleeves. It had a high scoop neck. Except for a little flare at the bottom, it was pretty simple – well, it was plain.

OMG. $23.99

I gathered it, along with a few name brand tops and headed to the fitting room. I probably was juggling 6 hangers, just barely making the limit I could take into the fitting room at one time.

When I stopped looking for a particular thing, I SAW SO MANY THINGS THAT I WASN’T LOOKING FOR – things that maybe suited me in surprising ways.

I put a patterned long-sleeve tee and a highly reduced sheer Calvin Klein top in my TO KEEP pile.

Then I tried on the dress. It was so simple, and pretty much out of season. But it was a classic. With my natural curves and a scarf or jewelry, I could see pulling it from my closet for many occasions.

I don’t think I ever had a little black dress before, a go-to dress, and I was very happy about MY FIND.

I thought about the mental state I brought to the day’s shopping. It seemed that having a relaxed awareness rather than a single-minded focus was the key. I’m appreciative when I can slip into that space.

That I found a perfect little black dress (for $23.99, no less) is no small thing. (Okay, if I could find fashion forward shoes that don’t hurt my feet – that would be a miracle!)

Supersize Me

I’m not usually one to espouse the bigger is always better philosophy.

I prefer shopping at Harvestime over Costco. (I’m definitely not tempted by the idea of saving two dollars by buying 30 rolls of TP only to create a storage problem.)

I would much rather drive to a destination in sedan than an SUV no matter how many cup holders and electronic device adapters it has. I would sooner go to hear jazz in a little club than go to a stadium event where you’re lucky to see the stage (and probably have to wait in a line to pee).

I don’t know why I succumbed to the allure of a promotional mailing I got in my in email box last week, but it became high on this past weekend’s list of errands. It was for $5 off a gi-normous bag of dry dog food.

In the brand I buy, there’s a 4-pound bag and a 24-pound bag. The 24-pound bag already costs much less per ounce than the same product in a smaller package, but buying bulk is not an automatic decision for me.

I hate the thought of lugging this heavy-duty, handle-less sack that’s always changing shape up the two flights of my winding back stairs then over my kitchen threshold.

I also don’t like the idea of paying for something in advance of getting pleasure out of the purchase.

I don’t like when the Illinois Tollway wants me to prepay $40 for tolls I don’t need often. (I don’t commute to work.) Even my subscription to the symphony -– I’m very glad when I enjoy a performance, but I bristle a little bit when I have to shell out cash in June for shows I won’t see until the following April.

When shopping for myself, I worry about waste. Yes, the giant tub of yogurt costs much less per serving than the small package, but I hate pouring food down the drain or into the garbage because I can’t consume something before it becomes a science project.

I realized that I might need to look at this in an expanded way; to let go of some hard and fast rules.

I’m apprehensive about habits that encourage gluttony. If I buy more of something I use, I’m more apt to over-indulge. I’ll fill my plate at a buffet-style restaurant if only to get my money’s worth.

But I don’t want to be miserly with myself. I don’t want to get myself thinking in terms of scarcity. I don’t want to think that things need to be measured out in very deliberate portions, whatever constitutes just enough.

I know what it’s like to open my refrigerator door and see only a carton of eggs, a block of cheese, and a bottle of ketchup.

I remember when I was about to go on an extended vacation in October. I was worried about my dog’s anxiety about being abandoned (which, as a rescue pup, she’s experienced at least once). I had a conversation with a pet communicator a week before my trip.

I had her explain to India how I will be gone for 12 days, but that she shouldn’t be worried because I would come back. I wanted to let India know that I made arrangements for a friend to stay at my home. I wanted to assure her that her daily schedule shouldn’t change.

The pet communicator reported India’s response; that my friend was okay but that she would miss me. Then India asked if there would be enough food in my absence for them both.

I laughed thinking about this because it would be so like India to wonder where her next meal would come from, but I also saw it as a lesson for me – to be FLEXIBLE, not to feel bound by past decisions or rules of habit.

It was okay to SUPERSIZE my dog food purchase.

More is not always better, but not being miserly with myself is important too. I need to remember I don’t have to follow one rule.

There may be times when lugging a big bag up my stairs causes me more anxiety than the cost savings is worth. And I need to honor that feeling. But spending less money over a period of time, having ENOUGH for LONGER, has its attractions.

I need to honor my dominant feeling.

Having a whole season of kibbles in ready supply for your favorite pooch is no small thing.