Sunday, August 24, 2008

Idea #16: Treat birthdays like Beijing's opening ceremony of the Olympics.

Like the Olympics, birthdays don't happen often. And like the Olympics, they can be celebrated with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Some countries, like China, spend years preparing and create astounding displays of beauty. That is how we should treat birthdays.

My husband's birthday is coming up, so I have been trying to figure out how to do this. I should say, first of all, that making a birthday amazing has nothing to do with money at all. It has to do with preparation. I plan to make him a surprise chocolate cake, the kind with icing so good you want to lick it all off the top. I got him a present the lines up perfectly with one of his biggest passions, beer. And I made reservations at one of his favorite restaurants, which serves one of his favorite foods --fresh oysters.

But the biggest gift is all about attitude. There will be 24 hours that revolve around him, in stark contrast to our normal family life. If only I could set off fireworks that spell out his name. Well, maybe with Photoshop I can manage it.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Idea #15: Read a great book.

I stole this idea from NPR, which recommends Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, The Talented Mr. Ripley, and A Room with a View. I recommend anything about a woman having a midlife crisis and traveling the world, which may sound limiting but has been the theme of the last few books I've read, including Eat Pray Love, Without Reservations, and Tales of a Female Nomad.

What is it about a woman throwing her entire life out the window and starting over abroad, where dozens of attractive men are waiting to seduce her and even more cafes are awaiting her longing gaze. How can you not imagine yourself there?

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Idea #14: Embrace a routine.

Embracing a routine may sound like the exact opposite of vacation, when you are in a new place, doing new things. But actually, even vacations have a pleasant way of encouraging new kinds of routines, whether it's an early morning beach walk, cocktail hour, or fancy dinners out every night. Over at the Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin talks about the pleasure that can come from such ritual. She writes:
One of the things that I love about this yearly summer trip to Kansas City is that we always do exactly the same things. We go to the library, Worlds of Fun amusement park, Kaleidescope, a movie at Ward Parkway, the “sprayground.” We feed the ducks at Loose Park. We eat at Winstead’s and go out for BBQ. I eat huge quantities of my favorite nonfat Belfonte yoghurt that I can’t get in New York City. We buy books at the best bookstore ever, Rainy Day Books.
What's your ritual?

Monday, August 18, 2008

Idea #13: Stare at something pretty.

You did it in Rome. Maybe London, too. Certainly in Paris. And you can also do it right now, from your computer screen.

Starting at something pretty may mean simply turning your head to observe a well-chosen key chain, vase, or notebook cover near you. Or you may need to google your favorite artist.

Just as gazing at the Mona Lisa relaxes your eye muscles and allows your mind to wander to a pleasure-centered place, finding the beauty in your immediate surroundings (physically or via the Internet) lets you escape. Even for a moment.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Idea #12: Visit a Korean spa.

There are dozens of top-notch Korean spas throughout the United States, and visiting one feels almost indistinguishable from the real thing. Men and women go into separate bathing areas, where they luxuriate in baths heated to various temperatures, from 56 degrees to a cool down to 107 degrees for serious heat. As in Korea, you are expected to wash yourself first before getting into the water. The main pool has dozens of different jets for massages. Women stand by ready to offer a body scrub to those willing to submit to 40 minutes of serious exfoliation. (And yes, most people are nude, although the modest may wear suits.)

When you tire of the water, you can put on the pajamas they give you when you enter and go into the unisex area, where you can dine on tasty Korean food while lounging in front of 60-inch television screens. Various saunas offer more health benefits: The amethyst and red clay rooms rid the body of toxins while the igloo room tightens pores. To visit is to give yourself an other-worldly kind of day.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Idea #11: Stay up til 1am watching the Olympics.

Because even though you'll need two lattes just to make it through the next day, it's totally worth it.

Idea #10: Talk to a stranger.

When we're in a new country, our hearts are open to new experiences. We give off an entirely different vibe than the one we normally exude as we rush to work in the morning. Maybe it's in a subtle smile, the crease of our forehead, or just where our eyes wander, but when we're out of our routine, we're much more likely to spark up a conversation with someone we might have never otherwise met.

It's entirely possible to adopt this attitude even amid one's local environs. My parents, for example, recently spent the day perusing local museums and memorials. When I asked them how it went, they immediately started talking about the adorable Midwestern couple they met and the park ranger who pointed them toward a hidden exhibit. Acting like a tourist turned them into vacationers who were open to striking up a conversation with passersby.

Try it. Don't worry about looking like a weirdo. If it's awkward, you're never going to see the other person again. If it's not, then you get learn from someone new.