Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Better to Give

I love to give presents. I like to think about The Perfect Gift, search out unique options, and buy cute wrapping paper. I like to tell people what they should buy for others when they don't have their own ideas.

One of my dream jobs would be Personal Gift Shopper. Especially if I was employed by the very wealthy for an embarrassingly high salary. But who wouldn't like that job?

My Secret Agent Man has a birthday about two weeks after Valentine's Day, and after he told me my V-Day gift was the best present he'd ever received, I was officially stumped on a birthday present. What could possibly top brass knuckles and a handmade book of 100 of my favorite things about him?

I started brainstorming, and came up with a few so-so ideas. Finally inspiration struck during a rerun of Entourage. (A show I never watched until we started dating.) One of the characters is trying to figure out what to get his girlfriend for her birthday, and he wants to really impress her, since they just started dating. Another character gives him excellent advice that boils down to this: choose a gift that shows the person that you are paying attention to the details of their life.

I decided to give Secret Agent Man one gift for every year he's been alive.

Yes! I could do it! I had two weeks, a set budget, and the internet. What could be so hard about finding not one, but over thirty great gifts?

First, I made a list of "free" things I could give him: a home cooked dinner, secret naughty things, his own drawer in my bedroom, his own key.

Then I thought about places he likes to go, and bought him $5 or $10 giftcards for: a venti soy vanilla latte, a coffee from a place near his place, a coffee and bagel in his 'hood, a slice of cheesecake, his favorite burger, a lunch place near his office, an after-bar treat, and a pint.

Sticking with the food theme, and working with the timing, I also planned an Austin Restaurant Week date, and lucked into a deal for a half price tasting menu date. I picked up some of his favorite snacks (2 different kinds of olives and salty cashew nuts) and a few things to help put together his favorite drink (small bottle of absolut, orange squeezer). I tracked down a delicious version of his other favorite drink, and bought a six-pack of a beer I knew he enjoyed.

And I was over halfway there!

I did have to think of a few random things that I don't remember without looking over my list, but I vaguely recall a small box full of gum (as a joke about date #3, where we spent the end of the evening having a bubble-blowing contest in my driveway) and a firestarter.

I had to get a little bit random with: a luck token, lottery tickets (quick pick + scratch off), bacon chapstick, and soaps shaped like tiny hands.

I went sentimental and: framed a copy of our "prom photo" from New Year's, bought a small photo album and promised to take pictures at his birthday party.

A week before his birthday, he made an off the cuff comment about wishing there was a one day ninja training class in Austin. Oh really? How about a book, nunchucks, and a nunchucks training video?

And finally, something I knew he really wanted but would never buy for himself: the first season of Jersey Shore.

I couldn't wait for his birthday! So I started giving him gifts a couple of days in advance. Each was numbered, but I didn't tell him why, or how many gifts to expect. And the night before his birthday, after I knew he was asleep, I made like Santa and left him a pile of presents. The next morning, I was as excited as if it were my own Christmas morning.

He told me it was his best birthday ever, better than last year when he spent his birthday weekend in Vegas with his family and all his best friends. Success! Except now I'm pretty sure I'm going to have to get him one of these or one of these for Christmas to top the birthday gifts. Better start keeping an eye on craigslist.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

All the Single Ladies

I vaguely remember a movie (Sweet Home Alabama, maybe?) where the main fella takes his lady into Tiffany and suggests she pick out her own engagement ring.

That is not my life.

My XH surprised me with an engagement/wedding ring set; one that I had never seen previously, much less picked out. At the time, I hadn't even been ring shopping with girlfriends who wanted to think of options to pass along to their own fellas. Only one of my close friends had married, and she picked out her ring in Chicago's Diamond District. Over the years, I've since shopped with one of my girlfriends for an engagement ring, and been her "go-to guy" to point her fiance in the right direction when the time came. That shopping excursion consisted of one trip to Russell Korman, and an extended conversation with the lady behind the counter, who was wearing the biggest, flashiest engagement ring I had/have ever seen.

So, Secret Agent Man and I spent part of our trip to Vegas walking around the strip to different casinos. The weather wasn't great--a little grey and drizzly--so we spent more time indoors than out. Our last stop one afternoon was the Bellagio. If you haven't been, I definitely recommend checking it out. The Bellagio has beautiful Chihuly Glass installations, a superb Absolut Screwdriver, and a Tiffany & Co store. Until that afternoon, I only knew about the first of those attractions.

Did you know that when you're gambling, a waitress brings you free drinks? If Secret Agent Man is going to gamble, he is most likely to sit down for a game of Pai Gow--another mystery to me pre-Vegas trip. Ever the gentleman, he made sure to include me on his drink order. One for him, one for me.

He's played enough to know when to hold 'em, and when to fold 'em (and when to walk away, and when to run), so we didn't spend a lot of time at the table. We walked around the hotel a little bit, looked at more art, and before I knew it, we walked right in to Tiffany & Co.

And he said something to the lady behind the counter.

And she reached underneath the glass and pulled out a very shiny engagement ring.

And I put it on.

To be honest, I'm not really sure what happened next. My brain was too busy shouting "what the. . .WHAT??" and also "OOOOHHH, SHINY!" for me to hear any actual words exchanged in the real world. It soon became clear that the lady had handed me a different ring than Secret Agent Man had asked for, because she handed me another one. And I put it on!

I was so bedazzled by the shiny that it took me a minute or so to notice that they were both looking at me, expectantly. Like they were waiting for me to say something. Since my mind was still blank, I ended up blurting out a really, really romantic "You are so drunk. He's drunk!"

I am all about keepin' it klassy, friends.

He wasn't drunk. The lady had asked me if I preferred the rectangular or the square. Oops.

Now, I'm not the type of person who ever dreamed about a specific "perfect" wedding or even played bride when I was a kid. Even going through wedding planning, and reading magazines, I still didn't get caught up in it. I'm an event planner: I planned my event. I never looked at rings, and didn't imagine myself with anything different than I had. Until I didn't have it anymore. Eventually, I realized that I do want to marry again. (One last time!) I let myself hope a little bit that it could happen for me, and had a few tiny imaginings about what I might want.

Like maybe I might like an emerald cut diamond. Something rectangular.

Imagine my surprise when that's exactly what the lady handed me! Evidently, Secret Agent Man had browsed Tiffany a time or two, had seen the square-stone ring, and liked the look of it. I guess he thought it would be fun to see how it looked on his lady. It was so shiny! I think they put enormous diamonds in the rings out for show behind the counter to lure a fella in to buying something bigger than he might ordinarily. The lady got a little pushy with him about sales tax in LV being less than sales tax in Texas, and she suggested that she would go ahead and write down the details for the ring I liked best, "just in case." I am pretty sure I gave him the crazy eyes right about then. Our 18th date was turning into quite an experience.

After my try-on, we went for gelato and back to the hotel room for a pre-dinner nap. As we were getting ready for dinner, he asked me how much engagement rings cost. I told him they cost what a person can afford. He wondered if that meant they might cost as much as his car, when he bought it new a few years ago. Ummm. . .what??

That's right, apparently the ring I tried on and liked best cost five figures. And the first number of the price was not a 1 or 2. I told him that was insane, and we had a little chat about how stores other than the big T have pretty rings that would probably cost less because they aren't a brand. But then I had to stop myself and tell him that I was not going to have an engagement ring buying discussion with him yet. He laughed, and said "You don't think we were actually shopping for engagement rings today, do you?"

You bet I didn't, mister. I'm going to need to try on many more than two rings on that shopping trip! You know, that trip a long time from now when it wouldn't be so crazy soon for that to happen. Right?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Heart-Shaped World

I used to be a person who thought Valentine's Day was silly. I thought it was a fake holiday conjured up by card manufacturers and jewelry dealers to boost first of the year sales.

And then I received my first ever little blue box.

And then I didn't care about the reason for the gift, I just let myself enjoy it. And it was Good. The end.

The beginning? Secret Agent Man is a marathoner. He signed up for the Valentine's Day Austin Marathon months ago, before he even met me. A couple of weeks before V-Day, we circled around the idea of what to do that weekend. I told him: no fancy dinner out. No big deals. Let's just eat cheesecake in our pajamas! Who doesn't want to just eat cheesecake in their pajamas?

He kept asking me, though. I kept telling him. Meanwhile, I started to worry about the gift situation. Should it be a joke gift holiday? Was he going to get all serious on me? I decided to hedge my bets, and went for both. Gift #1 was a ninja weapon--brass knuckles with a pop-out knife. It's. . .a little hard to explain. Gift #2 took some work on my part. I bought a small (3x5) leather joural. I make a list of my 100 favorite things about him, and wrote each on a page in the journal. I walked around for days, just grinning like an idiot while I thought about things for the list. Try it out sometime--making that long of a list isn't easy, but it's really fun.

We kicked off the weekend with brunch on Saturday with his sister and niece. I was on a mission to win over the sister, since I wasn't exactly feeling the love from her. I know how it is; I could like my own sister-in-law more than I do. (And, incidentally, my experience with Secret Agent Man's sister is a good learning experience for me in how I should/could be a better SIL to my brother's wife.) S had put together some Valentine's Day gifts for his niece, who is three and a half. He'd showed me the gifts the night before, but what I didn't realize is that he had also put together a present to her from ME. That's right, he split up the stuff he'd bought her--like a sparkly pen and some stickers, fun little girl kid stuff--wrapped it up in two packages, and put my name on one of them. Seriously man, that's the only Valentine's surprise I needed!

Saturday night was low-key in preparation for the race early the next morning. And by 8am the next morning, I was shivering on the sidewalk with a "MORE COWBELL!" sign, waiting for him to run past. I hooked up with his sister (+ her husband + daughter) at the prearranged time and place, and we cheered him on together. In fact, we cheered everyone on! It turns out marathon runners love the "MORE COWBELL!" People were giving me the thumbs up and shouting at me--I ended up shouting "MORE COWBELL!" at more people than I could count.

Did I mention that I had also obtained a cowbell, which his sister or niece was happy to bang all day long? Awesome! (Really!)

We met him three times total, before the finish line. At the third stop (coveniently right outside his front door), I realized I needed to unload all the candy he'd packed for me to hand out. He'd bought three bags of individually-wrapped treats and a bag of pretzels, and told he me didn't want any leftovers. It turns out, runners want a little boost of sweet or salty energy when they're racing. Every time we saw him, we cheered extra, but also gave him treats. I remembered him telling me about a previous marathon, where some folks made a funny sign that all the runners were talking about afterwards. And that's how I ended up standing on a corner with a sign that said "STRANGER WITH CANDY." I held up the sign and held out a bag of candy, and people loved me! Of course, sister was still working the "MORE COWBELL." Good stuff for bettering, indeed! Every single person who saw us smiled--some laughed, more than one told me I was who their mama warned them about, and many took candy or a pretzel. I felt the love and spread the love!

Have I mentioned that I was wearing a shirt he'd bought me at the runner expo the day prior? It is black, and in red letters across the front it says "Badass." I want to wear it every day.

How could my Valentine's Day get any better?

First, it got a little less good. After he stormed the finish line, sister called a couple of their best girlfriends and herded us all over to PF Chang's. I'd been up since six in the morning, standing in the streets in my Badass shirt; do you think I was PF Chang's material? I was not, but I also hadn't just killed a marathon, so I went along.

And here's the thing about the girls: the four of them (S, sister, girls) all know each other really well and are best friends. The Girls main job in life seems to be drinking and being cool. Seriously. One of them is dating/has dated/sleeps with occasionally (I don't know which, or if it's all of the above) a fairly well-known--okay, let's say famous--fella from Austin. Both of them had just woken up (note: it was approximately 1pm) after three days of drinking that had included a Hill Country wine tour. Yet, they were still cooler than me and looked cuter than me. I feel like a dorky little sister when I'm with them. The Girls make no effort to include me, although one of them is nicer to me than the other, who mostly ignores me. I need to figure out The Girls.

I felt tired and a little cranky after lunch. I insisted on walking to my car while S drove Sister & The Girls to their cars. I just wanted to go home and take a shower. On my way home, S called and we decided to meet up in a few hours at my house for dinner. One delightfully hot shower later, and I felt slightly less tired and cranky. But an hour later he called me: Mr. Marathon was having trouble moving off his own couch. He offered to handle dinner. Could I go to his place? I could; I did.

I arrived to a heart-shaped Mangia pizza, a big salad, and cheesecake. But he wouldn't let me get started until he gave me my present; he'd been excited about it since the day before when I told him he had to wait a day to give it to me. He had me close my eyes, hold out my hands. . .

It felt like a small, light bag. It was a small, blue bag. Tiffany. Tiffany!! If you saw my Las Vegas "photo essay," you may have noticed a pic of Tiffany & Co. That would be because we stopped in to a store while we were there, and as a lark I tried on something very very shiny and expensive. Like, five figures expensive. That's a story for another time. I knew when I pulled the little blue box out of the bag that it wouldn't contain anything like that. Right?

Right! My Valentine gave me a beautiful little heart, on a delicate chain. And I, who used to scoff at Valentine's Day (and jewelry with hearts on it, for that matter), felt my own grinchy heart grow a few sizes.

What could be better than that? When we put on pajamas and ate cheesecake? Well, yes. But also: he told me the Book of Favorites was the best present he'd ever received. No pressure on me when I'm shopping for his birthday gift, right? His birthday is Friday. I have something in the works. It will either be very awesome, or a little weird. Or possibly not quite what I imagined and therefore disappointing to me. Stay tuned.