Month: July 2013

All-Inclusive

Greetings from my mother’s house, where there is plenty of food, coffee, wine, heat, and relaxation. Except there is no internet.

Because of an eccentricity of where they live, my parents are in a pocket where there’s no easily-accessible internet. There are no cable services here, so nothing to bundle. The phone service does not offer traditional internet but does offer an Air Card, however said Air Card doesn’t like to work with my two laptops and so when I am here I can either tether to my iPhone or elect to go without. Therefore this Sunday morning finds me internetless, with coffee, and a large selection of magazines. I tethered to bring you this rant. You are so very, very happy about this, I can tell.

By virtue of some excess mileage points my parents have subscribed to a variety of magazines, some of which I have historically subscribed to and some that never held much fascination for me (Redbook, anyone?). Buried in the four-inch deep stack I found an old friend, a copy of the latest edition of Money Magazine. Back in my formative twenties (oh, so very long ago) I subscribed, gave up, and re-subscribed in my early thirties. (I followed this pattern with Martha Stewart Magazine, too). The reason for the spotty subscription is simple: after about two years, the content is not new. The same old concepts get recycled and rehashed (here’s how you figure the trade-off in percentages when evaluating interest on debt borrowed vs. money saved!); after a couple of years it’s like watching a predictable movie.

As it has been about six years since my last venture through Money Magazine I opened it with honest curiosity. I can tell you right now, just to ruin this particular feature, that yes, there was very little new content. OK, fine. But here’s what struck me: I am not this magazine’s audience. Not at all. This was driven home in the first five minutes of perusal, and it’s something that either was not made clear in my previous reviews of it, or has changed recently in the editing.

Like this:

The cover is telling me how to reach $1M, 5 best moves to climb to real wealth, etc., all standard personal-finance magazine stuff. So far, so good. The first ad on the inside is for a Mazda, all edgy and black. That’s fairly neutral. The next one is for Capital One, ok, appropriate for a finance mag. Then we have the table of contents, another bank ad, and then the first non-bank, non-car ad? For Axiron, a low-testosterone treatment. A really hot older guy is showing staring off into middle distance as he applies it (it goes on your underarm area, like a roll-on deodorant) and the fact that his arm posture during this is like a man flexing his bicep is not lost on me. The only other picture of him is playing baseball (very, very manfully).  Everything else is tiny letters telling you how to get this to boost your testosterone.

Aside from the dubious joy of seeing a hot guy battling the failings of time this tells me that I am, if I am reading this magazine, somehow interested in this.  Ergo, if I’m male, I may have a testosterone deficiency. If I’m female, my husband obviously may have one: look at how manfully the hot guy is flexing.  In truth I am neither of these things, and this ad alienates me.

But hey, it’s just one ad, so let’s keep reading.

Letter from the Managing Editor (Craig!) telling us to not worry much and be a little happy.  Standard stuff.  Then the write-ins from readers. Nathan, Anu, Jared, Christopher, Jared. All dudes. The Facebook quotes are even more interesting: these are online responses to “Best Money Advice Now”. Cavonta (assuming female here) tells you to fold it up and put it in your pocket (saving). David talks about equity in your company to make real money (strategy). Rachel tells you to learn to cook (spend your money on experiences). Michael tells you to leave emotions out of investment decisions (strategy).  Marina tells you (I kid you not) how to shop (spending again). The message? Strategy is for men, and then how to employ that strategy is for women.

Next ad, T. Rowe Price. Very tastefully done, nice coloring, no humans. As a bank should be.

Next, the advice column: what to do when your boss takes the credit you deserve. Margot, Tom, Randy, Craig, Paul, and Ron all responded (although Margot got to advise first). Margot’s advice was about placating (work it out with your boss and ask them to share a little of the love), and the remainder included strategy on how to get the credit.

Next ad: Angie’s List. Something everyone can use (I don’t use it but they have a nice black and white pic of Angie, talking about authentic reviews and uses).

Then we have an Ad for Mutual of America, about retirement. Who’s in it? Grandpa and grandson at baseball. No one else (aside from some other little male children, in soft-focus in the background) is visible. An article about car insurance, some Q&A, an ad for CFP’s, and now we come to:

CIALIS! Free trial for 30 days. There must be a modeling agency for seriously hot older guys because here’s a different one, arm around his female person (wife? Girlfriend? Friend’s wife? We don’t know, no rings are visible and he is not looking her in the eye, incidentally). And then many little words about how you too can have sex-on-demand again. If you’re a guy. Or a wife with a guy who needs it.

(There’s three pages of small print about the boner medication, flanked by a small ad on Weber Grill’s new REAL GRILLING cookbook.)

A couple more small articles, and then an ad for the Alzheimer’s Association.  Now we have hot older guy number 3, looking at himself in the mirror, wondering about if he has Alzheimer’s or not.

A fluff piece on underwater/waterproof cameras, an ad for GoToMeeting (which I have used) AND HAS WOMEN IN IT, OMG! WOMEN! All with long, straight hair, and an equivalent number of bearded, hipster-looking guys. In the meeting, on the screen, someone named Ted is offering Community Management Certification to lady with straight hair number one. Oh, okay. So it’s okay that she’s in some form of technology; she’s doing something “nice” like Community Management. It’s not like she’s a DEVELOPER, or anything. That said, there’s a nice quote from a CEO named “Wendy” about how useful it is.

I am looking at hot older guy number 4, the first non-white hot older guy, in an ad for a shingles vaccine.  Some small articles on the cost of medicine, an ad for CDW done in all red and white, and then an article on how to split the check.

With your “buddies”.

An ad for the magazine itself, and then “How to tell your kid you’re cutting him off”. Presumably female kids don’t need to be cut off.

Then an ad for Edward Jones, with hot older guy number 5 (we’re back to white), who actually believes the retirement goals his financial advisor is helping him with.

At that point, we were at page 35, about 1/3 of the way through the magazine. There were more hot older guys, there were more ways to feel comfortable about your manhood, how you were going to look after your wife and the grandkids, how to marshal financial decisions while grilling meat and talking sports.

I am not a raving feminist (yet), but it bothers me that a genre I’d consider to be (or need to be) gender-neutral (finance) is in fact, male-oriented, still. This is not expecting to pick up an issue of Deer Hunter magazine or what have you and see equal representation of girls and guys, (or Martha Stewart Mag, for that matter). Fiscal responsibility and interest is not something that should (or does) fall along gender line patterns; the knowledge that one of those Jamie Lee Curtis yogurt ads that help your “digestive tract” would kill off subscriptions of the magazine saddens me.

I do not want a magazine that is female-financially-geared in response. It would be needlessly redundant: a LOT of the articles and content in the magazine, particularly if you haven’t read it before, are useful regardless of your gender (and sometimes, your age). But the ad choices in this latest edition are so ruthlessly targeted it’s something I noticed before my first cup of coffee was through, and overshadowed my interest in what the thing actually had to say.  I didn’t expect a nail-polish ad, or an ad by Revlon or for tampons; but having Grandma at the baseball game would’ve been nice. Maybe having a female in the shingles or Alzheimer’s ad? (Not that I’m wishing shingles or Alzheimer’s on anyone, it’s just one of the few ads that targeted an ailment that isn’t gender-specific).

A lot of magazines, particularly in-print magazines, are worried about subscribers and leverage ad sales in order to keep their magazine afloat. I get that, it’s part of the mixed-revenue model a magazine uses. I’m just wondering at what cost are they placing these ads, for their “desired” audience, and missing a wider audience (that is growing).

Or maybe that’s why all the older guys in the ads are hot.

News at 140 Characters per Second

A couple of days ago, I was eyeballing my Twitter feed and it “exploded” — tweets came at a furious pace, retweeting, modified tweeting, quoted tweeting, fresh tweeting. Tweets with links, tweets with emoticons, serious tweets and facetious tweets. All of them (barring Sponsored Tweets, which are something I’d pay to NOT have to see) were about the Fed’s Q&A session.

I didn’t have to watch it (I caught clips later). I had, quite literally, a play-by-play review from journalists, editors, friends, co-workers, and friends-of-friends of every question, position, response, and impact. “Knowing”, as I do, most of these sources, I could tell who was being predictably circumspect, who was flying off the handle, and who was simply “reporting”. I had a dozen neatly arranged bits of data at my fingertips.

This is the same Twitter feed that gave me an equally determined and detailed vision of “Sharknado”, the deliberately cheesy SciFy flick. (It was what it sounded like: Sharks. In a Tornado.) Quite possibly the best thing I read about that was that the special effects were akin to dropping 3 bowling balls in a bucket filled with a 50/50 mix of “Motor Oil and Kool-Aid” (that, from NPR).

I’ve heard Twitter criticized as the medium of the vapid, a haven for narcissists, a cocktail party happening at 140-character snippets. These are, actually, all accurate impressions. Twitter is chock-a-block FULL of vapid narcissists (um, hi!) and is very much like a cocktail party. The trick with a cocktail party, though, aside from eating a bit beforehand and judiciously measuring your alcohol intake, is to not stick yourself with a group of people who 1. don’t tend to agree with you, unless you’re that rare creature who can handle an honest debate, and 2. find the group of people with the discussion base that interests you. If that happens to be the Kardashians, well, enjoy. I won’t be with you, though.

To some extent Twitter is a very personalized “news” feed, and I say that with “air quotes”/aka. “Bunny Rabbit Ears” because “news” is something as a concept that is bastardized near and far. Al-Jazeera Egypt is now even subject to scrutiny in its authenticity, I’ve heard Fox News called “Faux News” and even CNN has had criticism. I personally float to the Economist and the Guardian, because if you’re going to get brutally fair journalism you’re going to get it from a race that self-flaggelates as a cultural point of pride. It’s further personalized by the fact that  you’re unlikely to “follow” anyone who irritates you or annoys you, much as you’re not likely to grab your wine/vodka tonic/beer/margarita/iced tea and stand next to that asshole you wished the hostess wouldn’t invite to her party. You can safely intake your news with whatever bias you prefer, and get it that way.

An interesting thing that happens, though, in the Twitterverse, is the concept of the “retweet”. You may not stand next to the asshole at the party, but his voice can carry. You can attempt to tune it out, but someone may (conspirationally, mischievously, inaptly) repeat exactly what he said in a “You wouldn’t believe what [the asshole] just said” sort of way. Ladies and Gentlemen, enter the retweet. Retweeting is not limited to “hey look this person thinks like I do” but can also be an entrée to “Holy shit can you believe this douchebag just said that?”. In a world where you are not tolerant enough of the douchebag to follow him/her, chances are someone in your Twittersphere is, and will let you know what s/he said. Twitter is therefore no more, or less, useful than any other medium of news delivery we have had to date. It’s just delivered in an abbreviated fashion.

That may be a blessing.

 

Kitchen Witchin’

About three weeks back I showed up at the Sur La Table in Kirkland, bright and ready, for my cooking class at 10am.

Only to discover I am, in fact, a total dork and I had signed up for the 1:30pm class. (Disclosure: I work for SLT, which was only part of the reason I was there.)  The instructor for my class happened to be there and knew, without checking a list, that I was in the class. She also knew the names of my friends in the class. As well as the other 6 participants.

That’s pretty impressive.

After going home and puttering a bit, I returned for my class: “Everything on the Grill”. The class was $69 and included about 2 hours of instruction, as well as the food itself (you get to eat what you have cooked when you are finished), and a printed copy of the recipes (no note-taking required).

We arrived and sat down, where we were handed aprons, name tags (with our names already on them), the printed recipes, and a discount card for any purchase we made that week. And then our instructor, Nicole, started talking. (Nicole was flanked by two kitchen assistants, whose very job it seemed was to make sure we didn’t have to do anything so “icky” as wash something, or fetch our own coffee. They also had tons of tips to hand out.)

Nicole walked us through how the class would proceed, and then started in on the first recipe. (Recipes included grilled kale and nectarine salad, a grilled asparagus-onion-tomato-corn salad, and marinated pork chops. Dessert was grilled lemon poppy seed pound cake with berries. No I’m not sharing the recipes unless you come to my house).  My teammates were actually my former boss and my former skip-level, and, having been conditioned on how best to work with me, were full of verbal praise. (I’m actually pretty mercenary, but verbal praise works best between review periods).  It did get a bit embarrassing though and I had to ask them to knock it off. I felt like “that” kid, if you get my drift.

The format of the class is very hands-on. You chop your own stuff, you juice your own fruit, you place your own food on the grill, you take it off, you test for done-ness, and you eat it. I learned a new way to hold my knife (and chop onions faster), a quick trick how to slide cherry tomatoes en-masse (actual quote from my friend Sharon: “this is worth the price of the class ALONE!”), how to tell when asparagus are grilled just enough, and that you oil the food and not the grill.

And then? Then I tested it out on friends. And their relatives. In my house.

They did not die. Despite his disinclination to tomatoes (and kale), the male person ate heartily. Doubles were had on dessert (which I modified to be angel food cake, and that grills up just fine). And I was informed that the pork marinade should be put into the “regular rotation”. All in all, a success.

Still, I can’t help doing what I tend to do with recipes. After I made it at home, I reviewed some parts and decided I’d change this-and-that, tweak it here-and-there. But that really is part of the joy of cooking.

The Only Thing We Have To Fear Is Fear Itself

-FDR

Having nonchalantly signed up for Tough Mudder (NB: I didn’t actually yet sign up for it but I said I would so I will), I was initially apprehensive at the idea of a cold ice bath and a bout of electroshock therapy. But I spent a portion of this flight (greetings from 35k feet) actually looking at the event obstacles, both volume and detail, and see that there’s a whole lot of scary in store for my teammates and me.

Tough Mudder is aptly named, and aside from a couple of obstacles that include electrocution, and a couple (or 4) more that include ice baths, there are several that include enclosed spaces, and a few that involve heights. Oh, wonderful. It’s like someone gift-wrapped all of the things that freak me out and handed it over in one giant muddy package.

I can handle bugs, spiders, pretty much any liquid that comes out of an animal (thanks to a small child and a Zoology degree), heights that will kill me, the dark, speed, guns, knives, the unknown, and swimming with sharks. But while ice baths and electrocution are unsavory, confined spaces and heights that will only break a bone or two scare the high holy crap out of me. I have no idea how to train for this, except that this will be 10-12 miles of “suck it up and deal”.

Seemingly unrelated, but totally not, is a book I picked up recently that discusses (among other things) the value of “stuff” vs. the value of “experiences”. The bottom line is that we value the “experience” more than the “stuff” for the same dollar output. “Stuff” doesn’t necessarily make us happier, but “experiences” do; even people who do arduous, un-fun things reflect back on them and value the experience. (Anyone who has given birth or finished a physical event they weren’t really prepared for — cough — can testify to it having been a lot more fun AFTER it’s over).

I’m clinging to this. To be absolutely, perfectly frank, I want to quit this event before it’s even started, because I know not only what it will mean in terms of preparation, but that at some point I’m going to be stuck in a small, enclosed, dark space; I will be cold, I will feel useless, and I will want to quit, and the only reason I won’t is that I’m too stubborn to do so.

Here we go…

An Open Letter to My Personal Trainer, David

Well David, it’s that time again, where I’ve done something rash and signed up for something I probably shouldn’t do. There’s a timeline involved, and some frankly optimistic requirements; I figured I’d apologize now and get it over with.

You see, I let the Ms.Krieant sign me up for Tough Mudder, and I have a little under 13 weeks to get ready. It has some impressive obstacles, most of which have me scared out of my mind, but as you know once I’ve said I’ll do something, I’ll do it…

…as long as I get to whine a lot about it.

So I realize that up until now your charge has been mostly to try to get me stronger while avoiding the injury of the month; in our short tenure together this has meant occasionally avoiding my knees, my neck, my upper back, my lower back, or my right hip. Now we need to ignore all of that, because I will need all of those parts working and functional.

I also realize that this means that the chattiness of our sessions will have to reduce, that we can no longer freely evaluate others in the gym as you hand me five more pounds of something or have me do 15 more push-ups. It means that you’re likely to give me homework, that I will need to actually do weight work more than twice a week, and that I will be very, very sore these ensuing weeks.

But David, I’m turning 40.

I realize this isn’t much to you — I think 40 hit and flew by for you about a decade ago, not that you’d notice, being an ex-Marine and all. I realize this isn’t much to most of our early-morning compatriots, as I think the average age at the gym at our time of morning is mid-50’s. It isn’t technically even much to me in the sense that I’m not having a huge to-do over it, nor do I want to see black balloons, nor do I think the day after my birthday I will suddenly fall apart or feel older. The fact is, David, I’m tired of having my body feel older now.

Five years ago I entered into a half marathon, having never run, because someone told me I couldn’t do it. (Actually, he laughed and said, “yah, right”). Three years ago I entered into a 2-day, 160-mile bike ride because someone said I wouldn’t want to do it. Last year I did the STP pretty much under the same auspices. And each time, I injured myself either in training or in the event itself. But each time, I did the training without any professional help.

You’re here to fix that, David, because at 40, I’ve decided I’m tired of injuring myself. And this likely means I’ll have to do a lot of things I was heretofore unprepared to do, like go to the gym more than 4 times per week and maybe, actually, you know, stretch. Perhaps even do my regular PT exercises. I have a support group in my friends — one lent a very pertinent book (Supple Leopard, indeed), one gave me tips on how to deal with the electric shocks (or at least a realistic impression of what they’re like). But your job is to make sure I’m ready, and so I really do hope you’ll understand the bullet-pointed list you’re going to get when next we see each other.

I still reserve the right to whine, though.

Welcome to Scottsdale

It had been a few visits here for me before I realized that Scottsdale is, in fact, its own city. The sprawl that is Phoenix stretches out for miles; if you fly in at night you are treated to a truly awe-inspiring stretch of lights. As “Scottsdale” is only 30 minutes from the airport, I had always taken it for granted that it was but a neighborhood. Soon however you notice signs that say “City of Scottsdale” and eventually, the “Welcome to Scottsdale” signs along the wide, clean freeways.

My parents moved here 3 years ago, after having lived in Washington for nearly 25 years. This place is as dry and hot as my adopted state is wet and cold: most of the year it is, and some of the year it isn’t. This time of year, it’s very, very hot. Two nights ago, the “low” was 92 degrees.

This temporal extremity leans to some specialized behaviors: stores and shops all have their AC up full-bore, so walking out of 110 degree heat into 70 degrees is a bit jolting. My mother ordered hot tea with lunch because the restaurant was so cold. Women wear sleeveless shirts or dresses, and shorts or capris or skirts; when they leave the car they reach first for their shades and the windshield shade, and second for a little sweater or wrap for once they enter the store. I’ve seen it. It’s real.

In Washington, after it rains, things smell fresh and woodsy; in Scottsdale, after it rains… I can’t quite describe it. It’s a vaguely grassy, musty smell. It’s not wholly unpleasant once you’re used to it. And when the sun comes out again, your first inclination (as a Washingtonian) is to run right out and enjoy it, after all, you’re looking through large picture windows at sunshine dappling on the pool, and hummingbirds flitting about. You open the door, go outside, and your face starts to flake off.

I will say this: the climate, however hot, does great things for acne, and hair that won’t behave. I can let my hair air-dry here without getting massive frizz. And thus far I haven’t gotten completely burnt. Or not much. Playing in a backyard pool for hours that is naturally at 90 degrees isn’t bad, either.

If you’re looking to visit Scottsdale and/or Phoenix in summer, I do recommend the following:

1. Pack a light windbreaker. It’s monsoon season, and so it “rains”. If you’re a Washingtonian you don’t probably care much about rain, but others seem to, so it makes them feel better when you have a light jacket.

2. Sunscreen. Spray-on, waterproof, and use it repeatedly.

3. Phoenix (and Scottsdale) have many GREAT museums (including the Heard, the Art museum, the Natural History museum…) and a wonderful zoo. It’s not just golf and desert hikes and great Mexican food.

4. Water. Drink lots and lots and lots and lots of water. Not from the tap. The water here is killer hard, so most houses/establishments have water softeners, which make the water taste like ass. So get bottled, or filtered water. No, I don’t know what ass really tastes like, so let’s just say I *imagine* that’s what it tastes like. Just read it as unpleasant.

5. The freeways here are wide, languid, flat things with lots of other people on them, who (for the most part) drive reasonably. But motorcyclists don’t have to wear helmets and they don’t always drive “reasonably” here. If you rent a car, note that, and also note that no matter how cool it seems outside, a shady parking spot will be worth a little bit of a walk.

6. If you play outside, or run outside (I don’t in the summer, the ‘rents have a treadmill), do it early and remember the altitude. Scottsdale is 632m (about 2000 feet), unlike my hometown of Sammamish, which is 9m (30 feet). It makes a huge difference in your cardio.

And, as you leave, note that the Phoenix Airport is truly crazily laid out, so if you have to return a rental car plan some extra time (especially as it’s a 20-minute shuttle ride from the rental car facility to the actual airport). If someone is dropping you off,  you need to know what terminal you’re at well in advance of airport arrival (or you will miss your terminal and do that never-ending-drive-around-the-airport-thing).  Finally, the TSA area has a dedicated family-friendly line — and they don’t care if your kid is 10. Just sayin’.

Floating Along

I am, once again, at the airport. Can I just say how refreshing it was to NOT have an instant sense of direction once clearing security? I have a whole new world opened to me, and it’s a weird one. Item one: I checked email two hours after leaving on vacation and no work urgency or email had appeared! (What is this alternate universe I have travelled to?).

No, this is a welcome weird; I am semi-secure in the knowledge that nothing really truly awfully bad can happen, that my company can survive without me, and yet my (brief) absence will not convince them they should get rid of me. Nonetheless I am travelling with two laptops, which means I’ll be totally buff when I return.

Like every vacation, I have a laundry list of things I’m going to do (that I probably will not complete). Like every vacation, I have forgotten something (although the kindly Editor dropped by work earlier today and delivered my knitting, which was the item forgotten). Like every vacation, the boychild and I went to Anthony’s for pre-flight. Like every vacation, I am looking forward to in-flight WiFi.

I cannot sit still. I really can’t. I noticed it a few years back, and it was again brought to my attention when the Brit was in a meeting with me a year back. It has peaked since: hour-long meetings in conference rooms either must include my laptop so I can multitask *or* folks need to suspend their seismographs, because the leg or the hand or the pencil or the anything else will be rhythmically moving to the sound of whatever song is in the head.  So sitting on a plane for three hours is going to be less than pleasant. For those of you recommending wine: thought of that. But I’m going to 110-degree weather, and so dehydrating myself on purpose seems a bit stupid.

In four days I will return, and will have to text my PT and tell him about signing up for Tough Mudder, and will have to acclimatize myself to the notion that in 3 months I need to train myself to 1. withstand electric shocks, or at least grit my teeth over them, and 2. be able to pull myself up (all of myself) (by my own hands) (several times). Up until now the directive for the trainer has been much more mellow, much more “hey can you make sure you don’t re-break the parts of me that are broken?” and more “I have this specific set of criteria I must meet in 12 weeks.”

But until then I’m on vacation. Leave a message!