Living the Dream… ish.

The Valley Isle

Two years (and a couple of weeks) ago, my husband and I were married on the island of Kauai. The only attendee was our best man, ring bearer, and man of honor: my son. It was a perfect vacation, marked by lazy beach days and the obligatory helicopter tour.

We had decided upon our return that we’d save up and return to Hawaii in two years, and would go to Maui: I had been as a teenager with my parents but neither my son nor husband had been; all I remembered was that my brother and I had made a large pain in the ass about going to Lahaina all of the time. I think I was seventeen at the time.

Maui is an island composite of two volcanoes, effectively splitting the island into a “north” and “south” with a valley betwixt. We were staying in Kihei which meant that from Kahului (OGG – the major airport on the island, and on the eastside) you cross through the valley to the west side of the island, and drive down a bit (down the North, then South Kihei road along the Piilani highway). We rented a condo (pro tip: if you’re going to Hawaii with kids it is far cheaper to get a two bedroom condo with a kitchenette than it is to get a two bedroom hotel room; and the bonus is you can eat in for breakfast) and if you’re interested I recommend VRBO for that — check out the pictures and review the amenities. NB: groceries on Hawaii are more expensive than at home. Just accept it. It’s slightly less expensive if you buy local products.

As part of this trip I decided I’d reread James Michener’s Hawaii, for the bulk of the middle text takes place in Lahaina, and I knew we would be visiting there this trip. I had to reassure my dad — who good-naturedly teased me about this trip and asked if we’d go to Lahaina — that yes, we would be going, but no we would not be staying. Lahaina is a beautiful, historic town, but it’s also where you’d go if you *need* to be surrounded by shops and lots of people and that is frankly not me (or us). In Michener’s Hawaii it covers the missionary settlement in Lahaina and its formative years, along with the importation of Chinese and Japanese labor, the impact of the missionary settlement (and imported labor) on the Hawaiians, etc. At something like a thousand pages a Michener book should come on a kindle but it goes surprisingly fast, especially when your afternoon is beachside, listening to the rolling waves and watching your teenager boogieboard. I finished on day two.

In our trips to Lahaina, we first visited the Baldwin Home. This is not the missionary that Michener based his central character on (Abner Hale) although by reading his bio and reviewing his living quarters I’d bet money it’s who he based his missionary/doctor character on (Dr. Whipple). Entrance to the Baldwin home is a mere $5 for adults, kids are free; it’s a quick review but a beautiful home. Head a bit south and west from there and you will come upon the Lahaina courthouse, which has in its confines a lovely art gallery (Maui is big on art galleries and if I had had a spare $1500 I would have purchased a particular map of the island) and a museum showing (very briefly by museum standards) the history of the area: you can see an original sperm whale tooth (declaring the power of the Alii Nui — basically the Royal person gets to wear it) hung by 80 strands of braided human hair (no joke); you get to see original fabric created by the Hawaiians (and how it’s essentially paper-based and involves a lot of different beating implements to get it into shape), as well as several currencies used on the island (until Hawaii came to the US as a territory and then a state it used Mexican, American, Spanish, Portuguese, Netherlands, etc. currency). There’s a bit of stamp collecting and a history of the last kings of Hawaii, as well as the timeline of the “center” of Hawaii — the capital of which did not move to Honolulu until just before the Civil War.

Just outside the courthouse is a beautiful Banyan tree, with at least seven roots (this tree has one main center and then has tendrils out to at least six other root systems, so basically it looks like seven trees that are all interconnected) and to the right (south) of the tree is a corner of what was the old fort — hewn from coral block. Up the street (eastward, about 3 blocks) is the old Lahaina prison, where you can see the prisoner’s quarters, read the costs and relative frequencies associated with various crimes (they have 3 year snapshots so you can see the impact on adultery that is, I believe, inverse from public drunkenness — if I remember correctly; I should have taken a picture). Lahaina is not all preserved history, though, and if you want a truly amazing collection of souvenir, ice cream, eatery, jewelry, and skin-care shops you’d be hard pressed to find a larger set on the island.

Lahaina though is not the be-all and end-all of Maui and it would be a shame to ignore other areas. Here’s a brief review if you’re thinking about going; for us we consider the Maui box “checked”:

Kihei/Wailea – beautiful beaches. At Kamaole beach park (I or II) you can snorkel with sea turtles (we did). There’s a rough selection of shops and even a health food store (Hawaiian Moons, which also has ready-to-eat food). The best dinners we had were at a place called the Monkeypod kitchen (we went twice) in Wailua, which is just south of where we stayed in Kihei. For runners, a good run is from north to south Kihei and then up the Wailua hill– it’s a solid one mile of uphill but the downhill is a patient grade and you will very much enjoy it. A good deli is the 808 deli on south Kihei, just across from the second Kamaole beach park.

Paia (pronounced Pah-EE-ah) has a couple of blocks of shops and it’s on the Road to Hana (a southward road along the east side of the island which is more about the journey tha the destination). Best pizza ever is at a place called the Flabread Company, where you get a pulled pork, pineapple, goat cheese and maui onion pizza. Don’t argue. Just get it.

Kanapali – also a good beach, specifically the DT Fleming beach just north of the Ritz. Not pretty — there’s bits of wood everywhere — but the boogieboarding is top-notch (per the teenager). Unless you value a burger at $25 get your food before you arrive there; there’s picnic tables and the restrooms are NICE!

Ha’Iku – make sure to visit the North Shore Zipline Company (which is ironic since they’re actually on the south of the island but whatever). Seven zip lines and for those of us on the trip that were afraid of heights (hi) it was transformative. The crew there is patient, kind, and will not let you chicken out of things. They are also witty intelligent guys. The pictures they take are well worth it — you don’t see the photographer all that often but he does take some amazing pictures.

Wailuku – Maui Ocean Center & Aquarium. Hands down one of the best aquariums I’ve ever been to (it was built in ’98 so I couldn’t nag my parents to take me to it), they have actual sharks (juveniles — as they mature they’re released back into the wild) and they’re staffed by local University marine biologists. Sea turtles, hammerhead and reef sharks, informative exhibits and a nice, non-confrontational gift shop (e.g. you don’t have to exit through it).

Molokini Crater – you get here via snorkeling tour and there’s tours and tours. We went a little higher-end and from a volume-of-people-on-the-boat perspective it was worth it; the Alii Nui tours are staffed by professional, gracious people who know what they’re about. You wanna dive? You can dive. You wanna Snuba/Hooka dive? Yep. You wanna snorkel? rock on. You wanna snorkel but you’ve never done it before? Yep, they can help you with that. Full breakfast and lunch plus snacks, they provide towels and sunscreen, and it’s five hours of sheer fun. Plus they sail back for a bit, so if you are a sailor at heart — or like to pretend you are — I highly recommend.

Advertisements

Once More into the Breach

It’s happened again: I have signed up for an Event and it means I have to do training and let’s face it no one likes training. I will be participating in Ragnar Northwest Passage, this time with a different set of folks (albeit I know the same number of people this time as last: one). Interestingly enough I’m assigned the same runner legs I was last time, and so it shouldn’t be too rough.

Training is exasperating. As much as I default to Rule by Spreadsheet — checklists, things to do, etc. get almost maniacally followed — having one tell you exactly how many miles you must run is annoying. Some days it’s four, some days it’s two, some days it wants you to run fast and some days it wants you to run hills.  This means you may be feeling like a nice, flat four-miler, but the spreadsheet says you must run 2.5 miles of hills. The spreadsheet does not have any regard for your feelings.

In previous years the “long run” of the week was typically the most daunting, not because of the run itself but to find someplace, local and convenient, that fit the spec. I live on a hill. I live in an area surrounded by hills. You cannot, conveniently and within walking distance of my home, start a run that will be flat for longer than about a mile. So when the spreadsheet calls for 4 miles, “easy” (read – flat), then the spreadsheet is blowing you a raspberry. You must either get into a car to drive to someplace flat (which is ridiculous), walk however long to get to someplace flat (in my case, about 2 miles down a crazy steep hill, which means you get to walk back UP the crazy steep hill when you’re done), or deal with hills and try to tell yourself that you’re taking them “easy”. When it’s four miles that’s fine. When it’s seven that’s less fine.

Which is a long and whiny way to point out that this is the least fun part of Type 2 Fun, and I’m in the thick of it. On the flip side, the usual performance anxiety that comes with these things — questioning if I really can do it again, finding that joints hurt more than they ought to, fantasizing that if I really injure myself then I can bail and no one can blame me — has not happened.

At all.

This is unusual, and incidentally I am not exaggerating when I say that often in training, usually about 20% away from target, I get this fantasy that I will fall or trip or otherwise twist or jar my ankle or knee or hip, and then I won’t have to run anymore, and it will be okay because no one could blame me for quitting. We have a deep societal attitude towards quitting which merits further inspection (and an example can be found here). Rather than feel comfortable saying “I realized I said I’d run the Seattle Half/do a tri/bike 200 miles, but I’d rather stay home and read Nero Wolfe books”, I’d find myself running along the manicured suburbs considering the merits of air casts and crutches.

I can’t dismiss this newfound acceptance as “I’ve done Ragnar before so that’s why it’s okay” because the “I’ve done it before” didn’t work with training for 4 of 5 half Marathons, or the second of two double century bike rides.

The only thread I have to hang this on is that this time last year I was finally running again after having messed up my ankle good and proper – complete with crutches. I lost an entire month’s training, and still caught up and was able to run Ragnar. Not perfectly, not even at my desired pace towards the end; but I was able to do it and survive the sleep deprivation and questionable hygiene that comes with a two day relay race.  Instead of bailing when the opportunity was handed to me (in the form of tripping in a restaurant, of all places, in Beijing) I did my physical therapy, used my crutches, worked my way out of it and ran.

Maybe the fantasizing of what it would be like to quit — or, I think more accurately, to not have to train — was enough to keep my mind occupied while running. Maybe I don’t have that anymore and the tedium needs to get replaced with other things.

Maybe this is what I will try to figure out while I go for my next run. I’ll need something to distract me. There will be more hills.

 

Get Ready… to Get Busy

This week is a series of “strategy” sessions at work, at Team Read, and at my son’s school. Three different days, three different sessions, with three different outcomes, to be sure, but all in the same purpose nonetheless: the brief-but-effective review of where we’ve been, a lengthy-and-detailed review of where we are going to go, and an even lengthier discussion and documentation of how we’re going to get there.

Inasmuch as these things tend to be annual — the Board Retreat for Team Read is an annual event, the Long Range Planning meeting at work is (theoretically) an annual event, and Curriculum/Back To School is an annual event — there is an overriding reassurance that we’re not doing this once and dropping it. Oh no. There are meetings scheduled throughout the year, there are metrics (donations/students served, legitimate scenarios satisfied for customers, grades), there is inherent and ongoing accountability.

As a slightly OCD, check box-oriented, black-and-white mentality, I find these meetings extremely validating and reinforcing. We will have a Plan, everyone will know what the Plan is, we will all agree on how we Measure the Plan, we will all agree on who is Working the Plan, we will all agree when the Boxes are Checked. The meetings themselves typically offer the ability to plan for the meeting itself– meta-OCD, for the win! — and involve lots of discussion and interaction and cooperation to get off the ground. I thrive on all of that. One of the reasons I like my job, and I like Team Read, and I am getting to like my son’s school more (especially as I learn what words to say and who to go to to actually implement stuff), is that beyond the “annual” cycle, the interim meetings, and even days, all carry this reinforcement of Plans and Expectations and Actions.

As a person who expects everyone to operate in the same hyperactive, insomniac, black-and-white world I operate in (to the admitted dearth of personal time, which those around me politely point out when it gets bad), these meetings come with a tinge of apprehension and dread.  What if we set our expectations too high, or too low? What if we don’t all come to consensus (or politely agree to disagree on some points and actually come up with a working plan)? What if I talk too much or not enough? What if people get bored?

I once sat in on one of these meetings, back in my Expedia days, in a beautiful conference room in Montreal. It was a series of speakers — speaker A spoke for an hour, speaker B spoke for an hour, etc. ad nauseam. The meeting lasted all day, as they do, and it included boxed lunches and bio breaks and the like. During one of the breaks — probably 3 hours in — my coworker to my left turned to me and asked, “Can you literally not sit still?” I had been bouncing my leg, making notes (about the meeting and not about the meeting), asking questions, making more notes, etc. pretty incessantly. I was not completely bored, but I was not fully engaged.

Books upon books, and now blog upon blogs, have been written to avoid meeting boredom. The advice varies from the basics (be brief, use lots of different media to get your point across, avoid Death by PowerPoint) to more rigorous applications (if it can be handled in email, don’t meet; if it takes longer than an hour, then set up follow-on meetings, etc.)  No one seems to have cracked the meeting code, although for several-hour-long meetings I think breakout sessions and interactive pieces are imperative.  What is invariable is the desire of the meeting host(s), or attendees, to make the most productive use of their time.

In the meeting I had yesterday — the final, and longest of these, the Board Retreat for Team Read in which we mapped out the actual implementation plan for our Strategy plan — we spent a good deal of time talking about how we would work together, both for the day and ongoing. We laid out the things we felt it important to note and be and have in our meetings and our interactivity, such as responsiveness, initiative, debate, etc. At one point the entire left side of a 16′ long whiteboard was filled with requirements and aspirations for meetings and basic work.

I’m not going to list them all out here. 🙂

However, I am going to take the time to parse some of them out and elaborate on my view of each of them, one post at a time, over the next few months. I think there’s value in some of the “A-ha!” moments of the day, and I think the primary value is how to remove the apprehensive, or dread aspect, of meetings.

Pockets

Right now my life is all about finding pockets of time in which to get things done, or, more rarely, in which to opt to do nothing. They’re everywhere, like the air spaces between those metal ball bearings in the glass beaker that your 7th  grade science teacher made you put in there. Then she or he made you add sand to fill up the spaces, and then you added water to fill up the microscopic spaces between the granules of sand.

Teeny, tiny pockets of productivity or reflection.

I write this sitting as I do, lately, in a Starbucks on M street in Auburn, WA. It’s a nice Starbucks — it’s kept quite clean, and there’s a nice set of leather-esque chairs that, at 7pm on a Tuesday, are blissfully free in their little corner by the window. The wifi is Google and the tea is hot.

I should be at my son’s Scouts meeting. But as my son’s Scout meetings usually entail him meeting with other scouts and not with me, and as I now have a Very Important Partner in India, well, I filled that particular pocket.  There’s no wifi at the church my son’s Scouts meeting is held at, so to Starbucks I go.

Thanks to the recent time change though, my Very Important Partner needed to bump our call a bit later, and I find myself with a pocket. I’m using it to blog.

I haven’t done much of that lately. The last time my blog petered out — not this one, the other one I did when I was a Freewheelin’ Divorcee — it was because I had no more dating drama to write about; I had Found Myself and (mercifully) found I wasn’t an asshole. More specifically, I had discovered that I didn’t, actually, need to waste time on people not worth it, which in turn means you have a lot less to bitch about. Bitching is entertaining, if done well, and so it was cheap and easy content to create; in the absence of something to bitch about there was a period for about a year where I had nothing to say.

This blog is not about bitching (you may have noticed). Or not much. It’s mostly about reflection, and it’s a soapbox; if you’ve read it you have a very good idea where I stand on some things (education! food!) and have no idea where I stand on others (vaccinations! gmos!). (Incidentally, it’s not that I don’t care about those things — I do, although my opinions may surprise you — it’s just that I think they’re so damned evident or so not worth arguing about that they get no space between my ball bearings here).

I digress…

The issue I seem to be having of late — and it would appear it’s not just me — is that I am very “busy”. “How are you doing?” people ask (most of the time it’s a set of symbols delivered as a greeting: most people really don’t want to know exactly how you are doing when they ask that), and the inevitable response is “Good, good, been busy…”.

This business is not a lie, for any of the people who regularly state it (including myself). Although it is often, I think, exaggerated. There’s work and school and home and errands and social stuff and community stuff and the unexpected things like auto repair and failed septic systems. You can take a step back and attempt to cull some of these in order to be less busy — but my question is, to fill it with what?

Case in point: I could, for example, bump my Very Important Partner call to Thursdays (and… I may). This would free me up to be at the Scouts meeting, right? Where I will…

Sit. Maybe stare at my iPhone. Once a month there is a Scouts committee meeting, for a board I am not on, for things that it is nice to know but are typically on Facebook and delivered via email and on the Scouts website. I could attend that, but I’m not sure that I add any value, and in any event, sitting in a room separate from my kid is only slightly more removed than sitting on the edge of a large room where my kid sits 50 yards away discussing the relative merits of waterproof matches.

I could use that time to knit — and indeed, I did for a while — but knitting is “busy”, too. (The husband person says that “knitting is fidgeting that produces clothing” and he’s actually right, at least in my case).

So we come back to how I use that pocket. And we come back to the Starbucks, where I can work or do board stuff or blog or research grey woolen flats that are alas unavailable in my size.

Yet I know I will wake up tomorrow, not feeling productive or content, but feeling like I’ve dropped a ball somewhere, forgotten to check a box, or left a productivity pocket unfilled.  The thing is I know I have enough time for All Of The Things, and I know it can all get done. I just need to figure out a way to pour water into the beaker.

Squashing

Friday morning I found myself squatting in a field.

No, not doing that.

Chinook Farms in Snohomish, WA has, or rather had, a few acres of acorn squash it grows for charity. Girl Scouts planted it, the farmer tends to it, and United Way Volunteers pick it and crate it, and it is then shipped to food banks in the surrounding area. Microsoft’s CDnA group (Consumer Data and Analytics) had a cadre of volunteers to do so, of which I was one.  Acorn squash are delicious but their foliage is sharp and laden with micro thorns, I actually wore through spots of a new pair of leather work gloves and have an impressive rash on my forearm (where my “long” sleeve backed off).

The morning started with that crisp, autumnal chill we get in the Northwest that belies an Indian Summer; it was all turning leaves and wishing for pumpkin spice lattes as I drove the windy road into Snohomish. Arriving at the farm I saw some hundred-odd other blue-shirt volunteers, ready to go out and pick squash. Another hundred or so were the contingent from Nordstrom, in crisp white shirts. I signed the photo waiver and so somewhere, out there, there are photos of me with my group, wearing our blue t-shirts, dirty, smiling, posed in front of a pile of acorn squash.

IMG_1851

Pretty sure we didn’t do it right.

Our VP was in the fields with us, tossing squash to collectors; early on we had deviated from instructions and while we did have fairly neat rows of trampled-down, already-picked squash plants in our wake, our piles of squash (to be wheelbarrowed down to the shipping crates) left a lot to be desired in terms of neatness. The Nordstrom folks had symmetrically neat piles, as you would expect.

Several of the volunteers commented that this was hard work and they would thereby appreciate their brain-intensive but body-light regular jobs much moreso. I found this a little wry in terms of the layoffs that occurred the day before: some of us were already in fervent appreciation of still having a job. I mentioned that to my VP (read, 3 levels above) and he said, “That’s a horrible thing to say. Do you like your job?” I replied in affirmative, and I’m not sure that either of us got the point of where the other was coming from. When the sun poked out of the clouds and it got hot, some took to complaining a little more; they were shut down by the volunteer coordinator who pointed out we could have gone to clean the bathrooms in the downtown Seattle YMCA instead. Not a peep after that. I noticed one lady who never complained. She is 7 months pregnant, and was picking squash in the fields with us.

As the group drove away from the farm to the place down the road where free pizza and beer was promised, I drove home; I had a pile of email to wade through that I was (unashamedly) looking forward to. I had done my planned volunteering for the morning, but I still had that job that I love, and am still grateful for, waiting for me.

Check

“Ok, close your eyes, hold still, and try not to breathe too much.”

This was the direction given to me by the twenty-something lady doing my hair and makeup. The process that succeeded that directive was airbrushing.

To me, airbrushing is something you do via Photoshop, after the photos are taken. Apparently makeup artists are getting in on that action, however, and I duly closed my eyes, stayed still, and tried very, very hard to breathe only as much as I needed to keep alive. To reproduce this effect at home, take one of those keyboard air-sprayer things, close your eyes, and spray it in strategic swaths over your face. That’s it.

In addition to micro-droplets of skin-shaded liquid, I also got to participate in fake eyelashes, which is I think the fourth time in my life I have done that. My opinion of fake eyelashes is that they look really great, and really fake. As the purpose of the makeup and hair was to make the pictures look good, and we were only having one round of pictures for this event, I did whatever the makeup lady said.

This event, to be clear, was my wedding day.

Having spent three relaxing, lazy days in Kauai (the Garden Isle, or as may be, the Chicken Isle), we now came to the part where we had to get dressed up (beach wedding == white linen), and in my case, have someone fuss over the femininity. Then we met up with our officiant and our photographer (and his wife), stood on Shipwrecks Beach in Poipu, said some very pleasant things, exchanged leis, exchanged rings, took some more pictures, and were done within an hour.

The boy spent a large part of that hour eyeing the lovely waves and trying to figure out exactly how he could put it to us that his part of the ceremony, and then pictures, was done, and could he go please play in them?

The remaining five days were equally lovely and lazy; the boys boogieboarded (ok, I did too) and we played on the beaches near daily. We did the obligatory shopping, we did the helicopter tour, we ate pineapple until the roofs of our mouths protested. We flew there and back in first class, and it may have ruined us for travel, forever.

So that is that. The deed is done, the pictures are taken: we go about the rest of our lives. And I don’t have to close my eyes, hold still, or try not to breathe too much.

Nick Galante Photography-2196

Nuts

Nothing beats accidentally eating a nut (for a nut-allergy person) to give an exciting kick to a vacation.

I write this at 35 thousand feet above the Pacific Ocean, where blue and clouds stretch as far as the eye can see, warily sipping my coffee and hoping the remediation I put into place for said nut, worked. Because there is no wifi on the plane, if you read this, it worked.

As part of our trip we were given first class seats by my newly minted father-in-law (thank you Gary!!), and not only is there fancy breakfast on the plane in first class, there is fancy two-course breakfast. I opted for only course one: fruit plate and a pastry. The pastry that arrived on my fruit plate did not have immediate visible nuts; it looked like a bran muffin. I eyeballed the male person and boychild’s pastry, which looked like a pastry (complete with icing and almond slivers), and then eyeballed the innocuous-looking bran muffin. I asked the cabin steward if it had nuts and he said, “Hm, let me check”, wandered off into the kitchen, wandered back and said, “No, it doesn’t have nuts.” I asked the male person to take a bite out of the muffin to test it, and he said he didn’t taste any, and the lady on his other side chimed in that it was “just a bran muffin”. I cut the muffin into four pieces, saw no nuts, and proceeded to throw caution to the wind.

You think I’d learn.

About six minutes later I had eaten most of the muffin when the telltale “crunch” happened. Leveraging a couple of napkins, I declined to swallow, and then sat back in my chair wondering if, in the earlier bites, I had gotten one. I sat and wondered if I was being silly, if I was imagining things, if the itchiness in my throat really was because we slept all night with the AC on (after all, it was itchy when we drove to the airport). I gave up and decided to settle the matter once and for all.

The first class loo has orchids on the little table, and is infinitely cleaner than the economy class loo.

Aside from this, the flight has been an absolute treat. Coffee is served in real mugs, juice and water are in real glasses. The seat width accommodates me and should I so choose, my bag; the legroom is luxuriant. When we had got to the airport we were the beneficiaries of Microsoft’s dedicated check-in line (in the first-class section but leveragable even if you are not flying first class) and expedited security. I can complain about the lack of wifi I suppose, but I just don’t think that can happen in trans-oceanic flights. Besides, this is the first vacation I have taken in 11+ years where I do not have my work laptop, nor do I have work email on my phone (I disconnected Exchange from my iPhone). I had planned, right up to the end, to bring my work laptop “just in case”… but the unfortunate reality is my laptop bag can carry either two laptops, or one laptop plus necessities. The decision was made for me.

Which brings me to some real introspection as to why I (and many of my compatriots) feel the need to bring a laptop with me and/or stay connected to work when on holiday. My father had an interesting point: the kind of people who need that connectivity usually do so because they either “live” their work, or they feel they “have” to in order to make up in quantity what they lack in quality. (If you’re under the impression that my father is an extremely frank talker, you’re right). He has a point: I’m guilty of both. In the case of the former, I usually take a job with the view that someone is paying me to do something, and it is a reflection of my name and reputation the work I put out. So I get emotionally invested in work, at least to a degree, which I am certain has shown itself in one or more meetings or email missives. Alternately, I have enjoyed extremely flexible schedules at these positions, which leads me to wanting to demonstrate accessibility in return for those flexible schedules. I’ve had people marvel at email response at 3am and 7am and 11pm; that is a combination of drive, excitement about the product/project, and raging insomnia.

What does it mean, then, that I can blithely leave my work behind for nearly ten days? A certain degree of comfort: I am working in a company where they trust me to be on deck when I’m on deck, and they seem to actually want me to unplug when I ought. If they really, really need to get ahold of me, it’s not to build a PowerPoint deck or fix a TFS ticket or build a spreadsheet, it’s going to be so they can rent by brain (which they can do via cell phone, in an emergency). This has not always been the case and I’m both excited and nervous at the prospect.

Or maybe that’s the nut.

Pink and Blue

I was at a child’s birthday party/dinner last night and we were discussing pedicures. One of the boys was running around with his nails done and I had stated that I had asked my son if he ever wanted to do that (for he was welcome to come with me) to which he assertively said “no”. When I retold the story I included my pointing out to him that they have “plenty of ‘boy’ colors” to which a friend of mine (appropriately) chided me with the question: “What is a ‘boy’ color?”

She and I both knew the actual text of the conversation was my attempt to clarify to my son that if he wanted to have his nails done a color other than pink or red that that was available these days, and that my use of “boy” was to appeal to a child who had already had societally-driven color choices drilled into him; and that her attempt to tease me was the sort of thing friends do. I am sexist in some ways but not that one. That said it did open the wider discussion of gender color stereotypes, which is one reason I like hanging out with the people I hang out with, because we didn’t have to devolve into a contrived political correctness or a stunted conversation about color choice equality.

To provide some background: one friend has a boy and girl each, another has the same, a third has two girls. I have one boy, and elect to dote on girls by proxy. But this conversation, plus a recent review of the Mindware catalog, got me thinking.

It’s no secret that the toy aisles of Target, or Toys R Us, or really any other mainstream store, are segregated into three types: “Gender Neutral” toys, “Boy” toys, and “Girl” toys. The “Girl” toys aisles are helpfully marked by pink signage and include things like dolls, baby dolls, Barbie dolls, domestic dress-up games, and (possibly) Pink Legos. The “Boy” toys aisles are manfully black and blue and red and include Nerf guns, trucks, traditional Legos, new movie-themed Legos, and Legos that look fairly militaristic. In the middle you have card games, balls, and Slip-and-Slides.

Why do my friends’ daughter’s Legos need to be pink? They are defaulted to build houses and ice cream shops, fine: you can build a perfectly serviceable house out of red and blue and yellow Legos, because we all did that when we were growing up. And if they are red or yellow or blue you don’t have to build a house or ice cream shop, you can build a rocket. Or a scale model of the Revolutionary War.

Why does her son’s Medieval Lego kit have only armed soldiers? Anyone who spent time in their History class knows that most of those soldiers were buffeted 10:1 by peasantry, either in terms of someone to go get the grain that fed them to someone who took care of the horses. There’s no queen, no princess, no baker-lady (for gender roles *were* explicit in those times and so Lego would be perfectly correct to have them in a set identifying as that part of history). But no females of any kind can be found in the kit. This very manful Lego kit is full of manly manliness and action. Girls need not apply.

The Star-Wars new Lego minifigures this year at Target have two (2) females out of what looks to be about 50 new minifigures. They are Leia in the gold bikini and Padme in the ripped-midriff shirt. Not Leia in her Cloud City costume, or Padme in her full regalia (Lego has found a way to make capes, they could’ve rocked this). (If you go to lego.wikia.com you can see the full minifigure line-up, and there are plenty of other female Star Wars minifigures. But they’re not on display at the Target.)

Why must Goldieblox, that bastion of gender correction in educational toys, be pink for girls? The whole point to Goldieblox was to get girls interested in engineering, to rail against the pink conformist aisles of toys for girls. Why, then, is it pink? Why are the cookware “play sets” for children almost always manned by a girl? My son loves to cook. But the photos on the box are clearly stating that this is a largely female domain.

While there are darned few pink toys in Mindware, there are far more boys in the pages of toys that are about engineering and far more girls shown next to the beading kits. If we can’t get our arched-brow, intelligent-snowflake-producing toy catalogs to play fair how do we ever hope to rescue our girls from the clutches of Barbie?

From the 20’s to WWII, the color “ownership” between boys and girls was inverted: boys wore pink and girls wore blue. Before that children wore white (which, if you think about it, is practical as long as you have a ton of bleach lying about). After WWII this reversed and we have the color “preferences” we see today. With all the challenges our kids have and will have (underfunded schools, bullying made easier via the internet — and this is not just kids, as adults have been doing that for years) can we please not heap upon them color “correctness”?

When you’re first pregnant the question you are asked is “do you know yet if it’s a boy or a girl?”  Some parents elect to make it a surprise and there’s that moment of “discomfort” for the families because now they “have” to shop for yellow or green baby gear. I honestly don’t think the baby will care if s/he is housed in blue or pink; the larger purpose is the social signaling device for this tiny creature to his/her audience as to what his/her gender is. I’m considering making onesies for babies that say things like “Manly enough to wear pink” and “Girly enough to wear blue” just to poke fun at this.

We live in a country of astounding wealth and opportunity and we have larger problems than the color or gender appropriateness of toys. The only way to shape and change the offerings is to vote with your dollars; it’s effective but it takes more patience than some of us have.

 

Hot Yoga: Confessions of a Reluctant Convert

I had spent probably six years wanting to look down my nose at hot yoga, with all of its purported smelliness, its special gear, its special words (Namaste, indeed), and the trendiness of yoga pants that you could or couldn’t see through. How could it be real exercise when it’s just extrapolated stretching? How can anyone take it seriously in that gear? Then I took up cycling and the gear argument went out the door. After you shamelessly go to the Safeway in clippie shoes and chamois-padded bike shorts, any sense of dignity in costume is gone.

The kicker for me was about a six months ago when my dad told me he had taken up yoga and it did wonders for his back.

I have inherited many things from my father, good and bad. I am stubborn, I can be very black and white, I am very plain-spoken. I dislike mayonnaise, I can be extremely pragmatic, and my knees and back are increasingly problematic. I didn’t get the piano playing skills, but I got the good hair and straight teeth. When I got to my mid thirties we started comparing knee injuries, back injuries, and what color of therapy bands we were using.

So when my dad said yoga really helped him with his back, I listened. I didn’t march right down to the gym to go try a class, because that would take actual effort, but I did listen. And then I did attend a class at the gym and it was pretty much everything you think of when you think of “hot yoga”: a 15×15 room filled with various bodies in yoga-esque clothing, a calming instructor, seventeen or twenty painful poses, everyone dripping sweat, and I could tell who was a fan of garlic and/or cheese. It wasn’t awful but it wasn’t great.

I left yoga to its own devices; I didn’t look down my nose at it but I assured myself it was not for me.

My best friend and I were chatting a couple of months ago and, as I pointed out the new Hot Yoga place just down the hill from me, she pointed out she had been going and she found it better than meditation to calm her mind. As someone who also suffers from chronic insomnia, this sounded like a good idea. The new place had a deal: 6 classes for $10 in two weeks. For the price of three lattes I could scientifically test the benefits of yoga! That this coincided with the last week of my old job, and a week off, made for an excellent test bed. And so I signed up.

It’s been a month now. I haven’t had back pain in that time. I have had only two (2) nights of insomnia. I am inelegant in class, I am not the lean-and-limber yoga Barbie; then again there are many in my class who are not. I have seen progress in my flexibility and balance, but frankly, the fact that my back doesn’t routinely go out, and that I can run again without pain in my knees, is selling point enough.

Then there are the personalities: I try to go every Thursday night (for a variety of reasons) but it seems I’m of a minority with a regular schedule. In six weeks of attendance I have seen maybe one or two people in any two classes, the rest of the cast members change out regularly. There are a couple of yoga Barbies — and they know it — but hats off to them because not only do they look it, but they can do that one pose where you balance on the ball of one foot while in lotus with your hands up. Or the other one where you fold yourself in half, and bend over (I think it’s called “sleeping eagle” but for me it’s called “impossible”). Then there was Tatooed Yoga Jesus: a man who looked like the Oxford-Christian Jesus picture but in yoga pants, no shirt, and tattoos all over his arms, back, and chest. Again, the inclination is to mentally tease him, but Yoga Jesus knew his stuff too. Even the inflated, gym-rat-football-player-looking-dude could get some of the more difficult versions.  And then there’s plenty of people like me: not quite with-it, but improving; dripping sweat and forcing muscles to do things they aren’t used to, secure in the knowledge of a pain-free back and a good night’s sleep.

That is worth any amount of self-imposed awkwardness.

I hate waiting.

For reasons that I can’t (and therefore won’t) get in to right now, I’m obsessively waiting on an email. One. Specific. Email.

This sort of obsession is hindered by the very reality that on any given day, I get about 200 work-related emails (if you include the junk mail from vendors who seem to think I’m hiring scads of people or want to outsource scads of work) and probably 50-70 personal emails (not including the invitations to enlarge my manhood or acquire millions from a long-lost eccentric cousin in Nigeria). The fact that this one particular email will come within a 5 to 10 day period, which means it represents 0.04-0.6% of my LEV (Legitimate Email Volume) does not help.

When waiting for that one email, a couple of behavioral shifts occur, including, but not limited to:

  1. Obsessively checking the iPhone to see if it arrived there
  2. Re-checking the desktop browser to see if it arrived there
  3. Keeping a browser tab open to email to see when the tab status changes to indicate a new mail has happened, and when you notice it does your stomach gets all giddy, and then you change tabs to open this one and discover that your Amazon order has shipped, and the giddy excitement crashes away into a wave of “meh”. Inbox(1) does not necessarily equal joy.
  4. Questioning whether or not you really expected the mail to come between 3:20am and 5:20am, which was this morning’s particular brand of insomnia (no, that wasn’t reasonable). Neither was it reasonable to expect it before 8am yesterday, or after 8pm, either.
  5. Trying to convince yourself that when they said 5-10 days they really meant “don’t expect it before 5 days, and from then on expect it within five days of that”, and not believing that *at all*
  6. Repeat steps 1-5.

There are two possible outcomes to this email: one is Tigger-esque mind-blinding joy and excitement. The other is a sense of doubt, self-questioning, and (eventually) redoubled efforts. There does not appear to be a contingency I can plan for beside these two results.

I am on day 2 of 10.