Monday, September 25

Special Features

It turns out my truck has special features I didn't know about! I knew it was all kinds of equipped, of course, but I completely missed the fact that it has dedicated Puppacinno servers!

I've read that if you go to Starbucks and ask for a 'Puppacinno' they'll give you a small cup of whipped cream. We're not Starbucks people, but needed some terrible coffee while on the road and that was what there was, so we stopped. Eric actually had the presence of mind to remember to ask and the server did, in fact, offer up a cup of whipped cream.

Nenya turned her nose up at it ("that's not gravy!!"), but Arthas happily helped himself. Which is when I realized that there are actually cup holders in the back of the center console of my truck, perfectly positioned for happy border collies to nom on cups of whipped cream from the back seat.

The picture doesn't do the adorableness of the moment justice, but I thought I'd share anyway. Hope your week is off to a good start! 

Tuesday, September 19

Random Fun: Which Halloween Monster Are You?

Just for fun, a quick quiz to see what kind of spooky you do best.

(I got a witch... I'm okay with that. Cauldron! Bubble me up some cider!!)

: )

Monday, September 18

The Communication Skills They Didn't Teach Me in College

So, I was a business major and, as part of the curriculum, we learned all kinds of models for communication. Some, obviously, were better than others.  Recently, I ran across a new model I haven't seen before that I really liked. I haven't really tested it with other people yet, but I'm finding it a fantastic structure for sorting things out for yourself or to pair with Brene Browns SFD method.

It's the Whole Message approach, for lack of a better term, and it involves breaking down what you are trying to communicate into four parts:

(1) Facts
(2) Thoughts
(3) Emotions/Feelings
(4) Needs 

Using this framework to imagine what I'd say to someone about some situations that have happened recently has been really eye-opening. It significantly changes how I'd word things. It also provides an unexpected feeling of calm, I think because there's tremendous power in separating hard fact from how we feel about that fact. Because someone can attack 'feelings' all day long - automatically inciting defensiveness and the slippery slope that conversation usually slides down once you're there. 

It's a lot harder to argue with a fact. And once the fact is established, there's a lot less ground for someone to stand on to try to assail you from.

There's also enormous peace to be had in figuring out what you need before you have a conversation. Even if that 'need' is just "I need you to understand that this behavior is outside my boundaries" or "I need you to be aware that, because of above fact, I no longer trust what you say to me." Even if the other person doesn't like it or isn't interested in acknowledging/cooperating/changing, it's powerful to know you did everything you could, expressed things clearly and calmly, and can move on from there however you need to without guilt.

Now if only they'd taught me this in business school a decade and a half ago!!

Saturday, September 16

Bottom of the Bottle

If you know anyone who is a fan of Blue Bottle coffee, please pass along word that it's being purchased by Nestle.

Probably the only reason this is blog-worthy, for me, is one of the lines in the article linked above:

“When consumers see a brand being built by a large multinational, and they see it marketed as a craft beverage or craft product, they view those products with a heavy dose of skepticism,” he said. “But when it’s a brand that’s acquired, people can still view it as what it was before.”

Setyan agreed, saying there’s little evidence to suggest customers change their behavior after these deals.

“Most consumers don't pay enough attention to even know,” he said. [emphasis mine]
Giant conglomerates buying popular, top-quality small companies and infiltrating through the back while taking pains not to advertise or make the association obvious up front is certainly not new. On the face of it, it isn't necessarily immoral, either.

But as someone who is deeply aware of the challenges your average individual faces in sorting through the mass of marketing, misinformation, and carefully worded pseudo information that surrounds our food system, this kind of thing just aggravates me. People pay good money for 'craft' or small-business products because they've invested the time, done the research, and worked darn hard to find people and businesses they trust to produce foods and beverages that align with their personal standards - whether those are culinary, health-related, or social (i.e. conforming to certain practices/belief systems). For them to be intentionally left in the dark as much/as long as possible when conglomerates who openly admit to not knowing or caring about the same things take over the reigns is a form of defraudment and deception. And Force knows our system has enough of that already.

So, anyway, if you know anyone drinking Blue Bottle please pass thing along. If you're not currently drinking the stuff, don't start. And maybe bear in mind going forward that in our food and business communities - often and unfortunately -all is not what it seems.

Thursday, September 14

Inktober and NaNoWriMo

I wanted to make this post creative and inspirational, full of tidbits of the random facts stuffed away in my brain about exploration/experimentation, practice, how doing things we love is healthy, and about the power of feeling a part of something bigger than ourselves. But my brain's just not there at the moment, so imagine I said all those things, okay?
The NaNoWriMo badge.

In any event, the point of the post is to tell/remind everybody that October and November are great opportunities to challenge yourself or inspire a young person in your life who likes art or writing!

October is host to the Inktober Initiative: a challenge to artists all over the world to pick to do one ink drawing a day for the month. Any kind of ink, any kind of paper, any subject, any size - just draw!

November, of course, is NaNoWriMo - National Novel Writing Month. Writers of all stripes commit to writing 50,000 words in the month of November. Again, any topic, any style, no judgement - just write!

Both challenges are open to all age groups and both websites have tools, resources, and links for connecting with other participants if you're interested. Fall can be a busy, hectic time for sure, but it's also one of the most important times to invest in yourself and to open yourself up to new possibilities. Even if these aren't for you, please consider passing them along to anyone who might be interested - the world can always use new Makers!!

Wednesday, September 13

Something to Chew On

Clicked on this TED talk on a whim this morning... and now I want every church everywhere to watch it. (Not out of condemnation, but because of what both the author and Brene Brown both preach: when people know better, they do better.) Thoughts?

Tuesday, September 12

An Unsought (But Critical) Opportunity

Photo Credit
It's not a secret that America's infrastructure has been borderline abysmal for an embarrassingly long time. (We earned a dismal D+ on The American Society of Civil Engineers' (ASCE) 2017 Infrastructure Report Card!)

These infrastructure failings have been equally rampant on the public (bridges, roadways, water/sewer/electric lines) and private (individual homes/property) fronts. How many people do you know who've bought a house - not even a particularly old one - and found themselves having to deal with the stress and expense of ancient appliances, inefficient and shoddily installed wiring/insulation/windows, or a dozen other things that somehow were never made it into the list of priorities monitored by code? Shall I tell you about the number of the grants I worked on related to public infrastructure that were requesting money to redo or replace projects funded by State/Federal money in the last twenty or thirty years?

With all that in mind, I can't help but think (as I watch the headlines scream about the destruction in the Caribbean, Houston, and throughout Florida) that we, as a nation, have a rare opportunity about to land in our laps. It's not something we'd ever have sought, but that's not an excuse for not rising to meet it.

If we're going to have to rebuild anyway, now is the time to do it RIGHT. 

 Put in the money now - on both the public and private levels - to lay down the infrastructure we want and will need in the future. Don't just replace what was lost - consciously choose to put something better in its place. Insurance companies and strategic tax law can make it not only possible but the easier, more attractive choice for homeowners to upgrade. Get Energy Star appliances, windows, insulation. Go solar. Put safe, affordable, Universal Design housing where there used to be McMansions or trailers. Communities overhauling public assets with taxpayer money should be required to justify their proposed investments with hard numbers demonstrating that they've chosen the option that will best serve the public moving forward over the long-term. Is it the most efficient they can get? The most durable? The most fortified against future disasters? Does it align with applicable best practices? If the answer isn't yes to every one of those questions, they need to head straight back to the drawing board or find private funding.

Do I have any faith that our government will do anything this logical or in the best interest of the nation and the public? Of course not. But I sincerely wish that for every person who looks at this mess and says "we need to talk about climate change" there would be another championing a serious national discussion on infrastructure. Because, honestly, there's a heck of a lot more we can do to improve the latter than the former... and one of the best roads to the kinds of changes climate change proponents want to see is through infrastructure changes in the first place!!

So no, we didn't want this - any of this. But since it's fallen into our laps anyway, let's at least be smart about it, okay?

Sunday, September 10

Protect The Asset

Just a brief thought to share from Greg McEown's book Essentialism this crisp Sunday morning as we head into the thrall of autumn:

Protect the asset. The best asset we have for making a contribution to the world is ourselves. If we under-invest in ourselves – and by that I mean our minds, our bodies, and our spirits – we damage the very tool we need to make our highest contribution.”

Fall can be a wonderful time of year - full of rich smells, vibrant colors, seasonal adventures, cozy sweaters, and steaming mugs of delicious things - but it can also be hectic and stressful. There are new habits/schedules to adapt to, fresh rounds of the plague going around to avoid or weather, and the inexorable count-down to the holiday crunch. (Especially with all the chaos and upheaval going on down south right now, weather-wise!)

Can you carve out a minute (or five) this morning or this week to make sure you're "protecting the asset" that is you? Maybe:
  • Get a few coffee dates with friends on the books before your calendars fill up
  • Stock up on your favorite tea or seasonally flavored coffee to enjoy when you can steal a few quiet moments to yourself 
  • Write a short bucket list for Fall - everything you loved most last year, or wanted to do and couldn't - and find a place for them in your calendar between now and December
  • Buy something small and shiny that makes you happy and put it somewhere you'll see it every day
  • Defer, delegate or drop one project, responsibility, or activity/commitment to open up some breathing room in your schedule
  • Give yourself time and permission to get a full night's sleep as often as possible (and extra when you can! (Remember: sleep deprivation causes the same or higher levels of physical/mental/emotional impairment as consuming alcohol!!) 
How can you take better care of yourself this Fall?


Thursday, September 7

What's In A Name?

Just for fun, I thought I'd share this list of Puritan names I ran across recently. There was an ongoing conversation among Star Wars fans about how terrible some of the names in SW universe are. (Korkie Kryze and Talon Karrde both got mentioned more than once, just to give you an example.) In response, one of the participants offered the above list of actual names from various historical records that Puritans gave their children. While some of them are quite lovely, others were obviously from an era before anyone had to write their name in the tiny little lines/boxes that are now standard on any kind of official form... they also make you wonder what some of these poor little kids' nicknames were! 

The whole list is worth checking out, but here are my top three (cringe-inspiring) favorites:
(1) If-Christ-had- not-died-for- thee-thou-hadst- been-damned
(2) Helpless 
(3) Fly-fornication

And, just in case you thought horrible names were getting more rare in our 'enlightened' (not sci-fi) times, my sister texted me last week that there is a child at the school she works at whose name is 'Panera'...   

What's the worst name you ever saw/heard a person given? 

Wednesday, September 6

Your Tax Dollars at Work

I try very hard to filter my "news" intake, if only because so much of what is considered news these days makes me want to bang my head against a wall. Recently, though, I couldn't help but notice a headline on a local-ish paper that read Dairy Farmers' Lobby Fights Milk Alternatives. Against my better judgement I looked the article up online later, and spent most of it shaking my head.

Here are the top two highlights (with commentary, of course):

"Coffee shops, supermarkets and other outlets increasingly feature cow milk alternatives made with extracts of almond, soybean, coconut, rice and other plant-based products."     Um, yes. Of course they do. Because guess what?  "Approximately 70 percent of African Americans, 90 percent of Asian Americans, 53 percent of Mexican Americans, and 74 percent of Native Americans were lactose intolerant.  ... substantial [insability to digest milk] is also common among those whose ancestry is African, Asian, Native American, Arab, Jewish, Hispanic, Italian, or Greek." src  It's not the fault of the "milk alternative" industy that the customer base for commercial dairy is declining, guys! Do what every other industry has to do... adapt.  

"Republican Representatives Tom Marino of Pennsylvania, and John Katko and Elise Stefanik of New York have urged the FDA to strictly enforce the definition of milk and crack down on the alternatives. Michigan Democratic Senators Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters are co-sponsors of a bill introduced by Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., making it illegal to describe a product as milk if it does not come from a “hooved animal.”  Seriously? There's *nothing else* that strikes you as possibly a better use of governmental time and energy right now... nothing at all?!?


All I can think of is the very sweet girl who once worked for me at a Panera years ago who was 110% convinced that two percent milk and half-and-half came from different kinds of cows. The dairy industry can gripe all it wants about people "falsely believ[ing] they are buying real milk and its nutrients" when they buy milk alternatives, but I can tell you from first hand experience that the average public knows a LOT less about milk than dairy producers tell themselves they do. All in all, they might want to rethink their approach. Just a thought...

Tuesday, September 5

Sunk Cost

Have you ever had one of those weeks (months? years?) where the same idea or theme just keeps popping up? Different places, different ways, but defintitely recurring?

For months now, maybe even the whole of this year thus far, I've been seeing the Sunk Cost Fallacy come up over and over - in passing conversation, in choices friends and family have been grappling with... just kind of all over.

If you're not familiar with the term, a "sunk cost" is any investment - time, money, energy, emotional involvement - "that has already been incurred and cannot be recovered". [src] The year you invested in a work project that just got canceled. The weekends you dedicated to remodeling your house. The friendship you worked so hard to cultivate that's spiraling into bad territory.

The Sunk Cost Fallacy (SCF) - and related Escalation of Commitment Bias - occurs when people make decisions about their future based on "cumulative prior investment" rather than on the evidence, numbers, or other information they have about the realistic costs and benefits of a choice moving forward.

Two really simple examples from my professional life are the FDA/USDA's unwavering hardline position on promoting patently unhealthy diets and the US Department of Education's continued funding of a myriad of programs that we know don't work. In both cases, decades of research prove beyond doubt that what is being championed has not - and will not - serve the public good. But enough high-ranking people have so heavily invested their careers, reputations, and trillions of dollars of tax payer money into those faulty programs that the agencies continue to toe the line rather than acknowledge the good intentions, the new information, and the losses in between the way they'd need to to move on constructively. 

It's not always pride that prompts people to act from this bias; sometimes it's an aversion to/feeling of shame about waste. (I paid for these tickets, it'd be wasteful not to attend the event even though I really don't want to.) Sometimes its a fear of grappling with the grief, shame, or self-doubt that would accompany letting go. (If I let this go, it means owning up to having made a really bad call. How will I trust/respect myself after that?) Sometimes its just about not feeling up to taking the risk of trying something new. ("The devil you know is better than the devil you don't," or "just thinking about trying to figure out what I'd do instead if I gave this up is exhausting!")

And sometimes it's all just freaking complicated because this is life and sometimes it just is.

There isn't really a point this post, except to share my observations of a pattern I've been seeing more and more of lately, and to wonder (semi) publically if anyone is seeing the same patterns or aware of this trend. Is this a thing where you are right now? In your life, or the lives of people in your circle? Are you noticing other trends, instead? I'd love to hear about it, either way!

Saturday, September 2

The Napping Cave

Curtains puddling on the floor: a romatic look, until
your Roomba gets involved...
Once upon a time, I took a trip to London and Amsterdam as part of a Model UN trip in high school. (We were vastly underprepared for the actual MUN part, but the rest was awesome.)

Obviously, being in Europe, we visited a bunch of museums and they were full of completely different kinds of things than we usually find in the US, for the sole reason that they had centuries and centuries of extra local history to include. One of the things that I remember being a bit intregued by was the different styles of beds tucked into odd corners of the galleries. They tended to be shorter than modern beds (as people were generally shorter back then), but many of them were either essentially large boxes (with closable doors) or heavily draped canopy beds.

Pinterest and other modern media tend to give us a mental image of canopy beds like the one pictured here but, historically, the design was both more utilitarian and entirely practical. Drawing the curtains on your bed kept all the body heat in! That was a huge deal back in the era of drafty homes heated solely by fireplaces that all got banked at night (so that you didn't burn said home down, naturally). They also provided some privacy in eras during which noble/well-to-do families tended to have servants bustling about at all hours and less-well-off families saw children sleeping in the same room as their parents.

It wasn't something I really thought about until we got the RV. We intentionally chose an RV styled such that the bed is on the opposite end of the trailer from the door. With a window at the head and foot of the bed, a solid wall on one side, and a curtain you can pull across the open side, it is for all intents and purposes a canopy bed. (Or, as the babies consider it, a Napping Cave.) I had my doubts about the curtain initially, to be honest, but once we tried it, I was seriously impressed!

It's not a solid black-out curtain, but it does an excellent job of mitigating light. It does an even better job keeping heat in! Stick two border collies in there with you and close the curtain and you'll be toasty warm. I've discovered that by pulling the curtain almost all the way across and closing both blinds I sleep like a rock, which I think has something to do with the very dark and very warm thing it has going for it (both psyschologically and physiologically, but I'll spare you the science). Either way, it's definitely made me think about all the "technologies" we used to know and use and have more or less lost in our pursuit of higher tech things. This, at least, is one technology I'm glad isn't entirely gone!

Friday, September 1

August: Five Random Things

I'm having a little bit of a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that it's officially September already. (But the twenty-degree temperature drop and the distinctly 'crisp' air on my way out to work in the mornings is bringing it into perspective pretty quickly!) As I looked forward to what's coming up in this new month, I also did a quick glimpse back at August and thought I'd share a couple random interesting things from the month around here.

1. Rising Strong. In preparation for Brene Brown's new book coming out in a couple weeks, I reread/finished reading her last book, Rising Strong. It was one of those books that rewires your brain... literally and powerfully. It entirely changed my perspective on several on-going situations and I'm still processing it.

2. Bullet Journaling. I've seen bullet journaling all over the interwebs for a couple years now and never been inspired to try it. But this summer I found myself with a bunch of different systems I'd never quite been able to make work as well as I wanted them to and a frustrating list of things I wanted to prioritize but was abysmally inconsistant on. So I did some research (I'm an ISTJ, of course I did), selected a simple starter format that would cover just the stuff essential to me, picked up an inexpensive bullet journal, and gave it a whack. Results from my first month are good! My version won't ever be artsy or Pinterest-level-pretty, but it's working, and I'm happy. (And it's the reason I'm remembering to write this blog post tonight.)

3. Small Indulgences. It's a proven fact that small indulgences make a huge difference in quality of life and daily happiness. (There's actually a quote from I think the 1700s about people giving up all kinds of major things before they'll sacrifice their little happinesses, because those are what make the hard things bearable.) In August, we added two indulgences to the list. The vinyl decal shown at right, which graces the cabinet above the sink in the EV. (It's a Tolkein quote, if you're trying to remember where you know it from.) The second was a set of vanity plates for the truck, which say ERNTVNTR... yup, the truck and the EV are now both ridiculously coordinated, and it makes me stupidly happy!

4.  Vitamins. I minorly adjusted my vitamin regamin and almost immediately saw a big difference. Weird, but true. And I'm grateful because, honestly, when it comes to improving your quality of life, adding/subtracting a couple vitamins is one of the easiest changes to make!

5. Wizarding Weekend - this one is completely random and just for fun, but did you know there's a Wizarding Weekend in Ithaca in October? I didn't, until a bunch of my coworkers were talking about wanting to go recently. It restores my faith in humanity to see people drawn to things like Harry Potter, magic, fantasy, and all things geeky!
What did you learn/celebrate in August?