Monday, August 30, 2010

Caution: contents may be hot

No s#$!, it's coffee!

I think we're all pretty used to seeing the warning on coffee cups, and other hot to-go items, but does anyone remember the lawsuit in 1994 that warranted these warnings?

I do, because I thought it was ridiculous at the time, and then when we covered it in my MBA program, I still thought it was ridiculous.

I'll provide a refresher for those of you who don't remember the case: a 79-year-old lady bought a $0.49 cup of coffee at a McDonald's drive through. Then her grandson stopped the car so she could add cream and sugar. She put the cup between her legs, and while trying to remove the lid, she spilled the entire cup in her lap and suffered third degree burns. Her lawsuit against McDonald's alleged that the coffee was defective because of excessive heat and inadequate warnings, and that the extreme temperature made the coffee unfit for consumption.

McDonald's, at the time, served coffee between 180 and 190 degrees, while coffee made at home is usually between 135 and 140 degrees. The reason McDonald's coffee is so hot is because most of their customers buy the coffee and take it elsewhere (like work) to drink, and McDonald's doesn't want it to get cold on the way. This makes perfect sense to me: I have a high heat tolerance, and always order my hot drinks "extra hot" because otherwise they are too cool before I get a change to drink them. Or, put another way, my mother says she prefers her drinks to cool in front of her, while she's enjoying them, rather than starting out not hot enough.

Even the jury foreman noted, of the case,"[I] wasn't sure why I needed to be there to settle a coffee spill." (from "Jury Awards Punitive Damages Against McDonald's for Excessively Hot Coffee," Law Reporter, February 1995).

Here's the thing, in my opinion. I agree that it's awful that this woman received third degree burns as a result of spilling her coffee, but why in the world would you let a 79-year-old fiddle with a hot beverage between her legs in your car? In my car, if you have a drink that needs to be played with, you do it before you get in the car. I don't want spills in my car, and any time anyone is stirring or adding cream or sugar or whatever to a drink, it's possible to spill or drip or something. I don't want spilt coffee in my car, I don't want spilt sugar in my car, and I don't want spilt cream in my car. I understand that it might happen anyway. I occasionally spill my go-cup of tea, but it's usually because I'm not paying attention, which seems to be a big cause of accidental spills.

It seems to me that an easy solution would be to go into the store to buy the coffee, which is what I do with my mother, who is, by the way, not 79-years-old. If we're driving around and Mom wants a cup of coffee, we get out of the car, order the cup "with room," so there's room for the cream, and then she takes it over to the stand and adds her cream and whatever and stirs it there, and we don't leave until the lid is secure, and even then, we grab a couple of extra napkins. I don't want my mom spilling her coffee in my car, but I also don't want her spilling it on herself. Probably, wherever we're headed is more fun and entertaining than either having to go back home for a change of clothes, or going to the ER in the event of burns from a spill. Really, this just seems like common sense to me.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

A word about monetizing my blog

If you've been paying attention, you'll have noticed a few google ads between my blog posts. This is because I've decided to monetize my blog. This works in two ways: if you happen to find one of those ads interesting and click through to it, and if I include a link to and you decide to buy whatever it is I've linked.

I've thought about monetizing my blog for a while now, and it actually took some serious consideration on my part. I've seen some blogs with ads that just look disorganized, and I didn't want that look, but I think these ads are pretty unobtrusive.

Also, I wasn't sure how I felt about the whole monetizing thing. I think there's sort of an assumption about the internet that all of the information should just be free. But of course, you aren't being charged anything to read my blog. And it also seems sort of self-serving to make money off of what is, essentially, a journal.

But, at the same time, no one is obligated to click on the ads, and I think that unless you've been living under a rock and my blog is the first website you've come to (and it's an honor to have you), you all know what those ads are, and have probably been ignoring them without even realizing it, like you do on all of the other sites you visit. Also, if you click through to something I've linked on amazon and decide to buy it, well, my "commission" won't affect the price you pay, so again, no harm done.

If, however, you feel I've misled you with these ads or tricked you into buying something, then I will apologize, but I won't offer a refund.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Triage at work

One of my issues with my current job is that I don't always get to set my priorities. Sometimes, this is because someone else thinks I should be working on one thing while I'd rather be working on another, and other times this is because random "urgent" things come up and all of my tasks get shuffled around. You can imagine how much I like both of these scenarios, especially when someone has decided that there's some sort of accounting emergency. Uh, no, emergency and accounting should never be used in the same sentence. In an emergency, if you wait five or 10 minutes to do something, the situation or outcome is significantly worse. In the world of accounting, if you wait five or 10 minutes to do something, the situation or outcome is rarely any different than if you had done whatever it was earlier.

(On a related note, a few months ago, the powers that be at my company declared a cocoon at work to be a "war" room, which sent my department into a state of girlish giggles every time they mentioned it, except of course the one boy, who smirked). (And for those who don't know, a cocoon is where we go to turn into butterflies, and the process apparently requires a separate room equipped with television projectors, dry erase boards, and lots of desks so everyone on the project can work together until the project is complete and we all sprout wings and fly away. Or something like that).

So, back to my priority issue. I consider myself pretty efficient with my time. I am not a natural multi-tasker, but two of the solutions I've found to this problem are extensive list-making and becoming very good at estimating how much time something will take me. It always surprises me how bad people are at estimating how much time something takes them.

For instance, there are very few things in my job that can be done in less than an hour. That's because revenue accountants are senior accounts; we're supposed to be very smart. And you don't give the very smart people the easy stuff to do. So it's always amusing to me when my boss asks me if I can complete something in an hour.

Another thing I do to help with both time-management and multi-tasking is to perform sort of a mental triage of my responsibilities. In true triage, in the medical world, you group people into three categories: those who are likely to live regardless of the care they get, those who are likely to die, and those for whom getting care now will make a world of difference.

At work, I sort of group things differently. If I do have a few tasks that can be completed relatively quickly, or relatively easily, like scanning documents to our auditors, I like to get them done first. For one thing, I won't have to remember to do it later, when I'm worn out from thinking about something more complicated, like how our average rate plan could decrease while our average deferred revenue increased, and for another thing, at least this way, if all else fails, I will have gotten something accomplished this day.

Then I work on the time-consuming and/or mentally taxing items. And lastly, I'll work on the stuff that no matter what I'll do, I won't likely find a solution.

Every now and then my boss will re-prioritize the stuff that I'm not likely to find a solution to, which is the worst, because it is a colossal waste of my time, but more often she'll re-prioritize the stuff that requires some thinking, which means if I'm already in the middle of thinking about one thing, I have to completely shift gears.

But, I'm working on developing some solutions to this problem. One has been to tell her what I'm working on, and how long I think it will take me to finish it, and suggesting I start the new thing after that. Another has been to put my outlook messenger on "do not disturb" which automatically disallows incoming IMs, so if she really wants me to do something, she has to get up and come to my desk to tell me. Finally, a decidedly passive-aggressive technique is to tell her I'll work on her new priority and then finish whatever I'm doing first without discussing it with her. Sometimes, I know I'm almost done with something and it just isn't worth the time to argue about it.

I can't possibly be the only one who finds themselves in this position at work, so please let me know if you have any additional suggestions!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

I have a pretty good life, but still...

I have a pretty good life. I've got a fabulous husband, a nice house, a relatively stable job (touch wood), and good friends, blah, blah, blah, but I get the blues more often than I like, and I get upset about stupid things.

As an exercise, a few months ago, I wrote down a list of all the things that were making me grumpy, and what I could do about them. I know there's rarely only one option in life, but when you're feeling blue, it's really easy to think there's just one choice.

For example, my hair normally doesn't lighten in the summer, or ever, actually, but the California sun is so strong that it is. Lightening, that is. Except, that instead of getting lovely golden highlights like my sister, my hair is fading into this stupid red color. Not strawberry, or dark red, or even arrest-me-red, which would be strange, but at least interesting. No, my hair is dull red. But I have options! I can do nothing (which is what I've thus far chosen to do), I can dye it some other color, I can shave it off, I can get a wig. I'm sure there's some that I'm missing, too. The point, even though I've chosen to do nothing, is that I don't actually have to have stupid red hair because that's what the sun god wants. Oh, I could wear hats, or scarves!

In no particular order or ranking, here are some things that I don't like about my life:
  • Feeling rushed in the morning
  • The lack of routine in my day
  • My parking garage
  • Not having a lot of time to spend writing
  • Having a huge pile of books (four, actually), next to the bed that I haven't gotten to
  • Pumping gas
  • The security doors on hour house

I know, some of them are totally ridiculous! I can come up with three ways to not use the parking garage at work, and none of them are particularly useful: if I walk to work, if I get dropped off, or if I park further away. The good news is that I'm not the only one who dislikes the parking garage, and that I have options, and at least my car isn't parked in the sun all day! (As a side update, since the time I wrote this list...not the copy here in the blog, but the actual one, they've opened up the first floor of my parking garage again, and boy, does that one stupid thing brighten my day!)

I've never liked pumping gas. I grew up in New Jersey and then moved to Oregon. That's all I have to say about that.

And security doors are not as easy to take off as you'd think...hello! They're security doors! But, at the same time, Captain America is, well, Captain America...trained in firearms and defensive tactics. I'm pretty sure anyone breaking into our house is going to have their hands full. Besides which, we don't really own anything worth stealing, in my opinion. (As I type this, I'm trying to think of the most expensive thing inside our house, and I'd have to say, it's probably our queen mattress set...yeah, that's a hot item to steal!)

On top of all of this, we have three security doors on our house, but the only one that really drives me bananas is from the house to the garage. Under what circumstances am I going to need a security door inside my house? I'll tell you: the old lady who lived in the house before we bought it would keep the garage door open when she ran her dryer because the dryer vented into the garage. Yeah, we said no to that, and they fixed it to have the dryer vent outside the garage before we signed the papers. So the lady would leave the garage door open to let the heat out and wanted to be safe in her house.

I suppose that's reasonable, but here's why I don't like it: I'm not an old lady, so I frequently walk into the garage and turn the light on at the same time. Or, if I'm just tossing something into the laundry bin I don't turn the light on at all. See, my balance works in the dark. (OK, for those of you who are laughing at this, my balance works just as well with the lights on as it does with them off, and depsite my recent biking debacle, I rarely actually hit-the-ground-fall, I just stumble a lot, but like I said, that's just me...lights or not has nothing to do with it!) But, if the security door, which is black, is partially shut, I don't see it as I walk into the garage, and I walk into it. Which is not painful, but it is annoying. Go figure, I don't like being annoyed.

And furthermore, we have to take this security door off to rip out the moulding so we can put in some sort of fire-safe door, that you really should have between your garage and your house, especially if both your gas-powered dryer and gas-powered water heater are in the garage. We just haven't gotten to that yet.

So now this rant, which was originally about small things that bug me and how I found a semi-cathartic exercise in writing them down and figuring out what I can do about them has turned into a rant about the security door on my garage/house door.

If you're thinking, she has got to find something better to do with her time, well I agree! But then I thought about a quote I read once that said something to the effect that removing petty grievances from one's life does more to boost happiness/well being/whatever than solving big problems. If you've ever been out walking and suddenly discovered that you somehow have a rock in your shoe, you know that removing that rock is way more important than whether or not your shoe is the latest walking shoe or last year's beat up sandals.

So, if you find yourself being constantly annoyed by something that is seemingly petty, first, you're in good company, and second, see if you can figure out some simple solutions to the problem--even if you don't implement any of them, you might feel better knowing you have ways to deal with the situation.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

My Rice-a-Roni Story

The other night Captain America made Rice-a-Roni for dinner. Well, as part of dinner. I don't normally eat Rice-a-Roni. Aside from it's sort of questionable nutritious value, and it's high levels of sodium, I also had a very strange experience with it when I was about 8.

One night, my mother made Rice-a-Roni to go with whatever it was we were having for dinner. Our family of four ate about half of it (you have to remember, at the time, my sister and I were little girls, and not big eaters). My mother put it in tupperware, and the next night, she reheated it and served it again with whatever we were having for dinner. She did this every night for a week. We were apparently eating the miracle five-loaves-and-two-fishes of Rice-a-Roni, because we never actually finished it. After a week of this, my father decided that was enough and we threw it out.

Somehow, when my family discusses this Rice-a-Roni incident, it's much funnier. We always laugh about the Rice-a-Roni that grew every night in our fridge. But written here it's just sad.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

To boob or not to boob...

I have a girlfriend who recently had a boob job. It's very subtle and she looks great. She was small-chested to begin with and now she has regular-sized boobs. This was something she's wanted for a long time and she's very happy about it.

Normally, boob jobs appall me. Why would you want to take your blessedly small mammaries and turn them into the humongous sacks of pudding I've endured since middle school? A different girlfriend, one who was actually so fortunate as to have breast-reduction surgery (lucky duck!) commiserated with me, observing that women who get boob jobs aren't paying for all of the negatives: the unwanted solicitations from men who are unable to comprehend that it is in fact possible to have a woman's body but still be a young girl (back when I was a young girl), the back pain from carrying around so much weight, the change in the shape of shoulder bones and muscles from the constant digging-in of bra straps, the difficulty in finding properly fitting bras, or the fact that you can either buy shirts to fit your boobs or buy shirts to fit everything else, but you can't actually buy shirts that just fit.

I remember, years ago, reading an article about breast cancer survivors. The writer had interviewed a number of different women, who had had different procedures. One of the interviewees had a full mastectomy. She no longer had breasts. Many women who undergo such a treatment get implants. (In fact, I learned from the article, that you can take fat from somewhere else in your body and use your own tissue for your breast implants). This one woman, however, decided that no, she did not need breasts. She already had a couple of kids, and breast-fed them, so as far as she was concerned, she had gotten all out of her breasts that could be gotten. Apparently, her husband didn't seem to mind, not that it was really his choice anyway.

I was struck by the strength of this woman. To not be defined by two things that very much make you a woman, well, that was just incredible to me. And I was slightly envious. Not that I want breast cancer, but of her self confidence, her self-assuredness, that she simply didn't need her breasts. I'd love to have smaller breasts (ah, those fond, fleeting memories of the years in middle school when I was a perfect B cup, oh how I miss you: my once manageable mammaries). But no breasts at all? I'm not sure that's who I picture myself to be.

And in case you're wondering, yes, the article did include pictures, and this breastless woman, well, I thought she looked gorgeous. She had long thin arms and legs, small but shapely hips, and not boobs to get in the way of the rest of her life. Was she different looking? Absolutely. Did it matter? Not at all.

Monday, August 9, 2010

On un-becoming a hippie

Captain America finds it both amusing and annoying that I moved to California from Oregon, and then decided to become a hippie. I'd actually make a really terrible hippie. I don't smoke pot, I like to shower every day, and as a revenue accountant for a publicly traded company, I'm about as "working for the man" as it's gonna get. But I have taken up some earth-mother type things. I love my reusable grocery bags (although I confess, I'm not quite comfortable with taking them to say, the mall). Apparently I do care what other people think. On the other hand, my mother put a zipper in an already funky Trader Joe's bag, so maybe that'll look chic. Or maybe I'm delusional.

I tried making bread, with mixed and inconsistent results. However, my mother's recent success with Sally Lund bread inspired me to try to make my own again. Once. And I make my own yogurt. It's not quite as good as Trader Joe's, but I'm getting used to it, and it's cheap and easy!

I use a totally hippie shampoo bar from Camamu, that I also love, although I do realize the irony of shipping it from Oregon. I bought some Tom's of Maine toothpaste that Captain America has been dutifully ignoring. I'm trying to take little steps to be a greener person despite my jerk neighbor who feels the need to warm up his truck in San Diego.

But this really is about as far as I can go. I have no interest in growing my own food. I have a lovely yard that I really want nothing to do with. The other weekend, I tried sitting out on my patio, reading. It was alright. But it's breezy outside, and there were distractions and the lighting changes. Maybe I'll try again next week sans the book, but with a margarita, and the whole experience might be better.

Not only do I not want to grow my own food, but I also don't want to can stuff that other people grow. We really don't eat that much canned stuff. I'd like to learn to make my own jelly, my own salsa, and to figure out how to safely can Grandma B's pasta sauce, which contains meat, and that's about it. For my birthday, Sister bought me the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving. I asked for the book because the last the last thing I want to do is try to lovingly make Captain America some salsa and poison him with botulism. That would be a real step forward.

I'd been feeling guilty about wanting to be "green" but not wanting to do some of the more obvious "green" things, such as growing my own food, becoming a vegetarian, and showering every other day.

But I've decided that this guilt is probably a little silly. Captain America and I do a number of things that are environmentally friendly, and while our efforts may make us marginally ahead of the average American, the point is that we're doing what we can. The point of being environmentally conscious is not to make oneself crazy about all that you're not doing, which is how Id' feel if I had to take up gardening, or skip washing my hair before bed. But what I can do today may be very different from what I can do tomorrow, or next month, or next year. Who knows? At some point I may want to grow my own tomatoes to turn into botulism-free salsa for Captain America. But give up my daily shampoo? Don't hold your breath.

I used to read a bunch of green blogs. Every now and then, the blogger would publish a "day in the life of" and I realized, these people don't work! Seriously, every one that I read, the person worked part time, or part time from home, or not really at all. It would be like:

6:30am: Get up
6:40am: read paper and eat breakfast
7am: walk dog
7:30am: get kids up, walk kids to school, whatever
9am: work
12pm: meet hubby for coffee
2:30pm: pick kids up from school

OK, um, so not only are your kids in school about 10 minutes a day, and it's nice that you walk them there, but you spent 2 1/2 hours having coffee with hubby! Who works in this household?

I'd like to see a "day in the life of, " oh, I don't know, a green CEO, or a divorced mother of 4 who has to work 50 hours a week and is going to law school, or something. Really. I can't be inspired by someone who spends three hours working in the morning and 2 1/2 hours drinking coffee in the afternoon.

I'd rather make money and buy vegetables than grow them. Yup, I'm pretty sure I'm OK with that. Someone's gotta keep the farmers in business.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

"This is it"

A few weeks ago, I watched Michael Jackson's "This is it." I have to say, I never really was a big MJ fan, and I've finally figured out why: I just don't like most of his stuff. Much like the Beatles, for whom I also don't really care, I understand his significance; I just don't like the way it sounds.

One thing I noticed in watching "This is it," is that Michael Jackson repeatedly stated that he was concerned about the environment, but I felt like his words were empty. I wondered about the environmental impact of his show. Was his stage built using salvaged materials? Were his costumes made of organically grown fair trade cotton? Were the lights LED bulbs?

At no time on his video did Michael Jackson make one comment about what he was doing to lead a more sustainable lifestyle. Granted, the video opens with the info that it was being shot for his personal archives, so it is possible that there were a number of sustainability initiatives going on that he simply didn't feel the need to declare in a movie he was making for himself.

But I think that's unlikely. I think Michael Jackson was living an extravagant lifestyle but saying he was worried about the environment. and maybe he was actually worried. Who knows? But that certainly would be a good example of do as I say, not as I do. Which is a shame, because even after his death, Michael Jackson is able to engage the attention of tens of millions of people. Even after his death, other artists continue to look up to him, to be inspired by him.

That kind of celebrity could be an amazing vehicle for change. That kind of celebrity could lead by example and inspire millions of people. We saw this with the huge success of "We are the World," in raising money to aid those suffering from famine in Africa. No where on my research about "This is it," which I will confess was not extensive, could I find any information regarding using the concert series to raise money for any cause at all, let alone the environment.

Michael Jackson's death was untimely, for sure. His peaks and valleys of stardom and scrutiny were tragic. But what is also tragic is what he didn't do with his success when he had it. With celebrity comes responsibility. Michael Jackson is not the first, nor will he be the last, to fail in his responsibilities as a celebrity, but it is still a failure. What an unfortunate end to a life already wrought with so much tragedy.