Wednesday, September 26, 2012

This gives new meaning to "putting on my face"

Last weekend, I wrote a long, feisty rant about makeup and how it's demeaning to women and how all the money and time we women spend on it should be devoted to more noble endeavors. But then two things happened:
  • I accidentally obliterated the rant.
  • I couldn't rewrite the rant because I stopped agreeing with it.
Now, frankly, I do still think makeup is demeaning (here comes the Reader's Digest Condensed Rant). It's absurd that women are expected to smear colors on our faces to be considered "normal." And that we're engaged some never-ending struggle to achieve a perfect, unblemished state. And that we're constantly bombarded with the message that various things on our faces need to be corrected (sorry, "enhanced").

Here's the problem, though. I can argue that all the money spent on highlighted cheekbones might be better spent on feeding starving children or eradicating malaria, and it seems like a slam dunk. But that's pretty easy for me, because I think makeup is stupid. What about the frivolous things I do enjoy? Cute shoes? Necklaces? Having a gym membership? Going out for pizza? Kitchen gadgets? Air conditioning?

It's kind of a slippery slope, weighing the value of the things we want against the lives of far-away people we don't know. I'm just not going to judge anyone else until I get more comfortable with where I'm drawing my own line.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Things to never buy retail: a starter list

The Man and I have recently discovered the joy of saling. Not the boat kind. I mean garage saling. Yard saling. Estate saling. The kind where you go buy a newspaper just for the classifieds, drive all over town, and end up with a car filled with other people's junk.

Except!! What's junk to those other people is sometimes just the stuff you were looking for, only at, like, 20 percent of the retail price. You might argue—as I once did—that the time and gasoline it takes to actually find these great bargains cancels out any cost savings. And you would be absolutely right about that—as I once was—unless you also find playing hooky on a sunny Friday morning to do a bit of saling to be kind of fun. Which I do.

Maybe that's because I'm middle aged now. So be it.

But I'm learning a few things in my middle age. And I've learned that there are some categories of items that can be gotten so easily and so cheaply from other people's garages that, if you like saling even a little bit, you shouldn't even think about buying them in stores:
  • Baby shit: Young couples with two incomes tend to buy hundreds of dollars' worth of brand-new baby shit. What they fail to realize is that babies stop being babies after about a year or two. Then, unless they have another baby, they have shit-tons of barely used baby shit that they're desperate to get rid of because of the alarming volume of toys that's started to fill up their houses (see next point). So be smart and get your baby shit cheap at yard sales. It's easy to find the right ones; the ads contain the words, "Giant loads of baby shit! Priced to sell!"
  • Toys: Let's get one thing straight. You NEVER need to buy toys for your own kids. Toys will inevitably arrive from other sources: grandparents, birthday parties, Christmas, grandparents, kids' meals, aunts and uncles, grandparents, friends, school, fairs, grandparents, etc. They will explode out of the "toy box" you naively purchased, and before long, no corner of your house will be free of them. So here's the deal: You do sometimes have to buy toys for other people's kids (OPK). Just make a deal with your siblings and with the parents of your children's friends that used toys are A-OK as gifts, and never, ever, ever, ever, set foot in a Toys R Us. 
  • Christmas decorations: It's a rare estate sale that doesn't have a huge selection of Christmas stuff. (You probably have your own huge collection of Christmas stuff in your basement already, so be judicious here.) But if you're in the market for something—ornaments, knickknacks, lights, an artificial tree—shop estate sales. The stuff you'll find is cheap and eclectic.
  • Wrapping paper and ribbon: I used to think I was smart to stock up on wrapping paper the day after Christmas. Ha. (It's a good day to buy tape, though.) But I've been finding wrapping paper at garage sales for a quarter a roll—sometimes a partly used roll, but what difference does it make? I've even gotten some colors besides red, green, and gold.
  • Tools: I don't know too much about tools, but I know that the good ones last a pretty long time, that a whole lot of men own them, and that you can't take them to heaven with you. Buy them at estate sales.
  • Kitchen gadgets: If you suddenly feel the need for a trendy, nonessential gadget, like a juicer, rest assured that someone else has already bought your juicer, used it twice, and stuck a little sticker on it that says "$5." Just go find it in their garage and pay them $5. You can sell it later for $3 if you want.
  • Candles: Next to books, these are probably your biggest garage-sale savings. $20 on a shelf at the store, 25 cents on a folding table in a garage (used once, made husband gag).
  • Glassware: Who buys this, I don't know. But I beg you, if you're in the market for a vase, an unmatched drinking glass, a wine glass, a mason jar, or an old perfume bottle, for the love of God, try a garage sale first.
  • Aaaaand…seashells: Never pay full price again.
I know there's more. What have I forgotten?

Monday, September 17, 2012

A baby step toward better health: green tea

If you drink anything other than water, tea, and black coffee, then the best and easiest thing you can do for your health is to stop.

Just do it. Stop right now. Go cold turkey. It's a baby step, really, but it will make you feel so much better, especially if you drink a lot of stuff with sugars in it (including juice).

My personal preference is to drink almost nothing but green tea, and I have a great reason. Well, two. One, I love it, both hot and cold. But, two, it's great for your immune system.

That probably made your eyes glaze over, just like the phrase "You are what you eat." But, listen. I started drinking green tea six years ago, and that year I noticed for the first time that I was generally the only one in the family who would stay well when a virus swept through the household. So I kept drinking green tea, and started keeping track of how often I got sick. Here's the entire list:
  • December 2011.
Yep, one cold in six years (and, oh, did it blow). But that's instead of, what, a conservative average of two or three a year? Let's do the math:

6 years × 2.5 colds per year × duration of 4 days – 4 days in 2011 = approximately 56 days of misery avoided by drinking green tea

Here's the kick in the pants: This is your one and only life. Take care of yourself, because you're never getting those sick days back.

Friday, September 14, 2012

How to cook cauliflower, and why

I have a ton of advice about nutrition, but before I start pulling out the big guns, let me just start with something easy: Vegetables are good for you. Really, really good for you. And I'm not even going to offer you any evidence of that, because you know what? You already know it's true. It doesn't matter whether you believe the federal dietary guidelines, get all your nutrition information from women's magazines, follow Paleo, consult a nutritionist, listen to Weston A. Price, or just use the good sense God gave you…they're all in agreement. Vegetables = good.

So if you don't eat giant, heaping platefuls of vegetables at every meal (yes, every), why not?

Is it because they're yucky?

No. It's because you're afraid of them and don't really know how to cook them. Every time you go on a health kick, you can't think of anything else to do, so you make yourself a giant salad for lunch, spritz it with some disgusting zero-calorie "dressing spray," and try to choke seventeen baby carrots down raw. My jaw gets tired just thinking about it.

If you want to eat vegetables, really eat them, cups and cups and cups a day—and, oh, P.S., also love them—you have to do at least one of the following (but preferably both):
  1. Cook them.
  2. Eat them with a healthy fat.
Cooking vegetables shrinks them down to size and makes them easier to eat. Adding fat makes their nutrients more available to the body and also makes them freaking delicious. (Also, it's an easy way to sneak more good fat into your diet, but that's a concept for another post.)

You can Google recipes all day long, but let me give you one simple example: cauliflower. Eat the stuff raw and you'd want to kill yourself after three or four bites. But try it roasted, with garlic and olive oil, and you will find yourself licking your bowl clean and then sneaking back to the kitchen to scrape the tastiest browned bits off the bottom of the pan with a fork. Or so I hear.

Anyway, here's what you do:
  1. Rinse a head of cauliflower.
  2. Get out a Pyrex baking dish and cut up the head inside there. You're going to roast it in this, so save yourself some mess and the trouble of washing a cutting board.
  3. Cut it up like this.
  4. Pour about a third of a cup of olive oil or melted coconut oil over it.
  5. Add either minced garlic or sprinkle with garlic powder.
  6. Sprinkle with sea salt and pepper.
  7. Use your hands to mix everything together, spreading the spices around and coating all the pieces with oil.
  8. Bake at 400 degrees for about 45 minutes, stirring once or twice.
You want as many of the cauliflower pieces as possible to be nice and brown, without any of them being black. (White = fairly tasteless. Brown = delicious caramelization. Black = charcoal.) If you want, sprinkle some parmesan cheese or something on it, but it's perfectly delicious plain.

OMG.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Fine-tune your Facebook friends list—with math!

Something I really hated up until about ten minutes ago is that meme where someone posts a math problem (or, actually, a PHOTOGRAPH of a math problem, because who could possibly come up with their own?) and then challenges people to solve it. It's always third-grade math except for one "trick" that makes it really hard for some people, and then a long, heated debate always breaks out among the commenters over the correct answer.

This "trick" is generally order of operations.

It's appalling how many people don't understand or remember this fundamental rule for solving equations. (I know it's been a long time since Algebra I, but come on.) It's even appallinger how many people will cry, "I'm a word person!" as an excuse for not being able to comprehend the concept, even after it's explained by twenty people. And it's appallingest of all how people are willing to argue themselves into a frenzy over something that clearly has one right answer and is not actually up for debate:

6-1×0+2÷2=OMG OMG WHATEVER SHALL WE DOOOO TO SOLVE THIS MYYYYYSTERY??!

But fourteen minutes ago I realized just how useful this shit really is. It lets you instantly categorize and cull the undesirables in your Facebook friends list. Witness:

The Innocently Clueless: "Oooh, I know! I know! My calculator says the answer is 1!"
The Name-Calling Asshat: "You are an ignoramus. Order of operations, blah, blah, blah. It's 7, jerks."
The Dumbass Who Doesn't Care Who Knows: "What's order of operations? I get 1."
The Argumentively Clueless: "This is America, where we read left to right. It HAS to be 1."
The Authoritatively Stupid: "You are all wrong. I get 5."
The Absurdly Flustered: "This is why I hate math! It's never straightforward! I'm a word person!"
The Moron Who Wants to Take a Vote: "It looks like most people say 1! I guess that settles it!"

The nice part of this arrangement is you can decide for yourself which groups of people you can continue to tolerate (it's possible The Authoritatively Stupid misread one of the operators or something—at least he had the guts to go against the grain) and which ones have got to go (nice knowing you, Argumentively Clueless).

I am really sorry I thought of this only twenty-five minutes ago, but look on the bright side. A few days' worth of comment-hell now can save you untold agony later, and there are still two months to Election Day.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

How to be a *professional* professional

Yep, the week from hell was hellish as expected (although The Man came through with flying colors, held the household together, and did not hold my bitch attack against me even a little*). Now that I've had a day to recover, though, I'm feeling a fit of work-related advice-dispensing coming on.

So here's a non-hypothetical situation: Say I have two subcontractors who are working with me on a Giant Project. Subcontractor A does fantastic work but is constantly whining about how much my project is interfering with her life, how hard she worked at her day job already, and how unreasonable the Giant Project end client is. Subcontractor B does work that's just…okay…but she does it cheerfully and even eagerly. Which one do you think I prefer to work with?

Ohhhh, trick question! Not only do these subcontractors both drive me nuts, but I'm considering cutting off future work to the one whose quality is barely up to par. (The whiner I will deal with as long as she continues to produce great work.)

But let me introduce you to Subcontractor C, who does kick-ass work and does it professionally. Because of these fine qualities, Subcontractor C gets preferential treatment from me. I give her the plum projects and exactly as much work as she'd like. Want me to tell you her amazing, mysterious secrets?

To do kick-ass work: It helps to be brainy, but it's even better to be educated. Study hard, never stop improving, read the instructions, and understand what's expected of you. Then take the work seriously and put your best effort into it. (Subcontractor B works very, very quickly and shows evidence of not having read the detailed instructions I sent. Not cool.)

To do it professionally: Leave your personal life out of it. If you're not available to work on something, I really don't care if it's because you've been subpoenaed to testify before Congress or if you'd just rather clip your toenails. Just tell me you're not available, and the conversation is over. If you are available, I really don't want to hear what you're canceling or sacrificing in order to make that happen. Seriously, just accept the work, and then bend over backward to make it happen in a timely manner. "Reasons" are necessary only if you agree to do something and then can't. (And at that point, the reason had better be at the subpoena end of the spectrum.)

That's it. Fix your attitude and prosper.

* Bonus advice: Marrying well covers a multitude of sins.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Just don't ask me how I know all this

Okay, I have some advice for you.

You know when you're having a really bad day? Like when a client dumps a ton of surprise, emergency work on you that requires you to spend your entire morning in a software-updating fiasco before you can even start and it's due Friday and you ALREADY had an impossible-to-finish project for someone else due Friday and now you have to drop out of the family completely to work around the clock and you're really going to need your spouse to do some heavy lifting with the cooking and the kids? Because you like to stay employed? And the kids like to eat? And be taken to school? Well, not really, but it's the law?

Yeah, okay. On a day like that, especially when it's a harbinger of a really bad week where, as mentioned, you're going to need a ton of extra help from your spouse, it is probably best not to piss off said spouse by being emotional and unnecessarily snippy, even though that's exactly how you're feeling.

And it's not just because you want him to take over all the cooking and bring you tea at regular intervals and feel sorry for you and pat you on the head. No, because it's just the right thing to do, dammit. In fact, you should probably take pains to be sweeter and kinder than normal, because now his week is going to suck, too, and it's not his fault any more than it is yours.

Dammit.