Friday, October 31, 2008

Pleasant Surprise

I live with a dog, a cat, an African Grey parrot, and lately am fostering a Goffin's Cockatoo. No, I will not be able to get them all in one picture. I buy most of my pet supplies online from Drs. Foster and Smith. Their prices are generally competitive, their selection is good and they are located in Wisconsin. Which means no sales tax, but delivery is still overnight to me in Illinois.

Upromise, the company that makes contributions to your college savings for shopping with preferred vendors, has Foster and Smith on its list. These vendors sometimes have special deals for Upromise customers. The one I used the other day was $10 off a $100 order. It makes me happy because there is no free shipping from this place. I am a total sucker for free shipping. The order went through and the promotion code was reflected in my confirmation.

When I received the box today, the invoice had a note saying that because I had previously used that promotion code, it was not applied to this order. I was pretty ticked.

I hit reply on the order confirmation and wrote a very civilized letter "respectfully requesting a credit of $10" to my credit card.

Two hours later, at 7pm on a Friday night, I received a reply. They gave me the $10 (a "one-time exception") and an apology that the promotion was not more clear.

I will take that.

Dixon, Illinois

I took a short road trip for work that involved spending a night in Dixon, Illinois. Famous for being "the boyhood home of President Ronald Reagan". This is one of those places too far away to randomly visit, but close enough that I am embarrased to have never been there before.

Anyway. I remembered to throw the camera in my suitcase. Here is the view from my hotel room window. I think I will call it "48 Hours Before the Harvest or Something". I took the same picture again at dawn, but it didn't turn out.

I did not, however, remember to bring the camera to President Reagan's Boyhood Home. So this is the best you will get:

The Spirit of the Season

My friend, utter_scoundrel, is a great nerd and got into the spirit of the season by watching all of the Friday the 13th films. (I just had to pause and ask myself if the word “film” is the appropriate word to describe them.) Personally, I am a Nightmare on Elm Street girl, but I appreciate the effort.

He wrote a funny series of blog posts about them, carefully recording the body count. And at the end, he charted it. Check this out (I stole this from his page, but whatever, he didn't copyright it.):

I have not checked his math. If he has messed up something, please contact him directly. I am sure he would appreciate it.

You can read the entire series here.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Checking Out the Competition

This past weekend, two area libraries were doing Book Sales. I love Book Sales anyway, and I had the Research excuse. Forgive me, but I am using my blog for recording my check of the “competition”:

On Saturday, the Glencoe Library sale started at 9am and I arrived at 9:27. There was a sign pointing around the side of the building, down a staircase. I never saw the inside of this library.

There was a line of people going up the staircase. Did I have the time wrong? No. Fire code. There were only letting one person in at a time, and only as people left. This was really annoying because:

a. It was cold
b. I was standing behind a family of five

Then there was the inevitable jerk a few people back that said, “I only need to go in for a minute, can I please go in front of you?!”


Once I was finally inside, I saw the need for the wait. The aisles were tiny and the books were on shelves. Kneeling down to see the bottom shelves was a problem. I couldn’t even get to the end of the hardcover fiction section because it was backed up against the children’s book space. This was no place for children.

The prices were the same as our Used Book Store’s regular prices. The volunteers were all very pleasant, but I was rather miffed that there were so many of them standing around drinking coffee when there was a line of people outside in the cold because of the Fire Code.

The take: I bought four books for $4.00.

The sale in Arlington Heights is famous. They have four sales each year and I once read that they net $80,000 a year running them. I arrived a few minutes after they opened – at noon on Sunday.

This library is huge, and they were set up inside a large room on the second floor. The books were on tables, with the overflow lined up neatly on the floor, the way we do it.

The tables were neatly labeled, but I couldn’t find the Fiction. I saw Science Fiction going in and I realized that Romance and Mystery novels were on the other side, near the other door. Fiction was scattered on the shelves outside the main room. That was tough.

The volunteers were hard at work, many carrying boxes of paperbacks to try to jam them onto the tables as space cleared throughout the day. There were a ton of CDs and books on tape, but I didn’t really look at the selection.

Like Glencoe, the prices resembled our store’s regular prices. After my first walkthrough I only had two books in my hands, so I did a second lap. I didn’t see any of what one might call “Literature”. The classics section was puny and I didn’t see any Philip Roth or Ian McEwan or Margaret Atwood-like titles.

Then I remembered that it was Sunday and the serious people would have been there the day before. I also just remembered the Scavengers – the people with little scanner guns that buy up stuff to sell it online. I saw them in Glencoe the day before. Although, now that I think about it, Arlington Heights may have banned them. I should go look that up.

At Glenview’s Used Book Store, we say the primary goal is to raise funds, but we are also there to provide a public service. The question of selling to the Scavengers has come up more than once. Anyone is welcome to buy, but do we welcome them to scan each of our books to find what we have undervalued for their benefit? Eh, maybe.

Anyway, Arlington Heights runs a fine operation even if my take was only two books for $2.00. Six dollars on the weekend. I will have to be sure to at least double that in our own shop this December.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Daisy the Foster Goffin's

After two weeks, I took Kiwi the Green back to the Refuge. I wrote a short report on things I learned about him and sent it to our director. The idea is to start to get a handle on the purpose of fostering. Then I brought home Daisy:

I forgot how loud a cockatoo can sound in my house.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Online Community Fatigue

The other day, my mother sent me an e-mail asking if I was a member of Shelfari. I'd never heard of it. Apparently, it is another place to log in and share your library. I told her I am on Librarything. And if I wasn't there, I'd be on goodreads, because that is where the cool kids are. I'm just too lazy to log it all in again.

I just received an e-mail from Barnes and Noble. They have launched a community and since I am such a good customer, they want me to join. So I went in and looked - I already have an account. Picked my "pen name". Grabbed an avatar.

They want me to build my library - including CDs and DVDs.

I had to create an account on typepad the other day just to comment on someone's blog. I am really tired of creating profiles. Has anyone coined a term for that yet?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Retired or Something

This is Spooky the Cat. The only cat that has ever been allowed to live in my house. He came with a roommate that moved out seven or eight years ago. Spooky is now seventeen.

Spooky once amused himself by hunting. His favorite prey was my late great dog, Dallas. Because she would freak out. Check it out:

Before the cancer got her, Dallas was sixty pounds of jump-the-fence muscle and this 12 pound cat would stalk, strike and watch her go insane. Shadow still looks around the corner before he heads down a hallway - that's how dangerous this cat was.

This morning Spooky was sitting in the kitchen as I was walking out the door. I saw him staring at something on the floor. It was one of those bugs that my friend Carol (who used to kill them for me at the office) called "thousand leggers". Several inches long.

I don't do well with bugs.

I waited to see if he was going to take care of it for me. He sat watching for a minute. Waiting to pounce? I grabbed a big magazine, just in case. The bug was gone. Did Spooky eat it? I followed his eyes. No, there it is. Wait - Spooky is moving in. He batted it with his paw. It ran. He batted it again.

Dude. Are you just playing? You are going to lose it. I slammed the magazine down. Spooky vanished. He doesn't appreciate loud noises.

What are we paying him for, anyway?

The Starbucks Recession Indicator

I read this article yesterday and wasn’t going to comment because I know I will be snarky. But it is interesting and then the comment thread was more interesting. I will try to control myself.

MSN Money – one of my favorite places on the Internet, has an article called, “The Starbucks Recession Indicator”. It goes like this:

“… I propose the Starbucks theory of international economics. The higher the concentration of expensive, nautically themed, faux-Italian-branded Frappuccino joints in a country's financial capital, the more likely the country is to have suffered catastrophic financial losses.”

The idea in the local sense is that Starbucks followed all of the new communities growing and sprawling across the map. So when the real estate markets crash, they rather take Starbucks with it. The other area would be the financial districts – 200+ stores in Manhattan, for example. This is the international angle. The supporting evidence is the statistical “How many Starbucks are in this area?” to “How much trouble is that area in?” London and Madrid have plenty of Starbucks, Italy has none, etc.

You can read the full text here.

Anyway, the comment thread was “What recession indicators do you see in your area?” And a lot of people said, “There aren’t any.” The wait at Olive Garden was half an hour at 8pm on a Thursday. The casino was packed - stuff like that. One person said that homes aren’t selling – and this is a big deal in my neighborhood. Another person noted that car dealers are having a very hard time of it.

My family has been with the same Chevy dealer for 25 years – same sales guy even. We just learned through the grapevine that they are closing in January. The last time I bought a car – April, 2003, Chevy didn’t have a small SUV. I had to go to Saturn, and felt guilty about it until the next year when my mother bought her Malibu. I am feeling just a bit guilty again. As if my purchase 5 ½ years ago would somehow have made a difference.

No, I am not thinking of running over and buying a car. But I am considering the concept of balance:

Where is the line between personal fiscal responsibility and one’s duty as an employed person to support the economy?

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Thanksgiving Travel

I heard on the radio yesterday morning that there will be 3,000 fewer flights available over the 2008 Thanksgiving Holiday as compared to 2007. Which means that tickets will be more expensive and planes will be jammed.

This will be made even worse due to the new fees to check a bag. I have spent enough time pontificating on that problem.

MSN has an article called “Tips to Speed through Security”. The only shocker was that in Terminal 3 at O’Hare you might stand in Security for an extra eight minutes if you pick the wrong line. I generally fly out of Terminal 1, so I don’t know which is the bad line in Terminal 3!

Anyway, here was the point of the article:

“More experienced travelers have other tricks that are second nature. For example, don’t wait until you reach the front of the line to start emptying your pockets. Take a minute to stash your watch, keys and loose change in your carry-on. Even if you’re using one of the new “checkpoint friendly” laptop bags, tie and neatly stow the additional wires so it won’t look like a bomb when it's X-rayed. And because “everyone has to take off their shoes,” according to Payne, wear easily removable footwear such as flip-flops or slip-ons. Choose pants that don’t require a belt, and opt for an easily removed sweater or jacket, which TSA officials may make you send through the X-ray machine separately.”

Yes. You should be stripping in line.

Another interesting thought – and this is not the first place I have heard it – is that it might be better to ship our luggage that to check it. With the idea that UPS is more reliable that the airlines and it won’t be that much more expensive if you plan it well.

I do not vacation around Thanksgiving, but I do have to visit my other offices right around that time. If I am extremely lucky, I will be able to run it all earlier this year, but I don’t even have tickets yet. Also, I have already decided that I am driving to Ohio instead of flying.

You can read the full article here. But if you want my “expert” travel advice? Don’t travel for Thanksgiving.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Professional Validation

I don’t normally read WSJ, but a colleague – who was not on my side on this issue – brought me this article this morning called “Get Rid of the Performance Review!”

Two years ago, I had a pretty big temper tantrum, threw our system out the window and started over. My boss is an indulgent guy. As Culbert points out in the article, our salary increases were/are more a matter of budget and market than performance.

Our employment attorney told me that annual reviews hurt a case at least as often as they helped. After “interviewing” a whole bunch of manager-types, I came up with something rather similar to what this writer, Samuel Culbert discusses:

“The Solution: Performance previews instead of reviews. In contrast to one-side-accountable reviews, performance previews are reciprocally accountable discussions about how boss and employee are going to work together even more effectively than they did in the past. Previews weld fates together. The boss's skin is now in the game.”

Our top managers bought it. I can’t say “embraced”, because it is still viewed as an annual pain in the neck. But most of them still prefer it to rating people on a scale of 1 to 10.

We had less of the “make the supervisor accountable for the employee’s performance” and more of the “empower the employee to talk about his personal and professional needs”. But we completely shifted our focus from a discussion of the past year to a discussion of the next year.

This time around, we had a relatively new employee say that she loves her job today but is working toward a degree in Accounting and her long term goal is to transfer to our Accounting department. Good thing to know. Even when the news isn’t what you want to hear, we should still be honest and respectful of each other. That way, when we come to the end of the line, we can feel good about the fact that is no-fault. We can still be in a good place. Keeping a good employee happy for two years and then having to replace her is way better than having a cranky underperformer for a decade.

One place where I diverged from Culbert is the question of when there is a performance problem. He says, in part:

“It's the boss's responsibility to find a way to work well with an imperfect individual, not to convince the individual there are critical flaws that need immediate correcting, which is all but guaranteed to lead to unproductive game playing and politically inspired back-stabbing.”

True enough. But sometimes there really is no alternative. My answer is that this is a different conversation, different documentation, different process completely. And the managers are charged with staying on top of that. Because while I am not a traditional HR enforcer, and we do not have strict policies for “Disciplinary Action”, I will recommend against an employment termination when I am not satisfied that the employee had knowledge of the expectations, was provided the tools to succeed and was aware of the consequences of failure. Generally, that means documentation in the file.

Corporate cultures are all different. What works for one company doesn’t necessarily work for the next. But I was very pleased to have this validation.

Again, if you would like to read the article in its entirety, you can find it here. I only read a handful of the comments, but they looked pretty charged to me.

Happy Monday!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Twisted Peppermint

Last year, I was taking a look at my spending habits. I buy far too many books, but they are mostly from the Library Used Book Store or the Clearance section of Half Price Books. So think a dollar apiece. I wasn't about to give up books. What else? I eat out a lot, but generally at lunch time. Rarely do I go out to eat for dinner. I am not a clothes horse. I kinda have a lot of shoes, but don't think I have an actual problem there. However.

I didn't like the random way I was spending at two stores in particular: Yankee Candle and Bath and Body Works. So just for the sake of argument, I put a moratorium on all purchases from those stores for the entire spring - until the June clearance sale. It was not as hard as I thought.

I could never pull it off in the Fall and here is why:

The first year Twisted Peppermint came out, I thought it smelled good, but who wants to walk around smelling like food? I only used the soap. Last year, I was looking forward to having it back and it wasn't released until closer to Christmas. I saw it in the store window on Friday. I don't care if I smell like food. I don't care that I spent $30 on the gift pack plus hand soap. It's Twisted Peppermint!

All the preaching I do on saving your money, and I fall vitcim to the classic - seasonal limited editions.

Friday, October 17, 2008

The Worst Thing Ever Invented by Educators

The Open Book Essay Exam.

I am pleased to say that I never fell for the Open Book trick - I was never all excited by the prospect or allowed myself to be less prepared because "you have all the answers in front of you!" These exams are always harder. Always.

I took my proctored final this morning. Totally choked, but managed an 86. Then I went to work. Then I came home to do the Take Home Open Book Essay Portion.

I started at 4 or so. Stopped for an hour to eat dinner and let the birds out to play. Finished at 10:00. That is like a full week's written assignments. Not cool.

Because I knew I would be done today, I volunteered to do a library event tomorrow morning. Right after my allergy shot. And we are meeting my grandfather for dinner. My next class starts in a week and I still have to take the pre req math tutorial.

I am going to take a shower and go to sleep. I promise to be in a better mood in the morning.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Continuing Education - Physical Therapy

I mentioned that I was going to physical therapy because my back had been bothering me. I also mentioned that it wasn’t so much that I was in a great deal of pain, as my doctor thought I would benefit from the “educational value”.

How’s this for “educational value”? I just read the Explanation of Benefits from my health insurance company. It costs more to see my physical therapist than it costs to see my actual doctor.

I had to research. These are some excerpts from the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

“Physical therapists provide services that help restore function, improve mobility, relieve pain, and prevent or limit permanent physical disabilities of patients suffering from injuries or disease. They restore, maintain, and promote overall fitness and health. Their patients include accident victims and individuals with disabling conditions such as low-back pain, arthritis, heart disease, fractures, head injuries, and cerebral palsy.”

“Median annual earnings of physical therapists were $66,200 in May 2006.”

“Physical therapists need a master’s degree from an accredited physical therapy program and a State license, requiring passing scores on national and State examinations.”

“Employment of physical therapists is expected to grow much faster than average. Job opportunities will be good, especially in acute hospital, rehabilitation, and orthopedic settings.”

Hm. So this is where the jobs are.

For my first couple of appointments, it was probably worth it. The evaluation, the flexibility vs. strength bit. And the understanding that this is not my mother’s disk problem – it is a muscular issue and I own it. But the last couple of sessions have just been giving me new exercises – which I am pretty sure I can find on the Internet if I am so inclined. I cancelled my last scheduled appointment.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Looking on the Bright Side

The Dow had another nosedive of a day, which is not really news at this point. What I found interesting is that it began this morning with a report saying that retail sales dropped a whole bunch in September.

The bad news, of course, is that retail sales are a big-deal-economic-trend-indicator-thingy. But what I thought was:

Wait a minute. Haven't we been telling people to save their money, already? Maybe we finally understand! Maybe we are turning a corner and coming out of our Rampant Consumerist Dark Age!

Or maybe it is just fear.

If you want to read the actual day's financial report, you can find MSN's here.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Soup Nazi

I couldn’t stand Seinfeld, but it had one good bit: I loved the Soup Nazi*.

For those not in the loop, Soup Nazi had a lunch counter in Manhattan with the best soup all the land. The line for his soup wrapped around the block - but he ran the place like an assembly line. The rules went something like:

1. Form one line.
2. When it is your turn, step up to the counter.
3. Place your order quickly and succinctly. No questions are allowed. No delays are tolerated.
4. Step down the counter. Have your money ready.
5. Pay the guy.
6. Receive your order and step out of the way.

If you messed up any part of the procedure, Soup Nazi would shout, “No soup for you!” and you would not be served.

The schtick was the soup was so good that everyone put up with the guy. And then the girl, Elaine, decided it was just wrong and she was going to teach him a lesson or get revenge or something. Whatever – I was bored again before it all unfolded. What I thought was:

No! I would eat there because of the Soup Nazi. Because he has rules. And kicks out the Bad People!

As I stood in line at Wendy’s listening to a lady making her second call to the office to clarify an order, (“Wendy’s doesn’t sell fish, what else do you want?”) I was wishing for the Soup Nazi.

*The term “Soup Nazi” came directly from the show, so don’t go hassling me about how it isn’t PC.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Kiwi and Kiwi

The answer is: about 26 hours. The question: how long after Manu went to his new home did I bring in another bird from the Refuge?

Rich was there while I was working in the front room. I asked who might like other birds enough to tolerate Kiwi the Grey? He thought Kiwi the Jardine's Parrot.

"I can't have two Kiwis in the house!"

He said, "I have two Freds, two Mollys and two Sammies."

And prior to that we have had two Pacos and two Peaches. Kiwi the Jardine's is not terribly big and not terribly loud. I am thinking I may have written about him here before, but am not going to bother looking it up. He imitates smoker's cough and snoring. His Refuge profile is limited, but you can find it here.

Kiwi and Kiwi have not been out together yet, but I am hopeful. Here are some pictures of the new green guy (I think he is a he) and my grey girl. The total ham:

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Writers' Theatre - The Picnic

After sending Manu to his new home and watching the Bears lose that terrible, terrible game, I went to Writers' Theatre to see their first show of the season: The Picnic, by William Inge.

The first thing one always notices at The Writer’s Theatre is the staging. They are founded on the principles of honoring the text and creating an intimate environment. This sometimes means that the actors could very well trip and land in your lap, but always means that the staging is creative. This time, in addition to the fancy, comfortable seating there was another section of audience chairs. They claimed it was to create a “theatre in the round”. I am very sorry to say it felt like a cheap ploy for selling more tickets.

The plot summary (from the web site):

When a charismatic young drifter arrives in a small Kansas town on the eve of a Labor Day picnic, the simmering repressions of its residents come rapidly to a boil. Frequently hilarious and profoundly moving, Inge’s masterpiece chronicles the hopes and despairs that lie between the realization of adulthood and the eternal optimism of youth.

This play had a broad spectrum of characters and I swear I recognized them all. Even the actors looked familiar – though when I checked the playbill I didn’t recognize any of the names. Anyway - I was absolutely interested in where it was going.

The women were rather…um…shrill…but whether that was from the text or the direction I don’t know. There was a part when Mrs. Potts, the least-shrill neighbor lady, is talking about having the drifter-guy over for breakfast. She was talking about how different the whole house feels when there is a man in it. All loud and stomping around and making a mess or whatever. As opposed to her regular “prim” space where you would notice a hatpin out of place. While there is nothing prim about my house of two women, that monologue held me – I got it. Even when the man is my kid brother, the whole place feels differently charged.

When I clicked over to their website to see if there was a picture I could steal, I found they are now posting clips from the shows. You can see them here. You might check out the one for Nixon’s Nixon, which they have revived for the fall on the old bookstore stage. While The Picnic is a really good show, between the two, Nixon’s Nixon is really the must-see if you are in the area.

Manu Goes Home

Manu's new parents came over today and took him home. They have experience with Amazons and understand the kind of patience he will need. I am certain we have found the best place for him.

Will I miss him? Certainly. But mostly I am satisfied that we have done well by him. Here are some pictures that I took last weekend. Don't worry - the cat didn't make a move:

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Another Click and Donate

The Animal Rescue Site works with They have a "click this box" to donate food to homeless animals - you know, paid by the advertisers. You can go here once a day to do it.

The Animal Rescue Site is also doing a "vote for your favorite shelter". So if you will be so kind as to click here and paste "a Refuge for Saving the Wildlife, Incorporated" in to vote for us, we might get some construction costs covered! You can vote once a day.

The last time I looked, Best Friends was winning. National organizations. Beh.

The Animal Rescue Site has some nice stuff. Just don't show my mother their other fundraising activities:

Friday, October 10, 2008

At the Library - Imported Books

Most nights at the Library, I consider myself lucky if I find 10 books worth listing and sell $10 in books onsite. Last night, I listed 19 books and sold $33.50 onsite. By the time I got home, I was exhausted.

Someone donated a whole bunch of imported books and most were in mint condition. As if someone had gone to Ireland, spent all of her souvenir money on books and never read them. Like the above. The price tag was in Euros and I don't know exactly how that all translates, but luckily, Amazon works it out for me. I'm not sure how quickly this stuff sells, but they were interesting to look at. John Keane was the name I remember. If you want to check them out, click here.

Other People's Libraries

I very much believe that you can learn a ton about a person by looking at his library. Or at least you learn enough to wonder. I have talked about a box of books at the library spinning my imagination in circles and it happened again at an estate sale a week or so ago.

It was in my own neighborhood - no one I knew, but it was professionally run and I remembered the sale manager saying that the prices were not negotiable and the client was very specific about what she expected to get for her snow blower.

I’ve been looking for an end table, which is why I went to the estate sale. Actually, what I really want is a small dresser to act as an end table. I really liked the one in the master bedroom but it wasn’t for sale so I went into the next room and there were the books.

I almost had a heart attack. A whole bunch of Joan Didion that I didn’t have. A whole bunch of Philip Roth that I may or may not already have on my shelf. A bunch of classics. This woman – or her mother or father or whomever – should be my grandmother. Who are they?

Well, there was a Haggadah, so they are probably Jewish. And a bunch of opera books and some other random music stuff. A bagful of paperback popular mysteries. So..cultured, but understanding the need to melt one’s brain. Unless the books belonged to two different people.

I decided that my speculation was intrusive and impolite, so I grabbed a Didion, dropped my dollar at the table and left.

At the Spa - Mario Tricoci

My first ever facial was at Mario Tricoci. I had won a raffle or something. I remember it as a great experience, where I learned a whole lot about taking care of my skin. I have had something like three facials a year since then. My “regular” place is down the street. Less expensive, more functional than la di da pampering yourself. And sometimes I get them when I am on vacation.

Mario Tricoci is a chain and not the gold standard spa experience, in my opinion. But it is a really good baseline. The standard European Facial is $78, which is reasonable enough. But they don’t do paraffin treatment/massage your feet or any of that stuff that come from the places that charge $100 and up. The best news is that they take appointments online.

I had a certificate to Mario, and I was due for a facial so I went today. The technician was competent, asking all of the right questions and hitting on the fact that my purpose was to not about the “relaxing” or the mini-massage, but to take care of my skin already. Then she started talking and I remembered why I don’t like it here:

She was trying to get me to upgrade the service. I told her I would rather spend the extra dollars on product. So she got started. It was a good treatment and at the end she left me with the usual product recommendations, including a vitamin C serum that I had heard about before. Then she sent me upstairs for the “free make up application”. I remembered that as going to get your eyes done before walking out the door.

No. This is where we get more serious about the selling of the products. The makeup chick walked through all of the recommended products to buy before putting on my damn eye shadow. Then she wanted my phone number so she could, “follow up next week”. This, ladies and gentlemen, is why I never answer the phone.

I took the vitamin C serum downstairs and went to the register to pay my bill. The total was a good $100 more than I planned. I asked for a breakdown. That vitamin C serum was $135. I handed it back over the counter.

Verdict: Mario Tricoci does a good basic facial. I can’t comment on the “upgrades” because I refuse to pay for them. But when you get to the “make up application”, plead another appointment and get out.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Why I Like Working Here

I was in Washington in part for our annual 401(k) meeting. Nice timing, right? The guy from our investment company did a great job with the historical perspective and the "you are buying more shares for your dollar" and the statistics. The one that really grabbed my boss was about how you don't want to miss the "best trading days" after a downturn because that is when we make our money back. The statistic was something about how a whole bunch of those "best trading days" are within two weeks of the worst days.

Here is the best part. After the meeting, I got an e-mail from someone that doesn't participate in the plan. She went to the meeting and thinks she wants to enroll. Then I got another e-mail - from our system - someone else in that meeting increased her contributions. No one is dropping to zero.

Its appears as though the message was received. Go us.

Monday, October 6, 2008

On the National Mall

Back in Washington tonight, I headed out after work to make my pilgrimage to the Lincoln Memorial. Walking around the side of the Washington Monument, I am waved away by a cop. He herds me and a few other clueless people off to the sidewalk. I see his little car on the walkway with the lights on. Not terribly unusual. VIP or something is filming. Whatever.

Then I hear a helicopter. Also not unusual. I look up and it is headed right for me. Suddenly it is hovering right over my head and slowly descending off to my right. A second one follows.

I haven't taken a camera with me to Washington in years. But I would have liked to get a shot of those things right over my head. Then I realize that they have actually landed right on the National Mall, between the WWII and Washington Monuments. This is not so much normal.

I keep walking. Crowds have formed. A lady asks if I know what is going on. No clue. Another lady tells her husband that he can keep the kids and watch this circus. She was going to get the car. I see maybe 10 people get off the helicopter and head for some dark SUVs. Um...a new Wil Smith movie?

I kept walking. By the time I reached the Lincoln Memorial, the party had long since broken up. Still don't know what was up.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Baby Blanket

So one day my sister in law Becky - who is expecting a baby girl in December - tells me that she needs baby blankets. No one will think she needs baby blankets because she has already had a baby. But she does.

I point out that she is having the first girl in the family since me (or her on her side of the family), and she will be up to her butt in baby blankets any day now.

"Maybe," Becky said. "But they will all be pink."

So true.

I am not a crafty person. Wish I was. But I do require something to do with my hands during the Bears games or I will get so loud the neighbors will call the police. I can crochet, but I only do one stitch and it isn't any good. Finished it today during the third quarter:

You can see very clearly that it is uneven. And I just noticed that you can tell where one skein ends and the next one starts. I seem to remember my mother once saying something about dye lots. But at least it isn't pink. It is really too heavy to be a crib blanket. I figure it will be her Rolling on the Floor blanket. Alex had one of those - a brightly colored fleece. Here are the stitches:

Now I am going back to Snoopy latch hook kits. I'm on deadline before Christmas.


Now that it is over, I can talk about it:

I root for both the Cubs and the White Sox. If they happen to be playing each other, I root for the Cubs. Unless it really, really, matters to the Sox and doesn't at all matter to the Cubs (statistically). Then I would say nothing. But that would never happen - they play each other mid-summer.

I was hoping the Cubs would go all the way this year. I wasn't expecting it. I have been saying, "This team is never going to break my heart again," for a very long time. I want to say it started in 1984.

But with both the Cubs and the Sox in, there was an interesting conversation at work:

If the Cubs and Sox were in the Series together, and you had two decent tickets, what would be your price to sell as opposed to go to the game?


Saturday, October 4, 2008

Are Garbage Disposals Green? Enough?

Here is one I hadn’t thought of before:

MSN, where I spend my whole life, had a blog article on garbage disposals. Apparently, there has been a question of banning them to avoid the pollution to our water/sewage systems. Here was the conclusion:

"The research is unambiguous about one point, though: Under normal circumstances, you should always compost if you can. Otherwise, go ahead and use your garbage disposal if the following conditions are met: First, make sure that your community isn't running low on water. (To check your local status, click here.) Don't put anything that is greasy or fatty in the disposal. And find out whether your local water-treatment plant captures methane to produce energy. If it doesn't—and your local landfill does—you may be better off tossing those mashed potatoes in the trash."

Huh. You can read the full text here. There was also a link to a related article in the WSJ. Check out this picture of how Sweden fertilizes its golf courses:

Friday, October 3, 2008

That Chihuahua Movie

Whenever there is an animal movie, the rescue movement worries that people will run out and buy that breed. Because they do. Dalmatians. St. Bernards. You know.

So Best Friends is getting ahead of it by using the Premiere as a teaching moment. Here is what I learned:

Chihuahuas are the 5th most-posted breed of dog for adoption on Petfinder (after Labs, Shepherds, Pit bulls and mixes of those breeds).

So I am doing my part by posting their ad, above. And you can read more about it here.

I will not be going to see this movie.

Buffett Weighs In

I love Warren Buffett. His very simple explanation for how he got rich – which is to do the opposite of what everyone else is doing in the market – has comforted me during every mini-crisis seen in the economy since I started earning my own money. He also totally changed my view of our tax system by saying that on a percent of income basis, he pays less in taxes than his receptionist. He did the math. You know, scribbled on a pad at her desk one day.

And just today I read this article at and felt a bit better than yesterday. Now, I would say we should do that bailout just because Warren Buffett says so, but the article also talks about his idea for bringing private investors in to help the federal government do it. I don’t know if it would work or not, but I am happy that he is thinking, he is talking and he is offering up something positive while the whole world is freaking out. He has good things to say about the Treasury Secretary and the Chair of the FDIC.

And. And. Here is my favorite part:

“In a subsequent interview with, Buffett said he wasn't interested in placing blame for the crisis.

"I don't worry too much about pointing fingers at the past," he said. "I operate on the theory that every saint has a past, every sinner has a future."

He said the problem boils down to widely-held assumption during the housing boom that prices could only go up. And while the theory's flaws are all too apparent now, the misconception is understandable, said Buffett, pointing to previous asset bubbles going back centuries.

"There are not bad guys in that situation," said Buffett. "It's a condition of human nature."”

I don’t say that no one is to blame; I say that everyone is to blame. Even we holier-than-thou “I pay my bills every month” people contribute. Yeah. We pay our bills every month. But one car accident, one lost job and …well. If I may throw one more platitude out..There but for the Grace of God go I. Suze Orman would smack me for my spending habits.

Buffett noted that the longer we wait to do something, the more expensive it will be. I suggest that we, the voting public, have made Congress afraid to take action. That our rage against the “fat cats” is paralyzing them. I move that we all shut up, go home, and spend the weekend watching the 500 channels on our great big HDTVs. Unless you have playoff tickets.

Either way, I am going to let the House do what it has to do and suspend judgment until it is time to judge.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Banned Book Week

As many of you know, it is Banned Book Week. The American Library Association has lots of stuff about it on its website. My personal opinion is that banning books is just silly, kind of like protesting movies. Having said that, I rather think we should pay more attention to what is being taught in schools. For example, Illinois District 225 managed to graduate me without ever having assigned To Kill A Mockingbird. I finally read it when I was 30 and Mayor Daley launched One Book One Chicago. My mother wants her tax dollars back. I just want to know what in hell was so important for us to read - in the Honors English program - that we weren't ever assigned To Kill A Mockingbird. Because if it was Candide or Lord of the Flies, I want my tax dollars back, too.


This video was on the ALA's myspace page. I found it cute. And scary. If this entire list of books had been banned when I was a kid, I swear I would be illiterate.

Lunch at Starbucks

I walked over to Wendy’s for lunch, but the line was headed out the door. Crossed the street to that Italian place it found it had closed. I didn’t feel like hiking to Corner Bakery on the off chance there was a table available at that time of day. So I went in to Starbucks.

I had heard that they had expanded the menu to try to bring in the lunch crowd, but I was not optimistic. I ordered the cup of oatmeal and a passion fruit iced tea and picked up a fruit and cheese tray. It was $8 and change.

It was a pretty small serving of oatmeal, but it came with dried fruit, nuts or brown sugar. I just went with brown sugar. The oatmeal was more solid and less watery, which is how I like it, but I know some people like to drown oatmeal in milk. I was good and hot.

The cheese was fine, the grapes were questionable. The apple was not cored properly, which is a big pain when they do not offer up proper utensils. Have you ever tried to cord an apple with a plastic spoon? It was also served with a few slices of some kind of bread that looked like the organic version of a Christmas fruit cake. That is about how it tasted, too.

Verdict: This worked in an “emergency situation”, but I will not by any means be making a habit of it.