Friday, July 31, 2009

Ode to Coffee

I love coffee.  Hot or iced, cappuccino or latte, Guatemalan or Colombian... it's all good.  I'm pretty much useless without that first cup of coffee in the morning and sometimes I treat myself to a little late afternoon re-caffeination as needed.  Coffee is my friend.  In fact, I'm enjoying a freshly brewed cup as I write this.

In terms of the strength and flavor, I prefer Peet's over Starbucks. But after reading "How Starbucks Saved My Life: A Son of Privilege Learns to Live Like Everyone Else" by Michael 
Gates Gill, I may start frequenting Starbucks just for the experience. The book is the true story of an advertising executive who spent 25 years with the agency J. Walter Thompson,  only to get laid off at age 53.  After 10 years of a dwindling consultancy business and desperate for an income and health care benefits for his family, he takes a job at Starbucks. The story resonates with me for obvious reasons (think advertising layoff victim with love of coffee).  But I also love it because it's a story about making lemonade out of lemons, or in this case, frappuccinos out of ice.  

A side effect of reading this is that I now have a personal appreciation for the hard work all Starbucks baristas do.  There is a passage about Mike's first opening shift, which he aptly compares to running with the bulls in Pamplona.  The mad scurry to get the pastries neatly set out, the sandwiches stacked, the coffee brewed, the iced tea made, the cash register counted and a million other things accomplished all before the bulls start running in for their fix at 6:00 a.m. sharp. 

The other appreciation I've gained is for the unique company culture Starbucks has fostered.  It is a culture of equality, respect and personal well being.  Did you know if you worked part-time for Starbucks making coffee that you are entitled to comprehensive medical insurance including vision and dental?  I don't even think my health insurance covered vision!  Starbucks will also fund education for its staff... a benefit very few companies these days offer.

The baristas are not told to do their work, they are asked if they are able, if they would mind or whether can do a favor for someone else.  It is an egalitarian system where differences in job title or salary are not emphasized in favor of respecting and honoring the work that each individual contributes as part of a well-oiled team.  The goal is to encourage each "partner" to do their personal best in order to elevate the quality of the experience for everyone who walks through the door, partners and customers alike.

Ok, I'm getting a little preachy now, so I'll stop.  But the point I want to make is that it's incredibly refreshing given the current economic situation to know that there are companies who look out for their employees and value the contributions of those at the bottom of the company's hierarchy just as much as those at the top.  It is company who understands that when employees are happy, customers are happy.  Considering I've spent my entire adult career in a business where personal sacrifice is expected and the needs of the client always come before the personal needs of the agency staff, this idea is truly remarkable to me.  

Let's see... I will eventually need a job again.  I don't want to work the crazy hours I worked in my past life.  I want to be part of a team and respected as an individual.  I want great health care benefits.  And let's not forget my love of coffee... Who knows?  Your next grande caramel macchiato with an add shot could be made by yours truly.  Now, I just wonder if they'd meet my salary requirements ;)?

Since this book, and therefore this post, would not exist without that magical beverage that has captivated people for centuries, I would like to leave you with a poem.

Ode to Coffee

Oh coffee, you are so good to me
My eyes don't want to open, but you help me to see
The day begins with that very first sip
There's nothing better than the sweet taste on my lips

Mug in my hand
And a smile so grand
Ready to face the day
With you, is the only way

You give me a perk
So I'm not a grumpy jerk
You are delicious and hot
Especially straight from the pot

Without you I'd be tired
A day begun, already expired
So it is here I wish to thank you
For the wonderful things you do

Hip hip hooray for coffee, espresso and milk
Hot, steaming and delicious, every sip smooth as silk
You greet me each day in your own special way
Without you I'd be lost, blue skies would turn grey

Oh coffee, how I love thee
A great pair: you and me
I will never cheat on you with tea
Even though you constantly make me pee!

Monday, July 27, 2009

The Cat Whisperer

Well, you wouldn't believe this, but I have a secret talent: I speak Meow.  I understand everything my cat Annie says, which is a lot.  So I thought I would take this opportunity to fill you in on her big adventure down south.  Here's how the conversation went: 

Me (M): Hi Annie
Annie (A):  Meow (translation: hello)

M: Do you miss San Francisco?
A: Well I really liked our apartment there.  I loved to look out the window, especially on Sunday mornings when there was a Farmer's market and tons of kids and dogs and such to watch.   And I miss scratching the yellow reading chair.  I know you paid a lot of money for it and it used to make you mad, but it felt really good to dig my claws in real deep and pull out as hard as I could.  I loved to watch the yellow threads fray and sometimes a little stuffing would come out too.  That made me feel good, like I was really strong and brave.

M: How was the 8 hour car ride to Los Angeles?
A: At first I really didn't like it.  I had only ever been in a car a couple
times before and for not very long at all.  But once I found the perfect spot to settle in, I was fine.  I would have been happier if I could have sat by your feet in between the gas and the brake pedals, but you were not very understanding about that and made me move.  I thought that was a little rude considering the stress I was under, but you kept talking about safety.  Whatever.

M: Can you tell me about the arrival home and meeting mom's cat Bear for the first time?
A: Yeah, I was scared at first.  Bear is big and black and she likes to stare at me with those yellow eyes.  It's kinda creepy.  But once I realized that she really just wants to be my friend and she's pretending not to like me since she's old and crotchety, it was easier.  When I got the nerve to go upstairs for the first time, I was mesmerized.  There are so many chairs to sit on and balconies to go out on, it was unlike anything I'd ever seen.  Bear doesn't like it when I go in mom's room, but I do it anyway.  I don't really care what she says because sticks and stones may break my bones, but meows will never hurt me.  And also, I'm rubber and she's glue, so what she meows bounces off me and sticks to her.  So there!

M: Ok, ok, now settle down.  There's no reason to get upset.  
A: Meow, meow (translation: I'm hungry.  Feed me.)

M: What's your favorite part about being in Southern California?
A: I get to go outside.  I wasn't allowed to go outside in San Francisco, but here I can go outside as much as I want.  I like to watch the bugs, chew on the plants, smell the rocks and trees and lots of other stuff too.  There is this really mean neighbor cat who tries to come into our backyard, so I also have to tell her who's boss.  Sometimes she meows really low to try to intimidate me, but I'm not scared of her.  I just hold my ground and meow back until she goes away.  At first, you, mom and Jerry thought there were babies crying in the backyard, but it was just me being tough.  Did I mention that I'm really brave?

M: Well it sounds like you're adjusting to your new life quite nicely.  Is there anything else you want to tell the readers?
A: Yes... just that I'm getting ready to write an autobiography called "A Cat's Life: The Trials and Tribulations of Living with Humans" and I encourage them to look for it on in the future.  I'm also trying to break into modeling.  I'd love to do a spread in Cat Fancy, so if anyone knows any editors there, please put in a good meow for me. Purrs of encouragement, catnip or cans of Friskies (I only eat the seafood flavors) can be sent to me here in Redondo Beach.  Meow, meow, meow, meow, meow, meow, meoooow. (translation: I'm still hungry.  Is it time to eat yet?  Oh, and goodbye).

Friday, July 24, 2009


Countdown: 12 days until I finally board my first flight to New Zealand.  It's crunch time! 

Time is moving both painfully slow and faster than I can handle.  On the one hand, I've been planning this trip for months now, and there's a part of me that feels like I just need to get on the airplane already.  Like a kid on a long road trip, I just wanna ask, "Are we there yet?"  I've done so much research and seen so many Flickr photos, that in a way, I sort of feel like I've already gone.

On the other hand, time is moving faster than the speed of light.  12 days to do everything left to do and see everyone I need to see before I go seems like an impossible task.

But time is not under my control and August 5th will arrive sometime between the 4th and 6th, whether I like it or not.  So, I'm trying to go with the flow.

I've been working on this jigsaw puzzle (please refrain from cheap shots on my obvious geekiness), and it may sound crazy, but there are some similarities between working on a puzzle and life.  Doing a puzzle is a combination of paying attention to the details and seeing the big picture.  You have to notice the most minute changes in shape or texture to find just the right piece.  But sometimes, if you get too caught up looking for a piece the way you imagine it should be, you never find it.  It's only when you take a step back and stop looking so hard, that it appears right in front of you.  Those pieces often start a new pattern: an edge of a woman's dress, the basket of a hot air balloon, the ear of little white kitten (yes, I realize I'm inviting an onslaught of teasing with that one).  

What I'm getting at, is that we often imagine our lives playing out in a particular way.  We think about the future, about what we want to happen entirely based on our present reality.  What we don't take into account is that our lives often unfold in pleasant and unexpected ways when we turn our head for a moment.  The next piece of the puzzle falls into place when we stop trying so hard and let it happen naturally.

I've been so focused on the details of this trip (which bungee jump I may muster the courage to do, which hostels have free wifi, which bank account charges the lowest international transaction fee, etc.) that I've lost track of the big picture.  This trip is about opening myself up to new possibilities.  It's about taking a break from the monotony and shaking things up a bit.  The bottom line is that it doesn't matter where I go, which hostel I stay in, which adventure sports I'm brave enough to endure.  All that matters is that I lose focus long enough to let things unfold as they should.  When I stop searching so hard and let my glance fall sideways, the unexpected delights of life seem to present themselves.  

Where I go, when I return, and everything in between will be exactly unlike anything I currently imagine.  It's like working on a puzzle without having a reference image on the box.  I just need to put the pieces together intuitively, without expectation, and everything will fall perfectly into place.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

A Shopper's Repentance

The boxes are unpacked. Well, I should clarify. I unpacked the cardboard boxes and re-packed the items into nice plastic ones with labels. A new layer of boxes now adorns my mother's garage, neatly stacked and organized for maximum accessibility.

This whole moving thing has made me realize a lot of things. One of those is that I am a clotheshorse. I condensed my important belongings from my one bedroom apartment into 12 plastic containers, 4 small cardboard boxes and an assortment of miscellaneous items tightly packed in Jen's basement. Out of the 12 plastic containers, 11 of them are shoes, purses, tops, pants, dresses, sweaters or sweatshirts. I think I could easily wear a new outfit every day for a year without repeating.

The irony is that it seems every time I look in my closet I have absolutely nothing to wear. Why is that? It's not like I've changed dress sizes much over the past 5 years and most of what I buy wouldn't be considered "trendy." I try to stick to the basics, the classics. And yet, I always have a desire to walk into a store, try something on, and justify why I need it. "I don't have a cardigan with POCKETS in this color." Or, "My black flats have silver on the buckle, so I need a pair to go with GOLD jewelry." It's really quite disgusting when you're faced with the flat truth that you have an addiction.

Is there a 12 step program for this? Maybe it would go something like this.

Step 1 - Admit that you are powerless to walking past a store with a cute window display and cannot stop yourself from going in and at least trying something on.

Step 2 - Come to believe that there is a power greater than yourself who can grab you by the arms and shake you vigorously every time you reach a cash register and question "Do you really NEED this?"

Step 3 - Make a decision to turn your will into willpower and refrain from using the credit card with a really high limit.

Step 4 - Make a searching and fearless inventory... of our CLOSET, so as not to duplicate purchases.

Step 5 - Admit to everyone around you that you are a shopaholic (as done via blog post).

Step 6 - Have god, or in this instance, the Salvation Army, remove all of these surplus items from said closet.

Step 7 - Stop shopping.

Step 8 - Make a list of people to make amends with, including sales girl at Nordstrom that you asked to get you 6 different dresses in 3 different sizes and then didn't buy any of them, or fellow shopper who you carelessly pushed aside so you could snag the last clearance pair of Marc Jacobs shades, and so on and so forth.

Step 9 - Make amends with these people, if you can find them. If not, make amends via blog post.

Step 10 - Continue to take personal inventory of your closet and vigilantly refrain from adding to it, despite major temptations like Macy's 4th of July sale, etc.

Step 11 - Constantly pray to god, or follow Suze Orman's Twitter posts, in order to attain knowledge and power so as to not be tempted by your addiction.

Step 12 - Carry this message to other addicts (as done via blog post).

Wow. I feel much better already. I guess this 12 step stuff really works. Now onto other things...

I wonder how late Loehman's is open?