March 30, 2012

The Little Things

It's the end of the fiscal quarter, so, of course, my work is a madhouse. I've let my sleep, exercise, and eating patterns regress each day for about a month now.

So, today, after E headed out for a 6:30 AM flight, I decided I, too, could have some discipline and made some time for Bikram yoga. It was my first time back in the studio in 4 weeks, and, as I expected it was ridiculously hard.

We had a visiting instructor from Bikram Yoga Harlem, Derrek, and he ran a tough, hot class. As I always do, I felt great afterward, and I walked out of the room with a renewed commitment to taking care of myself.

After class, I spoke with Fernanda, a visiting teacher from a Bikram studio in Mexico city. She and her son are here for 12 days, visiting her sister's family, and her daughter who is doing her Junior Year as an exchange student at a local high school.

When I asked how her daughter was enjoying her time in California, she said,

Well, it's just such a wonderful experience for her. To be in high school and to be safe to walk and bike everywhere? It's so much independence. So she's very much enjoying the freedom to walk and bike and to not to have to rely upon someone to drive her everywhere.

A much needed perspective.

I may think there are stressful events in my life. But really? Not so much.

I am very lucky to live in a very safe part of the world and I have no excuse if I don't make the most of that safety.

March 28, 2012


Daddy loved to buy lotto tickets.

Typically, I do not. But, today, after seeing that the MegaMillions jackpot had crested $500M, and realizing it was the type of hype that Daddy would definitely have enjoyed, I had to join the fun.

I so rarely take part in the collective pop culture of my community, that when I can, it's extra fun! Plus, there are just some things that feel like Daddy is with me, and a big lotto jackpot is one of them. $1 is nothing compared to feeling like he's right here.

When I asked if they were selling the "big lottery tickets" (because I only barely know what's going on), the clerk pointed to the sign behind him listing the various jackpots, sighed, and said, wearily

MegaMillions. It's too big. But good luck.

I have no idea what that means. I presume it's some hard won convenience store clerk wisdom?

Conveniently, before I could ponder that one too long, the owner of the store sent us home with a complimentary bottle of wine from one of the distributors that's trying to get their business.

Can you tell us if this is good? Would you buy it for $7.99?

Um, yes...We can be that kind of hero. (Much to my surprise, the Camelot was lovely and enjoyable (not remotely the over-oaked, super sugary, or terrible $8 chard I feared) and we actually will be happy to buy it for $7.99).

Getting back on track, though, let's be honest -- I come by my gambling honestly. Until she was hospitalized, after Grampa Jack passed away, Gramma took the bus to Reno to play slots every other weekend (and she'd win, all the time!). Daddy, of course, loved his lotto -- every time I see a ticket, I can't help but think of him and the scattered faded tickets that we kept finding when it came time to let his belongings go. Then there was Brother, who spent 25% of his income on lottery tickets the first month he lived with us after the hospital and with whom I can go to the Indian Casino the day after Christmas and play a poker tournament and blackjack. My mom has recently discovered craps & she swears it is the greatest thing ever -- I'd make fun of her, but I actually agree.

And, of course, the trip to the Indian Casino for Gran's 80th Birthday is the ultimate example.

So yeah, while I normally don't partake, tonight, I bought a single $1 lotto ticket for MegaMillions. The idea that I'm part of something bigger than me makes the $1 worth it. The fun of the collective game. All my ancestors enjoyed it. Who am I to say no?

The math, however, is less cool.

56 (1st number) * 55 (2nd number) * 54 (3rd number) * 53 (4th number) * 52 (5th number) * 46 (Mega!) = 21,085,384,320.

[Update: this is too conservative, actual odds are 1 in 175M because the order of the balls doesn't matter and there are 120 different ways to order 5 unique balls. That's what I get for thinking I remembered how to do probabilities without looking up the formulas.]

The population of the U.S. is roughly 313,265,000.

So, if every single person in the U.S. bought 68 tickets and they were all unique, one person would be guaranteed to win the big jackpot. [Update: thanks to the lack of an order requirement, if everyone bought a unique ticket, it would only take 175M purchasers to guarantee a jackpot winner]

Hmmm.... I don't love those odds.

But I do love being part of the fun.

Yay! Fun!

[UPDATE: As Matt pointed out, it doesn't matter what order the balls are drawn, so my original math was too conservative.

The actual odds are the 1 in 175,711,536 (my original calculation divided by 5*4*3*2*1, or 5!, the number of possible ways to order the 5 drawn balls before the mega).

So, it is likely we will have a jackpot split 8 or 9 ways given the expected sales of 1.5B tickets before the drawing.]

March 25, 2012

The Oakland Running Festival Kicks Ass

I ran the Oakland Half Marathon today with two friends.

It was the farthest I'd ran since CIM 2011.

I expected a sopping wet, raining, run-walk slodge of a race from an event that is only on its 3rd anniversary.

Instead, I was rewarded with some of the best crowd support, community pride, local home-made entertainment, and just general awesomeness I've ever experienced at a race (and this one is *tiny* compared to some of the large races I've run).

The weather's cooperation (overcast but dry) coupled with the environment encouraged M and W and I to push ourselves to a much faster finishing time than we had planned with smiles on our faces. If that isn't the sign of a good race, I don't know what is.

Today's half marks 26 half marathons completed for me. Less than the numbers reported by hard core runners, but, enough that I have a clue about what your average runner likes and enjoys.

My prediction? If they stay on track (and perhaps manage to mediate the elevation in the full marathon), the Oakland running festival will build an awesome community experience that rivals some of the best and biggest local pride running events in the country.

I'm already blocking off next year on the calendar. I can't wait!

March 24, 2012

California Nachos

At 5 PM last night, my phone rang. A good friend from NYC and his partner were in town and had time to go to dinner near SFO if we could fit it in.

I offered two options:

1. El Super Burrito -- a classic California taqueria that's been around since 1977, complete with orange booths, Mexican tile tables, pinatas hanging from the roof and a swiss-style roof.

2. Shanghai Dumpling Shop -- Xiao Long Bao. Need I say more?

Good California-style Mexican is hard to come by in NYC for some completely inexplicable reason. So, they opted for El Super Burrito.

Mmmm.... I love me some Mexican food. In a show of strength and discipline by me, this would be only my 3rd Mexican meal of the week.

While standing in line, we saw that they had a special titled, "California Nachos."

I *love* nachos. I order nachos for lunch from my favorite taqueria entirely too often. My version of nachos has no sour cream, no meat, just cheese, black beans, salsa, guac, and lots of jalapenos and salsa. I think this sounds fairly Californian -- vegetarian, with an avocado component, that's what Californian food, is, right?

After a brief discussion, we decided we needed to order California Nachos for the table. I tossed out the idea of avoiding the refried beans but was shot down. I didn't even bring up the sour cream or the carne asada.

We ordered and sat, enjoying the time to catch up.

When our order was ready, I laughed hysterically.

At El Super Burrito, California Nachos means carne asada, cheese, sour cream, refried beans, salsa, and guac, all over... wait for it... some of the greasiest french fries I've ever seen instead of chips.

It was delicious.

And painful about 15 minutes later.

I think I may have cured my insatiable need for nachos.

March 20, 2012

Some Linguistic Laughs

Tonight marks the first night of Mandarin lessons where I was able to both tell and laugh at jokes. Egregiously silly jokes. Obviously basic jokes. And definitely nothing too complex given my ~70 word vocabulary.

But, even so, it felt great. I actually had some spontaneous un-scripted conversations, for the first time. Poorly (of course), but I did. Up until now, I really haven't been able to freely converse about anything, and it has been frustrating.

It's felt like it's taken longer to get to the functional conversation place in Mandarin than any other language I've ever studied. This is probably because with Japanese and Arabic I was purely CD/listening based for at least a year before my first conversation, so by then, I had many tools to draw from.

Even so, I'm shocked to learn that the tones aren't my biggest issue. The rigid sentence structure and grammar is much more difficult than I realized. Tones? I can handle the tones. And all this time, I put off Mandarin, as a *tonal* language thinking this would be the big problem. And here I am, floundering through grammar, which is usually my place of superiority. Comedy.

I can't even explain how lucky I feel to have friends who are willing to come to my house and speak Mandarin and go over my lessons and explain all the nuances (even if they weren't in my lesson). This week, all I had to do was cook pork chops over brussel sprouts (covered in a fancy dijon taragon mustard olive oil and rice vinegar sauce to be cooked down).

I feel so blessed and happy -- as if there's confirmation that I did something right with my life choices. Bonus, This is what my fridge looks like after tonight's lesson:

Apparently, in terms of conducting conversation, one of my biggest issues is time-related nouns: Last week. This weekend. Tomorrow. Next Year.

So next week, if all goes well. I'll be able to talk about last week, last weekend, next month and next year. Wish me luck!

March 17, 2012

Travel Data

On 1/29, cheapest one day mid-April rental car from Savannah, GA to ATL was $40. Today? $112.

Apparently, 1 month out is a bad time to rent a car.

We'll be waiting to see what the last second deals are. Here's to hoping we find a way to get to our ATL return flights...

March 13, 2012

My Best Shopping Day

I hate shopping for women's clothing.

First, it takes time. I'd rather be doing just about anything on my list of things to do.

Second, I'm short, as in too short for many petite sizes, so many things that I'd love to wear are out of the question.

Third, I have extremely broad shoulders and I'm barrel chested. When I'm fit, I'm built like a giant cone cut off above the point and mounted just above two small half-spheres (my bubble butt) and two relatively small legs. When I'm at my least fit I'm built like a giant cylinder perched atop two larger half-spheres that hover over two medium size legs.

Lest you think I'm exaggerating -- when I had to order my lab coat at University, I was an NCAA division 1 athlete and my lats and shoulders and pecs were so big I needed a 42 so it would button across my chest. This meant I had a larger lab coat than most of the men in the lab. Of course, the sleeves were ridiculously long and I had to roll them up into a 2-inch thick cuff, because, as I mentioned, I'm short.

You will note that neither of the geometric configurations I've described is common for female mannequins. So, generally speaking, women's clothes look much worse on me than on the hanger. Add florescent lighting, my general dislike for smalltalk, and a generalized feeling like I just don't understand women in groups and you can understand why shopping is not my idea of a party.

This is why I'll put off shopping until it's unavoidable. In fact, the majority of my wardrobe is composed of travel purchases. If I forget to pack something, I treat that as a need and I buy it. Then, when I come home, I donate the old version of whatever I forgot to Goodwill.

Today, after putting it off for quite some time, I headed to our local mall with a grim task -- buy a professional outfit to wear to a new client pitch tomorrow.

Thankfully, I've learned a few tricks over the years to ease my shopping pain.

The best trick is online shopping. But, that requires thinking ahead and actually committing time to shopping, which, even online, I dislike. Given that I needed the outfit for tomorrow, you can see that this was no longer an option.

The next best trick is to take a friend or family member that likes shopping. This one can backfire, though. I want to get in and out in as little time as possible. Friends that like shopping often want to linger. Also, I hate to trade quality friend/family time for less-awesome (for me) shopping time.

The third trick is going to a small store that carries a limited selection of stuff where I've liked stuff in the past. Assuming something they have works, I'll just buy it and be done. (In other words, unlike everywhere else in my life, when it comes to women's clothes, I'm a salesperson's dream. I just want to close the transaction as quickly as possible and move on.)

Today, deploying the last of my tricks, I headed to my trusted White House Black Market. They are the source of the last dress I bought (almost a year ago) and I've received tons of compliments on it, so I figured they would be a good option. I was shocked to arrive at 11 AM and find the store closed.

Turns out, this was a good thing.

I left White House Black Market and headed over to Ann Taylor, another goto smaller store where I've had some success in the past, which was open.

I picked out a few items and they informed me that today's special was 40% off any one item. Now that's something I can get excited about! If I have to buy a professional outfit, 40% off the most expensive piece helps.

Then, they informed me that they'd done mark-downs just last night. So, they encouraged me to check out the sales racks. Ordinarily, I hate sales racks -- disorganized collections of reject pieces desperately trying to worm their way into your closet when you really don't even want and definitely don't need them.

But, these sales racks were pristine. I was the first customer to have touched them since they'd been arranged -- identical items were grouped together and ordered by size.

Much to my surprise, I easily found several very cute sale items that fit me well and would be much needed supplements to my meager professional wardrobe.

I wondered, "Is this what it's like to be one of my friends who enjoys shopping? Is this how you go into a store wanting one thing and come out with 3 unrelated things?"

And then, I met Peggy.

Peggy enjoys shopping and thinking about putting outfits together more than anyone I've ever met. She announced to me that she'd looked at my selections before I got to the room and she felt like she knew me.

You trust me. I pick things for you. You will like.

Oh, thank you, Peggy.

20 minutes later, I was at the check-out counter with Peggy's recommended options: a gorgeous professional dress, a killer pair of heels, a necklace, my own-hand-picked sale items, and a very nice professional blouse that Peggy had insisted I try on.

The teller informed me that the on-sale sweater I'd been thrilled to see marked down to $29 was actually $9.

And there it was. The glimmer of joy. "This might be it," I thought, "This might just be why many women love shopping."

But wait, there's more. The teller asked me if I wanted an Ann Taylor card. I responded with my standard, "No thanks." She asked if I was sure, because I'd get 20% off of everything, even the sale items and the shoes that already had the 40% off. 5% back on everything. A birthday bonus. I did some quick math and realized that the credit card benefits maximizer in me had been hooked (plus, I love eliminating options.) So, I now own an Ann Taylor card and will likely go straight to them every time I need clothes until frustrated enough to change loyalties.

And that's how I walked out of Ann Taylor with a dress I love, some awesome shoes, a necklace, a long sleeve sweater, a tank sweater, and a professional blouse for $320.91 including tax.

Also, this may be the first time in my life I was happy about shopping for women's clothes.

March 9, 2012

That Long?

I just realized I haven't interviewed for a job since 2004.


March 3, 2012

Siem Reap & Angkor

The Angkor temples are the most impressive landmark I've ever seen.

The pyramids of Giza were amazing, but I felt like I saw enough to be satisfied in one day. After 2 days of visiting Angkor, I felt as if I needed to come back at least one or two more days to get the full experience.

The first day, our guide took us through the entirety of Angkor Thom and a couple smaller temples he selected.

Holy crap Southeast Asia is HOT! I was so thankful I'd done my self-imposed Bikram challenge -- the 95F and 80% humidity was *much* more tolerable than it otherwise would have been.

That afternoon, I went for spa treatment #1 -- a traditional Khmer massage.

That evening, E2 and I agreed to take the next day off. My stomach had been mildly cramping all day and I really wanted to relax and recover, which, in typical American form (as I was reminded by an Aussie on my Seoul layover tour) I hadn't actually taken a day to do since my arrival.

Unfortunately, E2 came down with an intestinal bug that night. So, after it became clear that she was sick enough to need antibiotics, I made a trip into town to the fancy pharmacy and picked up so German Cipro for the low low price of $6.20. (This fact is worth its own entire post.)

E2 took her drugs and slept, and I went to the FCC and then walked around 'til I found a spa where I had an amazing 90 minute Thai massage (the best spa treatment of the trip) for $28.

K also was coming down with some sort of intestinal issue, so, overall, we were quite the team of travelers. We acknowledged this reality and canceled our Saturday tour of the Angkor temples.

Saturday AM, E2 was feeling much better, so we headed out to Wat Bo.

We also walked around the elementary school (zoom in for the helpful larger than life diagram of proper uniforms!).

This part of the trip was probably my favorite cultural experience. Several monks stopped to chat with us as we walked through Wat Bo.

Much to our surprise, it was very clear that not many tourists made it to this part of Siem Reap. Everywhere we went in this area, school children in uniforms would yell to us, "Hullo!" "How are you?" "Wot is yur name?" They were so sincere and excited to interact with us, it was surprising. Their parents (if around) smiled with pride when we responded, obviously happy and proud that their children were able to speak English well enough to engage us. It was surprising given the masses of tourists on Pub street and markets less than 2 Km away -- but given what we saw and experienced, we could only conclude that very few tourists venture the extra mile from the tourism center to the actual functioning Buddhist monastery (we only saw 8 tourists during our visit to Wat Bo, *many* less than the monks and female construction workers).

To cap off the day with a proper indulgence, E2 and I walked through the heat 'til we found a local hotel that had just opened and enjoyed an indulgent reflexology treatment before calling for our tuk-tuk and dinner in our room.

Sunday, we woke at 4:40 to watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Later, we returned with a guide to get the full tour. Simply magnificent.

And then, much too quickly we were in a tuk-tuk ride to the airport and the trip was on its way to being over.