Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A week & a half after my b-day and I have a zit. Awesome. Apparently 40 is the new 15.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Dr. Google was right: real doc confirmed Dylan's foot rash is hand, foot & mouth virus. Luckily, no fever or other symptoms: just itchy.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thankful for family & vintage cartoons: curled up earlier w/kids laughing out loud at Charlie Brown Thanksgiving & Jonny Quest episodes.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Made dinner & lactation-enhancing oatmeal chic. chip flaxseed cookies for neighbors w/new baby. Holding warm newborn is great but glad we're done.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Food pyramid-ish

Ava helped me make a tasty pumpkin pie last night wIthaca recipe from Grand Central Bakery's recipe book (@grandcentralsea) recipe. It has eggs & dairy: that's breakfast-y, right?

Friday, November 11, 2011

@Safeway, I've never seen batteries kept under lock & key, but you should make sure someone not on break has said key.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

That Maroon 5 song "Moves like Jagger" is a catchy ditty. Downloaded thru @Amazon so I can bob my head at lunch.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Kids clothes and supplies: paying it forward

As my kids blessedly move out of the infant and toddler stage into preschool range, I've been trying to figure out what to do with all of their outgrown clothing. I don't want to sell it, because I know there are folks out there who just need it. We were so blessed to receive so much for both kids that most of it was barely worn, but we don't know anyone the right age to pass it along to and. Especially Dylan's items, which he seemed to grow out of before we'd barely snapped him into them.

We also were the happy recipients of boxes and bags of clothing from family and friends with older kids, who were happy to 'regift' and 'pay it forward' with unworn items once their kids out grew them.

I can't tell you how nice it was to dive into bags organized by size and pull out lovely items for outfitting our kids whenever we noticed newly exposed wrists and ankles poking out of their clothing.

It turns out, there are a number of local places in need of new or gently used children's clothing. Red Tricycle has a bunch on their site and the stories on the St. Joeseph's Baby Corner site were very moving and just who I had in mind for paying our own blessings forward.

Throw in a few gift cards for the other essentials of raising babies and toddlers (wipes, diapers, books, baby wash, fresh food, etc.) and you're providing a lovely assist to parents grappling with the life's challenges, in addition to the care and feeding of growing kids.

Got any other ideas on sharing your bounty with others this pre-holiday season?

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Peek into the automotive future

Went to Seattle Auto Show last night and got preview of life in 14 years:
Ava: "Me and Dylan are going to party... I mean STUDY! Well be back by curfew." Dylan: (whispering when he thinks we're out of earshot), "Did you get the fake IDs?"
Other shot is Jason and Dylan and $500,000 car. A dad can dream, right?

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Best U.S. States for Working Women: where does yours rank?

Author Richard Florida has a new study out looking at The Best U.S. States for Working Women based on uses the American Community Survey data to rank the best states for working women. The findings look at rates of women's workforce participation and wage and salary levels for the 50 states and the District of Columbia. He and his fellow researchers find that:

Women make up a majority of the labor force in five states plus the
nation's capital: the District of Columbia (52.6 percent), Washington (50.2
percent), Rhode Island (50.2 percent), Mississippi (50.2 percent), Massachusetts
(50.1 percent), and South Dakota (50.1 percent).

At the bottom of the list is Utah, where women make up 45 percent of the labor force. Alaska and New Hampshire also have relatively low shares of women in the labor force (45.9 and
46.2 percent respectively).
Geography makes a difference when it comes to women's relative economic standing. So do the kinds of jobs they are working. Which is yet another reason why I love living in Washington state.

Friday, November 04, 2011

United... in efforts to make you suffer for flying

I generally have a "no drama" rule for my life and have had a pretty good run of drama-free years. United Airlines recently ended that run in stellar fashion. I've put off writing it all down because doing so requires reliving the anger, frustration and lack of caring we dealt with from the airline.

On a side note, the drama aversion is reason #71 why I will never be a reality TV star. Other entries on that particular list include #29: inability to have a drink-throwing slap fest in a restaurant with new "frien-emies" (see every Real Housewives and Basketball Wives show ever) and #64: reluctance to refer to myself in the third person unless doing it in a very self-aware way as a joke. That aside, Natasha thinks you should read here is the United Airlines saga.

In August, I took the kids to visit friends - including my college roommate - in Denver. They'd never met Dylan, and Ava was barely talking the last time we went. Her husband remarked how verbal and polite Ava was now. I told Jason, who replied, “Then the beatings are working.” 
It's amazing that she was polite at all considering the ordeal we endured in getting there for the visit. Since I was traveling alone with two small kids, I opted for an early morning, direct flight in hopes that they might continue sleeping once we boarded and that we would get there as quickly as possible.
Because trying to keep a three year old and barely-verbal 20 month old occupied in an enclosed space is exhausting. It reminds me of an "Are you ready for children?" checklist I read once that suggested good practice for wrangling small childen is to try to stuff an octopus in to a mesh bag. Having now traveled with kids a few times on planes, trains and in automobiles, I would only amend that to make it "an octopus on meth."
How early is "early"?

Knowing the drill, we arrived 95 minutes early to check in and found a line of at least 75-100 people waiting to use the check-in kiosks at Seatac Airport which have replaced the old guys who used to allow you to check in curbside. I later learned the new kiosks were being staffed by a skeleton crew missing three staff, plus a "supervisor" (Joan) who was apparently tasked with telling new arrivals to the mayhem where to go (incorrectly), then castigating them for going where she told them.
As the minutes ticked by, I watched the line barely inch along as an overhead ticker warned that you needed to be checked in at least 45 minutes before your flight in order to board. Seeing the confusion around me, I knew it would be close. 55 minutes later, I made it to a kiosk and hurriedly shoved my card in for verification. It was rejected. I'd missed the cutoff by one minute.
When I asked a staffer what to do, she pointed me to the frazzled supervisor, saying, "You have to talk to her." I was joined at this point by a visually impaired woman whose friend had dropped her off in line just behind us when we arrived. She too had missed the cutoff and needed help.
Joan the supervisor offered none, too busy sending people to the far end of the line and trying to help the few staffers at the counter. Finally, after the other traveler and I followed her around for five minutes waiting to get a word in, I explained what had happened and she told us, "You'll have to be rebooked. You should have been here two hours early. Go stand in that line," she said, gesturing to the one that began at the far end of the check-in counters and that was already made up of people slumped on their bags in defeat.
Once there, I called United Customer Service for help. After 16 minutes on hold, I relayed the supervisor's two hour recommendation. Overhearing this, one of the other people in line said, "That wouldn't have helped. We WERE here two hours early and you see we're still here!" 
Tail end of line snaking through check-in area
Later, the supervisor came and angrily griped at me for standing in the line she'd sent me to, saying it was the wrong one. She didn't seem to notice that she'd sent several of us to that line. As she turned away, Ava looked up at me and said, "That lady was talking to us kind of crazy." People in line around us snickered. "She's got that right," one agreed. When a three year old can recognize that she's not being treated very nicely, it's pretty telling.
Supervisors conferring on the mess in their midst
As we waited, we turned as a military veteran became loud near the front of the line. He too was on the verge of missing his flight, apparently for the second time in two days, after being given incorrect information by the staff, driving home, returning and finding the same mess at the check-in counters.
I finally reached the counter again and was re-booked and told I was #1 on the standby list for next flight in about two and a half hours. Three-year old Ava and 20 month old Dylan (30 pounds of heavy cuteness in a carrier on my back all this time), were holding up well. But it had been nearly three hours since arriving, so I knew they needed food and exercise quickly. 

Food, frolics and failure

We hit the food court, then took the airport train and a very long walk to a far concourse where I'd found a kids play area on the airport map.
After burning off some energy and recharging my phone, we made it back to the new gate, energized and hopeful and checked in again. A staffer confirmed that we were at the top of the standby list, and told us to wait for more information or for our names to be called. Then, we waited. And waited. And watched, as passengers lined up, boarded the plane, the doors closed and staff began packing up the counter. We never heard our names called.

Hey! What happened to "Number one on the standby list?!" The unhelpful, indifferent United staff person at the counter shrugged, barely glancing up at me and a handful of similarly stuck passengers clustered at the counter.

"You might have been number one, but the list is fluid," she said. Then why is it numbered?! That's why you use a numbered list: to indicate who has priority. So we and others who couldn't make earlier flight due to their staffing problems got passed over again.
The staffer who'd instructed us to wait for more information returned to the desk after closing the doors to the gangway, picked up her things and left, never even glancing at us. I stood there with a toddler on my back, a fading 3 year old clutching my hand and no one from United providing any assistance of any kind. 
Two of the travelers who were also stuck there with me did offer to carry my backpack and asked if I needed any help carrying the kids. They also asked the visually impaired woman if she needed any help getting around. Again: no help from United staff. 
We again turned en masse (all five of us) to the remaining United staffer at the gate counter to ask if we were going to get any more help or information on our options or what to do next. Could we get on another flight? Another airline? The staffer shrugged. "I don't know. Next one is at 6pm tonight. But it's full too and so are all the other airlines." She never looked up from the paperwork in front of her.
"How is that possible?!" one of the guys next to me asked. He'd been stuck in the check-in line too and missed an early morning connection to the midwest. "Well what do you want?" she asked, annoyed. "The flight was full. Every flight is full. It's only been that way every August for 25 years."  

There's no crying in baseball aviation

Six hours after arriving at the airport, disappointed, tired and frustrated, I was trying not to cry in front of the children, because after all, that's their job.

"Well," I said, "Since we haven't flown every August for 25 years, and I don't work for the airline, perhaps you can tell me what I should do now since I've been here for six hours already." 
She huffily suggested waiting for another standby seat that evening, but indicated that we probably wouldn't make that one either and probably wouldn't be able to get two seats.

At that, we all turned and walked away to figure out our own options. I sat on a bench and called United's 800-number, where I gave a synopsis of our ordeal and received the same, "Sucks to be you" attitude from the agent, until asking for a supervisor. This one booked guaranteed seats for all three of us on a flight out at 5:35 a.m. the next day. Recalling the earlier supervisor's admonishment, I said, "Geez: so I'm going to have to go home and bring the kids back tomorrow at 3:35 in the morning."  
"Oh no," said the agent, "You only need to be there at least an hour early for domestic flights. An hour and a half at the most." Really. Really?! Aaaaagh. 
With my bags and car seats in Denver, my son asleep on my back and daughter curled up asleep in my lap, I called for a ride home, having expended one day of vacation in the Seatac Airport.
In the wee hours of the next morning, without bags or car seats, we arrived an hour and 45 minutes early after checking in online enroute to the airport, therby skipping the still-horrendous check in lines.

Again, we saw a mirror image of the morning before, with dozens of weary travelers queued up but barely moving closer to the holy grail of the check-in kiosk. The "process" they were part of again looked like an homage to a Rube Goldberg machine: "complex gadgets...[that] perform[ed] simple tasks in indirect, convoluted ways." (Courtesy: Wikipedia - ). Unfortunately for them, the same staffer who'd sent us willy nilly the day before was again working her "magic." And by magic I mean "lack thereof" or "mayhem" - your choice. 
Day 2: Finally on our way!
This time, unencumbered by bags and pre-checked, we cruised straight through security to the gate, where a staffer on the overhead speaker said, "If you haven't been assigned a seat yet, we will get you one but we can only guarantee that you probably won't like it." Grrr.
I'm no famous, frequently-traveling New York Times writer like Steven D. Leavitt, who once wrote that United's stellar, personalized customer service had won him over for life.

But I don't think it's asking too much of airline staff to at least be helpful and considerate - meaning having consideration for the person with whom you're dealing. Meaning assisting the visually impaired traveler or the mom traveling alone with two small kids and helping them to navigate your suddenly broken check-in "process."
As someone now tasked with improving customer service for a government agency that is doing process review and improvements, I recognized a broken process when I experienced it firsthand. Unfortunately for me and thousands of travelers, United Airlines apparently still doesn't recognize it.
Later, as I thumbed through the in-flight magazine from the company, I read a story about a United staffer based in Chicago who is apparently renowned for her compassion and helpfulness to customers. Wow. That's great.

Just a thought: perhaps she could be brought in from Chicago to consult with the United staff in Seattle on how to improve the customer experience. Just be sure to remind her to arrive at the airport at least an hour early. 90 minutes tops. I'd hate for her to miss her flight and have a bad customer experience.

Home again, having survived Seatac-alypse 2011
Update: I sent this to United's Customer Service and they replied back a few weeks later, apologizing and saying they'd pass the info along to management in Seatac. They also offered a voucher for a small discount on future travel for the three of us. That wasn't the goal of sending the letter, but it was a sufficient gesture.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Stew weather

While friends in San Francisco and Texas have been posting Facebook updates about the temperatures in the 80s, the forecast around Seattle is calling for on and off rain showers over the next few days. So my hankering for some comfort food has been growing by the day.

I snagged some beef stew meat last week, along with some carrots, celery and a slow cooker seasoning pack. As I looked through my slow cooker recipe books and online, I was reminded that many recipes never say "season meat" or "brown meat before putting in slow cooker" (except for those that say, almost as an afterthought at the end of the recipe: "season as needed with salt and pepper"). But seasoning and browning yields a much more flavorful and visually appealing dish in a slow cooker, although you have to go light on any salt because that can intensify as it cooks.

I always think about novice cooks trying a recipe for the first time who might logically conclude they simply can't cook because they "followed the recipe exactly" and still ended up with a bland meal.

I remember a former co-worker who didn't know what I meant when I  started off telling her about a dish I'd made by explaining, "It's really easy to make. First, saute the meat."

She looked at me perplexed. "Like in water?" she asked. Although her mom was a very good cook, she'd just never learned even the basics of cooking herself.
Ava seems to be picking up those basics early by helping me cook. I've let her season and stir dishes in progress and for this one, I let her cut the brown mushrooms with a lettuce knife (dull, but sharp enough for mushrooms), season the meat, spray veggie wash over the vegetables and rinse them, and mix the slow cooker seasoning packet with water before pouring it in the bowl.
I cut up 4-5 carrots, a head of celery, and a small bag of organic red potatoes. I tossed it all into the slow cooker crock (I think it's a 5-6 quart one) and cooked it on high for 4 1/2 hours since I was going to be close to home, but the ingredients could definitely hold up to 8-9 hours on low if I made this on a work night.
Unfortunately, we dished up and snarfed down several bowls of the end result served over hot rice before I remembered to take a (bad) picture. But it was delicious and everyone found some part of it to enjoy. Jason and I had big heaping bowls full of the entire dish. Ava prefered buttered rice with pieces of the falling-apart tender meat, and Dylan preferred the carrots most of all, but ate some of the buttered rice, with a bit of meat and juice from the pot.
This is going into the regular meal rotation for this fall.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Capt. Obvious, at your service: Seattle is expensive

The Seattle P-I online paper recently ran a story entitled Not your imagination: It really does cost more to live in Seattle and after reading just the headline I had to ask, who lives in this city and after paying all of their bills each month says, "Wow, it really seems expensive to live here... But I'm probably just imagining that"?

Clearly, you're not imagining your utility bill, or rent/mortgage, or food costs so the headline writer did a disservice to the article and readers.

Perhaps a more suitable headline would be, "Seattle residents ask: Holy $#*t! Where'd my money go?!"

Or maybe "Seattle: expensive, but worth it for high paying jobs, clean air and water."

I once read a schnarky letter to the editor of a women's magazine about an article on the difficult tradeoffs that families make when deciding whether one or both parents should work. It went something like this:
Dear Mag for Women - I read with interest your story about the work or stay-at-home dilemma but couldn't help but think, "What dilemma?"

If you have been blessed enough to give birth through your hallowed loins, for the next 18 years (at minimum) you should forsake any other task that does not relate to caring for and nurturing the tiny life to which you have been entrusted.
That's what my husband and I did: I quit my job to stay home with our children and it's been the best thing to happen to us. Sure, we had to give up frivolous expenses like eating out, new clothes, fancy cars, and any vacation beyond our immediate neighborhood. But our children's well-being is my most important mission and being there for them every minute of every day is my most important contribution to the world. 
Also, the smile on my child's face when I wake him up from a nap is worth more than a big house or fancy job title. In fact, I think his smile should be bankable currency, because I'd be so rich beyond belief that I would run out of deposit slips at my local financial institution.

So I think the "mothers" in your article (if that's what they call themselves when they leave their child to go to work each day) should be ashamed of themselves for being so selfish and not giving up the trappings of success to which they've become enslaved. If we can live on one salary, they can too.
Smugly Signed,
Judy Judgemental
Smalltown with extremely low cost-of-living, and home prices well south of $100,000, USA 
I so wanted write back in and suggest that Judy come to Seattle or go to any urban area and see how well her approach would fare in an expensive city. Sure, there are those who are able to do it, but as the P-I article shows, unless one or both parents has a very high income, it's not easy.

Regardless, people should simply acknowledge that whatever choices people make in life, most of them are doing the best they can given what they know and their resources and options at the time.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Letting nature take its course

Left Ava alone after stripping her bed and returned to find she'd started putting fresh sheets on. Tomorrow I'm going to leave dinner fixins out and see what happens.

Greatest Father Daughter Dance Medley Ever!

I hope Jason will groove like this at Ava's  wedding some day. But what will replace the stanky leg 20 years hence? Via @blackandmarried

Also linked from Black and Married with Children