Adventures in the Kitchen....

One thing that has picked up in earnest has been some adventures in the kitchen. That took a back seat with all of the chaos with the previous job, so it's good to be back at it. 

I had a boatload of fun when ramps were in season. They may be my favorite thing to cook with and this year, I went a little nuts. Roasted on pizza, blended into pesto and chimichurri, sauteed with eggs, grilled with salmon and baked with lasagna. And of course, I pickled some too!

We have also been using the sous vide more because it's actually pretty easy and really ensures that the food is evenly cooked. It just requires a bit of planning, but is really handy when you may not have much time to cook the day of a dinner party, etc. In most cases, we sous vide the meat for a pre-determined period of time and then we just sear it for more flavor, etc.

For the first time, at the suggestion of a friend we tried salmon in the sous vide. It tasted really good but the transfer from the bag to the plate is really challenging as the salmon is fairly delicate. Gotta figure that one out because Marc actually liked it the flavor and the texture! If anyone has any ideas, please send them my way.

This year also had me doing some baking, which is definitely not the normal order of things at Chez Beck. I was determined to prepare a gluten-free version of Thomas Keller's 'Quiche Lorraine' recipe. At the recommendation of a friend, I used cassava flour for the first time. It definitely absorbs a ton of moisture so you have to work quickly. But it came out really well.... after 3 attempts. The recipe is not for the faint of heart though. Lots of steps and the timing matters. But well worth it.

Then I wanted to do something fun for a friend's birthday and she is really into strawberries, which happen to be in season locally around the same time of year. So I decided to opt for The Modernist Cuisine 'Strawberry Panna Cotta' recipe. It's not a hard one to make but the proportions are really important so the panna cotta actually sets properly. So yes, Marc is not the only one in the house that can bake and/or make dessert.

Finally with the weather being nice and all, we have been getting some quality time in with the Big Green Egg. Salmon, Duck, Pork and Chicken. I love that thing. Knows how to keep things juicy and make everything tasty. More food experiments to come soon.

Making Some Changes

As followers of this feed know, Marc and I have been going to CrossFit for almost 8 years. It seems hard to believe that it has been that long, but it has. Over those years, we have had the opportunity to make new friends, challenge ourselves and have much fun. When I was burnt out during endurance training for half-marathons and marathons, CrossFit was a welcome respite. 

Honestly, CrossFit was the first place I ever worked out in that had a positive and an inclusive atmosphere. No gym I ever went to prior had anything remotely close to that. I love how it is normal in every local to cheer on the last person finishing the workout. Keep in mind that each location is individually owned so no mandate exists to adhere to a "code".

It was awesome that we would travel to so many places and do a workout, and walk out with a bunch of local recos on how to spend our time in that region. Our family and friends tagged us as part of the "cult", yet a number of them soon followed and become even more "devoted members of the cult". That was entertaining, but it was also fun seeing them challenge themselves to do things they didn't think were possible for themselves. The phenomenon known as 'Harvelicious' is still the stuff of legend.

Over those same years, Marc and I have had some events happen plus, you know, we're getting older. So we recently decided that we needed to change things. Our interests have changed over that time. Marc still swims, but I run less and we do more hiking together. I definitely still run on occasion plus I practice yoga, but little things kind of kept creeping in making us wonder if we needed to change other aspects of our training to meet our goals.

Enter the 'Delaying Decrepitude' room. The 'No Excuses' room is still around, but is definitely used for more stretching, rolling, etc. But the "D Squared" room has some pretty cool things that will allow us to take our high intensity and strength training to the next level that is more inline with our individual goals. Marc has his goals and I have mine, and some of them do not overlap.

We are excited for this next phase and what it will bring. Obviously no change comes without risk. But you can't grow if you're not willing to adapt and adjust. It will require some adjustments to our routine and more planning on our end, but overall we think this will help us achieve our goals. I have no doubt that we will continue to drop in at local CrossFits when we travel, but for now, it's time to focus on 'Delaying Decrepitude'. Stay tuned.

Walk of a Lifetime...

About 2 years ago, I had heard about an area called 'The Enchantments' in central Washington. As we started to hike more and more last year, I became more intrigued with the 20+ mile "thru hike" as I learned more about it. I'm not a camper so I didn't have any concerns about winning the lottery, but figuring out how to day hike different parts of it became an interest of mine.

We wanted to hike to Colchuck Lake for my birthday last year, but unfortunately forest fires engulfed the area so that didn't happen. A couple of weeks after, Marc and I hiked 8 of the 20+ mile trail, and turned around at Upper Snow Lake. The hike was a grind with a ton of switchbacks and not very picturesque until you get to Nada Lake, which is almost 5 miles in. Lower and Upper Snow Lakes followed soon after. 

Then about a month later, some unseasonably warm and sunny weather were on tap. So Marc and I decided to do a day trip to Leavenworth and hike to Colchuck Lake. It lived up to the hype in terms of beauty and views. It was about 5 miles of the 20+ mile trail. It was a steady climb up but lots of nice things to look at along the way. We had such a great day but it was a long day with the 5 hours of driving to go along with the hike. I saw Aasgard Pass from the base of Colchuck and said to Marc that we have to try that next year.

I convinced Marc to do Aasgard Pass as a goal for 2018. Then I talked to one of the coaches at our CrossFit who said that we shouldn't just do Aasgard Pass, see a few of the lakes at the top in the 'Core Enchantments', and then turnaround, which was my plan. The 'thru hike' is a legendary hike here in WA state and if we're fit enough to get up Aasgard, we could and should do the whole thing. Plus Aasgard is supposedly hell to descend. So we did the 1st 5 miles and the last 8 miles of the 'thru hike'. Now we just had to throw in the middle 7'ish miles.

Easy, right? Well I figured we needed some level of training, which involved a fair amount of hiking to get us set with our gear, fitness, etc. Then I figured lots of leg work would be helpful. That same coach came up with a training plan for me, which involved lots of leg cranks (and swearing at this same coach). Yoga helped a great deal. We did some great hikes when we could, while managing avalanche risks throughout the shoulder season. My favorite was getting up to Hurricane Ridge, which is in Olympic National Park and can see from our house. We lucked out with an epic weather day when we decided to head up there.

I was doing a fair amount of stalking of reported trail conditions on the WTA site. Trying to find the optimal week to do this required triangulating amount of daylight, how much snow was on the trail, and decent weather. We also were concerned about the risk of forest fires shutting down the trail, which is a constant threat for this time of year. I booked a few different sets of rooms over July and August so we had options if the snow pack wasn't melting as quickly as expected, etc. But we were hoping to do July to take advantage of as much daylight as possible. 

Things started to align for doing this in the 1st half of July, and we somehow managed to convince one of our friends to come along, which eliminated that whole "how are we going to get the car at the start" problem since it's a point-to-point hike. To say it was great having this person join us is an understatement as Marc and I relied on him quite a bit during the actual hike. 

We had a plan, well because we are planners. Timeline, what to bring, what to wear, maps, etc. I told Marc that we should treat this as I treated race week for when I ran long'ish distances - focus on sleep the week before, hydrate, a little extra salt with meals, etc. The day finally arrived and we started before 4am so we could be on the trail hiking by 5am. It was light enough where we didn't need headlamps. It was pretty warm also for being at a bit of altitude so we were in short sleeves to start. 

Made it to Colchuck on schedule, ate some more, saw some goats who like to hang around humans before we started the climb up Aasgard. So I've been talking about Aasgard without saying why it is such a beast. You go up 1900 feet in about a mile. That is one freaking steep grade to make your way up. We had done some training hikes that would somewhat mimic that, but until you see the real thing.... we knew Aasgard had a couple of false fronts, so we had to keep focused and not get demoralized when we thought we were at the top and were not. 

Aasgard was hard - no doubt about it. It wasn't so much the ascent but the terrain. Loose dirt and loose rocks, which made it hard to get your footing. I kept my poles on my pack so I could use my hands on the boulders. It's a push on whether you should use poles or not. We saw another couple using poles and they were cranking. Others were using their hands. After 2+ hours, we made it to the top and fortunately were able to avoid the sun beating down on us for 80% of the climb, which was a bonus.

We made it to the top and the views were as advertised. Not many people, snow capped mountains, glacial lakes slowly melting, more mountain goats, and blue skies. We had a clear view of Mount Baker in the distance, which was a treat. When you looked down at Colchuck, it was definitely a sense of accomplishment in terms of how far we had climbed. 

It was surprisingly warm once you moved out of the breeze. More bugs than we were expecting up in the "Upper Enchantments". I was a bit wobbly towards the end of the climb so I needed to get some calories in me ASAP. We filled up water bottles in one of the lakes and just soaked in the beauty as we walked through. 

We did have a schedule to keep to because even though we hit the highest point of the hike elevation-wise, we still had 14 miles to go. So we needed to keep moving along. But we were enjoying the views of Dragontail and Colchuck Peaks, as well as Isolation and Tranquil Lakes. It sounds so cliche, but you really did feel isolated from everyone and tranquility was definitely something I was feeling.

My sports medicine doctor had advised of a couple of possible side treks to take but we didn't have a ton of time so we opted to stay on the main trail as much as possible. It still had snow fields to traverse in various places, but the whole time up there, you just knew it was special in the best way possible. We saw the various lakes and the well known Little Annapurna as the trail started to gradually descend. Lots of pics being snapped because it was JUST. SO. DARNED. GORGEOUS. 

We made our way to the 'Middle Enchantments' and saw Inspiration and Perfection Lakes. Plus we had a close-up of Prusik Peak. Sprite Lake was breathtaking. More awesomeness. t was bittersweet because it was so amazing up there, yet I knew our time was limited before we had to head down. Plus the likelihood of doing this hike again is slim.

The descent started to get a bit steeper as we hit the 'Lower Enchantments'. Leprechaun Lake, McClellan Peak and Viviane Lake continued to impress with their beauty. The trail was definitely more muddy at this stage so unlike wiping out in the snow, wiping out here would be less fun. We definitely had some "wet crossings" over rivers to cross that were also unstable for footing. My feet definitely went in the water a few times but it was so warm that my boots and socks dried quickly. 

Oh yes, the weather. The few campers we did see were in tanks and shorts (the Parks Department has a very strict limit on the number of people allowed to camp in the park at any one time and slots are awarded by lottery every year). It was easily 70+ degrees, which is very warm for this elevation (7000-8000 feet) and you were completely exposed in the sun. So we were drinking lots of water and using water filtration tablets/pumps to get fresh water from the lakes along the way. 

The last lake in the 'Lower Enchantments' was Lake Viviane. Somehow we lost the trail as we came upon that lake. That cost us a bit of time and was the start of me using my rear end to get down some pretty steep areas. Side note: Being short is not helpful when hiking and longer legs/arms would be helpful traversing boulders, carrying gear, etc. I was carrying about 25 lbs worth of gear on my frame while Marc who is a foot taller than me had about 35 lbs worth of gear. We made it to the Viviane crossing, which marked the end of being in the 'Core Enchantments' and the start of the true descent down to Upper Snow Lake. Filled up on more water and had about 10 miles to go. 

These next two miles were the ones I was worried about. Not a ton of documentation existed on how you got down from Viviane to Upper Snow, plus going downhill is not my favorite thing due to gravity, having short arms/legs, etc. We had maps, GPS, etc., but in any event, we lost the trail again. These things happen on hikes and fortunately we prepared for this. I have to admit though that I was not in a great place mentally when I heard we had to climb back up some really steep rocks in the blazing sun mid-afternoon and make it across some dicey gaps (thanks, KvT, for saving me on multiple occasions). But I also resolved that when I looked back on this day that I was going to focus on the beauty that we had in the 1st half of the day.

We got back on the trail and I started to think about how similar the roller coaster of emotions I was experiencing were to the ones I had when running half-marathons and marathons. So I channeled that experience and got back to the task at hand since we had about 10 miles to go (if you're a marathon runner, you know about 'the wall' which can strike at any time after mile 16). The descent was as challenging mentally as the Aasgard ascent was physically. It was getting later so then it was just about can we get back before dark. Upper Snow Lake was starting to get closer and closer and we eventually hit the south end of the lake. YAY!

Since we had done that hike previously, we knew that it was a gentle decline to the trailhead except for a boulder field to traverse. Marc and I also knew it was a very boring slog from Upper Snow Lake to the trailhead. After we crossed Upper Snow Lake, Marc changed shoes and the three of us just kept on trekking. The trail had changed since we had been on it with the boulder field, which made it "quicker" but more challenging for me, so I wasn't psyched to say the least. Then we started cranking again. 

With about 4 miles left, I noticed Marc slowing down. He informed me that he rolled his ankle and that he was just battling to to keep walking. His knees hurt from the gradual downhill and his hips were not happy. Ugh. Not good. We just kept moving trying to stay in good spirits as daylight was fading. He was a trooper. We hit the final set of switchbacks (25, in case you are wondering) when some light was still out there. About halfway down, we had to get out our headlamps - thanks, REI, for the "10 Essentials List". We were hoping not to have to use them, but that's why you have those items in your pack.

We finally made it to the trailhead - 17 hours after we started. We were happy and exhausted. Probably more of the latter. It took about 2-3 hours longer than expected. Oh - and we had to go get the other car at the start. YAY! Another 30 minutes. BUT.... as I said earlier, I knew that once we got some sleep, iced Marc's ankle, and ate, that we would look at this day as an epic one. We're not back at full strength, but we're both looking back at the hike as one of our best in terms of pure beauty. I've only attached a small sample of pics from the day. They don't do it justice. Look at more here.

The celebratory dinner may have been delayed, but it is happening this week. Serious food and wine will be had. 

Trust The Plan.

Every year, I set goals for myself - both personal and professional. It generally requires putting together a plan on how I am going to achieve these goals with some interim milestones so I can stay on track. 

One of the goals I set for myself was to be able to execute some basic movements that I have eluded me at CrossFit and at yoga for some time. And while I do have rheumatoid arthritis, which puts some physical limitations on me, I have always tried to figure out a modification for a movement I cannot do. But sometimes that obfuscates other issues. 

As I started thinking about goals for 2018, I wanted to re-visit some of the struggles that I have at CrossFit and not worked through. Then make them goals for 2018. One of those things is around safely executing overhead squats. I can get my rear below parallel on front squats with a decent amount of weight but nada for the overhead ones. Another challenge I have is around my wrists and hands, and being able to stay in plank or 'downward dog' for awhile during yoga practice. 

I went to Dr. Paul Molina and Geneva Bender at Kinetic Sports Rehab in mid-December and told them that I wanted to build towards overhead squats and being able to stay in certain yoga poses for an extended period of time. We started on the latter and I have been doing the assigned exercises for 2+ months on my own focusing on my fingers, wrists, forearms, lats, thoracic spine, and shoulders.

I was getting frustrated because I could not notice any meaningful progress based on one of the exercises I was doing. Truthfully, it's hard to see progress when you are doing it every day. I felt a couple of things getting easier at yoga. I did PR a couple of movements at CrossFit this past month (105# clean and push press and 30# dumbbell snatches), but I was focused on those darned wrist rockers. But c'mon Jill, trust the work you have done!

I went in to see Dr. Paul for a check-in. He performed some quick tests on my hands/wrists and informed me that my extension passive range of motion increased around 25 to 35 degrees and my active range of motion increased by 10 degrees. WOW! I was pretty shocked but very happy that the work I was putting in to this was paying off. Dr. Paul also told me not to use the wrist rockers as a litmus test for my progress as it is just something that is hard for many people even without the issues I have. 

Point taken. I should have just trusted the plan I had in place for doing my exercises and had faith that the work I was doing would pay off. I need to come up with more helpful milestones that truly indicate where I am at. So now we are working on the mobility and flexibility issues related to overhead squats and I hope to progress on that as well. Making progress on that front should help my running and my hiking too. Stay tuned as I continue to work on achieving these goals. 

And I'll start trusting the plans I have in place for other aspects of my life.

[Side note: For my 2013 broken hand rehab from the Australian Walkabout, I found a physical therapist named Andrea Bulat. She spent a fair amount of time educating me on what my range of motion should be and to focus on it during my workouts. Andrea was an immense help to Team Beck on a number of fronts, and we were sorry to see her move to Portland. I made so much progress in understanding how I could be a stronger athlete for the long-term thanks to her. I probably never would have had the awareness to set these goals without her help. Same with our friend, Zack Finer, who moved to Boulder - uh oh, is there a trend here? Hmmmm.]

Contrary to Popular Belief, Napa and Sonoma Are Open For Business....

Some of you may be aware that Marc and I used to make wine under the name Purple Teeth Cellars. While we did shut it down to pursue other interests, we still value and cherish the relationships that we developed with winemakers, vineyard owners, restauranteurs, sommeliers, etc. 

In light of the recent fires in Napa and in Sonoma, Marc and I decided to take a quick jaunt down to the area. We knew the fires had hit during their busiest season of the year for tourists, and had read many of those businesses were hurting due to an unexpected loss in revenues both from visitors and from lost harvests.

Certain areas experienced devastation and the fires exacerbated an already fragile housing ecosystem in the area for residents, but businesses were definitely up and running. While we only visited a couple of wineries while we were in the area, most wineries were open for business. Same for the restaurants. We caught the end of the season of seeing colors on the vines, which was a pleasant surprise. It was actually quite picturesque in early December and the weather was perfect for a hike in the area. OK, I did squeeze in a visit to CrossFit as well [duh - have to burn off the amazing food and wine].

The main problem that we heard from local residents was that business was so slow, which was leading to restaurants laying off workers at times when they should have been throwing money in the bank - servers to meat cutters to dishwashers, as an example. By people canceling trips and not visiting the area, many SMALL businesses experienced an unfortunate trickle-down effect. People are not buying wine on visits because no one is visiting. Then tasting room staffs need to be let go. Things like that.

And while no one prompted me to post this, I'll just say that I believe that the people in Napa and in Sonoma would LOVE IT if you would consider visiting during their "off-season". When your small business is severely curtailed during the busiest season of the year, it can mean the difference between staying afloat and going under. The weather is still nicer than in most places in the US during this time of year and prices are going to be pretty reasonable to stay, to eat and to drink than during "high-season". 

So please consider a visit and I am sure you will be on the receiving end of some awesome hospitality and gratitude.

Happy Holidays!

On The Road Again....

Mixed marriage time:
Broncos vs. Giants in Denver
Well, gosh. It has been awhile. I mean, really. Much has happened. Since the last post, I took a job at a healthcare technology company called Change Healthcare, and have been on the road quite a bit. It is not an exaggeration between work and personal travel to say that I have travelled 150,000+ miles in the past year alone (mostly for work, but a couple of trips to Europe interspersed in there). Pro tip: Once you hit 40,000 miles on Alaska Airlines, they give you free chocolate. Who knew? 

So what else is new? Well I am anxiously awaiting Game 7 of the ALCS tonight where my Yankees are taking on the Astros. Really hoping CC Sabathia brings it along with the offense. We went to Denver last weekend to see Marc's Broncos take on my Giants, and the completely opposite outcome happened that we were expecting (Giants won). Speaking of Marc, I'm doing my best to make him a Yanks fan for this fall.
Yanks visit Seattle
Let's Go Yankees!

I said farewell to Facebook on Thanksgiving, 2016 as I felt it was way too toxic for me from a political perspective. I felt all sides were too vitriolic for me and the time spent on the platform just left me feeling negative and pissed off. You can find me on Instagram though where I get to look at pictures of beautiful places, funny people doing great things and whatever else my peeps like posting - although anything political gets an unfollow. 

The business travel has been a lot. I know, many of you know me from when I used to do that a lot, but I was much younger. Plus I really like being home, spending time with Marc and keeping to a routine. It is really hard to eat well and keep working out at a regular cadence when on the road. I put some pretty hard rules in place for my business trips when I started the role around exercise in to mitigate the impact of eating out all of the time. Yay for being a runner and for doing CrossFit! Lots of #viewfrommyrun pics posted on Instagram.
On top of Mt. Si. with Rainier
in background

Last summer was fairly insane with travel from Seattle to Augusta, Maine every other week, so this summer, I decided to wrestle some control back. This has led to Marc and I getting in some hikes in a number of gorgeous places. Some were pretty technical and on one of them, I was just dreading going down because of how treacherous the trail was [spoiler alert: I survived but it took longer to get down than to go up].

In other news, I continue to brush up on skills around R, Python and SQL because it falls into that whole 'trying to suck less and challenge myself more' thing? While I have no intention of becoming a software engineer, I find taking the time to focus on this kind of thing helps me as both a Product Manager and a Program Manager. I'm reading a book on Submarine Design because someone told me it would be a great way to understand multivariate design as a whole. I'll let you know how that works out but this might fall into 'you can't make this stuff up'.
Top of Lone Cone in Tofino, BC

Marc and I decided to dust off our golf clubs, and the best thing about that from my perspective is that I didn't kill anyone at the range.... yet. 

We will see how long it will be before I post again, but in the meantime, thanks for tuning in and GO YANKEES!

Trying to Suck Less and Challenge Myself More.

Trying to suck less....
Sometimes you just get complacent in life. It could be at home, at work, with your family/friends, etc. It happens and what do you do to combat it so you suck less when the need arises for you to "step up"?

Just over 2 months ago, I read an article on LinkedIn's CEO (Jeff Weiner) talking about it's recent stock price drop. Within that article was a video of the talk in which Jeff Weiner talks about the pace of change in technology aka "the 4th industrial revolution". 

"Historically when there are new innovations, it creates new opportunities, new levels of productivity, new jobs that are created. Historically, though, the rate of change was much slower. People had plenty of time to retrain and retool to take on these new opportunities. Today? Not the case. The world has never seen innovation moving at this rate and is outstripping our ability to train the workforce for the jobs that 'are' and 'will be', and not just the jobs that once were."

Now he was talking about it in terms of LinkedIn's value in the marketplace, but I had a different takeaway. Mine was around my current skillset and what did I need to learn now to position me for the next phase of my career. 

So in taking what Jeff W. said, I thought about 2 tangential areas related to Product Management - human-centered design (HCD) and data science. You see more and more job postings around user experience designers and data scientists, and I feel as though they are playing larger roles in helping to launch great products. 

Human Centered Design

The HCD course was free, which was a bonus, and took place online over 7 weeks. What was also attractive about it was that the course was being offered in partnership with, which is a known leader in HCD.

I wouldn't say HCD came naturally, but it was much easier for me to learn and apply the content without tons of extra study outside of the coursework. Much of the interviewing involved in HCD was similar to the type of work I do as a Product Manager. I had teammates from New York and Brazil, and we completed our project around "Products and Services for the 70-year old". It was a relevant challenge for me, given that my folks are in that demographic. I enjoyed the work and the people I partnered with on the project. 

Data Science Specialization

The Data Science Specialization was not free, but it was attractively priced. It actually is a group of 9 online courses plus a final project. This certificate program was being offered via Coursera through Johns Hopkins - Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHU).

With the exception of the 1st course, all of the coursework required programming in "R". Programming, software engineering, writing code, whatever you want to call it.... not my thing. I'm married to someone that does that very well for a living. I might work in tech, but lots of roles exist that do not require you to "write code". 
Troubleshooting Mom and Dad's PC and mobile phones

Here we are... outside of the proverbial comfort zone. Marc doesn't know "R", so while he could have learned it to help me out, I decided to just tell him about my progress and not ask for help on general "coding stuff". Does such a thing exist?

I created a Github site (please go easy on my coding skills), completed assignments, used coding tools and leveraged sites such as Stack Overflow. Thank goodness for that site!

The programming work brought on a fair amount of apprehension and dread. The course would say that the assignment should take 30 minutes. Well, I took on average of 3 hours per submission. The pic just above is a good indicator of my frustration while completing these.

Part of the Coursera model is that you "grade" your classmates (after you complete your assignment) so you get a scoring rubric to use for evaluation. When I compared my submissions to my classmates, some of them really exceeded the expectations of the assignment. I just tried to focus on hitting the minimum requirements of the exercise.

With the exception of one assignment, I passed each one on the 1st try. You would think that would build some confidence. But I still always worried about if I passed it once I submitted my work. 

Do I see myself coding much as a result of this work? Nah. I learned that while I enjoy working with engineers and have always respected their talent, I do not enjoy programming. Banging my head against my keyboard while trying to troubleshoot code because I didn't leave a space in the right place in the syntax... NOT FUN.

I found out that I passed my final project and received my certificate from JHU/Coursera. It was a huge relief. It also taught me that I could push myself to do something that is very much not in my comfort area, stick with it and see it though to completion. So I'll give myself a pat on the back for sucking less and challenging myself more. Onwards and upwards.

You Can't Hit What You Can't See.

How did we get to the end of January already? Wow. 

Let's start off by commemorating what would have been Grandma Mollie's birthday today and also celebrate the 47th anniversary of Harv and Yvette along with Lisa's birthday, both of which are tomorrow. Good stuff and we will celebrate all of them "west coast style".

One of the things that I have done for most of my adult life was to write down my goals - personal and professional - every year. I wouldn't call them resolutions because I tried to build upon progress from the previous year as opposed to just starting a new behavior from scratch on January 1st. Plus resolutions in January tend to be broken by this time for most people so it just seemed like an exercise that was rooted in setting myself up for failure.

Why do I write down my goals? You can't hit what you can't see. For me, they become much more tangible when I have to look at them regularly and assess my progress on them. 

I didn't track my goals in 2013 because I was starting the 1st quarter of the year in Australia and the point was just go with the flow. And when I came back, I had the whole "unknown broken hand" thing so that just put everything into a chaos. Then for 2014, I was so consumed with launching and growing Upower that I just didn't think I needed to do it. That was a mistake.

So in 2015, I set out some goals which included winding down my involvement with Upower and what I was going to think through during Patagonia Caminada. Things were moving along until mid-April when Marc's "dandruff ball" reared its ugly head and then everything was thrown into chaos on many levels. 

5 months later, I was able to resume getting back to my working towards those goals. I tweaked a couple of them given changed circumstances but they mostly remained intact. What was shocking to me was that when I wrapped up 2015 that I actually made decent progress on what I was trying to achieve. Now how I got to the end point wasn't what I quite envisaged when I set everything out that January, but somehow I got there.

One of my goals last year was to read more books and I succeeded in that. It does help me relax. I finally was able to finish "Hamilton" by Ron Chernow after seeing the play over Thanksgiving. It was a LONG read but worth the effort. I learned quite a bit about that time in American history. I wouldn't say you need to read it before seeing the show but it probably wouldn't hurt given the musical nature of the performance.

Another book I recently wrapped up was "The Time of Our Lives" by Peggy Noonan. It's a series of columns she has put together over her length career as a speechwriter and as an author. One of the columns that was included was about the Challenger disaster 30 years ago and at the time, Noonan was Ronald Reagan's speechwriter. So she had to write a speech rather quickly for him to address the nation with. It was interesting to read the process that went into crafting those words in what was, essentially, on the fly.

[Side note: Another interesting piece Noonan had in her book was around gathering facts when Mt. St. Helens blew in 1980. It was a laugh out loud moment reading how she was able to piece together firsthand accounts.]

All of the news leading up to the Challenger and the story of how Christa McAuliffe was on the shuttle motivated so many people back then to dream big and set high goals. That's where you learn to set goals.... by being inspired by others.

As for how I am doing on my 2016 goals? I'm pretty happy with my progress this far. I know it won't all be upward progress throughout the year. Plateaus will happen due to other priorities or taking time to realize that I need to find a new gear. I'm ok with that. I'll just keep plugging away.

BTW, if you are interested in learning more about the post-mortem surrounding the Challenger disaster, I would encourage you to read this. It's a long read but well worth it.

You Just Never Know.

[NOTE: Originally authored for Modo Yoga Seattle's blog. They were gracious enough to ask me to write about my experience with the recent 30-day challenge.]

If you would have told me 15 months ago that I would be practicing yoga regularly, let alone completing two 30-day challenges, I would have told you that you were crazy. But here I am, and I’m better for it.

Some background. I am a Type A person who has the MO of “getting stuff done”. Make a ToDo list, complete it and create the next one. Repeat cycle. Before yoga, I ran and did CrossFit. I still do those and I enjoy all 3 activities for different reasons. [Sidebar: Yes, you can do CrossFit and practice yoga, and not spontaneously self-combust.]

I figured I would do the 30-day challenge in March because I was in between jobs and I had some extra time. Why not, right? My focus during this challenge was to ‘believe in myself’ after I transitioned out of a company I co-founded. I also wanted to continue to ‘be present’ and not multitask, which was a goal I set earlier in the year.

What I learned in the challenge was that “every day is a different day”. Your body works differently at 6am than it does at 5:30pm. Having the same expectation of your body’s capabilities for every practice is unrealistic. Just like life, right?

That 30-day endeavor inadvertently ended up preparing me for the most challenging period of my life. My husband, Marc, ended up having emergency brain surgery in mid-April and the recovery was stressful for obvious reasons. One person that I became friends with during the challenge helped out in a major way on surgery day with a small and simple act of kindness.

The lesson here is that you just never know where help is going to come from when you need it.

We had some other significant “bumps in the road” surface in that timeframe. Our friends encouraged me to keep exercising and set time for myself while all of this was taking place. So I kept going to yoga as much as I could while mixing in running with friends.

We certainly had our share of things that we couldn’t control, but you can control certain things and ‘gratitude’ was one of those I focused on. Someone always has it worse than you and setting that intention in class was huge in helping me remain focused and composed. Marc’s recovery was progressing in a positive direction, so the regular reminder during a tumultuous period was good.

Rose, one of our beloved instructors, had a great quote in a practice that said, “Don’t think about how far you have to go. Think about how far you have come.” We were at a pretty tenuous phase in Marc’s recovery at that point so those words really resonated with me and they still do many months later.

I also learned to just ‘accept’ what I could and couldn’t do on a given day, whether it was at a practice or in some other facet in life. Lying down and chilling for half of the class was surprisingly liberating and I picked that up doing the bingo in the 30-day challenge. Did I mention I like to get stuff done yet?

The quiet in the room added calm when everything outside felt pretty chaotic. It allowed me to prioritize keeping things simple as much as possible so I could take care of both Marc and myself. I still say to people that yoga was definitely a form of therapy as I was simultaneously dealing with multiple crises.

Fast forward to the 2nd challenge in October, which had a backstory about some “unfinished business” for me (click here). In one of the workshops led by Kylie, she said something to the effect of “if you’re not willing to inspect, you can’t expect”. Another gem of a quote.

In between the 2 challenges, I had done a fair amount of introspection about a number of things going on in my life. I had made some changes, which were starting to yield results on a number of fronts.

By mid-October, Marc was participating in yoga practices 3x/week thanks to Brandon’s help. He had his modifications and the atmosphere at MYS made us feel very comfortable to just do the best we could.

Marc’s determination to stretch, sweat and recover from his multiple surgeries motivated me on days that I didn’t feel like getting out of bed at 5:30am to complete the challenge. But I did. My fellow challengers also motivated me when I was on the fence so we would make a plan to hit a class together. Marc practiced next to me as I finished day 42, which was my goal. 42 sessions in 42 days.

I’ve learned a great deal about myself from when I first walked into MYS in late October, 2014. Participating in the 30-day challenge not knowing what to expect gave me more than I bargained for. I absolutely recommend it and advise going in with an open mind. It’s different for everyone. And jeez, two 30+ day yoga challenges in under a year. Never would have thought that would have been me! But you just never know.

Adele, Jennifer Lawrence & Emma Stone Follow The Becks

Oh yes. It's true. Read on.

We don't like to travel around Thanksgiving. Generally getting anywhere is a hassle and is way more expensive so why bother. But circumstances from earlier this year surrounding Marc's health forced us to change our travel schedule for the year and so we ended up in NYC for the entire week. 

The line-up of restaurants was pretty deep but the list of people we were seeing was even deeper. We had a pretty ambitious schedule since this was our only trip slated for 2015. We had plenty of family and friends to see, and we were so grateful for the many who could work with our crazy schedule. In terms of catching up with folks, I was inspired on multiple occasions by the risks that some of them are taking personally and professionally. 

As someone who has taken their fair share of risks with mixed results, I know what is involved in making these decisions. Putting yourself out there as a founder/co-founder, trying to execute a career change or making a big life decision is hard work. And even after you make the decision, it's not uncommon to second guess your decision. On my end, it has been a somewhat tumultuous year on a number of fronts. But fortunately over the past 2 months, I've experienced and now see bluer skies ahead.

OK, back to the food and wine. I'm asked regularly on how I find the restaurants we eat at. A few are old stand-bys, a couple are recos from others and the rest I source from either Eater and/or Zagat.

We really didn't have any misses on this trip with respect to the restaurants, although Gabriel Kreuther is a challenge for anyone who is a picky eater. While they did accommodate us without a complaint, they didn't seem to have as many options as other places. I enjoyed the food and the wine, and thought the menu was innovative. The service was excellent.

My faves from this trip were The Modern (Dining Room) and Cosme. As it turns out, Adele, Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Stone were at Cosme the day AFTER we were there. Aren't we just the trend setters? Seriously the food at Cosme was excellent thanks to their signature dish of duck carnitas and if you know me, you know I love duck.

Other places that are worth recommending are Rebelle, Wallflower, Fuku and Orient Express (cocktails). We did enjoy the Todd English Food Hall at The Plaza Hotel, and Toloache. Volare was always Volare. And the breakfast sandwich place, aptly named BEC, was pretty tasty.

The wine list at The Modern was probably one of the best that I have ever seen in terms of diversity. A friend of ours that we met in Sydney, Australia is now the Wine Director there and really recommended some standouts. Well done, Michael, and congrats on all of the accolades.

Thanks to this article in Food and Wine, I was able to bring something different to Mom's Thanksgiving table from The Lobster Place. Score. 

We were very fortunate to get tickets to see "Hamilton" and I was worried that it wouldn't live up to the hype. I was wrong. The lyrics were so well done and the acting/singing was really well executed. I hear the waiting list is LONG to get tickets. It's worth the wait. Go see it. And by the way, I learned some interesting things about Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr in the process. 

Now I have to read Ron Chernow's book on which the musical was based on. Good thing I just finished my last book on Whitey Bulger yesterday on the flight back. Other recent reads include The Forgotten Man by Amity Shales and Enduring Patagonia by Gregory Crouch.

Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life the Universe and Everything

To begin discussing the answer to this question, I must request that those that don't immediately know the answer please go visit Google or Bing and see some immediate results. We'll wait...

Many of you read The Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy and already knew this, but now hopefully everyone is caught up. When I turned 42, I had a great birthday party asking guests to come to the party with a plausible question that gets to this answer. Everyone wrote them down on 3x5 cards and I read them all while laughing hysterically at many of them and we gave out some prizes. Tons of fun and I'll list a few of my favorites here.

  • In 1889, Washington joined the union bringing the total number of states to how many?
  • What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?
  • 10! (factorial) seconds is exactly how many days?
  • What is the name of space command in Buzz Lightyear?
  • How many eyes in a deck of cards?
  • What is the only jersey number that has been retired by all MLB teams?

Now let us fast forward to 2015. Jill took up yoga (shocking herself) at Modo Yoga Seattle and did the 30 day challenge in March. Then she kept going and realized that she'd get to 42 days straight of yoga the day before our spring flight to New York and that would end the streak perfectly.

Unfortunately for the both of us, on the evening of day 41, I had a seizure followed by MRI and possibility of an operation on day 42 so Jill didn't complete all 42 days. As everyone knows, I recovered quite well from brain surgery but the seizure also tore two of four tendons in my rotator cuff and I ended up with shoulder surgery a few months later.

The shoulder is doing great because I do everything my PT tells me to do with daily exercises and I have already started swimming once a week just 2 weeks ago. I don't go very far yet, but it feels good to be able to use the shoulder in the pool pain free. I've been going to yoga recently too which has been great for stretching and mobility as I slowly gain strength in the shoulder.

In the meantime, yoga had another 30 day challenge in October and Jill was determined to get to 42 this time. She started early (in September) so that she'd hit 42 at the end of Oct as the challenge ended for everyone else getting to 30 straight days. Congrats Jill on making it!

If You're Not Willing To Inspect, You Can't Expect

I heard the quote at a yoga workshop I took today. Sometimes I will hear quotes and truthfully, they won't resonate with me too much. It's probably more of a slight against me than about the quote. This one did strike a chord with me.

Yeah, it can seem hokey to the many cynics in my life but if you think about it - when have you been able to proactively make impactful changes to your life without taking a hard look in the proverbial mirror? 

The past 12 months have been challenging for me on every front. Personally, professionally and everything in between. It's required me to take some time to look within and see how I can be better. Better as a wife, an aunt, a sister, a friend, a professional and any other role that I have. Getting focused on what matters. Yoga and running have helped quite a bit. Our friends have been awesome. Family members have stepped up. But I found another ally in the aim to be more introspective - reading books.

I find that reading books helps with those kinds of efforts because it requires a focus that reading current events, social media, etc. does not. And I am a current events junkie so it takes a fair amount of restraint to not check to see the latest and the greatest happenings locally, domestically and abroad. That said, the events of the past year have required me to focus and look within more than I can ever remember. It wasn't easy and most of it was not fun or enjoyable.

One of the first things I decided as part of this new chapter is that I was going to significantly reduce multitasking. I started this around 11 months ago after an overwhelming amount of evidence started coming out that multitasking actually makes you LESS productive. The focus on reading books more recently has reminded me that I do have the ability to focus and to concentrate on the critical things in my life that need to be done. 

As I was trying to assess what my next professional move was going to be (outside of consulting for small businesses), I was recommended to read Steve Blank's "The Four Steps to Epiphany". Given that I have been a co-founder 2x and have consulted on and off for a number of years, I was stunned that I hadn't read this sooner. I don't know if it made me feel better but it reinforced why certain decisions were flawed from the start in both endeavors. Let's just say that it was a HUGE EYE OPENER for me and if you're thinking about starting your own business, you should read it. 

On a similar theme, I follow a number of entrepreneurs on Twitter including Ben Horowitz of a16z, a venture capital firm in the Bay Area. I enjoy his tweets and blog posts. When I found out he recently wrote a book called "The Hard Thing About Hard Things", I knew I needed to read it. He wrote very candidly about some of his biggest lessons learned and all of the warning signals he missed as he was making critical decisions. And this past year has been about making hard decisions and yes, some collateral damage resulted which is unfortunate.

A recent read included "On The Edge" by Alison Levine, which recounts her experiences climbing Mount Everest and ties in some leadership lessons. It helped that I had read "Into Thin Air" by Jon Krakauer a number of years ago and then saw the recent movie "Everest" which was based on the same events of 1996 but from a different perspective. As far as quick reads go, "Into Thin Air" was one of them but it was good to get a different perspective of events by Beck Weathers, who was with Krakauer on that ill-fated expedition. 

Another fast paced read included "Orange Is The New Black". OK, I am probably one of the last people in the world to read this book but it was enjoyable and more so because a great friend gifted it to me when I broke my hand a couple of years ago and needed some reading material. I am only sorry that it took me so long to get to it. No, I don't watch the TV show and nor do I plan to. But I did find the book entertaining.

Awhile back, one of my running buddies asked if I had read "The Boys In The Boat" by Daniel James Brown. I mistakenly said yes thinking that they were talking about "The Amateurs" by David Halberstam, which I had read 2 or 3 years ago. Both were about rowing and competing for the US Olympic team but in different eras. 

Halberstam's book was very good. His books were very high quality. I particularly enjoyed "The Teammates", which discussed the friendship of 4 teammates from the Boston Red Sox (yes, this New York Yankees fan just wrote that) - Bobby Doerr, Dominic DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky, and Ted Williams, who remained close for 60+ years. I'm fairly confident you wouldn't see professional sports players roadtripping today as these boys did, which is what was documented in the book. 

Speaking of the Red Sox, a couple of years ago I read Terry Francona's "Francona: The Red Sox Years", which he wrote with Dan Shaughnessy of 'The Boston Globe. Why did I read a book on the manager of the Red Sox team that crushed me in 2004? I like Francona and can't believe the amount of BS he put up with when managing those teams. He always seemed gracious and thankful that in spite of the crap that he thought he was the luckiest guy around.

I finally got around to reading the book by Brown while we were in Santa Barbara last weekend. Absolutely loved it. It made me sad following the story of the main character and his upbringing. It made me happy how much he was determined to overcome the many challenges he faced. Pick it up, download it to your e-reader or borrow it from your library when you have time. The research done for "The Boys In The Boat" was impeccable and was hard not to appreciate as the story unfolded in the book.

In different ways, all of these books have reinforced what I heard in my yoga workshop today about basically looking within before having any expectations - whether of myself or of others. Taking the time to bring life's insanity "down a few pips" by reading helps me get more calm and focus on the goals I have set for myself. I know that being a bit more introspective has helped me achieve some of those goals and am hoping that it will continue to be rewarding for me on all fronts.

Should Harv Start Writing An Advice Column?

Dad has lots of Harvisms. We covered this previously a number of years ago in the blog with the always reliable "take a steam shower, you'll feel better" quote from Harv. It's basically his answer to anything when you are not having a good day. Try it before you mock it. 

This quote surfaced recently when talking to a friend about Harv's latest fundraising endeavor with his local CrossFit on raising money for Barbells for Boobs. She has followed his exploits when Lisa or I quote him on Facebook, and said that Harv should have an advice column. I sighed and said "oh boy", which was met with a response of "he probably has some real gems for advice".

More "oh boy". So this friend happened to be suffering from some allergies so I sent over the above mentioned blog entry as advice that she should take. Needless to say, it worked and now she wanted more Harvisms. 

"Do as I say, not as I do" - this one was generally used when he was driving 90mph in upstate New York going to Oswego.

"Those pants will come back in style" - although this pretty much referred to HIS entire wardrobe. In the case of the picture, we're talking about a sweater that was bought in the early 90s and was worn to a 40th anniversary surprise party in 2008. I am willing to bet that he still has this sweater in 2015. Unfortunately I have not been able to dig up a pic of him in the aforementioned pants. 

This sweater was so 'ancient' that it was featured in the picture collage that Lisa put together showcasing the fun times of Harv and Yvette over the course of their 40-year marriage (now we're at 46 and closing in on 47). 

Since Harv joined the community at CrossFit Rapture, he has come up with new Harvisms at a rapid clip. He actually has pretty much invented his own CrossFit nomenclature. Why call them kettlebells when you can call them 'kettles'? Pull-ups are 'chin-ups'. Hamstrings started as 'hammies' and then went to 'hams'. Perhaps Harv should have some bacon post-WOD? Or maybe he is referring to Hamm from "Toy Story"?

Harv also likes saying post-WOD that he thinks "there's a conspiracy" between Marc, the Brothers Arikian (Dad's coaches and owners of CF Rapture), Lisa, Jarrett and me. I don't know what he's referring to since we're all pretty upfront about what we're trying to achieve at CrossFit.

OK, I found another awesome sweater pic from the late 80s/early 90s thanks to Lisa (see below). Still can't find a pic of him in these infamous pants that probably have gone in and out of style multiple times since the early 70s. We'll get a pic in a future blog post. 

One of my all-time faves was when we were playing soccer and he would yell to one of us "work it, work it, work it" as the ball was being dribbled up the field. Well it turns out Lisa was still playing in Massapequa when 'Pretty Woman' came out. I happened to be home for the weekend to see Lisa play and watched Harv do his thing. So I went behind him and channeled Kit DeLuca with this gem (note you need audio turned on). It generated many laughs from the parents on our sideline. Of course Harv said, "Very funny, Jill! Very funny!" 

I would have bought dinner that night but that would have violated another Harvism. When I was delivering newspapers (before I was legally allowed to because you know...), I would meet him at the local greasy spoon after my route was done on Sunday. The check would come and he would always say, "Don't worry, Jill. I got this. I don't want to ruin your amateur standing.

Yeah, that's my Dad. He's pretty freakin' awesome. I might consider renting him out for parties... for the right price.

If you have Harvisms to share, please do.... we know many exist.

Why I DETEST Buying A Car.

[This is a long one. And it's a rant. You have been warned.]

It’s fair to say that negotiating is a regular part of life. Some people do it for a living and some people avoid it at all costs. I’m probably somewhere close to doing it for a living based on different roles that I have had over my career, not to mention when I was negotiating for a later curfew in high school and in college.

My Dad negotiated my first car purchase when I was 19. Before that, I drove a hand-me-down that varied between whatever car my brother trashed along the way. Then I moved into Manhattan and the need for a car ceased until I had a temporary stint in the Bay Area in 2000. I got creamed when I leased my BMW in Palo Alto. No doubt about it. Spanked. Hosed. Bamboozled. You name it. I didn’t know enough about the mechanics about how car sales worked. Fortunately, when my stint in NorCal ended prematurely, BMW wanted my car so bad that they essentially paid me to get the car back so they could resell it for an exorbitant price. Whatever.

Fast forward to 2003 when I moved out to Seattle and needed to acquire a car. I didn’t want a BMW because even though I loved it, I felt they nickeled and dimed on so many of the packages. I mean this is a luxury car brand and power seats weren’t included in the base?! So I went to Volkswagen. They assigned me a female salesperson and truthfully she was as much of a shark as anyone else, even with me reading “Car Buying For Dummies”.

I wanted to lease (mistake) and committed pretty much every other dumb error you could do (i.e., this is what I want to spend per month). The worst part was the signing process where they said it would take an hour and it took three. I had already returned my rental car and Marc had dropped me off at the dealer so I was on an island, or so I thought back then.

The Finance team at Carter VW in Seattle jerked me around with delay tactics and other BS. I would complain to Sales while I was waiting and I didn’t exist anymore. I was passed over the wall. I could tell you that I had my Jetta for almost 10 years. I LOVED that car and yet I still tell people that Carter VW sucks and doesn’t respect your time.

They would call, email, etc. I’d tell them why I’m not interested each time and they would say that things are different. Yeah, right. Car dealers are nothing if not predictable. They still use the same crappy tactics. And they are in denial that the model is changing…. Maybe they should talk to yellow cab drivers who thought their model was unassailable.

Trade-In Current Car
Fast forward to the past couple of weeks. We decided to trade-in our Ford, which had incredibly low mileage and was in top condition for a 2012 car. We sold the VW to a friend a few years ago who was in a bind. We received a letter from Ford, which I also verified with our dealer, that they were willing to pay up to 110% of Kelley Blue Book (KBB) for our vehicle.

I make an appointment and show up with the car. I did my research on KBB and NADA with conservative estimates for what Ford could offer me. I also had a trade-in value estimate from where we were buying our new car. I figured out the tax implications, etc. Bottom-line, I knew the number Ford had to give me to make the deal happen.

Of course, they lowball me. I expected that. What I didn’t expect and what caused me to just walk out with saying “thanks for your time” was that when Bill Pierre Ford gave me the number they wanted to pay, I grabbed my phone because I had NADA and KBB pulled up. The salesperson says:

"Don't bother getting the information from your phone. The info there is always wrong. What I have from Kelley from my machine is correct."

Oh really? I get that you weren’t going to go with the number that KBB said on the higher end but to call KBB’s website into question with the hopes I wouldn’t check it and just accept your number? Wow. I guess this intimidation tactic must have worked before? I tweeted at KBB and of course they politely said that the salesperson was full of crap.

The end result of that was that we didn’t dislike our Ford. We just wanted something different and until that salesperson, we had nothing but positive things to say about Ford. Yeah, not anymore. The trade-in happened at an attractive price where we bought the car, so all’s well that ends well - more on that in a bit. But Ford is dead to us.

Buying The New Car
I was pretty confident about what I wanted to buy – make, model and most of the options – but I wanted to test drive it obviously. One of our close friends recommended test driving a competitor so I did that first.

I went to BMW after making an appointment. The salesperson kept trying to tell me on the test drive that the options that I was interested in were not that important. Oh ok. Thanks. I guess I don’t know what I want at all because “you know what I want”. Maybe it’s because you have the perfect vehicle in the showroom for me to buy with the options already in place. Gosh, I'm so smart (not really).

I told the salesperson I would follow-up as I was checking out the nearest competitor. He responds by saying that the car I “want” is priced at XXXXX MSRP. Hmmm. I ask is that what he is offering the car at because his email is vague except for the dollar amount and MSRP. The response is “Oh, of course I wish I could sell cars at MSRP but that isn’t realistic so we sell the car at MSRP with X% discount.” Ah right. Make me pull stuff like this out of you. Don’t just give me a number to negotiate with. Now we’re done because you actually attempted to sell me a car at MSRP and you want to sell me a car with features that I could care less about. THIS IS WHY PEOPLE HATE BUYING CARS. NO RESPECT FROM DEALERS SO IT’S CONTENTIOUS, DEFENSIVE, OFFENSIVE SIMULTANEOUSLY!!!

Now off to test drive the car I want. I had put in some data and was already quoted an “internet discount price”. It’s getting close to the “end of the year” where new models are coming in for 2016 plus we’re close to the end of the month. We get a price on the trade-in, which was probably helped by Ford’s “strong interest” in my car. Get some things negotiated and within 24 hours, we have a deal.

But it’s not smooth sailing because our salesperson tells me that even though we (THE CUSTOMER) have a time crunch that he may not be able to get us through Finance as quick as we would like because they can’t predict “end of the month” traffic. More BS. So then I go on Twitter to warn our new dealer what happened to VW when they screwed me on my signing time frame.

Magically, everything gets sorted but our dealer wants feedback and to make the survey say “10, 10, 10”. I say that when someone has an appointment and you don’t honor it that it is unacceptable. He gave me a bunch of excuses why that happens but ultimately it is the typical “You’re making your internal logistics problem MY problem. I don’t care. Fix it.” Stop worrying about your survey scores. It was almost as nauseating as a former manager at Microsoft telling the team how to fill out the annual MS Poll. Yes, this happened.

I still have a couple of things to sort out but ultimately this ended up pretty well for us. That said, I feel like buying a car is like signing yourself up to fight with someone because ultimately car salespeople aren’t interested in a win-win. They are interested in doing whatever they can to rip you off. That is what I learned. 

I'm not saying that I am an expert in buying/selling cars but I can tell you that the whole process was exhausting/frustrating and that's what these dealers count on. This time, I was more prepared, secured a better deal, etc., but these people just want to extort what they can from you. We encountered a bait and switch situation with Lexus in Bellevue, so we will never buy a Lexus from anyone again.

When Tesla and other companies like Beepi start gaining more momentum, I can’t wait for this business model to go down. Kind of like yellow cab drivers extorting passengers and having horrible customer service. J

WWC 2015 vs. 1999 - Differences.

The town where Lisa and I grew up was very soccer crazy. Most kids played in the local league growing up at one time or another. I never even gave it a thought that it would be possible to make a living as a soccer player. Then 1999 changed the game for so many, and it looks like 2015 is the result of all of the hard work of the '99ers.

We recently had the opportunity to attend the Women's World Cup Final in Vancouver, Canada - a quick drive from Seattle. Lisa, my sister, and I have been working on this for just over a year and while good planning always helps, we had some luck along the way. This luck manifested itself with the USWNT making it to the final and then being right above the goal where they would score their 1st 4 goals.

The game was shocking in a good way, given how the 1st 20 minutes or so played out. The crowd was at 95%+ USA fans and it was loud. In short, it was awesome. We rented a house in Kitsilano, just outside of the main downtown core, which made it easy to walk in and out of the city. Marc and I even went to yoga at a sibling studio of the one we go to in Seattle. How times have changed (at least until Marc is back to 100%)!

I thought it was worth discussing the differences between what my viewing experience was in 1999, when Lisa and I attending the opening match for the USWNT in NJ and watched the final in a bar in NYC, and what it was over this past month in 2015.

In 1999, it's safe to say that the players were marketed as "All American girls" in the sense that they were pretty, athletic and feminine. A couple were mothers so they were deemed "the ultimate soccer moms", which was good. Most of the attendees I saw in person or on TV were either people like me (women who played when they were younger or current playing in rec leagues) or young girls who were currently playing soccer in youth leagues. 

The only men you typically saw (outside of the WWC final at the Rose Bowl) were likely fathers taking their daughters to matches. I am pretty sure that no men's clothes were available for sale for the Women's World Cup. The market wasn't there. When Lisa, Keri (a long-time friend of ours) and I watched that final in 1999 at that bar, we had one TV on the match. The other TVs were on MLB and other assorted sports going on that day. By the time the match went into OT, 90% of the TVs had been shifted to watch USA vs. CHN. And it was loud. Unfortunately that momentum did not translate to success in a US professional league for women.

Fast forward to 2015 - 16 years later. If you go to the Nike website, you can buy men's and boy's gear that commemorate the US Women's National Team. This is definitely progress. The other major observation was the demographic of attendees of the USA matches. Many, many more men. Lots of boys. The American Outlaws have had huge showings at USWNT matches and it was no different at the final. They are awesome.

On our current WNT, we have stars who are openly gay and no one seems to care. This is fabulous. We have the Moms, which is great. What is even better is that a new focus is in play that the women are talented players with tremendous athleticism and skill. Yes, we have players who are capitalizing on their looks to snag more endorsement deals. Given the pay disparity between men and women for the World Cup, I have no issue with that. But those players who may not have received endorsement deals in 1999 are starting to receive them now (Abby Wambach). And those players are role models to the youngsters playing on local teams. Everyone is different and it's ok to embrace who you are.

The women's game is growing. Parity is improving. You saw England and Australia make great runs this year, and many of those players have other jobs (READ: non-soccer) that help pay the bills. Here's hoping that the success this past month translates into improved compensation and more opportunities for those ladies.

Oh and we had a great time with the #teamof8 in Vancouver. Many much needed laughs. 

Go Eat The Freakin' Cupcake!

Yes, I said that. 

Just eat the freakin' cupcake!

While we tend to eat relatively healthy, sometimes we have been known to indulge here at Chez Beck (see pic on left). If you follow us on Facebook, Instagram or have been a guest at our house, you'll know this. But we try to eat relatively healthy most of the time. 

This post isn't about throwing healthy eating out the window. It also isn't meant to feel bad for us. It's about living life and not taking things for granted. Ever. 

The past 4+ weeks have been a bit of a whirlwind at Chez Beck. A pretty unpleasant one at that. We had a most unexpected and a very serious health scare that required immediate attention. Details aren't necessary but needless to say, it demanded putting everything on hold to focus on the situation at hand and the uncertainty that went with it, which was considerable (and on some level, still is).

OK, back to the cupcake. When an email was sent out to a small group of people as events were unfolding, a joke was included that someone could help by stopping at Cupcake Royale, a local shop in Seattle, to pick up some cupcakes or shakes for Marc and Jill. 

The percentage of those people willing to head to Cupcake Royale on our behalf was pretty astounding! It prompted some thought as well. So the next email that went out included an update on the patient and exhorted all of the recipients to go eat the freakin' cupcake because life is short. Clearly the joke touched upon a nerve that people were in need of a cupcake!

The great news is that things are getting better. Much better. We are cautiously optimistic and continue to progress forward everyday. This is due not just to the perseverance at Chez Beck but also due to the incredible support we have received from our families and our friends during this time. We are so lucky. Oh, and a great medical team to boot.

Marc and I have this little tradition that we do at dinner every night. Yes, every night. We always toast to something positive. It can be something as inconsequential as a household bill not being as high as we expected to getting great news on the health front. You name it. We've covered it in the daily toast.

We encourage y'all to find something positive to celebrate everyday with the folks in your life. The longstanding tradition has helped a great deal during these past few weeks.

And don't wait for an excuse. If the opportunity presents itself...


Home Cooking, Neil Gaiman and Some Recent Reading.

Since we returned from our trip, Marc and I have been focusing on home cooking. After eating out constantly for almost a month, it was a welcome change to eat a bit healthier and have some more variety.

That said, we got roped into a 'mac n cheese' competition of sorts with some friends so I tested out some recipes last weekend from "The Modernist Cuisine At Home" cookbook. Plus it was Passover, so I whipped out one of my faves from John Besh - Creole-Matzo Ball Soup

This resulted in about 6 hours of total cooking last Saturday, which I felt the next day at yoga (BTW, I just finished my 38th straight day of yoga today - go figure). The combo of the 2 'mac n cheese' recipes and the soup made for an "interesting me
al" that night but whatever. It was mostly done so I could watch the Final Four with Marc, so I was happy.

Given that it was Passover, I was excited to make a soup from scratch since I had a bunch of bones from when we smoked chicken on the Big Green Egg. Matzo ball soup can tend to be bland, which is why like the one from Besh. Matzo balls are pretty easy to make - chicken fat, matzo meal and some eggs. I didn't have enough chicken fat, so I had duck fat on hand to use - shocking. Hey - give me credit for not using bacon fat since it was Passover, ok?

The 'baked' version (left side of above pic) from the book was more on the traditional side in terms of prep. Grate a bunch of cheese, parboil the macaroni, throw in some milk and a couple of other things. Then throw it in the oven. I worked out a kink or two in the process and look forward to showcasing it with our friends in May.

The 'fat free' version (right side of above pic) was very different in the sense that you used a sous vide to create "cheese water". This is done through putting grated cheese and water together in a vacuum sealed bag and throwing it in a sous vide machine. After cooking, the water from the bag is filtered out and that is what ends up in the dish. The cheese can be used for something else but is no longer needed in the dish (hence 'fat free'). The creaminess was made through pureeing cauliflower and it was actually pretty good.

Marc forwarded me a great interview with Neil Gaiman on "Raising Readers, Fairy Tales & More". Highly recommend it as more kids get engrossed in the digital age and maybe don't read books as much.

I finished the book, "Always Running: La Vida Loca", last week. I was a bit disappointed based on the reviews saying how great it was. I just felt it was a bit light on substance and had much more potential to tell a more compelling story. Oh well, I had a good string of books for awhile so I was bound to come across one that I didn't enjoy as much.

After finishing that book, I started "Shadows in the Vineyard: The True Story of the Plot to Poison the World's Greatest Wine" by Maximillian Potter. Marc and I have travelled to the region that they are talking about in the book so it's good to know where they are talking about and how far places are from each other.

Malbec, Mojitos, Monica Lewinsky, Savings Crisis=Gender Crisis, #HeForShe, Women Being "Likeable" and Homeless Youth

Things have been busy in Beck land since our return from #PatagoniaCaminada. While most of this post deals with mostly current events that are fairly serious, we consider ourselves lucky that we get to learn more about these issues and asked how we can contribute towards fixing these problems.

We had to consume the final wine we picked up at duty-free in Argentina when we had to dump Argentine pesos, so we had a Malbec tasting with some friends the other night comparing ones from Mendoza (Argentina) to the US. It was fun and then I tried to recreate an Argentine Mojito that we had at Oviedo in Buenos Aires. I am not a mixologist, so while the creation was ok, it needs some work on my end. Of course, we paired the Malbecs with steak because that seemed to be very Argentine!

I had the opportunity to attend 2 events last week that really hammered home the importance of being genuine when presenting to an audience. The 2nd one was for an organization that I was previously heavily involved with and have gone through a significant reboot. It was Sallie Krawcheck, the Chairwoman of Ellevate, that hammered the point home of the savings crisis being a gender crisis.

The basics - women earn less then men, women outlive men, and women do not earn social security contributions by being a "stay at home mom". Ellevate, formerly 85 Broads, is trying to change the dialogue about this and I am pretty excited about it. It seems timely given other initiatives around giving women more of a voice. I heard Sallie speak on Friday morning and she was candid, self-deprecating and thoughtful in her responses to questions from the small gathering. I was absolutely pumped after meeting her!

Currently we have the Ellen Pao lawsuit against one of the oldest and most respected venture capital firms out there. Much of the testimony is around "how likeable" Ms. Pao is and that the feedback was she was either too pushy or didn't speak up enough in meetings. It's a common problem for women but the concern is that will male dominated industries shy away from hiring women so they don't have to deal with being more respectful to members of the opposite sex? This is in spite of evidence that companies perform better with women in senior executive positions. Remember when Obama said to Hillary in their early debates that "You're likeable enough, Hillary"? Does someone want to define "likeable" as a characteristic for a performance evaluation?

Speaking of the Clintons, the first victim of cyberbullying - Monica Lewinsky - gave a FANTASTIC TED talk on bullying. Admittedly, I mocked her back in the day and in looking back, not a proud moment for me. She talked about why she decided to speak out now and one of the people she mentioned was Tyler Clementi, a young man who committed suicide because of cyberbullying by his college roommate.

Emma Watson continues to put herself out there around testifying at the United Nations for the "#HeForShe" initiative. She continues to draw many kudos for her advocacy to change the dialogue. Clearly her social activism from being Hermonie Granger has translated into something much more significant.

The other event I went to last week was for YouthCare, one of the top non-profits in the Pacific Northwest. They focus on teen homelessness, which is a significant problem here. Many reasons exist for this and I had the opportunity to learn about this issue in more detail in co-founding and being the Executive Director of Upower. I wish it was "just homelessness" but it expands to so many other areas, including sexual exploitation to children as young as 12 years old. 

YouthCare arranged for a surprise guest speaker to talk to the 1300+ people in attendance at the luncheon. He is better known as Macklemore, but also known locally as Ben Haggerty. Like Sallie Krawcheck, his remarks were candid, self-deprecating and thoughtful about his own struggles and his luck with his family being instrumental in changing his life for the better. He talked about how many of the youth served by YouthCare do not have that system and why the work they do is so important. More needs to be done and we'll leave it at that.

One of my goals from when we returned from #PatagoniaCaminada was to read more books and not be consumed by the 24-hour newscycle. Last week, I finished "All The Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr. Well I started it last week and I couldn't put it down so it was finished in about 4 days. It's fiction but anyone who has read any non-fiction works from that timeframe can do some extrapolation on their own. Get it on your Kindle or at the library if you haven't read it already.

About the Wine We Tasted on #PatagoniaCaminada....

One of the topics we were consistently asked about during #PatagoniaCaminada was about the quality of the wines that we tasted along the way. As with the #AustralianWalkabout, we focused on drinking wines from either Argentina or Chile during the trip. In particular, we tried to focus on Argentine wines in Argentina and Chilean wines in Chile.

Malbec is king in Argentina. At least that is what you hear outside of Argentina. Our experience supports that. Now they do produce other Bordeaux type grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot and some Merlot, but Malbec is the main varietal - particularly in Mendoza. We tasted a couple of wines from Patagonia, which is way south of Mendoza, and they weren't bad. But the best wines we had on the trip were Malbecs from Mendoza. It's not close. Mendoza is also at a pretty high elevation but many of the vintners use vineyards from different elevations. Interesting to see how that impacts the winemaking process and how specific wines age.

Now we also were inadvertently exposed to a white wine, which we both enjoyed known as Torrontes. It's definitely on the sweeter side but technically is considered a dry wine - not a dessert wine. For someone like me, it has plenty of sweetness. For Marc.... eh, not so much. That said, we will be sampling more of these back home.

We had a pretty good idea of where we would be tasting in Mendoza, so while trying wines in restaurants, we wanted to focus on producers that we heard good things about from our friends but not visiting onsite. After a trip to the Rhone in 2004 (where Marc had his "I get it" moment about wine), Marc and I also make an effort to focus on learning about vintners that we can get in the States without too much difficulty as opposed to trying the most esoteric wines but are a nightmare to get imported to Seattle.

We absolutely enjoyed the wines from Catena Zapata, Zuccardi (the lunch at Zuccardi was beyond epic), Achaval Ferrer and O. Fournier. Yes, these are some of the "big dogs" of Mendoza production but the wines were of high quality and very enjoyable. I don't know how much I would age them but they were tasty. And of course, all of these wines went very well with the components of an Argentine 'parrilla' - read: RED MEAT.

On the road, we tasted wines from DiamAndes, Cheval des Andes, Dominio del Plata, Salentein and Alta Vista that were standouts. Most of these, we should be able to get stateside.

As for Chile, it was very hit or miss.... more often a miss. Part of the problem is that we were in remote towns for most of our stay in that country so the caliber of the wines available wasn't super strong. That said, we feel pretty strongly about trying wines from Chile so we have already picked up some wines from a local wine shop to start seeing what we like and do not like.

While we are on the topic of wine, I found some other articles worth reading.

Marc and I have a special affinity for Greece and it seems like their wines are starting to really take shape. We need to try more of these for sure. The title of the linked article is *SO* 'The Wall Street Journal.

I still miss Dottie and John, but Lettie Teague has done well here with some myths about wine in this piece. No question is dumb, so ask if you don't know. Real professionals want to make you feel part of things as opposed to making you feel stupid.

Thinking about joining a wine club? I agree with much of these sentiments. You need to do your homework. I did enjoy the selections from Italian Wine Merchants, when I was a member of their club. It really helped me learn about the types of Italian wines that I am a fan of, plus it helped Marc learn about some of the varietals he was interested in.

The best wine club we have been a part of was from the Sonoma Wine Shop in downtown Sonoma. They customized their selections for each member and really were proactive about taking feedback with respect to style of wines you enjoyed/disliked and price point. 

We outgrew their club but we still recommend it when someone asks about learning about wine. Obviously cultivating a relationship with your local wine shop/grocery store (depending on the state you live in) also can bring great finds.

Questions? Please ask. We're not proclaiming that we are now experts on the wines of Chile and Argentina, but we are just relaying what we observed and learned.

Celebrating Int'l Women's Day -- Margaret Thatcher: From Grantham to the Falklands.

Much of life comes back to "The Godfather" so I'll start this post with:

"I believe in America. America has made my fortune."

I'm proud and thankful to be an American. I was before 'PatagoniaCaminada' but my pride increased during this past adventure. The rural scenery was fantastic but it's nice to be able to drink water from the tap and have an abundant supply of toilet paper for starters.

The flip side of being in a somewhat remote part of the world was the luxury of minimal internet access, which we used to post daily updates on our adventures in South America. It also allowed me to focus on not drinking out of the proverbial "firehose" of current events and actually read some books.

It's something I hope to carry throughout 2015 because I really enjoyed focusing on the story at hand for a change.

On the trip, I managed to finish 4.5 books. The last one was dense, full of detail and took awhile to get through. It wasn't for lack of interest. The book, "Margaret Thatcher: From Grantham to the Falklands" by Charles Moore, had so much information that you had to read and re-read due to the access the author had. I decided to pick a book on this topic due to our visit Patagonia and the Falklands War wounds still being fresh in the minds of the Argentines in the area. My interest was piqued after watching an episode of "Top Gear" and remembering it was still serious business the last time I was in Argentina in 1998 (the Falklands War was in 1982 in case you didn't know).

Before I had a chance to read the book, I asked our Argentine guides throughout our visit about their thoughts on the Falklands. Most said that it was a desperate attempt by General Galtieri to divert attention from many of the problems associated with his military dictatorship. All were sad that a fair amount of men who were not officially part of the military were ordered were to fight. Many of those men were killed and their families were never given proper respect afterwards. Protests continue to this day every week in specific locations, especially in Buenos Aires in front of where President Kirchner works.

The gist of what happened in the Falklands War was that Argentina tried to reclaim those islands from Great Britain. Margaret Thatcher, who was the Prime Minister of Great Britain at the time, basically said "no way" and sent in troops to get them back. She didn't have a ton of support when she made that gutsy call in the early 80s.

When Baroness Thatcher passed away, I posted on Facebook that she was "a person who was less concerned about keeping her job as opposed to doing her job. This quality is something that pretty much every politician in the US lacks." I will modify 'politician' to 'elected official'. We continue to see evidence of sustained "schmuckitude" (trademark pending) from our elected officials on every level. But citizens, including me, continue to believe in America and trips like the one we just took reinforce my gratitude of living in a democracy.

My thoughts on the book are that it was meticulously researched, which is why it took so long for me to finish. The mindsets of key decision makers during critical times during Baroness Thatcher's career were amazing to follow. I was overwhelmed by how much sourcing Mr. Moore did to ensure he had a comprehensive way to tell the story. Disclaimer: It was an authorized biography and he had an agreement with her that he would not publish it while she was alive. 

While I learned a bit about her during the film "The Iron Lady", I feel the movie gave her the short end by choosing to focus on her dementia as opposed to the many barriers she broke down on the way to becoming Prime Minister as well as the decisions she had to make. Many despised her politics, but she had a true "courage of her convictions" and loved Great Britain.

Until today, I had no idea about 'International Women's Day'. I finished Moore's book this morning about one of the most controversial elected leaders in history, who happens to be a woman. An unexpected coincidence. After reading the book, I am even more impressed with what Baroness Thatcher dealt with on her rise to being Prime Minister as well as when she was PM. I am fairly confident that she would likely be horrified about the concept of 'International Women's Day' based on everything I have read about her.

Here's my beef with days like 'International Women's Day', 'Mother's Day' or whatever the current trend in social media with 'World Chocolate Day' (sorry, darling):

"How about trying to celebrate the things that matter to you everyday (like your mother for example)? Why do you need Facebook, Hallmark, Twitter, etc. to celebrate these things?"

I'd really like to see a day when we don't need to celebrate 'International Women's Day'. How about just celebrating meaningful contributions from everyone? Or treating all leaders the same, regardless of their gender. 

I am not naive. Prejudice exists. Just look at the Ellen Pao suit against Kleiner Perkins. Be aggressive but don't be forceful and a bunch of other contradictory sexist crap. But women would be better served if all sexes were treated equally and we didn't need a call out for a specific day (IWD). If a person accomplishes something great, celebrate them. If a person commits a horrible offense against society (President Christina Kirchner of Argentina), prosecute them. 

With respect to President Kirchner, everything that I have read about her and the situation currently dominating news in Argentina has been anything but complimentary. Yes, she is a woman but my hope that as an elected official in a "democracy" that she is treated in the same way as a man. Almost everyone in Argentina suspects something very nefarious is involved with the death of Alberto Nisman and that she had something to do with it. And sadly, everyone we talked to in Argentina doesn't think the real truth will come out with respect to the entire history related to the bombing that Nisman was investigating. This is why I continue to be thankful to be American.

[Rant over.]

By the way, we did take some notes on wine tasting. I'll post those and notes on other books read over the course of the trip in a few days.