$5 Off at Poshmark

As much as I am a minimalist, I love to buy things. Recently, I read Mari Kondo’s books The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy. While I can’t say that either book changed my life, they were thoughtful reminders that I have too much stuff. Even when I don’t have a lot of stuff, I still have too much. So I embarked on a tidying spree.

That yielded piles of stuff. The piles fell into 4 big categories:

  1. Stuff I really wanted to keep.
  2. Trash.
  3. Stuff that was brand (or nearly) new and that I regretted buying.
  4. Stuff that was used that I didn’t want, but still had some useful life.

I kept streamlining and cleaned out my attic, my closet, my basement, my car, the airstream, my kitchen, and next, I will tackle my office.

  1. The stuff I wanted to keep now has a comfy home.
  2. The trash is gone.
  3. The stuff I didn’t want, I donated to friends or organizations that can use it.
  4. The brand new stuff… is sitting around. Kondo doesn’t really tell you what to do with it, because it’s not serving me, but is way too good to toss.

So, enter Poshmark.

My friend mentioned it in passing to me one day recently, and I was intrigued. I hate selling things to people (because it involves, well, people.) But Poshmark is a great way to unload some decent stuff, easily, and recoup some of your bad decision-making losses. It’s easier than eBay (which I H A T E), and it’s a friendly site with a lot of energy. When you have a moment, check it out: <https://bnc.lt/focc/i2QTSMkC6H>. Use the code: ALEXBITTERMAN to get $5 off your first order! Just in time for the holidays!

Two Border Cities Share Russian History — and a Sharp European Divide

Where one world ends and another begins.

I had the good fortune to visit Narva/Ivangorod this past summer, and I was struck at its similarity to Buffalo/Fort Erie in terms of being an international border divided by a narrow waterway connected by a bridge. One can even walk under the bridge along a pedestrian promenade on one side (Narva and Buffalo, in these instances) but not on the other side.

From The New York Times and definitely worth a read:

While attached to Russia by ethnicity and emotion, residents of Narva, Estonia, say they would never actually want to live there.

Source: Two Border Cities Share Russian History — and a Sharp European Divide

Overnight in Walmart Parking Lots: Silence, Solace and Refuge

Walmart’s practice of letting people populate many of its parking lots has made the retail giant’s stores a reliable destination and a place where an informal culture emerges before and after dark.

Source: Overnight in Walmart Parking Lots: Silence, Solace and Refuge

The Long, Lonely Quest to Breed the Ultimate Avocado

Everyone who knows me knows that I love avocados. I had never eaten an avocado until I was nearly 30, and now I simply can’t get enough of them. Until I read this article, I didn’t know much about Haas avocados, but I knew they seemed superior to the larger, greener variety. 

This fascinating story first appeared in Wired, check it out and weigh in with your avocado stories in the comments below.

I love my rice cooker

I’m not a huge fan of rice. I don’t mind it, but it’s carb-y and always seems like a lot of extra calories to me. But, about two years ago, I bought an Aroma electric rice cooker which became one of my very favourite kitchen appliances of all time. The rice cooker steams veggies beautifully and makes perfect quinoa and rice every time. I even learned to make an omelette in it, and posted about it some time ago.

My favourite recipe (that I make all the time) is quinoa with pesto or sauce. It’s so easy:

100g quinoa 1 cup

60ml water 1/4 cup

190g pesto 7 oz

Whatever sautéed vegetables I have on hand (mushrooms, onions, peppers, shallots, etc.) I just dump them in right at the beginning.

Whatever vegetable scraps I have on hand go in the steamer (broccoli, carrots, etc.)

Set to “white rice” and when it’s done, mix the veggies with the cooked quinoa and a spoonful of ricotta, season with freshly cracked salt and pepper and a tiny bit of chopped herbs (basil or whatever is around) or some shredded Parmesan.

It’s easy, delicious, comfort food that literally cooks itself. It’s also good leftover and cold. You can also substitute tomato paste or sauce (or even salsa) for the pesto. It’s all delicious.

Unfortunately, I was using the rice cooker the other night and noticed that the cord, where it attached to the back of the cooker had frayed, and lots of copper wiring was poking out of the back of the cooker. I emailed Aroma, and within a day had a very pleasant response. The Aroma folks—much to their credit—replaced the rice cooker and shipped it at their cost, along with a return label to replace the defective cooker. They even sent a coupon for a free 5lb bag of rice.

Outstanding customer service, speedy reply, and they stand behind their product. Two thumbs up to Aroma and a strong endorsement from me! So if you’re looking for a good Christmas gift for someone, consider picking up an Aroma rice cooker. They are outstanding.

The benefits of looking old

When I was a young person, I assumed that growing older was a gentle gradation between being young and old and that the time in between would seem like an eternity.  

A better analogy is that it’s more like a circuit breaker. You’re young and for some mysterious reason, the switch flips and you’re old. It seems, there is no in between. 

When I was younger I also assumed that getting old would suck. I was wrong about that too. The older I become the more amazed I am about life and the more I recognize that it’s an amazing and wonderous gift. Other old people seem to share this perspective. 

You’re young for a reasonably short time. During that period, you spend a lot of time figuring things out. The novelty of life is not lost on the young. When you become visibly older (read: grey and/or wrinkled and/or bald and/or hopelessly out of fashion) you join a global club of other old people and it doesn’t matter your age. You could be 44 or 104 — you belong simply because you’re not young. 

And that’s awesome. 

When I was younger, I spent countless hours trying to find other similar people and together we discussed all the amazing things we wanted to do. Aspiration was a currency and optimism was inexpensive. 

In the club of the old, it’s incredibly easy to strike up a conversation* with anyone in the club and talk about all of the amazing things we have already accomplished and the many opportunities that still lie ahead. Aspirations change and gratitude and wonder become plentiful. 

Growing older also brings with it a few peculiarities. The hot young person you met and started dating in your 20s and now that you’re in your 50s, your perception and appreciation shifts. They are still beautiful but in ways that you never expected. 

It’s amazing to see how quickly your close friends get wrinkly and turn grey. In the eternal words of Dorothy Zbornak: “I looked in my rear view mirror and there was some old woman staring back at me.” Then you realize, you’re getting wrinkly and grey just as fast. When you’re young, you’re physically beautiful without trying (though too few of us believe it at the time.) When you’re old, your beauty deepens, but this time you’re somewhat more aware of it.

Considering that I am firmly anhored in both worlds of old and young, it’s amazing to me how much easier it is to be old than it is to be young. My advice to the young folks out there is simple: dream big because you only get one shot. When it comes time for you to join the old club, you’ll realize that all the worry and strife are wanton. Spend your time investing in yourself. And don’t stop. 

(*And, for those of you that know me, you know that I’m not much of a conversationalist, so it is indeed much easier.)

Winter in the North

A few years ago, I was traveling around Scandiland (that’s what I call Scandinavia) and was interested to find that unlike North America, cold weather didn’t shut the cities down or push life indoors for several months of sequestered living. Instead, our Nordic neighbors embrace the cold weather and dark days in a way that is significantly different from our practices in North America. I’ve often thought about writing a book that features cultural comparisons, but for some reason, I just haven’t.

The notion of cozy, warm, inviting is associated with the Danish concept of hygge. The idea is that hygge (pronounced in a way that North Americans and most other Europeans could never understand but generally in line with HOO-g’ where the end of the word is significantly truncated by turning down the volume of your voice so that it becomes audible only to dogs) warms the dark and cold months and creates a welcoming atmosphere regardless of the miserable conditions outdoors. The Danes take great pride in this notion, perhaps because as a national people, they are among the most aloof and coldest hearted people on earth (and no, I don’t say that lightly or mildly). Like so many things Danish, the Danes are good at exporting and propagating the idea, but short on meaning and actual delivery. Lately, it seems that hygge is everywhere in North America, more as a means to market lap blankets and candles than a cultural phenomenon, and perhaps (given its spurious nature), rightfully so.

Over the years, I have have come to explore this same notion of cosy, warmth in many northern countries—Sweden, Finland, Iceland, Latvia, and Estonia. Each country has a slightly different cultural spin on the idea, and from my experience, each does with more authenticity and meaning.

To understand the entire concept, it is necessary to have a basic understanding of weather, because ultimately, weather shapes who and where we wound up settling on this planet. In both the North and South hemisphere, there are four broad climactic zones: polar, temperate, tropic, and equatorial. Most of the North America resides in the temperate and tropic zones. The temperate zone is marked by four distinct seasons, a day/night cycle of light and dark in relatively equal shares over a 24-hour period, and a temperate that peaks just after mid-day and cools overnight. Tropic and equatorial zones are typically warm (or just plain hot) year round, have a much shorter sunrise and sunset cycle and a less hyperbolic shift in temperature between day and night relative to temperate zones. Polar zones, however are different. Rather than an equal share of light and dark over a 24-hour period, light and dark is precisely better charted over a 365-day period. Temperatures in polar zones typically do not cycle in a 24-hour period, but a 36-to-48 hour period. Though it is somewhat more complicated, the extremes relative to time and temperature are simply more extreme at the poles. While residents in the temperate zones can bank on colder nights and some warm relief during the day, our polar residents can’t expect that same regularity. Sometimes the temperature doesn’t warm up for days, and then, only slightly.

A relatively small portion of folks live in these more extreme regions. Simple survival skills have, over the centuries, persisted which bring not only comfort but also joy to those living in the somewhat less hospitable Northern climates. As technology has evolved, the necessity and significance of these practices of cultural survival have mutated and have become cultural constants though the evolutionary necessity of the practices may no longer be as necessary as centuries ago.

As Northern communities evolved, the notion of commune spelled for most the difference between survival and the bitter end. Unforgiving land was frozen for the better part of the year, and under the cover of darkness, food was scarce and difficult to sustain throughout the harsh conditions. Stockpiling and sharing became enmeshed in the culture of Northern communities. So to did the physical act best described as nesting. A short journey to a neighboring village becomes much longer and arduous in extreme conditions. Rest before and after the journey was necessary under warm blankets to prevent hypothermia and frostbite. The presence of light — particularly candlelight — provided a sense of security. Imagine walking 10 miles to a neighboring village in sub zero temperatures only to return, nearly frozen. You snuggle up under a blanket into a deep and cold sleep only to wake 30 hours later in a pitch black room wondering if you are dead or alive. The candle, which could burn for days, was a reassuring beacon that you were still alive in the dark, still, and quiet of the 6-month night.

The somewhat more dire cultural practices have transcended time and now translate into a peculiar but reassuring melange of cultural practices across the North countries and climates. Lap blankets—foreign to most North Americans—are a quaint curiosity at most restaurants, cafes, and homes across the North. Often placed in glass jars to buffet the harsh and persistent winds, candles are seemingly everywhere, indoors and out. The artificial light making up for the absent sun. Warmth is abundant. Soft textiles and surfaces provide a counterbalance to the harsh climactic extremes.

While we can certainly celebrate the notion of nesting, comfort, warmth, and light, it is easy to take for granted in our have-it-all society. We should, while relishing these comforts, keep in mind a reverence of its life-giving (and life-saving) presence in the lives of the ancestors that preceded us for many centuries.

BBC – Capital – The new, subtle ways the rich signal their wealth

As luxury goods become more accessible, the educated elite are changing how they mark their social position – not with luxury goods, but with less obvious status symbols

Source: BBC – Capital – The new, subtle ways the rich signal their wealth

Lowe’s Dropped the Ball #Lowessucks

What an ordeal.

We needed to buy a dishwasher because our old one is shot. So, as I do, I checked the Consumer Reports listing and surveyed the top five models. Oddly, after determining what we wanted, we struggled with where we wanted to buy it… all of the local appliance dealerships have closed or gone out of business. That left the national big box chains. Sears is closed in this area, so the field narrows to Home Depot, Best Buy, and Lowe’s. Not a lot of great options…so we chose what we thought would be the lesser of three evils, Lowe’s.

What a colossal mistake.

About three weeks ago (on October 6th), we visited our local Lowe’s. We spent about a half hour looking at dishwashers, and then about an hour trying to find an associate to assist us. After finding one, he struggled to complete the order. Asking only for my phone number, he printed a bunch of documents and oddly, presented me with a 7-page document listing my phone number and the name, mailing address, and other details for a customer in Florida. A bit disturbing to say the least. After re-processing and re-printing another three times, an hour and a half later, we had purchased a dishwasher which was slated to be delivered and installed on October 20. We were told to call on the 11th, and that if the dishwasher was received early, that they would be able to install it early.

So, on the 11th, I called. I spent about 3 hours on the phone being shuttled to different departments. No one could find the order, then it was found and discovered that the order for the dishwasher was never placed, so there was no hope for an early delivery.

Then, I noticed something strange. In the “MyLowes” app that I had used while we were in store to look through reviews of the dishwasher, all of the customer reviews had changed from five star raves to one star nightmare stories about botched installations, leaked, and other disasters. And I’m not talking about a handful of reviews, I’m talking about hundreds of reviews from all over the country. Was I living in The Twilight Zone? When I was standing in Lowes, (using their WiFi), weren’t the reviews consistently stellar? So, I turned to Consumer Reports again. Oddly, I found that the model number dishwasher that we had selected had two model numbers: one for the Lowe’s version and one for the rest of the world. It turns out that Bosch manufactures a lower quality version with slightly different features for Lowe’s than you would buy at another retailer. This bait and switch is confusing: the model number is exactly the same, but the door construction is completely different. The sprayer mechanism inside is completely different. The hose hook up is completely different.

Despite this, and despite being told that Lowe’s would call 36-72 hours out to schedule an installation, no one ever called. So yesterday, I spent four hours on the phone trying to find out the status of my purchase and whether or not it would be installed today.

Spoiler Alert: It wasn’t installed today.

The complete breakdown of customer service is astonishing and bewildering to me. Though I spoke with nine different customer service representatives from Lowe’s over the past two days (including my local store manager, Ted, and a representative from the executive office), I never once received an apology for my wasted time, the bungled order, or frustration. Not once did any one of the representatives try to reschedule or fix the many issues with this order. Instead, one Lowe’s representative after another passed the buck and passed the blame to another department or the “installer” or the “warehouse.” This lack of accountability and complete absence of basic customer service left me stunned. I cancelled my order and will find another retailer with which to conduct business.

In the meanwhile, Lowe’s has lost a customer. What has your experience with Lowe’s been? Is this an isolated incident of botched customer service or part of the way that Lowe’s does business?