Cosmo Tries to Have it All

Cosmopolitan Magazine, Cosmo to you an me, has been around since 1886. They were not publishing articles on mind-blowing orgasms back then, in part because women weren’t allowed to have orgasms until the 1960’s. Also, the magazine started out as a family magazine and it was 1886 for heaven’s sake. In the 1960’s Cosmo became a the type of women’s magazine we are familiar with today, although a bit heavier on sex talk than say Ladies Home Journal. Editor Helen Gurley Brown, author of Sex and the Single Girl and women’s advocate, presented a format geared toward modern woman that discussed sex frankly and “gave permission” for women to enjoy it. It was pretty radical.

On the table at the library today, someone had left this month’s Cosmopolitan magazine. Ariana Grande was the sweet young thing on the cover alongside headlines promising better sex. Prurient to a point, but no longer radical. Still, for the first time since I was a teenager shyly opening a copy to see exactly what was this blowjob thing the kids were talking about at school, I leafed through an issue.

Cosmo’s current mission (per their website) is “to empower young women to know who they are and be who they want to be, [Cosmo is]focused on propelling her into her fun, fearless future. No excuses, no bull@%, no regrets.” What this statement says to me is how hard it is to write a mission statement.

The tone of the mission statement seems a bit in-your-face, but the actual magazine just wants to be your all-knowing friend. Written like scholarly text message (meaning full, but very short sentences each loaded with cool slang and so much hipness) there is something to do, learn, or wear on every page. It’s about action. Buy this. Wear this. Say this. Etc.

Cosmo is the young woman’s how-to guide to being empowered, and the path Cosmo recommends is very consumer-oriented. The very few articles and features that aren’t about buying things aren’t very deep. A single page with 4 (really not great) tips on how to get the job you want competes with a multipage spread on wearing denim. A single page of books to read (all seemingly picked because their covers were colorful) competes with a multi-page spread on have a Rad Hair Day! Fun and Fearless for sure. Empowering?

There’s still plenty of sex talk. The article “101 Hot Sex Moves” featured in bold letters on the cover still has that titillating pull for young women, and their boyfriends…and girlfriends. In keeping with their progressive nature, Cosmo doesn’t shy away from lesbian relationships. Actually, the sex stuff is still the most interesting part of the magazine and it’s not even in the mission statement.

I enjoyed the brief, low energy article telling women that even if they aren’t in a relationship, they should be working on the skills to maintain their next one. The article gives four tips: 1) Say what you think, 2) Recall the little things (like someone’s favorite pizza topping!), 3) Stick it out through tough times, and 4) Dare to be vulnerable (Aw!).

Funny to me that the magazine calling for women’s empowerment still makes time to tell her to act vulnerable. Helen Gurley Brown’s work is not finished.

Tequila

My first experience with tequila came pretty early in my drinking career. My second experience was delayed for several years.

We had a lot of fun that night, until the cops rounded us up and told us to go home. We weren’t hurting anybody or anything, but we were loud and walking through a residential neighborhood late at night. I remember being barefoot. I remember a terrible hangover. I remember not being able to even smell tequila much less drink it for a long time.

Everybody who drinks knows the mythology of tequila, mostly that it makes those who drink it crazy. More tequila stories have the words “bad decision” in them then any other kind of liquor. Songs are written about it, from the 1950 instrumental “Tequila”, to The Eagles sweet “Tequila Sunrise”, to Joe Nichols singing “Tequila Makes Her Clothes Fall Off.” When Jimmy Buffet tells us he’s got booze in the blender, he’s talking about tequila, for sure. Tequila leaves a mark.

The ritual of drinking a shot of tequila is part of the draw. No other shot is so dramatic. One. Two. Three. Quick lick the salt off your hand, chug the shot, suck the lime, slam down your glass. Laugh like a maniac. You’re drunk. And no, you can’t fly.

Most people get who aren’t looking to get totally wasted, but want to enjoy an adult beverage, get their tequila in Mexican restaurants via the house margarita, frozen or on the rocks, with salt or without, but always a miraculous shade of radiation green. I’ve had great and lousy margaritas. The great ones come when I ask the bartender to make me a margarita from scratch and I choose what kind of tequila to use. When the drink comes out of the slushy machine, they are usually fine, but I worry that I’m going to get an over-sweet, under-tequila-d drink. I have a fix, though. If I get a margarita that tastes too sweet, I order a side shot of tequila to pour in. It takes away some of the sweet taste and gives me a nice buzz. I’ve heard it makes me more flirtatious with the waiters. Whatever.

Over the past couple of years, entrepreneurs have been trying to make tequila more respectable and less the party animal of the liquor shelf. A larger variety of tequila cocktails is available, and there is a push for drinking tequila on the rocks and sipping it as one does with Bourbon or Scotch. The push is for people to drink 100% agave tequila, therefore higher quality tequila.

Generally, Mexican restaurant margaritas and bar shot tequila use cheaper tequila, known as Mixtos, with less than 51% agave and diluted with sugarcane and corn distillates. If you drink that on the rocks, it will not be smooth. Harsh is the word is the word, and that’s why it can be used in easily in margaritas where the flavor is masked by sugar, or in bar shots where the flavor is masked by naïveté.

100% agave tequilas are drinkable from the bottle. Unlike Bourbon and Scotch which can age for more than a decade, extra aged tequilas are ready in 3 years. The longer a tequila is aged, the smoother and more complex the flavors can become. An unaged white (blanco) tequila will taste harsh compared to an older tequila, but still taste better than Mixtos.

I’m personally a fan of Reposado tequila which is aged about two months. Reposados can be dark or light in color depending on the type of wood it was aged in. It sounds cool when I order it. Looking cool while I have my one Reposado on the rocks has totally replaced looking cool while downing tequila shots. Age has made me smoother and more complex, as well

Dude, No Ranch For Me

Ranch dressing is everywhere and loved by nearly everyone. It’s a tough time to be alive if you’re not a fan of Ranch dressing. I know this for a fact, because I’m not a fan of Ranch dressing.

Sometimes saying that out loud is exhilarating because I’m standing up for individuality in salad dressing choice. But sometimes it’s as shameful as “Hi. I’m Alana, and I have been Ranch dressing sober for 20 years.” In a country where Ranch dressing is the de facto dressing of choice, my lack of embrace for Ranch is a social flaw.

Ranch dressing started humbly enough being served at the Hidden Valley “dude” Ranch in Santa Barbara in the late 1950’s where people loved it enough that the owner’s started selling it either as a packet of dry ingredients to be mixed at home, or as a finished, refrigerated salad dressing. The product was only available regionally near the ranch until the early 1970s where it was bought out by the Clorox company, who still owns the Hidden Valley Ranch name. The big conglomerate take over is where, in my opinion, things went awry.

Clorox reformulated the recipe the dry mix to make it more convenient for home cooks where they could now substitute regular milk for the traditional buttermilk. They also reformulated the recipe for bottles of dressing for shelf-life, making a product that did not require refrigeration. They made Ranch a technological new-age dressing that has been America’s number selling dressing since 1992, over-taking the worthy adversary of Italian.

Ranch dressing, I can admit, can be pretty good…if it’s made the way it’s intended with buttermilk and mayonnaise as the base for traditional herbs and spices like parsley, onion, and dill. Find a restaurant that makes their own Ranch (like Arnold’s here in Cincinnati) and you will be wowed. That’s why Ranch became popular in the first place.

Most Ranch isn’t made with care, it’s made with science, formulated like so much of our modern mass-produced food to feel good in our mouths and taste like we want to put more in. People pour Ranch dressing on everything from pizza to burgers. Ranch flavor is on every snack food and you can dip every Ranch snack and anything else into the Ranch dips. I’ve seen people pour so much Ranch on salads I want to hand them a spoon to enable their desire. There is a genuine out-pouring (if you will) love for Ranch dressing that is truly inspired.

So many people eat Ranch and all its iterations automatically, literally without thinking, I believe it is the opiate of the people. Possibly (well, I think probably), we can trace all our national woes to the rise of Ranch dressing or Ranch flavoring. #RanchConspiracy

Ranch flavor, which is what delicious real Ranch dressing has been reduced to, does not work for me even though it is every where I look. Ranch flavor is ubiquitous in our food choices. You can even buy pizza flavored or taco flavored Ranch. That is to say, the flavor of Ranch is so popular, it is now recognized as something to be treated as its own thing which is therefore eligible to have flavor added to it. The flavor we’ve created is Pizza-Flavored Ranch Flavor. I don’t even know what that means, but it’s popular with the kids so it must be good, right.

I’m not getting on board the Ranch train. When the waiter says the salad comes with Ranch, or the pizza is drizzled with Ranch, or the dipping sauce is Ranch, I get a little testy. All of these Ranch-taste experiences or sensations (as the ads like to say) taste fake to me and I’m not going to support it. Blue Cheese, Thousand, Italian or some snazzy vinaigrette, I’ll take anything over Ranch. So there!

Mostly though, I’m mad at Ranch dressing because it has so overwhelmed the dressing sector at the grocery and on restaurant menus, that my favorite salad dressing has been reduced to a retro-memory. For my money, I’d rather snuggle up with a salad topped with Green Goddess than stupid shelf-stable Ranch dressing any day.

I Am Not A Cellphone

Oh millennials. You, by-and-large, are my favorite chunk of people on the planet right now. You’re smart, and energetic, socially conscious and inclusive. Not all of you, of course. Some of you are as schmucky as anyone in any generation. But this is about a prime fault of the millennial generation: You are terrible at making eye contact.

Eye contact is something a lot of non-psychologically impaired people take for granted.We’re looking at each other all the time. In a conversation, maintaining eye contact shows the other person you are interested and paying attention. Good eye contact not only gives information, it is a significant key to use in sizing up the person who you are talking to. Even when just in walking past someone, making eye contact is a non-verbal cue that shows the other person you know they are alive.

Any eye contact seems to be alarmingly difficult for millennials. When I meet the eyes of millennials for anything longer than a milli-second I can see their brain figuring out what to do next. What they tend to do is look down and away and keep moving. It’s super charming.

Here’s what brought this on: The other day I came home and was opening my apartment door to head inside, when I noticed the door next to mine opening. I turned around to say “hi” to my neighbor, but it wasn’t one of the guys, it was one of their girl friends. I saw her look at me and as I was saying “hi”, she was literally shutting the door. In my face. OMG Millennial Girl! You are killing me!

“Hello” or “Hey” or “How’s it going” said in passing is not an invitation to get into a big conversation. It’s a nicety. It says I see you, I’m aware of your presence, and, I mean you no harm. It’s a social convention.

When I’m greeting people who appear to be millennial-aged, I get the 1, 2 punch of a quick glance and a quicker look away…and I guess I’m lucky they don’t carry around doors because I know how that turns out. These are people not looking at their phones, who appear not to be ear-budded (I have given up on social pleasantries for anyone, of any age who’s immersed in technology). Not being physically plugged in should open the possibility for being spiritually plugged in, so to speak, as in being aware of your spatial surroundings. Shouldn’t it?

Speaking of technology, studies are showing it’s the screen time and the impersonal nature of “communicating” with a screen that is adversely impacting the personal (i.e. In Person) nature of communicating.

Millennials, for a group of strong and independent people, your cell phones and computers have a stranglehold on how you interact in the real world.

I don’t want people to stare at me the way they stare at their cell phones. That would be creepy. But I do want them to glance at me in a similar way they quick check their screen for the time or for new messages and give me a sign of recognition. A nod of the head would be great. A non committal grunt is a decent attempt. An insincere “S’up?” or similar word-type sound would be wonderful. For everyone. Work on it!

MOOC

I am having a go at paying for a Massive Online Learning Course, a MOOC. MOOCs, which is just a great word to say out loud, are on-line classes available for free to take, but with a fee if you want to earn a certificate that looks cool on a resume. The classes attract students from around world.

I’ve taken classes before, mostly just to learn something new. In those cases there wasn’t anything at stake. I watched the videos, read the suggested articles, participated in the on-line discussion forums, and took the test to prove to myself I was getting informed. This is a typical format for on-line courses. I took a course on Global Health (because, why not) a couple of years ago. It was free and had a short commitment, 4 or 5 weeks, a couple hours each week. That particular MOOC had very dynamic discussion forums, including providers and policy makers from around the world. That kind of access is one of the draws of a MOOC.

The course I’m taking now is Accounting: Principles of Financial Accounting. I’m paying for it so I get a certificate that I can attach to my resume. There are 5 courses under this title, but I’m just taking the first one which focuses on how to build and read a basic balance sheet. And that will be all the Accounting knowledge I’m willing to put in this brain of mine at this time.

Since I whipped out my credit card for enrollment, I feel like I have an obligation to get my money’s worth. Turns out, I have residual highschool fears of accounting. Those fears came raging back right about 5 minutes in, at the very first formula: A = L + OE [Allow me to show off: Assets = Liabilities + Owner Equity…Thank you].While accounting still makes me cringe, I’m now alone with my feelings because I’m alone in my physical space. Now, I can weep silently without embarrassment.

Also, I don’t have the distractions of having a crush on the smart boy in the corner (I’ve been derailed there before) because if there’s any boy in the corner I’ll be calling the police. The privacy means that once I’m done over-reacting, I can get right back down to the principles of accounting.

The beauty of taking a course outside my box, is that I can do it relatively at my own pace (though, there are hard due dates to gain a certificate). I can watch the videos over and over and read the material wherever and whenever I want. The way I gather knowledge has changed since my last brick and mortar school experience. Computer screens have killed my attention span, but also given me a new way to collect and organize the course data in ways that works specifically for me.

To gain the certificate, I have to watch the videos, read the material and take one quiz a week for four weeks and score 80% or higher. When I pulled up the first test, I was a bit nervous. I failed. Luckily, you get three chances to pass. In reviewing before the retake, all my “math” work was right, just needed to focus. I took a deep breath, retook, and got 100%.

Studies on MOOC’s suggest only a small number of people who start a course, finish it. Some of these course are proceed at your own pace, with no time-lines for completion. Starting something is easy, seeing it through and finishing it does take effort. There’s money at stake for me. That’s not exactly what they’re teaching me in this accounting course, but some financial (and life) lessons I already know.

Non-Fiction is Your Friend

Nobody who asks me for a book recommendation wants me to suggest a non-fiction book. It’s an unwritten rule of recommending books, that the person asking wants a work of fiction.

Readers want a basic book with a good story, obviously. But they often want one that’s not too tough to read, and preferably not too long. The request for a book recommendation isn’t a request for a challenging read, rather it is for an entertaining read. I read a great deal of non-fiction and would like to convince people that non-fiction can be every bit as entertaining and absorbing as any work of fiction.

I base my theory on one simple argument: A bad book is a bad book, therefore, a good book is a good book. That’s it. Fiction or non-fiction, there are poorly written books, terrible plots/structure and uncompelling characters or events. Non-fiction may be more prone to being a bit technical, but both fiction or non-fiction can be dry, wearisome, or boring. Both genres can definitely wade off into sleep inducing areas. If you want to find tedious books, no genre can claim innocence.

Non-fiction has almost as vast a number of sub-genres as does fiction, so there is something for everyone. You can choose from memoirs, self-help, current events, true crime, and commentary, to name a few. If you’re interested in someone or something, there’s a book about it. A great way to start with non-fiction is to read a memoir or biography about your favorite movie star or athlete. Some of these are really good. From there you can branch out.

If you read only fiction, consider a non-fiction title for your next book. Here are eight easy tips for the non non-fiction reader to try it out.

1. Don’t let the size of a book scare you away. Before you don’t pick up a book because it’s too thick, remember a lot of non-fiction books come with footnotes/endnotes/appendixes which count as pages, but not necessarily pages you have to read. I’ve definitely picked up books with over 100 pages in added material.

2. Memoirs are a great introduction to the real world.

a. As noted, a memoir about someone you’re familiar should be a painless way to get started. If you find the memoir, “okay” but not great, try someone else.

b. Find a memoir about a person’s who’s written about something you’re going through. When my Dad was diagnosed with lung cancer and for a couple months after his death, I picked up a couple of books written by very eloquent writers that gave me some good insight. Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking was a good one. The book covers the year after her husband’s unexpected death and how she dealt with it. Not be callous, but if you’ve got a problem or a medical condition, or are dealing with tough stuff in your own life, someone has probably already written a book about a similar situation.

i. Btw, this is why I read both fiction and non-fiction, because I could mix Joan Didion and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl…heavy and light, if not in subject matter, at least in tone.

c. Finding memoirs doesn’t have to be deep. If you like to cook, find a memoir from a chef (Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential is a classic or try Julia and Julie, by Julie Powell). If you like to travel, or sing, or bird watch, or whatever, you’ll find a memoir.

d. Find any memoir that has “my year of” or “my year in” in the title or subtitle, especially if the thing the author spent a year doing catches your fancy. By focusing on just one year, the book is automatically structured to keep from being overwhelming.

3. Can’t get enough of crime on the news? Choose from like a million true crime books. Start with a crime you know, that work your way through the lurid catalog of human behavior.

4. Can’t get enough of the news on the news? Choose from hundreds of current events books for a deeper dive into stories you think might be interesting. I guarantee, if you read books about current events, the way you listen to or read your daily news will change.

5. Find a topic you like…find a book about it. Google your topic + books and behold the power and breadth of non-fiction.

6. Find a thin book about a subject you can’t believe there’s a book about it. I unexpectedly found, picked up, read, and enjoyed Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle by Thor Hanson.* I never expected to find, much less read or enjoy a book about feathers, but there you have it. A good writer with passion for his or her subject makes all the difference in the world. I’ve read pretty good books about screws, pigeons, beer, flowers, horse breeding, monarch butterflies, traffic, taxidermy…and many more. These aren’t science books, they are stories about these things and their place in the world. All surprising, informative, and interesting.

7. Let the subtitle be your guide. Subtitles are actually put there to sell you the book and will give you a lot of insight as to where the book is going to take you.

I’ve saved the easiest entry to non-fiction for last.

8. Self-help books, including how-to books, and management books count as non-fiction. Sometimes these books are “assigned” to us by well-meaning friends and bosses, but the rules of non-fiction apply. Find something you want to do or learn, and read the book.

Don’t be scared of non-fiction. Let the occasional true story live peaceably along side of your fiction reading.

*In fact, I just looked up the page count and am surprised it clocks in at 363 in hardcover. I remember whizzing through the book, written with infectious enthusiasm by an ornithologist. So I went to the library and picked it up. It has 80 pages of endnotes.

Time

People always tell me they want to go see more movies and read more books. This comes up because my friends know that I go to see a lot of movies and read a lot of books and (this next part is a guess) they find these two pursuits interesting. And, doable. But most importantly, time consuming.

What people are telling me, I think, is they wish they had more time. The way we spend our days is a complex combination of choice, income, personal responsibilities, and personal well-being. We can’t have more time, obviously, but many people feel trapped by the time they have.

What would happen if we chose better. If we didn’t have to constantly worry about paying bills. If there weren’t real demands on our time that we couldn’t ignore? What other activities would folks be pursuing if they had more unscheduled, un-busy time? What type of creativity and volunteer activity, and enrichment are we denying ourselves and each other?

Here’s a poem about time.

 

X Amount of Time

 

Numbers and measurements
Cold calculated
Based on the rotation of the earth
Kept with precision

Knowing what time it is
Greenwich Mean
Is not the same as the feeling of time

How fast or slow time goes
Is related, often inaccurately,
Through memories and emotions

Always falling through our grasp
As it ticks mechanically away