Amazon Take Your Parents to Work Day

A couple of years ago Amazon hosted a “Take Your Parents to Work” day here at HQ in Seattle. They expected no more than a few hundred participants. Instead, 5000 parents and grandparents showed up, including people who traveled all the way from India to see where their son or daughter worked. I went to the first one, and I must say I loved it. I got to meet Sara’s team, see her work space, and in general poke around areas of Amazon usually closed to non-employees. I got a free banana at the banana stand that Amazon operates in the middle of its urban campus, not just for this event but all the time. Actually, anyone can walk up and request a banana. I got a goodie bag of Amazon branded things to take home. And Amazon generated a ton of good will.

Last year Sara was out of town, and so I missed the event. But it’s on again for this year, and Sara expects to be here. We’ re already signed up. 🙂

Age of Obesity

We’re fatter now that our forebears used to be, and apparently that’s true in the UK too. The Guardian of London ran an interesting piece looking at the causes:

“So what has happened? The light begins to dawn when you look at the nutrition figures in more detail. Yes, we ate more in 1976, but differently. Today, we buy half as much fresh milk per person, but five times more yoghurt, three times more ice cream and – wait for it – 39 times as many dairy desserts. We buy half as many eggs as in 1976, but a third more breakfast cereals and twice the cereal snacks; half the total potatoes, but three times the crisps. While our direct purchases of sugar have sharply declined, the sugar we consume in drinks and confectionery is likely to have rocketed (there are purchase numbers only from 1992, at which point they were rising rapidly. Perhaps, as we consumed just 9kcal a day in the form of drinks in 1976, no one thought the numbers were worth collecting.) In other words, the opportunities to load our food with sugar have boomed. As some experts have long proposed, this seems to be the issue.”

This article is about the UK, but I imagine the findings apply here too. We aren’t actually eating more, or exercising less. It’s what we eat that has made such a difference.

Memo to self: eat a small serving of potatoes for supper, not a bag of potato chips. Drink a glass of skim milk, rather than eating a cup of full fat yogurt with lots of sugar added to relieve the tartness. Have two eggs for breakfast, not a bowl of cereal. Snack on fruit, not cereal bars.

I can do this.

Getting to Know Seattle: Smoky August

We actually don’t have wildfires in or near Seattle, but due to some kind of air inversion we do suffer the smoky effects of wildfires in eastern Washington state and British Columbia. Right now our air quality is apparently worse than Beijing, which is saying something. I’m not having respiratory issues, which is great. But our gorgeous Seattle mountain views are entirely obscured.

Light-Fingered Lunch Ladies

Nobody pays attention to the lunch ladies in the school cafeteria, a low skilled job with fewer hours offered than most people need to make a living. Lunch ladies, who tend to be older women, are more or less invisible. Ah, the opportunity…

Enter the lunch ladies of New Canaan, Connecticut — 61 and 67 year old sisters, who are accused of having spirited away nearly half a million dollars  over four years from lunch money handed over by the kids. The ladies were unmasked when a new software program was installed to track daily cash receipts in the middle school and high school. To be fair, at this point the sisters are merely accused of wrongdoing. They haven’t been tried and convicted yet.

The New Canaan lunch ladies join a long list of successful scammers that nobody thought important enough to watch, or were assumed to be people who’d never steal. In 1996 the treasurer for the national Episcopal Church stole 1.5M right out from under everyone’s eyes, and it apparently wasn’t all that hard. Since then, a long list of clergy, administrative people, and ordinary churchgoers involved in the Sunday collection have been nailed as a result of greater scrutiny. “But who would steal from the church?”, people sometimes ask. Turns out a lot of people, if given the opportunity. Ditto for stealing children’s lunch money.

The half million bucks is apparently gone, and all because nobody was looking.

Dollar General: A Devil’s Bargain

Dollar General stores, which sell items as diverse as food and clothing and household cleaners and tools at rock bottom prices are moving like a juggernaut into rural American and into devastated inner cities. Dollar General, says its CEO, goes where even Walmart doesn’t.

The problem is that Dollar General wipes out what local businesses might remain in these economically challenged communities. And, they offer a different kind of product, one that has a long shelf life and can be bought in bulk. Heirloom tomatoes, fresh sweet corn, meat from locally grown animals … things like that don’t make the cut.

Not everything is to be had for a dollar, but rarely is anything priced above $10. But there is a cost. Dollar General’s aggressive pricing drives locally owned grocery stores out of business, replacing shelves stocked with fresh fruit, vegetables and meat with the kinds of processed foods underpinning the country’s obesity and diabetes crisis.”

Occasionally a town, like Buhler, Kansas, turns down the subsidies required to bring a Dollar General store to town, and the local grocery gets a reprieve. But Dollar General is steamrolling ahead, constantly finding welcoming  communities.

I think of Bloomfield, Iowa, where my father went to high school. He actually lived in Mark, which is a tiny crossroads so small he had to rent a room in town for high school because the walk from the farm would have taken too long. Bloomfield is the county seat for Davis County. In the early years when we went to visit family in Iowa, “Saturday night” was a big deal. All the farmers came into town to buy supplies for the week. The men stood chatting and smoking on street corners while their wives went in and out of local merchants, stocking up. We kids played on the grass in the town square and ate ice cream. Years later, my Aunt Colleen mourned that “Saturday night no longer happens.” Most people were shopping at big box stores outside of town, and the local merchants failed. People stayed home to watch TV.

The last time I was in Bloomfield, some years ago, most of the store fronts were open. But it was arts and crafts shops, small galleries… things that would appeal to tourists. The Royal Cafe where my father worked his way through high school was long gone. So was Colleen and Louis’ “Graves the Great Barber Shop and Beauty Salon”, where Louis and Colleen Graves made their modest living. There were two chairs in the shop, one for men’s haircuts and one where Colleen gave tight perms using acrid chemicals that made my eyes water just being in the shop.

I’m sure there were once stores selling groceries, too, but no longer.

Walmart and Dollar General are a devil’s bargain for these rural communities, but we all know the old days when farmers gathered for Saturday night and bought from local merchants aren’t coming back.


I never watched The Apprentice. Apparently Omarosa had some sort of Mean Girl shtick that made people hate her character but love to watch her episodes. The she wound up in a White House job, apparently on the strength of saying nice things about Trump. Then she was out, and now she’s striking back.

My point in adding to the torrent of words around the vicious fight between Omarosa and Trump is not to analyze who’s right, or who’s sympathetic — nobody in this crowd is the slightest bit sympathetic.

My point is to say how tawdry Trump has made the presidency of the United States. Who are the Trump voters, that this kind of bottom feeding makes them feel as if he is their champion?

The gym I go to has various large screen TV’s around the workout floor, with closed caption dialogue. Usually most of the screens are turned to sports or CNN or MSNBC, but anyone can ask for a specific show to be put on. Someone near me asked for a reality TV channel where people were screaming at each other — Maury Povich, maybe. A mother and daughter were waving their fists at a man seated on the opposite couch, demanding he recognize the girl as his daughter. He was waving his arms back, shouting that it was all bunk and they were two crazy broads — all of this in closed caption of course. Tawdry. I watched for a minute or so before turning back to the smaller TV screen on my elliptical. During that minute the camera panned the big screen Maury audience, who were rapt. These are the Trump voters, I’d wager, for whom “tawdry” is the wrong word. Something about screaming chaos and bitter invective seems normal to them. Trump seems normal to them, and Omarosa.

Later at night Anderson Cooper had yet another segment on Omarosa, and I was little interested. I ducked outside to grill my dinner.

System Vulnerability

We assume that the systems that undergird our daily life, like airport security, are strong — at least until they are tested. As most of you by now know, a Sea-Tac employee walked up to a Horizon Airlines plane, started it up, and ran it down a runway into the air completely unimpeded. This happened while TSA screening inside the airport is driving most of us insane.

More recently, an 11 year old at a hacking convention took all of 10 minutes to break into a facsimile of a Florida election site and change the results.

I’m not sure, as individuals, what we do about all of this. Many of us lead much of our lives online: financial transactions, electronic medical records, social interactions. It’s hard to face the reality of how vulnerable we really are to someone or some group with bad intent, or even to some smart-ass 11 year old having fun.

“Amish Uber”

Well, it’s not exactly Uber because the Amish buggy driver you can flag down for a ride in the Amish community of Colon, Michigan, doesn’t work for Uber. There’s no app for his services, no online tracking of his arrival, no chance to pick the size car you want, no surge pricing to accept or decline. His horse drawn buggy is one vehicle, one size, and he doesn’t carry a smartphone. You flag him down along the roadway if you need a ride.

Driver Timothy Hochstedler is basically trading on Uber’s name recognition and the appeal of linking “Amish” and “Uber”. What he’s doing may not be legal — you can’t just appropriate the trade name of a larger business in order to save yourself the costs of building a brand on your own. But for right now, if you go to Colon, you can flag Timothy down and pay a flat $5 to get where you’re going.

Business apparently is booming.

Conscious Aging: Things I Love

I’ve written before about things I love, like my morning coffee: a blend of Peet’s Sumatra, full caffeine, and Peet’s decaf French roast. Like my late father, I make a pot in the morning and drink the whole thing while writing — he drank his before going to work, getting up early enough to read the paper and finish the pot. Given that consumption, I introduced half decaf to cut down on the amount of stimulant. My father added an unfiltered Camel cigarette or two or three to his morning read and his cups of strong black coffee. It probably wouldn’t surprise you to know he died of heart disease.

Another thing I love is late summer, like we’re having now. Temperatures are still quite hot in Seattle, and the early morning begins with a red sun rising through the haze. That will change dramatically come Labor Day, so I’m relishing each early morning when I leave the shades up just enough so that I can see that sun from my bed.

We have no humidity and no bugs other than bees, but no mosquitoes or biting flies or other things that bedeviled me in my recent visit to New Jersey. The heat builds during the day, so that the hottest part is from about 3pm until 7pm or so — not like the east coast where the heat crests between 11am and about 3pm. I can still take a shower and put on my light robe and sit out on the deck until around 9pm, reading and sipping mint tea.

Archie is finishing up summer camps; Else continues at day care, which runs through the summer. The pool at Matt and Amy’s is still open. Farmer’s Markets have wonderful produce, including a late variety strawberry that is just luscious. The tulips are gone, replaced by late season sunflowers in huge, glorious bunches. Locally made ice cream still features summer flavors, like blackberry.

Summer music festivals are over; the new symphony season has not yet begun. Fall clothes are coming out in stores, of course, have been since mid-July. But no one is wearing anything fall-ish: shorts and T-shirts and sandals prevail.

The beaches at Green Lake are packed; the lake water is probably as warm as it’s going to get all season. The middle of the lake is filled with kayakers and people standing on boards, paddling along.

Cruise season is still in full swing, although the end is in sight.

I’ll take any remaining days like this I can get. 🙂