Instant Pot, week one

We joined the Instant Pot revolution last Sunday. Here is a run-down of the recipes we’ve tried, in the order we tried them.

  1. Beef Stew. I deviated from the recipe by using a whole can of tomato paste, and by skipping the wine and parsnips. I also substituted chicken broth for beef broth. It turned out great and we’ll definitely make it again. Easiest beef stew ever. ✭✭✭✭✩
  2. Chicken Yum Yum. Obviously I used butter instead of ghee, because I am not a paleo-maniac. This ended up being a decent honey glazed chicken, served as suggested over roasted cauliflower. ✭✭✭✩✩
  3. Lemon Garlic Chicken. I didn’t read the recipe closely enough and dumped an entire bottle of lemon juice into the pot. So it turned out insanely lemon-y. I won’t make that mistake again!  ✭✭✭✩✩
  4. Mongolian Beef. So good…but very salty. Next time, I’ll use a lot less soy sauce and a lot more water. But the kids enjoyed it, so this one is a keeper. ✭✭✭✭✩

2016 Review

I am sure I am not alone in thinking that 2016 was a very strange year. Not much to report, but definitely looking forward to 2017.

Travel: We took family vacations to Vancouver BC in February, Santa Barbara and Disneyland in March, and Cannon Beach in September. I went to Hyderabad for work in June, followed by a week in Berlin (and one day in Luxembourg). And I went to Kennewick for work in October.

Disneyland, take 2

We went to Disneyland in May. This is our first trip with two kids, and second overall. Here are my notes from the first trip.

Hotel: We stayed at the Courtyard Marriott Theme Park Entrance, and I’d definitely stay there again. It was closer to the park entrance than the Disneyland Hotel, and at least $100/night cheaper. Our room had bunk beds for the kids and a separate bedroom. The waterpark was fabulous and I think James liked it more than Disneyland. The only downside I can think of: right at park opening time, the line to get through security was insanely long and disorganized. But you can work around this by using the Magic Hour benefit, or just leaving 30 minutes later.

Car: We had a beach day. We drove down to Laguna Beach and parked at the Montage Hotel. There is a public beach right behind the Montage Hotel that is incredible. Our original plan was to go to Newport Beach/Balboa Island, but I’m so glad we found this beach instead. It was perfect. I actually wish we’d stayed there longer, instead of trying to find other cooler places along the coast.

Food: We went to Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor! We also went to Pizza Press, In-N-Out, Canters Deli, and Great Mex (during our beach day). At the park, we had lunch with princesses at Ariel’s Grotto, and dinner with pirates at Blue Bayou. Blue Bayou was shockingly good, and both kids seemed to really enjoy it.

Booze: There is a Target less than one mile from the hotel, and the hotel had a decent sized refrigerator. Plenty of room for wine and booze amongst the restaurant leftovers!

Rides: This was kind of a weird trip from a ride perspective. We definitely went on rides, but I feel like it was less than last time, and it was harder to get James to go. He finally got to go into the haunted mansion, and Emily bribed him with a light saber to go on Star Tours. But he threw an epic tantrum and we had to force him onto Storybrook Land Canal Boats (of all rides). The theme ride for this trip was Dumbo. Both kids wanted to go on Dumbo over and over and over again!

City Stroller Rentals: We rented a double stroller. On some level I felt like James should be able to walk; but Disneyland is an overwhelming, tiring place, so I was glad to have the stroller. Once again, City Stroller could not be more convenient.

Magic Hour: We did not take advantage even though our multi-day park hopper tickets granted us access.

2015 Review

I haven’t made any New Years Resolutions! I usually make a couple dozen resolutions and track them carefully. But this New Year snuck up on me.

Life: This year has been about figuring out how to live with two children. I don’t know how any couple survives more than two kids. The first kid is difficult, but manageable. Adding another kid is exponentially more difficult and less manageable. Three kids? No f’ing way.

Fitness/Health: Completely off the wagon, possibly due to having one more kid to worry about and keep up with

Travel: I went to Costa Rica in February, and to Beijing in August (both for work). I went to Los Angeles for a friend’s birthday in September. We took a big family vacation to Washington D.C. in June, which was the most epic/awesome family vacation so far. I think James would prefer going to D.C. than to Disneyland! He loved seeing the giant pandas at the National Zoo, the Air & Space Museums, and the Washington “Mommyment”. He loved playing at his friend Gabe’s house. He loved the hotel. It would not be hard to convince him to get on a plane for 5 hours to go back.

It’s Your Store

I worked for Albertsons for 10 years, between 1989 and 1999. In those days Albertsons was a company run by good ol’ boys (emphasis on “boys”). Once, my Store Director pulled me aside and informed me that “women just are not cut out to be leaders. Never forget this.” The men who worked at the district office took obvious pride in being tyrants. They would publicly berate store employees if there was a single item misplaced during a store visit. If I could unblock the bad memories, I could probably find hundreds of stories along those lines.

Nevertheless, these men grew their company until at one point Albertsons was the largest grocery store chain in the United States. But the company had grown larger than the mental abilities of its leadership. There was mis-management everywhere. Albertsons eventually collapsed and split into two entities, one of which was “saved” by Super Valu Foods and the other of which was “saved” by Cerberus Capital. Eventually the tentacle owned by Cerberus consumed the stores owned by Super Valu, and Albertsons became a single large company again. I remember reading that news, and thinking, “Good. All those years trying to build that company were not wasted.”

Recently, Albertsons has been involved in another industry soap opera. This time, it involves a small local chain called Haggen. I’ve been to a couple of Haggen stores–there is one near my grandparents’ house in Mount Vernon, WA and we ordered a complete Thanksgiving Dinner from them one year. I’ve always found their stores to be on the upper end of nice with a great selection of local products. Gotta root for the little guy.

Albertsons wanted to merge with Safeway, and in order to pass FTC anti-trust muster, they needed to shed some of their existing stores. Haggen saw an opportunity, and partnered with an investment capital holding company to buy 168 stores from Albertsons. This would have turned Haggen into a West Coast powerhouse.

But something was rotten in Denmark. The stores Albertsons sold to Haggen were not, shall we say, “premier properties”. Converting them in to Haggen stores (with Haggen selection and standards) turned out to be costlier than anticipated.

A chastened Haggen sued Albertsons for ONE BILLION DOLLARS, claiming (among other things) that Albertsons interfered with Haggen’s efforts to convert the stores and misrepresented the financials for those stores.

As of this writing, it is looking bleak for Haggen. They’ve declared bankruptcy. They are selling the stores bought from Albertsons and the top bidder for a handful of those stores  is (wait for it) Albertsons. It also sounds like Haggen might be selling a few of their 18 stores that were thriving prior to their land grab in order to survive at all.

Haggen Sues Albertsons

Haggen Struggles After Trying To Digest Albertsons Stores

What is the lesson here? I currently work for another company, Amazon, whose stated strategy is to “get big fast” and so far that hasn’t been a problem. It probably helps Amazon that e-commerce, cloud services, etc. are relatively young industries. Amazon is also quite good at leveraging its strengths to fund its investments. So I’d love to know where Haggen went wrong. For one thing, I think they tried to get too big, too fast. There must be academic research that identifies upper bounds on merger sizes–the little fish just physically cannot eat the big fish. Also, Haggen clearly assumed that Albertsons would negotiate in good faith, which is incredibly naive. Albertsons was never known to be a particularly good sport. Finally, it seems like another case of management reaching beyond their abilities–just like Albertsons did back in the 1990’s when they bought American Stores.

Occasionally, I miss the grocery industry–in fact, I still (17 years later) have recurring nightmares about being late to work on the night crew. But most of the time, I shop online…especially after reading stories like Haggen vs. Albertsons.


What I did on my winter vacation

I took December 25 through January 2 off work, and accomplished quite a bit:

  • Celebrated Christmas (three times, technically).
  • Started pruning an ornamental fruit tree that hasn’t been pruned in the five years we’ve lived here–it is a mess!
  • Pressure washed the parking areas and front walkway.
  • Installed our new kitchen faucet (which took a lot longer than I expected, and was a great learning experience with several skinned knuckles along the way).
  • Started patching the walls and ceiling in our master bedroom in preparation for (finally!) painting it.
  • Did a lot of cleaning, laundry, and dishes. I am reminded how much time is required to live remotely cleanly with two kids and two full time jobs, even with a bi-weekly visit from a housecleaner.
  • Had a couple of “treat” lunches at Firefly Creperie, Marination Ma Kai, and Super Deli Mart.
  • Cooked a couple of fun meals–a quick ‘n’ dirty stir fry was especially nice.
  • Took down the Christmas lights and put all of the decorations away for another year.
  • Cleaned up (not “cleaned out”, sadly–but still, progress) the garage.
  • Shot a lot of photos.


The trick to setting goals the right way – The Washington Post.

An effective vision is what we’d call an “idealized image”: a portrait of the best possible future that can be visualized. This is the kind of speech tactic that someone like Martin Luther King was so good at — speaking about the best possible future but doing it in a way that resembled a story. The key is that the best visions are mini-stories or mini-movies. Rather than talk about “maximizing customer satisfaction,” you should talk about “seeing customers smiling as they leave our stores.”

At my job, we talk about S.M.A.R.T. goals: Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Results-focused, Time-bound. You don’t just say, “I want to get better at my job.” Instead, you say, “My goal is to increase widget production by 25% from ~10,000 units per day to >12,500 units per day by the end of Q3, September 30.”

S.M.A.R.T. goals work really well in the metrics-driven worlds of operations and manufacturing, as well as in product management, but they are challenging for support and design teams who can’t predict what is coming down the pike at them. My team (a technical program management office) struggles with S.M.A.R.T. goals: we aren’t a metrics-driven PgMO (for a variety of reasons), and we don’t know what projects we’ll be asked to support until they appear on our plates. Therefore, we typically make up our S.M.A.R.T. goals as we go along, which defeats the whole purpose.

So I like the idea described in the article of telling a story to address the perception of one’s customers and community when crafting goals and team tenets. How do we want our customers to perceive us and our service? The answer to that question is a mission statement and/or set of tenets that isn’t just Dilbert-speak. Then, what specific things can we do to reinforce those perceptions? The answer to that question is a set of S.M.A.R.T.-ish goals.

2014 Review

Life: my daughter Nina was born on July 4. A food blogger I follow wrote the best description of having a second child:

First babies are amazing for the absolute awe they inspire. When you’re an adult, not all that much feels new anymore, but a first baby makes the whole world new again.When O was born, I felt like my world had been cracked open and a flood of emotions and experiences I never could’ve predicted came rushing in. You change when you have a baby. Your marriage changes, the daily rhythm of your life changes, your feelings about your career change, the way you view the world changes. It’s amazing, but also really, really hard.

A second baby slips into your life like a soft breeze. She nurses and sleeps and wakes and poops and makes little squeaky noises and around her, our life continues on much like it did before. A second baby is like someone you already know finally showing up. There you are, I thought, when she was first placed on my chest all wet and warm and staring right at me, of course.

And there’s a feeling of victory with a second baby, isn’t there? Not only did you survive the first one, but you chose to do it all over again and this time you feel like you know what you’re doing. The hiccups won’t kill her and there’s no need to burst into tears every time she does; if you put either breast milk or aquaphor on it, it will clear up; just breastfeed whenever and don’t worry about how much they are or aren’t eating or what their poop looks like; life won’t be like this forever, it will get easier.

I don’t want to say much about them, but I definitely don’t want to forget the challenges. It hasn’t been easy, but the rewards are amazing. James is growing into a smart little boy so quickly, and watching him try to figure out the world is fascinating. Just the other morning, I was watching the movie trailer for “Selma“, and he overheard it and started peppering me with questions. Imagine the mental gymnastics required to explain the civil rights movement to a 3.5-year old!

Fitness & Health: ugh, I am a wreck. I last tracked a run in May. And while I struggled to keep a regular CrossFit schedule before Nina was born, things completely disintegrated after she was born. I have not exercised regularly since summer.

Travel: Lots of work trips: I went to Cork and Edinburgh in February, Beijing in April/May, and I topped it off with an overnight to scenic Kennewick, WA. For family vacations, we went to Santa Barbara and Disneyland, Cannon Beach, and Vancouver B.C.

Previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously, previously.