Archive for February, 2010

Tending to the Matter at Hand

Sunday, February 28th, 2010

On one hand”¦or make that on one needle”¦I certainly understand Councilmember Tiffany Renee’s compulsion to knit while listening to the public comments in the February 8 city council meeting.

Those of us who knit are always looking for opportunities to whip out our knitting needles and add a couple more rows to a project that we’re working on. If you can’t do anything else but sit and listen, it’s a way to make your time more productive.

Perhaps Councilmember Renee thinks back on that particular meeting as the one in which the council approved the East Washington Place shopping center”¦and the meeting that she finished knitting a really cute baby hat.

But therein lies the problem. From the perspective of someone watching her, it looks like she is giving as much attention to deciding whether to knit or purl the next stitch as to whether or not the city council approves a shopping center that as she said, will change “the entire fabric and character of the community.”

I believe Ms. Renee when she says that she’s an “attentive listener” while she knits.  If she is making something very simple that doesn’t require referring to the pattern directions ““ and not a cabled sweater with 267 stitches on the needles ““ she could indeed knit and listen. In that case, knitting doesn’t really require much more brain power than doodling does.

But regardless of whether she is knitting something simple or complicated, the perception of the people watching her is that her attention is not entirely focused on the issue before the council. Even if the non-knitting council members are daydreaming, doodling, or thinking about what they’re going to have to eat when they get home that night, at least they give the appearance that they are listening.

In her desire to multi-task, Ms. Renee is only hurting herself. She probably doesn’t want to be remembered for being the council member who knits during meetings. I’m guessing she would rather be recognized for her efforts to serve the voters of Petaluma.

Hair-Raising Advertising

Sunday, February 21st, 2010

Recently, I’ve noticed a lot of TV commercials for products that promise “strong hair.” In these ads, there are lots of beautiful young women with Rapunzel-like hair being tied into knots. Watching all the yanking on the hair that happens in these commercials, I almost expect them to use one of the model’s hair for a game of tug of war.

As I’ve watched these ads, I’ve puzzled over marketing shampoos and conditioners that claim to make hair “3x stronger.” That’s because “strong” and “hair” are not two words that I would naturally associate together. “Shinier,” “silkier,” or “thicker” all make sense to me as desirable qualities for my hair. But stronger? That sounds a little out of the realm of what I need my hair to do.

So far, I’ve never had to depend on my hair to lift a 50 pound bag of cat litter into the car. Perhaps strong hair will provide a bubble of protection in the event of a head-on collision.  

So why should women care about having strong hair? The obvious answer is that if a manufacturer can convince us that having strong hair makes us feel more beautiful, and their product promises stronger hair, then of course, they are going to sell more.

I’m always amazed at how the people who market beauty products come up with a “new and improved” product benefit. When it comes to hair, “shinier” and “healthier” are old hat. Having “stronger hair” is a new quality that will help us walk out the door and into the world with confidence.

And if the ads convince us that having strong hair is a good thing, why not give the product a try? It’s a modest investment and once we’ve bought it, we can reap all the benefits without doing any additional work. I’m going to wash my hair anyway, why not get stronger hair while I’m at it? Unlike the rest of my body, my hair can get stronger without lifting weights or doing crunches. I don’t think we’ll ever see Dove promising a stronger body with every shower.

So are marketers smart and women just suckers for the latest product? I think I’ll take a less cynical tack. Companies are in business to sell products. And if $4.29 for a bottle of shampoo helps me feel better about myself, then it’s a purchase worth making.

The (Second) Year of Driving Dangerously

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

On February 9th, our daughter Valerie celebrated having her driver’s license for one year. As a parent, this is one of those good news / bad news moments.

In case you aren’t familiar with the rules regarding teenage drivers, the DMV issues a provisional driver license that has certain restrictions.

For the first year that a teenager has their license or until they turn 18, they can’t transport anyone under the age of 20 unless there is a licensed driver over the age of 25 also in the car. What this meant for us is that Valerie couldn’t drive her younger sister to school or give her friends rides to anywhere.

(Yes, I know parents often allow their teenagers to drive siblings to school saying that if the teenage driver has a note showing that the parents have given them permission, it’s ok. I did a little research and according to the DMV website, the intent of the law is that teens are only permitted to drive siblings if mom and dad are in an accident and are declared brain dead and you have a note signed by a doctor”¦ok, I’m exaggerating. But the DMV’s point is that driving a sibling is only to be used in definite emergencies, not just for the convenience of the parents.)

The second restriction for the first 12 months is that the teen driver cannot drive between 11:00 pm and 5:00 am. This meant that at 11:01, I would hear the garage door opening and I could go to sleep knowing that Valerie was home safely.

So now that these restrictions no longer apply, the good news is that Valerie has a lot more freedom about who she can drive and when she can drive them. I love it that she can drive her eighth grade sister to school most mornings or pick her up if Steve or I can’t get there. It’s really great to have another chauffeur in the house.

And it takes the pressure off of Valerie if she is at a friend’s house and at 11:00 there’s still 15 minutes to go until the end of the movie they’re watching. She can stay until the party is really over.

However, the restrictions that were in place for that first year of driving ““ no other teenagers in the car and home by 11:00 ““ gave me a certain amount of security because I knew she was driving without the added distraction of having someone else in the car and I knew exactly when she would be home.

Watching your daughter pull out of the garage and drive down the hill on their own for the first time really tells a parent that you’re not in control of your child’s life anymore.

But watching her drive away with another teenager in the car and the opportunity to stay out late”¦let me insert here that Valerie is a very responsible girl”¦I’m still going to double up on my prayers.

Detergent Companies Come Clean

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

I read a quote in the Wall Street Journal last week that rocked my world. And it wasn’t about the size of the national deficit.

It was concerning a subject much closer to home: laundry. Here’s what the cofounder of Seventh Generation which manufactures environmentally safe household products had to say about laundry detergent, “You don’t even need soap to wash most loads” because the agitation of the washing machine is generally enough to get most clothes clean.

No detergent? That’s a pretty radical statement. Saying that you don’t need detergent to do the wash is like saying you don’t need sugar to make cookies. It brings everything I know about being a mom into question. Isn’t finding a detergent that will get our whites whiter, removes stains better, and keep colors brighter the holy grail for this most basic of household chores?

As I thought more about the idea of doing wash without soap, I had to agree that it probably works. Images from National Geographic specials of women standing knee-deep water slapping their clothes on rocks comes to mind. They seem to get their clothes clean and soft yet there isn’t a bottle of “Tide with a Touch of Downey Liquid Laundry Detergent” anywhere in sight.

But you won’t find me on the bank of the Petaluma River. I believe I speak for most women when I say that I’m not ready to go back-to-nature when it comes to doing the wash. I’m firmly committed to using detergent and a washing machine.

However, the article had some really good advice about doing laundry that I would like to pass on. It turns out that when using today’s concentrated detergents, more isn’t better.

Every time I measure out the detergent, I look at the small amount in the measuring cup and think to myself that that amount can’t possibly be enough to get the load really clean. So I always top it off just to be sure.

However, according to a consumer scientist for Whirlpool, “you have to be much more precise in dosing detergent” because the result of adding too much Tide, Gain or Kirkland is that instead of getting our clothes cleaner, it actually makes them dingier and makes the machine wear out faster.

Then why don’t they make the little lines on the measuring cups easier to read? I’ve read the instructions on the package numerous times and I’m still not sure which line to fill the cup for large loads and which line is for heavily soiled loads. This isn’t supposed to be rocket science.

Help is on the way. Procter & Gamble is changing the cups so they are easier-to-read. The new ones will have more defined measurement lines and bigger numbers that are staggered, not stacked.

 Amazing”¦a company is actually encouraging us to use less of their product.