German Chocolate Cake – A Cold Stone Favorite

Coldstone German Chocolate Cake
So I took this picture at Cold Stone ice cream parlor. 



The guy is in action making German Chocolate Cake Ice Cream for us–one of their “signature creations.”



A big wad of Chocolate Ice Cream and then add the caramelized nuts, chips of coconut, and wedges of chocolate–then mix until all creamy and gooey. 



OMG, this was pretty good.



We used to get the Cookie Dough You Want Some flavor…also to die for, but I didn’t see this one on the ice cream menu anymore (although I bet you can still ask for it). 



The way they charge, they push you to get the largest size called, “Gotta Have It”which is only about 20 cents more than the “Love It” (medium) and 30 cents more than the “Like It” (small).



One of the large ones costs about $6  and can easily be shared between between 3 people. 



This ice cream is made for me on the spot and is a special treat, so don’t get addicted, please. 😉



(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Starbucks – BYOF

Starbucks - Eating 2

Okay, this was the second week in a row at Starbucks that I’ve seen people BYOF.



BYOF = Bring Your Own Food.



This gentleman relaxing on a Sunday has brought his ziplock bag and with some nice looking pound cake at that.



Message to Starbucks…either your food is really bad, overpriced, or perhaps a little of both. 



You pride yourself on your coffee and everyone pays a premium for it, but you are slacking on the food side of the coffeehouse. 



Seems like a big opportunity–fix your food (finally!) and make gazillions of dollars more off the addicted masses that flock to your coffee havens. 



My consulting fee…we can discuss. 😉



(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Just Can’t Bear To Think

Whether though endless work, family activities, exercise, computer time, or whatever, people have a hard time just stopping to think. 

According to the Washington Post, a study in Science shows that people would rather do just about anything–including administer electric shocks to themselves–rather than having to just think for a little while. 

Fully 67% of men and 25% of women chose electric shocks over sitting and thinking for just 6-15 minutes!

People are “desperate for distractions”–whether through social media or smartphones and more.

This is why many ancient practices such as Buddhism, martial arts, yoga, and other disciplines teach meditation–sitting silently, without distraction, deeply in thought. 

People are afraid to stop their endless running, rounds of chores and activities, hustle and bustle, and just think about what they are actually doing and where they are going.

Sitting alone with yourself–you have to confront you!

  • Fears and anxieties
  • Life problems of all sorts
  • Mistakes and personal inadequacies
  • Bad habits and even dangerous addictions

Keeping yourself endlessly busy is an enabler to avoid sometimes painful reflection, introspection, and even necessary self-help. 

While you often hear that doctors recommend a certain amount of activity to keep physically healthy, I believe that similarly, mental and spiritual guidance would be for carving out time for physical inactivity and instead focusing on meditation and reflection. 

Perhaps, this is one reason that the Sabbath (kept in various ways by religions around the world) is so important to the mind and soul–it is a time to stop the work and daily mundane activities and instead focus on your spiritual side. 

Contrary to what you might think, refraining from all the activity may be one of the hardest things to actually do, but stopping and thinking (instead of just continuously doing), confronting yourself, and making life course corrections can be some of the most rewarding. 

Can you stop and think for just 15 minutes or do you need that next fix of compulsive distraction? 

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Addictions R Us

Addictions R Us

I was having an really interesting conversation with a friend–okay, and it got a little deep.

He said something fascinating to me–which is that everyone is addicted to something.

Think about it–some are addicted to the hard stuff…drugs, alcohol, smoking.

Others are addicted to sex, work, shopping, exercise, even religion.

In modern times, there are new addictions to technology, gaming, and social media.

My friend is smart and we discussed or alluded to a number of reasons for the addictive nature of all people.

1) Meaning – Many people have a tough time dealing with the seemingly meaningless, mortal nature of their lives. Without a strong purpose and meaning, we can sort of float through every day looking for some anchor, stability, or rhythm. Addictions, for better or worse, can provide that habit or repetition compulsion. While not very meaningful itself, these addictions help people forget–temporarily, during their high or while they are being kept busy–that they are perhaps lost amidst it all.

2) Pain – Everyone has pain–emotional, physical, mental–these cause stress on people and their ability to deal or cope can be stretched thin, and they turn to some sort of addiction as a “crutch” to help them get through the day. It reminds me of a very crude song that I overheard years ago, called “F*ck the pain away” (excuse the language here, please). Anyway, simply replace the first word, with “work, shop, drink, and so on and poof, you have opiates (i.e. pain relief) for the masses.

3) Fear – People are afraid–afraid of living, afraid of dying–and addictions take us away from having the time to stop, think, and have to deal with our fears. If every minute, I am running around doing a million things–then I don’t have the time to shut it all down and out, and deal with what’s really going on inside. In fact, some people credit the Holy Sabbath day, as being beneficial to us to just stopping all that daily stuff at least for one day a week!

We are all human, and there is no one who is immune to looking for meaning, avoiding pain, and dealing with their fears.

The question is do we just throw ourselves into something to keep going or do we take more of a Buddhist approach, accept that life is suffering and try to raise ourselves above it through healthy balance, contemplative meditation, compassion and thinking about others, doing good deeds, and so on.

Keeping busy is good too–but going through life in a drug or otherwise induced fugue is not–then we’ve lost ourselves, which is maybe the point for our crazy world where addictions abound and we are all too happy to dive right in. 😉

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Miles Cave)

Debt Default–Now Or Later

Debt Default--Now Or Later

So reopening the government, narrowing our deficit spending, and raising the national debt ceiling is coming together in planned negotiations this week.

Despite all the talk, we continue to spend beyond our national means and basically we must raise the debt ceiling or else the game of borrow and spend is over.

Almost like insatiable gamblers, we use up our money at the table, head to the pawn shop to sell our watch and car to replenish for the next game, and then borrow against our credit card to fuel our addiction to the game some more.

Eventually though the house always wins and the borrower must pay up (or they get their legs broken or something nasty like that).

So while the question posed by the pundits this month is whether the U.S. will default on its debt now, the real question is whether a default is just a matter of time anyway–as we continue to spend more than we generate in revenue as a country.

Sure can we raise the debt limit again–hey, why not borrow more, if others are willing enough to lend to us (and for little to no interest too)?

And can we through sequestration or more surgical spending cuts, decrease the rate of our deficit spending–however actually balancing our budget is not even on the table anymore, as booming entitlements for Social Security and Medicare are expected soon with the aging baby boomers to drastically increase our spending again.

The hope that we will somehow, magically grow our way out is fanciful thinking–almost rising to delusions of national grandeur–that just don’t mathematically add up (since we have a median GDP growth rate over the last 80 years of just over 3%).

Perhaps, we don’t care if we can’t pay our debts, because we are the superpower and what is anybody going to do to us about it anyway?

Or perhaps, we rely as a backstop on our ability to print more money and pay off old borrowed sums with worthless new money galore?

Maybe it’s not a default if no one acknowledges it or we just get away with it…but somehow, someway, no one and no country can spend more than it generates in perpetuity.

If you believe in the endless virtual cycle of borrow and spend, then the mind control program is working just great, indeed. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Feeling Groovy

Feeling Groovy

So some colleagues at work told me about getting a Swedish Massage.

I listened to how it helps them with aches and pains as well as to just relax.

One guy mentioned that he tried a couples massage with his wife and it was really awesome as an event together.

Not that I thought in a million years that I would ever get a massage myself, but going away with my honey, this seemed like just the right thing to do.

We ended up at the spa in the Westin and had the most relaxing massage that I could ever imagine.

Some lemonade, calm music, dim lights, and a view of the ocean made it just perfect for us.

I realized where some new pain points for me were, how important a little work-life balance can be, and could only say, “What other times are you available this week?”

Uh oh, I think I’m hooked.

OMG–thank you, but maybe I should’ve never tried it (it’s an expensive habit)! 😉

Who’s Afraid Of The Big Bad Cell Phone?

Who's Afraid Of The Big Bad Cell Phone?

Some people are averse to change and to technology–and then there is Gary Sernovitz.

This guy in the Wall Street Journal today boasts how he is one of the last 9% of American society that goes without a cell phone (let alone a smartphone).

At 40 and as a managing director of an investment firm, he says if he needs to make a call he uses one of the 30 working remaining payphones in Manhattan or borrows his wife or a strangers phone–so much for personal independence and self-sufficiency. Does this guy (and wife) live at home with his mommy too?

He calls himself a “technology holdout” and actually goes on to says that he is scared of getting a cell phone because he is afraid of losing himself.

While admittedly, many people do go overboard with technology, social media, and gaming to the point of addiction, I am not sure that getting a cell phone is alone a major risk factor.

Sernovtiz says he adheres to Henry David Thoreau’s philosophy of simplicity–and that inventions “are but improved means to an unimproved end.”

Thoreau went to live in the woods to “live deliberately” and focus on “only the essential facts of life,” perhaps like many ascetics and spiritual guides before him have. And as such, this is not a bad thing when done for the right reasons.

But Sernovit’z One-sided message is a negative one, because technology as any tool is not bad in and of itself–it’s how we exert control over the tool and ourselves, balancing productive use from misuse and abuse.

If Sernovitz is so afraid of using technology, perhaps he should question himself as an investment manager and disavow use of money–which can be used for many evils from greed, hoarding and selfishness to financing terrorism–and instead go back to bartering forest lumber and chicken eggs?

When I asked my 16-year old daughter what she thought of Sernovitz’s article, she said he can’t differentiate “simpler from easier.”

Don’t mind me if I pass on this guy’s book, “The Contrarians.” 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

We’re All Digitally Distracted

We're All Digitally Distracted

Focus, focus…forget it!

With smartphones, social media, email, texting, phone calls, meetings, and more…it takes a lot of discipline to not get distracted and actually get things done.

The Wall Street Journal (11 December 2012) laid out half jokingly that most people wouldn’t even be able to finish the article because of all the technological and people interruptions in our daily lives.

There are various aspects to this problem:

1) Digital Addiction–We love and are addicted to the information, connectedness, convenience, and entertainment that computerization, digital communications, and the Internet provide. Loneliness be gone!

2) 24/7 Expectations–Employers, family, and friends expect that we will be available to them around the clock. We are tethered to our jobs and each other with computers, smartphones, Blackberries, telework, social media, and more. If I can’t get to you, it’s because you don’t want to be gotten!

3) Fear of Missing Out (FOMO)–One of the concerns we have about getting off our devices is that we may miss out on something–that critical phone call or email may be regarding an important event, a special sale, a job interview, a long lost friend or lover, someone who needs help, or whatever. But if you shut yourself off, then you may just be missing the opportunity of a lifetime!

For most people the smartphone is the last thing they look at before going to sleep and the first thing they look at in the morning…assuming your significant other doesn’t intervene.

Even going on vacation, for many, means checking work and personal emails and voicemails…a vacation is no longer a real vacation, just perhaps less work than going into the office.

On one hand, we have more information and connectedness at our fingertips than ever before, but on the other hand, we are living in virtual, and not physical, reality.

One example is how we sit with our families and friends, but every one is on their device and no one is interacting with each other in the room.

No wonder there is a movement now to “Turn it off!” or “Leave it at home (or work)!”–We are desperately trying to balance between cyberspace and personal space.

We can’t afford to be distracted or to distract ourselves, incessantly–we need to focus on what’s important, what needs to get done, and on those who love and need us.

Whether you do a zero email day or just leave it all behind vacation–everyone needs some time be human with each other again. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Never Worn, But Not For The Reason You Think

Never Worn, But Not For The Reason You Think

I remember learning for my MBA about people’s shopping addiction (aka compulsive shopping) and how it consumes their time and money and fuels their self-esteem.

Like a high gotten from alcohol, drugs, and sex, shopping can give people a relief from the everyday stresses that engulf them.

An interesting article in the Wall Street Journal (18 April 2013) called “A Closet Filled With Regrets” chronicles how people buy stuff they never wear and are sorry they bought it.

In fact, the article states, “Only about 20% of clothes in the average person’s closet are worn on a regular basis.”

One example given is a Pulitzer Prize -winning author who spent $587,000 on Gucci items between 2010-2012, before seeking treatment for his addiction.

A related disorder is shopper’s remorse that occurs, because people second guess themselves and feel maybe an alternative would’ve been a better choice (i.e. they made a bad choice), they didn’t really need the item to begin with (i.e. it was just impulsive), or that they spent too much (i.e. they got a bad deal).

For me, as a child of Holocaust survivors, I find that when I purchase something nice (not extravagant), I put away and also never wear it.

The difference for me is not that I have shoppers remorse, an addiction to shopping, or that I am unhappy with my purchase, but rather that I cannot wear it because I feel as a child of survivors that I have to save it–just in case.

No, it’s not rational–even though I am a very practical and rational person in just about every other way.

It’s just that having seen what can happen when times are bad–and people have nothing–I cannot bear to grant myself the luxury of actually wearing or using something really good.

Perhaps also, I look at my parent’s generation, who suffered so much, and think why am I deserving of this?

They sacrificed and survived, so we (their children) could have it better–what every parent wants for their children, or should.

But still, in my heart, I know that I am the one who has had it easy compared to their lives, and so those purchases are going to stay right where they are–never worn until I donate them to Goodwill.

I never really considered them mine anyway. 😉

(Source Photo: Andy Blumenthal)

Hurry Up And Wait

Hurry Up And Wait

This guy from the military used to joke that they were always being told to hurry up only to find that once they got to their destination, they had to sit around and wait–he called this “Hurry up and wait!”

It’s a paradox of our times that we are constantly in a hurry to get to work, have our meetings, get our work done, get home, and a million and one other things. PTA meeting or baseball practice anyone?

From fast food to information at the speed of light, it’s like we know we are up against the clock and no matter how fast we go it’s not fast enough.

Yet, it is exactly in rushing from thing to thing and to get things done that we really miss the point–to savor every moment.

I think the saying take time to smell the roses is very important. And someday if you don’t, you will look back and wonder where did all the time go and why was it so–fast and–miserable.

The Wall Street Journal (14 March 2013) has a book review today on “The Slow Fix” by Carl Honore.

Honore says we have a “cultural addiction to speed” and he advises that we take more time to enjoy life–our work, our relationships, our interests, and I would add our spirituality.

It’s funny but in the book review, it mentions how a Viennese priest admits that he even prays to fast. And I have to chuckle at that because I too remember from my childhood, so many synagogue services, where speed praying and prayer by rote took the joy and meaning away the true connection I wanted to be building with my maker.

Even in a work setting, often everything seems like a #1 priority and there is more to do than there are hours in the day or people to do it.

While working quickly and efficiently is desirable, when people are overworked and overwhelmed that is how costly mistakes happen and people get burned out.

In all aspects of our lives, we need to make good progress, but at the same time, ensure that our lives are filled with meaning that you can only get by paying attention to each and every wonderful moment. 😉

(Source Photo: here with attribution to Jayme Frye)