Mad Men/Nature Boy Mash-Up

Unlike the rest of Hipster Nation, Kris and I haven’t been able to get into Mad Men. This show on AMC is ostensibly about the men (and women) working at an advertising agency on New York’s Madison Avenue during the early 1960s. It’s been lauded for its acting, directing, writing, and (especially) its art design.

I admit that Mad Men does a great job of capturing the look and feel of the 1960s, or what I know of it. I was born in 1969, so my impressions of a show set in 1961 are skewed by what I knew of the early 1970s. But from what I do remember, the show gets tons right. It feels real.

However, a lot of it seems way over the top. The men smoke, drink, and flirt constantly. They’re all complete sexists. Now, I know that that smoking, drinking, and sexism were much, much more common in 1961 than they are now, almost fifty years later. I remember how commonplace smoking was when I was a child, and I remember how sexist my father was. But even my dad knew that his sexist jokes were in poor taste (he just couldn’t help himself). And chain smokers were only a subset of the smoking population, not the general rule.

There are certain scenes in Mad Men that just seem intended to shock, and they don’t really represent how things were in the 1960s. Plus, I find much of the dialogue to be wooden and forced — almost painful to listen to. (This may be because of the actors, I don’t know.)

I’m giving the show a second chance. I’ve been re-watching the first season recently, but I don’t know. My evaluation is still pretty much the same. It’s okay, but I just don’t get why everyone thinks it’s so amazing. It’s nothing like The Wire. In fact, I’d rather watch The Biggest Loser!

All that having been said, I do like the theme song, “A Beautiful Mine” by RJD2. Others like the song too, apparently. Recently, a group of musicians got together to produce a mash-up of “A Beautiful Mine” with the haunting song “Nature Boy”, which has been one of my favorites since I heard it in Moulin Rouge. Here it is:

This is awesome, of course, but one of the best parts is that this was recorded live in a single continuous take. (Although it apparently took 29 tries to get it right!)

Fantasy vs. Reality: Paving a Path to a Promising Future

On Saturday night, I had dinner with Wendy and Dennis, two Get Rich Slowly readers who recently moved from Phoenix to Portland. We talked about a lot of things — most of them nerdy. We also chatted about the ever-evolving nature of Get Rich Slowly.

“I’ve noticed you’re writing more about credit cards lately,” Wendy said. “Is that because you’re using them more often?”

“Well, maybe,” I said. I thought about it for a moment. “My stance on credit has certainly changed in the past five years, so that might be part of it. But it’s probably just an accident. I seem to cover subjects in phases. I might write a lot about frugality for a while, then write a lot about investing, then about making more money. I guess I’ve just had more to say about credit cards recently.”

Wendy confessed that the credit card information doesn’t do much for her. “I’m phobic about credit cards,” she said.

“That’s okay!” I said. “There’s nothing wrong with being phobic about credit cards. I used to be scared of them too. I’ll never argue that you’re making a bad choice by avoiding credit cards.

“I’m open to the possibility of using credit cards when I know I’ll use them to spend only the money I have,” Wendy said, “but I’m not ready yet. For a while, Dennis and I had a prepaid card, and even with that, we had control issues.”

Numbers versus emotions
We talked about how our money problems didn’t happen because we were bad at math, but because we were unable to separate money from emotions.

The first tenet of the Get Rich Slowly philosophy is that financial success is more about mastering the mental game of money than about understanding the numbers. Wendy summarized this perfectly when describing her past spending habits: “When I bought things, I didn’t buy them with numbers; I bought them with emotions.” She’s trying to do better now, but it’s still a challenge.

You always think the Future You will have more money,” Wendy said. “It’s okay to spend today because you’ll find some way to pay for it tomorrow. But you never think that the Future You might drop out of college or have kids or get into a car accident. The Present You doesn’t really know the Future You.

I loved this insight. I’ve thought often about how the Future Me always seems to be vastly different than the Present Me — and different than I would have predicted. Yet I used to make dumb decisions in the present as if my future self would somehow develop the superpowers to save me. Instead, Future Me simply ended up cursing my past choices.

Fantasy versus reality
How tough is it to predict your future path? Here’s a simple test: Think about where you were five years ago — where you lived, who you spent time with, what you did. How does that compare with where you live today, who you spend time with, and what you do with your time? Chances are your life today is much different than it used to be — and much different than you might have predicted it would be.

Here are two examples from my own life:

    • When I was a junior in college, I expected to graduate, settle in a big city, get a job as a counselor or therapist, get married, have kids, and live happily ever after. I had no inkling that five years later I’d own a house in my hometown, work at the family business (something I swore I’d never do!) in a job I hated, and have over $20,000 in consumer debt. No inkling. (Only the “get married” part of my expectations proved to be correct.)

 

  • Five years ago, I was buried under more than $35,000 in consumer debt, still worked at the family business in a job I hated, and hadn’t even conceived of Get Rich Slowly. (I was just beginning to read personal-finance books.) I could never have imagined that today I’d not only be out of debt, but also have substantial savings and be a full-time writer.

Sometimes your future life fails to live up to your expectations, and sometimes it exceeds them. But in nearly every instance, you cannot predict where life will take you. In fact, you can’t even predict what will make you happy! No wonder Present You often does such a poor job of setting things up for Future You.

Present You versus Future You
When I speak to college students, I warn them to not spend based on their expectations for the future. It’s tempting to believe your future self will be richer, smarter, stronger, and more successful — but that doesn’t always happen.

What can you do about it? How can you strike a balance between today and tomorrow? There’s no mystery. You can fund your future by making smart choices in the present, including:

    • Have a plan. Based on who you are today and what you know about life, set goals for the future. Sure, these goals may change. That’s okay. Use these goals to create a budget or financial plan in the here and now.

 

    • Practice conscious spending. Stop spending on the small, unimportant stuff so that you can afford the things that matter to you. This requires long-term thinking, but it’s worth it.

 

    • Avoid debt. Don’t expect your future self to be able to cope with the financial mistakes you make today. Don’t make things tougher for yourself than you have to.

 

 

Before our dinner conversation returned again to dorky topics, Wendy made a final observation: “Once I stopped thinking about the Future Me as being different than the Present Me, my whole perspective changed. I started making decisions on what I needed and could afford today instead of what might happen tomorrow.Exactly!

To stop making poor decisions with money, it’s often necessary to ignore fantasy and deal with reality. Instead of counting on Future You to save the day, do the hard work now. Your future self will thank you for it.

European Vacation 2010, Days 24 & 25: The End

I don’t have much to say about our final day-and-a-half in Paris. Kris and I were still sick, and we didn’t leave the hotel room much. We did venture out to a kitchen store, but mostly we slept. Kind of a bummer way to end our European vacation, don’t you think?

Still, we had fun. Overall, the trip was fanastic. We both agree that we liked our week in Belize better, but we’re glad to have visited Italy and France.

Our trip home was uneventful, though the striked in Paris did mean that it took forever to reach the airport. I haven’t found a place to share the footage I took of the Paris Metro, so I’ll do that here.


Short clips of the Paris Metro system

I love the subway systems in Londong, Paris, New York, and Rome, and wish we had something similar in Portland. On the other hand, these cities are much bigger than Portland, so it doesn’t really make sense here.

We learned a lot from this trip, both about what we like in a vacation, and what we don’t like. (Hint: We don’t like cruises on boats full of old people.) We’ll apply that to future vacations, perhaps starting with our trip to South Africa next spring!

European Vacation 2010, Day 23: The Louvre

Though Kris and I still felt sick, it seemed foolish to spend our time in the hotel room. This was an expensive trip, and we felt obligated to get our money’s worth. Because we were feverish, we made a slow start to the day.

We left the hotel at 1100 for a second trip to the Louvre. Tickets were €9.50 each and easy to get, despite the crowds. In retrospect, we were foolish to pay €59 each for the Louvre excursion from the river cruise.

We spent four hours in the museum. Although we didn’t see everything, we saw plenty, including sculptures, Dutch masters, the apartments of Napoleon III, and more. It was well worth having returned.

The apartments of Napoleon III in the Louvre
The apartments of Napoleon III in the Louvre

Cupid and Psyche
Cupid and Psyche, which Kris and I both think is fantastic

We took the Metro back to the hotel, stopping for groceries at a supermarket. For dinner, we ate olives, sausage, bread, cheese — and grapefruit juice.

We dosed ourselves with medicine and watched episodes of Glee on the iPad.

European Vacation 2010, Day 22: Sick in Paris

Kris and I both woke feeling sick, but since we had to be out of our cabin by 0800, there wasn’t much we could do. We hunkered down in the lounge of the River Baroness with other late-departing guests. I wrote; Kris slept on the floor. At noon, we took the subway to our hotel, where we dropped off our luggage.

While waiting for the 1400 check-in time, we walked about 2km to a seven-days-a-week pharmacy. Using our rudimentary French skills and a pocket phrasebook, we hunted for flu remedies. Fortunately, a nice young man behind the counter noticed us flailing about; he came out to help us.

On our way back to Hotel Muguet, we took a detour through a vast outdoor market beneath the elevated train tracks along Boulevard de Grenelle (near the Metro stop). It was very cold, so we stopped to eat at Tribeca, though I wasn’t very hungry.

After checking into the hotel, we took our medicine, climbed into bed, and watched videos on the iPad. We fell asleep early.

European Vacation 2010, Day 21: Return to Paris

During the night, the River Baroness docked in Paris, near Parc André Citroën.

Despite feeling sick, I rose early to join Mark and the ship’s fitness expert (and masseuse) for Nordic walking to the Eiffel Tower. The morning was cool and misty, but the walk felt good. Beneath the tower, we paused for calisthenics. Soldiers with machine guns watched us stretch.

Later, Kris and I enjoyed a three-hour bus tour of Paris with a local guide. This was much better than the disastrous hop-on/hop-off tour we’d taken the week before, in part because there was no traffic. Plus, the guide actually knew the city, and his passion showed. We stopped at several locations, including the backside of the Champs de Mars, where we had a photo op with the Eiffel Tower. For my Crossfit friends back home, I did double-unders:

Double-unders by the Eiffel Tower

Note: When we took this photo, we only had a vague idea where we were. The following day, we stumbled back across this spot, and were amused to find that it was just one block from our Paris hotel.

After the city tour, we joined a group for a whirlwind pass through the Musée du Louvre, one of the largest art museums in the world. We saw almost nothing. We blitzed through to a handful of major works, including:

The tour was fine, but at €59 each, it felt expensive. It just whetted our appetite for more.

The pyramids outside the entrance to the Louvre
The pyramids outside the entrance to the Louvre

A gallery inside the Louvre
A gallery inside the Louvre

The crowd in front of the Mona Lisa
It’s tough to photograph the Mona Lisa behind its protective glass, but the crowd is just as fun

After the Louvre, I walked about 6km back to the ship. Again, this solo stroll through a big city was one of the highlights of my vacation. (Just as my walk through Rome and my run through Venice.) I returned just in time for dinner with the gang of young folks from the night before. I still felt sick, so Mark gave me some Claritin. Bless his soul.

At dinner, Kris began to feel sick too.

European Vacation 2010, Day 20: Giverny

Today, we took a vacation from our vacation.

I felt sick and tired, so we slept late, skipping the excursion to Monet’s garden at Giverny. After sleeping late, we slept some more.

In the afternoon, Kris stayed in bed, sleeping and reading. I sat in the lounge and watched the French countryside slip past. I chatted with the other passengers.

In the evening, we ate with Mark and Terri (from Vancouver, B.C.), Bruce and Michelle (from Australia), and Roger and Barbara (who, while 65, seemed only 45). We were the young folks on the trip. It was a fun meal.

European Vacation 2010, Day 19: Etretat, Le Havre, and Hornfleur

On Thursday morning, Kris and I joined a bus tour to the coastal resort town of Étretat. The long drive through French farmland was beautiful. Plus, the day was cold, windy, and wet. I loved it.

There wasn’t much to see in Étretat. It’s the sort of place where you’d spend a relaxing week or two — but not an hour. Still, we browsed a small market, where I let a saleswoman talk me into spending €65 for a new Stetson waxed cotton cap that’s a size too small. It was worth it: I love the cap. (In fact, I just realized I don’t know where the cap is at the moment, and it’s putting me into a bit of a panic.)

The bus then wound through the French countryside to Le Havre, a major seaport. Our path through the city was disrupted by the strikes/protests about retirement reform, the same strikes/protests that plagued our entire stay. Eventually, however, we made it to our destination: Manoir D’Apreval, an apple farm outside Hornfleur.

We toured the apple cider operation at Manoir D’Apreval, and then enjoyed a light lunch, which included Calvados, an apple brandy, as well as a variety of local cheeses.

Manoir D'Apreval
Manoir D’Apreval, where we toured the cider farm

Barrels of Calvados
Barrels of Calvados, an apple brandy

Calvados, an apple brandy

After lunch, we spent an hour walking through Hornfleur, exploring the shops.

By the end of the day, however, I was exhausted. I felt sick. My throat was sore. I thought about skipping dinner, but persevered. After eating, though, I went straight to bed. I slept and slept and slept.

European Vacation 2010, Day 18: Rouen

After just a couple of days, the boat was driving me crazy. I’d felt cooped up in Italy, but that sense of confinement was nothing compared to the river cruise. At least in Italy, we were walking most places, and if I needed to escape to be on my own, I could. That wasn’t true on the River Baroness. I was trapped on a ship full of old people.

So, on our second morning in Rouen, I rose early to join a small group for Nordic walking:

Our small group walked for about 2km, stopped to do calisthenics, and then walked 2km back to the boat. As we walked, we chatted. I got to know Mark, from Vancouver, B.C., and Roger, who is 65 but looks 45. By the end of the cruise, Roger had become a sort of role model for what I want my fitness level to be like in 25 years!

After breakfast, we took a walking tour of Rouen, a city the size of Salem, Oregon. The tour was short and slow to cater to the old folks. We saw the medieval downtown area, the shopping district, and the place where Joan of Arc is supposed to have been burned at the stake.

McDonald's in a 700-year-old building
Kris loved this McDonald’s, which is housed in a centuries-old building

Later, Kris and I did some shopping on our own. Kris bought a (men’s) scarf, and I hunted — unsuccessfully — for Peanuts in French. Apparently Charlie Brown and Snoopy are a hit in Rome, but not in Paris. We spent a lot of time in a French supermarket, marveling at all the stuff that’s different from home. (We do this in every country we visit, by the way.) I was particularly impressed that you could buy fine Scotch whisky from a grocery store.

We spent the rest of the afternoon resting on the boat. In the evening, we watched The Da Vinci Code, so now I can finally say I know the story.

European Vacation 2010, Day 17: Bayeux and the Normandy Beaches

During the night, the River Baroness moved north to Rouen, a Salem-sized city in France’s Normandy region. In the morning, all of the passengers boarded buses for the two-hour ride to the D-Day Beaches.

On the morning of 06 June 1944, the combined Allied forces (including not just the United States and England, but also Canada and France — and in the weeks following the initial landing, troops from Belgium, Czechoslovakia, Greece, and the Netherlands) assaulted German positions on five Normandy beaches spread over 50 miles of coastline. For many young Americans, the most notable depiction of this landing comes from Steven Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan.

The Allied forces suffered about 10,000 casualties (including 2,500 American deaths) during the assault, and the German defenders experienced between 4,000 and 9,000 casualties. Over the next few months, these numbers grew significantly. Now the beaches (and a few surrounding areas) are designated as war memorials.

Kris on Omaha Beach
Kris, storming the beach at Normandy

Our group spent the day visiting Omaha Beach and the American Cemetery, with a side trip to view the Bayeux Tapestry.

The Bayeux Tapestry
I loved the Bayeux Tapestry

The Bayeux Tapestry isn’t actually a tapestry, it’s an embroidered cloth — though the difference is lost on me. Though its origins are unknown, many believe it was created during the 1070s, just ten years after the events it depicts. The 225-foot (68 meter) tapestry (or embroidery) illustrates the events leading up to the Norman conquest of England, including the Battle of Hastings. The individual scenes tell the story, which is spelled out in Latin along the border. Some geeks — and I’m one of them — consider the Bayeux Tapestry to be the first comic book. Because of this (and because Professor Nolley referred to the tapestry during our History of the English Language course at Willamette University), this has been on my “must-see” list for over twenty years. It did not disappoint. Even Kris, who had never heard of it before our trip, thought it was amazing.

After visiting Omaha Beach and viewing the Bayeux Tapestry, we had about 75 minutes for lunch in the quaint village of Bayeux. No problem, right? Kris and I decided to have a proper sit-down meal. Big mistake. In France, restaurants don’t hurry their customers. In fact, much of what we take as customary in the U.S. is considered rude. As in Italy, you must ask for the bill; the server doesn’t just bring it to you. And meals all have a leisurely pace. Such was the case in the restaurant we chose. It didn’t help that the place was busy. Our simple lunch stretched on and on until we thought we might miss our bus! Fortunately, the waiter sped up the process when Kris explained the situation to him in broken French.

After lunch, we visited the American Cemetery. The place was poignant, as expected, with a sea of white marble crosses. But we felt rushed. Plus, we wished we’d started in the interpretative center (which our local guide had warned us away from), which added depth and color to the experience. Security at the cemetery was very tight — tighter than even at the Louvre or Vatican.

The American Cemetery in Normandy
The American Cemetery is filled with a sea of white crosses

On the way back to the boat, the bus got stuck in traffic. Yet another French traffic accident. I know people complain that Italian drivers are wild, but we found French traffic to be much worse.

Back on the boat, we ate dinner with Sharon and Parl. Parl is a big, friendly man, a retired machinist who now owns his own limousine. “I never retired,” he told us. “I just work for less money!”