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Lessons in Coffee: Beginnings (or How Not to Look Like an Idiot at Starbucks)

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Happy Coffee Day!

If you don’t know, today is International Coffee Day. Why? Because we spend around $1,000 on coffee annually. Throwing that much cash at it, it should return the favor at least once a year.

Many companies are celebrating in style, with Dunkin Dounts, McDonalds, and Krispy Kreme all offering a free cup of coffee. Canadian giant, Tim Hortons, claims to have hidden $9,000 worth of prizes and giftcards in many of their major markets (including my hometown, Rochester, NY—GO HIGH SCHOOL FRIENDS, GET THAT CASH!). Seems fitting these coffee giants should celebrate a holiday to promote fair trade coffees and farmer’s rights by giving away free, not fair trade coffee, but I digress. I promise that is not my soapbox for this post.

Anyway, grab yourself a free cup of joe, and let’s talk about coffee on this hallowed day.


There are many different kinds of coffee roasts—all dependent on the length of roasting. They fall on a spectrum of light (roasted for a short period of time) to dark (roasted for a long time). Light roast coffees tend to have high acidity, so they will be brighter on your palette (hence why they are often called Breakfast Blends). Many light roast coffees are distinctly nutty, with hints of citrus. They pair well with fruity (berries, lemon) flavors. After extended roasting, the beans begin to lose their acidity and caffeine—light roast blends are more caffeinated than dark roasts. Dark roasts coffees are often characterized as robust, smoky, and bitter. They pair well with chocolate and caramel flavors.


These beans can then become a number of different beverages, depending on the brewing method. Standard brew coffee is ground to a medium consistency, placed in a paper filter and passed under hot water. This brewing method often robs the beans of their oils, producing, for some palettes, a coffee that is bitter and acidic. A French press is another common brewing method that helps the coffee to retain its oils. The coffee is ground to a coarse consistency, combined with hot water in a press, and then separated after five minutes with a mesh metal filter. (PS, you can actually order a press of any coffee from Starbucks at any time of day. Just make sure you have time to sit and enjoy it—it isn’t a take away order.)

The final, most common brewing method is espresso. Espresso is both a roast (dark) and a brewing method. The coffee beans are ground to a very fine consistency, and pressed into tight puck shaped cylinder. Next a small amount of hot water is pushed through the puck at a high pressure—creating a small, highly caffeinated dose of coffee (1 oz). It is this shot of espresso that is used in many standard coffee shop beverages.


There are many ways to order espresso, but I’m just going to focus on the most common today. Espresso can be ordered by the individual shot, but is very strong and bitter, usually an acquired taste. A great starter is the Americano. An Americano is a substitute to a cup of coffee, and is made by combining shots of espresso with hot water. It is often a smoother cup of coffee, retaining the oils that are lost in the standard brewing methods. It’s a great alternative if you’re worried about the coffee roast offered, or the quality of the brewing system. It is the freshest and fastest cup of coffee you can order.

Latte vs. Cappuccino:

The two most common drinks you would order from a coffee shop are the latte and the cappuccino. Both are made with shots of espresso (usually two) and steamed milk. A cappuccino is characterized as having more foam than milk, and will be airy and light to pick up. Cappuccinos can be ordered on a spectrum of dry (more foam) to wet (more milk). Cappuccino milk is usually aerated—the act of adding steam to the milk to give it a smooth, frothy consistency—for a longer amount of time than a latte.

A latte is characterized as having more milk than foam. It should be mostly steamed milk, with about a inch of foam at the top. Lattes can be ordered with extra foam or no foam. The latte is the base of most other espresso based drinks on a coffee shop menu.

Look at that! FANCY!

Latte Drinks:

As I said, the latte is the base for most espresso and milk drinks. For example, a mocha is just a latte with chocolate added. A breve is a latte made with steamed half and half instead of milk. More complicated drinks (like the, exclusive to Starbucks, caramel macchiato*) are based on this recipe. A caramel macchiato is a latte built upside-down with vanilla and caramel flavoring. Macchiato means “to mark” in Italian, so the shots are placed on top of the latte foam, to create a distinct line in your cup. This also means that the first flavor will be the espresso, as the drink is purposefully served layered.

Obviously, there are hundreds of other coffee drinks out there, and this is just the beginning. But with this knowledge, you are hopefully now armed to at least read a cafe menu. Got any questions about drinks? As a former barista, there are few things I haven’t heard, I promise. I’ll name that drink you had that one time, years ago, on a vacation to the Grand Canyon. Or I’ll find you someone who can. I’ll tell you just how great an espresso con panna is. Don’t be shy! Try and stump me!

*Beware, an espresso macchiato and a caramel macchiato are two VERY different drinks. An espresso macchiato is just shots of espresso and a dollop of steamed milk, and will give you quite a surprise if you order it hoping for a caramel/vanilla treat. Err on the side of caution, and never order a caramel macchiato outside of a Starbucks.


Adventures in Bread Winning

I. Love. Bread. I know this is a quinessential, middle-class white girl thing to say, but that doesn’t make it any less true. I buy myself half baguettes and just enjoy them as lunch. I love dipping sourdough in olive oil and italian seasoning, having Baby Bells and ciabatta, eating peanut butter and banana on whole wheat toast. I’d sell my left foot for a fresh Wegman’s bagel right now. Bread is right up there with potatoes—the ultimate comfort food. CARBS ON CARBS ON CARBS.

Anyway. Since I love bread so much, I’ve often dreamed of making my own someday. I’m sort of put together in the kitchen, but my mother had never made anything past banana bread, and yeast freaked me out. What if I mess it up? It takes hours to make a stinking loaf of bread, and how dumb would I feel if it all went to hell?

Good question. Which is why, here at Staving Off Disaster we cut corners to feel maturer faster. Enter—focaccia.

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By now, you all know about my obsession with the boys over at Sorted Foods. They’re dedicated to making getting into the kitchen as a 20-something a little less painful. And they’ve got a fantastic focaccia recipe if you’re like me and terrified of something with the words “high active” in the name.

Luckily for all of us, the recipe is pretty straightforward.

Here’s what you need:

-4 cups of flour (the recipe calls for bread flour, but I used all-purpose, and everything turned out great)*

-A packet of active dry yeast (7g)

-About 1 1/2 cups of warm water (you won’t use all of this)

-2 tsp sugar

-2 tsp salt

-2 tbsp olive oil (and more for drizzling)

-assorted bread toppings you deem fit (I used chia seeds, black pepper, and sea salt—they used fresh rosemary, garlic, sea salt and pepper)

First, I’d recommend watching this video. It seems that bread is closer to cooking than it is to baking (in that measurements and timing don’t need to be exact-exact), so it’s a good idea to watch someone make the recipe before you start on the adventure.

After that, add the packet of yeast and about a 1/4 cup (or less) of warm water into a small bowl, to get the yeast starting its yeasty dance. Stir it a bit, and leave it to the side.

Next, add the flour, olive oil, sugar, salt and yeast-water mix to a bowl.

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I’m lucky enough to have a roommate with a KitchenAid mixer, so I got off the hook in the kneading process. If you’re doing it by hand, it’s time to get elbow deep in this recipe. Mix the flour-y madness with your hands, adding the water in small doses to get to a stretchy yet not sticky consistency (in the end, I think I used a little less than 1 cup). Knead on a floured surface for 10 minutes. Or cheat knead in the mixer for 10 minutes, like me.

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Once your bread is at the right consistency (mine leaned toward the drier side, but it didn’t negatively affect the final product), form it into a nice, chubby ball. At this point, pat yourself on the back. This thing is darn cute, and you made it. Nice job!

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Next, you’ve got two options. You can leave it, covered with cling wrap, at room temperature for 2-3 hours, or you can leave it in the fridge overnight. Whatever you choose to do, by the time you move onto the next step, make sure your cute chubby ball of dough has doubled in size.

Get yourself a nice baking tray (we have a pizza one, but I think you can use any sort of pan), and roll out that bad boy so it looks a little more like focaccia.

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Beautiful! Next, use those digits your mama gave you to press a bunch of holes in the top of the bread, giving you pockets for your toppings, and the look of focaccia. Drizzle generously with olive oil and start throwing on your mouth presents. Chia seeds? Oregano? Sea salt? Cinnamon? You do you, kid.

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Preheat your oven to 400 degree F, and let this precious lump of pride rest for another 30 minutes, since you did just man-handle it a bit. After it’s had a nice nap, it’s time to bake! Cook in the oven for 25-30 minutes until golden brown on top. Pull that darling out, let it cool for around another half hour and then TUCK THE HELL IN. Because this monster is delicious.

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A little bit of butter, maybe an egg sandwich, whatever you want to put with it, you do it! This is your bread, your wonderful creation, and I won’t judge you if you eat it all in one sitting. I thought about it.

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Happy cooking!

*Make sure you consult a whole wheat recipe if you decide to go the whole wheat flour route. Whole wheat flour creates a denser final product, and you might need to cut down on the measurements. Otherwise, you can always mix bread flour and whole wheat flour. Again, consult a substitution chart.

5 Secrets to Living in a Terrible Apartment

It’s no secret to most people that know me, but I live in what I lovingly call a hellhole. I’m lucky enough to not have to fork over my entire paycheck each month, but the discounted living situation means there are some cut corners. For example, we don’t pay the heating bill, but since our landlord controls it, we practically freeze to death in the subzero Minnesota winters. And the old wiring means that running more than one high-voltage appliance at a time causes our entire apartment to lose power. It’s lots of fun. It builds character. I think.

After living in this disaster of an apartment now for a year and a half, I’ve discovered some secrets to making it a touch less awful.

1. Know where your breaker box is.

One of the first phone calls I made to my landlord was “HELP! MY POWER WENT OUT WHEN I WAS MAKING MY SOY BURGERS!” This, it quickly became apparent, would be a continuous problem in our old building. I’m not quite sure why cooking anything for more than two minutes shuts off all power, but it is something I always prepare for whenever I hit COOK. I grab my cellphone, put on my flip flops, and wait. If the lights go off, I turn on the iPhone flashlight, curse a bit about living in a low-budget horror film, and walk down the hall to flip the switches. Thankfully, the breaker box is on my floor, but I’m a little more familiar with the electrical room than I’d like to be. I even had to reset the power in the laundry room once. You’ll be much happier if you know where to go when the old wiring in your miserable apartment picks on you for eating too many Morning Star burgers.

2. Learn to use natural ingredients to unclog your drains.

The pipes in this apartment are old. I’m fairly certain they have never been replaced. And it is usually once a month I find myself standing in the shower (under a fine mist some call “extremely poor water pressure”) ankle-deep in soapy water. Which is always surprising, because the tiny gutter stream from my shower head could never fill the tub that quickly. For a while I bought Drain-O and called my landlord every time it happened. Now I’ve discovered the wonderful secret of vinegar and baking soda, from the lovely Crunchy Betty. First, pour a pot of boiling water down the drain, to begin to dislodge any gunk. Then dump a 1/2 cup of baking soda down that bad boy. Let it sit a bit. Follow up with mix of 1 cup vinegar and 1 cup hot hot water. Let it sit for a bit more (5-10 minutes). Pour another pot of boiling water down that drain, and voila! Clear drain with no trip to Target.

3. Invest in equipment to help regulate temperatures.

Old apartments are notoriously terrible at maintaining temperatures. In the winter, those darling original windows (which gave it so much character!) will leak in cold air like body odor at the crowded state fair. If you’re lucky enough to control your own temperature, consider taking the super nerdy route and sealing your windows with plastic come cold weather. Your friends may laugh at you, but at least you’ll stay warm and have a cheaper heating bill. If you can’t control your thermostat, it might be time to break down and get a space heater. Sure, you’ll have a pretty high electric bill, but at least it doesn’t feel like you’re crawling out of your grave when you wake up in the morning. I invested in a smart space heater with a shut-off timer, so it runs for a few hours before turning off once I’m asleep.

There is likely no such thing as AC in your old apartment, and if you’re trying to stay cheap, box fans are the best investment. I found mine for around $10-$15 at Target. If you just can’t stand the heat, window air conditioning units are worth exploring. Keep in mind, like a space heater, this bad boy sucks up energy. Consider getting one with a timer.

4. Sign up to track you deliveries.

Maybe you’re luckier than I am, and this secret doesn’t apply to you. But the doorbell for our apartment has never worked (something we probably should have looked into before signing the lease). Since moving in, my Amazon Prime account has become all-but-useless. Ordering things online is now a hassle, from miscommunication via door tags to driving twenty minutes to pick up packages they couldn’t leave at the door to having packages stolen—the doorbell fiasco is a mess. But over the course of these mishaps I’ve discovered that both FedEx and UPS offer free delivery notifications if something is coming your way. With UPS My Choice and FedEx personal tracking you can receive text messages or emails when packages are headed to you (for free!). You can also put your account on vacation holds, and set up instructions for where drivers should leave a package. It might not make up for the $79 that Amazon Prime costs, but at least it’ll make deliveries a little less stressful.

5. Roll with the punches.

It’s unavoidable—something absolutely ludicrous will happen to you in your terrible apartment. You’ll find five millipedes on your bathroom floor one morning, accidentally break your single pane glass window while trying to kill a box elder bug, discover the joys of having to change ceiling fan lights for the first time at night. The power will go out for no reason, maybe they’ll even shut off your water. Whatever happens, keep in mind that it isn’t the end of the world. It may feel like it, as your stare at the shards of glass now spread out across your pillows and comforter, but it’s not. Ridiculous things will happen, and they are not a reflection of you, or your day, or your choices, or your lifestyle. They just happen sometimes. So grab your keys, and head out for a walk. The millipedes will probably crawl back into the drain by the time you get back.

How to Feel Classy When You Have No Money

Are you unemployed? Do you have a limited (or no) income? Do you reject the idea that people should know that you have no money? Well, you’re in luck, because I’m here to tell you how to feel special as your bank account dwindles.

First of all, put a bra on. No one takes a woman seriously if she hasn’t even put a bra on today. Change out of your pajamas—maybe even put on a skirt. As part of the “fake it ’til you make it” regiment, dressing the part has a huge impact on your point of view. You may no longer have direct deposit, but you’ve got a pencil skirt. Wear it.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, it’s time to drink. You may not have enough money anymore to buy $20 bottles of wine on a weekly basis, but you can’t afford to look cheap. That’s why you’ve got the white wine spritzer.

Trader Joe’s sells boxes of cheap (and not horrible) Chardonnay at $10.99 a pop. Buy yourself one. Not only are you getting over three bottles of wine for the price of one low-end wine, you’re going to water it down anyway, so the taste doesn’t really matter. From Target (or any other chain grocery store) purchase a 10-pack of La Croix seltzer water (preferably a complimentary flavor—I chose mango, but I’ve noticed passion fruit and even lime work well). Most white wine spritzers call for club soda or even ginger ale, but we’re cheap, so we’re taking a step down. Add half a glass of chardonnay, half La Croix, a handful of ice, and a few berries (if you’re extra cheap, frozen berries work just as well—I used fresh blueberries), and call it a day. Voila—class in a cup.


After you’ve made your white wine spritzer, set the mood. You’re wearing a pencil skirt after all, you can’t listen to just anything. Billie Holiday radio is a wonderful start, and most sites offer it for free if you don’t mind the ads. iTunes has a pretty good catalogue, Spotify is weak, and Pandora is fairly consistent. If you’re struggling with Billie (which, who are you? GET OUT) other choices include Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, or Mildred Anderson (if you’re feeling particularly melodramatic, “Everybody’s Got Somebody But Me” is wonderful). More contemporary artists are Jamie Cullum, Madeleine Peyroux, or (the classics) Michael Bublé and Norah Jones. The one things to keep in mind when you’re classing it up? Jazz is not an option. You cannot replace it with Mumford and Sons or Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. It is a nonnegotiable. (Unless, of course, you’re replacing it with Nicki Minaj, which I probably couldn’t argue.) 

Next, make yourself a meal. BudgetBytes is a great place to start (last night I made the Southwest Mac ‘N Cheese), but Pinterest is also full of classy recipes on the cheap. In fact, for the most part, cooking for yourself is pretty cheap. Is eating homemade truffle butter every night cheap? Not so much. But canned foods are hidden well in pantries, and if you want to class it up a bit, the lovely gentlemen at Sorted Foods make high end cooking easy and impressive. It’s all in the presentation. Work hard in the kitchen, feel classy.

Finally, spend the rest of your evening reading. Best way to read extensively? The library (argue that you’re supporting local nonprofits—without you, we’d lose all of our libraries!). Almost every county library has an online catalogue that makes it easy to search and request almost any book, usually available at your local library within a week. Not so big on reading? Many big cities (Minneapolis included) are part of an audiobook sharing program that makes downloading an audiobook for free to your iPhone or Android easy and painless. Just enter your library number, download the OverDrive app, and start listening. If your library isn’t quite with the times, podcasts are a great way to keep learning while you’re cleaning, or driving or riding the bus (shhhhh—we don’t do that! We have Uber!). Some of my favorites include This American Life, RadioLab, The Moth, The TED Radio Hour and The New Yorker Fiction podcast. Remember, you want to exude a sense of intelligence and cultural prowess, and getting in touch with NPR never hurt anybody.

And remember, class is a state of mind. Exude it enough, people have to believe you sooner or later. Good luck!

The Importance of Taking Care of Yourself

Around Christmas of 2010 I was diagnosed with clinical depression. Many outside factors contributed to this–my mother’s cancer diagnosis, the impending end of college, our recent family move. But the fact remained that my hours in bed (going to bed early, sleeping in late, never feeling awake), my self-perceived worthlessness, my minor bouts with self-harm (I’d clench my fists often, digging my nails into my palms, and occasionally punched my thighs to relieve tension) could no longer go untreated. I worried that soon the depression would get worse, and I would no longer see the point of treatment. I asked my mother to take me to the doctor, where I was diagnosed and encouraged to start a regiment of meds and therapy. I was afraid of meds so I asked to start exclusively with therapy.

I went to my first therapist with deliberate skepticism. This woman can’t help you, I told myself. If you want to get better, just get better. Feel better. Stop being so sad. Just be happy. I labored under the belief that depression was mere unhappiness, and that I was letting myself be unhappy, and that I could choose to be happy. Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps. Stop feeling sad.

In my journey through to depression, I tend to write off this therapist. While I didn’t necessarily feel that strongly about our time together, she gave me something for which I will be eternally grateful–the opportunity to begin a dialogue about my feelings without the pressure of judgment or guilt. I have been extremely blessed with a vast community of friends and family that I have always felt open with, but this network of friends can (and should) only go so far. With a therapist I discovered the importance of naming my feelings, recognizing them as real and needing to be felt, and, perhaps most importantly, not inherently bad. Very slowly I began to shed the belief that there was something wrong with me because of my depression, that I had let myself feel these things, that I could save myself. There were actual physical changes that had happened in my brain, pathways that had been rewired by my constant negative thoughts that couldn’t be changed by simply “feeling better.”

I also discovered another vital truth about depression around this time–for most people (myself included) it is a lifelong struggle. There would be no cure-all for me, I wouldn’t suddenly hit thirty therapy visits and feel elated all the time. Depression is a constant in my life. I make a conscious effort many days to combat it–to avoid situations where I can feed it. Fortunately my depression is currently quiet, but I am aware that if I don’t take care of myself it can and will rear its ugly head. I make sure to get enough sleep, to eat healthy foods that make me feel good, to get exercise, and most importantly to me, to avoid feeling shame my emotions. I will not be happy all the time, I shouldn’t be happy all the time, and I am no less because of that fact. I embrace my emotions more than I ever have in the past–recognizing that shame about them is more toxic than actually feeling them.

My point in telling you all of this is two-fold. One, depression affects a vast array of people, 1 in 10 Americans will suffer from it at some point in their lives. The stigma that you should just “feel better” is dangerous, and shuts down the dialogue about mental health. It is why I felt so responsible for my own depression, that I had somehow done it to myself, that I was broken. The more we stigmatize depression the more people suffer its terrible consequences–convinced as I was that they can fix themselves, or worse that there is something wrong with them. Depression likes to be fed, and the idea that you are broken only brings you closer to your depression.

Two, an awareness of your emotions is vital to your mental health. I am extremely fortunate to be at a place where I can manage my depression (many, many people are not). I am aware of what feeds it, and I try to take care of myself. Having dealt with depression, I can see some paths like road maps–too many hours of TV, sleeping too long, staying inside all day, avoiding contact with friends and family, long sad music sessions, not eating properly–these all feed my depression. These are by no means universal, but they are some of my indicators, like flashing lights on the highway: danger ahead.

Depression is a terribly easy thing for many people to fall into–and it might not even be apparent to those you love. I imagine this post will come as a shock to some of my friends. Depression likes to get you alone, make you feel alienated, make your emotions feel unsharable. Outwardly you can be bubbly and friendly, putting on a face to keep your negative emotions quiet, feeding the alienation you feel, feeding your depression. Take care of yourself. Name your emotions. Talk about them. Recognize that life is hard. Don’t compare your emotions, life, struggles with other people’s. If you think you need to, talk to a therapist or doctor–even if you aren’t depressed, therapy is a great way to tap into your emotional health. Be in touch with all of your feelings, not just happiness.

Please, please, please take care of yourselves. There are many people that love you.

If you feel you need immediate attention, the National Suicide Hotline is available 24/7: 1-800-273-8255.

I love you. Be good to yourself.

Betterment: City Driving – Intersections

Let me begin with a confession: I have a lot of road rage. It isn’t my proudest trait, but if you make a mistake on the road, fear not, I’m screaming at you from the comfort of my driver seat. If I make a mistake, I feel guilty about it for weeks (I STILL feel terrible about my mistake from last week–driving straight through a turn only lane and almost crashing into a van). I scream about driving a lot because I’m constantly worried, constantly in fear that someone else’s stupidity (or my own) is going to cause a pile-up. I am trying my hardest to concentrate 100% on the road–you should too.

I say this because my friend once commented on my road rage with a simple statement: “you must think you’re the best driver on the road.”

I am not the best driver. And whenever I think about defending my “GET OUT OF THE LEFT LANE, IDIOT,” I think of the statistic that says 93% of drivers believe they are better than average. Am I part of this terrible statistic? Probably. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to try to impart some driving wisdom on you.

We’re first going to talk about city driving, specifically intersections. It’s a hot mess most of the time, and I’ve done my fair share of wrong turns. But some stuff needs to be restated.

When making a left hand turn at a green light, you are allowed to drive into the center of the intersection, even if there is oncoming traffic. The purpose of this is simple–by being in the middle of the intersection you guarantee that you will get through the intersection when the light turns yellow and then red, and move traffic along. You are also making room for the cars behind you to go around you–again guaranteeing the flow of traffic.

If you are behind a car turning left, you do not have to wait until they have cleared the intersection to move through–you are allowed to go around them. If you hesitate, it’s possible that the cars behind you will assume you too are turning left, and pass you on the right. ALWAYS CHECK YOUR PASSENGER SIDE MIRROR AND BLIND SPOT BEFORE PASSING ON THE RIGHT. Especially if you are driving in a city any number of things can crop up while you wait at an intersection–cyclists, other drivers, pedestrians.

On the same note, it is highly unsafe to go around a left turning car before the light has turned green. (For example, if you approach a red light and notice the driver in front of you has their left blinker on, you should not wait on their right. Not only are you preventing other drivers from turning right on red, you are putting yourself and the other driver in a dangerous position should they change their mind before the light turns green. Wait behind them until the light has turned, and then go around them.) This is one of my bigger pet peeves, since on more than one occasion I have had to make way for a driver waiting on my right at a red light. If a line has formed at a green light and doesn’t appear to be moving, it is safest to assume that everyone is going straight and the intersection is just too busy to get through. Unless you see left blinkers, do not assume the line is turning left. Wait until you are closer to the intersection (at MOST two or three cars away, with a view of the road past the intersection), and then pass the cars turning left. It may take you an extra red-light rotation to get through, but you’ll ultimately be safer.

One final note on intersections–it is illegal in most states to enter an intersection if you cannot clear it by the time the light changes. That means that if the next light is backed all the way up to your intersection, you have to wait at the green light until there is enough room for your entire car to clear the intersection. If when the light changes to red you are blocking traffic in the other direction you are in violation of traffic laws and can be ticketed. You are preventing oncoming traffic from flowing, and are all around just a selfish tool.

Obviously there are exceptions to all of these rules. First and foremost, your priority should be safety. I also want to note that laws differ from state-to-state. I learned to drive in New York state, and currently live in downtown Minneapolis, MN. I make no claim to know the laws of North Dakota, Oklahoma, Nevada, etc. Always check local laws if you are uncertain. If you believe I am misinformed in any way I welcome comments and dialogue.

Good luck driving! Hopefully you won’t look in your rearview mirror and see me screaming at you any time soon.

Betterment: Customer Service

Early on in my career in customer service I learned to ignore the hot shots that got a kick out of picking on me. Whether it was that I “made you late for work” because you stopped in a coffee shop and it took a little longer than you would have liked, or that I put too many pumps of syrup in your latte and you couldn’t drink it, I promise you, I’ve heard of all of the ways I am a terrible day ruiner. You want three inches of caramel sauce at the bottom because you just need it, fourteen smoothies in less than ten minutes because the traffic was intense, for me to understand when you say four packets of sugar you actually meant seven.

Here’s something I will fully admit to—I have made numerous mistakes. I’m not perfect, and if you complain, chances are I will go out of my way to fix it. I will own up to my mistakes, because I recognize that you have paid for a certain experience, and I have not lived up to that. I’m sorry. I totally messed up. Please. Let me buy you a drink.

But here’s the thing I don’t think many people think about—the key to good customer service is multitasking. My priority is you, sure, but I’m also thinking about the people behind you, the speed at which your drink is being made, the fact that one of the coffees is low and I need to brew it, that the chocolate syrup is going to expire soon, that the oven is beeping with a sandwich for Carl and drawer one needs ones and fives. But I look at you, and I grin as big as I can (because fake it ‘till you make it), and I ask you if I can start something for you. And you give me your complicated order, and I repeat it back to you while the coffee timer beeps and the man at the hand-off plain is insistently holding up the empty carafe of creamer and I begin scribbling your order on the wrong size cup. “I said LARGE,” you say with perhaps more disdain than you probably needed. “Of course, I’m sorry.” I fix my mistake as you roll your eyes at your coworker, who is now ignoring me, and I look at her, hoping she too will start to order. “Ma’am,” I nudge, as peacefully as I can, “ma’am, can I get something for you?” You sneer because I’m being brusque, but there is a line out the door, and while I do think it is fascinating that your husband is re-doing your basement, I really need to know what you’d like to order because I have to get that muffin out of the oven and give the bathroom key to the gentlemen in the coffee stained t-shirt, and grind the beans for the next batch of dark roast. I am trying my very best to give you my full attention—you really are my priority, I promise, but my mind does not start and end with your order. I am not a robot whose only task is to take your order.

I’m a firm believer that everyone should work in customer service at some point in their lives. It teaches you so much about working behind the counter, and how people see you. Now every person serving me could be me—I tip more, I have more patience, I speak up when something is wrong, I carry on more conversations with the people waiting on me. Sure, there are a lot of duds in this gig—there will be people who lean on counters, who ignore you, who text while on the job—but those people don’t reflect the entire workforce, just like the slacker in your office isn’t what your boss thinks of you. And yelling at them and snapping your fingers? Is that going to make you feel better at the end of the day?

We all believe no one else could do our job as well as we can if we find pride in it. I’m sure I couldn’t handle the accounts of thirteen international furniture clients without a decent amount of training. So can you afford me the same courtesy? If I handed you an apron and put you on the bar in the morning rush, I expect you’d be a puddle on the floor by 8:30AM. Your job isn’t easy. But neither is mine.

I won’t let it ruin my day if you berate me for making your drink with the wrong milk. I will wash you off with the vanilla syrup and coffee grinds when I clock out.

But have some grace, will you?