Friday, May 28, 2010

Undercover Shopper

I am the Queen of Shopping - the Princess of Purchasing. Although I try hard to stay within my budget as a single mom, I love the thrill of the sale, the challenge of finding just the right gift, the satisfaction of checking the last item off my “to do list.” Whether it be shoe shopping, grocery shopping or all things in between, I find my Zen State ……with the exception….of car shopping. Car shopping gives me the hives! I would rather organize my closets, mop my floors and even wash the neighbor’s cat before I embark on a car purchase. Repair bills for my current car may pile up, interior features may fall of, and scratches and dents may accumulate…..and still I procrastinate car shopping.

I have done some soul searching to figure out exactly WHY this is. I grew up in a family full of mechanics and while I am no Mona Lisa Vito, I have a basic grasp of how cars work (well, how cars work circa 1986). The colors are shiny, the prospects are numerous….so what gives?? After doing a little bit of research via Twitter and Facebook in my group of friends/followers, I have come to the conclusion that in general (and as a group), women don’t like to shop for cars. Now, there are some women who are up to the challenge because it IS a challenge…..they go in informed, confident and determined to get the car they want at the best deal. But, quite honestly, that proves my point….it’s not an easy task.

Based on my research, women do not like to shop for cars because (1) they are shown cars that they do not want and do not like, (2) they are spoken to on a kindergarten level, (3) salesmen b.s. them, (4) their questions are brushed off and (5) they feel that they do not get as good of a deal as the men when it comes to final price. BINGO!!! My quirky need to be the best of everything is QUASHED when I shop for cars. In the past, my car buying process went like this:

The X and I go to a car lot where I patiently explain to the salesman exactly what I am looking for - - color, style, price, size. I give him my specifications and also mention that I HATE silver cars. The salesman looks at me like a little girl in pigtails and knee socks, listens to me with a patronizing smile, and then turns to my X for confirmation that I said is correct. He proceeds to take us to the back lot and presents styles of cars that I specifically said I didn’t like AND to top it off, they are ALL silver. On one such outing, the salesman aggressively tried to sell me a car I didn’t like in a color I didn’t like for a price I couldn’t afford. Finally, he gave an exasperated sigh, looked at my X and asked me why I didn’t want to buy that car. I replied, “Because it is ugly.” My X was mortified…why in the world would I tell the man his cars were ugly???? Holy cow, I didn’t say his children were ugly, I said the cars were ugly. We leave the car lot empty handed and unhappy.

After a few such experiences, I found if I took a man as a decoy, I am free to shop at my leisure at the cars I WANT to look at without the pesky salesman trotting me off to look at cars they need to move that month. With my decoy man in tow, I ask important questions through a testosterone translator and have a better overall sales experience. The salesman typically gets sent off to look up a price while my token man and I discuss important strategy. Now, I know that I should be all “woman power” and all that, but for me…it worked like a charm.

At a Tweet-up a couple of months back, I spoke with Chris Theisen at Hare Chevrolet about my car buying strategies. Hare Chevy had formed an alliance with a woman-centered car company and Chris thought I should check out their dealership as an undercover shopper to see if my experience would be any different. Now the opportunity to be undercover (the Sidney Bristow of car shopping) far outweighed any hesitancy on my part about car shopping and I decided I was up for the challenge.

I dolled myself up and even threw on a fabulous Parisian scarf and a pair of 3 inch heels for good measure (no one said I played fair!). I am shopping as a girl, so I was going to be the girliest girl I could be straight-faced. As I drove into Hare Chevrolet, I found my hands quivering at bit….I was nervous. Good grief, Becky….pull yourself together…this isn’t top secret government weaponry, it’s car shopping! I walked around the car lot and over comes my prey….I mean…my salesperson, Reneau. I start off telling him that I am a real estate agent whose powder blue Audi A4 was always in the shop and I was looking for something stylish but not flashy that would be good for my business. (InSpygame , Robert Redford tells Brad Pitt that the secret of good spy work is in telling as much truth as you can in your details). I tell Reneau that I hate silver cars and think that I would make a great undercover agent.

Reneau shows me a couple of Cadillacs--I told him they were too flashy. He showed me a Saab--I told him that my boyfriend said they were unreliable. Reneau began to give me good solid details about cars and the differences between them. His experience in the car industry showed. I asked several elementary questions and even some “what is this do-hicky” questions to see if he would take the stance of “let me help you little Missy,” but he always treated me with respect and gave me loads of information. Reneau walked up to a silver car and I instantly became skeptic, however, much to my surprise, he mentioned the Buick was a good car and he had one across the lot that wasn’t silver. Then…..I see it….I tried to ignore it for the sake of my undercover shopping….but it started calling out to me…..the Camero.

I inched over to the Camero section while looking at select cars in between--trying to look for “work cars” at a budget price. Finally, I could stand it no longer and I asked him about the Cameros. NOW we are shoppin!!! Reneau told me of the three main differences in the Camero. I wanted a sun roof (they don’t come in convertible - booh), an automatic transmission and the sporty package. Although we didn’t find one that was a total match, I was enamored. We went for a test drive. I was able to quiz his knowledge on cars even more and see if he continued to treat me as an equal or as “just a girl.” We spoke price in general terms. I told him that I was not ready to buy today and he was okay with that. He told me to take my time.

In the end, I admit I was pleasantly surprised. My experience with Reneau Simpson and Hare Chevrolet was a good one. I intentionally came to the lot acting ill informed and indecisive. I spent a good hour on the lot and felt no pressure. Although I love Carlito, my high-maintenance Audi, that Camero gave me something to think about!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Friendship is a Journey

The Man and I went home to the great state of Arkansas, the Natural State, the Land of Opportunity, Hawg Country, the state that holds all of my childhood memories in her hands. Both of our trips to my childhood home have been short and I have had to pack every memory I want to share with him into a scant few days...going to Lake Ouachitia (via boat and via meandering raft), wandering the farms of my grandparents, and eating my favorite Arkansas Cuisine (Stubby’s Barbeque and Catfish from Cajun Broiler). On this trip, we planned a visit to Petit Jean Mountain (subject of a previous blog about needing adventure). Petit Jean has a stunning view of the Arkansas River Valley were one can see for miles. Petit Jean also has a stunning hike to a waterfall, Cedar Falls.

It was a beautiful day - not too hot and not too humid. The Man, my little Chickadee, my Mama and I embarked down the trail. Now, I say the words trail with a bit of hesitation as there were times when the “trail” was simply a stretch of large rocks to navigate, creeks to cross, and boulders to go around. Here in Indiana, if there is a sign that warns wannabe hikers that the trail is strenuous, you know that it has a bit of a hill grade. This trail, however, took strenuous to a new level!!! The Man at one point thought that Chickadee and I were out of our minds when we took shortcuts down the side of the mountain…..but I was home and I was happy!!

As we hiked down the mountain (and pondered our hike back UP said mountain), we kept an eye out for each other...stopping to give a hand to ensure no one slipped and looking for the best way to navigate large rocks, muddy trails and steep inclines. Sometimes Chickadee would lead, sometimes Mama would lead and sometimes the Man and I would lead chit-chatting along the way. Occasionally, one of us would go their own way for a bit (I just had to cross the creek instead of taking the rickety bridge across) and we would meet up again. We warned each other of impending that poison ivy! Don’t put your hand between the rocks when you go down!! There might be snakes!!...and we took pictures at every opportunity.

From time to time, a woman would stop me and inquire about my choice of hiking attire. I had on a cute pair of black shorts, my Josef Seibel leather sandals (they are soooo cute and practical as they have excellent grips on the bottom and flexion - I wore them through Greece and Turkey) and carried my cute leather clutch from ReFind (a girl needs her purse). Now, being an experienced hiker, I understand the principles of good hiking shoes/socks/gear and am not in any way advocating unsafe behavior, however, I have hiked up Vesuvio in Naples watching Italian women going up the side of the volcano in short skits and stilettos…even the elderly women were wearing heels….but I digress. It gave Chickadee great pleasure to watch these sweet mother hens clucking away at my poor choice of attire, reminding her of all the times I fussed at her for shoe choices (although I still maintain that plastic flip-flops are shower shoes and should only be worn in the most casual of situations)….. Chickadee smiled her brilliant smile knowing that her mother is definitely, “one of a kind.”

What I enjoyed most about our outing was the ease of our interactions. We accepted each other as we were--limitations and all. We helped one another without judgment and offers of help were gladly accepted. When The Man presented his hand to help me up a rock, it was gladly received even though I am quite capable of scaling up the side of a rock. When Chickadee and I had different approaches to navigating the boulders to get under the waterfall, we allowed each other space to do so while keeping an eye out for danger. That’s what friendship is all about….being fellow hikers on the journey of life. Friendship is about allowing the other to take their own path (even though it may be different for a moment) and still helping them out (even if their path turned out to be a mistake). Sometimes in friendship, you get to stand underneath a waterfall and enjoy the majesty and beauty of it all and sometimes it’s the hard work of climbing to the top over rocks and trees and steep, slick paths. Our destination was the waterfall, but our journey did not stop there.  We had to do the hard work of going back up. It would have been nice to set up camp at the stay in that place of beauty forever…..but we had to keep moving….had to get back on the daily trail of life (and of course, look for our next adventure).

When I got divorced, I realized how important friendships are. I changed zip codes and began to rebuild my life...a life full of beauty and adventure, of being seen and being known, of new friendships and new horizons. The friendships I made are invaluable to me…but to make those friendships, I had to allow myself to be open to new people and face my own fear of being rejected by them. It is only in openness that friendships can grow. My girlfriends (and guyfriends) have helped me to soar to heights unimaginable three years ago.

So Here’s To the Journey!!! The journey is what it is all about.

Coca-Cola Cake Recipe

Growing up in the Great State of Arkansas, potluck dinners and lunches were a favorite! It was always a good day when someone brought a coca-cola cake!!!

As requested on Twitter, the following is my coca-cola cake recipe. This recipe was adapted from my fav-o-rite cookbook by Nigella Lawson, How to Be a Domestic Goddess. I use this book a lot!!

When making the cake this time, I followed her instructions to put it in a spring form pan lined with foil, however, the cake is most often made in a 9x13 cake pan. I liked the look of the pretty, round, chocolaty cake, so I will probably prepare it this way again……it’s yummy!!!! Although I haven’t tried this (yet) I imagine that one could substitute a cane syrup root beer or some other more “organic” drink.

Also don’t let the cooking part of the cake recipe intimidate you -- it doesn’t take more than a few minutes and the results are heavenly!!!

Coca-Cola Cake


1 1/3 cups all purpose flour (I used cake flour--always stir or sift flour before measuring)
¾ cup plus 1 T sugar (I simply added half of the ¼ cup measuring cup extra)
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
2 large eggs
½ cup buttermilk (don’t substitute this--it makes the cake!!!)
1 tsp vanilla (use the real stuff not the fakey stuff for best results)
½ cup butter (again don’t substitute--margarine is just not the same)
2 tbl cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s special dark--although Ghirardelli is my standby)
¾ cup coca-cola

Preheat oven to 350 degrees and put in a baking sheet (I used a baking stone). Prepare your spring form pan by lining it on the outside with aluminum foil (it will drip) and grease the bottom and sides (I used veg oil, but you could use butter).

In a saucepan, gently (ie: low heat) melt butter, add the cocoa powder mixing until it is smooth and add coca-cola. You don’t want this to boil. While you are waiting for butter to melt, combine flour, sugar, baking soda and salt in a large bowl (you will eventually put all ingredients in this bowl). In a small bowl beat the eggs and add buttermilk and vanilla.

Pour the warm coca-cola mixture into the flour mixture and stir until well blended. Add the buttermilk mixture and stir well. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for around 40 minutes (for the spring form pan) or until a cake tester comes out clean. Now, this is a very thin cake, so if you check it and it’s not quite done, don’t wait too long to check again as you want this cake to be moist!

Put cake on cooling rack for about 15 minutes before unmolding. When ready to unmold, carefully run a butter knife along the edges to ensure it doesn’t stick. Place the cake on whatever serving dish you are going to use. The icing drips and runs, but that is part of the charm.


1 ½ Cups powdered sugar
2 T butter
3 T Coca-cola
1 T cocoa powder
½ tsp vanilla

Sift the powdered sugar (I didn’t - - but I had to make sure the lumps were smushed with a spoon). In a saucepan, melt butter on low heat and add coca-cola and cocoa and stir until all is combined. Remove from heat and add vanilla and slowly combine powdered sugar stirring out the lumps.

I poked the cake with a toothpick and poured a little bit of extra coke over the cake for extra moistness (not too much). Pour the warm icing over the cake and allow to cool completely before serving. (When I was growing up, some people added pecans or walnuts to the icing or on top).