Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween from our pumpkins!

What would be your most sinister pleasure this All Hallow's Eve ...

A 'aw shucks' pumpkin straight from the patch?

A squashed squash?

Or a pumpkin piggy bank for greedy little hands?

No matter which you choose ...Happy Halloween from our skeleton crew to yours!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The new adventures of Old Rag (and Emily)

"I originally thought that it would be awesome to take a hot air balloon ride to mark year 26. But then one crashed on Sunday and well, I'd like to see 27."

So said Mimes, the bestest, right before she requested that she come to DC to celebrate her birthday by doing the unthinkable: hiking. Yes, hiking. As in going along a trail and absorbing nature as an excuse to eat trail mix. For the first time. Ever. EEEEEEVVVVVEEEEER. As in ever in her previous 26 years. Meaning her life.

So, since Roomie Ryan is a birthday twin of the bestest, and all of us were feeling adventurous, we decided to take her. And this, friends, is how the roomies, the bestest, and I ended up on top of Old Rag, where one can get "his or her first real taste of mountaineering."

For those of you who might not be familiar with it, Old Rag is about an 8.5 mile loop through Shenandoah National Park, the site of the infamous brrr-themed camping trip of 2008. You follow the Ridge Trail, go through a mile of open rock scramble, hit the summit, and then descend back along the fire road.

In layman's terms, this means: follow the blue paint splotches, don't fall off the side of the mountain, eat lunch when you can see the world, and then thank God in His merciful heaven you're going downhill for the remainder of the hike.

The day of our hike dawned clear, crisp, and practically perfect in every way. We were armed with water (only matching bottles for bestestes):

And factoids:
"A larch is the only deciduous conifer."

And friendly co-hikers who would snap pics of us at the trailhead and later haul us up onto rocks:

And funny words like leaf peeping to describe our foliage intake:

That mocked said, once we were underway we realized what serious business leaf peeping was -- particularly when we realized it really was us and a bunch of trees and lots of rocks. So scramble we did:

And injure ourselves (myself) we (I) did on one ill-timed jump:

And give Julia a heart attack we (the boys) did:

It was all worth it when we reached ... lunchtime. Hold your horses, we're not at the top yet -- but we were close enough dammit, and besides we hadn't eaten in 6 hours, at which point squashed pb&j seemed gourmet:

Had we known what awaited us, however, we might have eaten faster, for a bit more scrambling brought us to ...


To which we said, WOW.

And duly posed:

And duly celebrated (minus an M, C, and A):

And duly started walking downhill:

It didn't dawn on me, however, until we were halfway down the mountain what we had just accomplished. We'd all encouraged one another to keep going. We reached out our hands when others couldn't climb up. We took a risk when we stood on the precipice. We breathed in pure fall air and saw autumn at its peak, from the peak. We laughed and talked and made every moment worth the bruises, scrapes, and sore muscles.

We remembered the drama of nature:

And the beauty of friendship:

And the blessing that is another year of life, of adventure, of joy on this earth:

I'd call that a successful hike, wouldn't you?

Happy Birthday, my bestest -- next time, we're camping. ;)

Monday, October 27, 2008

How to get rid of jargon -- for good

As promised, here is part two of my rant against jargon, in which the heroine attempts to save good words from bad ends with five tips:

1. Walk through the 5 W's.
Make sure you've got your goals and audience nailed down before communicating a single word. That way, the 'who' has a face, the 'what' has clear steps you can assign real verbs to, and you won't have to hit "eject" with words like engage or empower.

2. Be the new kid on the alphabet block.
Don't jump off the jargon bridge just because everyone else is. What ideas/concepts/words roam the world, unclaimed, that describe what you do? Find them, make them your own, and stick to it. Caution: If the words don't immediately tell what you're actually doing, you've got a problem. So either align your biz to your wordy vision, or dig up some new descriptives. Anything less comes off as unauthentic and unoriginal.

3. Brand your language.
State the linguistic rules that competitors will have to play by if they want to scuffle on your turf. AKA, define your terms. This approach can get a bit tricky if you're using tired words in a fresh way; in such a case, the onus is on you to craft new definitions, and then educate your audience about the refreshed meanings. A difficult route, to be sure, but one that can possibly help you achieve richer, more accurate communication with your adoring public.

4. Implode your echo chamber.

Get out of your own board room office head. What are people saying about you in the industry? On the street? Down the hall? Run your messages by a select group of people who don't know your org's day-to-day discussions (mothers come in handy here). As Ogilvy said, "the consumer isn't a moron -- she's your wife." Consult these fine folks, and listen to what they say. This usually results in you eating a big slice of humble pie, but all for a sweeter end -- messages that actually resonate with people.

5. Use kitchen-table English.
The word "leverage" does not come up in casual conversation over pizza. Yet the people you're sharing that pie with still understand what you mean and what you're saying. Sooo, if they can handle it, why not your wider audience? You all put your pants on one leg at a time, after all; surely you can explain what your org does without putting everyone to sleep.Here's a technique: The minute you feel the urge to insert high-falutin' language into your biz speak, stop, breathe, and explain it to your grandmother. (Feel free to actually call your grandmother here. And let me listen in.) If she gets it, proceed. If not, imagine the dinner table and try again.

And if after all this, your writing still isn't there ... then I got nuthin. Don't know what to tell you. We'll never know what you do, and will assume you are the Dunder Mifflin of whatever industry you're in. Sorry.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Jargon that must die -- and what must rise

Glass walls come in handy when you have multi-colored markers and a bone to pick with your office about their jargon abuse. That's why one wall of my professional den has *three columns* of words that if I never hear again in the philanthropy field (and the business world), it will be too soon. How many of these do you have to deal with?

Wisdom of the crowds.
Are they really that smart? Do we always need to care? How do we vet it? What's wrong with raising up experts who have devoted their lives to studying and researching a given idea, and maybe not giving the uninformed Joes total authority over our corporate decisions? Stop using this phrase to justify being a "company of the people" if you're really not.

What a dry little word. I understand its utility in making you feel self-important, but it screams WONK! when overused. Besides, why say "in the philanthropic sector" and use 4 words, when you can say "in philanthropy" with 2 -- and be all the warmer for it?

This is my biggest pet peeve in the nonprofit world. Let's be honest: What nonprofit in their right mind would EVER get up and say, "You know, I don't really want people on the ground to carry this work forward. I don't want them to feel they have the ability or the tools to make it happen. I'd rather leave them hanging and just do it all myself." It's an escape hatch when you don't know the specific actions you want to inspire in others through your program or organization.

See "engage." You're killing me when you use this word, Smalls, because at this point, it's powerless. HOW will you empower the people? WHAT will you empower them to do? WHY are you even bothering to empower them? DEFINE empower. If you can't answer these questions, don't you dare touch this word.

True innovation is action. If you're not actually doing anything, you have no right to claim it. I know, this will come as a crushing blow to many of you. But simply stating you are innovative does not equal pixie dust that makes your product/process/company magically new and different. Better to sit and have a think for awhile, come up with those amazing new approaches, and then share the specifics with your audience.

To your point.
I am guilty of using this phrase. A lot. I wrote it on the wall myself in a marker version of the pillory. Every time I say it, I cringe, because I see the hypocrisy of it all: I'm merely wasting time in a meeting supporting a point we've already spent 45 minutes discussing, only to give the illusion of caring before I actually share a quite different, usually contradictory opinion. It's an insincere segue that takes you nowhere.

Do you mean money? Say money. Do you mean time? Say time. Do you mean people staying late and pouring their blood, sweat, tears, and expletives into their keyboards, working their fingers to the bone for you and your project? Then say it. These are not dirty words that consign you to hell. They are the truth, and they will set everyone free. Well, except for the bleeding, sweating, crying, cursing minions at their desks.

Join the conversation. See also: Start the conversation.
Saying either of these phrases does not make you a social media expert. I'm sorry. The conversation is actually a bajillion chats and threads and comments and emails and Tweets and coffee meet-ups, and there's no way on God's green earth you're joining all of them. Chances are even slimmer you'll be able to take off with a new one. Best place to start: find the existing connections, add your two cents, listen to the bajillion other cents circulating as online currency, and then maybe just maybe revisit the smartness of adding another forum to the mix.

Marketers and PR flacks, I blame you for this one. Way to co-opt a financial term and (ab)use it to explain every strategic business communication, from getting a partner to getting more media coverage. Yes, we're all very proud of you for building on your previous hard work. But that's what we're ALL supposed to be doing. No action or decision exists in a vacuum. We get it. Stop saying it. And instead tell us what you're really up to, such as reaching out to XYZ blogger, contacting a different partner, creating a new program, etc.

I have to stop here because 1) that's enough for one sitting, and 2) my blood pressure is rising. I'd love it if you took if from here and added the biggies you catch yourself using.

And then in my next post, I'll outline how to avoid these terms and other jargon in your writing, be it for work, play, or emails to your mother. Because she doesn't like jargon either. I asked her.

Image courtesy of Zach Inglis via Flickr.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Funny Baby Pictures: Cries like a ninja!

Sometime, you just gotta break out the mad skillz. And if you're under 2 and naked, it makes you all the more badass.

Today's picture comes courtesy of the-pile-of-awesomeness-that-is-marketing blog Ittybiz, written/run/dominated by Naomi Dunford. I promise you that in future posts I'll be citing Naomi's marketing prowess and heavy cussing. But for now I want to share with you her beautiful birthday post to her son Jack on the miracle of his existence and his impact on her life.

Yes, it's almost two months old, but I don't care. Chances are good that Jack is still cute; excellent that Naomi is smart; and damn certain that this picture is funny is hell. Thanks for the laughs, Jack!!

Happy Friday all!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Greens + beans = one mean soup!

Oh, Express. You feed my soul every morning with your snarky news. You feed my stomach in the evenings with your fast recipes. And in both cases, you distract me from the fact it's getting colder when you share delicious dishes like Greens, Tomato, and White Bean Soup.

I made this dish over a week ago, and have eaten it pretty much every day since. It's like Big Anthony's Magic Pasta Pot, but with soup. It's even more satisfying because it took 30 minutes to make.

That's right, you do the math: 5 basic ingredients, 30 minutes prep, 8 meals. Doesn't get better than that. So without further linguistic equations, I give you ...

Greens, Tomato, and White Bean Soup


1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped (1 cup)
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
2 14.5-oz cans of reduced sodium chicken or vegetable broth
1 14.5-oz can diced tomatoes, with juice
1/2 cup whole-grain orzo or other small shape pasta (I omitted and it was fine)
1/4 tsp crushed red pepper (I omitted because I'm a wimp)
1/4 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 cup water (which you can omit if you omit the pasta, I think)
1 15-oz can white kidney beans, rinsed (I used great northern, and that worked well too)
4 cups chopped dandelion greens or escarole (about one bunch, but I did two (of escarole), which was AWESOME, because it just packed it in)

Heat the oil in a large pot on medium-high. Add the onion and garlic and saute until the onions are soft and translucent. (10 bonus points for any newspaper using the word translucent in a recipe.)

Add the broth, tomatoes, (orzo), (red pepper flakes), black pepper, and (water). Bring the soup to a simmer and cook (until the pasta is tender), about six minutes.

Add the beans and greens, and then cook, stirring often, until the greens are tender, about another 5 minutes. Serve sprinkled with Parmesan cheese (or if you're me and a snob, pecorino romano).

And remember, the recipe saves this serves four, but I think that's only if your guests eat a quart of soup at a time. Believe me, this made a TON, so prepare to store/freeze/bring for lunch ... and it only gets tastier as it sits, so you win!

P.S. Mom, how about you just print this page instead of me photocopying and mailing it to you? Thanks. :)

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

I killed a mum and I liked it

Ok, I didn't like the actual killing, but I really did like the mum I accidentally murdered -- a purple, $7 plant from Home Depot billed as hardy until it had the great misfortune to fall into my less-than-green hands.

Yes, that's right. I killed a hardy mum. HARDY. As in, HARD TO KILL.

I don't know where I went wrong. Did I break the roots while repotting? Was it in too much sunlight? Was it when I forgot to water it (for a whole week)((oops))? Wasn't my love enough to sustain it???

No matter the cause, the effect is the same: botanical homicide. I should draw a chalk outline around the pot where the brown corpse sits right outside our front door. (Subtext for visitors: Welcome to Julia's house -- you're all gonna die!)

This horrific outcome is anathema to my earth mother heart. I want everything I touch to flourish. Be it child, friend, plant, or tasty side dish, I want to know that my being a part of this object's life makes a little stronger, a little brighter.

But, as the mum used to be able to can attest, it doesn't always work out that way. And I especially lose confidence with Roomie J around to build confidence. He needs only to look at a seed and it bursts into full bloom.

So I ask, mum so scary, quite contrary, how will my green thumb grow? Let's look at the growth chart so far:

1. Grade school Julia makes a terrarium. Correction: Grade school Julia's mother makes a terrarium, grade school Julia brings it into the school. Terrarium soon molds.

2. High school Julia accidentally runs over the landscaping in her car at her parents' home. Expected outcome for planting beds along the driveway edges.

3. College Julia doesn't grow anything in Syracuse. In fact, NOTHING grows in Syracuse. Ever. Except apples.

4. First job Julia wins an heirloom tomato contest at work. (Try Brandywines -- they're amazing.) The success is legitimate and hard-won. Previous plant deaths conveniently forgotten, first job Julia assumes she is master of God's green earth.

5. DC Julia kills a mum.

Hmm. This does not look promising.

Still, I have hope. Gardening is a learned behavior, so like any good student I will set out to learn it. After all, Andrea of Andrea's Recipes (whom I had the pleasure of meeting just last week at BlogHer) admitted to The Washington Post -- the POST -- that she's "inadvertently killed hundreds of plants in my quest to grow our own herbs, vegetables and fruits."

And now she's famous with a yummy blog and lots of culinary/herbal/grow your own street cred. That DOES look promising.

Yes, I know hope and wishes and regret and dedication won't bring my falsely advertised mum back from the dead. But if these same good intentions can keep future plants from similar fates, then I'm already one step further on the road to horticultural salvation.

In the meantime, the mum will have in death what it never had in life: recognition as household decoration. That's because we're covering it with spiderwebs for Halloween. I think it's appropriate.

Strange epilogue: I wanted to take a picture of the emaciated mum for you, but it's very late right now, and you wouldn't see it anyway, and it's cold. So I didn't. But I did take a whole 15 seconds to try to find a picture of a dead mum plant online. What I got was a series of disturbing references to deceased mothers (human and animal alike) and one of Robert Plant keeping mum. And that, children, is why there are no pictures in this post.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Describe your world in 25 words

Write a Twitter post in 140 characters. Try crafting a six-word story or memoir. Or reviewing a film in four.

Too tough? Then maybe this challenge is more to your liking: describe your worldview in exactly 25 words.

That was the concept for Liz Strauss's latest writing project over at Successful Blog, where over 30 writers submitted mini-essays on the world as they see it -- or sometimes as they want it to be.

25 Words that Connect Us
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: wisdom of)

Posts like these are catnip to writers. We can't resist crafting that one perfect piece that not only encapsulates every deep thought ever thunk, but also fits right within the word limit. So even though the challenge is over, I feel the need to add my 2 (25?) cents to this mix ...

Draft #1
What if friendship becomes romance?
And romance, a life together?
My heart's open to the possibility,
because either way
you will be there with me.

Draft #2
One day, my boobs will sag.
My face will droop.
My height will shrink.
My mind might go.
But my works ... they will live on.

Draft #3
We could nitpick about grammar, pronunciation, syntax, word choice.
Or we could use the limited breath we have
To give life to our personal truth.

Draft #4
The world is not as wired as we think.
The tools are different. The need to connect is not.
Email -- call -- text -- visit -- love accordingly.

Draft #5
Dear God:
Are you there? It's me, Earth.
Do you see these wounds? Can you heal them?
The Band-Aids aren't working.
Neosporin, maybe?

Draft #6
Dear Earth:
It's God. Got your message.
Tell the people down there to play doctor
And patch you up.
I can only do so much.

Draft #7
Oy vey.
My one son, the doctor, is marrying a Catholic girl.
A shiksa!
At least we have guilt in common, if not the gefilte.

Draft #8
So, remember that time we ran errands on a fall afternoon
and listened to jazz standards and I was overjoyed?
That was a good day.

Draft #9
Rant and rave and rumble all you want.
You can't fix an organization,
Just your sphere of influence.
So find your circumference, and get going.

Draft #10
Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
Unless the perfect is tall, thin, smart, and beautiful.
Then feel free to gossip.

Draft #11
It's after 10. I'm spent.
Work, sleep, work again.
Where's my passion?
Now I remember.
In the words. All words. All 25 of them.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Prayer #38: Our Parent's Company

One of my best friends lost her father earlier this week to cancer. I never thought we'd be dealing with the death of a parent during our quarter lives. (It's supposed to happen in 30 years or so, right?) So, my emotions are conflicting, but on this I'm clear: this prayer is for her.

Prayer #38: Our Parent's Company

Dads are supposed to know everything. How do I throw a football, how do I balance my checkbook, can you edit my paper, what is the opposite sex thinking, what did you want to be when you grow up, how did you meet mom, what are your dreams for me, what makes a full life.

So what happens when your dad goes away before he's done answering you, much less himself? And what if he leaves you with more questions? Less memories? More regrets?

We humans can be foggy creatures. Our motives are unclear; our reasons, obscure. We lift one another. We wound one another. And for all that, we'll never know anyone -- parent, sibling, friend, spouse -- as intimately as we know ourselves.

Still ... shouldn't we try? Isn't it worth the joy of learning, despite the hurts?

So many questions, Lord, and no one to answer them. We shout them to You in hopes of a response. Sometimes we get them. Sometimes, it's silence. And therein lies the hardest challenge: to believe You are there, listening, compassionate, even though perhaps You can't answer. Not yet, anyway.

May we understand our mortality, then -- not in the sense of final death, but of our limitations. For if even You can't always give us what we crave, yet love us throughout, then it helps us to forgive the humans in our lives ... and to love them in return.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Dying to find a Halloween costume?

Then try these on for size:

Needle in a haystack * bipolar bear * Mary Murphy from SYTYCD * The Long Tail * Telltale Heart * Back 'words' (words on the back of a T-shirt) * Hamlet * Whistler's Mother * Green villains (Riddler, Poison Ivy, Green Goblin) * Judy-ism (dress as Garland and spout her sayings) * paradise (as a pair of dice) * Wall-E and Eve * 'Mummy' Dearest * American Goth (not Gothic) * "Maid" in America/China/India * Belle (bell) of the ball * Midnight Cowboy/High Noon * White picket fencer * Crate and Barrel (she's crate, he's barrel) * Birth of Venus * Son of Man * Microwave * Clue characters * chess/checker board * Romeo and Juliet * solo cup (for the person going alone) * coupon clipper * the walk of shame * an amalgamation of every slutty Halloween costume (with nurse outfit and maid skirt and bunny ears and angel wings and pirate patch. oh, and boots.)

Thanks to roomie J, assorted friends, and countless anonymous college students who helped inspire some of these. (And hat tip to Sue for the photo!)

What are some of the best ones you've dug up over the years, ghouls and guys?

Update: Roomie J supplied the following from his coworkers: "My cube neighbor Jillian had a cute idea for a "trophy wife." Dress all in gold and make some kind of stand with a plaque out of carboard to go around your feet. In a similar vein, Ruby suggested "arm candy"---just a sleeve covered in candy."

Monday, October 13, 2008

BlogHer DC '08: Reach out and teach someone!

Notice something different about my page? One thing is tangible -- I had to take down the BlogHer DC '08 conference widget. The other is intangible -- I now will write with greater purpose and excitement because I know a terrific blogger community is out there with open arms, ready to bring me in the blogging version of the red tent. And all of this because of today's event, BlogHer '08 Reach Out Tour, DC edition.

Three break-out sessions, 13 speakers, 25 new Twitter followers (hi everyone!), and 3000 calories later (damn you chocolate-covered apple sticks), I'm ready to share some of the highlights from the crash course in women-powered blogging that was my day:

* Who's reading blogs? Gen Y 85%; Gen X 66%; Boomers 41%.

* “Regardless of age, once engaged, blogging is a daily part of life.” This is code for ADDICTIVE AS CRACK.

* Blogging gives us the power to be heard ... to build our own playing field ... to participate ... to change our world.

* Note the evolution of community: We don't trust the institutions in our lives: gov't, media, big biz, health care, etc. But we still trust each other. It's about me and us, not about you.

* Your blog might start out professional, but it's always personal. It has to come from you to work. (Thanks Debbie Weil!)

* Keep going, even if there are pauses. You are building a deep digital trail. (Debbie again!)

* Have you thought about your blog legacy today? If you can develop a niche topic, you're much more likely to create following and maintain focus. Identify your goals. Pick an appropriate name. Do not divulge things that could hurt other people (that's Laurie White's policy). And remember, everything you write is findable and searchable. It is permanent, linkable content. So be mindful of what you're creating.

* Be careful on Twitter. Have distinct thoughts that don't need context. You don't want anything misinterpreted. (Thanks Jory Des Jardins!)

* Don't get really caught up in the metrics. Traffic is influenced by traffic and longevity.

* Jory's #1 tip to building traffic: be a good blog citizen, spread blog love, and move traffic away to bring it back to you.

* Feeling like a whisper in a screaming match? Remember that you're NOT competing with millions of blogs, because only 75,000 or so are updated often enough to be called active.

* Don't judge your blog's success on what is successful for others.

And that's just a drop in the bucket. You can check out lots of other comments and notes from all sessions at the BlogHer liveblogs and the Twitter hashtag #blogherdc. I'll be trying to build on many of the tips and techniques over the coming months, so stay tuned for my trial and error and lessons learned.

FYI: If the blog disappears, it means I accidentally deleted it. If it one day shows up with a new design, it means I didn't blow up the code (per Liz Henry's empowering instructions from today). Pray for the latter. Thanks! ;)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

13 reasons you can't go home again

1. A parent wakes you up at 9:30 am on a Saturday because "it's getting really late."

2. The appliances are in completely different places than in your kitchen.

3. The tap water tastes gross now, and there's no Brita filter in sight.

4. You're third in line for a shower.

5. Your bedroom walls are bare, save for the cheesy kid art you chose not to take with you in the move. (And god, that wall color ... what were you thinking ...)

6. You are dependent on the kindness of car loans to get anywhere of note.

7. All the friends you want to visit who live here have regular, ongoing lives of their own ... and you're not a part of that anymore.

8. No roommates.

9. You spend every minute visiting, whereas once you simply lived there.

10. TV channels have the gall to be numbered differently. Worse, there's no DVR.

11. You feel like you're interrupting someone's comfortable routine.

12. Your mother will never admit this, but she's moved on since you moved out. So now, you have to carve out a space for yourself, instead of occupying the one you thought you'd always have.

13. It forces you to admit you're a grown-up.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Word on the street: Men's opinion of period films

The scene: The YMCA weight room. I am doing some crunches. Three young muscleheads in tanks are talking behind me.

Guy 1: So she asked me to run out and get a movie, and she wanted one of those, you know, period films. And I was like, oh no, not that s***.

Guy 2: Oh no, man.

Guy 1: Nothing ever happens in them, you know? I keep trying to tell her it's bulls*** ...

Guy 3: Yeah, seriously dude. It's just people in costumes acting proper or some s*** like that. There's no story or anything.

Guy 2: I don't get it. I really don't. They're so boring.

Guy 1: And you know it's f***ed up when they try to make that type of thing into a pop movie. You know, there was that one about ... um ... you know, 'let them eat cake'?

Guy 2: Marie Antionette.

Guy 1: Yeah, her. It was historical, right, but they made it modern too. And it just didn't work.

Guy 3: Yeah, that movie suuucked.

(moment of silence)

Guy 1: I just don't get it, man.

Guy 2: Me neither.

Guy 3: It's such s*** ...

The End.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Not so spicy, nonetheless a meatball

What topic better follows a post on hunger than a recipe? And it's even more appropriate if I point out a way you can make it healthier.

Anyway, tonight's quickie is one of my favorite comfort foods -- the humble, satisfying, delicious meatball. Don't think Mama Lucia or Chef Boyardee. I'm talking the REAL stuff, the homemade goods, the simmered-all-day-in-sauce-to-make-the-house-smell-the-way-a-Godfather-flick-looks variety.

This is my mother's recipe, which is really my grandmother's recipe, which is really whatever came over on the boat in some ancestor's head and has no precise measurements attached. I hope you enjoy the simplicity of this timeless comfort food as much as I do. And if you don't, well, go scratch. There's no hope for you.

Mom's Meatballs


2-3 lbs. of meat (beef/pork/veal mix OR meatloaf mix OR ground beef OR ground turkey. Let's plan 'spot the healthiest option'!)
3 eggs
salt & pepper -- to taste
minced flat lead Italian parsely -- to taste
minced garlic -- to taste
spaghetti cheese -- to taste
breadcrumbs (only if needed to bind the mixture. I usually find I don't need it.)

Preheat the over to 350 degrees. Mix all ingredients in a bowl with a fork or by hand. Unless you're bleeding, have open sores, or haven't washed in 3 days, I recommend doing it by hand. Why? Because it's squishy and fun.

Whatever you decide, be gentle. Don't overmix. Form the meatballs and place on a baking sheet covered in tin foil. Bake for 30 minutes, turning at 15 minutes.

When they're done you have three options: eat right then and there (blah); pop in a freezer bag for a future meal (such foresight! such planning!); or pop into your homemade sauce (recipe coming), where you'll leave it to simmer as long as you'd like until you pour it over some delicious pasta and open a bottle of Chianti.

Guess which option I prefer.


Monday, October 06, 2008

The benefit of hunger

The maxim "eat to live, don't live to eat" is anathema to Italians. Living IS eating. Gravy = life's blood. So what's a young Italian-American (or a young Greek or German or Guatemalan or pretty much any culture on earth because, face it, we all love eating) to do when she lives in a developed country with easy access to food?

Eat it, of course. And then join Weight Watchers. Which I did last week.

Here's what I've learned so far:

1. Loving vegetables is coming in handy.
2. I was already eating around my point range.
3. Portion control is the devil.

This last point is hitting home the hardest. Only three days in to a three-month plan, I am already seeing how often I eat because I enjoy the act, feel, and ritual of it ... not because I'm hungry for the food.

Yet when forced to limit the amount of something I love so I can mete out my points (read: ice cream), I find I'm full at the end of the meal anyway. Ergo, my satiation revelation!

Ok, well, not my revelation, per se, but a personal manifestation of scientific study I've read about in some shape or form for years. Essentially, eat according to your body's needs. If you feel full, you overate, and if you feel stuffed, you REALLY hogged it down.

Easier said than done, of course, in our overconsumptive culture. And we're further tested by all our environmental triggers -- time of day, stress, boredom, sight, smell, etc. So I ask again, what's a girl (and guy) to do?

Simple -- bring on the hunger pangs. No, I'm not advocating masochism. I'm advocating getting back in touch with natural hunger cycles you lost track of somewhere around the time you graduated from Gerber to Cheerios.

I can already tell that's going to be the benefit of this weight loss plan for me. Even if I don't lose weight, I gain the following:

* empathy for people for whom hunger is not a choice.
* appreciation for the food choices I have.
* awareness of my body and its patterns.
* renewed emphasis on preparation and enjoyment of food.
* greater understanding of my food budget, both in dollars and energy.
* habits that will see me through a healthy adulthood.

And if all else fails, I'll always have Joel Stein's day of fasting to distract me!

Now off to bed .... before I convince myself I need ice cream.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Funny Baby [Audio]: Daddy's present

Kids are funny on their own. But they're hilarious when caught on tape.

Here's an audio twist on my "Funny Baby Pictures" series, courtesy of my dear friend and mentor Rich Levin (of PC TALK RADIO fame).

And only Rich can best introduce this clip of him and his son talking, so here goes:

"From 2004. Jacob gives me a present. It’s a rock."


Friday, October 03, 2008

Who moved the cheesy biz lit?

Who Moved My Cheese? It's the question that launched a thousand presentations, countless imitators, and several snorts of derision. (That last part = all from me.)

So when our COO asked us to read it in advance of a strategy meeting, I nearly threw up. Gag me with a spoon, I really cannot stand the hokiness -- dare I say, cheesiness -- of this book. (Read some other reviews.) Because if you don't understand that the world requires you to adapt or die, you don't deserve to be called an adult.

The timing of the request, however, had merit. Fresh off my vacation, I was taking some time this week to evaluate where I was in my job, almost 8 months after joining. Back then, I came into the role thinking I knew exactly what to do. Imagine my surprise when I realized the organization, its people, and its systems were completely different than from my last job! Who knew??

Thus began a steep learning curve where I as a managing editor was tasked with creating structures for processes I hadn't learned yet. The situation was not unusual, and neither were its outcomes -- a mishmash of cobbled-together editorial calendars, shot-in-the-dark decisions, and a pollyanna attitude (and rude awakening) about our internal review/approval process.

Now, eight months later, those same outcomes are cramping my workflow style. The systems I created are out-of-date, clunky, and not at all scalable for our new web presence strategy. Worse, it doesn't reflect my team's dynamics, so I end up spending most of my time navigating broken tools that are supposed to SAVE me time.

Clearly, Houston, we have a problem.

Enter Who Moved My Cheese?, which I still think is stupid and simplistic after re-reading this week, but which gave me clarity about my current transition with two key points:

1. A change imposed is a change opposed.

Making up an ed cal format or approval process entirely on my own is doomed to fail, because it will be incomplete and exclusive. How can I profess to be a team member if I dictate all changes? So I asked my boss, what exactly are we trying to achieve? What do we need to know? Who needs to know it? Do we need to measure or track anything? I'll ask my teammates what information they need, and what type of tool they would use. And together, we'll create a more flexible ed cal that has everyone's buy-in from the get-go.

2. Activity does not equal productivity.

Band-aids don't help when you need bypass surgery. Yet that's exactly when I'm doing to myself. Time to stop hiding behind the guise of busy-ness with redundant spreadsheets and complicated comparisons, and instead create a snapshot view of where we are on the Web, when. Then I can take those freed-up hours to do some REAL good, like build our blog, attend conferences, and build my sense of popularity by amassing Twitter followers.

Wherever I end up, it won't be perfect forever. At some point, I'll take a look around and realize it's time to hit the road again. And though I refuse to say that my reward will be navigating the maze and finding new cheese, I WILL say that when I arrive, my first action will be to ban this book ... but not its principles.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Sing it, sing it, sing it a cappella!

Everyone whip out your fundork membership cards -- today's post is a paean to a cappella music! And don't lie, you know you secretly love it.

First, a definition. "A cappella" means church-style, hearkening back to the days when instruments weren't used, and music was entirely vocal. It now covers any singing without instrumental accompaniment, from Gregorian chant to barbershop to vocal jazz to African gospel to me singing in the shower.

Now, a personal admission. I hate barbershop with a passion. I listen to Gregorian Chant on Pandora at work. (It keeps me calm.) I'm a fan of GLAD. My parents sing in a 50-person a cappella chorus called A Cappella Pops. (My parents are the cute ones in the picture. You try tuning fifty voices. They do it on a regular basis. It's amazing.) And I am a recovering collegiate a cappella groupie.

I am not alone in this last item. SU a cappella groups were the hottest antidotes to frigid Syracuse nights when I was in college, particularly when they hosted A Cappella After Hours at Crouse College. It was well worth the trek through the snow at 10 pm on Thursday nights to sit with hundreds of other adoring groupies, and watch your classmates make sweet sounds with only their vocal folds.

It only made sense that a free activity requiring no money or equipment on the performers' part either would be so contagious. In fact, my now-roommate Ryan sang in the all-men's group Orange Appeal. (Here's OA singing for Billy Joel. Also, an aside: All our groups had citrus-themed names. Cheesetastic!) And three years out of school, I often find myself wishing he were in one here in DC, so I could worship at the altar once more.

The collegiate a cappella phenomenon is so pervasive, it's the subject of a book: Pitch Perfect: The Quest for Collegiate A Capella Glory, by Mickey Rapkin. (If you're looking for a fast takeaway, check out NPR's interview with Mickey from May.)

It proves what I've known for years: Collegiate a cappella is a fundork magnet, drawing together people who love the sheer energy, challenge, and joy that comes from voices blending.

It's primal, really. Voice is the instrument we always have on hand, and one of our earliest forms of entertainment. So to synchronize it with other voices in such simple but dynamic ways is almost mystical -- an affirmation of how well humans are made, that we can align with such grace.

That, and guys who sing are HOT. But I digress.

Above all, I want to BE in an a cappella group. You might warn that this long-cherished dream is born of nostalgia now, that I'm grasping for days when life was simpler and sweeter. Perhaps it's true. But even so, is that such a terrible mission to be a part of -- using your voice to lift people's spirits? Not at all.

So pass the water, check the tuning fork, and find the pitch. I'll sing a cappella's praises until I'm hoarse. And even then, I'll always find a way to hum along.