Friday, January 30, 2009

Make a (not so lean) green bean

Actually, I take that back. This fast and easy green bean recipe strikes a happy medium between those who love their veggies straight up, and those who need them disguised as chocolate cake to get it down.

Today's dish -- and its notes -- come courtesy of Mama Rocchi, via Lidia Bastianich's television show. Please buy one of Lidia's cookbooks if you like this recipe to atone for my mother's ongoing sin of writing down the recipe herself as she watches.

Green Bean Gratinata*

* NOTE: Gratinata is Italian for "Look Ma, I disguised my veggies with CHEESE!"

From Mom: "I just eyeball all my ingredients based on the amount of green beans I’m going to cook." (Are you sensing a trend in our family's cooking style?)

For your reference, five pounds of fresh green beans "easily served" 50 Italians at our holiday party. And it conveniently fills two half-size catering pans for easy storage and prep.


* Fresh green beans, cooked tender crisp (I break them in half before cooking because they don’t spoon well if they are left whole)
* Cherry or grape tomatoes cut in half, or you can use canned, large-dice tomatoes, liquid drained. Of course fresh Jerseys in season would be optimal!
* Fresh mozzarella, cut into small cubes
* Fresh or dry basil (use less if dry)
* Salt
* Olive oil
* Locatelli or parmesan (or your favorite hard cheese)[Ed. note: Because of course we ALL have a favorite hard cheese.]
* Bread crumbs, fine or coarse as preferred (I like a little coarse)

After cooking the green beans, drain well and stop the cooking process with a cold rinse or dip. Mix all ingredients well in a large bowl.

Place everything in a buttered baking pan. Sprinkle top with more crumbs and hard cheese, and dot with butter. Bake at 375° for at least 25 minutes or until crumb topping is golden and cheese is gooey.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

How nonprofits can take advantage of evolving social media

So, remember when I talked about how the nonprofit world could rock social media in 2009? Take that, and stir in a heaping helping of 10 Ways Social Media Will Change in 2009, as outlined by Ravit Lichtenberg on ReadWriteWeb.

I'm really digging this article because it articulates everything I've been trying and failing miserably to explain in my evolving role as content strategist/evangelist over this past year. Chiefly, with intentional overtones of Soylent Green ... social media is PEOPLE! It's PEOPLE! (Oh, and it's meaning, value, convenience, and monetization, but you can read the article for all that.)

So with all Ravit's points swirling in my head, I have a couple predictions to make for those of us who see the world through a do-good lens:

The nonprofit sector's shared principles will give it a leg up during this shift back to human connection. Nonprofits are built on, around, and from the heart. I dare you to find any socially driven organization that doesn't in some way come back to people and their rights/health/safety/wellbeing/name-your-mission-here.

Better yet, nonprofits thrive on creating and serving communities, which means they have built-in audiences that can kickstart the social media interactions ... if they can get them online.

Which brings me to my other point ...

The nonprofit sector's general operating practices will be its Achilles heel if it can't meet changing communication and tech needs. Not many nonprofits had the incredible access to tech acumen and resources as we did at the foundation. Nor do many orgs have the ability to hire a large enough communications staff to accommodate the rapidly expanding number of channels.

Their challenge, therefore, will be to learn quickly and choose wisely (and appropriately). They don't have to do it all, but they need to do at least some of it. Best to figure out a plan and budget now for bringing your org on board.

And a special note to nonprofit writers and communicators:
What should really get you jazzed about Ravit's predictions is the clear indication that content will still be king, queen, and various and asundry dukes. Get on the stick with studying what copy techniques work best for each platforms, inventing new ones, and injecting your personality where you can.

Remember, your job is this evolving age is to connect, not sell or reach or capture. Achieve that crucial distinction, and your organization will have much to thank you for!

Photo by Erica_Marshall

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

How to take your creativity seriously

Sometimes, the only way to have fun is to be deadly serious.

That was the takeaway from designer Paula Scher's TED talk "Great design is serious (not solemn)," a great little lecture on how flying by the seat of your pants, being ignorant, and having chutzpah can garner a creative result above and beyond what you ever imagined.

If you have 20 minutes to spare (or kill), watch the video below. If not, skip to the spoiler -- and my interpretation as it relates to writing -- after the screen:

Oh yay, you stayed with me! Here's the big reveal: The key to design success is not to let play/fun/experimentation become work. Then your intensity weakens, and you're left a pale imitation of your inspired self, doomed to repeat what once was fresh.

Though Scher is talking about visual design, I think her points apply to all creative endeavors. Here's how I see it playing out with writing:

1. Avoiding one path can lead you down a new one. Scher despised Helvetica font. So she designed album covers using anything but. As a result, her work stood out.

YOUR TURN: What pieces or genres do you particularly hate to write? How can you subvert the form and still get the message across, if only to amuse yourself in the meantime?

2. Basics are at the base for a reason. When Scher was asked to help an architectural team design a building, she didn't even know how to read a blueprint. But it didn't matter, because her innate sense of what would be different AND useful guided the project to a new dimension.

YOUR TURN: How are you as a writer honing your storytelling instincts? Do you grasp how words and communications fit into any and every discipline, and are you prepared to bend that universality into a new -- but no less effective -- shape?

3. See, don't just look. The North Side neighborhood in Pittsburgh hired Scher to brand their identity. So she searched the area and pulled out the mundane, commonplace, seen-so-often-no-one-notices-it-anymore overpasses as the basis for a distinctive art installation.

YOUR TURN: What elements are you taking for granted in your writing? Can you herald something usually overlooked, if only for the challenge of making it noteworthy?

Designers, writers, photographers, painters, sculptors, musicians, carpenters, creators of all types -- I now turn it over to you. How do you keep your creative process from becoming too solemn? What techniques or happy accidents have kept you fresh?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Prayer #50: Defibrillator

Three heart facts from PBS:
Hold out your hand and make a fist. If you're a kid, your heart is about the same size as your fist, and if you're an adult, it's about the same size as two fists.

Your heart beats about 100,000 times in one day and about 35 million times in a year. During an average lifetime, the human heart will beat more than 2.5 billion times.

lub-DUB, lub-DUB, lub-DUB. Sound familiar? If you listen to your heart beat, you'll hear two sounds. These "lub" and "DUB" sounds are made by the heart valves as they open and close.
So how big is God's heart, then? How many times has it beat in the universe's lifetime? And why don't ALL our organs sound out love?

Prayer #50: Defibrillator

Why won't my heart be quiet?

When I try to quiet my body, it falls asleep. When I try to quiet my mind, it thinks harder. So how can I quiet my heart enough to pray without stopping it entirely?

Or ... wait a minute ... is my heart too quiet?

Maybe it got so overwhelmed by my stress and worry and the petitions of all the other stressed, worried people out there, that it just screamed, covered its ears, and hid under my rib cage.

Yes. I think that's what happened. It ran from pain to avoid it.

But that doesn't seem to be working, does it? If anything, now everything hurts more.

Ok, question change then. Why won't my heart wake up? Why isn't it pumped up to face You? Why can't I get over my urge to stand tall, be proud, and only come before You whole? Because the longer I wait for that to be the case, the more broken I become.

Resuscitate me, Lord. Attack me accept heat, acceleration, tension, pressure -- anything to restore feeling. Because only then will I feel Your healing, too.


Sunday, January 25, 2009

This I Believe #3: Infant Power

Installment #3 of my personal This I Believe series.

This I Believe: Infant Power

"He was so little! And fuzzy! I've never held a baby that new. I didn't know they were fuzzy. And he got heavy even though he was so little. And he was kicking his legs all over, so I unwrapped him from the blanket. And he had fingernails! I asked his mom if they scratched her from the inside. And one of them was already broken! It was baby's first hangnail."

I'll give you three guesses about who was gushing to me about that two-day-old child. No, it wasn't an excited sibling or tickled-pink grandparent. It was a 26-year-old man -- my friend -- who was holding an infant for the first time in his life and learning the power those little creatures wield over the bigger folks in their midst.

"I couldn't believe how much of him there was," he kept saying, wonder in his voice. At first, the statement struck me as odd. The baby was only 7 pounds -- not so big in the grand scheme of newborns. And I should know, I thought smugly, because my huge extended family ensures I always have a couple spare babies around to cuddle and squeeze.

But then I thought some more, and realized I was selling my friend short. On a deep, biological, and instinctual level, he grasped the import of holding an entire person in his arms. This wasn't just a blankie-wrapped assembly of skin, bones, and muscles. It was a fully realized human being who was already growing and changing each second my friend held him close.

How much does a soul weigh, anyway? Does character have critical mass? Does potential have heft? All these elements were already present in the child, and evolving with each breath. No wonder he felt heavy. He was shouldering his possibility.

Truly, there is so much of us. So much, in fact, that I wish when I felt angry or prejudiced or bitter toward other people, I could look them in the eye and think about what they were like as babies, and how that possibility is still with them -- and with me.

Maybe I'll get there one day. After all, I've been growing, changing, and evolving since I arrived. Why stop now? In the meantime, I'll ask my friend to pass the baby over. I could always use a little reminder.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Funny Baby Pictures: Graphic (tee) humor

Graphic tees are sweeping the nation, so who's to say the smallest among us can't be in on the trend?

No one, actually. So here's one snarky tee (and some drool) to brighten your day!

P.S. If YOU have a funny baby picture you'd like to see on Italian Mother Syndrome, leave me a comment and we'll connect. Thanks!!

Thanks to Jacob for submitting this photo.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Lessons from the breadline, part 3

Welcome to my Lessons from the Breadline series -- a whole month and a half in. See Part One and Part Two here, and remember, I want to hear from you too!

LESSON 7: Nothing can take the place of face-to-face.

Social media is great and all, but for me, its greatest value comes from helping me connect people offline. Take Debbie Weil of "The Corporate Blogging Book," for example. She met with me to share names, swap ideas, and discuss seminar topics.

Or Rachel Azaroff of Prince of Petworth, who recommended creative temp agencies in the area. Or Susan Robbins of Cedar Interactive or Nancy Scola of Personal Democracy Forum, who offered job seeking advice.

And that doesn't even scratch the surface. There's Qui Diaz at Livingston Communications, Jim Jacobs at OmniStudio, Will Caggiano at Jobplex, and Jake Brewer of Energy Action Coalition, who went out of their way to spend time with me, connect with their contacts, and all-around tell me, "You can do it!"

I no longer underestimate the value of shaking these folks' hands, hearing their voices, and getting to know them without computer screens between us. After all, life is much richer than 140 characters, and in-person meetings remind you to keep the human connection alive amid the tweets, updates, and pings.

LESSON 8: Down days help bring you back up -- often higher than before.

As the reality of a protracted unemployment looms larger each day, I've had some very blue days afternoons moments. So I reached out for some help, and got advice from my parents that I think is worth passing along to all of you.

From my father: Don't sweat having the occasional "down" day. You're entitled. You need to regroup. The trick is not having too many of them. I know this sucks, but you'll get through it, even after moments when you're not sure that you will.

From my mother: Don't get bummed because you're not motivated. Indulge yourself a little, then the guilt will propel you back into a motivated state!

So there you have it. Stifling the blues makes them stronger, ignoring them makes them longer, so just wait 'em out and then get back to work!

LESSON 9: Use the word "dazzle" before interviews. It puts your head right where it should be.

When I had an interview last week, my mother sent me an email telling me I'd dazzle them upon arrival. Talk about the perfect choice of words! It immediately put me on a stage with footlights and an adoring crowd, ready to perform my best.

It also evoked sparkling and shining -- making yourself rare and valuable, a terrific find. I can think of no better mindset to be in when you have to present yourself to prospective employers, because being unique and confident must first come from your OWN belief that you've got what it takes. And the results? Well, my guess is they'll be dazzling too.

That's it for this week. What have you learned since we last spoke?

Photo by OZinOH

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Word on the street: Pop-Pop DePaul

The scene: a birthday party for Pop-pop DePaul, one of the bestest's grandfathers. He is in his mid-eighties and fiercely independent. The following is a snippet of conversation from the evening. Hat tip to Emily for sharing!

Pop-Pop: So I was at the doctor's the other day getting my blood drawn and they have me there every week ... every WEEK! And I have to pay every time I go there. So the young girl [sidenote from Emily: mind you, she was probably 60] said to me, "Mr. DePaul, are you short of breath?" and I said, "No, but I'll tell you what I am short of -- I am short of money." And all those young girls laughed! They think I'm really funny. But they stopped! They stopped bringing me in every week!

[Again, from Emily: Mind you also, that you only have to come in a certain number of times after you finish your treatments, so he didn't need to come back. That's why they didn't ask him back!!]

End scene.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Inauguration, live from DC!

Sometimes, you need to put the computer aside and really LIVE the events that are shaping your life, your country, and your future. Yesterday was one of those days, as Barack Obama was sworn in as our 44th president.

I don't need to tell all of you what significance this day carried for America. Or young people. Or the African-American population. Or the world. Those stories have been played out across all major media outlets ad nauseum for weeks. I can only tell you what it meant to me -- one young woman standing on the Mall among millions, forgetting she was freezing because history was unfolding.

My first impression was the miracle that is this country's peaceful transition of power. Even though our last president was unpopular, the worst that overwhelming crowd did was boo. BOO. In other countries, there would have a coup, assassination, and/or civil war. I counted my blessings.

Also striking was the crowd's mood. The unabashed jubilation of election night wasn't in such full force. Rather, it had evolved into a deeply joyful, contemplative, and solemn feeling, mingled with relief that yes, this day was not a mirage, and yes, it had finally arrived.

Moreover, everyone was expressing optimism and faith. At times I felt like I was in a church service, with people around me shouting "Amen!" or responding to the points in Obama's address. Clearly, we all knew what was at stake. If nothing else, Obama has spent the last couple months setting realistic (and sobering) expectations about the state of our nation. But he's done it with hope and practical planning, and the Mall audience was responding in kind.

I also thought about how all my years as a voting citizen were spent solely within the Bush administration. There, I believe my personal interests were neither represented or respected. Now I look forward to an administration more in line with my beliefs and values, and one that understands the impact (positive and negative) its actions are taking on my generation.

The biggest takeaway from yesterday's inauguration, however, was my full grasp of what it's like to be PART of history, a witness to it. For the first time, I was THERE -- the mythical, magical place in the space-time continuum that makes you an unspoken footnote in the history books.

No one could pick my face out of that crowd. No one in his administration will never thank me by name. No one knows what I intend to do with my renewed sense of optimism and energy. But I do. And I also know I can -- and will -- use it to shift the course of human events in my own small way.

Though I can't go back in time and put all of you there with me, I hope the following slide show takes you through my experience. This is what it looked like 30,000 feet back, folks -- and let me tell you, the view was spectacular.

NOTE: Click on the lower right corner to blow the screen up full-size. Then, click on "show info" in the top right corner of that screen to see my titles and captions for more information.

A final thought: Jacob sent me an e-card today with the caption "We can finally stop pretending we're Canadian." Amen to that. I'm eager to reclaim my new city and return to business as usual. My sleeves are rolled up. But I'm even more excited to regain our class and dignity as leaders of the free world. It is time, and we are ready!

Live from ServiceNation: A new era of service begins!

Good morning everyone, and welcome to my live blogging from ServiceNation's New Era of Service breakfast! We have already seen about 300 volunteers (what it feels like anyway) and Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore. And I'm eating quiche and drinking orange juice.

It's going to be a fun day. :D

Just a few notes while we're waiting:

1. I'm focusing most of my coverage here with an occasional tweet (handle:@RocchiJulia). We can't seem to find a hashtag for the event, so we're using #mlkday if anyone's interested in finding other applicable tweeters.

2. Here are aaalll the media channels where ServiceNation coverage will be available. I said it before at the New York event, and I'll say it again now: I am majorly impressed by their communications strategies and platforms. They do a great job of getting their message out and meeting people where they are.

Think.MTV: http://www.think.mtv/servicenation (just launched)

Please note we will be vlogging live and our player can be found on the bottom right of
3. And last but not least, a reminder that Susannah will be live-Tweeting the event (her handle: @suslane). She's also taking pictures with her AWESOME spy-like camera, so look for a follow-up post at Color of Happiness in the coming weeks.

In fact, here's our fair blogger below at her first media check-in! (I'm so proud.)

8:05 AM: Waiting for the program to start. I'm reflecting on the words of Martin Luther King Jr. (which is also the rallying cry for today's event):
Everybody can be great because anybody can serve. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.

8:10 AM: We're watching an inspiring ServiceNation "We Are Ready to Serve!" Video. Watch it live stream at ServiceNation website, bottom right.

8:15 AM: Martin Luther King III is speaking. He's "excited because America's excited; we're at a new juncture." He says we have a lot of potential in this country, and that we have a responsibility to foster our youth.

He's also reflecting on what his mother and father would think of what MLK Day has become -- probably would be awed by how widespread the service in. For all that, though, he says his father would also find the billion people living in poverty unacceptable, and say (rightly) that more needs to be done.

"We are here ready to serve because we know what we're doing is right."

8:19 AM: Founder and CEO of Service Nation Alan Khazei is making his opening remarks. He refers to Martin Luther King Jr. as the "patron saint of the service movement" for his ideas and acts. Also neat: He gives a shout-out to Gerald Jimenez, winner of the Case Foundation's Change Begins With Me initiative!

"We have more citizen leadership than ever before thanks to all of you ... we all must double down now and seize this moment, or else it will pass us by."

The goal: work with the new First Family and encourage strong bipartisan support in Congress to pass and fund new service legislation in the first 100 days. "We cannot afford to turn people away who want to serve."

8:27 AM: Good form, Target Foundation! They're donating $25,000 to Ballou High School in gratitude for the school's help and hospitality with this event. (Sorry, link to the foundation seems to be blocked by the school's filters. Visit for more info.)

8:32 AM: Artie Duncan, the new U.S. Secretary of Education, has just taken the stage: "It's about more than education, it's a fight for social justice."

Side note: I wonder if all the speakers compared speech notes pre-event. There's a lot of quote and call to action repetition here.

8:40 AM: Panel time! California First Lady Maria Shriver is sharing ways states can help encourage service.

1. Make it easy for volunteers to find opportunities and log hours online.
2. Bring in businesses as partners
3. Unite different communities through service.
4. Talk service early. You're never too young to learn about or participate in service.
5. Work with federal level as well.

Congresswoman Doris Matsui echoes these sentiments.

U.S. Rep. George Miller (D-CA) is talking brass tacks now. A press release handed out before the panel says he is announcing that his committee will soon hold a hearing to examine strategies for strengthening service.

"I'd like to think we can win this legislation unanimously and on the floor," he says. The difference: all the young people who have gotten a taste of political service and want to make the system work.

The young woman now speaking is a huge proponent of service learning (sorry, don't have her name). She asks service be required, and sees it as the only way to effect change. Later, she says that "the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in service."

(See Tweets on the right for up-to-the-minute quotes from this conversation -- easier to track there.)

P.S. The fourth panelist's name is Zarina Hamin. Apologies if I just slaughtered the spelling of her name.

9:10 AM: Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis is speaking about his sources of inspiration (MLK, Rosa Parks) for getting involved in service. He's always been trying to serve since then.

Lewis's preacherman style is waking up the crowd. He's sharing his experiences on going on a Freedom Ride in 1961, at a time when segregation was alive and well. It's evident how meaningful this inauguration is for him -- to see a black man take our nation's highest oath without "fear of getting arrested, beaten, or given a concussion on a Selma bus."

9:24 AM: Tobey Maguire came to the stage emotional. Lewis's speech really affected him. Plus, he admitted he gets very nervous when public speaking which, yes, is weird for a movie star.

Btw, he's asked a few of his "friends" -- Selma Hayek, Robert Downey Jr. etc -- to join him in the ServiceNation movement. Nice life, lol.

More celebrities! Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher are now taking the stage. They're revealing the Presidential Pledge, an initiative of their company Katalyst Media.

And now we're watching a short video about the project. Celebrities abound! (I'm sure somewhere Obama is thinking, "Thank God all these famous people support me!")

That said, I do feel inspired. But I also feel a little silly. Because change has to happen bottom up, not top down. Do these celebrities consider simply making the call service enough? And is it?

9:41 AM: The "irrepresible" Michelle Nunn is closing out the program with a final call to service and a call for commitment.

Ta-da! That's it. Quite a packed hour and 45 min. Everyone participating in the service project is now marching -- yes, marching, led by the Magestic Knights (Ballou's marching band) -- to the elementary school. That is COOL.

Ok, kids, I'm out for now. Can't make it to the service project, but if I see follow-up articles I'll pass them your way. Also, more pics will be coming once I'm no longer on bleachers and am plugged in.

Thanks so much for following! I hope you honor MLK with great faith and great energy in service, now and always!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Prayer #49: Nap Rhyme

A nap is the cocktease of the somnolent world. Yet I still want one! I want one so badly ...

Prayer #49: Nap Rhyme

Rock-a-bye baby, you have it so good.
Your cradle is nothing but foliage and wood.
You're soothed by the breeze, rustled to peace --
No wonder you sleep whenever you please!

But rock-a-bye baby, you know it will break.
The song singers say so -- they make no mistake.
Yet you slumber on with nary a care
While I wait beneath, afraid and aware.

Rock-a-bye baby, can you show me how
To make my own quiet without a strong bough?
To rest amid danger, relax amid strife,
And quell the storms raging within my own life.

And if that fails, dear baby, promise me this:
That when my bough breaks, you'll be there with mitts
To catch me and hold me and calm all my fears,
To sing this small ditty and wipe off my tears.

Please rock-a-bye baby -- your peace makes me sound.
I ask you stay with me from branch to the ground.
Cradle me close against the rough wind,
And together we'll climb to the top once again.


Thursday, January 15, 2009

Turning up the heat on climate justice

You can recycle till you're blue and reuse to stay in the black, but does that really make the world greener for everyone? Worse, are the actions you're taking making the climate crisis worse for others?

If the answer is yes (and surprise, it is), then you've just gone straight to the heart of climate justice. I learned this term today from Jake Brewer, one of the mobilizers over at Energy Action Coalition and general DC do-gooder-about-town.

So what is climate justice? Three things, according to Jake:

1. The belief that bad climate policy -- decisions and actions that destroy what we all share -- is unjust.

2. The understanding that climate policy hits communities, cities, even countries of lower socioeconomic standing the hardest -- and usually for the worse. Jake cited the resource raping in Africa as one strong example.

3. The shift in perspective that shows how what is caused by others helps or harms individuals

Want to learn more? You can find more explanations on climate justice here:
The Climate Justice Programme

Environmental Justice and Climate Change Initiative

Global Issues: Climate Justice and Equity

It's Getting Hot in Here: Dispatches from the Youth Climate Movement

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Call for DC Bloggers: ServiceNation New Era of Service Breakfast 1/19

Attention all blogging/Tweeting types who couldn't get a ticket to the inauguration despite your best Congress-person harassing cajoling: Here's your chance to be part of the action the day before for FREE through ServiceNation's New Era of Service breakfast and service event right here in DC at Ballou Senior High School.

The ServiceNation folks are looking for a few (or more!) good bloggers to attend as press and live blog/Tweet the event. Admission is free. There might even be a bagel in it for you.

What else is in it for you? So glad you asked ...

* You get to be part of a campaign to promote and expand the American tradition of citizen service.

* You get to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, and report on President-elect Obama's vision for service and strong, bipartisan support for service in the Congress.

* What, doing good still isn't doing it for ya? Fine. Then you'll be front row center for some major celeb sightings, including speakers Martin Luther King III, hunky hunk DC Mayor Adrian Fenty, Tobey Maguire, Demi Moore, Ashton Kutcher, and Richard Stengel.

Then after the eggs and bacon are gone, guests are invited to participate in a service project with coalition partners at Simon Elementary School (401 Mississippi Avenue, SE), just a few blocks from the breakfast.

Come get great pictures and interviews as volunteers beautify the school by painting classrooms and murals, transforming the library, and more.

Still with me? Excellent! Here are the deets:
Monday, January 19, 2009
8:00 – 10:00 a.m.
Ballou Senior High School
3401, 4th Street, SE, Washington, D.C.
(1.7 miles from the Anacostia Metro Station on the Green Line, free shuttle bus available to venue)
If you want to attend the breakfast and/or service event, please RSVP to: Amy Weiss (Amy[at]pointblankpa(dot)com), Debra Reed (Debra[at]pointblankpa(dot)com), and/or Joseph Porcelli (jporcelli[at]bethechangeinc(dot)com). Include your blog title and/or Twitter handle.

P.S. Susannah and I will be there reporting live, so remember to check back here at IMS and at the shiny new Color of Happiness for our coverage on Monday! And if you decide to go, come find us in the press area -- we like saying HI.

Image by ServiceNation

Monday, January 12, 2009

Put a little salsa back in your ... lasagna?

Yes, that's exactly what I'm telling you to do.

But we're not talking about Mama Rigatoni's traditional dish here. I'm giving you the recipe for one of the fastest, cheapest, tastiest, comfort-foodiest dishes out there: taco lasagna.

My mom clipped this recipe out of The Inquirer I think sometime in the Paleozoic era, and photocopies and variations have been floating between our residences ever since. ("Variations" in this case means retaining only the concept and two ingredients, and playing around with all the rest.)

We love it because it a) can be made healthier, and b) is made in the microwave. Note: Sombreros are optional.

Taco Lasagna

[here's where the picture would be if I had remembered to take one when I made this two weeks ago. I will try to recreate it in words: Mmmm. steaming hot dish of melted cheese and warm tortillas and heated beans! mmmm. Um ... MMMMMM.]


1 to 2 pounds of ground beef (depends on your desire for meatasticness)
6 whole wheat or multi-grain tortillas
2 cups Mexican cheese
1 can black beans, rinsed
1 can pinto beans, rinsed
1 can salsa

Brown the ground beef in a skillet. Drain off fat. Season with salt, pepper, and any other favorite spices.

In an 8-inch square casserole dish (make sure it's deep enough to layer), make 6 layers of tortillas, meat, beans, and cheese. Save a couple spoonfuls of beans for the top.

Note: You might only get four or five layers in, depending on your dish. Not a problem at all -- just keep layering until you can layer no more. This is not an exact science.

Cover with wax paper (to minimize any splatter), and microwave on high 10 minutes, rotating every three minutes. Remove from microwave and pour salsa on top. Return to microwave for another 3 minutes. Cut it in wedges to serve. Serves 8.

Feel free to continue our variation theme -- perhaps with assorted meats or cheese or beans or different instructions entirely. I'm down with that. Oh, and share your creations here!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Evangelization: a study in conflict

Last Saturday, the boys and I went ice skating at the Sculpture Garden. While the Zamboni was doing its thang, a young couple -- we'll call them Tim and Leia -- came over to me and asked if I would take a picture of them with my camera and email it later, as they had forgotten theirs.

Of course, I said, and snapped a quick pic. We got to talking. They were friendly and warm. After some chit-chat, I bid them goodbye and headed back to the boys. Behind me, I heard Tim call out, "Thanks! And God bless."

At the time, I remember thinking how unusual it was for me to hear peers end a conversation with 'God bless.' I typically associate it with older folks -- namely, relatives from predominantly Catholic South Philly neighborhoods -- who use it more as a talisman, rather than a benediction. Either way, I simply considered it interesting, and went back to skating.

The next day, I sent the picture with a basic "hey, nice to meet you, take care" email. Here are the responses I received:

From Tim:
Thank you so very much for actually sending the picture and following up. It is nice to be able to capture that night as we had forgotten our cameras. It turned out really well and is greatly appreciated.

Again, welcome to DC. You will definitely enjoy everything that it has to offer!

I wanted to share that if you guys are ever looking for a good church in this area that you are more than welcome to join Leia and I. It is called McLean Bible Church and it is out near Tysons Corner. I have attached the link if you want to take a look.

Thank you again! Only the best for the upcoming year.

From Leia:
Thank you so much for the picture! That was very thoughtful. I hope we can meet up and thank you in person!

Not to overwhelm you, but I wanted to add to Tim's suggestion... Being that you moved here recently, our church is a great place to meet a very diverse group of like-minded people to build life-changing relationships with. McLean Bible is a non-denominational church based solely on the Bible as the written Word of God. Our pastors share stories in the Bible and apply it to your everyday life. It is powerful ...

So Julia, we would love to meet you at church sometime. I hope you have a blessed New Year!

Whoa there. Never in a million years did I expect a tiny favor to turn into full-blown proselytizing, especially since I had not even mentioned religion. What surprised me most, however, was my own mixed reaction.

On one hand, I was impressed they felt so strongly about their faith that they were eager to share it with anyone who seemed even the least bit amenable. Their outreach seemed sincere, and I appreciated they were thinking of me and wanted to make me feel welcome.

On the other hand, I was offended. What gave them the right to insert themselves so strongly in my personal life, and on such a nonexistant pretext? Talk about ballsy. They knew nothing about my spiritual life or beliefs. A very large part of me wanted to write back and explain that thanks, but I was a happily practicing Catholic-Christian, just to see if they would appease them -- because I had a feeling that even being a fellow Christian wasn't going to be enough -- not if I wasn't their kind of Christian.

And on the third hand that doesn't really exist but I need for purposes of framing, I was conflicted. I have never felt comfortable promoting my faith to others. Sharing it, explaining it, inviting others who practice the same to join in -- yes, that I do. But full-out ministry with intent to convert? No.

Moreover, I don't WANT everybody to be Christian. I don't think it's the only way to find joy on earth. In my view, God is infinitely personal; He/She meets hearts where they are. And I love living in an ecumenical society where people share their diverse experiences and interpretations of faith, because that helps my own spiritual growth.

This all leads to one critical question: If I don't think Christ is the only way to salvation, but it's how I choose to connect with God, am I still a Christian?

I say yes. I think, however, that Tim and Leia might say no. That bothers me. Because I think limiting our understanding of God to one manifestation -- and insisting others are only "saved" if they share that particular understanding -- is presumptuous.

We are mortals. We are flawed. And to claim we know the only way ... I just can't do that in good faith.

Believe me, it's a weird experience to have other Christians tell you you're not Christian enough. I have sat as the only Catholic-Christian in a multi-denominational Christian Bible study and felt open hostility because I did not agree with everything that was being said. I don't want to do that to others. I can't see how that's productive.

What I DO want to do is help others find a greater purpose and meaning. I want them to feel comfortable, loved, deepened. I want them to experience faith in a way that resonates for them. And if that way isn't Christ ... can I still say I evangelized?

I say yes to this too. Though, I'm sure there are plenty of folks who will disagree with me. And plenty who will agree. So, I want to hear from all of you. What is your experience with evangelization? Do you practice it? Have you been on the receiving end?

I'd love to hear other religions' perspectives on this as well. Is evangelization a strong component of Judaism and Islam? How is it perceived/received by others? How is Christan evangelization perceived by non-Christians?

One more thing before we go ... my questions are hardly new or original. The conflict in my heart echoes across time and geography. One blog post barely addresses it, let alone solves it. So let me instead leave you with food for thought from Eboo Patel, the founder and director of Interfaith Youth Core, and we'll keep this conversation going:

Faith is the belief that your job as a human being is to move creation in line with the intention of the Creator. And I believe the Creator intends for us, as the holy Qur'an says, to come together in ways in which we come to know one another.

Photo by Svadilfari

Friday, January 09, 2009

Word on the street: "Know what this tie says?"

The scene: The orange line metro on New Year's Eve. A very happy, very inebriated crowd is packed into six cars. Susannah and Jacob have just caught the gaze of one such passenger who has a geometrically patterned tie on.

Drunkie: Hey! HEY! See my tie? Like my tie? like it?

Susannah: Oh, yeah. It looks like MC Escher.

Drunkie: Yeah. YEAH! It's like Usher!

We all blink. He proceeds unfazed.

Drunkie: And you know what this tie says? KNOW WHAT IT SAYS? It says happy f^@$ing 2009!

And thus began the new year.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Prayer #48: Hinterview

Hint: tip; an indication of potential opportunity
Interview: a formal consultation usually to evaluate qualifications
Hinterland: a remote and undeveloped area
Hinterview: an indication of potential opportunity based on a formal meeting that will impact the remote and undeveloped area known as your career

Prayer #48: Hinterview

Lord, bless the feet that pound the pavement.

Bless the train rails that criss-cross the city, and the buses that stop at every block.

Bless the cell phones and laptops that hum all day and all night.

Bless the conference centers and meeting halls that fill with chatter.

Bless the resumes, business cards, handshakes, and introductions that put faces to names, and names with jobs.

Bless the expectations. Bless the waiting. Bless the risk. Bless the hope.

In short, Lord, bless the interviewees, and help them find all they seek.

In Your well-connected name--

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

How nonprofits can rock social media in 2009

It's not every day you're on the phone with a rock star. But that's what I accomplished this morning when I rang up Lindsay Maines, better known to the cool kids as Rock and Roll Mama.

Our topic today was sex drugs trashing hotel rooms nonprofits' use of social media. (Trust me, it's just as fun! Really!) Specifically, it was whether nonprofits were really understanding what social media was, what tools were available to them, and how those could help see the orgs through a promises-to-be-bumpy 2009.

Given my experiences at the foundation, as well as my interactions with other nonprofits, I can say ... they don't. But it's not for lack of desire OR lack of trying.

Nor is it for dearth of information on how to do it (just see cream of the crop Beth Kanter's top posts o' the year). Everybody and their nonprofit mother is thinking about toolkits, lists, packets, presentations, etc. that can send this sector's leaders to the social media moon within the space of a workshop.

The problem is, many of these methods aren't teaching mindsets. They're not teaching a global understanding of the landscape. And they're definitely not teaching how to make it all a part of a holistic communications strategy. To succeed, nonprofits have gotta stop thinking of the next flashy tool, and instead bang out a nice flashy vision for what they want to achieve.

As I see it, nonprofits need the following in 2009:

1. Clear goals for the year, based on the economic reality for their industry and their plans for growth.

2. A complete lesson on the FULL array of communications tools that can help make it happen, from email to conferences to speaking tours to Facebook to Twitter to smoke signals if need be. Yes, this will take longer than an afternoon.

3. An objective voice -- from within or outside the org -- to match the right tools to the right goals.

4. And then the commitment of everyone on staff to making those chosen channels the strongest, richest, most productive channels they can be. It's not doing more with less choices -- it's doing more with the right choices.

You know, if I really wanted to be shameless right now, I'd say HIRE ME and I can help you figure this all out and please don't let your communications staff go now you need them more than ever!

But that's just shameless. Besides, I'd rather have you wait and be wowed by the rad stuff Lindsay is cooking up in that ever-percing brain of hers. More to come, faithful readers ... more to come ...

Monday, January 05, 2009

Lessons from the breadline, part 2

Part two of my semi-regular series on lessons from my job search -- this time, one month in. Fellow career changers/job-seekers: What have you learned since we last spoke? I'm eager for an update!

LESSON 4: The five stages of grief can apply to jobs, too.
Imagine my surprise when I woke up one Monday mad as hell about my current state of affairs. (I had gone to bed calm.) Why should others' decisions mean more work for me? Why did this have to happen? What am I supposed to do now? Rarr rarr rar. And so on. This, I realized, was my overdue anger phase.

Imagine my further surprise when I woke up the next day, looked at the newly launched website, and promptly burst into tears at my desk. I spent the rest of the day throwing a well-attended pity party, complete with streamers and confetti. This was my depression stage.

While neither day was pleasant, they were necessary. By letting those feelings visit for a while, and then sending them on their way, I was able to reach acceptance, and redirect that energy toward a new sense of purpose and resolve in my search. So go ahead and have your good cry -- it will help pave the way for all the happy tears when you find your new gig!

LESSON 5: Organize to optimize.
Don't bother reading this lesson if your search consists only of the occasional application off Monster. You don't have near enough to keep track of in your search. If you're networking, emailing, searching, and interviewing, however, you might find it useful to keep an ongoing "search journal."

I've used a journal for two hunts now, and it's proved very helpful in tracking the 8 million balls in the air. The idea is simple: I jot down what job search steps I accomplished that day, and note the time it took to complete them. That way, I can see when I last contacted somebody, or sent in an application, or edited my references, or attended a workshop ... you get the idea.

Basically, the search journal keeps you accountable for your efforts, and adds some discipline to your now-unstructured day. Plus, it gives you a great sense of accomplishment on those "I'm not getting anywhere" days when you flip through the full pages and realize you ARE making progress, after all.

And that entitles you to some ice cream as a reward. No, really. It does.

LESSON 6: Remember to give your brain a rest.
Job searching can be a full-time job. And like your regular gig, it becomes too stressful or tiring if you're not taking any time away from it. (I learned this the hard way after several days of forgetting to leave the computer between 9 am and 6 pm.)

To make the most of being on my own schedule, I've scheduled my day around my peak hours. That means I get up early, shower and dress, and put in a chunk of solid search work between breakfast and lunch. Then I take a couple hours away from the PC, either reading, taking a walk (so delightful to be out in sunlight!), or running errands. And after that, I'm back at the computer for a couple hours to update my social networks and surf the Web.

Restorative and reenergizing, to say the least. Plus, I'm holding carpal tunnel syndrome at bay. And reading some good books from the library. And not being so starved for attention that I attack my roommates in a Tazmanian-like frenzy when they get home from work. Which they appreciate. As would you.

What am I missing? Enlighten me!

Photo by B.D.'s world (adapted by moi)

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Acting for good: How hambones can change the world

So being a cat on a hot tin roof didn't pan out in November ... but I may just get to be a psuedo-Capitol Step instead. And not only might this new gig satisfy my need for lights and grease paint, I can help do some good while I'm at it.

I'm talking about auditions for Hexagon, DC's "only original political satirical musical comedy revue." (Yes, that is the tagline.) This long-standing Washington establishment is an all-volunteer, nonprofit organization with open membership.

The amazing part is, each show is completely original. That's from the writing to the composing to the performing to the designing to the playing to the staffing. Which means that many talented people come together every year to flex their creative muscles and develop a never-been-seen (and probably not-even-imagined) *TWO HOURS* of original material.

Trust me, this is a LOT.

But here's the part that really convinced me I was meant to try out: All proceeds from every Hexagon show are donated to a Washington metropolitan area charity. Special fund-raising activities and souvenir sales increase the amount of money donated to the designated charity.

Talk about a triple-threat. Writing, stagecraft, AND charity? Surely, I have died and gone to community theater heaven.

So, in an attempt to match their triple threat with my own theater ninja skillz, I headed to the first day of auditions this afternoon to at least not embarrass myself wow them. Some items to consider:

ITEM 1: I was the only auditionee for the first 30 min. or so. There were 20 volunteers.

ITEM 2: My nervous tic used to be a runny nose right before I sang. Now, my nervous tic seems to be a sudden and uncontrollable shaking in my right knee. This is inconvenient during an AUDITION.

ITEM 3: One of the optional fields on the audition sheet was to write a limerick. That's how I knew I was among my kind of people. Here's what I wrote: In a time of transition and change / It's best we all show off our range / To prove we can move / With the president's new groove -- / All the better if we're slightly deranged!

ITEM 4: The production staff and volunteers were among the most friendly, warm, and reassuring folks I've ever had the pleasure of meeting at an audition. Missing the chance to get to know them better is what will make me saddest if I'm not cast.

As for my actual tryout, my singing and acting components were respectable, as I knew they would be. But then came the dancing. Oh, the dancing. It's my Achilles heel. And knee. And both legs.

Let's have a reenactment. Here's what the choreographer said to me:
No worries, this is much harder than anything we'll do in the show. We made it a little tougher this year to identify the best dancers. Once you get it in your system, it's much easier to do to faster music. You probably want to wear your sneaks rather than the character shoes -- I worry about ankles! Now you step, 2, 3, 4, pirouette, chasse, pas de bouree, hip roll, a little something I like to call the Hexagon pose ...

And here's what I heard (on top of my distracting inner monologue that was running its mouth along the lines of oh sweet lord what have you gotten yourself into run don't leap RUN what makes you think you're capable of this feign a sprain FEIGN A SPRAIN!!!!)
Better worry, this is harder than anything you'll do in your life. We did this just to weed out uncoordinated klutzos like you. I have no faith that you're able to do this at any speed, forget about regular tempo. And for the love of god, put on your sneakers -- who do you think you are, prancing around in character shoes like you know what you're doing! Now step, 2, 3, 4, act like a ballerina, sashay, do this modified grapevine thing, shake your booty, strike a pose ... oh, I give up.

And just like that I was done, fates thrown to the wind, awaiting the final decision come next Tuesday. We'll see what happens. In any event, it's always an adventure to put yourself out there, meet fellow creatives, and learn what magic people are concocting just a few Metro stops away. I'll let you know how it all turns out!

* Top photo is me as Hope in Anything Goes at Skippack Playcrafters Theater. Just to prove I am indeed a ham.

UPDATE 1/6/2009: I MADE THE SHOW!!! FIRST PRACTICE IS TOMORROW!! More details/posts/info to come.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Prayer #47: It's New to You

Cheers to a new year and another chance for us to get it right. {Oprah Winfrey}

and/or, depending on your mood --

Drop the last year into the silent limbo of the past. Let it go, for it was imperfect, and thank God that it can go. {Brooks Atkinson}

and/or today's New York Post --


Or maybe thank God for what's coming?

Prayer #47: It's New to You

Welcome to my new morning, new day, new year, new leaf, new lease on life.

And welcome in my heart to the Force that buoys it all -- a power both eternal and unexpected.

Be with me in whatever flows, crashes, or rolls this year. Help me with my resolve to get it all a little more right than I did the year before. Because I'm only going to get there if I get there with You.