Saturday, August 30, 2008

Quote of the Week

Food is like sex: when you abstain, even the worst stuff begins to look good.
- Beth McCollister

Friday, August 29, 2008

Salsa Dancing

As you might be able to tell from my limited posts throughout this summer, writing has taken the backseat to a few of my other summertime hobbies. With summer coming to a close I didn’t want to lose the results of my cooking obsession. Posting some recipes online is not only a way ensuring I have a point of reference for future cooking, but also provides an opportunity to share my joy of cooking (and eating).

  • 4 to 6 cloves of garlic (cloves, not heads!), this is about 4 to 6 teaspoons of garlic
  • 1 tablespoon of fresh parsley OR cilantro or 1 teaspoon of dry (I use parsley, cilantro tastes like soap to my palate)
  • 2 to 6 jalapeno peppers*, deseeded (note, latex gloves help relieve pain of deseeding)
  • 2 medium onions, de-skinned and quartered
  • 3 pounds of Tomatoes, vine core removed, quartered and deseeded (deseeding doesn’t need to be obsessive, run fingers through tomatoes a bit to pop seeds out)
  • 4 tomatillos, paper husks removed (optional- the ingredient, not the de-husking)
  • Juice from ½ a fresh lime (lemon can also be used, but lime is much better with tortilla chips)
  • 1 tablespoon of balsamic vinegar (red wine vinegar is a good substitute)
  • 1 to 2 ears of corn, grilled and removed from cob (corn is optional)
  • Salt to taste
  • A few shakes of Salsa Seasoning (if you are not lucky enough to have a Penzey’s Spices by you, order some online or add some cumin, black pepper, cayenne pepper and/ir chipotle pepper)
  • Put garlic and parsley/cilantro in food processor** and pulse 4 or 5 times, open food processor and spatula contents back to the middle.
  • Add quartered onions to food processor and pulse 4 to 5 times.
  • Add jalapenos to food processor, pulse 5 to 6 times.
  • Add tomatoes and tomatillos to food processor; pulse until tomatoes are at desired consistency (some people like chunky salsa, some like saucy salsa)
  • Pour into strainer to remove excess liquid (optional)
  • After excess liquid removed, put into bowl
  • Add lime juice, vinegar, salt and seasonings. Refrigerate for an hour or two before serving. Will remain edible for about a week, but won’t last that long!

*Peppers and spice are a very personal thing. Other peppers also work well in salsa including chilies, habaneros, serranos, and poblanos. With Jalapenos my rule of thumb is 2 jalapenos for mild, 4 for medium, 6 for hot. Anything less than 2 peppers is tomato sauce, not salsa.

**If you don't have a food processor this can kinda be done with a blender but honestly, you cannot call yourself a cook unless you own a food processor. Grab one of those billion Bath & Body Works or Linens 'N Things coupons that come in the mail and get a basic food processor. You will not be sorry.

As with any recipe, each person can play around with ingredients and amounts to fit their taste. Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Dolby Stereotype

As hard as I try to be open-minded and practice a certain degree of political correctness, there are certain thoughts that routinely go through my head that make me think I have a very long way to go in my path to worldly and cultural tolerance. My issue is that many stereotypes applied to particular races, religions, cultures, or social classes are perpetuated by the very people within the group. My judgments and thoughts are not aimed at particular group, but at any single person engaging in a practice or behavior that I find unacceptable and would question regardless of background. It is important, and legally wise, to practice equality in the workplace. I am passionate about workplace equality, myself a victim of “old boys club” sexism, which makes admitting my own form of bias all that more difficult. The cause of my prejudice might seem catty, but I am not alone in assessing people based upon a decision they make in their closets each morning.

It might seem unfair or old-fashioned to judge people by their fashion choices but “Dress for Success” is not just a kitschy little phrase but a ground rule for being taken seriously in work and in life. Outward appearance is our cover letter to the world and if people are uninterested or offended by the cover letter they will never read the attached resume; the personality, intelligence, and experience that lies below the surface. “Never judge a book by its cover” is a nice lesson we’re each taught by our parents, but in reality everyone and everything is critiqued in one way or another at how it is presented. If the cover of a book was unimportant publishing companies would not focus time and energy on determining the best colors, fonts, photos, and illustrations needed to sell more copies.

Costume design is as important to a movie as a powerful actor or a well written script. Moviegoers can instantly assess the historic time period of a film, the location and season of the scene, and the age, social class, profession and personality of a character simply through the attire. Producers, Directors, and Costume Designers put intense thought into every aspect of a person’s costume; costume design is a powerful tool in selling the believability of a character and the film. Wall Street Tycoons don’t wear jeans and tee-shirts in the movies.

Style is important to the image we each want to portray to the world and fashion choices should reflect the character you want to be in the world. Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis is a prime example of a person who communicated her personality, grace, strength, and charm through her choice of clothing. Without the use of provocative clothing Madonna might be recording memos in an office rather than platinum records. If you are trying to be successful in the adult entertainment industry then it is perfectly acceptable to dress for work in plunging necklines and daisy dukes.

Climbing the corporate ladder in a mini-skirt might work for Ally McBeal, but anyone who has climbed a ladder in inappropriate attire knows the risk of exposing too much. If a woman known for push up bras and stiletto heels somehow moves up in a company, most people are going think it is because she’s going down on the boss, no matter how smart or driven she is. In my career I have seen too many intelligent women “over sex” themselves at the office and guess what; no one thinks they are very intelligent.
Style in the workplace is not just for women. There are plenty of men who think black Chuck Taylors are the perfect dress shoe and ironing is optional. It is hard to take a man seriously when he looks like a childish, sloppy mess.

Clothing is one way we each assess a person outside the workplace as well. Many argue that you shouldn’t judge a person by their attire, but without judging outward appearances how would we each know who is okay to approach in a bar, or to ask directions. People make snap judgments to establish safety, comfort, and security. If you don’t want people thinking you are a thief and a murderer you should consider not dressing like a thug. If people treat you in a way you don’t like, analyze the message you are sending them.

It is hard not to judge people on their appearance, but especially hard not to judge a person by their clothing since that is something we can each control. You don’t need to be a fashion icon, lord knows I’m not. Nor am supporting the mindset that women “asked to be raped” due to their fashion choices. What I am saying is people make their initial judgments on the personality, intelligence, strength and character of a person by how they appear. This might not be right, but it is reality; you never get a second chance to make a first impression. We are each actors in our own life screenplay, making decisions everyday to further develop our script. Ensuring costumes match the script is an important step to have your story taken seriously.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Pick on Someone Your Own Age

It would be unfair to critique how the ladies of 1975 are aging and ignore the gentlemen born in the Year of the Rabbit. It is well documented that as men age they become more distinguished whereas women just get old. I don’t know if one can be distinguished by 32 or 33 years old, however I do know that many of the gentlemen from 1975 are fine specimens of human being; guess that’s why I ended up marrying someone born the same as me!

Besides analyzing looks, it is difficult to ignore the caliber of Hollywood talent the women of 1975 control. Hollywood powerhouses like Charlize Theron, Kate Winslet, and Drew Barrymore win awards and box office dollars. The men of 1975 are less influential in the movies, but certainly dominate ESPN headlines.

Chris Moneymaker: Made famous by the rage of televising poker on cable, this World Series of Poker phenomenon has obviously taken advantage of the free booze and food provided in Vegas to high rollers. On a good day I would guess he’s in his forties, but that’s an insult to all those people in their forties who look years younger than him (and that’s a lot of people). You think staying in the sunless, oxygen controlled environment of a casino would help, but he’s the poster child for avoiding booze, smoke, stress, and buffets.

Alan Iverson: He’s aged poorly and looks so terrible that blogger wouldn’t let me upload the photo. No joke. Go to this weblink to see how all the money in the world can’t counteract aging.

David Ortiz: Maybe he should have stayed in Minnesota where the air is clear, pure, and crisp, but “Big Papi” looks old enough to be my papi.

Matt Hasslebeck: Normally I love bald men, but this Seattle Seahawks Quarterback should consider some sexy facial hair to balance his cue ball cranium. He looks older, but any man whose brother (editor's note: I apologize for originally mixing Tim and Matt Hasslebeck up) married the no-talent, whiny, unintelligent, air-headed blonde Elizabeth Hasselbeck is going to age exorbitantly faster then the rest of the population.

Jamie Oliver: Britain’s celebrity chef, also known as “The Naked Chef,” has lost some of his boyish good looks with age but still looks smashingly young. Perhaps his fountain of youth is found in his commitment to eating fresh, organic meals; I could only hope.

Enrique Iglesias: This singer of Latin and Pop ballads looks about his age, which is a little disappointing as he was hot like fire in the late 90s and early this decade. His signature mole had to be removed due to a skin cancer scare, and he lost a little of his signature style losing the mole. Of course, he could age all he wants and lose half of his face and still be the envy of men worldwide because of his longtime relationship with tennis player Anna Kournikova.

Casey Affleck: Ben’s younger brother, although not as well known, is fast becoming one of the most sought after, respected young men in Hollywood. He looks young now, but with how quickly his brother suddenly started to age is family history going to repeat itself?

Alex Rodriguez: A-rod made many women nationwide pay a little more attention to the national pastime. Early in his career there was no one in sports better looking then this baseball slugger. Playing for the Yankees, with all the media attention, pressure, and sacrifice of personal life that accompanies playing in New York, is aging this poster boy.

Michael Buble: I always thought this baby faced big bang singer was younger due to reviews exclaiming how rare it is for someone so young to have such a mature singing voice.

Tobey Maguire: Spiderman appears much younger than his age of 33; perhaps that spider bite is also the fountain of youth.

Zach Braff: Geeks often age slowly and this actor from Scrubs and Garden State is no exception. His role on Scrubs as an insecure, goofball doctor makes him appear even younger.

Tiki Barber: The former NY Football Giants star and now NFL commentator is hot like fire with a smile that could light the top of the Chrysler Building. I cannot judge whether Tiki looks older or younger because I knew before researching he was the same age as me. We were both seniors in college in 1997 when he and his brother got a photo shoot with the Governor of Virginia… and I was a lowly intern getting them water.

David Beckham: It is a real shame this international soccer superstar is married to such a scary, botoxed Spice Girl; there are so many women more deserving of Becks. First and foremost, soccer players rank very high in the “best athletic body” competition. Then there are the dimples. Unfortunately, David Beckham is a prime example of the early wrinkling that can happen with too much sun exposure. Wear sunscreen on the futbol field Becks!

Tiger Woods: Unarguably one of the best golfers of all time, Tiger Woods is blessed with amazing genes that allow him to spend way too much time in the sun and still look amazingly young. The only reason to think he’s older than his current age of 32 (he’ll be 33 in December) is his amazing success and longevity in the spotlight.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Quote of the Week

If you cannot be a poet, be the poem.
-David Carradine

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Like Fine Wine

How old do you think she is? This question occasionally comes up when watching television or a movie. Either the person is a long time public figure and still looks great, or is aging before our very eyes. Professional makeup and photographic air brushing create a warped sense of what people should look like at a given age. We watch actors and actresses age gracefully, read countless articles on the forty and fifty fabulous set, and forget that artists and modern technology make it easy to erase years of a person’s face and body. On the flip side we have an up and coming generation of stars and starlets who take the teenage desire to look older to a whole new level with heavy makeup and provocative clothing. With the old looking young and the young looking old, it is increasingly difficult to play the age guessing game and even worse, answer the question “do I look my age?”

Today is my thirty-third birthday, and it is actually much less traumatic then thirty-two. I am old enough to understand how the beauty, fashion, and entertainment industries promote unhealthy and unattainable goals but young enough to still obsess with what I look like. I am old enough to know that airbrushes enhance the cleavage of Victoria Secret models but young enough to hope their bras can still grant the dream of gravity defying boobs. I am old enough to know that Demi Moore, Halle Berry and other “aging” stars have a team of doctors, makeup artists, nutritionists, and photographers working to hide wrinkles and cellulite; but young enough to pray that good genes and excellent skin care will render me a bombshell at any age. I have the age and wisdom to know the games Hollywood play, but have yet to lose the naivety and arrogance to believe the rules of the game actually apply to me.

Whether it is because of a more mature look, the confident swagger that no person in their twenties possesses, a change in body shape, established career, or more classic clothing, there comes a certain point where it is very apparent that you are in your thirties. Thirty-three is around the age where it becomes nearly impossible to pretend you are twenty-nine, no matter how good you look.

To determine how I looked in comparison to other women my age, I searched wikipedia for women born the same year as me; 1975. Some highly esteemed company share my birth year, many are undoubtedly gorgeous, but do they “look their age?”

Heather Chadwell: Bret Michael’s runner up in season one of Rock of Love, currently on I Love Money, is who sparked my curiosity on what women born in 1975 look like. When I say curiosity I really mean “scared the crap out of me and fueled a skin product shopping spree”.

Stacy Ann “Fergie” Ferguson: The Black Eyed Peas singer turned solo artist has a killer body, but her years as a meth addict make her look a bit worn around the edges. Her body is still kicking, but the meth and cocaine diet is not endorsed by the American Medical Association.

Angelina Jolie: One can’t help but look older than their age with six children under their belts. She is a beautiful woman, but did anyone think for a moment think she was only 33?

Melanie Brown: Perhaps it is the stress of a public battle with Eddie Murphy regarding the paternity of their child, but Scary Spice is looking a little scary these days (although not as scary as Posh Spice, Victoria Beckham).

Kimora Lee Simmons: She looks good, but it is hard not to think she’s older due to her ex-husband, Russell Simmons, being 18 years her senior.

Tara Reid: She still parties like she’s in her twenties, but will turn 33 this November. My father used to say “it’s not the age, it’s the mileage” and Tara has certainly put on a lot of miles in her 33 years. She still looks okay despite years of bodily abuse, but plastic surgery can only help for so long before Tara starts looking like Joan Rivers.

Lauryn Hill: All I can say is wow, she used to be so ripped, so gorgeous. 5 kids really can age a person.

Mayim Bialik: Blossom from the show by the same name. She hasn’t changed a bit, she still looks like a socially awkward teenager.

Milla Jovovich: As a super-model she has a leg up on the rest of us mere mortals in the looks department, but her skin seems to be thinning a bit; she looks translucent.

Sara Gilbert: Darlene Conner from Roseanne looks around the same age as me, so do we look 33 or younger then 33? She looks older then her days as a teenage TV star, but is still recognizable.

Natalie Imbruglia: I cannot help but think she had some work, but this music star from Australia, best known for her song “Torn,” is somehow avoiding the sun damage that occurs living in a country with a thin ozone layer. She looks good.

Danica McKellar: Winnie Cooper from “The Wonder Years” is still adorable, and adorable is hard to pull off at 33.

Drew Barrymore: Drew looks fantastic, and the only reason I would think she looks older than 33 is because she’s been around FOREVER. Of course I could be biased; Drew’s Great-Grandmother and my Great-Great Grandmother were sisters or cousins or something like that, making me a fourth cousin twice removed. No matter what the connection, women in my family age beautifully!

Eva Longoria: This Desparate Housewives star is the youngest of the housewives, but does she look as young as 33? I’m torn on this particular starlet, she’s beautiful, married to a much younger man, but something about her eye area makes me question whether she’s really 33.

Charlize Theron: Bitch. No seriously, Charlize is a timeless beauty who will continue to grace magazine covers for decades to come. Part of the beauty is a natural glow and presence that few people possess.

Kate Winslet: Kate looks the same today as she did in Titanic ten years ago. She is somehow comes off as both elegant and down to earth at the same time. Hollywood is always looking for her to lose 10 to 20 pounds, but she maintains her stance that she is a curvy woman and won’t give in to those demands. Her strength in the face of societal pressures makes her more attractive, and me proud to share a birth year with such a buxom beauty.

So there it is; the good, the bad and the ugly ladies of 1975. Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and everyone could have a different opinion on how these women, and I, are aging. Ultimately age is just a number, but there is so much pressure to maintain the looks of a 19 year old that it is a number that is sometimes scary. I’m not 19 anymore, or 29. My laugh lines reveal 30+ years of smiles, crow’s feet disclose decades of deep thoughts, and sun spots show years dancing in the sunlight. Perhaps thirty-three is the age where we start to realize that some people are like fine wine; we only get better with age.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sex in the Suburbs

Some girls dream of love and marriage, house and babies; my dreams revolved around becoming a power single in Washington, D.C. A series of events derailed those dreams, first foregoing work on Capitol Hill and then meeting the love of my life at the ripe old age of 21. Shortly after meeting the future Mr. Blondebombchelle, HBO launched their groundbreaking series “Sex and the City.” With every episode I laughed, cried, and mourned the end of my swinging single self. As each season progressed so did my relationship with Mr. Right, from friendship to marriage, with all the ups and downs that any relationship experiences.

However, as much as I love Sex and the City, it was difficult to watch these smart, attractive, successful women focus so much on finding a relationship and not embrace the freedom and joy they possessed. Sex and the City is not the only show that portrays single women on the hunt for a husband. If anything, Samantha, the sex crazed, “act like a man” character on the show, was a breath of fresh air in the entertainment industry that fuels an invisible war between the married and the single. She did not see marriage as the road to happiness and instead found happiness in herself, her career, and her friends. Perhaps she knew something that only a failed marriage could teach Charlotte; a wedding isn’t the finish line to finding happiness. Carrie did pose the question; “Is there a secret cold war between marrieds and singles?” There probably is; the grass is always greener on the other side, but there is far more press devoted to the trials and tribulations of a single person than the struggles of coupledom. Relationships are not easy, even the best ones, but that reality is never portrayed or published in our “happily ever after” world. Even in friendships there is a somewhat unspoken code not to divulge the less than stellar points of being married to your single friends. Saying “I Do” doesn’t make the issues and questions that the ladies of Sex and the City, and other single woman across the globe, have go away. If anything, getting married amplifies some of the problems and struggles because you have to work through them rather then just break up and move on. After tying the knot I realized a dirty little secret that would knock Carrie and her friends out of their Manolos; marriage comes with many of the same issues faced by being single.

“How often is normal?” (Season 1): I remember reading about a couple who included frequency of sexual activity into their wedding vows; no less than 3 times a week and no more than 5, and thought to myself, “wonder how long they’ll keep that up?” Normal is a relative term influenced by personalities, life events, free time, present health, work stress, kids, dogs, etc.

“Are there still certain things in relationships one should never say?” (Season 2): For those who believe there are no secrets in marriage, try asking a friend about their mother-in-law in front of their spouse and see if you get a much different answer then what they say to you behind closed doors. Even after marriage there are some things never to say in the relationship, things that are just not important or worth the consequences. Topics to consider adding to the “never say it to your spouse” category include hair loss (or odd growth), bowel movements, the hot person at the office, and in-laws.

“Are all men freaks?” (Season 2): Yes.

''Is it better to 'fake it' than be alone?'' (Season 2): This was in reference to faking happiness and strength in a relationship rather then being single. Honestly, I can think of nothing more miserable then pretending to be happy with a person because of fear of being single. Single does not automatically mean lonely and couples settling down in bad relationships can feel more forlorn then any single. Eventually the reality of a poor relationship is realized. All faking it accomplishes is wasting time that could be spent finding happiness.

''Can you be friends with an ex?'' (Season 2): This is a dicey one that can only be answered on a case by case basis. All I can say is the question still comes up once you are married, especially in the day and age of the internet where long lost ex’s can pop up in an instant. Personally, after nearly 7 years of marriage, I don’t care who he’s friends with, heck I can barely remember my own details of my past relationships. When it comes down to ex’s who are still friends it is all about trust in your partner and confidence in yourself; married or not.

“What constitutes cheating?” (Season 2): Again, this is something best addressed on a relationship by relationship basis but the question still exists after vows are exchanged. Some married couples engage in extramarital activities considered adulterous in 49 states but are perfectly fine with the arrangement. On the extreme side other couples have a hissy fit if their spouse makes eye contact with another person. It is important to set the ground rules early to avoid any issues and misunderstandings.

“Can you change a man?” (Season 2): No.

“How do you know if you’re good in bed?” (Season 3) : Marriage doesn’t necessarily make performance insecurities go away, but it should provide a comfortable and safe environment to address those insecurities and improve.

“In Relationships, what are the deal breakers?” (Season 3): Over 50% of marriages end in divorce so there are deal breakers after the wedding. While there are some people who give up too quickly when the going gets tough, there are some very legitimate deal breakers like abuse, infidelity, addictions, discovering homosexuality, or becoming a Red Sox fan.

“Do we need drama to make a relationship work?” (Season 3): As an Italian (German-Swedish-English-Irish-Finnish-Czech)-American I know drama. I grew up surrounded by couples who created drama, a way to make their relationships more passionate. Perhaps they picked up too many relationship tips from Soap Operas, because good relationships don’t need to be dramatic to be good. Drama is exhausting.

“Can we have it all?” (Season 3): In the words of the great Rolling Stones: you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you just might find you get what you need.

“In a relationship, when does the art of compromise become compromising?” (Season 4): This is one of the most profound questions Carrie posed in all six seasons of Sex and the City. Relationships take plenty of compromise, and ideally it works out to be 50/50, but maintaining that 50/50 is a struggle. It is too easy for one person to take on more then their fair share, or give in to the other more often then not. I see other people compromise their opinions, values, time, and opinions to their spouses quite often and wonder myself when it is no longer compromising for the sake of a relationship and just being a doormat.

“As we speed along this endless road to the destination called who-we-hope-to-be, I can’t help but whine, “are we there yet?” (Season 4): One of the biggest misconceptions people have about getting married. The wedding is not a destination; it is just the addition of another person along for the ride.

Marriage is no walk in Central Park and comes along with a whole host of challenges that people associate with being single and the dating scene. Marriage is hard work, but is worth all the sacrifice and struggle when you meet the right person? In the words of Mr. Big, “Absofuckinglutely.”

Thursday, August 07, 2008

It's Not Easy Eating Green

People on average weigh more today then they did in decades past. Experts blame everything from larger portion sizes to more sedentary lifestyles; valid reasons for the waistline explosion. As any person who has ever tried to “do the right thing” with eating and exercise can to attest to, sometimes efforts just don’t work. Whether the weight just doesn’t come off or cravings and emotions sabotage any ability to drop poundage, our best efforts are often thwarted. Even after working with a dietician, I ended the day hungry, craving sweets and junk with such rabid intensity it was wise for friends and family to stay out of the way or they could lose an appendage. As part of my effort to live a healthier life, I began focusing more on what was going into my body and the result it had on my mood, feeling, and waistline. Aspartame is a known enemy and eliminating it from my body yielded incredible results. Could other man made substances be the cause of an appetite that far outweighs my caloric need?

“French Women Don’t Get Fat,” “You on a Diet,” “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle,” and “In Defense of Food,” are just a few books that inspired me to stop dieting and just eat healthier. Each chapter of these books led to a greater understanding of human physiological, psychological, physical, emotional and cultural eating habits, and issues in our food supply chain. If I were to sum up each of these books with a theme they would be:
Creating a “diet” based upon the principles of a healthy, natural, organic lifestyle led to the “Lean, Mean, Green Eating Machine” eating plan (maybe I should trademark this). The Green Eating Machine does not consist of eating twigs and berries or moving to Colorado with the rest of the granola-heads (disclaimer: I love granola and the people who eat it). It is possible to get tasty, amazing, flavorful, and enjoyable meals that are rich in vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants. The overall guidelines for the Lean, Mean, Green Eating Machine diet are:
  • Focus organic eating on “the dirty dozen:” Eating everything organic is almost impossible due to availability issues and cost. Several publications have listed 12 types of foods most affected by pesticides and poor farming practices so consumers can make smarter organic decisions. Essentially the list is meat, thin skinned fruits and vegetables, and coffee. Honestly, if you haven’t eaten an organic heirloom tomato or free-range organic chicken you haven’t lived.
  • Buy Locally: Food transported over thousands of miles is engineered to survive the trip. The genetic engineering and travel compromise the taste and quality of the food. Buying locally also supports farmers in your region, bringing more dollars to the people who actually do the farming rather than multi-national food companies. This also cuts down on the use of fossil fuels in food transportation, saving gas for our own cars.
  • Reading is Fundamental: Only consume ingredients that are pronounceable and made by nature, not a scientist. For the most part this means reading labels for unnatural and unpronounceable components. These fake foods and ingredients are stealing people of what their bodies need to thrive. Large corporations make money on feeding us crap they can manufacture and getting us to eat and buy more; our health and wellness is not a factor in their bottom line.
  • Eliminate High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS): We have to import sugar in the United States but can manufacture plenty HFCS with our corn supplies in the US, making it a cheap option for American food manufacturers. This chemical “food” is used as a sugar replacement for a large percentage of foods and beverages in the United States but is left out of foods in overseas markets. Perhaps that is how the French (and everyone else) stay so thin despite a diet rich in cheese, cream and animal fat. Many researchers claim that HFCS prohibits brain receptors from receiving the message that you are full, leading to overeating. There is a great debate whether HFCS leads to obesity with some studies reporting it does and others refuting it. All I know is rise of obesity rates happen to mirror the rise of HFCS use in our food supply. Coincidence? I think not.
  • Fresh is best: Pre-packaged and pre-prepared foods are loaded with ingredients and calories none of our bodies wants nor needs. Start off with real, fresh ingredients and food will taste better and be better for you. When shopping, stick to the farmer's market or the outer aisles of the grocery store to keep it real and fresh.
  • Keep it Real: The diet industry and food manufacturers are trying to get us to eat substitutes for the foods we really want, leading us to keep eating (and spending) more until we actually “break down” and eat what we want in the first place. Stop using substitutes that are unsatisfying and taste awful. A little real ice cream, butter, chocolate, beer, and cheese is more satisfying then tasteless cardboard.
  • Cut Down on Bottles: Environmentally friendly and a way to consume fewer calories in the alcohol format. We are either the best recyclers on our block or we produce the most beer and wine bottles for our blue bin, and my guess is we might produce a bottle or two more then our neighbors. Either way my goal was to have more AFD’s (Alcohol Free Days) than AD’s to cut down on the bottles and the empty calories. With fewer then 3 AD’s a week it takes a lot less to get the job done, also saving calories.
  • Use less gas: Walking, biking, and skating to get to the store are great ways to reduce carbon emissions and use of fossil fuels. Added bonus, burning more calories!
There are some downsides to eating green; if there weren’t, everyone would be doing it.
  • Expensive: The short term expense of switching to organic or locally grown and produced food is apparent with each item costing a little more then foods from industrial farms. I could go into length on how industrial farming causes long term damage, actually costs society more, etc. etc. None of those things would have convinced me to pay more for a tomato, but then I thought about it in different terms. We have no problem spending more money on electronics, games, health and beauty products, clothes, and other material consumer items. It is a shame that Whole Foods is on a mission to demonstrate their competive prices. Food actually goes into our body, affects our chemistry, influences our mood, impacts our overall heath, and contributes to our longevity. Is this not worth a little bit extra money? Long term you actually save money going more organic with fewer illnesses driving costs of doctors and medicines. It takes a little bit to notice, but green eating is so much more nutritious that you actually end up eating less quantity, therefore saving money.
  • Seasonal: Embracing the true meaning of eating green, and experiencing the intense flavors lacking in imported fruits and vegetables, means understanding the seasonality of produce and when certain foods are available. This is a difficult proposition for Americans who are used to getting and eating anything they want, whenever they want. There are certain things I love that I can never get locally, like pineapples, and I try my best to make sure those items are at least from the United States. Since King Crab has yet to be harvested from the Lake Superior it remains an exception to my new local rule; hey, someone has to support the Deadliest Catch guys! Asparagus is available year round, but is really only at its peak for a short period in early spring. Enjoy foods while they are in season; the flavors are more intense and worth the wait.
  • Time Consuming: It takes more time to cook healthy meals then popping a Lean Cuisine or Stouffer’s meal in the oven or microwave. People have gotten so busy in their lives that the “joy of cooking” and eating has shifted to the bottom of people’s priority list. Good food takes time, and meals should be enjoyed and savored at a table, not in a car or hovered over a sink. People who think they don’t have enough time to cook or enjoy a good meal at least once a day should consider reprioritizing their calendars. Some of my most cherished memories in life are family meals, a dying ritual for many families. Cut out some of the television time and make a healthy meal to share with family or friends instead.
  • Palate retraining: We have all heard people talk about certain foods or drinks as “acquired tastes.” Our bodies adapt to new flavors and textures and learn to like or dislike foods. Many fast foods and pre-packaged and processed meals contain man made compounds that actually make things taste better then they actually are, and trigger the craving mechanism in our brains. People who stop eating something like McDonald’s for a long period of time often report it tasting different or bad then they remember from the past; the palate and brain untrained the desire for fast food. Introducing healthier foods often takes a little bit to get used to. For me, the big challenge was natural peanut butter, which is not nearly as sugary sweet as brands most of us grew up on. After a few weeks (I eat a lot of peanut butter sandwiches!) my body started to appreciate the simplicity of peanut butter that contained nothing but peanuts. I ran out of real peanut butter and made a sandwich with the sugary stuff and had to throw the sandwich out. After a few months of eating the natural version the ingredient heavy manufactured stuff tasted awful. This same palate training is the basis of so many children’s cook books, like The Sneaky Chef, that call for hiding the healthy stuff into food. Not only do you slip extra nutrients into meals, but eventually this helps train the palate of the eater to be more accepting of vegetables.
  • Limitations: Start reading labels and you quickly learn how many things on our store shelves contain unpronounceable ingredients and high fructose corn syrup. The quest to eliminate man made chemicals from your diet is challenging and it takes some time at first to learn what foods are okay. Certain foods that you expect to be “healthy” are actually packed unnatural and sometimes harmful ingredients. Some discoveries are actually heartbreaking; Special K, Triscuits, bread crumbs. Forget about a microwave meal! One of the happiest moments in food shopping history was seeing the words “Now Made Without High Fructose Corn Syrup” on a package of Thomas’ English muffins.
It may not be easy eating green, but it sure makes a difference in body and mind. During the first 6 months of this green eating journey I have noticed so many changes. The most obvious; my weight, 21 pounds lost without really “dieting;” I pretty much ate what I wanted; so long as it wasn’t crap. My sugar cravings, a huge part of my struggles with calories, disappeared. My hair grew stronger and shinier. My skin cleared up; issues with cyst-like acne on my chin no longer a problem. If all this was not enough to convince myself and those around me how much better eating fresh and local was for my body, how I feel right now might. Family and career stress of the past six weeks sent me right back to some old habits; eating store processed foods, not reading labels, imbibing in adult beverages way too often. This brief jump off the healthy wagon and onto the chuck wagon served as a reminder that eating green made a noticeable difference in my health and well being. After six weeks of abandoning the Green Diet I am 8 pounds heavier, terribly lethargic, achy, taking longer to recover from a workout, experiencing acne breakouts, and constantly hungry. Writing about this “diet plan” is not meant to be preachy; it is an exercise to document what made me healthy and successful earlier this year so I can get back to business. Read the books I mentioned above, they are inspirational and eye opening. If you decided to try the green diet let me know how it goes. The diet industry is worth billions…

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Quote of the Week

Wishing our dear little puppy, Solei, a very happy third birthday today!

I think dogs are the most amazing creatures; they give unconditional love. For me they are the role model for being alive.
- Gilda Radner

Monday, August 04, 2008

Care and Feeding of Little Googlers

Earlier this year I had an opportunity to attend an employee benefits conference in California. My purpose; to gain a better understanding of what businesses, and many of their respective benefits consultants, were looking to implement in their benefit plans to save money (and therefore continue to offer health benefits). Representatives from companies of various sizes, backgrounds, and locations openly discussed their benefit pain points, and what was working or not working to control skyrocketing costs. Hearing about the cost benefits of different wellness programs helping pteople live healthier lives, work at home programs to help people save on the cost of fuel, and work/life programs aimed at reducing absenteeism and increase employee retention were fascinating. In one work session a speaker from the internet powerhouse Google presented on the wealth of benefits they offer their employees, from free organic gourmet meals in the cafeterias to masseuses on staff. Everyone at my table, including attendees representing everything from government agencies to the nation’s largest garbage collector, were chuckling under their breaths at how easy offering rich and unique benefits must be for a multi-billion dollar company. As most companies struggled to provide basic health and disability insurance for their employees, Google pontificated the importance of daily massages for employee morale. One woman at my table looked at all of us and said; “it will be funny to read news of sinking employee morale at Google when their bubble breaks and all these extravagances get tossed.” We all agreed, and less than six months later, we’re already laughing.

Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin wrote the following in response to speculation that the employee-focused culture would change after Google went public; “We provide many unusual benefits for our employees, including meals free of charge, doctors and washing machines. We are careful to consider the long term advantages to the company of these benefits. Expect us to add benefits rather than pare them down over time. We believe it is easy to be penny wise and pound foolish with respect to benefits that can save employees considerable time and improve their health and productivity.” Their “employee first” tune is apparently changing as competition from former employees, stock volatility, a weak economy, slowed growth, and poor business expansion decisions affect Google’s bottom line. Suddenly the decision makers at Google have to look at their books and determine what expenses to eliminate in an effort to circumvent financial woes. Imagine the shock of Google bean counters when they discovered company supported daycare as a major culprit in high corporate spend.

Investigation revealed that Google’s top of the line Reggio Emilia philosophy daycare centers were company subsidized at a rate $37,000 for each child. With a cap of 200 children in the daycare facility, this meant Google spent 7.4 million dollars a year providing daycare to a relatively small number of employees in their Silicon Valley location. Wasn’t that a nice little perk for Google parents?

Google executives concluded that parents needed to foot a large part of the daycare bill, proposing a 75% increase in charges; a total bill of $2500 per month/per child. Parents rebelled, uproar heard throughout the land. The New York Times did a piece around Google missing the mark, arguing they should lower the overall cost of daycare by booting the high cost delivery of Reggio Emilia so people other than Google’s elite could afford it; Google daycare is more expensive for parents then other facilities. Arguments that affordable company run daycare is a right, that Google and other companies should be working hard to ensure parents receive, ignore the blatant compensation discrimination of this benefit. Dolling out monetary bonuses to those who choose to have children discriminates against the childfree, those who can’t have children, choose to have a parent stay home, and those whose children are already grown. Employee benefits like healthcare, life insurance, gym memberships, 401(k)s, stock purchase plans, and travel reimbursements are available to every employee regardless of age, gender, or procreation status; daycare is not. All those “Googlers” without children, with children at home, or who were unable to get one of the 200 coveted seats in the center, were left out of sharing the $7.4 million benefit dollars a year this daycare cost. Share this money across a greater number of people in the form of a “work-life balance” benefit, allowing people to choose whether they wanted to spend this money on daycare (for children or their aging parents), pet care, grocery delivery, a lawn service, house cleaners, gardeners, whatever it takes to help each individual balance their heavy workload with the pressures at home. Parents are not the only people struggling with too few hours in their day.

Google is now like any company with funding pressures. Curtailing some of the more extravagant perks has executives backpedaling on some of the management philosophies they espoused for years. Co-founder and President of Technology Sergey Brin, often quoted in interviews on the importance of strong employee benefits and how providing things like free meals and on-site dry cleaning is a cornerstone to their company’s success, is now found saying things like “[he] had no sympathy for the parents [in the subsidized daycare issue],” and that he was “tired of ‘Googlers’ who felt entitled to perks like 'bottled water and M&Ms'." I could not agree with Mr. Brin more; these parents are elitist in thinking that anyone is responsible for paying for the care of their children other then themselves. However, Sergey Brin, his partner Larry Page, and other executives at Google created their own elitist monsters by setting expectations too highs. Reality sucks, and Google is beginning to understand the reasons why many other companies struggle with the costs associated with employee health and wellness benefits. Google executives and employees are finally learning an important lesson that most people hear in Economics 101; there is no such thing as a free lunch (or daycare).

Friday, August 01, 2008

Classy Notes

A few weeks prior to my college graduation, members of the alumni association at The University of Mary Washington (nee Mary Washington College) asked me volunteer as an alumni news writer for the Class of 1997. It seemed only natural to serve in this role after spending four years representing my class as their President. The assignment seemed easy; keep in touch with classmates, gather their news, write a submission two or three times a year, and hand over the responsibilities to another classmate after 5 years. Well, those 5 years came and went and I continue to contribute to each issue, easily classifying those submissions as the most important pieces I write each year.

The “job” of writing for the Mary Washington Alumni magazine is more challenging then I originally calculated for a variety of reasons. One major challenge is my inability to meet writing deadlines, a problem that still plagues me long after leaving the hallowed (and creaky) corridors of Monroe Hall. Another issue is adhering to the guidelines and ever changing deadlines set forth by the alumni publication Gestapo, who I often think would be secretly happy to abolish the long tradition of class specific news, making room for more kitschy articles that no one actually reads (sorry to break the news to any magazine editors who might catch this, but an unscientific poll concluded that most alumnus flip to the back of the magazine to read the Class Notes and the In Memoriam sections). Then there is my little type-A personality issue; if I was the kind of person who could casually volunteer for something, writing a small blurb for my alumni magazine would be a piece of cake. Unfortunately, I am not the kind of person able to half-ass this type of commitment and take my duties as class representative very seriously, combing the globe over to find alumni whose post-college stories remain unwritten.

From a purely professional perspective, the importance of alumni staying connected with their alma mater and other alumnus is priceless. Studies prove that people graduating from colleges and universities with strong alumni associations and connections find more success in the business world. Simply put, it’s not always what you know, but who you know, or who happened to attend the same institution of higher learning as you. Building relationships through alumni networking is how many find jobs, promotions, sales, deals, merger opportunities, etc. Keeping track and documenting everyone’s news could trigger communication between two alumni who together create a Microsoft, Google, or Starbucks like success. That merger would certainly lead to a very nice endowment for the university.

As a public college in the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Mary Washington alumni association focuses many of their official efforts in Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and New York. Those of us who live outside of the I-95 Northeast corridor, as well as those who avoid alumni events like the black plague, can remain connected to classmates and the school itself through the alumni publication. Our college years are supposed to be among the best of our lives; it would be a shame to completely lose connection to those years. Whatever school you attended, whatever class you are from, remember the importance of keeping in touch with the place, and the people, that kick-started your adult life.

Over the past 11 years our class experienced the highest of highs, and the lowest of lows; celebrating the births of a dozen future graduates in each issue, congratulating each person receiving a higher degree or a major promotion, and mourning the unfortunate losses of people taken from us too soon. What amazes me most is that many of my old classmates let me into their lives and remember to include me (and therefore our whole class) in the news of their triumphs and tragedies at each and every juncture of their lives. I often receive the birth and wedding announcements from people I knew in passing, photos from family holidays, honeymoons and African safaris. Change of address cards and emails frequently come with a written request to update their address with the school so they can continue receiving class notes. Being entrusted with keeping a class of over 800 connected with each other and the broader family of alumni is honor and privilege, one never to be taken lightly.

While most jump right to the page with their class’ notes, reading news of their friends and classmates, I have a more unorthodox style of reading. I enjoy working my way backwards, starting with the latest graduating class and ending with the class holding the honor of having the oldest living alumna. The newer classes write much of the same news now found in my article archive; graduate school, law school, backpacking through Europe, Australia and Asia, sharing apartments with dear college friends, struggling with the “now what?” dilemma. Class year by class year, the news and stories take on predictable patterns with very little variation; only the names change. The marriage years, the baby years, toddler years, little league years, and high school years are the life stories shared by so many. Those choosing a childfree or marriage-free path have their own predictable patterns of where they travel and when and when they jump off the corporate ladder for more “meaningful” work. Empty Nesters and the middle-aged jump into the “what now?” years; the life script and checklist often leaves out what we are meant to do after finishing the work and children things. Surprisingly (or not), out of all the class years, the most enjoyable reads come from those reveling in the Golden Years. Reading class news from those beyond the Gold and Silver Reunion years serves as a reminder of the importance of friendship, love, faith, and education. Some of the news is sad, as people report the deaths of their dear classmates. Even in reporting the deaths the writers of these class notes point out the amazing things the departed brought to the world. Sometimes the spotlight is on children or careers, but often the memories are focused on the little things that go unnoticed by us “young whipper-snappers”; a friend’s infectious laugh, warm smile, melodic voice, or ability to mix the perfect martini.

Reading the little joys people from the earlier classes report is amazing. Those under the 20 year reunion mark focus on big milestones and accomplishments, those past the 60 year reunion mark learned that life is filled with smaller moments worth celebrating. It would not be unusual to open up the page from the class of 1946 and read something like this; “…I had coffee with Sally Smith Brown and she is still the same old firecracker she was 62 years ago. She misses her husband, who passed away late last year, but is so thankful for the 58 years they spent together. These days Sally is surrounded by a large and strong network of family and friends. Just like at school, she always has pot of coffee on, ready for unexpected company; at least now she doesn’t have to hide her percolator from the dorm fire marshals! Don’t be too jealous, but Sally is still able to live in her own house (which she now shares with her Virginia Hall roommate Jane Brown Jones!), walk on her own (thanks to the new hip she got from Dr. Anne Madison of the Class of 1972), and breathe without the help of any oxygen despite all those years of sneaking post meal cigarettes in the amphitheatre. Completing the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle takes until Tuesday these days, but she still finishes it every week, a testament to her fine Mary Washington education. Sally said her joints are a little stiff these days, but she knows there is an expiration date on those joints and plans on finding that date at her weekly dance club…”

Alumni representatives far and wide love hearing news of what people are up to, especially their successes. Class notes and alumni news from decades ago remind us that life is not just about what we accomplish, but the importance of maintaining lifelong relationships and finding happiness in the everyday; with age, or reading the words and thoughts of those with years under their belts, comes wisdom.