Sunday, August 22, 2010

What the World Wants & Creative Muscle Building


Do you remember the movie What Women Want?  The one where Mel Gibson falls in the bathtub, electrocutes himself, and suddenly has the power to hear what women are thinking as they walk by? I remember being really struck by the possibility of someone hearing your thoughts (hey, I was 19).  Another caveat: this was back when I, and most others, assumed Mel Gibson had a soul.

Regardless of the silly plot-line (it's actually a pretty awful movie when I reflect on it now), in some ways it resembles the world we live in today, and how people are increasingly expressing their thoughts in a public forum, definitely in a way that was never previously possible.  Is it now: What the world wants?  Are we hearing human idea tinkerings that were previously silent? I think this is pretty cool, in fact. I'm discovering there a lot of people out there who have some pretty rad ideas, thought processes, and in general, this makes me conclude we are as a society working out our creative muscles.

Consider this.  Ten years ago, when the average person got home from work in the evening and wanted to relax, the delivery of choice for many was the TV. Why? Because this was the only thing we were offered.  So, you'd sit there and consume, consume, consume.  Now with social media, people ar realizing rather than sitting in front of a uni-directional media box, they can participate.  And since we're social creatures, this is turning out to be way more of a turn on than our former option. Blogs, tweets, Facebook interactions, wikis, and basically online communities of any kind - this is much more our style.

So back to the creative muscle concept.  Like all other muscles, I believe creativity is a muscle you work out.  Yes, sometimes divine intervention plants an idea in our head regardless of what excercising we were previously doing (perhaps akin to someone never running in their life and then running a sub 3-hour marathon), but for many, the more ideas we participate in, learn from others, the more we become more creative ourselves.  Good thing we have sites like the99percent to help us move our creative ideas into actionable results and tangible fruits of labor.

You're Just a Sad Little Head

The greatest line in Disney movie making history:

King Julien from Madagasgar 2: "Well, you've got to march right up to this woman, right? You look her right in the eye, you lean forward, right, just a little, just almost all the way, hm, then you let her lean forward just another little bit 'til you're just a lips distance away from each other, hm, and then you just tell...her... how much you hate her."

Saturday, August 21, 2010

From the Heights at Boston College to New Heights in Life

The picture below is of Gasson Hall on the Boston College campus in Chestnut Hill, MA.  This is where I took most of my English and Literature classes.  Many people have asked me since I graduated, if I liked attending Boston College, and if so, what was my favorite aspect.  In answer to this question, I've heard others say, "good football team, school pride, academics, networking opportunities, and city to live in." To me, Boston College often felt magical.

Why? The strong Jesuit teachings, which, above all, taught me the importance of seeking balance as a means to an end of achieving happiness every day (or most days).  Through this daily exercise of striving to achieve balance, one is less likely to wander down the perilous road of any extreme, and so be more joyful and at peace on any given day.  One is more likely to appreciate a hot cup of coffee early in the morning, a beautiful view, or an inspiring interaction.  In this way, life can be experienced in a richer manner. I have found (as the Jesuits role-modeled for me), when you live a balanced life, you are more free to appreciate and notice life and everything takes on a deeper color, smell, meaning, and yes, can seem magical.  I remember walking to class early in the morning, and because I was not binging in one direction, would look up at the buildings, and they did, in fact, look just like the picture above.  Magical, in my opinion.  Granted, during finals, I probably didn't look around that much, so I guess once in a while, you do have to go to a mini-extreme to have an overall major balance.

To comment more on the idea of binging, I remember learning from a professor, Father Michael Himes, exactly why binging doesn't work.  Most things we binge on (money, power, material stuff, title, food, a person!! yikes), hoping to find happiness in the binging, were never meant to stand up to the binging in the first place, and in turn, this binging is inherently flawed.

I was reminded of my appreciation for these Jesuit instilled values when I recently started reading Ted Leonsis' book "The Business of Happiness."  Overall, I like the book and think its worth the read, but my favorite parts are when he reflects on his time as an undergraduate student at Georgetown, also a Jesuit university.  Much like my interactions and shaping from Jesuit professors, some of the best lessons of Ted's life were learned at the age of 20 from his mentor Father Durkin.
"He passed on to me the desire to live a life which you have given more than you have taken. He taught me that the way you function should also balance with all other aspects of your life, which should include work, sports, the arts - all of the pleasures of life that enhance our humanity. Father Durkin tried to instill the desire to live an engage and fulfilling life with all the pieces in balance."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

1% Inspiration and 99% Awesome

If you map the thought patterns of the creatives out there (ie; people with ideas), especially when he/she is in his creative element/moment/inspiration, you might see something like this:

photo credit www.mindmapinspiration.com

Ah yes.  If you can relate, you'll know that when you're in this type of thinking, you feel like a monkey is swinging around upstairs happily grabbing branch after branch, with just a banana here and there for sustenance.  And, you'll probably agree, this "map" doesn't look like it ends at any particular point.  Bingo!

BUT, there DOES exist an army of creatives out there who consistently engage the monkey, and teach him to churn out quality products that drive our country forward.  How do they do it? Discipline! Indeed. They discipline the monkey and make him work for his bananas.

Now, I'd like to credit the amazing site the99percent (with their tagline - 1% inspiration, 99% perspiration, or as I've dubbed it 1% inspiration, 99% awesome) for helping out us creative folk with some tricks of the trade. Their site is dedicated to the following: "It's not about ideas. It's about making ideas happen."

At 99%, Behance's think tank, we focus on what happens after inspiration—researching the forces that truly push ideas forward. Our profiles of proven idea makers, action-oriented tips, best-practices sessions, and annual conference are all designed to help you transform ideas from vision to reality

Sunday, August 8, 2010

How to Survive the Idea Project Plateau (inspired by the99percent)

This is a fantastic video that describes how to survive the idea plateau once the initial honeymoon phase is over. Highly recommend to all who are always coming up with great ideas and need to focus on execution through final product delivery. It's even worth watching a couple of times.

How can we survive the project plateau? How can we avoid this idea syndrome?

The Creative's Compromise -

"When I went out to interview as many of the most creative and productive people and teams in the world, I really thought these people were true to their creative essence...I was curious...how do these people make these ideas happen again and again whereas most people can't? And I was interested to find that a lot of these people claim that they have made a compromise of an aspect of their very essence by taking on some unnatural constraints to their creative process. They discipline themselves against what is naturally their essence which is to love, love, love ideas and continue to generate them." - Scott Belsky, CEO & Founder, Behance


5 Favorite Aspects of Growing up in a Small Town


 Having spent the first 18 years of my life in a town that boasts only one store, no traffic lights, and a sound so deafening at night outsiders can only fall asleep by playing the "white noise" selection on their iPhone, or maybe by hooking up a fan, I can only describe it now with one word: "idyllic."

Now, (and for the past 11 years) I live in the city where McDonalds' are as prevalent as hummingbirds once were, I can purchase pretty much any item I'll ever need in a 3 miles radius, and I have my pick of five grocery stores - all within walking distance.

Being back home for a brief stint inspired me to think of some of my favorite aspects of growing up in a "cow town."

1. Eating cherry tomatoes off the vine.  These little guys are the real deal, and bear no resemblance to their supermarket counterparts, ripened artificially in the 1000 mile trek from soil to stomach.  Instead of styrofoam, these beauties taste like sun and burst in your mouth with such intensity, you can only mutter, "ah, this is what a tomato is supposed to taste like."

from my parents garden.

2. Going for a walk at night and seeing the constellations. Light pollution isn't much of a problem when there aren't any streetlamps, and most neighbors are lights out at 9:30 pm.

3. Well water. With its own distinct taste.  Maybe akin to a Budweiser brewery compared to a micro brewery. Bud essentially tastes and looks like beer, but I'd rather have something in limited production than from the city reservoir.

4. Knowing all your best friends by their handwriting (and having photos of what they looked like at ages 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25).  Being anything but completely honest with these people is very hard to do, knowing they've seen you through it all, and have a pretty good sincerity gauge built in.

5.  Having a sense of origin so firmly planted in one tiny place, no matter where you go in life, you will always feel a connection with that one, single, plot.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Très Chic

Some of the best things in life are pretty simple.  Like chanel nail polish.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Fight Inside

Here's a wonderful little Native American tale by blogger Holly. It is short and simple, but profound.

It was written in response to a conversation going on at OhSheGlow's blog - Learning How to Dismiss Negative Thoughts.

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life.

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

How to Write an Effective Case Study

One of the best ways to share and communicate your firm's capabilities is to describe your past experience through case studies.  Yet, for many, this is a confusing exercise.  Where should I start?  What information should I include? Who's point of view should the case study be written from?  How should it be organized?

Answer?

Tell a story.  Ready?  Once upon a time...

Seriously?

Yes.

Why?  People like stories!

To be more scientific - - a case study written from the perspective of the hero in distress (client) aids future heroes in distress (prospects) in applying the story to their own situations, and helps them imagine their own successes alongside the hero's helper (the firm offering solution).

Here is a helpful, easy to follow, step-by-step summary from Bill Whitley's the Art of the Rainmaker: the Message, Questions, and Insights that Attract and Engage Clients


This can be organized as follows:

1. Background
2. Challenge
3. Solution
4. Notable Results

Need this spelled out in more detail?  Here is more great wisdom from Simon Townley's blog Write Mindset.
"...A good case study starts out with our hero – our satisfied customer. Like every good hero, he wants something, he has a story goal. He may want to find the perfect ice cream; he may want to buy the car of his dreams; he may want to learn to play the piano; or he might be looking for a world-class data centre where he can host the corporate databases and applications for which he holds prime responsibility. You get the idea.

There is conflict however: he doesn’t know how to reach his story goal.

This conflict is resolved when he discovers product X or service Y. We see how he is able to reach his goal, and come to a satisfying happy-ending when product X delivers a huge range of benefits.

So, to write an effective case study, you need to remember you are telling a story about a person or a company that wanted to achieve something, what they did about that, and how it all worked out in the end. It gives a proven, rock-solid structure for a case study that works every time:

1) The problem – the status quo, the situation at the start of the story, where we see our hero/customer struggling to achieve his story goal.

2) The solution – we show how our hero found product X, and how he used it to achieve his goal.

3) The benefits – we show how using product X has enriched our hero’s life and made him happy-ever-after.

This formula should work for any case study you need to write, be it for a big company, or just a testimonial for online marketing. The story can be a few sentences long, or many thousands of words. The structure can remain the same, only the level of detail needs to change.

Remember, however, to give your story a touch of life. Every good story needs a believable character, so include details of the person/company and a quote which lets us hear the proof in their own words.

Finally, make sure the quotes don’t read like corporate committee speak. Many a case-study has been ruined by the inclusion of so-called ‘quotes’ that don’t sound like something any human being would ever actually say. If the customer can only supply that kind of material, then change it so it sounds like a real quote, or write something for them. In either case, go back and get their approval."

That's Right.


Tuesday, July 20, 2010

"Happiness is the Consequence of Personal Effort"

This title is a quote I pulled out of my copy of Elizabeth Gilbert's Eay Pray Love - - a book I've kept next to my bed for the past 3 years that serves as a fixed reminder of the utter sweetness of striving. 

The other day while cleaning out my closet, I came across a box of books.  My gaze rested on the colorful cover of Filastrocche Italiane, a children's book of nursery rhymes.  I remember buying this cartoon-laden beauty when I was in a town in Italy called Ascoli Piceno (in the Marche region) in 2006.  In my attempt to learn Italian, I thought starting with a children's book (and accompanying English picture translations) would be helpful, along with the Italian pop music I listened to on repeat.  While I had learned French when I was in grammar school (with reinforcing language-learning trips to visit my best friend Louise), learning a new language at the age of 25 was a lot more difficult. Apparently my window of opportunity for a language to take up free rent in my head had closed at the ripe age of 5 (I still don't understand why we start teaching kids languages in 6th grade - hello!?! our instant language learning sponge absorbing effect is diminished by now!). I remember starting with the nouns and learning how to string them together, but always having to make a conscious effort to think before I formed each word.

While staring down at this children's book of nursery rhymes, nostalgia rushing into my head like water rushing into a capsizing boat (my trip to Italy was quite memorable), I thought about the parallels between learning a new language (at the age of 25, not 5) and happiness. Happiness is something that, like language, doesn't always come instinctively, or effortlessly. Instead, happiness is something that we must choose time after time, day after day, in the small decisions, and the big, and how we let our attitude shape our perception of the world. Sometimes it comes from choosing to be a good friend, investing in our own dreams, complimenting the stranger in the elevator on their shoes, spending 5 hours on a well earned Sunday to do something charitable, or giving ourselves the time to strive for something, maybe even something impractical by the world's standards.

Regardless of the specifics, happiness is a continual set of choices we make - - in how we choose to act, perceive the world, find the positive in a situation (no matter how disgruntling at the time). But ultimately, it is the practice of doing it time after time, day after day. This incessant, dogged, striving to get it right - - this is where the happiness fruit is. It is not merely a temporary, fleeting moment when we stand on the podium summa cum laude at graduation. It is enjoying sitting in the library weekend after weekend studying to graduate.

So again, to the language parallel, the more we practice ways of happiness, no matter how old, or grandfathered in we are to a certain way, happiness can become more natural, instinctual, and take up more free rent in our heads, so that we don't have to think about it each time we want it to come out right. If we don't use it, we'll probably lose it.

Happiness is in the never-ending, conscious striving.  Gelato helps too.

"I keep remembering one of my Guru's teachings about happiness.  She says that people universally tend to think that happiness is a stroke of luck, something that will maybe descend upon you like fine weather if you're fortunate enough.  But that's not how happiness works.  Happiness is the consequence of personal effort.  You fight for it, strive for it, insist upon it, and sometimes even travel around the world looking for it. You have to participate relentlessly in the manifestations of your own blessings. And once you have a achieved a state of happiness, you must never become lax about maintaining it, you must make a mighty effort to keep swimming upward into that happiness forever, to stay afloat on top of it. If you don't you will leak away your innate contentment. It's easy enough to pray when you're in distress but continuing to pray even when your crisis has passed is like a sealing process, helping your soul hold tight to its good attainments." - Elizabeth Gilbert

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Ideas Journal


Here's the thing I've learned about blogging.  You never know when and where the ideas will come.  It could very well be when you sit down to write, or it could be when you are unloading the dishwasher, working on another project, or gazing out of the window as landscape rushes by at 70mph.  So, be ready.  Get an ideas journal! Buy something sturdy, small, and something you'd likely carry around or have near by. Write it all down, now matter how half-baked or trite it may seem at the time.  You never know what these momentary sparks of insight can turn into.

If you're a design dork like me, you'll LOVE this Swedish brand - White Lines.  I'm obsessed with the clean, anti-clutter look, with bright, soft white pages always ready for information overload.

Here's to paper, pens, and possibilities!

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Have a Pulse

Want to do something incredible in your life?

1. Get excited.
2. Get a vision.
3. Get it done!

It's not rocket science. It's more having a pulse.

Be honest with who you are, what makes you tick, and what drives you to bliss (ie; what you're doing when you forget to eat/sleep). The world needs more of you.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

10 Reasons Why #NGG10 Rocked


Hey guys,

I'll lay it out there for you.  Coming out of a conference with 200+ emerging government leaders and priceless mentors is leaving me with a better jolt than 3 sugar-free redbulls could swing.  Since I'm so ramped up, my head is not quite yet forming complete sentences, so I'll write this post in list form.  First, a big shout out to @Govloop and @YGL for putting on this extremely valuable forum.

10 Reasons why the Next Generation of Government Summit (#NGG10) Rocked.

1. Govies helping Govies.  In a best-practices, actionable, and human way.

2. People really are your biggest resource, and that is exactly what #NGG10 is all about.  The Govhood of Success baby!

3. M&M dispenser

4. 2 days jam-packed with kicking keynotes, pertinent panels, and anything-but-passe plenary speakers. 

5. The phrase "Open a can of whoop ass" was used.  Several times.

6. Internet + cell phone service worked.  And hundreds of tweets ensued.

7. Mingle sticks.  You heard me.

8. Government Bingo.  With Chris Dorobek.

9. Crowd was tasked to think of 1000 awesome things about government.  And we all know the power of positive thinking!

10. This is just the start.  Let the grounds start rumbling!

Caveat - this is a fraction of the positive take-aways one could write...I'm sure we'd all love to hear what you think!

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Creativity, Empathy, & Problem-Solving


When it comes to problem solving, I often find the best approach is to cultivate a garden rich with potential thought seeds, and to step into a different pair of shoes before you go outside. How to trigger such creativity and empathy? Below are a few catalysts for me: 

1. Look around.  Given that throughout the day the human brain constantly soaks up sights, sounds, words and passing thoughts (and probably only retains a small percentage of what we are exposed to), any random moment can trigger an association with something lying dormant, and an idea can be born.  For example, when I was 11, I went to London for the first time.  I took a train with my friend Louise and while waiting at the train station, all I remember was grey.  The train platform was gray, the train was gray and the sky was gray.  Ten years later, I was living in Cambridge, MA, and on my way to work one day, (on a similar train), everything looked the same.  They sky, the platform, and the train.  I instantly was reminded of my time in London, and I felt as if I was peering through my 11 year old eyes.  This thinking and feeling starting to lead me down different paths (or perhaps memory lane), and my creative juices started flowing.  Take away message?  When trying to think of different ways to look at an issue or solve an old problem, try looking around.  Photograph by Sebastiaan Bremer.


2.  Anecdotes and Quotes.  Sometimes, you just need to glean wisdom from others.  Quotes and anecdotes are great for this.  Magazines such as Real Simple and Oprah's O are chock full of famous quotes and constructive life lessons that you might just be able to apply to your own quandary.


3. Take your mind off the issue you are trying to solve.  Sometimes the best ideas come when you are not trying to find them.  Activities such as running are notorious for this.  As you focus on a repetitive task (ie; running), your brain is free to roam where it may, and just might trigger an answer to a question you've been pondering. 

To summarize - answers to the hardest questions are found when you cultivate an environment for creativity, and try to look at life by stepping into someone else's shoes.

What triggers your creativity?  And does being empathetic help you solve problems?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Lululemon + Social Responsibility

While all companies have to make a profit to stay in business, some do this while simultaneously doing good.  This good includes good for individuals, good for the community, and good for the environment; just to name a few.  For those in PR, this "good" is fondly referred to as Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).

Lululemon Athletica, a yoga-inspired athletic apparel company has made CSR one of its founding and guiding principles since it opened its doors in 2000.  Their mission? Creating components for people to live a longer, healthier, and more fun life.

I've been wanting to write a post on why I think Lululemon does CSR best, but here a quick few reasons I can re-cap in a few minutes.  Longer, more detailed post to follow.

1. Positivity Manifesto

They issued a simple, but brilliant "manifesto" mashing together upbeat quotes, ideas, beliefs, reminders - essentially presenting a "positivity poster." This manifesto became one of the early Lululemon trademarks and hasn't gone out of style.  The manifesto appears on their recyclable, durable shopping bags, given to every customer, for every purchase made.  In addition to the bags being environmentally friendly (they make great lunch totes), each time a Lulu fan flashes them around in a public place, an onlooking eye might just pick up on a few uplifting notes and have a mood improvement.  This type of thinking is obvious in all of the programs they run, the spaces they occupy, and the employees they hire. 


2.  Grassroots Community building

If you live near a Lululemon, this second point will be obvious.  Lululemon hosts free yoga classes in all of their stores, weekly fun runs, health clinics and exercise clinics, and group yoga.  The goal?  Empower local Lululemon employees to help engage and build a community of like-minded, health driven fans.  Last week, for example, I attended a Lululemon run in Bethesda, MD and met 10+ new friends. 



After the run, Eric (who lead the run) took us all inside for water and granola bars. 


3.  Healthy-habit building for individuals

If you poke around a Lululemon store, you'll notice framed pictures of staff with My 10 Year Goals
sketched out.  If you read their blog, you'll find posts on Big Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAG).
 

Role-modeling?  I think so. You'll also find water bottles you can write your goals on and branded reminders such as:



What companies do you think stand out for social responsibility?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Sisterhood + Success

Once in a while, you will meet someone new, and 3 hours of talking will seem like 3 minutes.  You have a natural, mutual understanding of each other, a mutual excitement and passion about a certain topic, and each new story or idea revealed increasingly powers up your mutually charging battery pack. 

Once in a while, this also happens for an entire room full of people.  From start to finish, there is an electrifying zip of energy in the air, while old friendships are being reunited, new ones are being formed, and overlapping interests are being realized as easily as finding a Starbucks in Manhattan. Such was the environment of the inaugural Women Grow Business bootcamp. On Saturday morning, nearly 100 driven, dedicated, and always dreaming-of-how-to-improve-women + men :) showed up 1330 Connecticut Ave, the generously offered offices of Steptoe & Johnson LLP and one overarching goal was accomplished.  A new sisterhood was formed.  

Why is this sisterhood so important?  The keynote speaker of this event - Kathy Korman Frey, Chief Hot Mamma for the Hot Mammas Project, summed this up for everyone in her presentation the New Sisterhood of Success.



This event was the brainchild of women like Shonali Burke and Jill Foster, founding editor of Women Grow Business. Thanks to the ubiquitous Shashi Bellamkonda, the event went public in many ways, including pictures galore.


(pictures from Shashi Bellamkonda www.shashi.nam)


Here's me on the right.  Pic by the amazing Aaron Thompson - http://aaronthompsonphotography.com/

As I was in the elevator leaving that morning, someone said to me, "Wow!  Now that's the way to get revved up on Saturday morning."

If you want a peak at the lovely and mover/shaker attendee twitter-ers - all yours!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Hey, I think I'm Following you on Twitter!

For about 4 years,  I lived in the world of conference-going.  I could distinguish Hiltons, Hyatts, W's, Sheratons, and Hampton Inns (that was never a lucky day) by their shampoo lines, and being in four states in one week wasn't a novelty, but often the norm.  In order to maximize my time at the conferences (being in marketing and business development) I came up with a formula for ways to meet and interact with target attendee-goers.  It's not any lead that is important, afterall, but the right lead.  Heartless.  I know.

Key to this formula involved getting one's hands on the attendee list.  May I interject here that in order to obtain this attendee list I usually had to pry it from the tight grip of the conference organizer?

Regardless, once I had the list, the research part began.  Attendee: John Jones, XYZ Corporation.  Sr. Bloopity Bloop.  Ok John - what are you pain points? Who do you know? What is your company up to these days?

Luckily, being the curious George that I am, this part was pretty fun.  But lots of digging.  And often with a dull shovel.

Charge ahead to today.

In the last couple of years, and especially since the advent Eventbrite in 2006 (founded by CEO Kevin Hartz) something pretty radical has happened.  Attendee lists at events are more frequently open and shared.  And attendees are being generous with their givings!

Here's an example:


This is a quick snapshot of some attendees signed up for an upcoming event in June - the Social Media Day 2010 in Washington DC.  Take a look.  Of these 5 people, we have Twitter accounts blogs, LinkedIn profiles, Facebook pages, and websites.  For anyone really looking to learn more about who they might be schmoozing with at their upcoming event - this is unquestionably some pretty awesome market research.

People tweet their connections, pain points, likes, dislikes and often blog what is most important and top of mind.

Since people are voluntarily offering up this information, I even doubt it's sketchy to break the ice by saying, "hey, I think I'm following you on Twitter!"

To me, this sure beats trying to pry a bunch of names and emails from the conference organizer.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Rethink DC

Get ready for a 5 Second Word Association!

Ready?

Washington DC.

K.

What words come to mind? 

Monolithic?  Stodgy?  Politicians?  American flags?

Sorry, I'll let you fill in your own.

How about...

Creative.  Technology.  Flamingos (see below).

Little by little, DC is proving itself as cool, creative, and cutting edge.  Cool thinkers, cool parties, cool innovation.


One vibrant example?  A little proof in the pudding if you will?  DC Capital Week.  June 11 - 20!  

If you live in the DC area, and haven't heard of this event yet, then there's probably a good chance you haven't heard of the oil spill or the ongoing World Cup either.  Or that the Celtics are kicking the Lakers behinds.  Go Green!  Just type #dcweek into Twitter, and you'll find as many tweets as PBR's that were handed out at the opening party at the Longview Gallery.

Since the week is full steam ahead of us, check out the schedule (practically overwhelming!) and join in!  And if you feel the need to bring a blow up flamingo along for the ride, or plastic dinosaurs, or anything else for that matter - - more power to you.

And please.  Rethink DC.  We're actually pretty kicking.



Check our more awesome pics by BrightestYoungThings.com.

If you're as excited as I am, share!  Oh, and if you're in the mood for some social media chatter, I'll be at the Social Media happy hour my Young AFCEA Bethesda chapter is hosting.  At Current Bar in Dupont - mmm.







Saturday, May 22, 2010

The Promiscuous Idea

Just read the WSJ article by Matt Ridley called Humans: Why They Triumphed.  

If you're interested in evolution, technology, and innovation, this will probably float your boat.


Question: How did one ape 45,000 years ago happen to turn into a planet dominator?

Answer: An epochal collision of creativity.

This article plays right into my previous assumptions about human evolution (probably a result of what I learned in school):

"Scientists have so far been looking for the answer to this riddle in the wrong place: inside human heads.  Most have been expecting to find a sort of neural or genetic breakthrough that sparked a 'big bang of human consciousness,' an auspicious mutation so that people could speak, think or plan better, setting the human race on the path to continuous and exponential innovation."

This "secret" the article sites is purely one of those "think outside the box" riddles.


Assuming this article is correct, we've all been tracing our pencil inside the lines, and never looking at the whole picture.

Instead, "the sophistication of the modern world lies not in individual intelligence or imagination.  It is a collective enterprise...the knowledge of how to design, mine, fell, extract, synthesize, combine, manufacture, and market these things is fragmented among thousands, sometime millions of heads. Once human progress started, it was no longer limited by the size of human brains. Intelligence became collective and cumulative."

Hence, the path we started on didn't happen in just one head - it wasn't a "big bang of consciousness" - it was what happened when we simply started sharing. It was what happened outside of our own heads.


The article goes on to site why "trade obsessed" places such as Tyre, Athens, Alexandria, Amsterdam, London, Hong Kong, New York, Tokyo, etc were "the places where invention and discovery happened" - "trade was the most momentous innovation of the human species; it led to the invention of invention."

As a result, these famous cities were actually "well-endowed collective brains."
 
These collective brains shared ideas and an offspring idea was formed.   This offspring idea is what propelled us forward as a species, and why we ultimately triumphed.

And now, with modern technology, with "things like the search engine, the mobile phone and container shipping just made ideas a whole lot more promiscuous."

Monday, May 17, 2010

What Makes Me Feel Beautiful

My dear "bosom friend" Kylah (as Anne of Green Gables would say), who knows me perhaps as well as I know the patterns on my wallpaper in the bedroom I lived in for 18 years (I did a lot of staring at the walls while lying in bed), sent me this story called "What Makes Me Feel Beautiful."  When I read it, I literally felt myself melting, my breathing slowing, and chills racing up my arms and legs, all at once.  Its both light and heavy and if you've ever felt before what the author describes, you'll remember the exact moment it happened, how it took you by such surprise that you stopped in your tracks, the world standing still, words ringing in your ears, your insides beaming as bright as the north star.  You'll bottle those words up and keep them in your treasure chest, smiling each time you reflect on their meaning.

From Real Simple:
By Anne Roiphe: 

My Late Husband’s Words

It was mid-December of 2005. I don’t know why he said it. I don’t know if a shadow had fallen across him, something appalling he saw out of the corner of his eye. I don’t know if it was just coincidence or intuition that prompted him, but about a week before my seemingly healthy 82-year-old husband suddenly died, he emerged from the kitchen ready to go to his office, his face clean-shaven, his eyes shining, smiling shyly, holding the copy of the Anthony Trollope book he was rereading, and said to me, "You have made me very happy. You know that you have made me a happy man." There I stood in my work outfit, blue jeans and a T-shirt. There I stood with my white hair and my wrinkles and the face I was born with, although now much creased by time, and I felt beautiful. 


"What?" I said. I wanted him to repeat the words. "You heard me," he said and put on his coat and drew his earmuffs out of his pocket. "Say it again," I said. He said it again. "You’ve made me happy." We had been married 39 years. We had held hands waiting in hospital corridors while a desperately ill child struggled to breathe and thankfully recovered. We had made financial mistakes together. We had spent hours out in fishing boats. We had raised the children and then second-guessed our choices. We had stood shoulder to shoulder at graduations and weddings and we were well-worn, but still I had made him happy, and I was proud and flushed with the warmth of his words. 


I know I looked beautiful that morning. Perhaps not to the young man holding his toddler in his arms who rode the elevator with me; perhaps not to the friend I met for lunch, a true believer in Botox; perhaps not to passersby on the street; but I knew it for a certainty. I was beautiful. 


I don’t believe that inner beauty is sufficient in this cruel world. That’s the pap one tells a child. I don’t believe that positive thinking improves your skin tone or that loving or being loved changes the shape of your nose or restores the thickness and color of hair, but I do know that there is a way of being beautiful, even as age takes its toll, that has something to do with the spirit filling with joy, something to do with the union with another human being, with the sense of having done well at something enormously important, like making happy a man who has made you happy often enough. 


Ten days after that morning conversation, my husband and I returned from a concert and dinner with friends and walked down our windy block toward our apartment house when suddenly he stumbled and fell and died within minutes. As I waited for the ambulance, I remembered his words, a beauty potion I would take with me into the rest of my life. 


Anne Roiphe is the author of numerous books. Her latest, Epilogue: A Memoir, will be released in paperback next month.


Thank you Kylah.  

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Lait d'Amande (Almond Milk)

"Milk does a body good."  Tis true.  And in many ways, almond milk does a body better.  Compared to cow's milk, almond milk is 50% lower in calories, higher in vitamin E, and has very little sugar.

This article outlines 6 benefits of almond milk:

Benefit #1: Weight Management

Plain almond milk without added sugars or flavoring contains 40 calories per each 8 oz serving size. This option works well for people looking to lose or maintain weight.
The low caloric content of almond milk causes less of an impact on our totally daily consumption of food calories. Some milk varieties contain more sugars than the cereal that they get combined with.

Benefit #2: Heart Health

Almond milk contains no cholesterol and only 5 mg of sodium per serving. Consuming foods low in sodium and cholesterol help us to maintain better heart health.

Benefit #3: Blood Sugar Friendly

Unlike other milk alternatives, the plain almond option contains only 8 grams of carbohydrates per serving. The 7 grams of sugars that make up the carbohydrate content have a limited affect on our blood sugar levels. When we consume simple sugars, our metabolic functions tend to miss the nutrients, storing much of the carbs as fat. Instead, the low amount of sugars in almond milk have a low glycemic nature, meaning our bodies fully digest them and use them as energy. Diabetics benefit from this characteristic as well.

Benefit #4: Bone Health

Almond milk contains 30% of our recommended daily value of calcium and 25% of Vitamin D. These nutrients work together to build strong bones in men, women, children and infants. Vitamin D also helps improve immunity and cell function. Some studies have shown that Vitamin D helps decrease osteoporosis and even Alzheimer’s disease. The magnesium in found in almond milk helps absorb more of the calcium provided by the nutritious beverage.

Benefit #5: Skin Care

Every serving of pure almond milk contains 50% of our recommended daily value of Vitamin E. This powerful nutrient has antioxidant abilities in that it helps regulate Vitamin A use and availability. More importantly, Vitamin E acts the primary regulatory nutrient that improves skin health.

Benefit #6: More Muscle Power

Even though almond milk only contains 1 gram of protein per serving, it does contain B Vitamins in the form of riboflavin, plus other muscle regulating nutrients like iron. Each serving of almond milk contains about 4% of our recommended daily intake of iron, which helps muscles absorb and use protein for energy, growth and repair. Iron also regulates certain cell functions like oxygen absorption.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

5 Superfoods that Rock

With time and patience, you can accustom yourself to pretty much anything. Your diet is no exception.  What you eat every day, you'll crave every day.  Pretty simple.  Eat a high saturated fat "Western" diet and you'll probably crave just that. Eat a high fructose corn syrup diet "the dollar menu" and you won't even have a choice in the matter.  Eat a "Mediterranean" diet of healthy fats, vegetables, fruits, grains, and you can fill in the ending, albeit a more pleasant one.

On a personal note, nutrition fascinates me.  I was a full blown vegetarian in high school, mostly out of curiosity.  What would it feel like to exclude meat from my diet? How would I feel?  I gave up my vegetarian living when I went to college, mostly for lack of vegetarian options (if I lived on cooked carrots and the salad bar, I would have certainly been pretty malnourished).  In the last year, I have returned to a vegetarian lifestyle, and my fascination with food is stronger than ever.

If you also share a curiosity with trying new foods, you should absolutely try what's below, if you haven't already.  All five of these foods I never tried 12 months ago, and now I consider daily staples.  I'll highlight all five over the next couple of days, starting with chia seeds tonight.



Chia seeds, or salvia hispanica were once so highly regarded by the Aztec tribes of Mexico, that their rulers accepted this crop as annual tribute from the people of their empires.  Now, chia seeds are largely unknown! As evidence of their obscurity, I couldn't find as much research on these goods as I hoped. Of what I did find, this article presented the most consistent facts of everything I read:


  1. Supports Heart Health
    Chia seeds can help reduce blood pressure. The seeds contain one of the highest known plant sources of essential fatty acids (omega-3 and omega-6). EFAs cannot be synthesized by our bodies however, it is very important that we get enough to support our immune, cardiovascular, nervous and reproductive systems. EFA deficiency is quite common in North America.
     
  2. Stabilizes Blood Sugar
    Chia seeds slow down the rate at which complex carbohydrates are digested and then assimilated into the body. The soluble fiber helps to stabilize blood glucose levels resulting in steady, sustained energy. In one study on diabetic patients, Dr. Vladamir Vuksan of St. Michael's Hospital in Toronto, found that blood was thinner and less prone to clotting and blood pressure of participants dropped significantly, after three months of taking Chia seeds daily.
     
  3. Energizing
    The word “Chia” comes from the Mayan language and means strength. Chia seeds are a balanced blend of protein, carbohydrates, fats and fiber. It is said that 1 tablespoon of Chia can sustain a person for 24 hours. Athletes have reported that Chia seeds help them perform at optimal levels for much longer periods of time.
     
  4. Anti-Inflammatory Properties
    A number of arthritis sufferers have reported reduced pain and inflammation after a few weeks of taking Chia seeds. The high concentration of omega-3 helps to lubricate joints and keep them supple. Additionally, Omega-3s are converted into prostaglandins which are known to have both pain relieving and anti-inflammatory effects.
     
  5. Weight Loss
    The essential fatty acids contained in Chia seeds helps to boost metabolism and promote lean muscle mass. The seeds are sometimes added to food to provide bulk and nutrients while adding very few calories. For these reasons, many people have found Chia quite useful in weight loss and weight maintenance.
     
  6. Detoxification and Elimination
    Similar to psyllium, the swelling action of Chia in the body helps to cleanse and soothe the colon, and absorb toxins while lubricating and strengthening peristaltic action.
     
  7. High Quality Protein
    Chia seeds contain about 20% protein, a higher percentage than found in many other grains such as wheat and rice. Chia seeds contain strontium which helps to assimilate protein and produce high energy.
     
  8. Antioxidants
    Chia seeds are an excellent source of antioxidants containing even more antioxidants than fresh blueberries. The high amounts of antioxidants in Chia seeds also keeps the oils from going rancid - contributing to a long shelf life.
     
  9. Provides Fiber and Other Nutrients
    Besides EFAs, Chia seeds also provide fiber, iron, calcium, niacin, magnesium, zinc and phosphorus.

    2 tablespoons of Chia = 7 grams of fiber, 2 grams of protein, 205 milligrams of calcium, 5 grams omega-3
     
  10. Brain Power
    EFAs are known to make cell membranes more flexible and efficient making nutrients more readily available and nerve transmission more efficient. This helps to improve brain function (including memory and concentration).
Don't know what to do with these little guys?  Try these delicious overnight oats - you may snub your nose at first, but I urge you to ignore your biases and give this a try!

...coming up tomorrow!

Superfood #2: Almond Milk

Superfood #3: Spelt Flour

Superfood #4: Cacao Nibs

Superfood #5: Coconut Oil

Monday, May 10, 2010

"This is how it works:
You're young until you're not,
you love until you don't,
you try until you can't,
you laugh until you cry,
you cry until you laugh.
And everyone must breathe until their dying breath.
Now this is how it works:
you peer inside yourself-
you take the things you like
and try to love the things you don't.
And then you take that love you made,
and stick it into some-
someone else's heart,
pumpin' someone else's blood.
And walkin' arm in arm,
you hope it don't get harmed-
but even if it does,
you'll just do it all again.
And on the radio,
you'll hear November rain.
That solo's awful long,
but it's a good refrain."
~Regina Spektor

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble

Just as asparagus, fresh snap peas and zucchini are making their yearly appearance at local farmers markets, so too is rhubarb.  And like apples in the fall, strawberries and rhubarb have great chemistry with oat crumble and 1 + 1 = bubbling sanguine fruity deliciousness.  As with the Orzo salad, I lead you straight to the mastermind Heidi Swanson for ingredients and prep steps.

Voila:

 

30 seconds later:

Orzo Mint Asparagus Salad

I eat most types of pasta/rice/grains all year, but Orzo is one I leave for summer.  It's light and refreshing and pairs wonderfully with green veggies like asparagus, zucchini, fresh peas, or anything else in season from May - August.  I tried this Orzo recipe tonight from Heidi Swanson's food blog 101 Cookbooks. Perfect as a side dish to bring to a summer bbq, or as a light dinner with some Sauvignon blanc.


For recipe, steps, go straight to Heidi's blog so you can follow steps according to her masterpiece.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Mesclun Strawberry Salad



This afternoon, I stopped in my all time favorite salad place, sweetgreen.  If you are lucky enough to live near one of their locations, and you've never been, you're missing out.  I love this place for lots of reasons, some being their social and environmental consciousness, the seasonal, locally bought ingredients, their blog with wicked tasty recipes, and primarily their innovation in general.  If you don't live near by, here's a salad I had today, adapted slightly.

Ingredients: (serves 1)
2 cups mesclun salad
1/4 cup fresh mint leaves
1/3 cup sliced strawberries
1/4 fresh goat cheese
1/4 cup chopped asparagus (you can use raw, marinated, cooked - I used raw)
1 tbs walnuts (or toasted almonds)
couple slices red onion (optional)
balsamic vinaigrette



picture from www.luckytastebuds.wordpress.com

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Watermelon Smoothie

Tonight's run was hot like a tamale.  After an icy cold shower, I needed to cool off on the inside.  Answer? Watermelon smoothie!  I've loved smoothies for years, but somehow never thought to use watermelon. Other than bananas it might be my new favorite smoothie ingredient.  Its frosty consistency does wonders for producing a crisp, cool, blended drink.

Ingredients:

1 cup watermelon
1/2 frozen banana
1/4 cup frozen strawberries
handful frozen blueberries or any other berry
1/3 cup milk (I used almond, however cow's milk, rice, soy, work well too)
1 tsp cinnamin
1 tsp honey

Throw all ingredients into blender!

Portabella Veggie Joes

I've always disliked "sloppy joes."  Aside from what processed salted rubbish you might buy in a can (aka liquid nitrogen), I even snubbed my nose at homemade meat-based joes - partly because they are called "sloppy" and partly because no part of what you consume looks like it is meant to be ingested by a human.

I held this air of snobbery until I tried a coworker's recipe for "vegan sloppy joes." I'll admit, I was very skeptical at first. Mushrooms / Tomato paste / Worcestershire sauce? Given that I've recently held the philosophy "you shouldn't judge your potential dinner from its picture, or ingredient list" I decided to dive in head first.  After all, in the last week I've tried vegan oats and parsnip fries and told so many people about my delights I thought I should start wearing a sign that said:


(picture compliments of my blogger friend Alex). If parsnip fries blissed me out, I decided to maintain the same "just do it" attitude.

Off I went to find my large skillet.  And here's what resulted 15 minutes later. Absolutely delicious.



Ingredients: (serves 4)

1 medium yellow onion
1 red/yellow/orange bell pepper
3 portabella mushrooms (scrape out black gills)
1 cup white button mushrooms
1 garlic clove
2 tbs olive oil
8 oz tomato sauce
2 tbs tomato paste
1 tbs Worcestershire sauce

 Steps:

1. Heat 1 tbs olive oil in a large non-stick skillet
2. Dice onion, pepper, and garlic until they become soft (about 8 min)
3. Dice mushrooms and add to sauteed vegetables
4. Add remaining tbs olive oil, tomato sauce, paste, and Worcestershire sauce
5. Spoon over whole grain bun and try not to inhale too quickly

Pair with sweet potato fries (incredibly easy to make). Peel sweet potato (or however many you like) and cut into fry-sized strips.  Coat with olive oil, salt, and put on baking sheet (place aluminum foil down first if you like easy clean up) and bake for 35 min @ 400 degrees.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Grilled Chocolate Rustic Bread Sandwich

I've been taking good inventory of my food pantry lately.  I feel much better knowing what I have lying around the shelves of the cabinets and fridge.  I feel I am eating more in the moment than coming home completely surprised every night of the week.  Salad mix? I totally forgot about you! Asparagus in the cripser? Oh, asparagus I paid $4 for you, please still be good! Instead, I like to keep a mental image of exactly what I have - 1 farmers market apple, 1 white onion, 1.5 red onions, 1 cup cherry tomatoes, you get the point.

After dinner tonight, I remembered that I had 1/2 of a baguette (in french fashion, 1 day old, and hard as a rock). Since french toast wasn't really an option @ 9:30pm, I decided to think a little more outside the box. I recalled I had about 2 tbs of chocolate pieces and some cinnamon/vanilla/sugar mixture I made the other day. Surely something can be concocted from good quality chocolate, stale french bread, sugar and cinnamon. Grilled chocolate sandwich!

Normally I would have taken a picture myself, but to be honest, I was more interested in eating the beauty than a photo op. This picture is basically what it looked like (admittedly mine didn't have a cascading chocolate waterfall going down the side).

Here are the steps I took:

Serves 2
1. Heat grill pan over medium heat
2. Slice ciabatta (or any kind of rustic bread) down the middle in 2" x 4" wedges
3. Mix 1 tsp cane sugar with 1 tsp cinnamon and set aside
4. Butter bread on both sides (I used Earth Balance vegan spread)
5. Lay chocolate pieces on inside of bread and sprinkle on sugar/cinnamon mix
6. Put other slice of bread on top and put something heavy on top to weigh down bread (it grills better this way - - but I don't recommend your old calculus textbook).
7. Grill sandwich for 4 minutes or so, careful not to burn
8. Want to go nuts? Slap on 1 tbs or so of vanilla ice cream.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Grilled Godly Goodness

For anyone who is a city dweller and does not have access to an outdoor grill yet loves the smoky taste of grilled vegetables I recommend making your next errand a trip to get a grill pan.  This morning I decided I would try something out of my cooking comfort zone.  Upon returning from the Dupont Farmers Market in Washington, DC, arms loaded with brightly colored vegetable bounty, I knew I couldn't subject such beautiful specimens to the regular vegetable steaming process any store bought vegetable predecessors might have known as their final fate.  Instead, I decided these locally grown treasures would be involved in something a little different.  The grill pan.

My grill pan experience today was proof of a thought process I had recently.  As humans, we tend to think many things are harder than they are.  If we commit to trying something slightly out of our comfort zone at least once every day, we'd be amazed by the strides we are capable of making. Things are often actually much easier than we perceive them to be. As a mostly vegetarian eater, trying new ways to cook vegetables is essential in maintaining variability and satisfaction.  But for years, I thought grilling vegetables with beaming color and exquisite taste was a task best left to a chef well equipped with years of experience and an all clad kitchen.   Reality?  If you have a little time, patience, and tender loving care, you can grill vegetables to perfection by your own hand, in your own kitchen, just by giving it a try.



Here's my first attempt. Verdict? These vegetables blew off my tastebuds.  Want to create yourself?  Here's what you do.

1. Buy a grill pan (Cephalon is a good brand)
2. Hunt down some fresh vegetables (peppers, zucchini, red onion, squash, asparagus are good choices)
3. Cut up vegetables and coat in olive oil, salt, pepper, oregano, basil (dried is fine, or mince fresh herbs)
4. Place vegetables on grill pan (heated on medium heat) and do not disturb for at least 8 minutes
5. Turn vegetables over for a few additional minutes
6. Optional - take 1 tbs olive oil, 1 tbs good quality balsamic vinegar, mix, and toss with cooked vegetables
7. Enjoy :)