10/31/07

3 tips for your job search

Last Monday, Coco asked me to write a guest post on what it’s like to be a 20-something woman preparing to have a child in an unstable world. Two days later, I lost my job (as did about 60 of my talented co-workers) due to “restructuring.” This was a blow to my ego and to my three-year pregnancy plan.

I’d assumed that I’d stick it out with the company for at least another year or two, long enough to save for a down payment on a house, launch a freelance career and pop out a kid. The sudden shake-up could put my three-year plan on hold or it could kick it into high gear.


I’ve been up and down all week, feeling relieved (I had been unhappy for several months), angry (how could they do this to me?), worried (how long will it take me to find work?), hurt (I had committed almost two years to this company and for what?) and, finally, excited (now’s my chance to take on new and exciting projects!) — all normal sentiments, I’m told.


Looking for a new job is basically a full-time gig. And when you’re new to a job — as I’m new to the job hunt — you’re bound to learn a few things. Here are three key take-aways from my first week:


1. Loyalty is dead—maybe. “Never believe in the company. The company does not believe in you,” someone wrote last week on Valleywag, a tech industry gossip blog. That’s harsh, but it does ring true. I knew that the days of working for one company were long gone, but I believed in this particular start-up’s mission. And I felt that after devoting two years, I’d feel a little more love.


2. Diversify your skills. Be willing to adapt. But don’t lose sight of what you do best. “People who will succeed and excel over time will be dedicated to the prospect that what they do has value,” Alfred Edmund, editor-in-chief of Black Enterprise, recently told Folio: magazine. I hope he’s right.


3. Find and give support. Did you know that 65 percent of jobs are found through networking? Maybe you did. But this was news to me. Studies show that having strong social ties makes us healthier. And your friends, relatives and colleagues also can help you land your next job.


Women, in particular, need to stick together. So many of us struggle with balancing work and family life. (Yes, men do, too, but I’d argue that this is a bigger issue for us.) And family-friendly workplaces are few and far between these days. We can help one another. If you’re in a position to offer part-time work or job-share opportunities, do! There are a lot of long-hour jobs out there but so few professional part-time positions.

And if you’re hiring, let me know!

Lauren Gamber is a writer and editor living in Cleveland, Ohio. Check out her profile on LinkedIn.

10/29/07

The yoga of flux

Time to finish up with the 4-month contract I took in June. As a launch pad back to work from at-home mothering, it was a good ride. But we had our own version of Black Wednesday last week when 60+ full time staff (mostly exceptional people) were let go. More on that once the shock wears off . . .

For now, I'll add that in addition to learning a bunch of good stuff, catching up on technology innovation, web moves, and interesting social tidbits, I am left with a bewildering sense of flux. It is always good practice to be mindful of flux, but for flux sake, as Tiger Lilly Mazlish says, "Go look for the layer under the top layer and dig in."

What is next is already, and already is in flux too. The yoga of flux is called flow.

10/28/07

Cooking without a recipe

Last night we had friends over. To start, Brooks made yummy pomegranate cocktails (pom, seltzer, triple sec, lemon), then we gathered at the table for a plate of savory, colorful food. I had a lot of fun and since Bettina from Loulie's asked for the recipe, I was flattered and thought I would put it out for her before I forgot ...

Coco's Fish Dish for 6-8

Chop two white onions fine.
Saute in butter and garlic (3-8 cloves, all depends on your mood)
Add a couple of teaspoons of Turmeric, and a teaspoon or so of your favorite pepper. (I used chipotle pepper powder, but you could use another.)
Add salt.
Take two big handfuls of coconut flakes, put them in a strainer and give them a rinse. (I had only sweetened coconut flakes on hand, and since the sweetness would ruin the dish, I gave them a rinse). Drain the coconut flakes well, then add to the saute mixture. Get the heat going up again. Take the pan off the fire before anything starts "browning." If you need more butter, add it.

Pass the saute through the Cuisinart. Add Wolfgang puck's rich veggie stock and heavy cream in roughly equal proportions. Blend until the consistency is like a good milkshake, not runny at all. Add more salt and some pepper.

To finish, take a taste, add something unique like a pinch of aromatic Cardamon powder.

Using a simple Pyrex baking dish, lay out your fish fillets (anything white and somewhat firm, such as haddock, flounder, tilapia). Pour the sauce over the fish. Cover with foil and bake in a 350 oven for as long as it needs ... (I used 10 tilapia fillets, layered in the pan, and I baked the dish for approximately 45 minutes.)

Let the dish set for ten minutes after removing from the over. Then spoon it onto a platter full of hot Basmati rice. Garnish with fresh green cilantro. Serve to people you love and want in your home :)

A note about how I cook:
It is much more fun (but, admittedly, more risky) to put food together like a musician puts together improvisational jazz - with a bunch of instinct and a lot of chaos. If it sounds arrogant, I am sorry, it probably is. But listen, I don't recommend this approach to all and nor do I think the results are always great ... it's just that that's how I roll, and rather than B.S.ing you through a conventional "cooking for friends" blog, that ends up feeling like a Pottery Barn ad, I'll give you a peek at the framework that works for me on a Saturday when friends are coming over. I am no beginner in the kitchen; I've had a lot of training, but I think it's important for us all to learn how to sense our way through cooking dinner just the same way we put outfits together with flair...

More later. Go Red Sox!

10/25/07

Save the wetlands: Our hearts need them

When I think about shifts in my heart, the kind I feel deep down within, I often use the metaphor of wetlands, those mysterious places where water meets land, and life forms get sorted out, purified, then reabsorbed.

Most people misunderstand wetlands; they often downright hate them. I think perhaps we confuse wetlands with wastelands. Whatever the reason, to these folks, bogs are not enchanted, life-filled environments, just pools and puddles of still water for pests to breed.

For me, wetlands capture and express the poetry of a soul's shadowy side; the murky processes of letting go, of reaching forth, of muddling on through.

10/23/07

Cancer isn't fair

Today's guest blogger: Val Jones, MD

Physicians see horrible things, tragic injustices caused by unexpected disease and circumstance. We do what we can to remain compassionate - to be emotionally "present" and yet to keep the professional distance required for our survival and success. It takes courage to set a bone, crack a chest, to do painful procedures to save lives - there must be no hesitation when minutes count.

And I suppose that our saving grace is that the majority of the patients we meet in tragic circumstances are not personally known to us. We appreciate their humanity in a general sense, but are not pierced and incapacitated by a family tie or bond of friendship. We are pained by their suffering - but we can cope.

That is, until we're confronted with a loved one who is thrust into tragedy. Two days ago, a dear friend and former coworker called me to say that she had been diagnosed with colon cancer that had metastasized to her liver. She had just given birth to her first child at age 41. Her only symptom? Post-partum fatigue.


My friend is a health nut and athlete - she has lived the "gold standard" life from a preventive health perspective. I always wanted to be more like her - eating lots of veggies and running regularly. She has been at her target weight all her life, has the occasional glass of wine, and spends much of her free time in community service projects and charity work. She has no history of cancer in her family - they are all hardworking, clean-living types who enjoy long, productive lives.


So when she told me about her advanced disease I almost fell off my chair. How could this happen to her? She is too young! She doesn't fit the right description... Why didn't I catch this sooner? Did she ever give me any hint of a warning symptom?


She told me that after having her baby she just felt really tired and was unable to bounce back as quickly as expected. I was worried about post-partum depression, and she eventually decided to see a family physician about her fatigue. He was unclear as to its root cause, and ordered a broad range of general blood tests - including liver function tests. They turned out to be abnormal, and he inquired as to whether my friend might be a drinker. She denied any such tendencies, so he scheduled an ultrasound. The ultrasonographer noted the appearance of metastatic cancer - she had a CT scan and a colonoscopy to confirm the diagnosis of colon cancer. We were both in shock.

And now as my dear friend faces likely surgeries and chemotherapy, I am witness to her journey - the same one that I've observed in strangers - but this time I have no professional defenses. I will watch as her body is wracked by the disease's treatments, I will understand the individual circumstances behind her bravery, I'll know and feel everything in a personal way that I can't control.


I am about to join the millions of cancer patients and their families on the other side of the examining room. This time I'm not the doctor, I'm the close friend who rages against a disease that is not fair. And I am ready to fight.

Thank you, Dr. Val. Please send an update on your friend soon ...


Open Hearted takes a giant step forward

From broken-hearted to Open Hearted. This guest blogging elder writes in about a life decision many years in the making. Just feel the shift in her power:

6 years ago I met a man named Tim. It was electric and unlike anything either of us had experienced. Our lives were complicated, however.

I was the mother of a three year old, separated for a long time from my husband of seven years.
Tim was freshly divorced with a 3-year-old daughter. I knew that divorce was the right thing for me to do, but I was too scared to do it. There was a sense of shame and failure that I could not shake. As a child of divorce, I knew how hard and debilitating divorce could be.

Tim and I talked about sharing our lives and children together and living under one roof. I would entertain the idea now and again, but never fully embraced it. I couldn't. The messages given to me by my mother about men and marriage haunted me in ways that I only now, at 41, have started to understand. Her conscious decision to be alone; her consistent blaming of my father for the disintegration of their marriage; her inability to see that the success or failure of a relationship is the work of two people not one; colored the way I viewed my own relationship. Keeping Tim at arms length felt safer, but over time less satisfying and less interesting for our children and us. By not fully embracing my relationship, I thought I was protecting my son from further change and the potential for another failed relationship. Instead I was creating the same debilitating models for him that my mom had set for me.
The models and messages that our parents give us are strong. I think the models mothers give their daughters are particularly potent. They can serve us well or they can run us into the ground. I have finally been able to shake off the negative messages my mother gave me and as a result make decisions about relationships based on what I know and feel is right.

The change has come at a cost. There is distance between my mom and I. The payoff, however, is great -- an incredibly passionate, exciting, healthy and loving relationship with Tim. It doesn’t look like my mom’s relationship. It looks like mine and it feels amazing.

I still have concerns. The difference is, the concerns are mine, not my mom’s.
Here's what I have decided: Tim and I, along with our children, will be living together as a family, starting in March.

Write again soon, Open Hearted. This is exciting.

10/21/07

Putting the Me in Media

Swiss Alps Jill sent in the following masterpiece for everyone visiting Coco Village:

Once a month I go to the news agent and buy $50.00 in English language magazines. Not Cosmopolitan, People or Glamor; I don't want to read "How to Drive Him Mad in Bed", or, go "Inside Hollywood's Worst Divorces" and though "Thin Thighs in Thirty Days" does have some appeal, 'diet and exercise' really isn't worth the $10.00 sticker price. No, I buy Traveller, House and Garden and Bon App├ętit. After the purchase, I put them aside till I have a day where nothing is on my to-do list, and then I pop some Italian opera and Edith Piaf in the CD player, and I sit, pajama-clad, on the floor and spread their glossy promise around me like birthday presents, and begin to read and clip pieces that describe, cozy inns and undiscovered villages; articles that feature rich textiles and use the phrases like "bespoke furniture"; then I move on to wine suggestions and recipes that let me experiment with exotic spices or delicate seasonings.

Now here's the thing, this day spent with a few magazines transports me to that amazing place, the "Realm of the Possible". I will never live like the stars, I won't ever look like the 17 year old models in Glamor and I surely don’t need life advice from Cosmo, but I
can sing along with the doomed Edith or the Italian diva, because in the "Realm of the Possible" I speak perfect French and Italian, and I might be able to visit the rustic, country inn in Croatia, and I might find that perfect heirloom rug that transforms my sitting room into a warm, inviting place of mental refuge, and I may prepare an unforgettable meal, entertaining dear friends in my candlelit garden, where everyone laughs and enjoys themselves, warmed by good food and drink. After all, these are the best kinds of fantasies, the ones that flirt with possible reality.

Write again soon, Swiss Alps Jill. We like to build international forces.

10/18/07

Bitchy or assertive? It's always your pick ...

Yesterday my friend Lauren asked me to blog about the difference between assertiveness and bitchiness. Ouch, Lauren, can you give me a trickier question next time, please? I’ll do my best to put out my personal approach to this question and leave it up to you whether I have said anything worthwhile. (But let me first reveal my bias toward slightly more assertive behavior only because in my forty years I have seen, repeatedly, how those who speak out, ask questions, and tell the truth, stay in touch with themselves and ultimately have a more satisfying journey toward their dreams.) It is never easy to be assertive, but it offers a real kick for your health...

Remember, assertiveness or bitchiness is always in the eye of the beholder, not the speaker. That means that depending on what someone’s got at stake in any given matter, a comment heard simultaneously by two people may be seem bitchy by one and fabulously assertive by the other. For instance, if your boss needs someone to message up about problems at work, he may appreciate an outspoken approach that combines preparedness and knowledge of business issues. If a colleague in the same meeting, however, feels threatened by you and your sharp mind and/or ability to speak up, you will have a hard time convincing her that you
aren’t a bitch no matter what you say at the meeting.

Bottom line: in any given scenario, some will find you bitchy and some will find you effective. And that is why the issue at hand is not whether you are bitchy or assertive, but how you feel about your behavior, moment to moment. The woman in the example above is feeling self-assured, and prepared, so she speaks up. As long as she
isn’t tromping on others’ rights and condemning her peers, she will, over time, become a valued team player. If, on the other hand, she is often working in an isolated manner, and appears repeatedly as a self-serving person, her peers and ultimately management will tell her fate.

At a very young age we women are conditioned into receiving (and asking) for cues from others in order to behave appropriately. Do you like me? Am I pretty? Am I
lovable? These are the common questions of young girls … young ladies … and, unfortunately, older women as well.

But if we are on a satisfactory path, a key shift in our development may come sometime between thirty and fifty. This shift will land the authority for our behavior within us, not outside of us, so that when we act or speak, we are more fully in charge of the intentions we carry.

A quick glance around any office may reveal a key difference between women who are powerful and women who are bitches. What is the difference? Assertive, effective women are generally fair, consistent, and knowledgeable, and they exhibit compassion for others even when the other is an adversary.

Effective women have authority over themselves and try to keep the focus on business or personal goals. They conduct their affairs transparently, saving certain topics for appropriate settings. Women who are assertive do not talk about others maliciously, and usually hold themselves to a very high standard of conduct. That said, somehow the most effective women I know are also: fun, creative, and terrific mentors.

In closing, assertive women
aren’t perfect; but they do know themselves well enough to know when they have behaved like a bitch. And then they do what is most effective: apologize and commit to doing better next time.

10/16/07

Loulie's: World Food Day

Guest Blog from Bettina Stern, co-founder of Loulie's:

Today is World Food Day. A time to reflect on where our food comes from: the abundance for some and lack of for so many others. It is also a time to think about the history and future of our food.

Observed on this date since 1981, World Food Day brings more than 150 nations together to help increase awareness and understanding of the plight of hunger, malnutrition, and poverty on our nations. Severe food insecurity continues to afflict more than 850 million people. It also leaves little time for a nation to do much else in terms of development. In Gambia, for example, almost all of the population are "subsistence farmers" - which means that day in and day out, year after year, their lives are devoted to planting and harvesting food just to support their families. "Remember food is precious", says Alice Waters, author of The Art of Simple Food: Notes, Lessons, and Recipes from a Delicious Revolution. "Food should never be taken for granted". (Check out and sign up for Loulies's Cook the Book Club.)

Rice, the seed of a semi-aquatic grass, is the world's number one food crop. It is the most important staple crop for more than 50 percent of the global population. In China, the word for "rice" is actually a synonym for "food". In Japan, the word for "cooked rice" means the same as the word "meal".

FIVE WAYS TO COOK RICE:
Coconut Rice - 1 c. raw rice cooked with 1 ½ c. water and ½ c. coconut milk, 2 Tbls. shredded, unsweetened coconut, 2 Tbls. honey, ½ tsp. salt, and a pinch of allspice.
Curried Rice - 1 c. raw rice cooked with 2 c. chicken or vegetable broth, 1 tsp. curry powder and 3 Tbls. dried currants.
Ginger-Soy Rice - 1c. raw rice cooked with 2 c. water, 2 tsp. each soy sauce and grated fresh ginger, and 2 whole cloves.
Lemon Rice - 1 c. raw rice cooked with 2 c. water, ½ tsp salt, 2 strips lemon zest, and a pinch of nutmeg.
Saffron Rice - 1 c. raw rice cooked with 2 c. vegetable or chicken broth and a pinch of saffron.

TIP: Basmati and long grain rice can be interchangeable. Basmati, though, has a distinctive fragrance and should be rinsed and soaked before cooking.
1. To Wash Rice: place in a large bowl, fill with water and let rice settle to bottom. After 2-3 seconds, tilt bowl to pour off water. Repeat several times or until the water runs clear. Washing removes the polishing residue and helps keep the grains separate.
2. To Soak Rice: add twice the amount of cold water as there is raw rice. Let soak for thirty minutes, then drain. Soaking helps to ensure that the grain cooks evenly and it really does make a difference.

10/15/07

Yoga Red: Out of her yoga mind!

A few words from Yoga Red, our first guest blogger...

FIVE THINGS I LOVE AND FIVE THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOGA

LOVE YOGA BECAUSE:
1. It combines movement and breath and takes me outside of monkey mind (most of the time)
2. It gives me flexibility *and* strength
3. It gets me together with people interested in spiritual growth
4. Wind Relieving Pose (yes, I am definitely in touch with my inner 8-year old boy) and Laughing Baby Pose
5. I set an intention before my practice, which makes my practice a combination of movement and prayer. It is moving prayer in both senses of the phrase, and it connects me to a higher vibrational state of existence, bigger than myself.
6. (please, just one more because I really love yoga) The space in-between when I “play with my edge” –gently, slowly, and deliciously going deeper into a pose, guided by my breath

I HATE YOGA BECAUSE:
1. $100 stretchy yoga pants that look best on women without hips
2. Classes cost $18-20 a session, up from $8-10 a session just 10 years ago
3. Some Hot Yoga teachers think that their way is the only way. That approach encourages overdoing it and injury among Type A competitive types.
4. It can make me feel lethargic. (But as long as I get in my share of yang activities – kickboxing, soccer, and wild living room carpet dancing – then I’m just fine.)
5. More men don’t feel attracted to it, and I sometimes think they need it the most

10/12/07

More on Women's Friendship

Scientists tell us that hanging out with our friends can actually counteract the kind of stomach-quivering stress most of us experience on a daily basis. Yippee! Someone finally gets it. But why is "hanging out with our friends" the last thing to happen in a busy week? And why does hanging out with friends feel exhausting sometimes?

This second musing on Women's Friendship will focus on obstacles to women's friendship. Let's start with a blog-paced recap of an incredible fairy tale of women: Cinderella.

Cinderella is a motherless daughter living with her stepmother and her two stepsisters. Cinderella is neglected by her father (perhaps his grief immobilizes him?) and is left to be unjustly treated by the brutish women of the house. Throughout the beautiful tale we watch as Cinderella toils. Ultimately, it is magic, a man, her beauty, character, and a strong connection to nature (remember, birds made her gown), that allow her to escape in spite of the shame, physical torment, and dark loneliness engulfing her.

We could talk about the symbols here, and whether the prince is for real, but I would prefer to focus on why it seems so unremarkable to us all that Cinderella's stepmother and stepsisters despised her . This is the key to any good conversation about women's friendship.

Why is it so easy to capture the evil stepmother and stepsisters in short prose? Because they are culturally sanctioned archetypes of every woman's destructive side. Those awful beasts are actually alive within each of our own psyches ... and don't tell me you don't know what I mean ...

How common is it to see this dynamic play out in groups of women? Haven't you been on both sides of the table in your life at least a few times? How have you handled power, wealth, and competition? Have you brought young women along on your ride if you sensed they needed it? Or have you done only what helped you run "the business called you"? It is a private conversation but chances are that you have played Stepmother, Stepsister, and Cinderella in your life.

It is helpful to view the "stepmother" and "stepsisters" as aspects of ourselves that have become disconnected from nature and absorbed in artificial notions of power, money, and control. They manifest as competitive, unloving, spiteful, and harshly judgemental personality traits. What's more is that they are usually socially respectable on a level, so rendering them as "evil" gets a bit dicey because we don't want to live alone.

And as my daily toil beckons, I'll close with a reminder that Cinderella's second family was prominent and socially connected - that's a strong statement from the Brother's Grimm on outward success.

10/11/07

Blogging with low self esteem

In an era where we manufacture a concept called "high self-esteem" through vitamins, religion, money, and body image, blogging is often used as a retail concept. It goes something like: "Live a better life: Blog!" or "Get started with the brand called: You."

I wonder if we'd be better served by:

His blog 1: Why I always eat too much
Her blog 2: Why I am paranoid
His blog 3: Why road rage feels so good
Her blog 4: Damn, I am exhausted

. . . just to name a few.

At work we study traffic, page views, entrance and exit rates. We look at refers and bounces and other such data. We are asked to swiftly address any less-than-impressive numbers with changes to our content, our design, and our navigation.

But here at this outpost, on the other hand, I experiment with the stuff that I cannot seem to integrate into my life anywhere else. My formula, if I had to write one out could be: confess/pray/confess. Like Jazz, you have to let go of the melody, find the chaos, then bring it back home again. Back home. Back home again and again.

. . . you still awake?

10/9/07

Women's Friendship


A professor of mine in film school once said that the true story of women's friendship is the biggest topic never covered ... I agree. How can a concept be both profound and cliche at once? It's like describing light: writing about it kills its glow... But since I have been exchanging beautiful e-mails with a friend from far away, I wanted to suggest the subject by covering a related theme: Love.

Love is not a competition but you know when you are winning. Love is not always comfortable, but it usually feels right. Love may not be pretty but is often truly beautiful. Love doesn't look the way you always wish it would but it turns out better than you imagine. Love is inconvenient but is always very efficient. Love is exhausting but perhaps not depleting. Love is not sex but it may be fertile. Love is not praise but often brings affections. Love is not control but often asks for leadership. Love is not ownership but doesn't give without understanding. Love is tireless. Love is disciplined. Love is curious. Love is independent. Love is just letting it happen sometimes ... patiently. Love depends on you. And you depend on love too.

10/5/07

Signal-to-noise ratio and human evolution

Engineers use the expression "signal-to-noise ratio" to describe the strength of desired traits (the signal) as measured against undesirable traits (the noise) in any context. More recently, VC (Venture Capitalists) and UI (User Interface) Designers have applied the term to all manner of things from space engineering to presentation design.

The signal-to-noise ratio is such a handy expression that I often use it in parenting to highlight how to let go of bullying/cliques in the classroom in favor of the good stuff the playground or a book may have to offer.

Underlying the signal-to-noise culture is a deep belief in optimization and the manufacture of peak experience. Is there any area of our lives untouched by this idea? No. We can become better by getting rid of what we don't want . . . Several ad campaigns quickly come to mind.

So here's what I am wondering as it relates to living: Where is the point at which augmentation of the signal actually breaks the signal itself? Are we in danger of losing essential human signals (eye contact, connectedness, intimacy, trust, love, touch, compassion, awareness) on our way to engineering the unwanted noise (slow pace, geographic separateness, the unknown, the risk, the humility, the threats) right out of our lives?

Will the signals break? They are already distorted ... or is this just evolution?