Sunday, March 28, 2010

Are we wicked step-sisters?

There’s a story I’ve been hearing more and more lately.  It sounds something like this:

You too can create a website that will earn you hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars!  Don’t worry if you don’t have a product or a service to sell!  Just take this generic thing, re-brand it, offer it in exchange for e-mail addresses and …

Every time I come across it, I imagine someone sitting on top of an elaborate pyramid whose scheme can only work if there are people out there who want to earn a living without creating any sort of value.

The weird thing is, there appear to be plenty of people who fall into this category.

Where does this come from?  Taking a peek at a particular, ancient story theme, we can see that it’s not an entirely new phenomena.

coins The youngest, out of sheer necessity, leaves the security of home to wander through unfamiliar territory.  Along the way, she meets bedraggled beings (human or otherwise) who are in dire need and she kindly shares or gives away what little she has.  She is rewarded for her generosity, in a way she could not have anticipated. 

After returning home, she is forced by her jealous step-sister to share the “secret” behind her success.  The step-sister immediately sets off to follow the youngest’s instructions step by step.  However, since she is acting out of selfishness instead of kindness, her interactions with those she meets are less than admirable and the reward she reaps as a result is often quite horrible.

We’ve all heard a story like this.  In fact, it’s such a traditional folktale theme that generation after generation of our ancestors have.  I believe there is a reason this story continues to survive, a reason we continue to feel compelled to tell it.

Dear annoying, internet-marketing, scammer,

Thank you for helping to keep the oral tradition alive.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The way to a girl’s heart, part II

A handsome young man approached me as I waited for Christian outside the Falafel King.  He asked me for the time and then lingered quietly for a moment after I answered.  Finally, his words found him.

“Can I ask you something?  What’s your nationality?”

Ah, yes.  This is how most people start a conversation with me.  In this middle of this particular conversation, my phone rang.  It was Christian.

I excused myself to answer and, after I was assured Christian was just mere minutes from arriving, hung up and returned my attention to the guy standing next to me.  Aware that he would soon be a third wheel, he began to say farewell.  But first,

You really caught my attention.

Ah.  That’s kind of flattering, isn’t it?  And then,

I know you’re much older than me…

                               but I was hoping maybe we could mingle.

Ha.  I couldn’t help but think of that time in Peru.  Maybe it’s a good thing men don’t usually hit on me.   I’m not sure my self esteem could take such a regular beating.

Monday, March 15, 2010

MassMouth: a special night

MassMouth had its first story slam on October 26, 2009.  Since then, it’s hosted a number of others – often to standing room only crowds – that I’ve had the pleasure and privilege of attending. 

Tonight, as Norah Dooley, Andrea Lovett, and Doria Hughes made their rounds to ensure that everyone who wanted a chance to tell signed up, I noticed a glimmer in Christian’s eye.  Lo and behold, he put his name in the hat!


I competed at the Valentine’s Day slam and won a slot in the upcoming Mega Mouth.  (Check out the grand prize to see why this is exciting.)  Despite this, I’d have to say that tonight’s slam was even more special to me because Christian got up to tell.

Hooray for Christian!  Hooray for MassMouth!  Hooray for all you lucky listeners and tellers out there! 

P.S. Mark your calendars – March 21st 4-7pm at Ryles is your last shot at winning a slot to compete in the April 20th Mega Mouth slam.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Pi day

Today is Pi day!  March 14th = 3.14 = the perfect excuse for those of us with a little crush on π to celebrate our affection.

meat_piespie2  pie3  

Thank goodness for homophones and our good friends, K & A.  (Without them, this special day wouldn’t be nearly as tasty.)


Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sharing: A puzzle, a finance tip, and a card

It feels like I haven’t “shared” anything lately.  And, since the September challenge has been successfully completed and put to bed, I can share whatever I want any day of the week!

  • The New York Times Will Shortz Presents KenKen: 300 Easy to Hard Puzzles That Make You Smarter (Will Shortz Presents...)KenKen
    I enjoy these arithmetic/logic puzzles even more than Sudoku.  According to Wikipedia, KenKen was invented in 2004 as an “instruction-free method of training the brain” by Tetsuya Miyamoto, a Japanese math teacher.

  • I recently discovered as a source of KenKen puzzles.  A variety of puzzle sizes are available, the interface is easy to use, and it’s free.  So what’s not to love?

  • Mvelopes 
    I’ve been practicing what’s referred to as “envelope based” saving/spending for well over 10 years.  I’m a big proponent – I truly believe that if more people approached their finances this way, there would be fewer people struggling with back-breaking debt.

  • I plan on writing more about this in the future.  In the meantime, here is a link for a risk-free trial of Mvelopes, an award-winning online envelope budgeting system.  I have been using it for over a year now and was so impressed that I purchased a lifetime subscription.  (Disclosure: With the link I’ve provided, you’ll get a 20% discount if you continue past the trial and I will get a few bucks for the referral.)

  • Retro Dance Card 
    This Retro Dance invitation designed by “cambliss” can be found on Zazzle.  You can modify the card before purchase -- add a note, a poem, or a greeting -- to make it your own.


If any of these things end up striking your fancy, please let me know?  Thanks!


Friday, March 12, 2010

Cultivating gratitude

GratitudeAn acquaintance of mine is down in the dumps.  The kind of down in the dumps where everything takes effort, joy is nowhere to be found, and relief is out of sight.

Since I don’t know this guy that well –and -- I am not a therapist I asked if he has considered seeing somebody about this.  He didn’t seem to like this idea so I racked my brain for others.

“If you don’t like anything about your life, wouldn’t it stand to reason that you would be willing to change at least some aspect of it?”

I suggested he start with gratitude.

He went on to say that he had tried it before and it hadn’t worked.  Based on the examples he gave me, I wasn’t surprised.  In my mind, “I’m grateful my apartment didn’t fall into some sinkhole” doesn’t really comply with the spirit of the exercise.

When he explained he had trouble finding anything to be grateful for, I reminded him that the goal of the exercise is to get better at it.  I also pointed out that he doesn’t have to wait around for something he’d be grateful for to happen on its own.

Are you wearing comfortable clothes?  If not, go put some on and be grateful you’re dressed comfortably.  Is there a particular food you like?  Bring it to work with you and be grateful you had a tasty lunch.  In other words, stack the deck in your favor until you’re skilled enough that you won’t have to.

Who knows if he’ll act on my advice.  But, given how many references I’ve come across linking gratitude to happiness, I think I will.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

I turned back


On the way to Paragon yesterday, I noticed a woman sitting on the sidewalk, crying.  (The photo I’ve included provides a pretty close approximation.)

Although I would like to be the kind of person that offers emotional support in a situation like this, all sorts of doubts tend to get in the way.  What if her problem is so big that you can’t do anything to help?  What if she just wants money and who knows for what?  What if she’s hopelessly depressed and any goodwill or positive energy would just get thrown down a bottomless bit of despair?  What if she’ll get angry at my presumption that she needs anything from me?

I walked past her.

Before I got to the revolving doors of my building, a question popped into my head.

Is this how you want your day to go?”

It turns out that it wasn’t.  What was the worst thing that could happen, anyway?  Maybe she would just need someone to talk to and I could definitely help with that.  I turned around and walked back toward her. 

As I approached, doubt began to settle in again.  Not knowing what else to say, I interrupted her with a self-conscious “I know this is a stupid question… but are you okay?”

She looked up at me.  “That’s not a stupid question at all.”  I was immediately taken by how generous her response was.  She motioned to the sky with her eyes and added “I’m okay.  I’m praying to my heavenly father.”

Without thinking, I held my hand to my heart.  I stood there for a few seconds until the words “I wish you well” unexpectedly wafted up through me and into the air.  She smiled at me weakly through her tears and again, I was taken by how considerate she was, even through her pain.

I’m glad I turned back.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Playing with language

wordsI may have mentioned before that word recall is not my forte.  Despite this, I love playing with language.  Games to play with a set of words that have fallen on my lap present themselves without warning, and often without reason either.

The rules usually develop as I go along, incorporating the use of homophones, metaphor, double entendre, or whatever else strikes my fancy.  Unless I happen to be in the right company, they often only make sense to me.

Whenever I dust off these two sentences, for example:

Oh dear, you have stolen my heart.

Oh deer, you have stolen my hart.

Christian just shakes his head.  The first few years of our relationship, I was convinced that explaining the rules of the game that led to their creation would help him understand why they please me.

No such luck.


Years ago, my best friend and I were discussing words with strong connotations that have, for the most part, taken over the word’s original definitions.  I remember we had lots of fun with this.  Here is one of the results:

We won!  We won!” the quarterback ejaculated during the half time show.

Now, don’t you think that’s a little premature?” chastised his coach.

(You’re allowed to groan if you need to.)

So, how about you?  Do you juggle with jargon?  Do you mess with meaning?  If you find yourself creating clever clauses that amuse yourself (and perhaps no one else), please share them with me.  Better yet, invite me to play along.




Monday, March 08, 2010

Why I don’t honk


I try to be a patient driver.  Although I see no reason to swerve from lane to lane between sets of traffic lights and think that heavily stepping on the gas only to have to slam on the brakes a few seconds later is silly, I keep my mouth shut horn quiet.

This apparently baffles some people.  Recently, my passenger was so outraged by some other driver’s bad decision-making that he demanded that I honk.  When I refused, he reached over and tried honking on my behalf.

This was not okay and I let him know it.

But why won’t you honk?!”

  1. If the driver I am directing my honk toward is purposely being inconsiderate, he really isn’t going to care about that honk.  A little toot isn’t going to magically make him say “Oh, you’re right.  I really should stop behaving so boorishly.  Thank you for pointing it out.”  If anything, it will annoy him, making him even more aggressive and inconsiderate.
  2. If the driver being honked at is just plain clueless, he won’t even realize that the honk is for him. 
  3. It’s possible that what may look like aggressive, uncooperative, or selfish driving could actually be the result of a genuine mistake.  Honking in this circumstance would only serve to make an already stressful situation worse.
  4. Not just your target can hear your honk.  Other, alert drivers may assume they have somehow triggered your outburst and may become anxious since they will have no idea what they have done (or may still be doing) wrong.

I believe that honking out of anger, frustration, or any other negative emotional state can lead to road rage.  I don’t know about you, but I’m of the opinion that we would all do well to have less of this in the world.

The next time you are about to press the palm of your hand against the center of your steering wheel, ask yourself the following question: What do I want for this action to result in and what is the likelihood that it will?

If it turns out you are compelled to act out of gracious concern, knock yourself out and honk away.  Otherwise, keep your hands in the 10-2 position and take a chill pill for all our sakes.

Thank you!

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Barred advice on Prince Charmings

At a favorite local restaurant, Christian and I overheard a bartender dispensing advice to a young, single woman, looking for a new guy.
Stop limiting yourself!
This statement, her pleading refrain, was peppered between observations regarding the single woman’s previous fishing attempts.   Why would anybody would look for love in a bar?  If you meet a guy at a bar, you end up with a guy who likes to go out drinking!

She began to offer alternatives.  Church, for example.  “Those guys are very well rounded.”  Taking up a new hobby was also an option.  “Then you’ll definitely have something in common.”  But my favorite recommendation?
Go to college for a month!
We joined the conversation at this point.  The women were friendly, and we had fun coming up with a few recommendations of our own.

That night, I started thinking about how that bartender’s advice can apply to more than just finding one’s Prince Charming.  If you don’t like the results you’ve gotten so far, no matter what you’re doing, you really have no choice  but to try something new.  And why limit yourself to what you’ve already tried or what you already feel comfortable with?

Since then, “stop limiting yourself” has been swirling around in my head.  In fact, as a direct result of this, I recently took on some contract work that I wouldn’t have considered before.  I plan to continue contemplating this piece of advice.  Although I have no idea what the outcome will be, I’m pretty sure it will lead to something new or different and that should make for an even more interesting year.

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Word patterns

I attended a talk Temple Grandin gave at the Harvard Book Store a number of years ago.  Her presentation was fascinating -- I walked away with plenty of things to think about.

For example, she described her experience with “conversation loops”, bits of conversations she would repeat over and over to anybody who would sit still long enough to listen.  Eventually she figured out that people found this behavior annoying and remedied this, not by getting rid of the loops, but by increasing the length of her tracks.

I do this.  Perhaps it’s not in the same way or to the same degree, but I tend to create sets of words or phrases that get significant amounts of “air time”.   Often, I’m not fully aware of these word ruts until they begin to weave their way into colleagues’ vocabulary.



A few days ago, while re-reading something I had just written, it occurred to me that I have been using the word “brim” quite a bit lately.  This piqued my curiosity – I wondered what word ruts have been making their way into my blog.

I used Wordle to create word clouds from the text of my 2010 posts to date.  Thinking once again of Temple Grandin, I wondered how different the word clouds would appear if I limited the clouds to just a few words (a short track) versus many words (a long track).

I’m relieved that I kind of like the results.

Friday, March 05, 2010

My parking karma

parking Today, while driving around Harvard Square, I called out to my parking karma.  Within a couple of minutes, I spotted a car pulling out from a really sweet parking space and was in the perfect position to take it.

What’s up with that?

Not too long ago, a friend asked me exactly the same thing.  She was in the car with me as I drove into a section of town where a legal spot was hard to come by.  After one unsuccessful loop around, I shrugged and explained we were just going to have to rely on my parking karma.  A few minutes later we were feeding a hungry meter.

Really.  What’s up with that?

I had never given it much thought, but as she pressed me for an explanation, I came up with this. 

I find the parking spot because I am expecting to find it.

I don’t mean this in a metaphysical kind of way or anything.  I just think that you look more carefully through a haystack when you know with certainty there is a needle in it.  My calling upon my parking karma is way of reminding myself to look seriously and systematically for that spot that I’m pretty darn certain is available somewhere.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

My mom’s advice

Taking flight The first time I ever heard about MIT, I was a sophomore in high school.  I immediately decided that was where I would go to college.

It turns out that very few people in my community had any idea what MIT was.  In fact, since most college-bound graduates from Del Rio high school go on to Texas-based schools, most people didn’t even know what the initials stood for.

After I had been talking MIT this and MIT that for a few days, my mom started asking questions.  I’m sure she asked me plenty of things, like “Why MIT?” or “What will you study?” But to be honest, I can only remember the last question she asked.

What is MIT short for?”

As the “setts” from “Massachusetts” left my mouth, my mom burst into tears. 

Up to that point, it hadn’t dawned on me that the distance would be an issue.  I felt terrible and made a point of not bring up anything MIT after that.  Days passed.  Eventually, my mom pulled me aside and apologized.  She explained that she and my father had been raised to keep family close by.  She told me that she felt she was just being selfish.  And, before bursting into tears again, she made a promise.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Start a family tradition: Learn how to make cascarones

This is my favorite Easter cake to date!

Easter is a big holiday in my family.  Three days of celebrating include a fajita cook off, a volley ball tournament, a live concert, and a PARADE -- to name just a few things.  My uncle rents a bunny suit every Easter 

It didn’t start off this big.  In 1953, my grandmother and her next-door neighbor simply decided to celebrate Easter together.  Year after year, activities and family members were added to the mix until it grew into the huge event it is now.
My grandmother, the woman who was behind it all.

This kind of family tradition is the coolest.   And, with a little effort now, you could have one of your very own!

If you’re interested,  follow these simple instructions for creating cascarones, a core component of my family’s Easter.  In my opinion, they are a must have.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

With time and practice


I took my driver’s test when I was 16.  With a year’s worth of practice under my belt, I passed the test.  But exactly how road ready is a newly licensed teenager?

I remember that it took active concentration to maintain constant speed.  Corners were often taken either too sharply or not sharply enough.  Merging into traffic was terrifying. 

And I could not parallel park to save my life.

004Fast forward through many years of living in Massachusetts.  I found a tight parking spot in front of the library where I was meeting a friend.  Quickly, and with little effort, I squeezed my car in.

Before I stepped into the library, it dawned on me that this was a bit of a victory.  I was compelled to turn around and take a few snapshots to document my parallel parking job.

Time and practice had taken the things I thought I would never be good at and turned it into a skill I usually just take for granted.  I wonder what else I’m good at now?

How about you?

Monday, March 01, 2010

What you look at can keep you from seeing


I took this picture of a baby squirrel hanging out outside the window of a hospital cafeteria. 

It wasn’t until later, after I downloaded the images off of my camera, that I noticed the reflection of my handbag super-imposed over the cute little ball of fur.

Although I had been so focused on the squirrel that he was all I noticed when I took the snapshot, it’s possible, if I were to hand this photo to someone without an explanation, they might focus on the red, white, and blue pattern.

What the handbag is to the squirrel, examples or presentation data can be to the concept you are trying to get across to an audience.


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