Saturday, December 26

Book Review: Nonsense, The Power of Not Knowing

Ambiguity, uncertainty, lack of closure: whatever you want to call it, the world is rife with situations and challenges that simply can't be neatly categorized, wrapped up, or controlled. How we perceive, understand and respond to these types of situations plays a critical role in determining whether we succeed or fail in everything – art, business, politics, relationships. More often than we think, it can mean the difference between life and death. It's no secret that some people handle ambiguity better than others and, in Nonsense, author Jamie Holmes explores why that is, and what all of us can do to improve our relationship with life's uncertainties.

This book has a lot going for it. The author found some very interesting stories and examples to illustrate his points all along the spectrum, from puzzles and Mad Libs on the frivolous side of things to hostage negotiations at the extremely serious end of the spectrum. Often the writing was clear, sharp and fluid – very much a pleasure to read. It was meticulously edited.

Unfortunately, the book was not uniformly strong. In several places the narrative seemed to inexplicably get lost, meandering or segway-ing jerkily from one point to another. For some reason I never quite figured out, it also seemed to be a difficult book to keep one's head in. Every time I set it down, it would take a minute to remember where I was and what was being discussed when I picked it up again. It really didn't stick or linger the way I would have expected from a book about such a relevant subject. I couldn't help but feel that the “application” part would have decidedly benefited from a different approach as well; an alternate format might have made it easier to walk away feeling like I'd learned practical things I could effectively apply to improving my own ability to handle ambiguity other than just being more aware of it.

All things considered, it's a solid book and worth reading for the impact and thought-provoking qualities of it's strong portions. 

I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review. As always, my opinions are my own.

Monday, December 7

Common Core: Medical Edition

They say that measurement is the first step towards controlling and improving things, and that “you are what you measure”. Management dogma has long promoted intensive measurement, tracking and reporting as the main driver of desired change.

Unfortunately, as the Common Core debacle has demonstrated, any attempt to apply this theory to practice will see it quickly erode in the face of two inconvenient realities. First, critical and relevant aspects of a situation are often intangible; they simply don't lend themselves to effective and accurate measurement. Second, no matter what you're looking at, there are almost always scores of contributing and/or influential factors, making it almost impossible to measure, aggregate, and report on them in a meaningful way. Considering that some of those factors will be several steps removed from the “main action” and/or intangible, and you've got a clear recipe for frustration!

Why am I rambling at you about this business nonsense? Because it's exactly what came to mind when I read that “non-profit news outlet ProPublica [has created a] never-before-available tool” they're calling an "Adjusted Complication Rate." Long story short, they've developed and launched a scale ranking “Nearly 17,000 doctors performing low-risk, common elective procedures such as gallbladder removal and hip replacements... in the new calculation...derived from government records collected about Medicare patients...” The score looks at post-operative complications “like infections, clots or sepsis” and a handful of risk factors such as “patients' ages, the quality of the hospital where the surgery took place, and other factors.”

The goal is straightforward: provide consumers a tool through which to compare the quality of potential surgeons before scheduling a procedure, and create a highly public venue through which to shame, scare, or (more euphemistically) motivate both doctors and the hospitals for which they work to step up their games, sharpen their skills, and identify and remove roadblocks to top-notch patient care. As a bonus, proponents suggest that these changes will significantly reduce the cost of readmissions related to surgical complications. Considering that such readmissions for Medicare patients cost “taxpayers $645 million” between 2009 and 2013, this is no small benefit.

ProPublica's intentions are clearly noble, and they should be applauded for doing something. After all, you never get anywhere if you don't at least try! That said, I can't help but cringe at what looks alarmingly like the early stages of a repeat of the Common Core disaster in the making. They're right to note that not all doctors or hospitals are created or perform equally. Certainly those doing well should be rewarded, and those at the bottom of the barrel strongly motivated to improve.

But the inconvenient truth is that people are bio-individual, both physically and in terms of their physical, social and familial support systems. For example, as an NTP I can tell you that most people are walking around with all kinds of undiagnosed and unrecognized health issues that are directly relevant to their ability to heal and their likelihood of readmission. My sister the nurse can testify to the kinds of disastrous individuals and relationships patients often rely on for their post-procedure care. These things are not, and cannot consistently or realistically be, accounted for on this index. As a result, just like teachers, doctors will be penalized for things outside their control without recourse to explain or defend themselves. Doctors battling to revamp struggling hospitals, or serving the lowest-income, most at-risk patients will suffer the most in this respect, punished for their faith, elbow grease, and big hearts.

Many doctors will respond by taking the only protective course available to them: refusing to see or work with any patients who don't present as excellent candidates for a quick, clean recovery. Dealing with a messy family situation? Obese? Smoker? Low-income? Cantankerous or absent-minded? Watch how fast you get turned down and punted over to the waiting list for one of the handful of (low ranked) doctors still willing to take you! As it stands, this well-intentioned ranking will most likely have the unintended (if predictable) effect of making losers out of neediest, least-ideal, and highest-risk among the us and those who stubbornly continue to serve them.

I can't help but be deeply saddened to see this kind of thing happening. We need real answers; real initiatives that get at the heart of the problem (like the increasing loss of non-profit hospitals), rather than relying on false metrics and sideways pressure.

What do you think? Am I over-reacting, or does this strike you as terribly counter-productive, too?

Tuesday, December 1

Three Fun Things to Start Your December

Can you believe it's December already? Thanksgiving has come and gone, seemingly every radio station is saturated with Christmas music (God help us), and the days are starting to show their long,
dark sides. Before we start the rapid slide into holiday madness, I thought I'd share three fun things I saw around the web recently to make you smile:

It's all good until someone bombs the pub....
An Irish comedian wrote an open letter to ISIS, and it's hysterical.

An Iraeli dad wrote a "why my daughter is tardy" note that's short, honest and endearing. (And that made me think of my Dad patiently trying to braid my terribly uncooperative hair when I was little.)

The case for making your own (highly descriptive and personalized) job title. (Similar point made here.) When I was at Panera, my unofficial title (bestowed on my by my favorite baker) was "Evil Overlord" - how awesome would it have been to have that on my nametag?! These days of course, I can put whatever I want on my business cards...I might have to get creative!

What is making you smile this week?

Tuesday, November 24

The Made Up Words Project

I am always fascinated when foreign words pop up (usually on Pinterest these days, but also in books) for which there is no English equivalent. They run gamut from deeply elegant to jocularly practical.

For example, Hiraeth is a Welsh noun for “a homesickness for a home to which you cannot return, a home which maybe never was; the nostalgia, the yearning, the grief for the lost places of your past.” Kummerspeck is German for “excess weight gained from emotional overeating.” (It's literal translation is “grief-bacon”!) The foodie in me especially enjoys sobremesa, which is a Spanish term for time spent around a table after a meal, talking to the friends/family you shared the meal with. (See more such fascinating terms here, here, and here.)

Although English is known for liberally stealing – I mean borrowing- words from other languages,
there's no denying that Americans have a tendency to make up our words when we feel that the options our disposal are inadequate to meet our linguistic needs. To catalog these forays into linguistic invention, The Made Up Words Project was created. The project invites the public to submit the “made up words that we share with family and friends.”

While the project is just for fun, it did give me amusing memories to laugh at. (When I was in junior high, three friends and I used the term “I-triple-L” to describe really stupid people. It stood for Immature Lower Life Forms of Larva. What can I say? We were in junior high, and we got plenty of use out of it at the time!)

Juxtaposed with the foreign words for which there are no English translations, however, it also proved rather thought provoking. Why is it that other cultures have specific words for things that English speakers are content to express imperfectly, only through full sentences? Why has it never occurred to me that we might need a word like irusu (Japanese for “pretending to be out when someone knocks on your door”)? What other practical, amusing or elegant feelings and situations am I lacking words for without even noticing?

For years when I was younger, we used the term “chippy” to express a cross between chilly and nippy when it was cold outside. It started as a slip of the tongue, but we quite liked it so it stayed in use. Sadly, I can't think of any more recent examples, which makes me suspect I should be exercising more creativity in my words. These days, I mostly just borrow words from other places. (Too often, this equates to lift curse words and exclamatory phrases from science fiction universes, but not always.) I discovered and love the Greek word “meraki” which is “the soul, creativity, or love put into something; the essence of yourself that is put into your work.”

So perhaps I shall put some meraki into being more aware of – and coming up with – creative words myself. What made-up words do you use? What can you think of that you wish there was a word for?

Sunday, November 22

Smoking, Drinking, and Voting

Years ago, when I was working my tail off at my first “real” job out of college as a Catering Manager, I was incredibly irritated to discover that I could not rent a car for a business trip. I wasn't old enough.

Not long after, desperate to get to where I was headed despite all the planes being grounded due to nasty weather, an airport car rental place again refused to rent to me because I wasn't 25.

I cannot begin to tell you how frustrating it was both times to stand there at the counter faced with the ludicrous facts. I had been a safe and licensed driver for more than half a dozen years already, and routinely drove catering vans and other expensive commercial vehicles in addition to my own car. I was trusted to manage expensive events, make hiring and firing decisions, and represent my account at regional events. I had all kinds of insurance, and nothing but a speeding ticket or two on my record. But I couldn't rent a freaking basic model sedan.

Then, as now, I was appalled and baffled by the notion that we as a society so strangely differentiate between what we think individuals should and should not be able to do at 18. Vote? Sure! Get married? Absolutely. Join the military to fight (and sometimes die) for one's country? You bet. Buy your own beer? Oh no you don't! Rent a car? No way! What are you, nuts?

By what bizarre logic does that make sense?

Apparently, it must make sense to someone, because the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is urging the FDA to enact restrictions that would prevent anyone under the age of 21 from purchasing cigarettes, tobacco, or vaping products. Certainly, I understand their concerns about the health hazards that nicotine and tobacco pose, particularly to young people. But frankly, the second-class citizenship status of young adults is already untenable. To try to press it even further is simply unreasonable.

I'd encourage the AAP (and others who support their proposal) to read Do Hard Things, and challenge them to reconsider their approach. Numerous books (like this one) lay out the research proving time and again that we do not create the kinds of adults we as a society need (and that we as individuals want to be, or be related to!) by protecting children from the consequences of their decisions. That only becomes exponentially more true for teenagers and adults. So instead of floating ideas that give us warm, fuzzy “saving the world” feelings, what if we sucked up the sometimes discouraging realities of life and took the wiser tack?

What if we dropped the age for everything – drinking, smoking, renting a car – to 18, and made young adults actually full adults? What if we adopted scary PSAs that actually show the true cost of our choices, and let people make their own choices? I think we might just be surprised by how far ahead we'd come out…

Friday, November 20

A Sewing Experiment: Pillow Covers

Spiderweb and "Jolly Rodger" pillow covers.
I received a Halloween table runner in October, and was surprisingly happy with how festive it looked on the table with a pumpkin seated squarely atop it. When I rolled it up and it stored away in almost no space at all, I decided that this was definitely my style of decorating – easy to set up, easy to put away, with very little storage space required.

That got me thinking about theseadorable Halloween pillow covers I saw and pinned ages ago. didn't get around to attempting them prior to Halloween, but thought maybe I'd run out the weekend after and try to pick up appropriate fabric when it would theoretically be on sale. My Prince went with me to check out a quilt store which it had been on my list to explore anyway. The store turned out to be excellent and, as so often happens, instead of coming away with the basic colors I'd planned to get, I came out with something much better! Eric bought me not only some awesome spiderweb fabric, but ½ yard each of four beautiful Fall fabrics!

Thus, I returned home to make not only Halloween pillow covers, but Fall ones as well. Unfortunately, the tutorial I'd planned to follow was not as well laid out as I'd expected, and it took me several tries to figure out where I was misreading it and correct myself. Once that was done, the two spiderweb pillow covers came together pretty quickly. Then I (mystifyingly) got it into my head that to go with the them, I should make Jolly Rodger pillow covers! This involved finding, resizing, and printing a skull template; acquiring some white fabric; tracing said skulls onto said fabric; touching them up with marker to outline a few things (like the eye sockets); then cutting them out and appliqueing them on to the front of the covers. I know that would be a quick and simple process for someone with more experience, but it took me quite a while!

Colorful squash & Fall veggies
I'm extremely pleased with how they turned out, though! I intentionally used a rough zig-zag stitch around the edges of the skulls to go with the battered pirate-flag-style look and I am quite happy with the results. Once I tested them on the pillows (and got a picture or two), it was time to strip them off and pack them away until next year. I'll pull them out next Fall and be very happy with myself all over again. : )

In the meantime, we have four beautiful pillow covers in Fall patterns featuring squash and other autumnal veggies, and fun harvest-y things. They don't necessarily go with anything, but they don't clash either, and they make us happy, so I'm calling them a success! 

After cleaning up the huge mess that I made in the process (so much thread, everywhere!), I took a couple minutes to write down the process, measurements, etc. in my new sewing journal. Apparently, sewing journals are supposed to be a great way to track what you did as that you either (a) can do it again if you love it, or (b) know what NOT to ever do again if you botch things! Either way, this has been a good experiment, and left me ready to plot my next.

Do you decorate for Fall/Thanksgiving?
Totally love this fabric!


In this color too!

Wednesday, November 18

What's Cooking

My not-very-good picture of our
beautiful new oven!
When we bought our house, it was abundantly clear that the previous owners' use of the kitchen pretty much began and ended with the fridge. The stovetop range and oven were in fair condition, but definitely not selected or maintained by anyone who loved to cook. That wasn't a big deal, and we just made a mental note that everything would have to get replaced sooner or later.

We replaced the dinosaur of a fridge first, upgrading to a much smaller (and far more efficient) model. Then we traded in the stovetop, again getting a much more efficient (and better designed) model. The double wall oven started going on the fritz well over a year ago, but I chose to strategically ignore and work around it. First the top oven stopped heating up to anything over 200 degrees. So I switched to solely using the bottom one. When the thermometer kicked and the oven temp stopped having any relation to what was on the dial, we got a small in-oven thermometer and I just used that to calibrate to the right temp. That worked quite nicely (most of the time), until a few weeks ago.

When the heater coil on the bottom oven arced and caught fire, I cried uncle and stopped putting off its replacement. Because the oven was a weird size (as so many things randomly seem to be in this house), we had to order the replacement and wait for it to come in. Since I saw no point in paying stupid amounts of money for another self-cleaning double oven when I'd gotten along just fine with one for so long, we went with a single oven this time. Thanks to My Prince's excellent skills (and a bit of luck), we did not end up having to dismantle the entire cabinet built around the oven as I'd feared might be the case. Instead, he was able to shave the edges of the opening a smidge and then slide the new oven right in. Isn't it pretty?!

The fact that it's smaller is actually going to work out to be a bonus, because the additional space will get framed in and become cabinet space. While I'm extremely efficient with my kitchen space and don't technically need it, cabinets are a huge selling point so the extra will be in our favor someday when it's time for us to move on from here.

To celebrate having an oven that works properly, I made Paleo GingerSnaps. Nom! Now that I think about it, I'm not entirely sure what ovens are made of, but maybe we did end up getting each other steel for our anniversary…

Monday, November 16

No Small Anniversaries

Not our rings. Mine are prettier. : )
Friday we celebrated our 11th anniversary. My amazing husband came home from work dressed to the nines and with beautiful jade roses in hand. We had a festive dinner at home (because we cook better than 99% of what we can get out around here) with wine from our private stock, and it was amazing. (Shockingly, we didn't feel the need to get each other anything made of steel, despite the fact that it is the traditional gift for 11th anniversaries.)

My Prince got a lot of funny looks for his efforts to spoil me. Apparently, people don't think anniversaries are particular worth celebrating unless they are “big” years – 10 years, 25 years, 50 years. Considering how many people of our generation never marry at all – or see their marriages dissolve into messy, nasty divorces in only a few years – this strikes me as ridiculous. We don't celebrate birthdays that way. Love is a precious thing every day. Why wouldn't it be worth stopping once a year to fully and properly celebrate something precious? To recognize and reaffirm it's value?

Saturday morning, we woke up to news of the terrorist attacks in Paris and I couldn't help but think how many people will never get another chance to celebrate their anniversary with the person they loved. I wondered how many people went to bed (or sat awake, unable to even think of sleep) thinking of every opportunity to show their loved one how cherished and special they were that was lost or neglected in the last year, simply because no one knew how little time was left.

None of us are promised tomorrow. As Thanksgiving approaches and we're all the more aware of the people and things we are thankful for, may I encourage you to intentionally carve a few minutes out of your days to celebrate the people you love? To put on your good clothes, dress up your table, pull out the good china, and toast the good in life that is so very worthy of celebrating? Because if love truly is the precious gift we know it to be, then there are no small anniversaries.

Wednesday, November 11

Olympia Provisions (aka Charcuterie Extraordinaire) once in a while, you find a book that is not just enjoyable or well written, but truly a gem. Olympia Provisions by Elias Cairo is one of those rare finds. You know from the instant you see the cover that this book was crafted with love by someone accustomed to paying great attention to detail. The size, embossed cover, thick pages, and glorious full-color full page photo spreads all give the book an elegant, classic feel long before you even begin to explore the recipes.

The writing is a precise balance of direct, unassuming personality and professional perfection. The effect is similar to sitting down and sharing a glass of wine and a charcuterie board with a master in the field; you come away wiser about the subject matter, but also feeling connected to the person sharing the wisdom.

The book contains a collection of phenomenal (but accessible) charcuterie recipes, as well as a generous collection of recipes from OP's two restaurants which feature or compliment the charcuterie recipes. Like most books written for people who take their results seriously, it gives ratios and weights as well as the standard teaspoon/cup style measurements. Hands down, Cairo does the best explanations of the safety issues associated with curing meat - including a succinct and outstanding job of tackling and laying to rest the controversy over the use of nitrates and nitrites in meat. I have yet to see anyone else do such a good job making these issues simplified enough to be quickly and functionally understood, while also so readable that they don't make your eyes glaze over.

Further testament to both the writing and photography skills employed in the book can be summed up by this sentence: I never envisioned myself making head cheese, but OP has convinced me that is it not only completely doable, but a very attractive prospect. (!!) From high end (prosciutto) to every day (hot dogs), this book has something for everyone. My fingers itched to start cooking just a few pages in, and I'm pretty sure it was only sheer force of will that kept me from drooling my way through the recipes. Everything is scaled to proportions and tools that are appropriate and feasible for the home cook, and geared toward every day, share-a-meal-with-people-you-love eating. If you've ever considered getting a charcuterie book, this is it - the one you want!

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free from Blogging for Books in return for my review. As always, my opinions are my own and unbiased. (It seriously was that good!)

Friday, November 6

Best Finds From Around the Web (October edition)

Somehow, October has come and gone (already!), but hopefully it isn't too late to share the five best things I encountered online during the month. (Oh wait, it's my blog... excellent! I officially declare it Not Too Late. Enjoy!)

As I've been working hard on a lot of behind-the-scenes things for my business, as well as prepping the home front for the holidays, I've been heavily reliant on old-fashioned pen-and-paper to do lists (and big, fat markers to cross off completed tasks with!). So it was very nice to unexpectedly encounter this reminder/affirmation of how powerful and practical low-tech options can be in this age of smart phones and other pricey tech toys.  

Because sometimes you just want something that feels special and decadent for brunch that won't take hours or cost a fortune to make, or leave you with a nasty sugar hangover later. These are perfect.

3. How to Unsend an Email (in gmail)
I didn't know this was possible, let alone easy! Possibly the best business tool ever.

A fantastic reminder that life is not set in stone, and that even (and maybe especially) in the big things we don't have to live and die by generic, outdated, or externally imposed lists of rules. Encouraging and inspiring, whether you apply it to business or any other project!

So funny, and so true.

I had no idea there even was such a thing, or that you could make your own. If you've ever wanted to take an oatmeal bath for softer, silkier skin, to kill the itch of poison ivy/oak, or to blunt the agony of chicken pox or eczema, here you go! 

Wednesday, November 4

Things The World Needs: A “Give This Character A Book” Feature

Have you ever read a book and encountered a secondary or supporting character who was way more interesting than the hero/heroine? Sometimes it works out okay – that person becomes the main character in a sequel, and everybody's happy. Other times, though, they get a quick write off at the end of the book and then they're gone. All that potential lost!

I recently re-encountered this situation while reading A Stitch in Crime. The main lead was nice enough, but she couldn't hold a candle to her mother and grandmother. Her mother was fascinating, and her grandmother was a riot. I would have loved to have seen more of them, and think they would have done beautifully as the main characters in their own book(s). Alas, no such luck.

It got me thinking that there should be a “Give This Person Their Own Book” feature, where readers can vote online for such wonderful but under-recognized characters to get their own books. At the end of every year, the publishing industry would take the five characters who received the most votes and commission the author(s) – or others, if necessary – to write books in which they are the hero(ine). Doesn't that seem like it should be not only doable, but a fantastic way to expand the publication of excellent books? It'd be hard to go wrong with characters that we've already established are fascinating and beloved, the publishers would know ahead of time that the books would have an eager audience!

In addition to the aforementioned mother/grandmother team, I'd have to immediately nominate the following for inclusion in any such contest (in no particular order):

- Gallowglass (Discovery of Witches) 
- Miriam Shephard (Discovery of Witches)
- Chase the Boundary Warden (Wizard's First Rule)

I'm sure there are others, but those are the first to come to mind. Who would you nominate?

Monday, November 2

Hack Schooling Resources #1

It occurred to me after I wrote my previous post on my hack-schooling endeavor that it could be enlightening to track what resources I use here on the blog. Not only might introduce others to valuable resources, but it should be personally edifying and useful long term to be able to look back and survey what worked, what didn't, and where I might have some blind spots in my pursuit of learning.

So here are a few resources that have already earned their keep in this adventure:

1. Amazon's Kindle Unlimited – For $10 a month, I get as many books as I can read. They are instantly downloadable and returnable at the push of a button at any hour of day or night, from wherever I am, and I can have up to 11 out at one time. This was a God-send when I was working on my TEDx talk all summer, and I've found that many of the blogging-related books I was interested in that the library didn't have were available free through this service.

2. Sticky Notes & Good Pens– Happily, everybody took me seriously last Christmas when I told them what I really wanted was nice pens. I got a bunch of Le Pens, and they make me unreasonably happy. Paired with a giant stack o' sticky notes in various sizes and colors, they are essential to keeping my studying and notes organized.

3. White Board ClingsI don't know anyone else who has or uses these, but I highly recommend them. They're peel-and-stick, and thus far appear to be endlessly reusable. They come in a variety of sizes, and are quite durable. They're inexpensive, don't crack, easy to transport, and can be combined (lined up edge to edge) to make a larger white board in any shape you want. What's not to like?

4. Library Card – Yes, this one should probably go without saying. But in this day and age, it's worth reminding people that there's huge value in getting to be on a first name basis with your librarians and figuring out how to navigate your library's online system.

5. Simple Rules I got a copy of this book free to review, and was surprised by not only how good but how applicable it was. I knew that research proves that working within constraints forces people to be more creative and to work harder at identifying what's really important, but this book uniquely applied that principle to how a business is run. (Though it can be equally applicable to homes, families, and all manner of other situations.)

That's it for now! Hope someday something on this list serves you well, too!

Saturday, October 31

Books on Death for Your Halloween Reading Pleasure

Happy Halloween!  

I don't read a lot of proper ghost stories or other traditional Halloween fare, so I thought I'd take advantage of today's holiday to share instead three of the best books I've read related to death. If you can't get enough of the creepy, spooky, cryptic Halloween vibe, consider these a great way to extend your exposure to all things postmortem. If you're not a Halloween fan, turn off the lights, lock the door, and grab one of these to curl up with as you avoid the trick-or-treaters and other chaos tonight. They're well written, eye-opening, and fascinating - no matter when you read them!

The Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlyn Doughty
Now a licensed mortician, Doughty shares her first experiences working in the funeral industry at a crematorium. Full of fascinating stories, helpful information, and insightful reflections on attitudes towards death in America (and how they got to be what they are), this is a must read. Note: Doughty also runs a fantastic "Ask a Mortician" web series, which tackles very real and meaningful questions like why its illegal to have a viking-style funeral (you know, where they shove your body out into a lake in a burning boat) and whether or not coffins can explode (they can).  

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
If you've ever looked at the back of your license and wondered what exactly you're agreeing to when you donate your body to science, this is the book for you. From medical school uses to crash test dummies, Roach gives readers a broad view of the many ways society (quietly) uses cadavers every day for a vast array of purposes. The tone is cheerful and the subject well handled, making this a good and worthwhile read. 

Death's Acre: Inside the Legendary Forensic Lab the Body Farm Where the Dead Do Tell Tales by William Bass
This one is for everyone who has ever watched and loved CSI, NCIS, Bones, or any other forensics show! All that great information those forensics geniuses have about how long it takes for processes to happen, what order bugs infest a corpse in, what happens when a body is sunk in a river/frozen/left in a trunk... well, you get the idea... all that info comes from Bass and his body farm! The book tells the story of a "farm" on which bodies (legally donated to science, mind you) are intentionally placed in every conceivable position and environment, and then tracked while they decompose. The information is meticulously gathered, recorded, and translated into the timelines, chemical signatures, and other foundational information on which so much of modern forensics is based. 

None of these books are particularly new, so your library should have them. (They're also available via Kindle if you prefer.) Enjoy!

Thursday, October 29

Design the Life You Love (A Book Review)

A friend recently introduced me to Blogging for Books, and I thought I'd give it a try. The first book
that caught my eye was Design the Life You Love: A Step By Step Guide to Building A Meaningful Future.

The first thing that stood out to me was the book's design; the cover and the pages are clean, uncluttered, and very much oriented towards visual/kinesthetic learners. There are prompts for writing, brainstorming, mind-mapping, sketching, and other interactive activities to help readers process and apply what they're learning. I thought this was ideal for this kind of book, because it forces you to go slow and really absorb and think about the material – not just blow through it.

The author effectively used metaphors and examples to help her points across, encouraged readers to only focus on a few things/changes at a time to prevent them from getting overwhelmed, and included a variety of helpful templates (mind map, manifesto, to-do lists, vision letters, poems, etc.).

While I did not work straight through the book start to finish, or use all of the tools, the book and its approach definitely prompted me to think deeply and creatively about how I'm living, what I love, and what kind of changes I could make to live better. Some people have books they re-read every year; I think this would be a great book to keep on your shelf and pull down every year on your birthday and around Christmas/New Years as a reminder to pay attention to where you are, and who/where you want to be. 

Disclaimer: I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review, but (as always) all opinions are my own, honest and unbiased. 

Thursday, October 22

Salmon & Salad with Dijon Dressing

For a very long time, I didn't eat salmon. I blame this entirely on my food service career. Fish is hard to do - and particularly hard to do well - in the catering, commercial, and industrial food service venues in which I was primarily exposed to it. Food safety regulations require that you cook it to death to begin with. Let it sit at all, on a buffet or plated while other meals are finished, and it gets even worse. I still won't eat the stuff cold. (Blegh!) 

Clearly not my photo, but appropriate.
It's pretty much impossible to get decent fish out here anyway, so for years it was just off the table altogether. But a few times we miraculously got our hands on some decent fillets of salmon, and my Prince grilled them for us. And that was eye opening. Under his skilled hands, it was suddenly flakey and buttery and divine.

While we still have a hard time sourcing salmon, I've been inspired by that grilled loveliness to learn how to cook salmon on the stove or in the oven. It's still a work in progress, but we recently tried this delectable (and stupidly simple) recipe and loved it. I wanted to share. 

This is from the Thrive Market cookbook, attributed to JJ Virgin.  It took far less time to toss together than advertised, and is a new favorite.

Pan-Seared Salmon Over Tri-Colored Salad with Dijon Dressing*

2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots**
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground
black pepper
4 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 small head radicchio, thinly
sliced, about 2 cups
1 Belgian endive, thinly sliced,
about 1 cup
3 cups baby arugula
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil***
2 6-ounce wild salmon fillets, such as King or Sockeye
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Combine the lemon juice, shallots, mustard, salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Slowly whisk in the oil until well combined and set aside. 

In a separate bowl, combine the radicchio, endive, and arugula; set aside.
Heat the oil in a small nonstick skillet over medium heat.
Sprinkle salmon with salt and pepper and place in skillet, flesh side down; cook, until fish flakes easily with a fork, 4-5 minutes per side. Remove from skillet.
Toss the dressing with the lettuces and place on the two plates; top each with a salmon fillet.

*   Sub any type of greens or salad mix you like or have on hand.
**  I used regular onions, eyeballed them at well over this amount, and it was still excellent.
*** I subbed butter. (Yes, I know, I do that a lot.)

Wednesday, October 21

Hack Schooling

I think I first heard the term "hack schooling" a couple years ago when I listened to this TED talk. Generally speaking, I'm not a huge fan of the term "hack". I appreciate that for many people it has positive connotations, but it rarely works for me. In this particular case, however, I feel as if the term is the best one for what I'm doing: hack schooling myself on how to blog professionally and how to be a "solo-preneur" (another new word I wasn't initially sure I liked).

When I got my business degree a dozen years ago, the focus was on how traditional and formal businesses were run. The assumption was that most business majors would go work for Hilton or Disney or some other staid, high-end, highly professional employer. We practiced resumes, cover letters, business casual dressing, and other now-largely-obsolete aspects of corporate life ad nauseum. I'm deeply thankful for the deeply applicable background and skills I got in marketing, economics, product design/development, communication and basic accounting. I'm equally aware of just how little time we spent on many of skills I need now  like basic html manipulation, process development, and branding/materials design.

My Nutritional Therapy degree legitimately gave me everything I needed to get started, but there are so many ways to structure and run a career as an NTP that they simply couldn't dig very far into most of the behind-the-scenes mechanics. NTPs and other professionals have put together a variety of courses designed to cover these aspects, but I just can't see myself dropping $2,000 on something like that. Not when I have a business degree and a huge chunk of what would be covered is stuff I already know.

So I've decided to "hack school" myself, pulling together my own curriculum using a wide variety of free resources - books, articles, other bloggers' and professionals' tips and lessons learned, TED talks, tutorials... you get the idea! I've long believed in the power of self-education, and respected the fact that many of the most inspiring people in history - from the Founding Fathers to modern day entrepreneurs like Richard Branson - were largely or entirely self taught. I have spent enough time working alongside the higher education system (through food service and grant writing) to appreciate that I won't find what I need there anyway. With winter rapidly setting in, and the days getting shorter, it seems as if there's no better time to dig into studying.

I've already got a list of tools and resources lined up to start learning from, and a sweet friend sent me two of her top recommended books to explore. I'm staying open to other ideas as well, though, so tell me - what has touched you or blown your mind that you'd suggest I add to my list?

Tuesday, October 20

Mid-October Musings

I didn't realize that the official ides of October have come and gone until this morning. I've been elbow deep in projects as of late, and have done a terrible job of tracking time. But rather than focus on what I haven't done or been paying attention to, I thought I'd take a minute to celebrate the good things that have been filling my radar the last couple weeks.
  • Enjoying the Glorious Colors of Fall. That photo above/right is not our property (because I suck at photography), but it may as well be - it is abundantly gorgeous here. For all the stupid laws and ungodly taxes, I am blessed every day to live in the kind of place that most people have to try to vacation to.

  • Bedding Down the Garden. For the first time in my life, I actually got a garden properly bedded down at the end of the growing season! We ripped out the bedraggled remains of our tomato plants and pumpkin vines, tilled up the soil, then layered down compost, cardboard, and dried leaves. It was definitely a learning experience and I'll be more prepared next year, but I'm delighted to have done it (after years of thinking about it and not following through).

  • Planting tulip and daffodil bulbs. We planted a handful a couple years ago, but the spot we tried turned out not to be a good one; most didn't reappear this year, and none bloomed. So I grabbed a few packages from Lowes in September, and made time this past week to get them in the ground. I tried three new locations in the yard. Hopefully at least one will prove ideal for them, and I can get more and expand them next year. Spring comes late here, and I'm always more than eager for color, so I would love to eventually have a mass of lovely spring flowers.
  •  Shifting schedules and routines. I think I shared the Maker Schedule vs. Manager Schedule concept on here before. It is something I've been thinking about and playing with since I left grant writing, but what it looks like on a week-to-week basis has continued to change. Over the summer, fresh produce and house projects took precedence in my schedule. With the days turning colder and darker, and the menu leaning away from all-fresh-all-the-time, indoor and business projects have started to predominate. I feel as if I get a little more insight each week into how to make various actions, routines, and setups work for me, but every day still feels like a work in progress in some ways. 

  • Prepping for winter. Winter isn't my favorite season, but I try to enjoy the process of preparing for the change of seasons. Pulling out the rug for the living room floor, scouring the closets for where I randomly put the last few insulated winter curtains, and rotating quilts - it's a good exercise in gratitude and awareness as long as I don't let myself get stressed about the cold to come and everything I thought I'd get done in the summer and Fall but haven't! We had our first snow this past weekend, and that very much brought the reality of the coming winter home!
What are you enjoying this month?