Saturday, January 31, 2009


If thermal underwear isn't enough to keep you warm, here's a favorite winter-weather recipe.

Doris Lamb's Clam Chowder
(I don't know who Doris Lamb is, but I found this recipe in my Grandma's cookbook)

1 can clams
1 onion finely chopped
6 cubed, cooked potatoes
1/2 c butter
1/4 c vegetable oil
1 c flour
5 cups 2% milk
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Pour clam juice over onion and cook until tender. Melt butter, add flour and blend together, add milk and stir until thick. Add clams and vegetables. Heat and serve.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

social construction zone

This month my book group discussed Your Money Or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence. A worthwhile read if you skip all of the case studies, which didn't add much besides approximately 100 pages of italicized text.

Besides having a good discussion all around, the book group touched briefly on status and social scripts. One of the main points of the book is that we usually think of work in terms of money. By confounding work with paid employment, we end up defining ourselves in terms of what we do for paid employment. But paid employment is only one part of who we are and what we do. There is a lot of "work" that we put energy into that is not paid. The book goes on to talk about how it is individually liberating to separate the concept of work and paid employment, because then we can have a self-definition and purpose that goes well beyond our 9-5.

I've been thinking about this in terms of social interactions. Not only do we define ourselves by our job, but we also define others (almost exclusively upon first encounters) the same way. We embed these social scripts into ourselves. Think about the last time you met someone for the first time. Which of these phrases did you use within the first 5 minutes of conversation?

"What do you do?"
"What brought you here?"
"What are you studying?"


I don't think these questions are meaningless or harmful. I think social scripts are important for creating common ground between people, for helping us make mental models that allow us to act appropriately and make people feel at ease. But when social scripts never go beyond just that, then we get into trouble. We make judgments about each other based on our paid employment, education ... in essence, our resumes. Personally, I hope my resume is not a very accurate portrayal of who I am. Hello, boring!

So next time I'm at a party, my goal is to bulldoze through the social script and get to the things that really matter. I'm not exactly sure how to execute this plan (the whole point is to get away from the script, right?). My best guess is that it will involve a lot of follow-up questions, and a good deal of real listening. It may even mean that I will start caring about the other person, instead of just thinking about myself and what witty comment I can interject next.

Wish me luck.

Friday, January 23, 2009

for everyone flogging themselves through eat-healthy-exercise resolutions

Stair machines are the worst exercise equipment ever. If you've ever been to the gym, you've probably seen the people on the stair machines. They look miserable. Collapsed over the arm bars, laboriously pumping up, down, up, down. Shoulders hunched, butts sticking out, faces bright red, still they pump up, down, up, down.

And no wonder they are miserable. What do you think about while you're on the stair machine? The eliptical crowd is sprinting through a lush green countryside, the rowers are dipping in and out of a glistening Potomac River. The stair machiners are ... almost to the 8th floor of the office building?

I saw the stair machiners the other day when I was at the gym. I wanted to tap each of them on the shoulder and say, "It's okay. You don't have to do this." And after coaxing them off their beasts of burden, I would explain to them that the remarkable truth about exercise is that you can actually enjoy it. And, for most people, stair machines don't enter into that equation.

With the New Year, I took stock of my 4 categories of a balanced life (mental, physical, spiritual, social) and made some goals for each. Under "physical" was eating well and being active. Thanks to Chaz and 6 months of unemployment, I was doing fairly well on being active with yoga, so it was easy to want to keep that goal going.

Here's the thing about Chaz. Cue angels singing. My sister introduced me to these yoga video podcasts called Yogamazing with instructor Chaz. Free yoga instruction, new 20-minute workouts each week, focuses on different areas of the body and different types of workout - balance, strength, flexibility. A well-balanced workout, new and exciting each week (with the ability to go back to past workouts you really like), quick, from the comfort of my office floor, and free.

Angels slowly fade.

So I was doing alright with yoga. But my husband and I both agreed we would like to do more. Our active season runs May through October, when we are playing Ultimate 3x/week. November through April is when we curl up on the couch, eat lots of meat, and get a comfortable winter layer.

Last week I purchased a gym membership to the university facilities which Abe gets into for free. We've been 4 times in 2 weeks, mostly playing racketball. It taps our competitive genes, so I don't even realize it's exercise because I'm so into finding ways to beat Abe. (Note: while racketball did prove to be a good way to love being fit, it also proved to be a good way to get us mad at each other. After a few seasons, we have worked that out. The solution is that Abe has to score twice as many points as I do to win.)

So if you're trying the exercise thing and it's not going so well, try something new. Find a partner to go with. Look up Chaz. Because I'm convinced that there's a good fit for everyone, it's just a matter of finding it.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

what is the big idea, anyway?

Part of my current job includes writing grants. Right now there is a large, local grant available for 1-4 community non profits that have a "big idea". The only specified criteria are that the grant (1) will have an substantial impact on a specified community need and (2) will succeed and be sustainable.


I can think of many things to say about this RFP, but the one that I keep coming back to is the "big idea". Because the more I try to figure out what a big idea would be, the more I think it doesn't really exist. I've got the notion that however you define big idea, the heart of it is that it solves a big question. Poverty. Homelessness. Abuse. Community vitality. Global warming. These big questions have the countless hours of I don't know how many experts working to solve them. Is it reasonable to think that they will converge on one solution? Or even one common set of solutions?

I'm imagining a summit meeting with the last 5 polar bears on earth1. The executives of the big idea (or maybe just their subordinates) present to the polar bears a 10-slide power point presentation, complete with animated transitions, on the 5-step plan to save the bears. After the presentation, the polar bears politely applaud, take the leather-bound report, and then go look for a walrus to eat because they can't get to the seals.

Maybe I'm being cynical, or ignorant, but I just don't think big change happens with a big idea. Maybe lots of big ideas. More likely, lots of little ideas.

This has become more apparent to me in my other job. I am putting together a training manual for the daily tasks of this community center. There is a lot of staff turnover, so the manual is to supposed to make it much easier to train new staff and utilize volunteers and aids to fill in on clerical and daily operational tasks, on the fly. It's only a mid-size idea on the community center scale. But as I've been putting this together, I realize over and over again that it won't solve all of the problems associated with staff turnover. It won't even solve all of the problems of training staff to do day-to-day tasks.

But the manual will take us a step closer to a solution. And another idea will take us a step closer, followed by another idea, and another. Maybe someone a lot smarter than me can read out the game tree and come up with one big overarching solution that packages all these little steps in a tidy process. But I don't buy it. I think we take some guesses, make some plans, and as many people do this at the same time, the law of large numbers turns in our favor. (side note: this makes me think that it's not about coming up with the right answer, it's about focusing attention on the right problem.)

And when that mess of ideas finally converges on a mess of solutions, somewhere in the world, a polar bear is grateful.

1 Polar Bears International puts the actual polar count today at 20,000-25,000. For comparison sake, that is roughly the same number as McDonald's locations around the world (31,000+).

Thursday, January 8, 2009

a nod to my november pledge to carpe every winter diem this state throws my way

I shovelled snow today for the first time this winter season. (Thank you $200ish of association fees ... I guess).

It was at the community center where I work, not my driveway.

And it was perfect shovelling conditions. Bright, sunny morning. No wind. 3-4 inches of snow - enough to make it worth it, but not enough to make your back hurt. And the walkway I had to tackle was only 3 feet wide and 12 feet long. 10 minutes, tops. Imagine picking out a new color of paint for your living room, dipping your roller brush into the freshly poured paint tray, and applying about a dozen long, deep strokes to the walls. And then being done.

Friday, January 2, 2009

a year in review

The New Year was off to a rocky start yesterday morning with a bad batch of raspberry waffles. How can raspberry waffles possibly go bad? Let's just say I like a challenge.

I recovered by spending the entire day in my pajamas.

And now for your reading pleasure, a review of 2008, in my words, as it happened. Direct from the Journal of Erin:

January 3 "We walked to the bus stop together. It was nice to have pleasant company when it was 12 degrees outside."

January 16 "I just couldn't communicate what seemed so obviously wrong with our plan."

February 4 "I've felt a little out of control lately."

March 4 "Snowstorm tonight."

March 22 "My birthday today. Abe threw me a surprise party. I screamed and fell over the couch when everyone yelled surprise. I was not expecting that."

April 14 "In other good news, I may have a good internship in Maryland this summer."

April 17 "I didn't get the internship."

May 12 "Now we're back from Israel, graduation is done, jet lag is wearing off, and I'm getting over a nasty cough. I'm starting my job hunt, and we're moving in a few weeks. To add one final complication, Abe was just called to be the 2nd counselor in the singles ward."

June 11 "Idleness is a difficult burden. Maybe if I make a long enough list of possible projects it will help me find something to do."

August 25 "August went by in a hurry. not because I've been very busy, I can tell you that. Still no job."

September 8 "The job search is coming just as well as it always has. Slow. But I remain hopeful."

September 17 "Life updates: I've had a dead toenail on my big toe, sort of halfway stuck on there, for 4 months now."

October 7 "I tried deep breathing - luckily I've been practicing yoga for the past 3 weeks - and that helped."

October 17 "In the midst of trying to find my place in life, and do something meaningful, I want to remember that probably the most meaningful things I do will have nothing to do with my job."

Oct 22 "On Friday I start work."

Nov 30 "I never want to go shopping again."

Dec 12 "I'm feeling mediocre about things overall, but maybe that's just a side effect." [Note: this entry was written in the morning. By the end of the day I was in the ER.]

Dec 25 "Merry Christmas!"

(for more edibles from my journals past, see the dreams post.)