Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Artist Spotlight: Aimee Sicuro

In This Boat Together by Aimee Sicuro

What better way to wrap up a long day than by enjoying the whimsical illustrations and paintings of Aimee Sicuro? I love her imagination and the beautiful use of subtle color and simple forms. All of the photos displayed were found on Aimee's website,; so if you like what you see here be sure to check out the rest of her work.  You can also support this fantastic artist and acquire a print of your very own by shopping her Etsy site here

Ego Trip by Aimee Sicuro

In Tandem by Aimee Sicuro

Union's Bliss by Aimee Sicuro


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Video: Lost Generation

My good friend Julie shared this video with me and I loved the message so much I wanted to share it with you. After spending a great deal of energy searching job postings today and feeling increasingly discouraged about the employment front, this video gave me just the gentle reminder about priorities I needed. 

Monday, April 27, 2009

Specialization or Diversification?

Assembly line photo found here

I often find myself lamenting the pressures of specialization. The social structures we have created, and indeed the capitalistic society we live in, reward specialization of tasks and skills.  After all – it was specialization that made Smith’s Wealth of Nations such a hit and sent the industrial revolution into overdrive with assembly line processes. However, I hate to think that I am only of worth to my country or economy if I possess high levels of specialization in one limited skill set. It makes for an unbalanced individual and certainly does not mesh with my personal goal of embodying a renaissance woman. 

But today I began to question my own grim view of specialization. As I strolled the aisles of my local mega-grocer, where I could fill my cart with baby formula, cut roses, imported stuffed green olives, reading glasses, rat poison, and even a firearm (should the poison not do the trick I suppose), I began to yearn for more specialization. Thinking back to my time abroad in Athens, Greece, I remember the small, specialized shops and have yet to find stores in the US that offer the same high quality goods.  For example, a short walk would take you past the baker, the pharmacy, the outdoor produce market, the sweet shop, and the paper store. Because each shop was so specialized, you could be certain that every minute of work went into perfecting the specific, if not somewhat limited, line of goods offered. The result? A far cry from the stiff baguettes, bruised tomatoes, waxy chocolates, and generic stationary filling our “one stop shops”. 

While there are some convincing arguments for diversification (it is convenient to find such a breadth of product offerings in one location and may provide a company with increased financial stability), there are also many downsides. Think about the mediocre dining at one of many Asian fusion restaurants. In theory, you can sit down to a dinner of Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese and Thai items that satisfy whatever your appetite calls for that evening. In reality, you wind up eating an okay-at-best-meal in which no one cuisine is prepared to its full potential. When one institution attempts to excel at offering such an extensive product line, one, and more frequently all, of the goods produced will suffer.

Maybe specialization is not so bad after all. 



Sunday, April 26, 2009

Lazy Sunday: Garden Hopping

No lazy Sunday for this blogger.  After a wonderful weekend visiting family in North Carolina (trip highlights include ample Wii-ing, an introduction to the strangely fantastic world of letterboxing, and the best taco bar this side of delicious), I spent my Sunday at the airport.  For most people the act of traveling elicits stress and anxiety, but for me the experience is purely enjoyable.  I relish the chance to read an entire book in one go while being surrounded by flocks of bustling people with such diverse pasts and reasons for traveling.  However, if I were to have a Lazy Sunday this week, I think some international garden hopping would be in order. 

France: Monet's Gardens at Giverny

Photo by Ted Drake via

Photo via

England: Garden at Sissinghurst Castle

Photo by McCurdy & Co. via Brits at Their Best

Photo by Zie via Garden Hopping

The Netherlands: Keukenhof Gardens

Photo by Linda Garrison via

Photo found at

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Valuable Investments: Sleep

Photo via Geoparent

Today's valuable investment needs no explanation: sleep.  We all know it's important, that getting enough sleep is imperative to good decision making and cognitive function, and that skipping out on our zzzzs takes a major toll on our physical health, our mental health, and, quite frankly, how enjoyable we are to be around.  But of course, when you are only halfway through tomorrow's report and your mind is racing with anxiety, short-term pressures seem to supersede the long-term benefits of eight solid hours of quality shut eye.  

So tonight, go ahead and let yourself unwind.  Turn off the TV and the computer and let your eyes adjust to the dimming evening light. This will signal to your brain that it is night time and your internal chemicals can sufficiently prepare your body for a period of rejuvenation. Spend some time making a mental list (or perhaps a physical list, whatever is more relaxing to you) of the things you are grateful for, and notice how this practice helps to melt away stress and slow your mind's chatter. Finally, visualize a soothing scene as you drift into the first stages of sleep. By allowing your body and mind to fully relax and prepare for sleep before jumping into bed, you can achieve more restful sleep and make the most from your time under the covers.  

Valuable Investments: Quality Wardrobe Staples 2

Here are two completely different takes (created by yours truly) on investing in a quality dress and purse. By following the guidelines in yesterday's post, you can stretch these two staple items throughout every season with style.

Staples: Spring

Staples: Summer

Staples: Autumn

Staples: Winter

Staples 2: Spring

Staples 2: Summer

Staples 2: Autumn

Staples 2: Winter

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Valuable Investments: Quality Wardrobe Staples

Photo via Superstock

No matter who you are, what your occupation, or the size of your income, there is one investment that is always worth spending the money on: quality wardrobe staples. There is no better way to outfit yourself for success than by owning a few, quality staple items that will last for years to come. A sale at your local Forever 21 (or similarly inexpensive, fad-driven clothing depot) may seem like the perfect opportunity to stock up on a number of pieces (5 tops for $35, no way!). It’s typically not until the first wash sparks unraveling seams and shrinking shirtsleeves that the buyer’s remorse starts to creep into our psyche. 

A more refined approach to purchasing new articles of clothing will save you the frustration of ill-fitting outfits and, in the long run, decrease the cost per wear of an item. However, a blouse that is expensive or carries a designer label is not inherently a quality staple. Stick to the following criteria when shopping for key wardrobe pieces, such a neutral suit, basic dresses, or fitted trousers, to ensure that you are making a wise investment.

1. Must be a team player

When shopping for staples, take time to think about how many outfits you can create from the new purchase. If you can easily come up with a number of outfits based on clothing you already own, it may be a keeper. However, if you think you have found a great piece but it can only pair with one or two other items you currently own – put the hanger back and walk away. A true staple will work with lots of other items you already own. If a seemingly “perfect” skirt, for example, does not go with the shoes and tops you already have – then this item is not a staple for you. Remember, each investment piece needs to be a team player with the clothing and accessories you already have. 

2. Countless years of experience

When selecting new wardrobe staples, opt for classic silhouettes and time-tested statements over the latest runway inspirations. Wardrobe staples are items you will come back to again and again for moons yet. The last thing you want to do is choose investment pieces that are the latest craze: chances are you will no longer wear the item once the fad has passed and if you do you run the risk of dating yourself. Instead, look for pieces that embody a timeless elegance. 

3. Comfortable speaking in public

While choosing neutral staples that transition easily from one season to the next is important, remember that your staples can have a voice too! You do not have to submit to dull pieces just because they seem practical. Instead, search for staples that flatter your figure and have a touch of your own personal flair. Just because so many people choose a black suit as their go-to piece for important meetings or interviews does not mean you have to do the same. I personally look terrible in black and there is nothing more stifling to me than dress pants. Instead, I prefer dresses in softer neutrals, such as brown or grey, which can be topped with a properly fitted jacket. The benefit of doing something different is two-fold. For one, your look will stand out as a breath of fresh air and serve as a testament to your unique character. Secondly, the confidence that comes from wearing items you are comfortable in will be apparent to those around you.

4. Compensation will be commensurate

Do not be too price-focused when searching for key wardrobe staples. Look first for high quality pieces that fit the above criteria before considering the immediate cost. When purchasing wardrobe staples you are making an investment that will continue to return dividends for hundreds of wears to come. In most cases, paying more for a piece that is tailored to perfection and wears with grace is a sign of a quality product. Be prepared to save, and spend, selectively. 

Stop by tomorrow to see some photo inspiration of quality wardrobe staples and get some ideas for how to transition your own staple pieces through all four seasons!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Valuable Investments: Regular Exercise

Photo via fitsugar

Today’s valuable investment can cost as much or as little as you want it to: regular exercise.  Now I will not spew facts about how important a weekly run is for your heart or how daily sweat sessions are directly correlated to a longer life.  We have all heard these claims from doctors and annoyingly fit friends alike, and a simple Google search will give you more information than you could ever possibly digest. Instead, I would like to share a few ways I notice that regular exercise has directly improved my own quality of life and offer some inspiration for making regular exercise a part of your own habits.

I confess: I have become so wrapped up in homework, job searching, and my own personal challenges the past couple weeks that exercise has been pushed straight off of my to-do list.  By the end of the day I would much rather eat a cookie (or five) and zone out in front of the TV before dragging my softening figure into bed. 

The thing is, many of the side effects I am experiencing due to increased stress levels (trouble sleeping, tiredness, indigestion, lack of focus, feeling anxious, low self-esteem, etc.) can be decreased or done away with entirely by maintaining regular exercise.  Of course, for many of us, exercise is the first habit to go when we face difficult times.  We reason with ourselves that a trip to the gym will take too long or that a big bowl of ice cream is a preferable way to deal with our busy lives. 

In reality, regular exercise should always stay at the top of our to dos.  When I exercise with regularity I find my entire quality of life improves.  I sleep soundly at night, and awake ready to roll out of bed – no snooze button necessary.   My thoughts are more controlled and my focus is heightened; it takes me less time to complete mental tasks and I am much more productive.  Indigestion and discomfort begin to ease and making healthier choices at mealtime becomes much more appealing, not to mention the improvements to our natural body functions, skin clarity, flexibility, and muscle tone. 

Perhaps the most important change I notice is that my body image improves drastically with regular exercise.  This has nothing to do with actual body shape or size, mind you.  Rather, regular exercise is a wonderful way to appreciate the glorious capabilities of our bodies and helps each of us to develop a sense of personal achievement.  For anyone, like myself, who has struggled with even looking at them self in the mirror, regular exercise is an important step towards reconciling body image distortion.  For additional resources regarding body image issues, please visit the links provided at the bottom of this article. 

Ok, your thinking, I know exercise is good but does this mean I’m supposed to start wearing spandex unitards, taking zumba-powerlifting fusion classes, and suddenly develop a taste for a bunch of whole grains I can’t pronounce?  

Of course not.  The thing about regular exercise is that it is not a one-size-fits-all practice.  I have discovered that what works well for me is taking long walks after meals, practicing yoga with a supportive teacher 3 or more times a week, and riding a bike or rollerblading in the park whenever the mood strikes.  Some of my friends prefer hitting up the gym first thing in the morning to set the tone for the day.  Others have taken to finishing the day with a run and some weight-lifting.  For others still, exercise means a daily walk with their spouse to connect with one another. 

One rut people get into is not allowing themselves to make changes to their exercise routine when necessary. The time may come when forcing yourself to get on a bike, lace up your sneakers, or pull that yoga mat from the closet is no longer meeting your body or mind’s needs. When that time comes (and this is likely to happen many times throughout our lives), you must be willing to try something new.  Sometimes this need for change is thrust upon us, such as having to give up running due to a chronic knee injury.  Other times our need for change is more intuitive, such as no longer being refreshed after what used to be a favorite gym class. If you sense you may be in an exercise rut, give one of these fun workouts a try:



Swimming slowly and mindfully

Jumping rope

Belly dancing with a group of friends

Taking a stroll through the park

Riding a two-person bike

Playing catch or Frisbee

Doing 20 minutes of high-intensity workout before lunch

Learning a dance with your partner

Trying Tai Chi

Lifting kettle weights

Using an exercise therapy ball

Taking a SCUBA diving course

So go ahead and add in time to exercise to your day-planner now.  Commit to moving your body more this week, and observe how it makes you feel.  Be willing to experiment a little until you find just the right combination of activities that has you sleeping like a rock and feeling radiant.  


Body Image Issues from the Eating Disorders Referral Organization

Body Dysmorphic Disorder Information for Teens Information on Body Image

Male Body Image Information via Infoplease

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Valuable Investments: Library Card

Photo via CAPS Library

I am kicking off day one of Valuable Investments week at Apartment 303 with a simple and free service we should all be utilizing: our local public libraries.  If you cannot remember the last time you saw the inside of your own town library, now is time to dust off that long-forgotten membership card.  For those whose wallets are without this priceless piece of plastic, there is no time like the present to head over to your closest bibliophile haunt and sign up.  Public libraries are a tremendous source of value for our selves, our communities, and our planet; a literal trifecta of value!

Value for Our Selves

Public libraries are a wonderful way to enrich our lives and minds through reading; one of the most time-tested forms of entertainment and knowledge sharing.  I do not need to explain the many reasons why it is important to spend less time in front of the television and more time engaged in a book that challenges our assumptions and helps us to see the world in a new light.  If it has been a while since your last visit, you may have forgotten the many services Librarians provide as well (after all, they do have a Masters in Library Science). These services include research help, book recommendations, locating old newspaper and journal articles, and ordering in books from affiliate libraries for your convenience.   In an era where each of us considers our Wikipedia and Google search skills to be sufficient, it is remarkable how efficient and effective the aid of a Librarian is. 

Your library card is your ticket to unlimited free entertainment and knowledge, and not just through books.  Libraries also stock DVD collections, journal and magazine subscriptions, books on CD, music scores, online news subscriptions, and free Internet access.  That’s right, all of this for free*!  *tax dollars notwithstanding 

Value for Our Community

Public Libraries serve a vital role in any community and are a great place to find out about upcoming events, local history, and all different types of community organizations.  Most libraries offer various book clubs, free or low cost lectures and classes, and children’s programs to boot.  So if you are looking for a way to get more involved in your community, or if you are new to an area and don’t quite know how to find your niche, start with your local library.

Value for Our Environment

Since the publishing industry is such a major polluter, it seems counterintuitive that hitting up your local library is good for the environment.  However, borrowing a book will always be greener than buying your own personal hardback copy…which is likely to be quickly tossed on your bookshelf where it will promptly begin gathering dust for next 25 years.  The concept of sharing resources in the same manner as libraries can also be applied to many other goods and services in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way (think the bicycle sharing program in many European cities, or the popularity of the Freecycle Network). Many libraries also allow you to access e-versions of books they carry – a convenient and entirely paper-free way to read. 

Given all of the value public libraries provide, it is amazing to think that so few people take advantage of their services.  So this week, pay your closest library a visit.  The investment of your time will reap major dividends, all around.  

Saturday, April 18, 2009

True Value

Photo via Doctor2008

It seems since we’ve entered the recession everyone and their mother is sharing new tricks for saving a quarter here and a dime there.  “I take the toiletries offered at hotels”, boasts one commercial.  “I save on tea by using each bag twice”, claims my friend.  I would not be surprised if someone is advocating turning your dried sweat into table salt. Times are tough for everyone right now, but that does not mean we should suddenly demote ourselves to using low quality goods (or eating our own by-products). Rather, economic downturns can be a great time to reassess what true value is... and I'm not talking about True Value hardware store here. To me, value is not just getting more items for your dollar, despite what the Wal-Mart commercials may lead you to believe. True value is investing in goods or services that yield long-term increases to your quality of your life.

This belief is why I choose organic and natural foods for my kitchen, a high quality day planner with all of the features I need, and a properly fitted and well-padded Swiss backpack. Each time I eat a healthful homemade meal I know I am setting my body up for a long and active life. Everyday when I consult my planner and can quickly locate my to-do list, my monthly calendar, and the business card I need, I have the confidence to tackle everything I want to accomplish in the short 24 hours I’m given. And as I pack my bag to the brim with ten pound text books I sigh with relief, knowing that I invested in a back-pack that will not dig into my shoulders or misalign my spine.  Notice how each investment is not only providing me with quality service now, but it is ensuring that my quality of life continues to improve. After all, that’s what an investment is, right?

This week I will be blogging about some of my most recommended, high value investments.  Some are more expensive, and some won’t cost you a penny.  Some are goods or services, and others are personal commitments.  All of them are great examples of true value.  I also hope that if you have not left a comment on my blog before you give it a try! I would love to hear your feedback and I hope you will share some of your own everyday investment ideas.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Spring Outfit: Smart in Brown

capped for weather

More snow in Denver today! You can tell the air is warming now because the snow looks less like flakes and more like fluffy, mounded lint globs falling falling from the sky. I'm summoning the effort to head back over to the library for round two of homework and admittedly my outfit leaves much to be desired (grey athletic pants, multiple layers of fleece pullovers, and a periwinkle baseball hat... none of which could be described as fitted or flattering).  

However, if I were not spending my day working in the retro revival that is Penrose Library (think orange walls and globe chairs)... and assuming I had a positive cash flow... this outfit would be just the perfect choice.  

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Oatmeal Kind of Day

For the past couple weeks my meals have consisted largely of convenience store protein bars and suspiciously bright and shiny vending machine selections (I think I started to believe Twizzlers should count as a fruit).  So despite my exhaustion yesterday I couldn't stand to open an empty fridge any longer and I headed to the Natural Grocers for some inspiration.  Some people might go to the bar to de-stress or find renewed energy in cultivating a green thumb or a cozy finger (for those who enjoy knitting...okay I just made that phrase up but I think it has potential), but for me there is nothing like the welcoming automatic doors of the closest organic food mart.  

I could, and frequently do, spend hours wandering the aisles - often making several trips down the same strip of shelf space to be sure I picked just the right flavor, the best brand, or to skim the nutrition labels one last time. After a while, I have forgotten what I was upset about to begin with and my head is too full of recipe ideas and excitement over the sale on strawberries that there's no room for stress.

So this morning I was still buzzing over my purchases as I had the first real breakfast in days. Organic oatmeal with hemp seeds topped with raspberries and cinnamon, side of sliced orange, washed down with sparkling grapefruit juice (2 parts grapefruit juice, 1 part seltzer water). It was just the sustenance I needed for the cold, misty weather we are having in Denver today. 

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The Lesson of Spring

Summer is sweat and tomato juice running down my chin.  Tasting soil as perfectly scarlet fruits burst over my tongue, still warm from the afternoon sun.  Sweaters in the evening keep stargazing warm, but shorts and bare feet remain a mark of freedom.  Fingers stained like a mulberry bruise that endless hours in the pool won’t erase. Lying still on the hottest nights waiting for relief in a cool breeze that never comes. 

Rushing in comes Autumn.  The crisp air fresh in my lungs sends a surge through my body.  I relish in watching the trees catch fire in golden flame, then envelope in one last crimson breath before the leaves take their final bow.  It may seem like a time of decay, but the excitement that comes with new school notebooks and carefully selected first day outfits is etched deeply in my own circadian rhythm.  Autumn is a new start. Not just a blank page, its a whole book to fill. 

Winter brings anticipation.  Eagerly awaiting the next storm, the next snow day, the next holiday…one countdown runs into the next disrupting any chance at a regular schedule for months on end.  Childhood fantasies of jolly characters linger and fill the season with a romantic hopefulness that makes sunless days spent wandering the indoors tolerable. 

But slowly comes Spring, the most taunting mistress of all.  She comes in waves - flirting with you one day and leaving you hollow and wanting the next.  She doesn’t slip by undetected, however.  You can feel her approach in the air before she appears at all.  Stepping outside this evening I felt the trademark breeze of Spring, easing the tension between Winter and Summer. Trails of her warm breath grace my cheek while the cool zephyr of a loitering Winter whips around my calves; extremes melding to create a perfectly balanced whole. Autumn may be my favorite season, but Spring delivers the lesson I need to understand most: Balance.  

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Attack of the Midterms

Wondering what I'm up to this week? You can rest assured that my view for the next several days will look remarkably like the picture below. Midterms have crept up on me stealthily this quarter, but today the pressure of what's to come finally hit. Only one more week to go till the onslaught of exams, papers, and project due dates.  My planner is covered with scribbles of group meeting times and haphazard to-do lists...which I hardly have time to jot down, let alone complete. 

Monday, April 13, 2009

Shopping In-Season

Photo by Roberto Giannicola found here.

The benefits of shopping (and eating) in-season are too numerous to count. Some of the more obvious reasons for buying local fare in its prime include snatching up the tastiest food around and preparing dishes that will leave your taste-buds and your wallet smiling. But there are many less-salient reasons to shop for local, in-season produce, such as increasing the nutritional value of each item you purchase and decreasing your carbon footprint (ever think about the ecological impact of your Chilean fruit salad?).  

Of course, eating locally and in-season is a lot easier when you have a tool to tell you what is ready for feasting upon in your area. Today I discovered's Peak-Season Map and I immediately saved the webpage to my favorites. The tool is simple to use and allows you to select the month and the state you live in to see a list of produce ripe for the picking. You can find the map here.  

Photo via Crop and Soil

April means slow growing for us in Colorado, but it is a great time for baked potatoes and apple snacks. I am already getting excited for May to hit for asparagus season!  One more month should also give me just enough time to find a suitable vegan rhubarb crumble recipe...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Simple Desert Design

Photo via Trendir

I'm not one for particularly stuffy or cluttered interiors, and when I found this desert house online the other day I just had to share it.  The home was created by Olson Sundberg Kundig Allen Architects and the firm won the 2009 Residential Architect Design Award for the innovative design.  The house isn't much to look at from the outside, but the interior is simply stunning.  No need for fancy wall hangings or intricate woodwork in this home - the Idaho landscape provides a 360 degree masterpiece year-round. I don't know if I could personally live with such a sparse interior design theme, but I love the incorporation of the natural landscape in the construction idea and the minimalist take on a warm and welcoming space. You can see more of Olson Sundberg Kundig and Allen Architects designs here

Photo via Trendir

 Photo via Trendir

Photo via Trendir

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Spider Mites!

Spruce Spider Mites via Pennsylvania Christmas Trees

I am afraid that Bonsai Bob, my beloved Juniper Bonsai, is in need of some serious emergency care. The poor little guy is completely under spider mite attack and the blasted little creatures are having quite the all you can eat buffet. First thing tomorrow I am going to pick up some insecticide spray in hopes of saving his delicate branches from any further harm.  My attempts at regular spray baths and air circulation at night have not been enough to keep the chlorophyll suckers at bay. The literature I have read cites spider mites as a common pest problem among the Juniper variety, particularly in the dry winter months. Common problem or not, Bob is not just any Bonsai; and while he is not Christian I am hoping that Easter will be a symbolic resurrection for my little fellow too.  

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


Image found here.

We had an interesting class discussion the other day and it made me think about the buzzword of many a leadership program, passion, in a whole new way.  The term is thrown around so often in the business school that I've been weary of using it too frequently myself. So when my professor started talking about passion at the beginning of class, I admit, I started to tune out.

I am glad that I didn't completely lose focus, however, because he was not talking about passion in some sort of grandiose manner. Rather, he addressed the issue of passion in such a realistic and applicable way that I left class that day feeling refreshed. His point was that the reason so many people are unhappy and unproductive in their working lives is because they are not doing what they're passionate about.  

Ok, so far this is probably old news to most of us. But what really struck me about his lecture was that he took that idea one step further - the reason so many people are in jobs or living lives they are not happy with is because they do not even know what they are passionate about. That means they might go to a job that makes them miserable everyday from which they receive no sense of satisfaction, but they do not even know what would excite them enough to pursue a different path.  That's powerful.

So how does one wind up in such a predicament?  From a student's perspective, I can understand the pressures to obtain a job right out of school.  We are taught to justify taking employment that does not reflect our true ambitions because we need security.  Our passions can come later, after we have a stable income and food on the table.  But wait, then comes an expensive wedding and the expectations of having children.  By that time you have already established a quality of life that would be compromised by the risks associated with a major career change or lifestyle transition.  And perhaps, over enough time, we have been so busy trying to maintain the lives we have built that we no longer know what we are truly passionate about.

The truth is, I do not know for sure what I am passionate about anymore either.  I have been so busy with classes, work, taking on leadership roles for the sole purpose of bulking up my resume, and pragmatically searching job postings, that I have less and less time to pursue my own interests... if I could remember what they are.  

Have you run into this problem?  Perhaps you are in the minority of people who wake up excited to get to work each day and disdain the sun's fall in the sky as it means you might actually need to stop for sleep.  For the rest of us - do you know what passion you would pursue if you could? What is preventing you from making a change and going after it?

I think my most prominent passions are purely delicious foods, finding new ways to decrease my own ecological footprint and encouraging others to do the same, animals and animal rights, bicycling, and getting people to laugh.  In an ideal world, I turn these passions into my life's work. If anyone has suggestions for how to do that I hope you will share. In the meantime, you'll have to read on to find out whether or not I can figure it out on my own.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Unexpected Chocolates

Image by Crystal Munoz found here

No other treat hits the spot for depth of flavor and luxurious texture the way dark chocolate does. My favorite varieties combine unexpected ingredients to create an interesting mix of flavors. Enter Dagoba Chocolates.  If you enjoy dark chocolate, or milk chocolate for that matter, you've got to give them a try.  I picked up a lemon ginger bar the other day and its tangy tones were the perfect match for the 68% cacao content dark blend. Dagoba's lavender bar is also one of the best I have tried with hints of fresh, sweet herbal essence.  What are the ingredients to your perfect chocolate bar? Mine might include lime and macadamia nuts. 

Image by Crystal Munoz found here.

Monday, April 6, 2009

After a Long Day

Flowers by Andy Warhol found here

"I'm afraid that if you look at a thing long enough, it loses all of its meaning." Andy Warhol

I am quite certain that Andy was not referencing my graduate marketing case paper when he first uttered these words.  Nevertheless, after 5 hours of writing, rewriting, formatting, and editing, it too began to lose all meaning.  I like to think of Andy and other eccentric artists and thinkers after I have had a long and stressful day of schoolwork and ponder what they would have to say about it.   Well, since Andy was one of the best marketers of all time, known mostly for his pop-art prints of Cambell's Soup cans, I'd like to think he would tell me to quit worrying about a silly marketing paper and get back to him when I had something of consequence to discuss.  

Sunday, April 5, 2009


We all know the harm that stereotyping others can do, but there is another form of type casting that is just as wide-spread and it affects each of us every single day: self-stereotyping. Now this is my own personal term for the practice, but whatever you choose to call it I bet you will recognize these symptoms:

"Oh I couldn't wear a dress like that it's too colorful for me"

"I'm too stupid to get into that college program, I'm not going to even apply"

"I can't believe I ate another piece of cake, there's no point in going to the gym I'm too fat"

"I never have fun going out with my friends unless I've been drinking"

These are just a few examples of self-stereotypes I have heard among my friends.  What makes these statements different from plain old negative self-talk?  The key is that when someone self-stereotypes enough, they begin to believe it.  Let me give you an example from my own life.  

As a graduate student I spend a great deal of time studying, writing papers, reading, and sitting in class. I am constantly surrounded by over-stressed students and we tend to commiserate with one another about our busy schedules, piece-of-work professors, and levels of fatigue. In fact, we are not just commiserating; we are competing to see who is the busiest, who has the worst professor, and who is operating on the least amount of sleep.  After enough of these complaint sessions, I have started to believe that I am the busiest, most stressed-out student to walk the earth.

So what happens when we self-stereotype?  We prevent ourselves from experiencing change and growth.  When we self-stereotype we are limiting our openness to trying new things and our stereotype becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy by affecting our decisions: That means my "stupid" friend will never give himself the chance at an education, and my "fat" friend will never be willing to see herself as beautiful and fit.  As for myself?  I hope to break this cycle before I turn into a sleep-deprived stress-ball subsisting off of Top-Ramen and Diet Coke.  

How do we break the cycle of self-stereotyping?  More importantly, how do we stop self-stereotyping without losing our sense of who we are?  For many people, their own personal stereotype can be comforting; being the "funny one" or the "ladies man" helps us to understand our place in a group.  I have a few suggestions that may help all of us to quit self-stereotyping and start opening up to change without losing our sense of identity.

1. Identify your stereotype

The first step to freeing yourself from self-stereotyping is to acknowledge that your stereotype exists.  It may be helpful to make a list of the stereotypes you have given yourself.  My list may read something like this: stressed student, always busy/never has enough time, always gets the hardest professors, buried in work.  

2. Identify ways you encourage your stereotype

Next, it is important to recognize the decisions you make or the actions you take which play into the stereotype you have identified.  You might want to break down each item from your first list and think about ways you have lived up to that stereotype in the past.  Let's use my example again:

Stressed student - I get worked up over each assignment for class, I frequently hurry from one class to the next instead of enjoying the walk and talking time to relax

Always busy - I pack my calendar too full, I turn down offers to fun events because I don't think I have enough time

Always gets the hardest professors - I complain about how difficult they are and how they don't understand students

3. Identify alternatives

Now that we have outlined the ways we self-stereotype and live-up to those stereotypes, let's think about ways to start breaking down these mental constructs.  I think the most effective way to do this is to brainstorm simple actions to take that go against the stereotype you are trying to banish.  Let's return to my example one more time for some ideas:

Stressed student - If I were not stressed, I would walk comfortably to class, enjoying the fresh air and noticing the sun on my face.  I would smile at the people I pass and ask how others are doing.

Always busy - If I were not always busy, I would take time to do yoga each day and I would accept the invitations my friends gave me.  I would not overbook myself with work.

Always get the hardest professors - If I weren't complaining about how difficult my professors are, I could use that energy to visit their office hours and get to know them better.  

Notice that each alternative I chose is proactive.  If I took these actions instead of the actions I identified in step 2 I would no longer be playing into the stereotype of "stressed student", but rather "successful, balanced student".  So go ahead and make a list of simple actions you can take today that go against a stereotype you feel is holding you back.  It can be something simple or something grand - whatever you are ready for.  Perhaps you can relate to my friend that doesn't think she can pull off a bright red dress because she has always been a wallflower. Take a small step: try wearing red nail polish for a day and see how it makes you feel.  You might find that you like having a bit more color in your life after all!

As for myself, I chose to take the evening off from homework to do some yoga and write an email to a friend instead.  I still have plenty of time to finish my work during the week, and having some time to relax now will help me to better handle stress later.  

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Feeling French

The title of this post may not be entirely accurate, seeing as I have never been to France - nor have I so much as known a French person for that matter.  I am, however, in the midst of Sarah Turnbull's book Almost French; a delightful read about her own adventures in the city of love. The book has me wishing I were strolling the halls of the Louvre, stopping at a sidewalk cafe for refreshment, listening to the beautiful French language, and, of course, gushing over Parisian fashion.  Since I'm adoring everything French today, I thought I would indulge my interest by sharing a few of my favorite French finds.

The Artist's Garden at Giverny by Monet found here 

Claude Monet has long been one of my favorite artists.  Best known for his lily pad paintings, Monet is the father of French impressionism.  What I love most about Monet's paintings is the sense of movement they evoke.  The play of light is captivating and makes you feel as if you are there to experience the very moment at which the sun catches the flowers just right. 

Image via Carol's Cafe found here 

While all French pastries deserve mention, French bread in particular is making my stomach growl tonight.  The more layers of hot, crispy crust, the better.  Preferably spread with tangy orange marmalade and washed down with a flute of genuine bubbly from the Champagne region.

Yann Tiersen is a French composer, perhaps most well known for creating the score to the movie Amelie.  I discovered Yann's music just recently and have been listening to his piano, violin, and accordion performances every day since.  His songs are so moving and emotional.

Photo via Jessica Korman found here 

Toile is a French original.  Developed in the town of Jouy centuries ago, this patterned fabric adds a touch of provincial flair to any decor.  The above bedroom in sun-drenched yellow and sky blue has me swooning.