Monthly Archives: May 2012

Work-life Balance

Work/life balance is a sneaky term that is meant to trick people into thinking that there is such a thing. A term that is meant to indicate that what happens at work is work, what happens outside of work is life, and there is a clear division between the two. Wrong! In casual conversations with my peers, the one thing I’ve heard on repeat is that companies eliminated jobs with the downturn in the economy, and then they never replaced the positions. This means that those who are left are expected to do “more with less” and for departments to churn out more results with half as many staff…. which in turn means that it’s even harder to find a happy medium between your at-work-life and your outside-of-work-life. 

Nigel Marsh, an accomplished businessman and author, quite succinctly summed up my feelings about work/life balance in his ten-minute TED talk from 2010 that really hit home. The part that stuck with me the most was when he said:

It’s up to us as individuals to take control and responsibility for the type of lives that we want to lead. If you don’t design your life, someone else will design it for you, and you may just not like their idea of balance. – Nigel Marsh

Nigel’s right! If one thing is for sure as a working adult, it’s that balance is not one-size-fits-all. It’s more important than ever to set boundaries with employers and colleagues – identifying when/how you will be available and more importantly than that, identifying when you won’t be available. And, if in doing so you realize that your employer is not on the same page as you, then it might be time to start looking for a new job. If work’s not working out for you, the only person that can change that is you.

Listen to Nigel’s TED talk: How to make work-life balance work and let me know whatyou think!

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One (not so) extreme coupon

I had an extra-long day planned the other day and in typical me fashion, I had only scheduled an hour of downtime between getting out of work and an evening commitment. I was determined to fit all of my errands into that hour and things started out well enough when I stopped by the drugstore to pick up a few a ton of necessities. It was good timing to run out of everything in the house – from toothpaste to toilet paper and more – because I had a 30 percent off coupon burning a hole in my pocket. After hitting up practically every aisle, I made my way to the registers and when I got there, my heart sank. SELF CHECKOUT ONLY.

Going through a self checkout for me is a guarantee that something will go wrong. I was never a good cashier in my past life when I worked at a cafe, and I’m still not. Inevitably, the machine will break. It will yell at me for putting items in the wrong place (how does it know where they are?). It won’t take my money. It will delete my order and make me start over. Or, in the worst possible scenario that happened the other day… IT REFUSED TO HONOR MY COUPON.

Now, I am not one of those extreme couponers – I just know the value of a 30% off coupon when I see one. I am my mother’s daughter after all – she is a sale shopping force to be reckoned with and has taught me well, dammit!

I alerted the “clerk” (who really is just someone who stands by the old registers and diverts people to the self checkers) and waited patiently while the manager came to the front. Things started out alright but they quickly went downhill. Ahem:

Me: My coupon isn’t working, can you help me?
Manager: Well if it’s not working, it’s not working.

HOLD ON A MINUTE. That’s the solution you go to right away – that you have no solution? Great. So we went on:

Me: You’re telling me there is nothing you can do for me?
Manager: Nothing.
Me: Not even like, an override? You can’t print one out and let me use it?
Manager: I could override it but then you would get TWO coupons – the one I print, and the one on your account.
Me: But the one on my account isn’t working.
Manager: Doesn’t matter, you’d get two.
Me: Well, one clearly isn’t working so I would only have one. In fact, I do only have one. Plus, I don’t really see how it’s my fault that the system isn’t working.
Manager: How would you feel about getting two?

Umm… I’m sorry, did he just ask me how I would feel about getting two? Was he trying to make me feel bad? I don’t know about you, but I would feel fucking fabulous about getting two 30 percent off coupons. I channeled my mom – she would not stand for this if she was here, and neither would I! Instead of debating my coupon morals with the manager, I tried to play it cool:

Me: I don’t really care about getting two, I’ll throw the other one out.
Manager: You don’t get it.

Holy shit. Did he just really say, “you don’t get it?” I may not be a mathematician, but I’m pretty sure I can add one coupon plus one coupon.

Me: (scoff) I don’t get it?

My disbelief at what he just said was lost on my new friend who then replied:

Manager: No, you don’t understand.

For the record: telling someone who actually does “get it” that they “don’t get it” in a different way will not solve any problems. It will only make them worse. If I had to pinpoint the moment when I morphed into a complete crazy person… this was it:

Me: Oh no! I understand! You’re telling me I’ll get TWO COUPONS if you DO help me, which you WON’T. I understand that JUST FINE. I GET IT.

Annnnd people were staring when the manager said: 

Manager: Well… (dead air)

It was clear that we had reached an impasse.

Me: Well… if you’re telling me there is nothing you can do for me, I don’t want any of these items.
Manager: But you already scanned them.

And, in a moment of sweet poetic justice, I still had my debit card in my hand because I was, after all, at the self checkout. As I waved said debit card in his face, I made sure to enunciate each and every word:

Me: BUT I DIDN’T PAY FOR THEM YET, DID I?

I left everything on the self checker machine and knew immediately that I could never go back to that store. They probably have a still frame from the security tape of me losing my mind marked, “AVOID THIS WOMAN AT ALL COSTS.”

In all seriousness, I let something pretty inconsequential get the best of me and I knew rushing through the rest of my errands would be a recipe for disaster so I threw in the towel, momentarily. I went for a walk, grabbed a bite for dinner, and headed off to the next event for the evening with a clearer mind.

Since the TP situation at the house was getting dire, I stopped into a different drugstore later that night to finish my shopping where, for the record, they did honor my coupon.

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Better Balanced Diet – Kicking the Diet Soda Habit

I’ve been hard at work over the last year and a half kicking bad eating habits out of my life. I’m proud of how far I’ve come – aside from cutting out a lot of junk and nutrition-less foods, I’ve even managed to curb my sweet tooth and now only have a couple small pieces of chocolate a day (as opposed to bingeing on sweets because I felt like it). But, one bad habit has been hanging around that I haven’t been able to completely kick: diet soda.

I’ve gone through phases with soda where I won’t drink much of it, and think I’m close to quitting, but then get pulled back in because diet soda just “goes” so well with a particular meal. It also “goes” against all the other healthy habits I strive for in my life: to eat natural, whole foods that have nutritional benefits and not to eat “just because.” I’m at the point where even the dog is eating a wholesome diet complete with natural dog food and raw veggies!

So, I did something today that I have been avoiding at all costs: I looked up and really gave some thought to the ingredients in diet soda. After reading for about 20 seconds, I got up, dumped the diet soda I was drinking down the drain, and vowed to quit cold turkey. I didn’t learn anything new, per se, but I did approach the information I was reading from a new perspective of wanting to kick this habit. As silly as it sounds, I thought to myself, “I would never in a million years let the dog drink diet soda, so why am I allowing myself to?” (I say this with some hesitation, because Cooper also eats a lot of things that I never would like sticks, bones, and the green fuzzy stuff on tennis balls… but you know what I mean.)  

Now that I’m ready to admit that I’ve been in denial about how worthless diet soda is,  I thought I would share some of the things that truly did scare me straight. This is only the tip of the iceberg, there is a lot of information out there (and much of it is sensational, to be honest, so read with a keen eye to the source!) but I thought these tid-bits were helpful:

  • “Caramel coloring” is tricky marketing wordplay
  • Aspartame is so far from acceptable in a clean diet
  • Potassium benzoate is used in FIREWORKS
  • The acidic nature of soda can ruin your teeth

I tried to pinpoint when exactly I became “hooked,” because soda wasn’t something I grew up drinking. It was an occasional treat. It wasn’t until college that I began to drink diet soda regularly – aside from an endless supply available on campus (and at all-you-can-eat dining halls where there were also piles of unhealthy food choices), I thought I would be doing myself a favor in saving some calories in the mixed drink department when we went to parties if I used diet instead of regular. Soon it crept into my every day life, and I began thinking that while some people drank coffee for a caffeine jolt, I preferred diet soda. It was my version of “coffee.”

Well, coffee substitute no longer – I’m making a conscious decision to cut it out of my diet once and for all. Wish me luck!

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Chicken Rolls with Asparagus and Mozzarella

The other day I walked into Fairway and right in front of me were these petite asparagus spears – they looked perfect for the chicken rolls that were dancing around in my head and with that, an impromptu recipe was born.  After picking up some thin chicken cutlets, I was ready to cook – I had everything else at home, making this an easy weeknight recipe that takes little thought, effort, or preparation.

CHICKEN ROLLS WITH ASPARAGUS AND MOZZARELLA

Ingredients

  • 4 chicken cutlets, pounded thin and evenly
  • 1 bunch of asparagus
  • 1 tsp. olive oil
  • part-skim mozzarella cheese
  • non-stick cooking spray
  • salt and pepper, for seasoning meat
  • whole wheat bread crumbs

    Chicken rolls w/ asparagus and mozzarella!

Directions

  1. Sautee asparagus in olive oil until bright green. Set aside.
  2. Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
  3. Spray a baking dish with non-stick cooking spray.
  4. Pat chicken dry and lightly season with salt and pepper.
  5. Lay out chicken breast, arrange asparagus on top, and sprinkle with mozzarella.
  6. Roll chicken around asparagus and cheese; place seam down in baking dish.
  7. Repeat with remaining chicken breasts.
  8. Sprinkle whole wheat bread crumbs on top of chicken.
  9. Cook for approximately 25-30 mins* or until chicken registers 160/165 degrees with a meat thermometer.

That’s it – veggies plus protein in one fell swoop and a nice way to switch up chicken and vegetables! I suggest serving this with brown rice or cous-cous as a side to round out a nicely balanced meal that makes for a yummy, crowd-pleasing dinner and great leftovers.

This is also a solid base recipe – you could switch out asparagus for mushrooms or another veggie, use a different type of cheese, or even make mini flank steak roll-ups using the same concepts. Happy eating!

*October 31, 2012 update: It might take a little longer than 10 minutes to cook your chicken depending on the strength of your oven, size of cutlets, etc. Never consume raw or undercooked meat – always rely on a good meat thermometer to let you know when food is done!

*November 11, 2013 update: OK, OK, I have heard you all loud and clear – I changed the cooking time from 10 mins – I must have a magical oven or be totally inept at keeping time. Originally, I only cooked these for about 10 mins but the cutlets I used were really, really, really thin. So don’t eat raw meat, cook it long enough, and plan ahead accordingly.

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Charles Wheelan’s “10 Things Your Commencement Speaker Won’t Tell You”

I can honestly say that this is the first year in my entire life that I have not felt like I measured the year against a school calendar – May is here and it hadn’t crossed my mind once that students all over the world are wrapping up finals and getting ready to graduate. It wasn’t until I stumbled upon this Charles Wheelan article in the Wall Street Journal titled, “10 Things Your Commencement Speaker Won’t Tell You” that I realized it’s graduation season.

I am so grateful that Wheelan put this together because I felt cheated out of a good commencement speech back in 2007. I’m pretty sure our speaker, a relatively famous politician, put “college graduation speech” into Google and picked the first thing he found. None of his words resonated or stayed with me that day, but I know Wheelan’s will ring true for me for many years to come.  Two of my favorites are below, and it’s not surprising that they focus on balance. You can enjoy the full list by clicking here.

3. Don’t make the world worse. I know that I’m supposed to tell you to aspire to great things. But I’m going to lower the bar here: Just don’t use your prodigious talents to mess things up. Too many smart people are doing that already. And if you really want to cause social mayhem, it helps to have an Ivy League degree. You are smart and motivated and creative. Everyone will tell you that you can change the world. They are right, but remember that “changing the world” also can include things like skirting financial regulations and selling unhealthy foods to increasingly obese children. I am not asking you to cure cancer. I am just asking you not to spread it.

Yes, yes, yes! There is such a stress on finding a job even before you graduate from college and I don’t think that anyone ever told me, “Do what you believe in.” I heard plenty of advice like, “Do what you love!” but it’s unrealistic to expect that someone is going to pay me to travel the world for fun, go to the the beach, watch movies, and take naps every day. I know I’ll be a career-gal for a long while; the more time I spend working, the more I know that my job must line up with my morals and I am not afraid to sacrifice a higher salary for a more personally fulfilling job.

I’ll leave you with my absolute favorite – something I know I need to do a better job of keeping in mind since, as cliché as it sounds, time flies and life is short:

8. Don’t model your life after a circus animal. Performing animals do tricks because their trainers throw them peanuts or small fish for doing so. You should aspire to do better. You will be a friend, a parent, a coach, an employee—and so on. But only in your job will you be explicitly evaluated and rewarded for your performance. Don’t let your life decisions be distorted by the fact that your boss is the only one tossing you peanuts. If you leave a work task undone in order to meet a friend for dinner, then you are “shirking” your work. But it’s also true that if you cancel dinner to finish your work, then you are shirking your friendship. That’s just not how we usually think of it.

I hope you enjoy as much as I did – and on that note, good luck to the class of 2012!

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