Monday, September 21, 2009

From Gecko to Caveman

At DQ earlier this week, I was blown away as I realized just how effective Geico's caveman marketing campaign has been. I went out with my boyfriend to get an after-dinner treat, and the man behind us in line had a physical appearance, which to be frank, was not even close to the spitting image of the neanderthal from the commercials. In fact, the only attributes that were remotely close to the caveman were his long-ish hair and casual clothes. Yet, immediately when I saw him, my mind went to the caveman in a TV commercial during which neither Geico nor car insurance were even mentioned. All that played was the song, "Let Me Be Myself" by Three Doors Down and a loop reel of the caveman running in slow motion towards the camera. What an awesome thing, Geico. I applaud you.

My memory brought me back to an image of your all-too-well-known icon and a catchy song that will be stuck in my head (again) for the next week. All this, because some guy in line behind me at Dairy Queen had long hair. If every long-haired man in jeans and a t-shirt made me think of Geico, I can't imagine what it's doing to the rest of the world. Geico is the fastest growing consumer auto insurance company in the U.S. with over 9 million auto policyholders. With results like that, the marketing gurus working for Geico have got to be wondering: "What recession?" From Gecko to Caveman, someone's doing something right over there at Geico.

Monday, September 14, 2009

"Viral Marketing"

"Viral Marketing" is a scary phrase. People hear "viral" and think they'll contract a disease if they get involved. So, they tune out. How do we immunize so that we can go about our business of spreading the "disease" of our good name, brand, and products? Educate.

Wikipedia defines "Viral Marketing" as:
"A marketing technique that use pre-existing social networks to produce increases in brand awareness or to achieve other marketing objectives (such as product sales) through self-replicating viral processes, analogous to the spread of pathological and computer viruses. It can be word-of-mouth delivered or enhanced by the network effects of the Internet."

Twitter is one of the fastest-growing tools for viral marketing today. It enables individuals to share their lives, beliefs, thoughts, and work with people they've never met in an instant. That's a powerful thing. There's a lot of skepticism around Twitter, as there is around Wikipedia, since anyone can post anything to the sites. Yes, it's true that you can't trust everything you read on the internet. But, for the most part, people want to help others, not hinder them. Unlike Wikipedia, however, Twitter gives users a personal brand, by which they can build the trust of their followers. When I began using Twitter, I followed only the brand names that I already knew and trusted - CNN, Time, Digg, my family, my close friends, celebrities I respect. The more I participated in conversations on Twitter, the more I was exposed to other people, who I don't "know" per se, but who I've spoken with over the web and learned to trust information from. We tweet and retweet each other, and our networks have expanded as they have recommended their friends and followers to me, and I to them. Now, I have over 400 followers reading my thoughts, commenting on articles I've read or written, providing constant feedback of my work and my ideas. A business could do a lot with a system like that.

"Viral Marketing" in my own words is one person sharing a good idea with another person, who shares that idea with another two people, each of whom share it with another two people, and so on and so forth. That idea spreads rapidly this way, through trust relationships. For marketers, this is a beautiful thing, but viral marketing is difficult to track and measure results of a campaign. How can we realize the results of a word-of-mouth marketing campaign if it's all done in people's homes over dinner table conversation, or at coffee shops? There are tools out there that can do some of the measuring for us, for a hefty fee. There are surveys that we can pass on, asking our prospective clients how they heard about our ideas. But, our current clients are more likely to pass the idea on if there's something in it for them - an incentive.

JumpReach is a viral marketing tool that allows you to encourage your existing customers to share your ideas with their contacts (using incentives), makes it easy for them to do so, and tracks the results of your word-of-mouth marketing campaign, so you can easily see that the money you put into it was well worth it. We want your campaign to work. We want the business that you draw from that campaign to pay for our relatively inexpensive tool and much more. We are excited and passionate about this tool and what it can do for you; we are after hearts and minds, not just eyeballs. We want you to take a look at what we have to offer, and we want you to see how great it is, how affordable it is, how unique and valuable it is. We want your feedback about how we can make JumpReach better for you and your campaign. Follow/DM JumpReach on Twitter @JumpReach or check out for more information about this amazing new tool that could transform your marketing dollars spent into dollars earned.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

"The Game"

Sophomore year I decided to major in philosophy. I took an introductory course with my soon-to-be college advisor, who was inspiring and passionate about her subject. She had a way of explaining the material and prompting discussion that made me want to do the reading and participate in class discussions. But I had further motivation for my hard work in the class - a game.

Katherine, a friend and sorority sister of mine, sat beside me and we quickly befriended two boys who sat nearby. Early in the semester, the four of us began playing "the game" and as a result, we became the star students and key contributors to class discussion. I don't remember whose idea it was originally, but "the game" became a fascination for us.

Just before each class, we agreed on a word to incorporate into discussion, as well as chose a score-keeper for the day. Throughout the hour, each time the word was used without giggles, the user received a point. The scorekeeper deducted points for laughing and awarded extra points if the professor used the "word of the day" during your turn. After using the word, you had to wait for someone else in the group to use it before you could take another turn. This kept the game interactive and moving.

We selected words based on how they sounded, how challenging it would be for us to incorporated them into the discussion (and it was meant to be a challenge), and how often we used the words on a regular basis in our daily lives (the less frequent, the better). We used: "terrifying," "tiger," "quintessential," and "oblong," among others.

My favorite use of the word of the day was when we used "tiger". The class was discussing applied ethics. To support her main point (I don't remember now what that was), Katherine gave an example that compared human interaction to the relationship between a tiger and an antelope. The example was drawn out and awarded Katherine and all four of us lots of points for the day, since that one example stayed alive for a good 30 minutes of class-time.

"The game" was something that kept us motivated and entertained through sometimes slow-moving subject matter. I still wonder if our professor knew...

Friday, August 21, 2009

I Used To Think...

that all married people loved each other. that the best things in life are expensive. that healthy foods are healthy in any portion. that good, hardworking people have no trouble finding employment. that bad things don't happen to good people. that God works in mysterious ways. that grandparents are always nice. that the home team is going to win. that "gay" means happy. that effort is appreciated. that people always try to be good, even if they sometimes fail. that when something is broken, you replace it or hire someone to fix it. that the cranberry juice at the grocery store is made from cranberries. that my friends and I would grow up to be astronauts and ballerinas and firefighters.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

"Investigative Reporting"

I was recently offered a position as an Investigator for the United States Investigation Services, a former US Government agency, which was privatized in 1996, and performs roughly 90% of background checks on new government hires. As a recent grad who's been looking for work in the Public Relations/Marketing industry, it often comes as a surprise to people when I tell them that this is the way I'm launching my career. Allow me to explain.

As an investigator, I'll be traveling all over the DC Metro area conducting interviews of family, friends and former employers and co-workers of people aiming for positions in government, or where a clearance is needed. I'll also be visiting courts and collecting all the information I need in order to present a detailed report that will give an adjudicator the required knowledge to make judgments regarding our nation's security, and potential risks to it.

It may seem a far stretch, but in actuality, I'll be performing a task similar to what journalists do, but with more at stake. Based on what I find in my investigation, and what I write in my reports, people will either be getting hired or losing their candidacy for a job; they'll either get past the security system, or they'll hit a roadblock. What I'll be doing has tremendous impact on United States security.

It's an important job, and I'm enthusiastic and energetic to get started with my training so that I can get out there in the field and start working. USIS is an exciting place to be working these days. The company is undergoing a lot of change, including a transition to a new brand, that of Altegrity, as it switches hands. The website already has a new look and I'm sure I can look forward to some interesting and innovative thoughts in the way of marketing there.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Gen Y's Undeserved Reputation

"Generation Y", the population of nearly 70 million 20-somethings born in the mid-1980's and later, the "Millennials" are the fasted growing segment of today's workforce. Yet, Gen-Y has somehow formed a terrible reputation for itself. Young people today are known for being arrogant, attention-craving, and entitled. How did this reputation form? I do not know. And I wish it were not so.

As a member of this "plugged-in", ambitious generation, I too was coddled by overprotective parents who wanted nothing more than for me to have a healthy, successful life without making the mistakes that they did in theirs, nor having to struggle as they did. Instead of getting a paper route at age 15, we were sent to summer camps and joined soccer teams and school orchestras and did volunteer work in our communities. Instead of starting our professional lives at age 15, we, as a generation, generally were not expected to think about a career until 18, when it was "time to go to college". My parent's generation was much more focused, as far as careers go, than mine; my grandparent's generation even more so. When graduation from high school came, and money was tight, families seriously considered the pros and cons of sending their child to college. If the kid didn't have a good idea of what they would use their college degree for after the fact, then the kid didn't go to college. They went to work. The purpose of a college degree was to prepare oneself for the working world.

What I'm finding out now is that college did not prepare me for the working world at all. When I entered the College of William and Mary as a freshman, I had no clue what I wanted to study when I got there, or what I wanted to do for a living after school. I didn't know who I was, really. College helped me to explore myself, and find out what I'm truly passionate about. As I was trying to decide on a major, adult mentors in my life gave me this advice: "Major in something you love. Don't worry about how you will use that in your profession. Most likely, you'll go on to grad school anyway, and you can focus on your career goals then. Don't waste this great opportunity to learn about something you're passionate about now." How I wish I did not take that advice.

Alas, I did. I became a philosophy major, or as I like to think, I got a degree in something that covers all bases. I learned to think deeply about a myriad of subjects. Since I was having such a hard time deciding on just one subject to focus on, philosophy allowed me to explore them all. I took classes in the philosophy of language, the philosophy of science, social and political philosophy, ethics. Philosophy professors and students engaged in discussions about current events, while we read great literature by brilliant minds such as Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Locke, Hobbes, and Kant. I enjoyed it, mostly. And I consider myself a well-educated young adult, with a true appreciation for learning and profound thought.

My recent graduation from college and thus deposit into the vast world of job-seekers has proved rather difficult, without a professional background in my education. I'm not only lacking that experience, but I also lack professional work experience in my fields of interest. My personality, interests and passions do not point me in the direction of professing philosophy at a college or university, and my internship experiences while I was in college were at an investment bank. Although a great working experience and environment, in which I learned new skills and met fantastic and enthusiastic hard-working people, through that two-summer long internship, I also learned that I do not wish to pursue a career in investment banking.

So what now? It's a buyer's job market, and there are plenty of laid off workers who have years of experience, glowing recommendations from previous employers, and are willing to take jobs for which they are overqualified, just because those jobs are available. Employers are happy to have proven, experienced workers on their staff, working for entry-level salaries. They seem nervous about considering Gen-Y people for their open positions because of this reputation that the Gen-Ys have for needing constant attention and close watching over, and guidance, while feeling entitled to immediate professional respect, high salaries and paid vacations. If I really thought that all "Millennials" fit that description, I would understand their hesitation. But, as an active entry-level job-seeker in Generation Y, I am offended by this large-scale generalization.

Generation Ys have a lot to offer businesses. We understand our fellow Gen-Ys, who are fast becoming the largest target audience and buyers for the majority of businesses. We quickly adapt to new technologies, and are constantly looking for new solutions that make life easier, effective and more productive. We are confident and ambitious, achievement- and team-oriented. We are not beyond asking for help, and as far as I can tell, that and those listed above are good qualities to have.

Here's my plea for help: I wish more Generation X's would take on a role as mentors to young adults, share their experiences and sentiments, so as to increase understanding and communication between the generations, and to break down that "bad rap" of Y's in the minds of X's everywhere...

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Power of Twitter

Twitter's applications and value become more and more apparent to me daily. My first impression of this new social media tool was "This is nonsense. No one cares that you ate a grilled cheese sandwich at 2:32 on June 16th and even included a link to a photo for it." I joined Twitter just to scope it out, see what all the hype is about. At first, I used it in such a way that my prophesy was a self-fulfilling one. I followed my friends and a few news syndicates. I learned very little in real-time, other than the second when my buddy had found some new, time-wasting youtube video. The more I explored Twitter, the more I learned of its applicability and the more I liked using it.

I started by following all the people on the list of Twitter-recommended followers. A few followed back, but mostly, it was ineffective as far as keeping me interested and getting my own tweets seen. Then, I started running some searches for things that interested me: music, marketing, PR, health, food, wine, philosophy, school, careers, networking, etc. I looked through seemingly endless lists of tweets on those or related subjects, as people had used hashtags (#) to document them for this exact purpose. And so, I learned the value of the hashtag. I started following some of the people who had posted tweets that caught my eye, and before I knew it, I was off and running with quite a few more followers.

This became a continual process for me. Every day, I make a point of running another search for a topic of interest, and following a few more people. It may be a slow process, but it's one that I am enjoying, and it's setting off all kinds of fireworks in my mind. Now, I have a dashboard application that unobtrusively shows me incoming new tweets in the corner of my screen, without interrupting whatever I'm working on. I am learning about all sorts of different things that I never would have had access to or time to dig up otherwise. I am contributing to conversations and getting my own questions answered, or at least discussed.

Recently, I've become a "Twitter Strategy Intern" for, an online career resource center. As an intern, I'm working as part of a virtual team to promote Careerealism, and to give job-seekers, like myself, a little bit of hope and guidance in a lonely, desolate job market. In the past six months, Twitter has changed my life, and the way I communicate with strangers. It is set up so that it feels personal and intimate, yet I'm talking to people I've never met, who live all over the world. Twitter is empowering.

I recently came across EventManagerBlog with a video post called "Tweetcamp '09 and Unconferences", and it really got me thinking about the possibilities that Twitter opens up. Can you imagine going to an industry conference, where a speaker stands up at the podium, behind him a large projection screen showing a Twitter feed. Everyone at the conference has their iPhones and Blackberry's in hand, typing away to contribute to a larger conversation, and to give immediate responses to what the speaker is saying. This conference has become an educational forum, a discussion, and increased the efficiency of what can be done there. As they say, "Two heads are better than one." Well, imagine what 400 heads, all with extensive industry knowledge and experience, could do. Twitter is a powerful tool, and it is at everyone's fingertips, if they choose to let it be.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Got Joy?

The covers move beside me and I feel myself being jerked from a peaceful sleep. Annoyed, I slowly open my eyes into slits to glare at the creature that has disturbed me. It's still asleep, but morning is upon us. That won't be the last rustling. I slowly stand, stretch my arms, arch my back, make my hairs stand up so that cool, fresh air rushes in to my skin. As I walk past the food and water on the floor, I feel a pang of hunger from within, and stop for a small snack. Then, I find a cozy place to doze uninterrupted until it rises.

These people make so much noise when they move around, it is impossible to miss one. She gets up and stumbles to the bathroom, clanging around, running water, brushing teeth. I watch her walk past and downstairs, and slowly follow her, watching, watching. She goes to the desk first, as always, sits at the computer for a few minutes. Like an alarm clock ringing, the beast within her growls and she gets up and heads to the refrigerator. When I see her pull out a brand new gallon of milk, my mood lightens. Nervousness and excitement are upon me at once as I watch her slowly remove the blue plastic piece that allows her access to the milk. I am sitting on the floor at her feet now, attentively looking up in anticipation. I do my best to make myself known without seeming overanxious. I ask politely, "Mine?" She looks down at me, smiles, says good morning, and tosses the plastic to me.

Joy! The object of my desire is in my possession. I toss it, hold it, watch it, run with it, stalk it, pounce on it. The person is back at her desk. I daintily carry my prize to her and lie down at her feet with it, gazing up at her longingly. She looks down. My muscles tense, ready to protect. I see her hand move toward me. My head is close to the ground now. She reaches for my piece and grabs it. My heart is racing. She flings it away from her, and I go flying with it. My body moves with this little piece of plastic. I can't control my movements until it is back in my possession. I allow my heart rate to slow as I make my way back to her, toy in teeth.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Meeting Goals That I've Never Set

I read an article today that inspired me to think hard about what I have improved about myself in the past month, in the past six months, and in the past year. This article asks you to be honest with yourself - have you set realistic goals for self-improvement, and have you met them? Or are you going through the motions of life, living day-to-day, and not thinking about such things at all?

By setting goals, and writing them down, you're more likely to achieve those goals. We've all heard this before. Yet, often when I set goals, I neglect my own self-improvement. I suppose I do, to some extent, make myself better, I grow as an individual and a professional, by achieving the goals I have set for myself. But, my focus has never been on myself, and my own personal development.

When I got to college, I decided to relax a bit, not involve myself in so many things as I did in high school, have a social life, and balance it with my schoolwork so that getting A's was not something I ever stressed about. As a result, I had an enjoyable college experience, I didn't always get the A, but I made great friends, and did some important things. I made a difference in the lives of the people who were closest to me, and in the lives of people I'd never met. I felt fulfilled by my life there. That is, in every area of life except my "career". I began my philosophy degree with a positive outlook, I enjoyed the few classes I had taken in the discipline before, and I looked forward to contemplating large and unanswerable questions further and learning how to answer them. What I didn't realize I would miss, however, by choosing a philosophy major, was everything else. I enjoy a variety of subjects, and I thought I was doing good for myself by picking a major that covers topics of all sorts. I took a Philosophy of Science course, and a Philosophy of Language course, and an Ancient Greek Philosophy course. I learned about all sorts of different disciplines by making philosophy my chosen subject. However, the manner in which I learned them was not my style.

As a philosophy major, one is required to think critically and analytically about questions that are impossible to answer correctly or incorrectly. You read and read and read these profound works that philosophers have written to try to answer these questions, and then you discuss in class how they haven't actually answered them at all. It may be a cynic's major, and a cynic I am not. I would have preferred a more "useful", practical major, as it turns out, that allowed me to think for myself, and get the answer correct occasionally, if not all the time.

Regardless, here I am now, a fresh graduate of the College of William and Mary, searching for employment in fields in which I have no prior experience, and competing with the rest of the largely unemployed world for those few spaces. Now is a good time to think about how I've improved, and to start setting goals for myself.

Here's where I think I've been in the last year or so:

- I have grown as an individual. Throughout college, I have learned to communicate with people in a way I was never able to do in high school. I have grown from someone who was buried in her books and her music, as an awkward high-schooler, into a well-balanced, informed adult.

- I have defined my religious, and political beliefs. I have moved out of my mother's Catholic house and found that the world makes more sense to me and I am a happier person without the guilt and threat of hell that Catholicism put upon me. I have become a listener of NPR and engaged in discussions with friends and family about political beliefs, and adapted my own ideology based upon what I've seen and heard.

- I have realized what is most important to me in life. I have ranked my priorities, my values, written them down, and acted accordingly to reflect where those values stand.

- I have striven to be kind and caring to everyone around me, and to be patient. I have made conscious efforts to stay positive, and to expect the best from people, but not to let disappointment take over when they don't always deliver.

- I have defined my strengths and my weaknesses, and I have asked my friends and family to help me with it. I have gotten them involved in my life, and my search for self-fulfillment, and happiness.

What will I aim for next? That's something to think about. These things listed above just happened. They were not planned out, they did not come about through thoughtful examination. It will be interesting to see what that extra thought does to accelerate my personal development, my self-improvement.

What has worked for you? Any suggestions?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

We're Not All Spocks

According to this article on npr's website, the city government in Greensboro, NC is paying teenage female students $1 for every day that they're not pregnant, in an effort to reduce teenage pregnancies. As a result of this plan, the teenage pregnancy rates in Greensboro have dropped dramatically. Some economists and psychologists explain this as a phenomenon that traditional economics cannot explain. Traditionally, economists have built their models based on what the perfectly rational person would do. Since experience has proven that these super-human rationalists do not exist outside of the Vulcan world, liberal economists are suggesting that we (and our government) should "nudge" the irrational away from poor decision-making.

While I'm all for "nudging", I fail to comprehend why certain American tax-payers, who are just doing their part to make a living, provide for their families, and maybe help a few other people along the way (by their own, direct choosing), are responsible for providing the "nudge" - in the form of their own hard, and well-earned income. Maybe this "nudge" should be implimented in a more positive way for the government, and for its hard-working, honest, clean, and mostly rational citizens. Say, for instance, instead of giving teen girls money for not getting pregnant, the government could enforce a law that pregnant teens should be imprisoned, and then educate them of this law. That's basically what they're doing to themselves anyway by "allowing" themselves to become pregnant. They are committing themselves to a lifetime of strife, and committing their child to the same. That is, if these young mothers choose to carry their fetus to term. If it was common knowledge that teen girls under the age of, say, 18 got sent to institutions for the rest of their lives, I think the effect would be similar to giving them money. Maybe the way to knock some sense into people is by empowering them to make rational decisions based on their fear of the consequences for them not making those good decisions.

I can hear the argument now: For a teenage girl, the consequence of having a baby at their young age is already a fear. They already know they'd be trapping themselves in a life that is much more difficult than they had planned, where their dreams will be that much harder to achieve. I haven't been a teenager for years, and the thought of becoming pregnant at this stage of my life is terrifying to me. For some reason, however, I can think rationally about this, and stop those hormones from taking over my life, and use my brain. These teenage girls are not all stupid. They may come from backgrounds that are not the best influences, that have not molded them into perfect little future lawyers, doctors, etc. But that doesn't make them stupid. We should be giving these girls more credit for their smarts, not money to bribe them into not having unprotected sex. Young people who grew up in 'bad' neighborhoods, in poverty, with poor education systems often end up having better common sense and street smarts than those who have been pampered from birth. But, I doubt you'll see too many city governments passing out checks to teenage girls at the country club. Why is that? Because their parents protect them from boys? Because they don't have the people skills to interact with a member of the opposite sex, let alone sleep with one? Because their teachers told them not to have unprotected sex? Are we really expected to believe that less-well-off cities have teachers who promote their students engaging in such activities? I don't think so.

Put on your thinking cap, Mr. mayor, economists, and psychologists, because this one doesn't sit well with me, and I have a feeling it's not going to sit well with a lot of other folks out there either.

On a more extremist end, earlier tonight, Andrew posed this simple solution to the problem: kill all pregnant teens. That's a bit more than the "nudge" that would likely be most effective - more like a wallop.

Thanks to @GuyKawasaki for tweeting the link out to his Twitter-following world via npr.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Transitioning to a New Watering Hole

A few weeks ago, Andrew and I moved to Tysons Corner following my graduation from William and Mary in Williamsburg.  I grew up in Clifton and thought I knew the surrounding suburbs well.  Andrew lived in Fairfax Station for 4 years, and is familiar with DC, but has spent very little time exploring the 'burbs.  Together, we should have been a fantastic team to move in together in Northern Virginia.  Alas, I do not know the area as well as I thought I did.  The truth of the matter is that whenever my mission took me as far as Tysons from Clifton, I was going shopping at the mall.  Tysons Corner shopping is fantastic, but it is such a small part of the place where we now live and work.  

Coming from Williamsburg, we were both very expectant.  We had high hopes for what this area could offer us.  Williamsburg is a beautiful town, with a lot of history, but for a young couple with unending energy, Williamsburg moves very slowly.  Still, we have our favorite places there to eat, to get drinks, to see a movie or to buy a pair of jeans.  Tysons presents us with many new and exciting things.  I told Andrew yesterday as he expressed his feelings of detachment from everything we knew and were used to, "I'm glad for that.  This is our home now, and that gives us a million new and urgent reasons to make new friends and to explore our surroundings."  

Tysons has a lot to offer us.  However, the one thing we have been unable to replicate from Williamsburg, that we wish we could, is our favorite "town watering hole" - The Green Leafe.  There aren't exactly 'bars' in Williamsburg, per se.  The college students refer to the trio of pubs on the corner of Richmond Rd. and Scotland St. as "the delis".  This trio is comprised of The Green Leafe, Paul's Deli, and The College Delly.  During the day, these places are normal small, quaint restaurants.  The Green Leafe is a traditional pub, Paul's is a sports bar, and College Delly is...well, it's a bit of a dive.  At night, the delis come alive with activity.  The flow of students and townies into the delis is slowed only by the bouncers, checking IDs as people enter.  

What made the Green Leafe so special for us, and different from other bars that we have tried out in Northern Virginia?  
The Green Leafe was so close to us.  For the majority of the time we lived in Williamsburg, we could walk there from our residences.  Inside, the place was filled with friendly people, who were open to meeting people, and not afraid to act silly.  The bartenders knew our names and we knew theirs.  They took care of us, and we took care of them.  If we had a moment of introspection, they would draw us out of it and back to the public scene, where we were surrounded by friends and laughing.  Every 21st birthday celebration was held there, and for that matter, 22nd, 23rd and 24th birthdays as well.  The food was good, the prices were good, and the beer selection was incredible.  30 beers on tap, and tons more in the bottle.  Drink specials every night of the week.  We're not alcoholics, but we enjoy to go out occasionally for a drink or two, and if we have the urge to do that on a Tuesday night, we know that the Green Leafe is having "pint night".  Or, if we've been buried under a pile of work and need to get out for some air and some stress-free laughs, we can build ourselves up to attend "mug night" on Sunday.  Some might say the Green Leafe became the center of our social lives in Williamsburg.  

Now, nothing seems good enough in Northern Virginia for Andrew.  I've found places around us that seem comparable, and we would get used to them as we were to the Green Leafe if we spent some more time there.  We'd get to know the bartenders, and find "our table" and learn the weekly specials.  But the one thing that these local Northern Virginia pubs will never have that the Green Leafe does is the memories of our college days.    

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

"Maybe I'm gonna have a petite moment"

Recently, I was watching re-runs of The Real Housewives of New York City, when Kelly said something that made me laugh, and then got me thinking.  She had a stylist come in to her closet to pull everything that was old or unnecessary (which turned out to be a LOT) to donate to charity.  While her stylist was going through this 6-foot tall, former model's closet, she pulled out a cardigan, looked at the tag, and said "Kelly, this is a petite medium.  You are not petite.  You are never going to be petite.  Get rid of everything that's petite."  To this, Kelly, without hesitation replied, "Don't tell me I'm not petite!  Maybe I'm gonna have a petite moment!"  

I was struck by this, since so often I have moments when I'll pick up a piece of clothing in a store that I think is great, and might buy.  But then, I have to stop myself, and say, "Wait a minute.  This would not fit your body-type in a million years.  You were just not built to fit into this.  Someone was, but not you."  Why is it that we so often fool ourselves into thinking that we have a body that we simply do not?  And is there a way to target train areas of our bodies to change our so-called "natural body-type"?  Or is there necessarily a limit, of which the upper and lower boundaries are weight?  This is something I'd like to explore more in the future, as I hone my diet and exercise plan to fit the kind of figure of health that I wish to exude.  

Friday, May 29, 2009

My College Wardrobe Needs Some Serious Updating

I just graduated from college, and I've spent the past four years wearing an everyday style of jeans, t-shirts and flip-flops.  Now that I'm done with that undergraduate phase of my life, I need a new, professional wardrobe for work, and a casual wardrobe that includes pieces other than torn, stained, sorority t-shirts.  How do I get myself on "What Not To Wear" so I can afford the wardrobe I need?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

What's Next?

My planner is completely booked until May 17th - graduation day.  That's when I hit empty.  Page after page is filled with white space, and it's terrifying.  As I approach "G-day," I'm excited to be finished with this stage of my life, ready to move on, but not sure exactly what I'd like to move on to.  The real problem: I have too wide a variety of interests to narrow down my future into just one field.  I've been studying a combination of business and philosophy over the past four years, interning at an investment bank, blogging, learning about new technology, defining the perfect diet and exercise plan for myself, learning about advancements in health-related science, cooking, baking, following my favorite baseball team (NYY), teaching piano lessons, exploring different religions, gardening, budgeting, etc.  The list goes on and on.  So, how do I apply the skills that I have acquired over my (rather short) lifetime, along with my talents and passions to a career path that will be the next step for me on my path?

I've thought through many options, among them (and what I've essentially narrowed it down to):
1) Journalism - I love to write, I am interested in following current events, sports, technology, and all the latest trends, and I thrive in fast-paced environments.
2) PR - Again, I love to write, I have developed communication skills, and a passion and interest in social media/networking.  I love to explore new technology, and would be good at finding new and creative ways to utilize that technology to help a company to grow and communicate with its customers, past, present and future.
3) Marketing/Advertising - Similar to PR in ways.  [Again] I love to write, since I was a kid, I've been memorizing ad jingles and reciting back TV and radio ads to my parents and friends.  Long car trips were a blast for me, and a nuisance for my older brother, who spend much of them with ear buds in, and metal music blaring.  I am the marketer's dream customer - I watch commercials on TV and immediately go out to buy some Hershey's Bliss chocolates or a "Snuggie".  I could have a lot of fun and be really productive in this arena.
4) Social Media - Fits into PR (probably).  I have a sincere interest in communicating a message to the world.  I'm a world-class blogger (clearly), (fairly) newly-initiated Twitter-er, Facebook-er, LinkedIn-user, TokBox-experimenter, etc.  I see the potential for many (if not all) of these applications to be used to make a positive change in a company's reputation and "branding".  The internet makes it super easy for corporations and individuals to reach a HUGE amount of people in a split second.  It's a powerful tool, and these social media tools are making it just that much easier.  My experience with those tools makes me valuable to companies who are looking to expand by including them in their marketing plans.  

So, I've narrowed down my search a bit.  What now?  Looking for jobs is not proving to be the simplest task.  More and more, I'm using social media to get the word out that I'm on the job-hunt, and hoping that my connections can help me to find something that fits for me and an employer.  I'm exhausting CareerBuilder and Monster, as well as the W&M Alumnus site.  LinkedIn has been possibly the most helpful of tools that I've made use of, but I am still searching and applying, with little to no luck.  

Any comments, suggestions, etc. are welcome, and much appreciated!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Spring Break: When care-free college students find out what their empty-nesting mothers have been up to all semester

My last Spring Break from my undergraduate career at William and Mary was primarily spent at home in Clifton, Va.  When I pulled into the driveway at my mother's house, Mom came running out to greet me, straight out of the shower, in a ball gown and barefoot.  She gave me a big hug, opened the trunk of my car, and said, "Is all of this dirty laundry?" as she looked up at me uneasily.  "Yes," I said.  "Is that a problem?  I didn't bring any clean clothes home with me.  I'm trying to save myself the $6 in quarters that it costs to do laundry at the laundry room for my apartment complex.  What's going on, Mom?"  Her facial expression changed suddenly, like a newscasters, from that of a sympathetic observer of a tragedy, into a wide grin and sparkling, smiling eyes, as she said, "Oh, just wait!  Come on inside and see!"  

As I walked with trepidation through the garage and the door I had used to enter my home through the laundry room for the past 14 years of my life, I began to understand the sheer magnitude of the situation.  From the moment I stepped inside, there was no floor, there was no laundry room, there were frames of walls, the washing machine was sitting out in the middle of this empty space, not plugged into anything.  Oh Lord,  I thought.  Mom was tiptoeing around this construction site, wildly explaining to me the vision she had for this new and improved room of her house.  When I had absorbed a bit of this, it occurred to me that my mother had wet hair, was wearing a floor-length gown and was barefoot.  "What are you doing, Mom?"  
"Oh, I'm going to a formal dinner tonight with Chuck and his friends for Army Veterans.  We actually have to leave here in a few minutes, so I can't talk to you anymore right now.  If you want, I'll call the neighbors and see if you can do your laundry there."

Um, no thanks, Mom.  I'll just bring it to Dad's.  

I followed my excited mother into the living room, attached to the construction site, to find a continuation of the construction in the kitchen.  All the cabinets that had once hung out of the ceiling were missing, had just been ripped out of the room.  The plans for the new and improved kitchen, laundry room, and the addition of a powder room were spread out over the kitchen counter.  I looked them over, brought a few items to my bedroom, found a good book, and headed to Starbucks.  

So another week at home in Clifton begins.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

On My Own Two Feet

Thoughts go flying through my mind, at the speed of light.
I'm thinkin': why am I here?
Who am I supposed to be? 
Why do I think I need you?

They say "men think about sex every 30 seconds", 
How do they know that's true?
Maybe that's just men who are addicted,
The way I'm addicted to you.
It scares me that I love you, scares me that I care,

'Cause all I want's to be a rock star, 
Stand up on that lonely stage and
Sing about other peoples' problems.

My friends say "it's all a part of life,
and what are the chances of you
makin' it big in this sea of misfit non-talents?" 
I tell 'em, "Dependency's a bitch, my friends, 
and why can't you just believe in my dream,
the way that I believe in yours?"

I want to prove to the world that I can do everything I wanna do, 
Without anybody's help,
because I'm strong, brave and stable on my own two feet.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


She felt nauseas, bloated, uncomfortable, emotional.  It was unbearable.  She went to the hospital to be treated, where the doctor had her pee on a stick and leave the room without a word, hurriedly.  Young, waiting anxiously and terrified in the sterile hospital room, she waited for the doctor to return with her test results.  The moment the 30-something, beautiful, dark-haired lady doctor opened the door to the hospital room, Jennifer exploded into tears.  Dr. Marx rushed to her side and grasped the back of Jennifer's head, pulling it into her chest, as a mother would with her upset child, to calm her.  Jennifer was relieved to have such a sympathetic and compassionate doctor when the unknown was her source of despair.  

When Jennifer had calmed herself somewhat, Bethany Marx, PhD, said in an airy, angelic voice, "Jennifer, I'm sorry.  The pregnancy test came back negative, which means we don't know what is wrong with you.  We'll have to do some more tests.  You should rest here, and a nurse will be with you in a few minutes to take some of your blood.  Please, try to stay calm."  *bzzz, bzzz* Dr. Marx got a page, and Jennifer could see her precious doctor's shoulders tense with stress.  "I have to run, but I'll be back in to check with you shortly, and a nurse will be with you soon.  Don't worry just yet.  This could be something as simple and harmless as PMS."  Bethany sped out of the room.  

Left alone again, Jennifer's mind raced with worry for herself, for her small child, who she left with her brother for the afternoon, without giving him an honest reason for her need of an emergency baby-sitter.  She didn't want him to worry, after all.  Her anxiety built up and built up, as sand pouring through an hourglass making a small mountain of nervous helplessness within her petite, fragile frame.  Time passed, although she had no idea how much, and a cold-looking, hefty nurse walked in, with a domineering, no-nonsense air about her.  Jennifer's shoulders tensed with stress, adding to her physical symptoms.

In the West wing of the hospital, Dr. Bethany Marx stopped short in front of the small catastrophy that was unfolding before her.  She watched as stretchers came pouring into the ER, carrying a man after man, all about her age.  They were friends, coming from a private dinner, giving these stay-at-home dads a break for the evening, where their food had been poisoned, and they lay writhing in pain and discomfort.  Dr. Marx moved from father to father, lifting his head, as she had done with Jennifers, only this time, to administer a serum which would induce vomiting.  The poison had to be removed from their systems or they would die.  

When all the poisoned men had expelled the fatal substances from their bodies, Bethany sighed, releasing the tension in her shoulders, relieved that she would be able to go home knowing that she had saved the lives of 12 fathers whose families needed them.  Sitting down with a glass of water for a few minutes, Dr. Marx dialed the telephone number for the other side of the hospital, where Jennifer sat, once again alone and scared, awaiting the results of the latest test that had been done.  The hefty nurse had taken a liter of her blood by then, and was moving through a series of tests which had all returned a negative result.  "Dr. Marx here.  Has testing been completed on patient Jennifer Howard in room 6661?  Status report, please." Dr. Marx demanded from the nurse on duty at the desk on the East side of the sixth floor of the hospital.  After hearing what she needed to know, Dr. Marx sighed again, and began walking the distance of the space between herself and Jennifer.  

When Bethany entered 6661, Jennifer was sitting straight up, staring at the wall in front of her, looking terrible.  She hadn't slept in 32 hours, but then again, neither had Bethany.  Her frightened, on edge face, impulsively flicked towards Bethany when the door opened, expecting to see the hefty nurse again with another inconclusive test result.  She was relieved to see Dr. Marx standing in the doorway.  Her shoulders relaxed slightly.  This was someone she could trust and who cared about her.  "Dr. Marx!  Thank goodness!  What's wrong with me?  Do you have any ideas yet?"  She pleaded with Dr. Marx.  
"I'm sorry, Jennifer.  We don't know yet.  We'd like for you to stay overnight for observation, while we run some more tests.  We will keep working on this until we find out what's wrong.  If you'd like to call a family member or a friend to have them bring some personal items for you, there is a pay phone down the hall, or you can use your cell phone in the designated areas."

Jennifer's heart sunk with this news.  She would have to explain to her brother what had happened, and ask him to take care of Ethan for the night.  The phone rang.  It rang again.  "Hello?"  her brother said, questioning.  He did not recognize the hospital's number on the caller ID.
"Tony?  It's Jen.  Don't freak out, ok?  I'm in the hospital.  I didn't want you to worry, so I wasn't honest with you earlier when I asked you to take care of Ethan for the day... I'm ok, Tony.  But, they're doing some tests, and they want me to stay overnight...No, Tony.  Please, don't tell Dad.  I don't want him to worry unless there is something to worry about.  Would you mind stopping by my place and picking up a change of clothes and a toothbrush for me, and bringing them down here?  I'm in room 6661... Thanks, Tony...I love you, too.  Goodbye."
She hung up the phone, and thought of Ethan.  A boy of 4 years would not understand this.  He would be more upset than anyone.  She could not avoid it, though.  She needed Tony to take care of him, and to bring her things for the night.  

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Making a Dent

Stream of consciousness:

Sometimes I find myself losing focus on whatever I am doing, and falling into a deep, intense, miserable contemplation of all the problems and sadnesses that exist in this world. I think about all those people who are less fortunate than myself, and my heart goes out to them. I wish there were something I could do to assist them in the plights that often they have created for themselves. What can I possibly do to help them all? Can I even make a dent?

After discussing this very topic at length last night with Andrew, we came to the conclusion that this is not just a "me" or "him" thing; it seems that our generation has a common desire to do more with our lives than just work to put shelter over the heads and food on the tables for our families. We want to change the world. We want to make it better for those who have less than us, and for our children, who will (hopefully) have more than us.

We began with a simple analysis of the "great men" who came before us, and the techniques they used to make themselves so "great" in our eyes, and to make their world (and ours) better. President Abraham Lincoln was our starting point. He was rather miserable in life, knowing that many needed help and that he had the power to help them. Even through all his workings and helping others, there was still much to be done. The question then became: can we, in our lifetimes, make enough of a difference that we can feel good about ourselves and what we're doing?

My answer to that is: no; we can't. The effects of Lincoln's acts were not fully felt during his lifetime, and (it can be argued) are not fully felt even today. We cannot know the "great" effects that our life's work will produce in our lifetimes. Posthumously, so much happens in the world. Today, racial prejudices still exist; yet they are much improved from Lincoln's day, when slavery was first abolished. If Lincoln could see us today and the effect that his work made on our world today, how would he feel about it? Would he be awed by our progress? Or can we even call it progress? In moving forward, and advancing scientifically, and technologically, we have also created new problems for ourselves. It's a vicious cycle of solving problems only to find that in so doing, we have made new ones for ourselves.

Is this so-called "progress" really "progress"?

It is certainly a question I'll be pondering for a while. If you've got an answer, I'd love to hear it.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Passion Fruit

It was early spring in Ocean City, MD when I first realized the passion I feel for food. Actually, my dad helped me to realize it. The trip was nothing particularly special, but it's one I will never forget, for several more reasons not to be delved into here.

My dad's cousin, Tom and his "significant other," Cheryl have a trailer in a little neighborhood right on a canal up there. We were staying in the trailer for what was to be (little did I know) our last "family vacation" that included both of my parents together. Tom and Cheryl were there, along with my dad's sister, Sue, my mom, dad, and myself. Brother Stephen was away at college and our school breaks didn't line up at the time.

One night the six of us were out to eat at a great little restaurant right on the water, where we could watch the sunset. We were sitting outside on the wooden deck, overlooking the bay and enjoying some laughs as we reminisced about past family vacations and silly times we'd spent together. While we were eating, I began to tell my dad about the newest addition to the little historic town of Clifton, Virginia where we called home: The Clifton Coffee Mill, or as I came to refer to it, "The Clifton Coffery". Readers should understand the excitement felt by a regular coffee drinker to learn that the one-street, 4 family-owned-businessed town was gaining a coffee shop on it's Main (and only) Street. Anyway, I began to excitedly describe the shop to Dad, telling him every detail of the inside of the shop and what made it unique, along with a rather thorough description of their menu and of the barristas who found their employment there.

Dad asked me how the "Coffery" compared to a place like Starbucks, and without hesitation I told him that it was better. How was it better? Well, when I order my tall skim cafe mocha from a Starbucks store, I get a lovely cup of coffee, mixed with a little bit of chocolate, with a big dollop of whipped cream straight from a can on top. It is delicious, and satisfying. But, when I order my small skim cafe mocha from the "Clifton Coffery", I get a lovely cup of coffee, mixed with a little bit of chocolate, with a big dollop of freshly, by-hand whipped cream, lightly sweetened and delicately placed on top so that it begins to melt into my drink the second it hits the heat. As I described this subtle albeit important difference to my dad, he grinned widely at me and waited until I had finished to say, "Do you realize how much your eyes light up just from talking about a little bit of home-made whipped cream?" I felt as though the point I had been trying to make had been missed. "That, Jen, is a true passion you have. A passion for food," he said.

I used to think of my passions as those things which I most enjoy in life. However, it dawned on me at that time, that the things I am most passionate about are those things which I not only enjoy; they are the things which light up my eyes when I speak about them; they are the things which energize me and light up my soul when I think about them or act on them.

I have always loved food. I come from a big family of Greek eaters. It's what we do at family gatherings. All life, all activity orbits the central reason for our being there together: food. It has always seemed a normal part of life to me. That is, until I met Stephanie. Stephanie was the pickiest eater I had ever met. She ate very little variety, most of which was frozen or came from a can, and whatever she did eat, she smothered in Heinz ketchup. Her eating habits both appalled and disgusted me. They also made me realize that loving food is not a universal trait. In fact, most people, when asked to list the things they dislike most will have some sort of food on their list.

My dad pointed out to me that night at dinner that I had a special love of all food that is uncommon in today's world. I love to think about the combinations of flavors that I can create in the kitchen with simple, fresh ingredients. If I am ever found watching television, I am usually tuned in to the Food Network. Food is always an adventure. There is always something new to taste. There is always a new combination of flavors that haven't been tried together yet. It requires an open and creative mind, and one with which I've been fortunate enough to been blessed.

As a result, my friends and family get to experience food in a different way than most. They are my guinea pigs and my repeat customers. They inspire me and motivate me. And at the end of the day, and a great meal, they eat cake with me.

The fruit of my passion for food is not just the delicious concoctions I put together daily, but the people I've brought together with my cooking and with my love of food.