Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Ginger Muffin Caps

When one thinks of the Middle East, they probably think of things like, the heat, the sun, camels and, unfortunately, uprisings. In my experience so far, the only thing that rings true is the amount of sun. But, it's cold here! Like, colder than San Francisco this time of year. The wind whips through our valley, and whistles at our windows in the late evenings. Though the temperature isn't all that low (about 48 degrees during the day), it still is bone chilling. This I didn't expect.

So, I've shot into winter cooking mode. Our table has featured things like maple syrup roasted butternut squash, stuffed peppers, and baked potatoes. The dish that was really missing, though, was gingerbread. When I think of December, my mind immediately settles on an image of perfectly golden, moist and chewy gingerbread. When my husband requested ginger snaps yesterday, I realized I had the perfect compromise: molasses ginger chew cookies.

The grocery store is an experience in itself here, particularly because I don't speak Hebrew. I managed to find dark brown sugar, but to my chagrin, no molasses. I waltzed back home with my bags of groceries, and set into making a batch of cookies from an online recipe by Paula Deen that had great reviews. Of course, I couldn't quite follow her recipe ... I substituted out the oil for apple sauce, put half the sugar in, added a dollop of honey for some stickiness, chopped in some candied ginger, and competely skipped the whole part about rolling the dough in sugar and placing perfect balls on the baking sheet so that it "looks just like the Starbucks cookies."

What I ended up with was incredibly delicious, but really nothing resembling a cookie, except perhaps in basic shape. They're more like whoopie pies or muffin caps. Or, gingerbread in cookie form. Perhaps this is what happens when you have gingerbread on the brain when you're trying to make cookies.

These are actually delicious. They're a little sticky and get pleasantly glued to your fingertips as you eat them. They'd go very well with a little bit of vanilla ice cream.
Here's the recipe:

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup all purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 tbsp honey
1 egg
3/4 cup applesauce or plain yogurt
1/4 cup chopped candied ginger

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees, and line some baking sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk the brown sugar and applesauce/yogurt together until well combined. Add the egg, and the honey.

In another bowl, sift the dry ingredients together and combine. 
Add the dry to the wet ingredients, and mix until well incorporated. Add the candied ginger. 

Spoon onto the cookie sheets with a tablespoon, make sure they're spaced at least two inches apart. This should yield about 12 large cookies. Bake for about 14 minutes, then take out to cool for a bit, and when they're cool enough to the touch, remove the cookies from the sheet and place on a wire rack.

Bon appetit!

Once a Swimmer Always a Runner

Last night, I jumped into a heated pool in my newly purchased 80s-style exercise swimsuit, slipped a black swimcap over my knotted bun, adjusted a fresh pair of goggles over the bridge of my nose, dunked myself and pushed off the wall. I unfolded into my first underwater pullout, noticing the calm, gentle fingers of the water stroking my arms and legs as I smoothly passed through its welcoming embrace. The last time I swam was three years ago during a triathlon in a cold mountain reservoir in southern China. The experience was so alarmingly unnerving - the chill, the fear of bacteria, the darkness and unknown depth - that I barely noticed not stepping back into a pool for so many years.

I'm a runner, and like most runners, it is the only sport I have ever excelled at. I had a brief stint in field hockey where I was varsity first-string as a freshman. The only reason for this, though, was that during pre-season tryouts, I could outrun the rest of the girls (most of whom didn't train during the summer). I'd just run up and down the field nonstop, enjoying the smell of freshly cut grass, and enjoying my little kilt flapping in the breeze. I also had a moment of success in college when I rowed for the varsity women's lightweight rowing team. I even got a scholarship. Again, I'm sure that this all came about because the coach was flabbergasted when I could run circles around the rest of the team when doing stadiums and hill workouts. The only other sport I spent much time with was swimming, and in this particular physical activity, no amount of running was going to get me anywhere. I was a flopping, water-hating, utter failure.

I was the kid who was always cold in the pool. I hated getting water up my nose. Having to dive into the pool from a block during swim meets brought me as close to paranoid episodes as a ten year-old can get. So many terrible, embarrassing things could happen - losing goggles, swimcaps flying off, bathing suits suddenly folding over and revealing a breast, brushing the floor of the pool, diving too deep and needing to shoot upwards to the skin of the water to gasp for air. No wonder I tended toward the backstroke; we got to start the race in the pool.

Luckily swimteam ended every August, and during the next nine months, I had the opportunity to prove to my parents that I need not swim - I could excel at other sports. I tried basketball, softball, lacrosse, soccer, even ballet. Nothing quite panned out. Defeated, I'd begin swimteam every summer once again, counting the days until it ended.

Realizing I was a runner eventually released me from the pool's grasp. I stayed a runner forever after that. Regardless of whether I was training with a team, living in Shanghai, China or simply doing a few loops around my San Francisco neighborhood.

So it was with trepidation that when I moved to Jerusalem a few weeks ago, I joined a gym focused primarily on its pool. Running is wonderful pretty much anywhere where there isn't traffic or religious zealots nearby. Unfortunately, Jerusalem has both of these problems, and I wasn't interested in taking them on by foot and spandex.  Nervous about swimming again, I made a big deal about buying appropriate and comfortable gear for the experience. I dragged my husband with me to the discount sports store where I spent an hour trying on strange bathing suits and goggles.

And when the time finally came to join the swimmers at Ramat Rachel, it was as if it was something I had always done and will always do. I swam for a half hour straight, enjoying the weightlessness of my body, moving every single muscle and bone that I have, practicing the old flip turns, and controlling my breathing. It was wonderful. I guess all those years of pain in the cold pool at the Westwood Club had some purpose.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Word Cloud

Taken from this blog - I like this!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Fennel and the new smell of home

After hanging laundry on our third floor balcony, I slid open the glass door, and stepped onto the cool, beige marble floor inside. I noticed that our home smelled comfortingly of fennel - an ingredient in today's lunch of sauteed potatoes and vegetables. I made a cup of fresh lemon tea, and ensconced myself the overly-cushioned microfiber couch.

Here I am, finally sitting in one place and enjoying the static view. Facing the balcony, I can see past the valley below - a wadi studded with minarets to tan Jerusalem stone towns, and even further to the hills of Jordan and the Dead Sea. None of these sites are familiar to me, aside from a few trips I've taken to Israel over the past 20 years. Yet, I finally feel like this is home, or at least somewhere where we can pause for a bit.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Introduction to Israel

We went from California to Virginia to India, and ended up in Jerusalem, Israel. Looks like we'll be here for about a year. So far it's been a slogging two weeks of finding an apartment and visiting various government offices to get my residency in order. Sometimes it takes trying to live somewhere else to help you realize how much you liked being where you were.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

The Eurovan

Not surprisingly, writing and working while driving cross country is almost impossible. This wouldn't have been the case if the entire country had 3G coverage. But, considering that I spent the last ten days in Mt. Hood, eastern Oregon, Idaho, and Wyoming, Edge networks were the norm. Whenever I had a fleeting hour of time at a cafe with Wifi, I furiously typed emails that had been long in queue. And just as soon as that hour seemed to have begun, it was over, and more driving along empty highways was imminent. So, back in the van and on the open road I'd go. A few emails left in the dust ... and no time at all for a blog post.

I hope the explanation suffices for my lack of posting during this trip. And I hope that you noticed I mentioned "van" in the last paragraph. While spending a week in Mt. Hood, it became apparent that the little VW Rabbit was just too small for our purposes of driving cross country with half our possessions in the backseat. Luckily, Oregonians use Craigslist, and we did a quick switch. Goodbye Rabbit and hello Eurovan!! Yes, we bought a Eurovan. I never thought I'd have an RV, and I never thought I'd like them. Well, I like to believe that this is the bunny rabbit of RVs so no big deal.  Yet, the roof pops open, two beds can be made inside, there's a stove, a refrigerator, a sink and enough space to do a whole ashtanga series in the backseat. Also, with those big captain seats up front and the most enormous window a van could ever have, we can view the USA in all its glory as we chug our way down the 80.

I started to love the van so much that, in a momentary lapse of sanity somewhere in mid-Idaho and 95 degree heat, I became a bit sentimental and realized that the Eurovan was my first home. My first wholly owned sink, refrigerator, cabinetry and ... a little more heat later, enough room to birth a child, and even a place for him or her to sleep (up in the bed by the pop-top). Luckily the air cooled down at night and I regained my composure. No worries, we're ditching the van once we get a house somewhere.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Portland Day 1 and 2

We've been on the road for a few days now, and have made it to Portland. The driving was pretty intense, mostly because it took us a bit longer to pack than we expected ... to be exact, eight hours longer than we expected. We also had about two times more stuff than we'd originally thought. This forced us to spend three hours buying and installing a roof rack and cargo box on top of my little VW Rabbit in the REI parking lot during our first day in Portland. Anyway, within a day and a half of hitting the road, we had made it to Ashland, Oregon, town of Renaissance Fairs, Shakespeare Festivals, and funky park yoga. It's almost the type of place we'd love to live in - beautiful homes studding a hill overlooking a valley and an earthy yet upscale downtown - but it's far away from everything, unfortunately.

By midnight on Thursday, we had found ourselves a hotel south of Portland by Lake Oswego. From a quick walk around and a momentary check-in to the farmer's market down the street, we realized it's  yuppy in this southern corner of Portland. This was confirmed later at a friend's housewarming party in NorthEast Portland where they consider their neighborhood to be up-and-coming. The NE may be a little too much on the early side of gentrification for us, but we definitely saw the potential.

The mix of people at the party was the perfect melange of Portlanders, or so they said. Everyone was brought up elsewhere - Tennessee, Mexico City, Massachusetts, Michigan. Everyone had made their pilgrimage to Oregon and stayed, citing the openness, the easy access to "nowhere," the perfect combination of the calm and the fun that the area provides. Everyone had at least one visible tattoo.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Noe Valley

How I'll miss you! My evening walks under the fog, the tiny gym that gives me such happiness, Noe Valley bakery muffins, coffee galore, cute boutiques, a Whole Foods at one end, and an amazing vegetable stand at the other, good neighbors and fun friends, the sun during the day, a view of Twin Peaks on the west and Bernal Hill on the East, brunch at Chloe's, the J train, proximity to the 280. I hope to see you soon.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Walking to Work

I found this old post from a blog I reclaimed. This was written in 2005 and takes me back to the olden days of investment banking ...

Walking shoes, slacks, black wool jacket, dress shirt, white scarf, one overstuffed sky blue canvas bag with gym clothes, lunch, wallet, keys, and other necessities including pointy black shoes for the office, random appropriate and conservative jewelry, recently dyed and blow-dried hair, a white trashbag full of dry cleaning, and a cell phone in hand soon to vibrate with my mother on the line. I lock the door, look out onto the street, the fog is clearing here and the day is just beginning. Clear air, empty streets, the cable car rattles by, its sound is so regular to this area that I do not consider it to be breaking the silence. This is my twenty sixth 7:30AM walk to work. In a half hour, I will be sitting in an office, staring at my computer screen, staying there until about 9PM. imagine for me, this is my freedom time.

I walk along Greenwich Street and take a right on Columbus. Up the concrete sidewalk, I pass "Just a Bite" cafe and still laugh to myself at a comment my mom made about the name months ago when she was starving after a day of unpacking. "Ain't no way I'm eating there!" The rest of this block is empty, the stores are all closed, not about to open anytime soon. But up ahead is the first stoplight, and it is here that my day really begins. I advertantly wait for the light to turn red. I love to stand at this corner and watch the rest of the people starting out their day. I can see Washington Square Park from here, and the early-morning Chinese exercisers who cover the park remind me of my year abroad in Beijing, and I feel a tinge of homesickness for my host family and life abroad. I watch as a few people pull into the garage across the street, or smile at the drivers pulling out onto Columbus from their own residential garages up the street. I imagine a gorgeous, friendly guy catching up with me at this light, only to say good morning, notice the view as I do, and casually chat as we walk to work together for a little ways. It is here where I recognize the first person I ever recognized on my walk to work.

It was the fifth day when I saw him, a man in a green shirt with a light green sportsjacket and a red scarf. He is balding, probably somewhere around fifty five years old. I can tell this man is happy, but judging from my own personal experience, the people I first recognize anonymously are always the craziest people around. I doubt myself, and I doubt this man. On this twenty sixth day, he passes me still without recognition. I think of him as a sort of whimsical creature of my morning. The only person I recognize who hasn't yet spoken to himself in public.

I cross the street and continue up Columbus Avenue, toward the coffee shops and popular touristy restaurants. They are all closed save two very popular places, Caffe Greco and Caffe Puccini, outside I see the same two men drinking their morning espressos and discussing the most recent baseball game. In the window of the second cafe, I always see the same man, dressed like an explorer from the nineteenth century, he is immersed in a book, surrounded by piles of other books and papers and highlighters. I have always wanted to walk into this cafe and introduce myself, asking him what it is he does. But, I don't, I don't even smile at him, I just keep walking. Here is another stoplight, but this one is busier and the buses are coming from every direction. I cross as quickly as I can, and head downward toward the TransAmerica building.

My hair is starting to frizz as I descend into the fog. As I descend it's as if I'm descending into another world. The cheerful morning activity of North Beach becomes a somber scene after I pass Broadway. Here is where I recognize the bums and the crazies. First, I see the skinny man in the tophat. He talks to himself, and one day I was caught walking the same speed as him with him trailing me by a few paces. I could hear him speaking to himself. About what, i'm still not quite sure, it's kind of like listening to someone talk in their sleep. I pass bums in front of City Lights, usually sleeping. And then, just a few shops down, I pass a homeless woman who was blonde for the first week, then she adopted a fake hair piece, recently her hair is blue. When she asks me for spare change, she asks me in a matter-of-fact way, like she's not begging, but rather like it's just expected, sometimes she smiles and I can see that the only teeth she has left are the two top canines. I keep walking, I still haven't given this woman a cent, something about her presence frightens me. There is something too normal about her, normal but crazy, maybe a part of myself that I would rather imagine doesn't exist, a part of myself that i'd rather not feed into existence. I keep walking.

Just as I turn the corner from Columbus to Kearny, the Happy Donuts is on my right. I look inside, without fail. Everyone in here is interesting, and deep down, I really want one of their donuts, with sprinkles and chocolate icing. I never recognize the people here, but the scene, it is familiar to me. Working class and poor men, tearing into donuts quickly while they sip on steaming coffee out of a styrofoam cup. Something about this is very comforting. Around this corner, I always see someone who appears to be semi-normal speaking to himself. Does everyone start speaking to themselves eventually? I wonder, and I worry that around this corner, I too may start doing so as well. I walk on.

Gradually I find my way to the financial section of Kearny. The bums have turned to poor people who have turned to working class, who have now turned to white collar workers. These people are either talking to themselves, motioning with their hands, or looking straight ahead, walking too fast to notice that anything is going on around them. It is these people who I recognize--men with a mission, I call them in my mind. It's a misnomer, I assume their mission is trivial and financially-based, I hope they start speaking to themselves. Sometimes I hope they trip over a curb just to break that overdone concentration.

And now I'm here, at work. I look up at the building, turn around to view the outside. goodbye for the day, for the week, I'll see you in 24 hours, I think. Or maybe say? Who knows. I'm just as crazy as the rest of them.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Real Life

Something occurred to me yesterday as I was wandering amongst commuters, taking note of their mobile phone usage on the BART and MUNI lines heading into and out of San Francisco. I spent two hours on public transportation yesterday, and another few hours observing people at the mall. I'd jot down their age, their gender, the type of phone they were using, race (if I could venture a guess), and what they were doing on their mobile phones. This meant that I had to stand over many people's shoulders, awkwardly watching from above, hoping the subject wouldn't notice.

Oddly enough, no one noticed me. Ever. Not even in the mall when I edged up next to their bench, or in the food court when wandered up behind a whole group of tween boys, and especially not when I was on public transportation. Oh yeah, except for one kind, middle aged Indian man returning from SFO who offered me a seat. He didn't have his mobile phone on hand.

How is it possible that I could be observing hundreds of people from such close proximity, and only one of them notice me?

So I'll tell you a little of what I saw people doing, and perhaps this may serve to explain the conundrum. Earphones plugged in, they were obviously listening to something while texting, looking at other people's pictures on Facebook, thumbing through their emails, playing simple games, and a select few seemed to be reading the news. The MUNI snaked its way along the upper border of Dolores Park where the view of the city is breathtaking. I looked up from my clipboard and soaked in the view as we pounded down to the wakening Castro streets. I don't think many of them noticed the view, they were all looking at their phones.

I'm not here to write about the results of the research; that's going to be saved for a more professional blog on my sister work-blog site. Rather, I want to discuss the fact that ... everyone's going to work to create things for people, things that people will, ostensibly, like and use. And so they wake up, put in their earphones, drag themselves to the MUNI, and drown out the world with Podcasts and emails to friends, meanwhile thumbing through those friends' photos on Facebook.

Doesn't this just sound ... wrong? First of all, how can people enjoy a life like that? And second, why aren't people looking around anymore? It's like, reality just isn't good enough, it's better to see friends in short messages and candid photos. And if we're really creating things for other people, then why aren't we watching those other people, interacting with them, talking to them? Do we really think we're going to innovate in an office?

Later that night, I went home feeling uneasy. All that people watching served to depress me. I kept wondering what the world would be like today if we didn't have boring 9-5 jobs. Something tells me there would be a whole lot less emails and messages to people we don't have the time to see, less time spent in mindless games, and more time spent creating amazing things.


"But this joyful, imaginative, impassioned energy dies out of us very young. Why? Because we do not see that it is great and important. Because we let dry obligation take its place. Because we don't respect it in ourselves and keep it alive by using it. And because we don't keep it alive in others by listening to them."

Monday, May 23, 2011

The Good Kind of Chinese Torture

I just got back from spending a week in Shanghai, China, and without realizing or expecting it, I am suddenly seeing the world in a very different way.  Strange because I lived in China for over three years, and have returned multiple times.  This experience, though, was fundamentally different than the others.

I arrived on a Sunday night, jetlagged, choking on my unpracticed Chinese words, and living in a typical Chinese style business hotel.  Everyday I would wake up, walk to the subway, and head to the company's office out in the sticks of Pudong.  I was in China to help a successful mobile app company create their US launch strategy, present it to the Board, and come up with their product roll-out plan.  An interesting project, no doubt, but the most interesting part for me was ...

I was basically reliving the old life I had lived in China three years ago.  The job was different, but the offices were strikingly close to one another.  My daily schedule was remarkably the same.  I met up with the same old friends in the evenings, and went to the same restaurants, bars and foot massage parlors.  Same food, same smelly water, same breathtaking sunrise over the river, same frustrations, same sound pollution, same shockingly kind and friendly strangers, same momentum, same camaraderie with other foreigners, same interesting, adventurous friends, same feeling that the impossible is simply not so.  Same same same.

By the end of the week, I was speaking Chinese once again as I had years ago.  I had grown comfortable with the food again.  I'd even sunk back into the old habit of walking around the office park's garden area on my own at ~3pm, automatically launching my thoughts into planning elaborate escape routes back to America.  I'd suddenly remember that this time was different, no need to devise escape routes, I was leaving on Saturday.

At the end of this bizarre week or reminiscing, something crucial happened.  During the board meeting, as I was presenting the 24 month financials on the product rollout in the US, one of the board members asked, "So, I see that you have headcount in the US for a few people.  Surely these can't be Chinese people.  Who are they going to be?"  The CEO of the company jumped in, answering in speedy, slurred Chinese, hoping I wouldn't understand. "We will hire her, she will head up our office in Silicon Valley." 

Rather than feel flattered, I suddenly felt worried.  I have finally left the workplace to be out on my own.  I've really done this, and I'm doing just fine on my own.  Slowly but surely I'm gathering more projects, and seeing the success from the previous consulting projects.  I love the flexibility.  I thoroughly enjoy the travel and the new people.  Oddly, I left the office that evening feeling disoriented and concerned that I might be the US general manager of a company that makes feature phone video chat applications, devoting my life to random encounters over Wifi, 3G and cellular networks.  Why would I accept that job?  It's scary to be out on your own.

As I swam along with the sea of people in the subway that evening, I observed everyone around me. Each was ending a long week of work or school or retirement, heading home to their boxy apartments in the enormous city of 20 million, playing games on their phones, chatting with their friends, trendsetting with various gadgets and hair 'dos. I then truly realized something dramatic: most of us will live and die and be forgotten.  

It is macabre, but it's true.  Despite our best efforts, we might be forgotten.  The best chance we have is making sure that we devote ourselves to something truly meaningful.

Most companies will start and end and be forgotten as well.  Most things, and concepts and activities will have the same fate.  Here I was, back in Shanghai, the only person reminiscing my own life and the things that I did in China at one time.  It's time to start examining the time spent on what, and making sure that the most effort goes to the most good.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


I just spent the last three weeks in Kauai, and in doing so, I realized that if you want to do things in life, you have to just go and do them.

It started out as an experiment of sorts.  I was out of my 9-6 full-time job for months already, and had passed up offers at other companies so that I could "do all the things I'd wanted to do."  Yet I was still lingering around San Francisco wishing I could really get out and do some traveling.  Meanwhile, my boyfriend fiance was celebrating his law firm's one-year anniversary, and was ready for a little R&R in a tropical place.

We both love our jobs, though, and neither of us could afford to take time off work.  Solution: book a trip to Kauai for three weeks, find a beautiful place to live, and split working in the morning with vacationing in the afternoon.

Get this, it worked.  Few people really missed us, no meetings were un-reschedulable, and, magically, we both figured out some pretty great ways to optimize what we were doing.  Not to mention, what a beautiful place, I'm so glad I got to spend some time traveling and living somewhere else for a bit.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Nostalgia and Murakami

My boyfriend drove me to the airport in the worst, rainy, cold weather I have ever experienced in San Francisco.  The raindrops pounded the car and shoved their way inside as I swung the door open to race for the terminal.  San Francisco is one of my favorite places in the world, and the most wonderful place to have called home for the last few years.
Lately, though, I’ve felt its wear.  A particular afternoon in downtown comes to mind when I think of the turning point of my love affair with SF.  Homeless people poked me asking for money, throngs of tourists body slammed me as they ran for the entrance to the Gap on Market Street, and the mismatched din of teenage gossip and crackhead mumble jumble throughout the half hour ride from Powell to Noe Valley all banded together to gift me with a screaming headache.  A headache that now returns every time I even consider traveling into downtown.
Needless to say, I was ecstatic to accept a weekend far, far away in the land of Louisiana…
One of my friends from college was having her bachelorette party in New Orleans.  She had worked for nonprofits, attended a top law school, and was enjoying the life of being paid not to work for a year while her firm waited out the recession.   This friend was a blast in college, and I imagined that her bachelorette weekend would be a muted, nearing-thirty version of the weekends we once spent together in our early twenties.
I had never been to New Orleans, and expected the city to be a pretty backdrop of an otherwise insane weekend.  As soon as I stepped out of the cab onto a tree-lined, cobblestoned street, I breathed in an aroma that was to bewitch me for the rest of the weekend. 
Humid, dark evening air, mixed with jasmine, azalea, SUV exhaust, rum and a hint of early spring fresh cut grass.  These are the smells I remember from my childhood in Richmond, Virginia.  I felt my entire body sigh with nostalgia.  Oh Louisiana, thank you for hugging me with this familiar southern spring air. 
For the next forty-eight hours, I was accompanied by twelve other girls partying away with a rotating brew of cocktails in hand and the haunting presence of that sweet Louisiana air.  Whenever I had a moment, I would steal away to the front porch, pull out my book, stretch my legs into the sun, and read Murakami with my old childhood friend.

Monday, March 21, 2011

To Business School or Not To Business School

So, I was accepted to business school recently.  I'm definitely excited to be counted amongst the few who were honored with the option to attend this particular institution - without giving details yet, suffice it to say that it is a really fantastic school in a gorgeous part of the US.

I have had a long and turbulent relationship with the general concept of business school.  I applied, was accepted, and subsequently planned to go to Darden in 2008.  I packed my bags, moved home from China, jumped into the family car in Richmond, VA and drove to Charlottesville for orientation.  I walked in the front door of orientation, took a look around, walked past the coffee and the crisp collared students, and right out the back door into the courtyard.  I just couldn't do it.

Two years.  All the money.  All the case studies when I could just live them for real.  And what if I didn't like the people ...

So, I moved back to China for a couple more months before finding a job at a social media startup and returning to the Bay Area.

And now, here I am, three years later with a similar decision ahead of me.  It's no longer a concern about the people or the money (although 80-grand isn't exactly a drop in the bucket).  It's really about the time - I'd be 29 when I start - and the concern that business school may actually squelch my creativity, or G-d forbid, make me risk ... averse.

Decisions are tough.  I've made rash decisions, highly informed decisions, economically-motivated decisions, and decisions based on the simple fact that I would have always wondered what would have happened had chosen to to take the more extreme option.  I'd love to know if any of you out there has a framework you like to use for big decisions like this ...

Monday, March 14, 2011

New Website and New Blog Post!

I mentioned a year or so ago that I started my own business.  I revamped the website recently and secured some new inventory, and wanted to share the newest version.  Check it out and let me know your thoughts.

And all writing is creating or spinning dreams for other people so they won't have to bother doing it themselves.

She opened up the online system, prepared to click the checkbox that would send her on her way to the paved life of dry cleaning pickups and dropoffs, glittery downtowns, hours long meetings in grand boardrooms, and fatter salary checks than she’d ever imagined.  She’d spent the last two years at a fancy financial advisory firm doing the unglamorous and time-sucking work typical of a recent college graduate.  “Copy, paste, copy, paste,” she used to joke to her friends when asked about what she did at work.  Despite the self-deprecation, Sandy thrived at the firm.  Her double major in social psychology and finance provided her with the perfect skillset to navigate the hierarchical, OCD environment of a typical financial workplace.  She learned how to tie her weekly goals to the two dimensions, for example:
                  By Friday …
a)     Build a spreadsheet that Mark (one of the partners) makes at most ten comments on
b)     Find time to compliment each partner at least once about the one thing that they are the most insecure about
Jean loved hearing how she was more analytical than the other male partners at the firm, Brian enjoyed hearing how fantastic he was at schmoozing a client, and Mark would revel in comments that alluded to how his attention to detail was the defining factor for his great success.  These compliments bought Sandy quite a few free lunches with various partners at fancy restaurants, invitations to join their exclusive gyms and clubs, and on one occasion, the use of Mark’s beach house for a weekend.
Of course, when the business school application season came around, the partners were thrilled to recommend her.  On one calm morning, Jean pulled Sandy into her office for a brief mentorship session.  “Sandy, let me tell you as one woman to another,” she started in her uncomfortably mothering voice, “business school is your ticket to achieve your dreams of becoming a partner in a financial firm such as ours one day, in fact, perhaps even our own!  You have shown your potential as a natural in this business.  The world is your oyster …” 
‘blah blah blah’ is all Sandy heard as she stopped listening to Jean and began to observe her, her frenetic movements, her raisiny, pursed lips, her starched collar and high-cut trousers cinched at her starved waste, her wrinkly unadorned fingers.  Jean once claimed she was 40, ‘bullshit,’ Sandy thought as she continued to ignore Jean’s mentorship session. 
Years later, after Jean was dropped from the partnership, she would write Sandy a series of long-winded emails, sharing her deep sadness, the fact that she had waited too long to live her real life, her disappointment at having missed her own youth, and describing in painstaking detail, the lonely life of an unemployed, single middle-aged woman.
By the end of Jean’s mentorship rant, Sandy was certain that she didn’t want to be a Jean, or a Mark, or a Brian.  But, business school seemed like the route of least resistance, so she applied nonetheless.  A few months later, she received an acceptance email to Harvard Business School.  It seemed that the only options were to stick at her job or move on to business school and defer a life decision until later.
So there she sat, mouse hovered dangerously over the Accept button, considering how simple it would be to check the Decline button instead.  She mused to herself as she paused, two completely different lives standing just a quarter of an inch away from one another.  So, in a momentary lapse of her usual level-headedness and risk aversion, she tested what it felt like to click “Decline.”
Sandy stared at the screen.  This is what it would have looked like if she had ever had the time to daydream of a different life.   Her eyes crossed letting the screen blur in front of her, the two check boxes melding into one.  What will life be like now?  She clicked ‘OK.’

Tuesday, January 4, 2011


sunday afternoon i was wandering about my apartment, cleaning the dishes, putting together my laundry, turning on my computer to view the upcoming week's schedule, preparing myself for a week of business school applications, consulting projects, runs and gym visits, daydreaming as always about the next thing i want to do with my life ... when the phone rang.

it was my mother, calling for the second time that day (something she never does), i just heard from a high school friend of mine that something may have happened to coach - you should call him.  where did you hear this? on facebook, she said.

facebook? of all places ... and through my mother's high school friend, no less.

thanks for telling me, i murmured, i'll call you back tomorrow.  i dropped my cleaning, stopped my daily musings on the meaning of my life, and sat down in a reverie.  coach, you see, was the first person who ever believed in me more than i ever believed in myself.  the first person who made me believe that i could be a sensation.  the only person who stood with me while he brought me there.

and i'm not the only one who can say this about him.  i can assure you that there are hundreds, if not thousands, of his runners and students over a period of four decades that this wonderful man taught and coached at thomas jefferson high school.

his students and runners have come from a variety of backgrounds over the years - from the very privileged to the most disadvantaged.  i remember hearing stories about coach picking students up in the middle of the night from the most dangerous neighborhoods in richmond, virginia, when they were in grave danger, making sure they made it to school, and of course, to cross country practice.  in his classroom, and on his team, he made a family for them, gave them goals, trained them to see their talents, and provided the support to help them realize and do whatever they wanted to complete in their lives.

i'll never forget the day that coach approached me after running an 800 meter race at some track meet in eastern virginia.  hey, is this the first time you've ever run a race?  yes sir.  well with times like that on your first race, you're going to go far.  are you running cross country in the fall?  nope i'm a field hockey player.  i suggest you rethink that.  on my team, i assure you that nationals are in your future.

who knew?  i ran track just because my buddies were doing it to get in shape that freshman spring.  i was a wirey, pallid, bookish 14 year-old, and the thought of becoming a nationally ranked athlete ...

changed me.

students who weren't on coach's team never understood the draw, the family, the obsession with one another and running that coach had created amongst his runners.  they called it a cult, and we bore the label as a badge of honor.  yes, coach had created a cult, a good cult, the kind that allows everyone to live in this world knowing and believing in their own talents, supporting one another, overcoming challenges together, proving to themselves and others their ability to reach goals, to succeed and to breeze past the finish line faster and stronger than ever.

in the backs of buses, on the cinder track, along the neighborhood sidewalks surrounding tj, amongst our throng of barekneed runners in coach's dusty classroom, engulfed in the humid air of the Arthur Ashe Center, each of us lived out our dreams and potential to the tune of his carefully crafted coaching.

his teams would beat all odds and win states, individual runners would become all-americans, students would graduate and run in the top collegiate track and cross-country teams on scholarships.  and just so you know, tj was tiny, coach was picking from a very small pool of high schoolers.  he was working with faith, goodness and pure coaching talent against all odds.

though he made each of us into champions, coach himself was the true champion.  the man is a legend, a modern day hero who has truly changed hundreds of lives.

so today, two days later, i continue to pray for a safe recovery of this man who deserves the opportunity to be here with all of us who love him dearly for as long as possible.  and through this, i've realized something very important ...

coach believed in me.  coach believed i could have everything i wanted, that i had the talent to go get it, and that with those goals and talents, i could do something world-changing and good.  enough of this thinking and wondering and deciding.  choose a goal, chart a path, and go for it.

it's time to be a little like more coach too.

for all of us.

choose what you love.  live it.  be it.  bring it to others.  help them realize their potential.  and realize your own in the process.  bring good to the world.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

How to Travel Without Thinking Too Much

I don't think I'm alone when I say that I get stressed out when making travel plans.

It sucks.  The cost, the logistics, the sorting through search engines with way too many amazing options, the idea that I have to pack, what to do with my basil plant, and making decisions.  It once took me THREE DAYS to decide on which hotel to stay at in Dubai for a couple nights.  Like it matters?  Ugh and ugh.

Traveling is supposed to be relaxing.  Shouldn't travel planning be relaxing as well?

I decided to take my chances and make it relaxing today.  Here's how I did it, and suggest you try this too:

Step 1: Check your bank account, got enough there to save you in case of disaster wherever you're going? probably

Step 2:  Go to a travel site.  Choose the place you want to go, find a hotel, find a flight.

Step 3: Book it.  Just do it.  Now you have to go.  


Relaaaaaaaax and Go

After that last post, I decided to do an experiment.  I mentioned awhile ago that I've started running again.  If you've ever tried to get back in shape by running, much less running around San Francisco, you'll sympathize with what I've been going through - exhilarating valleys followed by nauseating hills, followed by now significantly less exhilarating valleys followed by now significantly more nauseating hills, etc etc.

I used to be a runner.  A great runner.  I once won first place in the junior olympics southern regional cross country tournament, and there was another time where I placed top ten at Footlocker southern regional, and then I ran for a split second at Stanford before switching to the lightweight crew team.  So, my point is that it's frustrating seeing my times on three mile runs now, knowing what I used to easily do, and knowing that I am now struggling to get those times too.

And then I realized something ... I was struggling!  So, I took my advice from the last post, and decided I'd try taking a run "with my pants down" (i.e. relaxing) and watch what would happen.

Time flew by during that run, I saw children playing on the streets, thought about what I would do for the rest of the day, the week, the month, noticed the sunshine, and enjoyed the views at the tops of the hills.  Every once in a while, I would find myself struggling again, pushing to go faster, then I would remind myself to relaaaaaxxx and go!

I ran a mile further than I've been running lately, and ran 40 seconds faster per mile than I had been running for the last month.  Something tells me there's really something to this pants down thing.