Age-Blind, Experience Rich.

I was obsessed with my RA in college.  She was equal parts friendly and sarcastic,  her humor was at times sophisticated and other times involved a lot of poop jokes.   She had a phobia of feet, and the fact that I can remember this twelve years later, but hardly any of my freshman year classes, amuses me.  I lived on her floor for 2.5 years, only spending one semester in off-campus housing.  Because I ended up graduating a year early, we were in the same graduating class.  Still, she seemed much older and wiser, and I looked up to her.

In much the same way, I met plenty of other people who were a year, maybe two, ahead of me at college, and they all seemed laden with knowledge I would never acquire, always scrambling to catch up to their achievements.

Then I graduated, and suddenly the artificial construct of grades fell away completely within a few short years.  In the closeness of the North Shore I met plenty of people who had also gone to Gordon College, had been a few years ahead of me, behind me and we hadn’t managed to meet during our time on campus.  I felt that we were all in this together, all the same age, all sharing a similar past experience.

I also started making plenty of non-Gordon friends, some who were 4 or 5 years older than I, even 10. Others were 3 or 4 years younger.  Age started to blur even more as other significant milestones took their place – marriage, baby making, house buying, promotions, second degrees, business starting.  The type of things that happen to different people, at different times.


Still, I sometimes run into those people I had classes with who were, like my RA, seemingly older and wiser during our college years.  The senior in the lit class, when I was only a sophomore.  It will come as a shock that they were often only six months, maybe a year older than I was, that in fact, we were the same age.   I find myself still somehow mentally believing in their extra wisdom.  Turning to them for advice, checking my assumptions against their vast experience.

The older I get, the more time I spend making new friends, and then the more I find myself to be strengthening ties with wise and mentoring people, regardless of their actual, or perceived ages.  I’ve also been happy to find myself able to be the “wise” friend some of the time too, although this role still scares me.  More and more, I want to become like a woman I know who someone described as “age-blind.” Her friend’s ages span decades on either side of her own.

There is wisdom to be found in people of all ages, whether six months older than me, or sixteen years, or sixty.  So I hope, pray, that I’ll be able to find it.


The first 30 days of 30

In my first 30 days of being 30 I started on some new projects – like learning to play banjo, improving paltry my Excel skills, buying a smartphone and getting a job!  I also fought the same nemeses I grappled with in my twenties – lack of focus, despondency, days of purposelessness, flashes of anger.  Unfortunately I didn’t wake up on April 3rd I with flawless self-control, enduring positivity, and perfect poise.

Idly, I wondered about various immature things I still do – Should I still be putting my knees on the back of the pew at church and slumping during long sermons?  Staying up until 2:30 am reading fantasy novels?  On runs around the park I considered if the Christmas weight stuck with me because my metabolism slowed? Or because I eat dessert every day? What is with this tight calf muscle that won’t go away? Why do I still have all these pimples?

As I’m helping a professor with her tenure porfolio and sorting through conference presentations, professional memberships, and board obligations I’m impressed with her C.V. and consider my own short resume.  What are my priorities in for the next ten years? Are the ones I came up with a few years ago still relevant? Do I want to continue investing my time writing these blog posts or should I spend more time writing the rough draft of my eBook on career change in your 20s? Should I be reaching out to be on the board of a nonprofit the way I always have wanted?  Should I look for more speaking opportunities?

But so far, overall, I’m happy.

Outsize Influences in my life

Three people with an outsize influence on my sense of self-efficacy, skills, and personality.

One of the things I wanted to tackle on my 30 before 30 list was acknowledging people who have had an outsize influence in my life.  I chose 3 people, but of course, there are many.


My dad is the archetypal engineer.  Task oriented, outcome focused, brusque, somewhat exacting.  Nuggets like “Most of life is just showing up, ON TIME” would often march from his mouth, typically as I scurried into the car on a Sunday morning after he’d already started the engine.  As a kid, my weekends were filled with one project or another my dad wanted to do and needed me and my siblings to help with.  All the projects were carefully mapped out with seemingly interminable multi-page lists.  Building a back porch.  Stacking wood.  Digging a hole to put in a pool.  None of my other friend’s dads were so ambitious or orderly.  Weekdays he would patiently suffer through crying algebra tutoring sessions, insisting that I “show my work” so he could improve my problem solving and decision making. In large part, my ability (and desire) to do big things was fostered by this environment, I was becoming a person with a strong sense of self-efficacy.  Anything could be done, with the right amount of research, the correct process, and an ability to continue trying until it came out right.

Luckily, for me, it has turned out being an adult is basically the same as building a back porch.  Determine what you can do with the environment you’ve got, research, make lists, and then just keep nailing one board in after the other.

High School English teacher:

Ms. English Teacher wore sweater sets, khaki skirts, and purple Doc Martens.  She was in her mid-twenties, barely older than us, and corrected our papers in vibrant splashes of inimitable (though we tried) pink, green, and orange pen.  She was nerdy-cool before I realized that was truly possible.  I had her as a junior for English and chose her elective Creative Writing, where the phrase “skittered and bobbed” imprinted in my memory as an example of superlative prose.  Her dictum on writing papers, “The beginning is important and the end is important, but the end is more important than the beginning”  I repeated endlessly to struggling peers.  It’s to her credit that I can recognize appeals to pathos, logos, and ethos.  After I ended up reluctantly in college, it was to her influence that I chose English as my major. Freewriting, short stories, poetry.  I attempted all these things in her creative writing class, learned that I loved to edit, and honed a skill I didn’t realize would go on to become my strongest tool, writing.  Through her love of teaching and language, I received a gift and skill I can continue to use my entire life.

Toughest Coworker Ever (TCE):

TCE was my personality opposite, though we never compared Myers Briggs, alas, I’m sure she would have mirrored my own ENTJ. An older woman, nearly 60, she had been a military brat as a child, and experienced a difficult and traumatizing car accident as a young adult, which she referred to frequently.  Widely read and curious, her forays down informational back roads, and insistence on endlessly seeking input from our clients irked me.  She had a gentle interpersonal style and worked well in 1:1 situations.  The multitasking and frequent interruptions in our work environment wore her down, flustered her.  She wanted to process events at the end of the day, I wanted to finish paperwork.  She wanted to determine the best course of action, I wanted to get things done.  Our clashes were epic, not because of their volume, but because of the dwindling goodwill which eventually froze the room to an icy standstill.  This was the real world initiation I had to topics like academic psychological topics like motivation and personality.

If not for TCE, I would be at the mercy of all the flaws of the ENTJ personality.  Likely, I would still be a steamroller, barrelling down the hallways of whatever work or volunteer situation I ended up in, convinced my way was not only right, but the only way to get things done.  I would not have learned the value of seeking diverse opinions, nor would I have read the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.  I would never want to return to the stress of the year and a half that we worked together, but then again, it would be impossible for me to return as the same person who caused those misunderstandings.

What about you?  Are there people who have had an outsize influence on you?  Taught you what it meant to be a responsible person?  Given you tools and skills you use to this day?  Caused you to reexamine how you saw the world and yourself?

Favorite Female Protagonists

My favorite fictional female protagonists! Who are yours?

My friend Anna has a great new section on her blog, which she cheekily dubbed a “lady list” in the great unveiling post earlier this week.   It’s a huge list of books, fiction and nonfiction, that she calls her “feminist reading list.”

This is not a list of my own feminist reading list, although, it would be dang fun to make one, and I could.  A lot of my exploration of feminism started as a way to wrap my mind around body image: both my own and the way the media and culture portray female body image.  I wrote about that a while ago here.   Instead, her list inspired me to make a list of female protagonists who I have loved, and who have influenced my life in big ways and small.

My favorite female protagonists


  • Laura Ingalls Wilder in the Little House on the Prairie Series.
  • Stargirl in Stargirl by J. Spinelli
  • Jo Alcott, particularly in Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
  • Frankie in The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau Banks by E. Lockhart.
  • Kit Tyler in The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
  • Dicey Tillerman in Cynthia Voight’s Tillerman Homecoming Cycle
  • Meg Murray in A Wrinkle in Time by Madelene L’Engle
  • Anne Shirley in Anne of Green Gables by L.M.Montgomery

Here’s what I realized while making this list

1. Categorizing books on goodreads is too much fun.  Like 45 minutes of mindless fun.

2.  Female protagonists were way more important to me as a tween and teen than they are now.  When I look at the books I’ve loved and the female characters of adult fiction, they don’t resonate with me as deeply as the “girls” I grew up with listed above.  I suppose the notable exception is Kristin Lavransdatter, from the epic trilogy I read last winter.

3. Should I be ashamed (upset?) that my heroines in fiction are so predictable?  I mean, Anne Shirley and Laura Ingalls Wilder top quite a few “best of” lists.  However, that is also why those lists are also “best” lists, because the characters are loveable.

How about you – Who are your favorite female protagonists?


Nix the Thousand and One Minute Elevator Speech

Two different methods for crafting a one-minute elevator pitch to answer the question “Tell me about yourself.”

I’m considering a new book to write – a highly autobiographical (but useful) e-book entitled “How to embark on a long and tortuous career change.”  The subtitle will be something like, “What to do if you are visionless, but not aimless.”

I did not realize in 2009 that changing careers and figuring out what direction to point my life would take more than five years. (I still won’t pretend I know what I’m going to be when I grow up.)

I also did not realize I would one day have to turn up at career fairs and job interviews and try and cram this journey into a one minute nugget known as an ‘elevator speech’ so that I could tell potential employers about myself.

One minute. Ha.

One minute is not nearly enough time to include all the relevant a-ha moments, personal insights, game-changing books and blog posts, and life-altering choices I’ve made (and had made for me).  Maybe 1000 and one minutes would be enough time.*

But, news flash, you don’t get that much time in job interviews or career fairs.  So let me tell you about two different methods I have for answering the dreaded question “Tell me about yourself**”


Method One: Chronological

When I approach this question with a chronological format I am trying to make it clear to the interviewer “How did I get here from there.”

As a someone looking for a new industry and new career I make the case that human services is very similar to human resources and organizational development.  Both of them are all about helping people reach goals!  Basically the same thing, right?

  • I started out at XYZ role because of my passion/interest in…
  • While at my position I  did XYZ, which led me to realize... 
  • So I started/decide on this other course of action… 
  • Which is why I’m applying for this position

Your transition phrases should make clear the path you took, but also WHY you took that path, and WHAT it was about that path that matches up with the position (and company) that you’re interviewing and considering.

Method Two: Identity Driven

Another method I have for answering this question is more about discussing my identity, trying to answer the question “Who am I and how do I work.”

I cut straight to the way I like to describe myself –

I am a problem solver!  I love looking at challenges and finding a way to get from A to B…

Then I unpack what the words I chose meant in context with past positions I’ve had –

How do I do this?  I use (skills), for example when I was at (company) as a (position)…

I’ve found both of these methods to be helpful in organizing my thoughts and answering these questions.  Personally I enjoy using cliches in my elevator speech – which isn’t to say this has never backfired.  I’ll save that story for my autobiographical e-book on changing careers, however.

For the very literal among us it’s helpful to know you can usually get away with 2-3 minutes, if you throw in a joke or two.

 What about you? What do you say when people ask you to “Tell me about yourself?”  Do you have an elevator speech?


*Yep, 16 hours and 40 minutes sounds about right.

** By the way, you should know this question is not being asked to find out what your favorite movie or best summer vacation.  Talk about a waste of a prompt all through middle and high school, which should be preparing kids for the ‘real world.’

Soup Swap 2015


This is my third time hosting a Soup Swap at my house.  I love having this party so much, but I’ll be honest, it’s a lot of work… for your guests.  As for me as the hostess? Cheese platter, wine, seltzer, and mopping the long overdue floor. Oh, and of course my husband will have you know he spent 45 minutes doing the dishes from the last 2 days.

Every year there’s suggestions from guests about how to make the party better, and that’s awesome.  The original idea came from this website.  This year, where guests brought a crock-pot with the soup in it so we could all taste the soup in my kitchen made it an even easier dinner party, and helped us all step up our soup-making game. I provided 16oz containers to package up our soups.  Easy peasy, and made for that stunning rainbow assortment of soups above.

As an aside, if I had been able to tell my 22 year old self that in 7 short years I’d be hosting a party where it’s required that you can make something (and not just pick up a bag of chips) I’d have laughed at you.  Here’s the list of foods I knew how to cook from scratch a box at age 22.

  1. Pasta.

Short list, huh?

Oh, the times have changed.

Here are two things that helped me change in the meantime.


Here’s the soup I chose from Bittman’s Cookbook, slightly modified.

Lentil Soup with Coconut.

Makes 4 Servings. 1 1/2 Hours, Largely unattended.


  • 2-3 T. vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1 T minced garlic
  • 1 T minced, peeled, fresh ginger
  • Salt and Pepper
  • 1 t tumeric
  • 2 T McCormick red curry powder
  • 1 T McCormick yellow curry powder
  • 1 c chopped canned tomato
  • 1/4 c shredded coconut
  • 1 small zucchini
  • 1 1/2 c cubed butternut squash
  • 1/2 head cauliflower
  • 1/2 c red lentils
  • 1 qt vegetable stock
  • 1 can (12 oz) coconut milk


  1. Put the oil in a 5 qt saucepan over med-high heat.  Add the onion and cook until soft.  Add the garlic and ginger and cook another minute.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Turn heat down to med-low.  Add the squash and cauliflower and allow to cook until vegetables are semi-soft (15-20 minutes).
  2. Turn the heat back up to med-high and add tumeric and curry powder.  Cook until dark and fragrant.  Stir in tomato, coconut, zucchini, and lentils.  Add the stock and coconut milk, then bring to a boil.  Turn the heat down to med-low again so that it gently boils.
  3. Cook, stirring occasionally until lentils and vegetables break apart, 30-40 minutes.  Add water as necessary, taste and adjust seasonings.  Serve.  Preferably with a few shreds of coconut on top.

TaDa!  See ya’ll next year for Soup Swap 2016.

Be Beth.

Be Beth. Why acknowledging what you like to do is a key part of growing up. Or… why I shouldn’t make resolutions to drink more.

happiness projectc overI am re-reading Gretchen Rubin’s book ‘The Happiness Project’ for the third time cover-to-cover.  I am always struck by her artful blend of practical and theoretical wisdom, all the while championing check charts, clean closets, and community.  It’s no wonder that I feel we’re similar.  Also, like Gretchen, I hate shopping, love YA literature, and take notes for no obvious reason.

Yet another way we’re similar is the wish to have other interests.  As she puts it, “Just because something was fun for someone else, didn’t mean it was fun for me… I love the idea of playing chess, going to a lecture on international markets, doing crossword puzzles, getting a pedicure, eating dinner at a hot new restaurant, or having season tickets to the Knicks. (115)”  Yet, she ultimately decides that a major Secret of Adulthood is “Be Gretchen,” to “acknowledge to myself what I enjoyed, not what I wish I enjoyed (116).”

Why am I reflecting on this now?

My 30th birthday is in six weeks and I’m trying to neatly package up the 30 by 30 list in (recycled) wrapping paper with a bow on top. If all goes as I hope, I will finish 19 of the items (possibly 22).  (Don’t forget I had to discard 2 items after multiple failed attempts) Yet, two of the items are staring me in the face, really simple items.  If I cared about them, these would have been knocked these off the list in the first 2 days of the project, and I would have been knocked out from the liquor content.

Learn to make 5 drink recipes by memory.

Learn four new functions on my camera (you know, to complement my full knowledge of how to use the auto function).

Yet, I’m sitting here at night, after my son is in bed with my full cup of… coffee, and adhering the last piece of tape to the box with my busted camera, ready to be sent to New York for repairs.


My list of things I wish I enjoyed: attending rock concerts, going to paint nights, salsa and swing dancing, drinking alcohol, and taking pictures.

I hate admitting I’m totally apathetic about doing these things!  I feel strange for saying that, because everyone I know really loves and is passionate about them!

In fact, I have spent years coming up with sophisticated reasons for why I don’t like drinking, or taking pictures, not to mention the other 3.   Most people don’t even think about taking pictures, they just do it.   I’ve been known to say things like “I’m not that visually oriented.”  Yet, I’m as prone as anyone to oversaturate on pinterest and get all geeked up over a good infographic.  But, pull out my phone? Remember to bring my d-SLR with me?  Yeah, right.

As for alcohol, while I genuinely dislike most beers without fruit in them, I do enjoy a good mixed drink. I did learn how to make a Dark and Stormy, and it’s very similar cousin, the Moscow Mule.  However, I quickly lost interest in tasting various rums (another hobby I wish I had) or mastering the Margarita and perfecting a Cosmopolitan.  I’d rather just drink coffee. Or seltzer. Or hot chocolate. Even better, I’d rather eat dessert or any sweet food.  Weeks can go by, and I don’t drink alcohol, or even think about it.

Winter break Books

What additional items on the 30 before 30 list would have reflected a more genuine attempt to “Be Beth?”

My list doesn’t have any reading goals!  This absence is like a car with no engine.  Reading is a core aspect of who I am, and without adding it, I didn’t get very far, or acknowledge that a lot of my goals assumed I’d be reading.  It would be as if Lena Dunham decided to make a 30 by 30 list for herself this year, and yet didn’t set any writing goals.

Creating reading goals seemed like a cop-out, I was going to read whether I put it on the list of not!  However, it also ignored what it means to “Be Beth.”  This is definitely an example of poor self-knowledge, which is a key part of becoming an adult.  Case in point, my progress toward making mixed drinks included buying a book for to learn how to do it.

Lesson learned!  In the future, maybe when it comes to making that 5-year family plan, I’ll acknowledge who I really am.

Now… maybe I should just focus on making 5 mocktails from memory?