Thursday, January 31, 2008

An Economic Recovery Plan, in a cup.

Starbucks Corp., the world's largest chain of coffee shops has recently unveiled its economic recovery plan, further highlighting the compete inadequacy of our current leadership.

Acknowledging the fact that the Bush administration can’t independently handle the fiscal woes of our staggering economy, Starbucks throws its hat, or cup, into the ring. They hope that by offering the $1 Short Coffee they will help jump start the country's economic recovery. Those close to executive management said: “we would like to emphasize that our loyal customers can still enjoy grossly overpaying for our products if they choose."

I’m looking forward to the $1 coffee. And, as a side note, Starbucks has been great to
OYFP! They’ve donated their great coffee and baked goods to a few of our past events.

heart to heart

children with autism hold a special place in my heart, and presently 1 in 150 individuals is diagnosed with autism. it's more common than pediatric cancer, diabetes, and AIDS combined.

i can't say i've listened to this band (five for fighting) or have even heard of them, but i'll gladly pass on the link to their video because they're donating $1.00 to Autism Speaks each time it's viewed. the funding will go towards research studies to learn more about autism. when you get a moment, please visit the link below to watch the video, and spread the word to your friends and family. they're aiming for 10,000 hits (meaning $10,000 for autism research), but let's help them surpass this goal. watch the video already!

speaking of hearts, 1 in 3 women gets heart disease, and it is the number 1 killer of women. "Go Red for Women" is the nationwide movement of the American Heart Association to raise awareness about the risk of heart disease and to mobilize women to "fight back."

on friday, february 1st, AHA sponsors "national wear red day," and on that day (which is tomorrow) if you wear red to Macy's, you will receive an all-day savings pass for an extra 15% off apparel and accessories. or, if red isn't your color, you can make a $2 donation to the AHA's "go red for women" movement in the accessories department and receive a red dress pin and an all-day savings pass as well.

What are you waiting for? Get on your feet, and make sure you're wearing red!

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Volunteer Profile: Elizabeth and NEDA

My friend Elizabeth S. is very passionate about her causes, which include politics, education, and healthy eating habits. However, like me, she had a hard time finding a volunteer opportunity that was both rewarding and fit into her schedule. Fortunately for both her and her chosen organization, she persevered and found a great fit. We sat down yesterday and talked about her experience (over the phone, since she lives in Seattle).

Where do you volunteer?

The National Eating Disorders Association, or NEDA.

Why did you start volunteering at NEDA?

I hate my job and was looking for professional experience in a field I’m actually interested in.

Well. You certainly don't mince words. What do you do there?

I answer incoming calls to their national Information and Referral Helpline. People call with all kinds of questions about eating disorders, some have eating disorders some are professionals, some are students. I try to answer their questions and if they are looking for treatment, I try to help them find a specialist in their area.

How many hours a week do you work there? Did you have to give up anything in order to have the time to volunteer?

I volunteer 4 hours a week and all I have to give up is a little sleep and about $3 for my weekly soy latte.

Mmmm.. lattes. So. What is your favorite thing about volunteering with this group?

The people who volunteer and work at NEDA are the most dedicated, enthusiastic people I’ve ever met. They are everything that is good about a nonprofit. I am inspired by their commitment. Also, I am lucky enough that every so often I make a real connection with someone on the phone and offer something that truly helps them.

How does it compare to your other volunteer experiences?

It’s the best. There is enough training and support from the staff so that I am able to offer quality service and continue to learn and grow.

Are there any organizations in the Boston area that do something similar?

The Massachusetts Eating Disorders Association ( is a similar organization. I don’t know if they offer the same sort of helpline but they have excellent services and resources for people with eating disorders.

Great. Well, here it is: The Corny Question. How has volunteering here inspired you?

The experience has made me realize how much I enjoy counseling people, especially young women. I have actually applied for graduate school and specifically chose a school that offers a dual Masters degree in both nutrition and psychology. With all of the trappings around eating and food in this country, you can't effectively and successfully address nutrition issues without addressing the underlying psychological ones.

Thanks, Elizabeth, for taking the time to talk to us.

No problem. I'm happy to do it!

Get On Their Feet

Web-based microfinancing helps poor entrepreneurs Get On Their Feet.

Kiva, which means “unity” in Swahili, a web-based non-profit incorporated in November 2005, lets anyone lend money directly to a specific needy person in a developing country.

Recipients of a Kiva Loan are referred to as "entrepreneurs" or "borrowers", contributors to a Kiva Loan are referred to as "Kiva Lenders". The key word here is: Loan. The loan allows the entrepreneur to boost themselves out of poverty. Lenders can loan as little as $25. Lenders also receive updates and get repaid when the business succeeds. Loan terms range from 4 months to 18 months. Currently, at repayment lenders receive no interest on their loan, this might change in the future. Astonishingly, the repayment success rate is 99.86%. This means that only 0.14% of all entrepreneurs default on their loan. Take a moment to let that success rate sink in. I will tell you how they are so effective in a second.

Funds. According Kiva’s website, since inception and as of January 30, 2008, Kiva has distributed $20,999,835 in loans from 239,127 lenders. A total of 31,864 entrepreneurs have been funded. The average loan size is $568.19.

How it works. The loan success rate is so high because every entrepreneur is interviewed and screened by a Kiva “Field Partner.” Kiva currently has 78 partners in 40 different countries. A partner can be a volunteer, an aid worker or anyone from an established community service institution. After the entrepreneur is interviewed and approved, the Field Partner posts a profile of the qualified entrepreneur on the Kiva website. Lenders browse and choose the entrepreneur they want to fund. Kiva then forwards the funds to the Field Partner who gives the money to the entrepreneur. The Field Partner also collects loan repayment funds and forwards the money upstream to the original lender. Often, when the original lender receives funds they re-contribute to another needy entrepreneur.

Matt Flannery, the founder of Kiva, says: "philanthropy of this kind can become addictive, especially as lenders know they will see their money again. By choosing a business on, you can "sponsor a business" and help the world's working poor make great strides towards economic independence.”

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Team In Training: One Way to Make a Difference

Everyone has a cause that is near and dear to their heart. Let me tell you about one of mine.

Last spring, I signed up to participate in Team In Training. Participants of all athletic levels are supported in achieving the ultimate goal of running or walking a half or full marathon, or taking part in a triathlon or cycling event. In exchange for their training and support, you fund raise money for The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. The money you raise will go towards finding cures to help beat blood cancers like leukemia, lymphoma and myeloma.

Team In Training was one of the most worthwhile experiences of my life. I ran the Portland, Maine Marathon with the Society last fall. From raising over $2,000 for the Society on my own to crossing the finish line, it proves that “impossible” is just a state of mind. The coaches, staff and Honored Heroes were amazing. Everyone was so supportive and you really do feel like you are making a difference. While $2,000 seems like a small sum in the grand scheme of things, Team In Training has raised over $700 million over the past 20 years, not too shabby.

If you’re interested in learning more, you can visit the Massachusetts Team in Training site or The Leukemia and Lymphoma Society page.

The below clips sums up why I am passionate about raising funds and finding a cure -- Leukemia is is the number one cause of death of children under the age of 15. Have the tissues ready.

Tailgating for charity...?

I hear tailgating is a lot of fun. I've never actually had the chance to do it (UMass Amherst didn't allow it when I attended)... until now.

MetroLacrosse is holding its third annual Winter Tailgate party this Saturday, February 2 at [updated] Vinalia at 101 Arch St in Boston.

Ok, so technically it's not tailgating per say. There are no cars involved. Or trucks. Or trunks. But there is beer (and wine). And sports! You get to wear your favorite team jersey while you enjoy open bar and listen to the Swinging Johnsons, the band famous for its appearances at the Burren in Davis Square. Not to mention that you'll have the chance to win a $7,000 Getaway for Two to Cancun, Mexico! (You remember what a sunny day at a beach is like, right?)

Tickets are $50 ahead of time and all proceeds support MetroLacrosse's programs, which teach underprivileged kids life skills through lacrosse. If tailgating's not your thing, check out volunteer opportunities with MetroLacrosse. You don't need to know lacrosse in order to help!

Me, I'll be in NH skiing... but you can bet your sweet bippy I'd be at this event if I were in town.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Organize yourself with Gmail

Anyone who knows me knows that in addition to being a huge advocate of puppies and unicorns, I am a huge Google advocate. No, I don't own Google stock. I just appreciate a good tool when I use it... and I use Google a whole lot. As my mother puts it, "Casey works in the internet," so I'm on or thinking about Google for at least 8 hours a day.

Gmail is one of my most favoritest Google tools. It's similar to Excel: Simple to use, but its capabilities are seemingly endless! Learning how to take advantage of these capabilities can help you become more productive.

Wild Apricot has an excellent "how to" post on Gmail filtering capabilities. It gives detailed, step by step instructions on how to automatically forward emails from a Gmail account to the appropriate recipients (which may or may not be one of your own other accounts). This can be a time saver and will ensure the correct parties get the information as soon as possible.

I know I should have set up a filter so all the "I want to do crafts with kids" emails went from our general OYFP account to our volunteer coordinators. It would have saved me an hour, and ensured our potential volunteers received replies as soon as possible.

The Wild Apricot post doesn't touch on some of my favorite (and more obvious) Gmail features:
  • All emails with the same subject line are in the same window. This means when all 17 of your best friends reply to a group email, it's just one line in your inbox.
  • You can label (or tag) emails instead of putting them into a folder, and then search by the labels. Essentially you're able to do the equivalent of putting the same email in more than one folder.
  • You can direct more than one external email account to the same Gmail account, which can save you the bother of checking more than one email address. I have an OYFP Gmail account that receives email from my personal OYFP email address, a general OYFP email address, and a Gmail account. Talk about time savings!
Do you use Gmail to stay organized, or are you still a fan of another provider?

A screen shot of Gmail's consolidated version of this email chain, which is coincidentally about Google

Sunday, January 27, 2008

You make my heart sing

You know it when you see someone who is having a good time. I mean, really doing something that they absolutely love. They have genuine smiles on their faces and a grace about their movements. Most of us are not lucky enough to do something we love quite that much for our day job. However, fortunately there are plenty of ways to find that joy in activities outside of work.

This weekend, I went to the Halalisa Singers world music concert, of which my father and family friend Carol are members. Honestly, I was less than excited to give up a day of skiing to go to a concert where people would be singing music of quite a different genre than I typically listen to.

I thought, though, that my dad had certainly spent quite a lot of time going to my concerts, and that the least I could do is take an afternoon to hear my dad bellow in his bass voice. I have childhood memories of "Take me out to the ballgame" and "Ring of Fire" lullabyes that tell me that he can carry a tune and at the very least would be enthusiastic about it.

I enjoyed every song the group sang (aside from the one where they repeated "na na na no no ditititi" over and over again). But more importantly, I enjoyed watching them enjoy singing to us. At the reception afterwards, I heard over and over again how much fun it was to see the group, well, having fun!

So. Let this serve as a reminder to you to participate in activites that make you glow and radiate happiness. And, just as importantly, this should remind you to take the time to watch others doing what makes them happy. They'll appreciate it, and you'll probably benefit from it too.

If singing makes your heart sing, find a choral group in your area to join:

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Keeping Your Home Warm

If you're like me, then you rent from a place that can be quite drafty. My apartment, like many others I know, was built at the turn of the century and hasn't had much home improvements over the years. Granted, I did choose to rent here because of a) the location is great for me and Jamie, b) my rent is low for the area.

That being said, on freezing cold days like today, I have to turn the heat up, which skyrockets my utility bill. So Jamie and I have learned a few things that have helped keep our energy bill down and I thought I would list them here. With all this talk of recession, everyone appreciates saving money.
  • Request that your landlord to install a wall heater timer (or if you're handy, do it yourself). This allows you to time the heat to be on when you are home. When you are not at home (i.e. work, OYFP events, etc.), it helps you to keep the thermostat low, which will save you money on your next heating bill. If this isn't possible, remember to turn your thermostat a few degrees lower before you leave the house.

  • Close doors and if possible shut off the heat in rooms you do not use in the winter.

  • Weatherproof all windows, especially if they are single paned. We use window films that are wicked easy to put up. Trust me if I can do it, anyone can do it! With the money that you will be saving from your energy bill, it is easily affordable. For those who are worried how it will look in your place, they come in decorative styles as well!

  • If weatherproofing your windows isn't an option, try the green way and use the sun to help heat your house. Open curtains/shades of east, south and west-facing windows on sunny days to let the sun heat the house. Then at night, close them to preserve the heat.

These are a few of the tips I do for my apartment to stay warm. What do you do?

Accountability Found.

After a recent call to wallets by the American Red Cross (donation ask here, story here) I wondered, where does my money go? Is my donation being used effectively?

I’m not the only one asking these questions. In 2007, Holden Karnofsky and Elie Hassenfeld, both in their late 20’s, discouraged by the lack of transparency in charitable giving founded GiveWell. GiveWell studies charities, evaluates them publicly, ranks them on their effectiveness, and provides grants to those they believe are doing the best jobs.

Mr. Karnofsky and Mr. Hassenfeld are former hedge fund analysts who are familiar with asking tough questions. Their research for GiveWell found that many of the charities they contacted were unable to provide reliable, neutral evidence that their programs actually worked. Surprisingly, Mr. Karnofsky and Mr. Hassenfeld have encountered some resistance while asking these tough questions.

In the age of information and with the clear lack of accountability in today’s markets, it’s amazing that the need for GiveWell hasn’t been heralded as the next big thing in the non-profit sector. Increasing accountability and transparency will increase donor confidence which will ultimately increase donor participation. You can read more about GiveWell on their
website or blog.

I’ve personally reached out to Mr. Karnofsky and Mr. Hassenfeld and hope they comment back. Heck, I’ve even invited them to the salsa event on Wednesday, February 13th.

photo_credit_Judith Pszenica for The New York Times

Eyes Wide Shut

you'd be surprised by the range of skills teachers are asked to teach to their students. for example, yesterday, while walking down the hall with my class after lunch, i had to explain to a child that when you walk, you've got to walk with your eyes open.

but then, i got to thinking (i know, dangerous). the other day, liz posted about creating non-profits that instill a sense of community in its "consumers" in hopes of not simply recruiting them but also retaining them. while i agree that non-profits must transform donors, volunteers, members, and similar interested parties into "champions of the cause" for sustained success, i also wonder how effectively non-profits can penetrate deeply embedded principles of consumerism (as well as other life-structuring ideologies)...

repeatedly, we bemoan the seemingly high ticket prices of events which are being held to benefit populations that are disenfranchised, marginalized and frequently forgotten by the sane, healthy and (more often than not) unintentionally oblivious rest of the world. but then we don't question dropping easily $50 for dinner or an even heftier sum for a night of fleeting inebriated revelry (or maybe we actually did question but then answered with a resounding opening of the wallet).

we even go so far as to offer our money in a concerted effort to save a small business seized by the government in response to unpaid back taxes because we "care about having a city that is filled with more than global chains" and "[support] an enriched urban life" (check out the front page of the cambridge chronicle for more info about that doozy.).

i'm certainly not saying people don't have the right to spend their money in whichever manner they wish, and i'm definitely not saying i'm not guilty of unbalanced spending either (heck, my whole life is a little helter-skelter).

but i do wonder... have we truly matured beyond my six-year-old student? are we walking with our eyes open? 'cause if we were, i'm sure we'd be spending our time, money, and lives much more differently when we saw what, or more importantly who, was around us. we may even become those long-term, committed "champions of a cause" (and who doesn't want to be a champion?!).

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Turning your cause into a community: Is this the way to nonprofit success?

Mark Rovner recently wrote about how ineffective nonprofits are at using digital media to acquire new donors. He poses that people have tuned out nonprofit marketing in the same way they've tuned out commercial messages. "Shock and awe" message techniques show diminishing return and just come across as inauthentic--not exactly the kind of feeling that retains or attracts supporters of your cause.

Like commercial companies, nonprofits do have to think of their supporters as consumers. Maybe it's a callous thing to say, but there are a lot of causes out there and there has to be something in it for a person to become not just a supporter, but a member of the cause. In this era where every ad is trying to engage the consumer, how do you make your cause not just a human-interest story but a user-driven story?

OYFP has sort of addressed this problem from the start, by forming long-standing partnerships with very local Boston nonprofits to create fundraising, awareness, AND volunteer opportunities. If we were to take that one step further along, maybe we can figure out a way to create more of an online community for our members after events through Facebook photo gallery re-caps, for example.

If you're a nonprofit looking to stir some interest, think about what value you provide and ways in which your members can gain a sense of ownership over their contribution, whether that's their time or money.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Hot fire puts people out in the cold

A few weeks ago I wrote about my run-in with burnt rice, and how glad I was that nothing worse had happened. Well, some people this weekend weren't as lucky as I had been. A fire in Lawrence, MA last night put 150 people out in the bitter cold in just their pajamas. This morning, they have no home to go back to. Miraculously, no one was hurt.

Imagine what that would feel like, especially if you're a slacker like I am and don't have renter's insurance, or, even worse, couldn't afford it.

The Red Cross is collecting donations for those affected by the fire. Do you have one to many pots and pans, or a bag of clothes that you no longer wear? Call the Red Cross Merrimack Valley chapter at 978-372-6871 to arrange a drop off. Or, you can make a monetary donation online through the Red Cross website (select donate to a local chapter, and choose Merrimack Valley).

And be thankful that you have a roof over your head and a warm bed at night.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

What we don't know may kill us. Or not.

I'm glad John brought up the recession. It may actually have started already and we just don't know. Or it may never start, though the way things are going it's hard to imagine a big turnaround just around the corner.

The news topic of the week seems to be "what is the federal government going to do about the recession?" There will be much debate and perhaps some action, and later people will claim "this worked" and will be rebutted by "no, you're wrong, that worked." Meanwhile, many believe that congressional action can't work at all, and that these things are best left to the Federal Reserve, which can fix the problem more cleanly by simply cutting interest rates.

The funny thing about economics, though, is that no one really knows for sure what will work, or how quickly. Frankly, its status as a science can be a little on the murky side sometimes. It makes me sad because I really like economics, and I gravitate to the straight forward logic of (i) identify problem, (ii) find solution, (iii) implement solution, (iv) magic! But we have seen periods in which tax cuts were followed by economic growth and periods where tax increases were also followed by economic growth, as just one example. Go figure. Of course, that doesn't mean that nothing should be done. In fact, our quasi-ignorance probably means that a belt and suspenders approach is probably most appropriate.

But it's not just economics that's the problem. So many important public policy decisions are presented to us as clear imperatives (do this, don't do that)--war, health care, foreign aid, environmental issues--while meanwhile their vast ramifications are, more often than not, largely unknowable. I just wish we could all recognize how much we don't know, and that our civic leaders would consider more deeply what would happen if their plans for us, well, just didn't work out quite right.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Local TV Rocks

Premium cable is, as my friend JM put succinctly, "for rich people." Therefore, young workers like ourselves do not have extended cable as we tend not to be rich. But you'll find when you have only twelve channels to flip through, that you really give each one a chance to entertain.

I've become a big fan of independent and locally produced media shows as a result. Democracy Now!, anchored by silver-haired straight shooter Amy Goodman (Anderson Cooper, eat your heart out), Cambridge Community Television (check out these public service announcements), and of course the 200-lb gorilla of nonprofit broadcasting, PBS (late night series about international affairs and culture are the best).

Do you have any favorite local shows?

I'm gonna make my own tv show! That's golden!

Home-made cures to help you get On Your Feet

When I am sick, my favorite thing to do is lie on the couch and fall asleep to the monotonous shows that are daytime TV (even with writers, the shows were terrible). However, no one enjoys being sick, because then you can't enjoy the fun events that OYFP puts on (at least, that's how I feel)!

So, I thought I would write about the home-made "cures" that people believe will help them get better when they are feeling sick.
  • For me, I go with the traditional bowl of chicken soup. The chicken soup I eat probably only makes me feel better psychologically, but then again, when I was growing up, this is what my mom served me when I was sick, so it's logical that I continue to eat the soup as an adult.
  • One of my coworkers said while growing up, her mom would soften some butter with sugar, salt, and pepper. It's a paste texture and you were to eat a couple of teaspoons. Then later have some honey.
  • Another coworker said when she had a sore throat as a kid, her mom would make her gargle baking soda and water.
  • A friend of mine suggested to boil onion peel, garlic, lemon to make a tea out of it. When the tea is ready add some honey.
What other homemade cures have you heard of?

Volunteer Boston in BostonNOW

The Volunteer Boston blog is making the rounds. Check out yesterday's issue of BostonNOW (PDF link), which features a blog entry on my pantless experience last weekend.

If you're new to the Volunteer Boston blog, welcome! Read the "About Us" section to learn about the non-profit behind the blog. In a nutshell, we're a completely volunteer-run organization in the Boston area working to get young people (18 to 34) to volunteer. It's not as boring and goody two-shoes as it sounds. We have fun events, if I do say so myself.

Our next event is Bring the Latin Heat on Wednesday, February 13 at An Tua Nua. Learn to salsa like a pro, munch on some exotic appetizers, mix and mingle, and know that your donation for the evening is going to help kids with cancer. Tickets are just $15 ahead of time, and $20 at the door. They'll be available online for purchase beginning this weekend.

Happy Friday, everyone!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Party Like It's a Blog Carnival

Ok, you're saying, so I like parties... but what are blog carnivals? It's simple, really. A group of bloggers take turns soliciting and then hosting a series of blog posts on a particular topic.

What are the benefits? Well, your readers are exposed to different opinions and writing styles, all on a topic that you choose (and that lays within the scope of the overall carnival). As a blogger, you form relationships with other people in your field, and perhaps learn something as well. You'll probably attract traffic to your blog from the authors of the various included posts.

Soooo.... why is this all coming up...? Well, a post about Google Knol from this very blog was featured in the Wild Apricot Non-Profit Technology blog carnival a few days ago. Go us! We have things to say that other people might find useful! What a concept.

Consider hosting a blog carnival yourself. Or maybe just a carnival, as long as you're not afraid of clowns.

The R-word

Recession. Yes, I said it. And, I just might be contributing towards it… with this blog. “An interesting indicator, the “R-word” index” -- the number of stories appearing in print that use the word “recession” -- has spiked in early 2008.” According to The Economist, this simple tool has forecasted the start of the recessions in 1981, 1990 and 2001.

A recession occurs when the gross domestic product (GDP) declines for two or more consecutive quarters. The GDP is the value of all the reported goods and services produced in a country. Some market indicators that signal the onset of a current recession include: a spike in oil prices, the news of major financial companies taking huge losses due to subprime mortgage defaults, slumping home values, and consumers' purchasing power being lowered by high energy and food prices. If all this is happening, it's a good bet that companies have laid people off, so unemployment is up too.

There have been 11 recessions since 1945, and they are an expected part of the economic cycle. The National Bureau of Economic Research says that “the US economy follows a somewhat regular pattern of expansion and contraction. The economy will typically expand steadily for six to ten years and then enter a recession for six months to two years.”

Since it isn’t beneficial for a nation to be in recession, governments will normally take action to get the economy going again. Ben S. Bernanke, chairman of the Federal Reserve, recently stated that he supports tax cuts or other measures to stimulate the economy. It is widely anticipated that Federal Reserve will reduce interest rates at the Federal Open Market Committee meeting on Jan. 30. The New York Times reports that “on Wall Street, investors are betting that the central bank will reduce overnight lending rates to 3.75 percent from 4.25 percent.”

The R-word is here, Recession.

Related Posts: It's the economy, stupidWhat is this credit crisis you speak of, and why do I care?Don't forget about your petAn economic recovery plan, in a cup; Penny Pinchin' Times

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Wine: Cheap can taste better?

OYFP frequently hosts wine tasting events. In fact, we have one planned for the springtime, which is yet one more thing to look forward to about the end of winter.

In preparation for more wine and guarding your wallet after exuberant holiday spending, you may want to consider this new research from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena. The work shows that the level of enjoyment people derive from a sample of wine is higher when they believe the wine that they are tasting is more expensive. The key word being "believe," since the researchers arbitrarily gave each wine sample a price.

I pulled a "pour a decent box wine in a decanter" trick at a recent party, and people seemed to enjoy it just fine, not knowing it was from the oft stereotyped (but more environmentally friendly) box wine industry.

The lesson here? Cheap wine can taste just as good as expensive wine, just as long as you don't know it's cheap. Buy a few bottles of varying prices at the package store, scrape off their price tags (or their labels), mix them up, and open at random to enjoy! Don't let the price change your mind.

Anyone have some cheap wine recommendations aside from the "two buck chuck" from Trader Joe's?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Pantless 2k8: Making Boston Smile

According to Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, approximately 40% of the brain is under our own 'happiness control' (50% is genetics and 10% is situational). By choosing what activities we participate in and how we feel and think, we can influence our own happiness. 40% is a pretty significant amount, and I intend on doing something about it.

This weekend, I chose to help T riders feel a little happiness. Or at least wonder. Or maybe disgust. At the very least, I turned heads and gave them a good story to tell that night over the dinner table. That's right, I dropped my pants and rode the T with 200 other people and about 10 reporters. I know me and my booty are in a few people's digital cameras and cell phones, and on at least one reporter's camera.

Surprisingly, I managed to bump into some people I knew, including one of my little brother's good friends and two Yelpers (Damon I. and Daniel S.). We shared some giggles.

It took some courage to parade around in my 'delicates,' but it was worth it. I contributed to my own 40% of happiness, and hopefully helped some others laugh a little too.

What do you do to make yourself happy, or others? [Ahem - keep it clean.]

I'm in the white jacket with the red purse and red shoes.

Friday, January 11, 2008

This weekend in Boston

I enjoy the creative events people come up with around Boston. It is one of the reasons I enjoy being part of OYFP - it helps me find new events that can draw people to get involved in their community. My favorite past event was the Boston Zombie walk, where people came to Davis Square, dressed as Zombies, simply to walk like zombies to a bar.

Today, in the Metro, my eye happened to land on an article entitled, "T riders to drop drawers" by Christina Wallace. In the article it explains the group Improv Everywhere have been successful in creating 6 years of pantless rides (you can still wear your underwear, so it's not naked) events in the NYC subway system. This Saturday is their first try in Boston, where at some point Saturday afternoon a bunch of riders are going to meet at Alewife stations and will drop their pants while riding the subway.

Apparently Improv Everywhere already has 380 people signed up to ride the T pantless. There is no cause or awareness they are trying to raise, just rather people doing something for the sake of doing it. The Metro highlights a section in the article saying "Get Involved". I guess I never thought of de-pantsing myself as a way to get involved with my community, but it definitely seems to have struck a cord in Boston.

So, "To have pants on or pants off this weekend?" That is the question.

Thank You for Burnt Rice

I got home late from work last night - around 8 PM. Obviously I was ravenous, so I put on some rice and started thinking about what to have with the rice. My boyfriend Terrence called, proposing we meet some friends out at the Warren Tavern. "Sure!" I said, turned off the rice timer, grabbed my coat, and walked out the door.

One burger, two beers, and three and a half hours later, I return home. The foyer of my apartment building smells awful, so Terrence and I rushed to get inside my apartment... where the smell just got worse. No. No. No!!! I left the rice on for three hours. My entire apartment reeked like burnt hair, burnt BBQ, and cigarette smoke. "This must be what burnt rice smells like," I thought.

I'm just lucky I used a good pot (now ruined), and the burning situation was kept to a minimum. I just have stinky clothes and furniture as a reminder as I wait for the burnt smell to dissipate from the air. It could have been much, much worse.

Today I'll be calling to get renter's insurance, buying a rice cooker with an auto-off function, and sending a donation to the Red Cross, which often helps fire victims. Next time I hear about a family put out of their home by fire, maybe I'll help collect food and clothing for them. I know just a little tiny bit about what it's like to be in that situation and how easy it is to get there, and it makes me more compassionate.

So thank you, burnt rice, for reminding me not to wait until I'm in or have been in the same situation as someone else before I take action to help. Thank you for reminding me to be compassionate, to try to understand how someone might have ended up in their situation. Thank you for reminding me to keep giving. And to get renter's insurance.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Knowledge & Resources.

I love to cook. As a child, I learned while helping my mother in the kitchen. As a teenager, I occasionally prepared meals for my family. In college, I regularly cooked for roommates. Over the years, I’ve developed this skill and until recently, I considered myself a better than average cook.

I now realize that I don’t know as much as I previously thought I did about cooking. This realization was brought about by two things: Knowledge and Resources.

Knowledge. When I’m not cooking or eating, I’m watching shows about cooking and eating. Watching a master chef skillfully prepare, cook and plate common foods with exotic ingredients is a treat. Watching someone like Bobby Flay is educational as well as exciting. Some of my favorite Food Network shows are:

Barefoot Contessa – hosted by Ina Garten
Boy Meets Grill – hosted by Bobby Flay
East Meets West With Ming Tsai – hosted by Ming Tsai
Iron Chef America – hosted by Alton Brown
Jamie at Home - hosted by Jamie Oliver, premiering January 12, 2008
The Next Iron Chef – hosted by Alton Brown and Mark Dacascos

Resources. As a gift I recently received a W├╝sthof Classic Hollow-Ground Santoku, 5", with Sharpener. This knife has changed my life. Not only has it improved my ability, it has highlighted my limitations... in the kitchen. It has also made me want more knives of different shapes, sizes and uses.

Having knowledge of a skill, the resources to develop that skill, and the desire to learn is what sets a master apart from an amateur.

What do you like to do? Are you a master of anything?

Finding your voice (politically)

In case you haven't turned on a TV, listened to the radio, surfed the net, or opened your mail, the 2009 presidential election is upon us. The very first primary poll occurred yesterday in NH, our independent-minded neighbor to the North, and the results (Clinton/McCain victories) surprised many in the Obama camp. Many pundits claim that McCain took away Obama votes, but that's a conversation for another blog.

Politics can be a confusing landscape for even the most dedicated citizens. But it's exactly what defines us as citizens: Our ability to vote. In Massachusetts, it's easy to feel like your vote doesn't count. Our primaries aren't first, our state always goes democratic (in presidential elections anyway), and there are so many political activists that you might feel as though your voice doesn't mean anything. Your vote does make a difference. All of our votes together make the difference.

So participate. Get on your feet! Figure out where you stand on the issues, and which candidate you feel would be best at leading the United States. And let others know why you support the candidate - talk about the candidate, or put your money where you mouth is.

Need some help figuring out where you stand? Don't worry, there are plenty of tools:
There is plenty of information, and no more excuses. Get on your feet and vote already!

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Super Hunger Month 2008

January is Super Hunger Month, which benefits The Greater Boston Food Bank. The Greater Boston Food Bank partners with more than 600 hunger-relief agencies in the nine counties of eastern Massachusetts to provide food and grocery products for approximately 83,000 people each week and distribute nearly 30 million pounds of food annually.

The Super Hunger events taking place this month are:

  • Boston Bruins Five For Fighting Hunger Can & Cash Drive: Bruins fans attending the January 17th game are encouraged to donate five cans or $5 to The Greater Boston Food Bank.
  • Super Hunger Chef Challenge: A dinner hosted by the Four Seasons Hotel Boston where renowned chefs Jody Adams of Rialto, Marc Orfaly of Pigalle and Marco, and TV Celebrity Chef Jon Ashton try to out cook each other with food items donated to the Food Bank. Tickets are $250.
  • Super Hunger Brunch: On Saturday & Sunday, January 26 and 27, some of Boston’s finest restaurants will be serving brunch and donating their time, food and services. Prix fixe menus are $25, $35, or $50. What a deal!
  • Super Hunger Online Auction: Starting January 17, you can bid and possibly win culinary-themed items and packages such as cooking demonstrations, wine tastings and a weekend getaway.
  • Super Hunger On Your Own: If none of the above isn’t right for you, you can still help. You can host a potluck at home and ask your guests to make a donation to support The Greater Boston Food Bank. Conduct a food drive, volunteer at the Food Bank or make a donation. I can personally say volunteering at the Food Bank is a rewarding experience and is a fun activity to do with a group of friends. We all play a role in ending hunger.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Green Tips for the New Year

I try to do my part in being green. Granted I am not always perfect, for instance my love of elevators over the stairs, but I do try and do my part.

However, here are some tips that I have recently learned that may help you to go green for 2008.

The holidays are pretty much all over and people may be wondering what to do with your Christmas Tree. The website has set up a link for "Treecycle 2007". It lists locations you can go to drop off your tree. It also lists if your city/town has a curb-side pick up of trees.

Every city or town has their own guidelines for tree disposal. The basic rules are that all lights, ornaments, and garland must be taken off the tree before you dispose of it. The City of Boston will collect Christmas trees for two weeks after the holidays and compost them. Boston residents are asked to dispose of their Christmas trees on their trash day between January 7th and 18th.

Now - what to do about your pet. LIPA USA Reports, “3.6 billion pounds of dog waste/year is produced in the United States alone, equaling 800 football fields, one foot high. This is a hidden health issue that no one wants to 'touch' as approximately 50 million registered dogs in the United States produces more than 5,000 tons of waste daily.” Now that's a lot of poop.

I recently became the owner of a rescue dog and like most responsible dog owners, my fiancee and I use plastic bags to dispose of her droppings (ewww!). The unfortunate part is plastic is not bio-degradable. Because of that, the poop is not allowed to compost. Have no fear, there is an earth-friendly solution! I just came across Bio-Bags, which are bio-degradable. At just $6.00 for 50 bio-degradable bags, the price is pretty reasonable. Using these bags will help reduce that 3.6 billion pounds of non-composing dog poop.

These are a few of my favorite green tips, and ones that I intend to incorporate into my New Year's resolutions. Do you have any green tips to share?

Thursday, January 3, 2008

I don’t do resolutions.

The New Year is a time for reflection. Traditionally, we reflect on the past years events and look forward to the year ahead. This is also the time many people make New Years resolutions. I don’t do resolutions.

When something is labeled a resolution it isn’t really a main priority. If it is a main concern then why wait until the last day of the year to face it? I applaud anyone who makes a resolution and actually sees positive long-lasting change. But, for the most part, most resolutions are broken. In the US the most popular resolutions are:

Lose Weight
Pay Off Debt
Save Money
Get a Better Job
Get Fit
Eat Right
Get a Better Education
Drink Less Alcohol
Quit Smoking Now
Reduce Stress Overall
Reduce Stress at Work
Take a Trip
Volunteer to Help Others

Make small changes in your everyday life to achieve your overall goals. Don’t make huge broad resolutions. You can start today, click here to
Volunteer and Help Others.

All the best in 2008.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Top Five New Year's Resolutions

As cliche as it might be, every year I make New Year's resolutions. According to a recent survey of 1,000 adults by Cigna, apparently I'm not alone - approximately 69% of Americans make resolutions every year.

Not surprisingly, the top five New Year's resolutions are to:
1. Lose weight (28%)
2. Work out more (12%)
3. Quit smoking (11%) (tied)
3. Be more fiscally responsible (11%) (tied)
4. Get a new job (percentage not disclosed)
5. Eat healthier (percentage not disclosed)

Three years ago, I resolved to find an organization with which I could volunteer... and it was harder than I thought to find somewhere I could volunteer while having a full time day job. However, I persisted and found OYFP. Now I'm one of the co-directors! That's commitment to a resolution.

My success at keeping my New Year's resolution was hard fought, and apparently rare:
  • 12% of people surveyed reported not following through at all or giving up in less than a week
  • A total of 43% gave up within six months
Oh, I can relate with failure. I'm far from perfect! Every year, I resolve to floss. It used to be "I will floss every night." Over the years, it has changed to "I will floss four times a week." But sure enough, the evening of January 1 rolled around - my first night for potential success at this flossing resolution - and I didn't floss. My excuse? I was traveling and didn't have any on hand.

What are your resolutions this year? I suggest resolving to attend at least five OYFP events per year. ;-)