11 December 2010

Christmas cookies

Grinding the spices for them. Totally crazy, I agree. Also, drinking. Unrelated, I'm sure.

Bob is "helping" by knocking shit all over the place to remind me that he has not yet had dinner. He's such a little pissant. Right now he's playing with the ground mustard. I hope he doesn't ingest any, because mustard is an emetic.

01 December 2010

The Empress of Cat Food


So far the raw diet experiment is going pretty well. The cats all loooooove it. And their poops smell a lot less! I would write about all the reasons that I'm finding it to be a good idea and how I am NOT AT ALL CRAZY to do it, except I'm too busy making the cat food itself.

I tell you what, though, I would totally start my own business making this shit, except I wouldn't make the frozen kind (shipping and storage costs would make it prohibitively expensive, I think) but the pressure canned kind which is shelf stable at room temp. It would be so easy. You would source your meat suppliers (seek out ethical ones) and get your permits together. Call your company FrankenMouse, because the food is basically trying to re-engineer a mouse and mice are the perfect food. (Or call the company something less stupid. Please don't think that the kind of marketing that I do is the kind that involves naming start-ups.)

Christ, you could start production out of your own kitchen. Pressure can all the food, then you can ship it at ground rates. Once business ramps up, look for a commercial kitchen. After that's outgrown itself, move to a farm and raise your own rabbits and chickens locally. Organically. It would cut down on production costs hugely. Raise their feed on the farm as well, natch. Get vets to consult on special needs lines. Do actual research on actual cats. Eat your own cat food, literally - something like a video of me eating the raw cat food would totally go viral on YouTube. Holy shit, right? I should make that video just to see if there's a market. (Also that would be BADASS.) Invest in a sustainable salmon fishery. Make corporate donatations to salmon research. Sell excess produce to local restaurants, because the kicker is that not only is the cat food human-grade, you're raising the chickens and rabbits and salmon on human-grade food.

You could market it as not only the best cat food nutritionally, but also the cheapest and most ethical choice possible. You could get Whole Foods to distribute it, first some local in-store testing and then nationally. You could build an empire.

28 November 2010

He ain't heavy,

he's my brother.

11 November 2010

that kid ain't right in the head

I decided the other day that I ought to try one of those stupid blogger things where you list things you are thankful for every day. Three things, things every day during November, whatever. I figured it would efficiently because it would give me blog fodder and also something to read back through when I'm depressed. Also it's possible that the act of being creative is enough to make me feel not depressed - like the endorphin rush you get from exercise.

I'm not feeling particularly enthused about it at the moment, but according to a lot of people, if you force yourself to grind out creative work every day, you'll eventually produce something decent. (Also I kind of think that I force out creative stuff at work every day, so ... why I thought making more work for myself was a good idea, I don't know ... as you can see I'm pretty ambivalent about the general idea of assigning myself MORE work.)

But! If I'm not a huge fan of vague thankfulness and gratitude (does feeling "thankful" work better when you believe in God?), I am at least a true believer in neuroplasticity (basically training your brain to sit up and beg) so it's good to force the ole grey noodle into something different.

Today I happen to be glad that I have a therapist who I like and the money for copays so I can actually go see her.

31 October 2010

I win at life.


And the aftermath.


24 October 2010

Shoes and ships and sailing wax

Sorry to leave you all hanging. I have a good excuse though. My new job is excellent. I keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, but so far so good. I am SO glad to be working with some of the best litigators in the country! Man, do they know how to go after bad people who do bad things!

Also Dave has been out of the house a lot; one of his bands will be recording a new album (an LP? What the hell is the difference these days?) out in LA. They have been working very diligently, so diligently that Dave got bronchitis on top of a cold. This is sort of funny since I had an unrelated cold which progressed to bronchitis a week before. I think I was in denial about being sick because I decided not to take anything to reduce my fever in the hopes that a high fever would burn the virus out quicker.

It turned out not to be such a great idea. I planned to monitor my temperature and take something if my temperature went up past 102F, but when I wasn't paying attention it shot up to 103 and I spent a very uncomfortable night in a wringing wet bed. If I had known my fever was that high I would have taken something for it but it turns out you can't read a thermometer when your brain is busy cooking itself. It's like being on recreational drugs without the recreational aspect. My temp dropped by itself overnight to a mere 101, which is when I discovered the results of the previous evening's failed attempt to read the thermometer.

Oh well. I called in sick for a second day in a row and went to the doctor, who diagnosed bronchitis and gave me a z-pack and a note for work. (Then when I got into work no one would take the note from me because they all believed me. So I tucked it in between the pages of my employee handbook, because I didn't know what else to do with it.) I'm probably dumb enough to avoid going to the doctor even after that fever, but I am a nonsmoker and therefore when my insides became coated in gray gunk it seemed like there was more to the story. I was pretty relieved not to have pneumonia actually. According to the doctor bronchitis vs. pneumonia is really a matter of the location, location, location of your bacterial infection. How gross is that thought, by the way? At least as gross as gray mucus.

The cats were all pretty happy to have me home though. Obviously - I was toasty warm and slept for 20 hours a day. It's a cat's dream come true. And Bob showed me how there is now not a single surface in the house that he cannot reach. He is the giantest asshole I have ever met, and I have met some bad cats in my day. I think the assholery is the pigheadedness of really superior cat who is trying to figure out his place in the world.

Nibbles is no slouch either - she has figured out how to open drawers and I am pretty sure she opened the kitchen cabinet on her own the other day. But Nibbles is lazier and prettier than Bob, and she's friendlier too. She generally overcomes visitors by putting her paw in their chest and looking deep into their eyes. She did this with my landlord the other day, which was extra useful since he had stopped by because the rent was late. (He was super nice about it actually, and perhaps a little distracted by Nibbles climbing up his chest onto his head while purring ecstatically.)

All the cats seem to have been super naughty lately. I'm attributing this to switching them all to wet food (in preparation for a transition to a raw diet). Apparently dry food is like crack for cats, and almost as bad for them. Or they could just be energetic because we haven't been around very much. Whatever - the little fuckers want to party all the time.

We tried them with raw meat for the first time last night, actually, and four out of the five went for it with gusto. The holdout was Pip, who has also been the slowest to get excited about eating wet food. Pip is actually what prompted the switch to a raw diet (which, I *know*, is totally a crazy cat lady thing to do). He had a bladder "blockage" which cost $1700 and a trip to the veterinary ER to unblock. It was caused by him eating dry food and not drinking enough water. If he had been eating wet food, it's extremely unlikely that this would have happened. I was searching online to find out more about the bladder blockage and found Lisa Pierson's extremely authoritative site about the benefits of a raw diet. She is not only a vet but she talks about a groundbreaking study (which I can't find right now, argh) done by a vet which compared several generations of cats who were fed dry food only vs. a natural diet - within a couple of generations the dry-only cats had developed some serious problems.)

Besides it being a pain in the ass to deal with raw food, my reservation about a raw diet was how much it would cost and whether or not it would be okay for Lucky (who is diabetic) and Pip to eat instead of their presciption food. I couldn't work out how the cost compares to prescription canned food because I didn't know how much cats eat a day. It's based on their body weight, but most cats are around the 5 ounces/day mark. (The equivalent of five mice! This is unreasonably interesting to me. For our cats to support themselves they would need 25 mice per day between them!@ Holy shit!) But Lisa Pierson actually crunches the numbers and works out the cost (.64/cat/day) - which is cheaper than Pip's prescription canned food. A 6 pound bag of dry Rx for Lucky costs about thirty five bucks, or sick bucks a pound, That's a lot more expensive than the raw diet, which is about two bucks a pound. (Science Diet is like .18 cents a pounds, which is really kind of scary when you think about it.)

So there have turned out to be a surprising number of side benefits which I didn't expect just from the switch to canned food. It's easier to feed them - they all have two meals a day, all at the same time, and then we can clean the counters completely between meals. (In fact, we are almost at a point where we will be able to feed them all on the floor instead of having to keep dry kibble available at all times on the counters for Pip, Wiggles (aka Nibbles) and Little Bobby Dickface. Yes! Having a bowl of food on the counter has grossed me out for years!)

Also the litter boxes smell less terrible. I don't know what they put into the dry food, but it's pretty awful when it comes out the other end. Supposedly a raw diet will render the poops odorless, or almost odorless. If this is true, it's worth switching only for that reason. My goal in housekeeping is to have a house where you would never know that we had cats if the cats themselves didn't come out to say hello. This means cleaning the litterboxes a LOT and vacuuming a LOT. (I wish I had a good way to pick up pet hair on soft furnishings.) If the litterboxes are less grody, it's a little easier for me to deal with cleaning them when I come in the door after work. Cook's Illustrated recently reviewed robot vacuums. I've wanted one for a while but I don't know anyone who has one and could tell me how well they really work; however, if CI says they're worth the money then I trust them. (Apparently there is even a robot which will mop the floor! I love this idea since mopping the kitchen floor is one of my least favorite tasks.)

Another funny thing: I said that all the cats liked the raw chicken except for Pip; the PigBear loved the chicken but actually stopped eating it when she was full. I have never before seen her stop eating of her own volition. I'm hopeful that we might be able to help her lose weight with the raw diet (it's really easy to calculate how many calories she'll need based on her weight.) We just need a vet scale, and thanks - again - to Lisa Pierson, I know where to buy one online.

Lucky in particular went for the raw chicken with gusto. We don't know the history of his first three years; Dave's friend adopted him because her cleaning lady found him hanging around outside a dumpster, so I wonder if he went for the meat because he has had experience living rough? (on the other hand, I know Bob and Nibbles never hunted outside and they liked it, so who knows.)

One other happy thing about the raw diet: since I'm buying decent meat for the cats this means that we'll probably have more meat around, which bodes well for the humans. In a post which I can't find right now, Jennifer Reese of the Tipsy Baker observes that cooking vegetarian requires a lot more work than cooking meat. (I am super envious of her pet goat having, chicken keeping lifestyle. I hate plain eggs but they'd be handy to feed the cats.) I gave the cats one chicken breast last night and Dave and I had the other two for our dinner. When we ate dinner, none of the cats begged for food. ... because they were full? Because cats find raw meat infinitely more delicious than cooked? A fluke? Only time will tell.

It was the easiest and most delicious thing I have made in a while. Dave is still feeling kind of punky from his illness so it was a comfort food kind of night. I read Nigel Slater for inspiration (he is such a good food writer, and what's more, I don't think I have ever made any of his recipes and had it turn out badly. Probably in part because his recipes are super flexible.)

I sauteed a chicken breast in 1 tbl butter (yes - just butter) and then deglazed the pan with some vegetable stock (Slater calls for white wine, which would have been better but I had none), then added some buttermilk (Slater says yoghurt or creme fraiche, but again I had neither.) I let it all bubble away for a while, reducing and concentrating the flavor. The heat made the buttermilk split into tiny, unattractive white globules (this would not have happened if I'd used creme fraiche) so while the sauce was reducing I made a quick roux (browned the 1 tbsp flour on one side of a nonstick pan while 2 tbls of butter melted on the other side, then combined the two and added the dregs of some vegetable stock) and stirred it into the sauce, which thickened it up a bit and, more importantly, camouflaged the split buttermilk. Then I added the juice from a leftover half a lemon, tasted the sauce, decided it needed capers, and added a tablespoon or so of those plus a little brine from the jar. (I would not have needed a roux at all had I used yoghurt or creme fraiche, and the sauce would have reduced more quickly too.) Once the sauce had thickened up to my liking I threw in about a half a cup of basil leaves from the plant which has been yellowing sadly on top of the fridge ever since the weather turned cold and I brought it indoors.

While all this was happening I had a spaghetti squash roasting in a 450F oven. (I split it in half, scooped out the seeds and strings, salted and peppered it and put it face down in a glass baking dish for about half an hour. I suspect I left it in there longer than that, but overcooking spaghetti squash wasn't a big risk, and in fact, it was fine.) Once the chicken and its sauce were ready, I piled the spaghetti-like squash innards (not an appealing simile, sorry) into shallow pasta bowls and put the chicken breasts on top and then poured the sauce on top of everything. Apart from the use of spaghetti squash instead of angel hair pasta, this is the Italian restaurant comfort food of my childhood. (Well, as a kid I would have ordered veal instead of chicken, but who's counting?)

Also, despite the use of butter, it was incredibly healthy. Three tablespoons of butter isn't much (about 300 calories) when the rest of the meal is boneless skinless chicken breasts and squash - I didn't set out to make a diet meal but apparently that's what happened. I also didn't have to fuck around chopping and sauteing onion and garlic for a soffrito (aka mirepoix if you're feeling froggy), which is something I almost always have to make when I am cooking vegetarian in order to get some depth of flavor. Meat is so much easier to build a meal around and it provides a flavor that vegetables, delicious in their own right, can't produce. And that's why I will never be vegetarian. But I do want ethically treated meat, i.e. animals that have good lives right up until the day they are killed so that I can eat them. (If I lived in a place where I could get excellent produce year round, I think vegetarianism would be a lot easier. But I live in Boston where the growing season is four months long, hence the almost perpetual need for a soffrito.)

And that's all she wrote for now. Don't forget to tune in for another episode about really dowdy and unfashionable ways to spend your time.

11 October 2010

from now on, I calls 'em as I sees 'em

...not like I ever did mince words. I'm more towards the "blunt to the point of rudeness" end of the spectrum.

The past ten days have totally kicked my ass into the stratosphere, and not in a good way. So no insights from me.

But listen to this song, because it's one of my favorites, even if I am embedding it via gootube (currently* I have a hateon for Google and all its minions)

* I'm sure that by tomorrow morning I'll be back to welcoming our new Googlous overlords. In the meantime I'm hacked off.

01 October 2010

It may be time for an intervention

I just got all excited thinking about looking at my data to see if it makes a bell curve and what it looks like in a scatterplot chart. This seems like a problematic trend.

On the positive side, my high school math teacher would be proud (thanks, Mr Murphy! Even though I referred to my time with you as "probability and sadistics" all year, it turned out to be pretty handy lo these many years later.)

27 September 2010

This is purely for bragging rights:

Plum jam on a weeknight. Yes, the apple pectin is homemade, since you ask.

21 September 2010

concord grapes *must* have a lot of umami

the odor that the concord grape produces while in the superheated grasp of the reproductive urge creates an almost palpable miasma - musky and and densely sweet.

13 September 2010

11 September 2010


Do anyting for catklok
Do anything for catklok
Do anything for catklok
Do anything for catklok

I'll teach you who poop

catklok catklok catklok!

Pipgar Pipgelf fell out of a tree

Nibbles Wartooth ate a bumble bee

Bobby Murderface Murderface Murderface

Luckles doodly doo doodly doo ding dong diddly doodly doo

PigBear Explosion

With apologies to Dethklok
& thanks to stoops for his brutal assistance writing this post.

Last jar

Guess it's time for another batch. Marmalade is so easy to make that I usually tend to overdo it and make enough to last three years, but this time I got it right.

09 September 2010


Just finished Radio Days by Garrison Keillor and I find myself full of reluctant admiration for the man. He strikes me as a pompous phony who condescends unpleasantly to his characters, but he can certainly turn a phrase.

26 August 2010

How to Make a Self-Watering Potted Plant

I'm not that much of a draftsman (or scanner user), but you get the idea.

That thing on the far right is supposed to say "capillary action" and if that's the wrong phrase, please don't tell me because the closest I get to science these days is an Excel spreadsheet and I don't really care if I'm wrong.

25 August 2010


Blogging from phone ... Now I just need picasa to throw pictures directly from my phone onto here. I'm all caught up to the year 2008!

practice, practice, practice

working on trying to think of myself as a creative person again ...

20 August 2010

Cyanide occurs naturally too

On the Perils of Being a Hippie

Alas, "natural"

Tom's of Maine deodorant

caused chemical burns

10 August 2010

In Which I Combine Three Major Talents

A Not-At-All Exhaustive List of Things I am Good At:
1. Analyzing the crap out of things
2. Baking yeast bread
3. Writing

Now I will try not to bore the socks off you while I do all three things at once. Feel free to judge me in the comments section.

Since I am STILL looking for work (I can't even get arrested in this town right now), I'm obviously broke. Broke enough that I started to wonder if it was worth the effort of making my own bread. I know my bread is better, but is it cheaper? (Let's pretend my time is worth nothing in this scenario, which is what a lot of employers seem to think right now anyway, so in a way it's true.)

A loaf at Market Basket costs $1.99. What about the raw materials for my bread? They have to make a profit, so I'll guess that it costs them a dollar or less to produce each loaf of bread, but they also have access to economies of scale - so I'll stick with the $1.99.

Maybe I'm the only one, but I feel like if I'm going to the trouble of making homemade bread, it should be cheaper than commercially produced versions - as well as taste better and be free of suspect shelf-stabilizing chemicals. Think of homemade tomato sauce - a tin of tomatoes, a couple of spoonfuls of olive oil, salt, pepper, and onion and garlic - those are all inexpensive ingredients and I can make enough pasta sauce for dinner for two about a buck. (Add the pasta and you're talking about two dollars to feed two people for dinner - cheaper, tastes better and it's healthier.)

So I crunched the numbers. It turns out that those economies of scale make a crucial difference. My homemade bread cost $2.11 to make, while I can buy a loaf of bread for $1.99. Ounce per ounce, the homemade bread is 20% more expensive. (That link is to a Google doc version of my spreadsheet.)

But is supermarket bread really a better deal? I was still hoping that somehow homemade bread would turn out to be cheaper, so I looked at cost per calorie efficiency (thinking back to chemistry class and my lightbulb moment when I realized that a calorie was a way to measure energy ... and we eat to keep going ... so calories is probably a more effective unit of measurement here).

Calorie per calorie, homemade bread is 15% cheaper than supermarket bread. This is a good thing to know when you are trying to figure out, as all poor people do, what food will give you the most calories for the least money. Plus, with homemade bread I get to feel all superior about using high-quality ingredients like honey and molasses instead of the dreaded HFCS.

Recipe notes: I omitted the salt from the recipe because I used salted butter in the recipe. I find Beard is sometimes heavy-handed with the salt and the sweet in writing his recipes (probably why they taste so damn good.) I also subbed rice milk for dairy (we just don't keep fresh milk around any more).

Cracked Wheat Bread, from James Beard's Beard on Bread

* 1/2 cup cracked wheat -- fine
* 1 1/2 cups boiling water
* 1 package active dry yeast
* 1/3 cup warm water -- 100-110 deg.
* 1/4 cup butter -- softened
* 1 1/2 tablespoons salt
* 2 tablespoons molasses
* 2 tablespoons honey
* 1 cup milk
* 1 cup whole-wheat flour
* 4 cups all-purpose flour

Cook the cracked wheat in the boiling water about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking until all the water is absorbed. Dissolve the yeast in the 1/3 cup lukewarm water in a large mixing bowl and let proof. Stir the butter, salt, molasses, honey, and milk into the cooked cracked wheat. Cool to lukewarm, then add to the yeast mixture. With a large spoon or with one hand, start stirring in the flours, 1 cup at a time.

When the dough is stiff enough to work, turn out on a floured board and knead a good 10 to 12 minutes, working in a little of the remaining flour as necessary. When smooth and elastic, shape into a ball and put in a buttered bowl, turning to coat with butter. Cover, place in a warm, draft-free spot, and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.

Punch down and shape into two loaves.

Put in well-buttered 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pans, cover, and let rise again until doubled in bulk, or until the dough reaches the tops of the pans.
Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven 30 to 35 minutes, or until the loaves sound hollow when tapped on top and bottom. Cool on racks. Makes 2 loaves.

That's right, bitches. Quarter cup of butter. I said my bread was better.

06 July 2010


I've been looking for jobs for the past 4 months or so (kind of sporadically back in March, in a more focused way since May) and that means I have been having a lot of interviews. A LOT of interviews. So I created a little equation that will show you how the process works.

5 x applications yields 1 x call-back/phone screen
5 x phone screens yields 1 x in-person interview
5 x in-person yields 1 x second in-person interview
3 x second in-person yields 1 x job offer

Did you do the math? It's ugly out there. Stop & Shop is hiring, though!

Anyway, I've figured out some processes that make interviewing easier for me and I thought I'd share them (and also archive them for my own reference.) I'm not going to talk about obvious things like not lying because you already know not to lie. This is also going to include some things which might be specific to my industry, but I'm sure you can make parallels on your own.

To prepare for a phone screen, I do the following things:

1. Review the job description and my resume and try to think of specific ways in which my experience matches (or doesn't) the desired candidate. They want someone who has handled budgets over $250,000? My last two jobs have included budgets over a million! They want someone to lead a team of 4? Uh ... I have only supervised and trained interns. I need to figure out how to address that in the phone screen.

2. Figure out the company's business model and what life-cycle stage the company is at (are they a start-up with three other people running out of someone's basement or are they a start-up with 100 people who are on a round C of venture capital financing and planning to go public within two years?) This stuff is important not only in helping you figure out if you want to work there, but also in providing you with material to ask strategic questions (I'm getting there, I promise.)

3. Snoop around as much as possible about your interviewer/hiring manager. What's their professional background - do you know anyone in common? Are they an avid mountain biker? You can jot this down and, if you're able, say work it into the conversation, e.g. "Years ago I did a little SEO work for my brother's side business - he has a start-up that makes parts for mountain bikes. Man, that was a long time ago - back in the day, all you had to do for SEO was a few on-page elements!"

Do they have hands-on experience in your area or are they looking for someone who is already a self-directed expert who won't need much input? It requires different strategies. If I see that the hiring manager has a strong paid or natural background, I'm going to need to make this person feel confident that I know what I'm doing and that I'm okay with a boss who likes to log in and check out the accounts. If it's someone who has almost no hands-on experience in a search role, I'm going to have to - again- make the hiring manager feel confident in my expertise and in my ability to handle money and fulfill my quotas without needing hand-holding when it comes to tactical execution. (For the record, I'm pretty happy with both styles of management.)

Is the hiring manager on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn? Do they have a blog? Do they have a profile on the company website? Use whatever you can! Pump mutual acquaintances for information!

4. Plan your own questions to ask during the phone screen. Essentially you want your questions to show that you've done your due diligence researching and that you can think strategically (no one wants to hire a monkey who can't do anything but push a lever over and over again.) The questions that you ask are your only opportunity to show off how smart you are, so put some thought into them. In my industry, I don't usually bother to ask why the position is open - usually I'm talking to start-ups and this is a new role, or the person who did the job before me has moved on to another opportunity. But if you're a teacher or an editor or something, yes, it could be pretty important to ask why the role is open if the interviewer hasn't addressed it.

Ask how they measure success and what their internal reporting systems look like - is it very granular or is closing the loop going to be something that they need help with? What software platforms are they using to measure internally and externally? What's the business goal of the website? (You would think it would be obvious, but it's not always clear if the goal is to brand or the drive leads/sales or to raise category awareness ...)

Take notes, because you can then use that information to build your next set of questions in the in-person. If they say on the phone that they've got no problem closing the loop and their reporting is very granular indeed, then in the in-person you can ask how about their attribution model - is it last click attribution or are they looking for patterns in second and third visits? How are they using that granular information in a strategic way that helps inform key business decisions - what's their strategy for separating the wheat from the chaff in the super-detailed granular reporting that's available? Yadda yadda.

5. Listen closely for the pauses in the conversation so you don't step on their questions. This one is REALLY hard for me since I am such a blabbermouth and I just expect people to interrupt me right back. But there's no better way to ruin a phone screen than by not letting your interviewer get a word in edgewise. (Guess how I know?) Phone screens are harder than in-person interviews in this way because you don't get to see someone's body language or expressions. On the plus side, phone screens are a bit like an open-book test - you can be looking at the company's website while you're on the phone.

6. Analyze the company before the call. In my case this usually means doing a basic SEO and analytics audit. This gives me an idea of how professional they are (looking at a site's SEO is a little like being in the dressing room of an actor who is getting ready for a performance - what do they look like without makeup, flattering lighting and costume? If you're in a field where SEO doesn't apply, look for successes and failures of the company - did the publishing company famously pass on The Lovely Bones? Does the school district consistently win awards or do they barely scrape by with below-average test scores? This is all information you can work into your conversation on the fly (although be careful about alluding to embarrassing failures.)

Preparing for an in-person interview:

1. Snoop and take notes on ALL the people you'll be meeting with, if you know who that will be, and don't be afraid to take notes. Maybe they went to the same college as you, years later - you can establish a bond over that.

2. Figure out your outfit and have it ready before the day of the interview. And by outfit, I don't just mean making sure that your suit and shirt are pressed and ready in the closet - you also need to print out a copy of the job description, a couple of spare resumes (often people are given little notice before they interview you and haven't had time to review your resume), a notebook, a business-type handbag (whatever the dude equivalent is - a briefcase? Laptop bag?), a few pens. Put your phone on silent the night before. Set your alarm the night before and put a reminder in your phone or calendar three or four hours before the interview reminding you to get ready. Put gum and a spare pair of stockings in your bag. Gas up the car. Whatever - it's already going to be stressful, so if everything is ready to go, that's one less thing you need to charge around the house looking for.

3. Print out the directions, calculate how long it'll take to get there and then plan for an extra 50% of travel time. If it's 30 minutes away, leave 45 minutes or an hour early. (I like to leave at least half an hour of padding.) Make sure your phone is charged in case someone rear-ends you on your way there. Arrive early to the building (and spend the time reviewing your notes) - you'll be calm and cool. Announce yourself to the receptionist three to five minutes before the interview time - this shows that you're prompt but doesn't stress out your interviewer by making them feel that they have to see you immediately.

3. Review all the snooping and conclusions from your phone screen prep - it's pretty common for weeks to elapse between phone screens and in-person interviews so you want to make sure it's all fresh in your mind.

4. Prepare a separate set of questions for the in-person - they'll remember if you repeat yourself. These should be based at least in part on the information you got during the phone screen (this shows that you were listening and that you're able to draw conclusions.) I would shoot for questions that are about 2/3 about the business (and many of these will be answered in the natural course of the interview) and 1/3 about interpersonal stuff.

You can ask things like, "What does your ideal candidate look like - and what are you looking for that I don't have?" or "What's your preferred management style?". If you know the manager is looking to build a team, ask about some of the challenges she's faced in the process. If you know this department is a new area for the company, ask what the success metrics are - how will they know that Facebook is worthwhile and has made a good return on the time investment? They'll definitely talk a lot about how great the company is and how wonderful the prospects are - so ask if they can tell you a little bit about what's not so great about the company. Ask about your interviewer's background - people love to talk about themselves. Don't make the first joke (I *always* fail on this one). Ask where the company/department will be in 5 years (or two). Try to get across to the manager that you're not interested in their job.

And as my friend Kat points out - a little reverse interrogation goes a long way. You can have all these questions ready, but use common sense in deciding when and how much you want to control the interview.

5. Get ready for hard, unexpected questions. Don't be scared to take a moment or two to think or to say, "Can we come back to that? I can't think of an example right now." I try to be as candid as possible while not damaging myself. Someone once said, "We've talked a lot about what you're good at - now tell me what you're not so good at." The cliched answers of "I try too hard/too much of a perfectionist/care too much" were not going to do anything for me here if I wanted to maintain the rapport with the interviewer, so I thought for a moment and said, "Well, I'm not great at confrontation - many women aren't, and it's something I'm working on. I'm also a bit of a procrastinator, which I am really working hard on, because otherwise I end up in the office at 9 pm trying to make a deadline and my husband is unhappy and it's a bad scene." In this case, that answer worked - my interviewer smiled and said she procrastinates sometimes too. It also happens to be the exact truth - I do struggle sometimes with procrastination and it is something I'm trying hard to be better about.

I've also been asked to talk about a time when I screwed up and how I responded. In that case, my answer was to talk about a time when a test had gone wrong due to my own inattention - so I confessed that I'd screwed up on a test and then talked about the lessons I had learned - in this case, I learned to A) build reporting on test results into my regular results reporting and B) to set up my test reporting BEFORE the test goes live, so that I know ahead of time what my success metrics will be and I have a framework that I can plug the results into. I've been asked about a time that I was yelled at by someone much higher up and how I responded (I didn't have an answer for that one since it's never happened and, in fact, I totally blew that question.)

I've been asked about a time when I had a conflict with someone at work and how I dealt with it. Again, I didn't really have a good answer since I'm not good at confrontations, so I just told the truth: that I don't tend to have blow-ups with people (even though maybe sometimes I should) and that when I've run across people who are really irritating to work with (in my case it's only happened a few times and it was always with someone who didn't appear to me to be doing their share of the work) I've addressed it on an ad-hoc basis - either let go of it if it wasn't affecting my performance results or talked to the person themselves or talked to a manager or HR if talking to the person had no results.

Sometimes you don't have a non-damaging anecdote to relate either because you haven't actually experienced it or the situation was for-real, legitimately insane (but you can't say that in an interview) - so sometimes it's okay to say, "that hasn't happened, but here's how I would try to address it." I mean, if your teammate isn't pulling their weight you don't always know why - maybe their kid has cancer! - so it's not always something that can be directly addressed or solved. Acknowledging the reality of messy real-world situations is just as likely to score you points in an interview as having a good story to tell.

6. Sincerity is the best sales tool. Use it.

And like I said, most of my examples are from my industry - but the point isn't to give you specific questions to ask or not ask, the point is to show you how to think strategically about your own interviews.

Good luck! And wish me some luck too, please - I need a job sooner rather than later.

21 June 2010


I've been reading so many books written or set in pre decimal Britain (pre 1971, that is) that I went to the trouble of writing out a list of the currencies. At last, I know what farthings and tanners are! (The authors are Joan Aiken, Charles Dickens, E.F. Benson, P.G. Wodehouse and Thomas W. Hanshew. What? Job hunting leaves a lot of leisure for reading.)

Also, and only tangentially related, while I don't know if this lap pillow counts as merely nerdy or weird and actively creepy, I'm going to go ahead and guess that this isn't what the popular kids have in their living room.

Update: I don't have one of these pillows myself. My original wording was a little unclear.

(H/T to geekologie)

15 June 2010

chocolate chocolate peanut butter peanut butter ice cream

I made triple chocolate ice cream the other day and it was reeeeaaally good. I used a David Lebovitz recipe and it worked almost perfectly. The texture was a little, uh, dense - a bit more so than normal for even home-made ice cream. It didn't quite freeze in the machine because I did two stupid things. I got impatient and cooled down the custard in the freezer, AND I didn't let the melted chocolate chips cool enough. (Melted chocolate chips aren't specified in this recipe but every ice cream that I make is stracciatella. It's a compulsion.) So next time I'll avoid that particular scenario, because it was confidence-wrecking to look at my churned ice cream reverting back to custard as fast as it could. Also I might throw a little aged dark rum in there to help prevent it from getting quite so hard; now that I've tasted the chocolate, I think it'll go well with rum. (I wasn't in *that* much doubt about the rum but I've never before met a chocolate ice cream that I actually liked - they all seem to have a little bit of a rough edge to their taste.) Speaking of taste, this is the best ice cream I have ever made (although I usually say that about each new recipe.) But there's no edge to the chocolate flavour at all - it tastes exactly like good chocolate mixed with good cream and rich egg yolks ought to taste. It's an excellent recipe, although kind of a pain in the ass.

However. David Lebovitz's recipe is not a recipe which requires a lot of faffing about. You don't have to bother with separating eggs and cooking very cautiously over very low heat while you wonder what coating the back of the spoon means, really. Just throw some dairy and sugar and cocoa into a pan, bring to a boil, dump in some peanut butter and you're almost done. But of course I'm unsatisfied with a simple recipe like that - something deep at the bottom of my soul cries out in pain until I've turned every recipe into a huge, time-consuming project.* So I've marked up the recipe with the changes I would make. Truthfully, the chocolate ice cream base isn't good enough to stand on its own, but I'm also not up for making the triple chocolate thing that I talked about at the beginning of the post just so that I can dunk some Skippy into it. That triple chocolate number deserves respect, and Skippy is just not a respectful ingredient. So my suggestions are bolded. (To make me feel important!)

Ice Cream:


* 2 cups half and half [I went ahead and used a 2:1 mixture of whipping cream and whole milk. The extra fat means it won't freeze quite so hard. Also more fat means more deliciousness for me.]
* ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
* ½ cup sugar
* Pinch of salt
* ½ cup smooth peanut butter [Don't even both trying to use Teddy or some "healthy" hippie brand. What you want here is Jif or Skippy, with all the added salt and sugar and stabilizers.]
[I'd add 1/4 tsp of instant espresso to the cream mixture - I find that a little bit of coffee underneath chocolate flavor can make the chocolate flavor seem stronger and more complex without being identifiable on its own as coffee.]
[I'd also throw in a slug of dark rum at the end to try to lighten up the texture of the end product.]


1. Whisk together the cream, milk, cocoa powder, sugar, and salt in a large saucepan. Heat the mixture, whisking frequently, until it comes to a full, rolling boil (it will start to foam up). Remove from the heat and whisk in the peanut butter, stirring until thoroughly blended.
2. Chill the mixture thoroughly, then freeze it in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer’s instructions. [It's the easiest ice cream I've ever churned - the peanut butter gives it body and stiffness so it's really easy to transfer into the container you'll freeze it in without making a big mess. It's actually so nice, texturally, that it makes me think peanut butter is a really underrated ingredient.]
[3. At the last minute of churning, I added 2 ounces of melted cooled chocolate chips to the "batter" - it's the easiest way to add chocolate chips ever, and you avoid having too-large, rock-hard lumps of chocolate which threaten your crowns when you bite down unwarily.]

Peanut Butter Chunks


* 6 tablespoons peanut butter (smooth or crunchy)
* 2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
[Next time I am going to add some salt to these guys - maybe 1/2 or 1 tsp of kosher salt, just to see what that's like. I am a salty-sweet person.]

Mix together the peanut butter and sugar in a small bowl. Line a dinner plate with plastic wrap. Pinch off small pieces of the peanut butter mixture, about ½ teaspoon each, and drop them onto the dinner plate. [It would be a bigger pain in the ass, but next time I'd go for smaller chunks, like 1/4 of a tablespoon, so that you got smaller bites of the chunks more often.] Once you’ve used all of the mixture, freeze the chunks. [It occurred to me that once frozen, you could dip the chocolate balls into melted chocolate to make them extra irresistible. But again, you're almost talking project at that point when all you're really trying to do is make yourself a fucking bowl of ice cream already. So maybe not.]

Mixing them in: Fold the Peanut Butter Chunks into 1 quart of ice cream as you remove it from the machine.

If you do decide to make this recipe, I assure you it will be delicious even if you slavishly follow David Lebovitz's instructions to the letter and disregard my chatty commentary.

Also, no pictures because the only pictures I can ever manage of chocolate ice cream are the kinds of pictures that make you think, "That dog was sick!".

*Ice cream, by the way, is pretty simple to make, especially if you make "philadelphia" style ice creams which don't involve an egg custard. Ice cream should not be a Cook's Illustrated-style project with twenty seven ingredients and an active cooking time of four hours. That I need to make ice cream harder for myself says a lot about me - none of it good. If you were keeping track, I suggested seven modifications to the recipe, and none of them were shortcuts. The life of a perfectionist is not all wine and roses, you know!

07 June 2010


I had the privilege of interacting with a charming and well-mannered bachelor party recently - the groom's note says it all.

(No, seriously, they were actually charming and well-mannered, hence this thank-you from the groom. Sure, they all came in loaded and loud, but I wasn't asleep anyway. My only annoyance was that since Dave failed to warn me that he was bringing the entire party back to our house after the bars closed, I was wearing my giant disgusting bathrobe when a dozen dudes trooped through the door. No one cared but me, of course.)

27 May 2010

Unbelievably Short-Sighted Idiocy of the Day

I went to go fill a prescription today and lo and behold, my insurance maxed out at a 30 mg/day dose - whereas MY DOCTOR has me on 40 mgs/day of this medicine. I have to APPEAL IN WRITING to request that the company makes an "exception" for me. This is so fucking outrageous and short-sighted on the insurance company's part - do they WANT me to need to go back in the hospital? Because my last stay (with the same insurance providers!) cost about ten thousand dollars for every day I was in there, which is a lot more expensive than ten fucking extra milligrams of medicine.

I cannot believe I need to jump through this many hoops to get a fucking prescription filled.

None of the customer service people, by the way, could tell me anything about WHY this policy has been enacted. And guess what else? The appeals process takes 30 days and I only have enough medicine to last me for 22.5 days. Really, I would gladly become 25% less crazy, but the customer service reps couldn't tell me how to do that, either.

And I'm one of the lucky people who has healthcare at all!

Jesus fucking H Christ. Do I write to my senator about this, or what? How can I get a class-action suit started? I'm totally pissed and totally powerless.

16 April 2010

School Gaze


Remember how you had to line up by height for elementary school class pictures? That's what these three remind me up. And of course, they are studying the habits of one Mr. Squirrel, who enjoys taunting them from his leafy fortress. He's probably farting in their general direction, too.

23 March 2010

Another Dispatch from the Pinko Commie Front

So, the health care bill. I agree, it's not perfect and it doesn't address all the issues I would like it to*. But I think it's a start.

Not all that long ago, I got really sick. (I haven't mentioned it here before - among other reasons, I've been recuperating rather than blogging about recuperating.) I was really sick. I spent a lot of time in hospitals while people worked to save my life.

Without health insurance, these would have been my options:
1. Death
2. Treatment - at the cost of $40,000 of debt

This is why I believe that health care is a right, not a privilege. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, right? Which part of having to go $40,000 in debt in order to save your own life constitutes liberty or the pursuit of happiness? And I didn't even have something complicated and expensive like cancer!

Although I was lucky enough to have health insurance when I got sick, not everyone is as lucky as me. And it *is* luck. I had no input into being born white, which is a huge privilege - and that's just for starters. I've had lots of other privilege in my life, and I agree with Luke that "unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required". Dave and I are solidly middle class - ostensibly the demographic getting "screwed" by this bill, and we both agree that we are HAPPY to have to pay a little bit more in our taxes so that fewer people have to decide between life and crippling debt.

For the record? When I was sick? If I'd had to make that choice? I would have chosen to die. I'm not saying that's what everyone would or should choose, but it would have been my choice. I was pretty motherfucking sick and I felt pretty motherfucking bad. So if you read this blog, you probably know me. Know that without health insurance, you would not be reading this right now, because I would be dead.

Thousands of Americans have to make non-hypothetical versions of my choice, and they not only have blog readers, they have friends and families and people who love them - but who aren't in a position to spot them $40,000. Just pause for a second, and let that idea sink in.

* I am most unhappy about the rabidly oppressive Stupak provisions, and second-most unhappy that the issue of the cost of health care hasn't been directly addressed. But my friend Jodi, an economist, wrote a great post about the way the bill works from an economic point of view, and she's a lot smarter than me more coherent than me on the issue.

I used to work for an insurance company, and at this job I learned that, in Massachusetts at least, no driver, no matter how risky, could be denied automobile insurance. If a driver is rejected from insurers via the traditional channels, he can get insurance via a secondary pool that all of the insurers have to contribute to. These premiums are higher than in most other cases, but at least there is an insurance option for people who want to operate a car. This seems to work pretty well, so why not have the same for health insurance?

In a way, that’s pretty much what we are ending up with. (For the record, it costs about twice as much to insure me as it costs to insure my car. This ratio is lower than it probably should be because I am a bad driver.) Insurance exchanges are being set up to serve customers who cannot get insurance from private companies directly. People are even being treated better than my car since they are getting subsidized if they have an income such that regular health insurance is “unaffordable.” (I hate that word, since it really has no good meaning, but you get my point.) And yes, this works in some fashion as a transfer from the more wealthy to the less wealthy, since it has to be paid for somehow and we have a progressive income tax. (See below for more on this point and deficit neutrality.)

Go read the whole thing, though; it's worth it. Plus there are cartoons!

14 March 2010

Weekend at Bernie's

The cat we call "Pig-Bear" got up onto the kitchen counter, using the dishwasher as a springboard and ate enough food for three cats. I called and called and she didn't show so I thought maybe she had just exploded somewhere, like at the bottom of the stairs where I wouldn't have heard the bang.

So I shut the dishwasher and refilled the bowl on the counter for the three who AREN'T too fat to jump up there, and she shuffled out from somewhere as soon as she heard the ping of nuggets bouncing off stainless. I have never seen such a guilty-looking cat.


04 March 2010

Babies really do say "Wah!"

So, I recently had the privilege of spending time with my sister and her new baby. (3-4 days old! We are both baby novices so it was actually really fun trying to figure out what the baby wanted and why she was crying. Fun, and also loud. That's the great thing about being an aunt, though - I could just be all, "hey, I'm heading out to meet a friend for drinks" and leave for a while, and then come back drunk after the baby was in bed.) Anyway - newborns are amazing, which is not something I had ever noticed before. It's like they have some kind of magical power so that you can just hold one and stare for hours and not get bored. Sort of like taking drugs, but with more control over the experience. And more barf and poop.

Anyway! I took about a thousand photos (really only about 300) and here are some of my sister, the baby, the baby-daddy (who is not only really handsome - way to go, Sue! - but is also an excellent baby-whisperer) and the baby-daddy's two kids (who are freaking adorable. I got to bake pink cupcakes with the little girl - she is 4 and a half and her brother is 2 and a half. I love kids at that age, they're so much fun to do stuff with. Plus they can talk, so they can tell you what's wrong. And the occasional melt-down is par for the course.)

So, pictures, now that you've gotten the cast of characters.

How sweet is that little mouth?

The baby whisperer ...

to the rescue!
(Seriously. She cries and he immediately flips her upside down or does some other kind of baby gymnastics and she calms down instantly.)

The kids are soooo into the baby, it's really sweet (when they aren't poking out her eyes by accident):

Everyone gathered around the baby for a worship session.

All her little outfits are too big since she's still an infant.

This is my favorite photo, out of all 300:

16 February 2010


Note: the following photos are about abuse and may be triggering to you. Please be sure to read my disclaimer underneath after you've looked at the pictures.



Disclaimer: My kitten gave me the black eye. For real. He got his claw hooked in the skin under my eye and must have burst a blood vessel in freeing himself. That was how I woke up, by the way - naked, screaming, and with blood and tears streaming dramatically down my face. (No pictures of that, but how's that for a Monday?) The incident seemed to be playing out a poem by Margaret Atwood which I have always loved:

You fit into me
like a hook into an eye

a fish hook
an open eye

-Margaret Atwood

Also, I would like to add that Dave helped me take these pictures, which was excellent of him, especially since it was past midnight when I wanted his help.

In any case, the dramatic black eye (courtesy of Bob T. Cat) and the way it was incurred got me thinking of that Atwood poem, which I have always thought is about an abusive relationship. These pictures imply a fairly typical abuse scenario (heterosexual male-on-female violence). It's probably what most people think of when they hear "abusive relationship". But I'm trying to get at a bit more than that (you can tell me if you think I succeeded): abuse happens in secret, and a whole family will collude in maintaining the fiction of normality, even though something very different is happening behind closed doors. And so for the abused, it's incredibly crazy-making because terrible things are happening - sexually, verbally, emotionally, with violence, or a combination - and not only does no one outside know what's going on, no one inside the family will talk about it either. So the fictional story of the happy family or the happy couple is polished to a high gloss and given all the trappings. Underneath the accessories of success, it's a totally different kind of story. And that's why I wanted to use the black eye with the fairytale wedding dress (yes, it's my real wedding dress).

Okay, enough rambling. How about some pictures of kittens?

Notice Bob's claws:

King of the World:

Bob sleeping with Lucky:

Bob sleeping with Whittles, his sister:

Whittles and Bob are very close:

Both kittens are very curious about new food. This is pureed sweet potato.

Yes, she's eating flour. Bob was sneaking molasses yesterday but I didn't get a picture.

Whittles supervising:

Whittles and Bob with Pip, for scale:

I just plain like this picture of Pip:

Whittles looking innocent:

Whittles making lace:

Whittles doing her thing:

For those of you keeping track at home, you may be thinking, "hmmm, there's Lucky, Simone, Pip and Inty and now TWO kittens? SIX cats?"

But no, we don't have six cats. We have five. We lost Inty on New Year's Eve this year. She would have been 10 on April 11th. I was really fucking glad to say goodbye to 2009.