Thursday, May 31, 2007

Women in business face slights

This was originally published in the News & Record on May 30, 2007.

A joke:

A husband and wife walk into a business meeting. They each say, “I co-own a business with my spouse.” The business people turn to the wife and say, “How nice that you work in your husband’s company.”

I know, it’s not funny, but I’ve never claimed to be a comedienne.

I am, however, a business owner, most recently of Jones Computer and Networking, which I own 50/50, straight down the middle, equal partners, with my husband. And though the majority of people I encounter in business situations take me at least somewhat seriously as such, I have had no fewer than three people try that terrible punch line on me in the last couple of weeks. They weren’t funny either, but then again, they weren’t trying to be.

My husband is the first to defend my role in the company, ever quick to point out that the “Jones” in our company name refers to both owners, not only the one with a Y-chromosome. He is the first to admit that ours is a company that never would have happened without the two absolutely essential elements of his extensive computer expertise and my comfort navigating the administrative and marketing requirements of business.

Of course, his appreciation and understanding of my role is far more important than the perceptions of those few and far between acquaintances. Still, I can’t help but wonder why, when I can easily laugh off reader mail that suggest the time of a little lady like me would be better served baking cookies than adding my opinion to public discourse, these seemingly innocuous and surely unintentional slights to my business role stick so badly in my craw. Perhaps I have undermined my own reputability as a business owner by being too casual with the conventions of business propriety and pomp; or maybe people make assumptions based on my age. Or maybe, as it seems to be, it is truly a reflection of society’s ingrained misogyny.

In the hopes of teasing out an answer, I have been trying a thought experiment: I have been imagining scenarios in which people might assume that my husband, in fact, works for me when we announce co-ownership. I have imagined him as the younger of our couple, and a role reversal in which I have the technical expertise while he manages the business itself. I have imagined myself in masculine, starched suits, and even in business with a completely and obviously inept man. But nothing seems to inspire a reverse, though equally flawed, conclusion except, just perhaps, a business in an industry that is traditionally considered “women’s work,” like nursing or child care.

I freely admit that this whole issue is intimately linked with my ego. Business ownership offers an amazing learning opportunity, and I take great pride in having developed from a new business owner who felt faint every time I had to give my elevator pitch, to a person who feels confident throwing my two cents into many business discussions. Ultimately, though, I can’t help but believe that these comments aren’t made in reaction to me as a person but to me as a woman.

I can offer no inspired insight to conclude this column; with most rights and perceptions of minorities in America, we have made great strides, almost far enough that continuing to fight seems excessive and indulgent. But the truth lies in the unguarded moments, serving as a reminder that true parity is ahead of us, but only if we choose to keep pushing.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Great new blog

My friend/colleague/employer Tamara McLendon has launched herself into the 21st Century (her words) by not only starting her own PR-focused blog, but also including a twitter feature. Tamara's amazing breadth and depth of knowledge certainly shows through in her first posts.

Welcome to this Century, Tam!

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A sad loss in Cindy Sheehan

I learned of Cindy Sheehan's resignation from the anti-war movement when I heard a "Holy shit..." from Rob's office this morning. I think he about sums it up.

When we met Cindy a few months ago - no, just one month ago - at the Greensboro anti-war rally happenings, I spent a fair amount of time thinking about how she exemplifies the power of one with more effectiveness that I have ever before personally witnessed. People of my generation have never experienced a real leader, a person who came from the people to motivate us towards following what we already know to be right deep down somewhere.

Of course she didn't end the war. Rob has doubts that we'll be fully out of Iraq within the next few decades; I am still holding out hope that when Bush vacates the White House (preferably by way of impeachment), whoever steps up to feed at the trough of almighty power will use their slop to bring our troops home.

Cindy made her voice heard, though - and that's a lot in this "fascist corporate wasteland" as she said in her Daily Kos blog post. She inspired me and I'm sure she did the same for thousands more. That mousy little voice of hers called for people to sit up and take notice and many of us did. She reminded us that protest in the street is among the rights still remaining and as such should be used to fight for the rights we are losing. She sent us home from the rallies to reevaluate our role in pushing America toward becoming the country it was meant to be: peaceful, inclusive, caring of our young people.

I can only imagine the nasty stomach ache that must accompany Cindy's decision to abandon her anti-war work... I can also imagine that she feels as though it abandoned her. And though I feel the loss of her leadership in a strangely personal way, I can't begrudge her her need to find some modicum of normalcy after what has no doubt been several painful years.

Thank you for giving us these few years, Cindy. Thank you for the reminders of how our country could be and that is truly the responsibility of the citizenry to be the ultimate check to governmental powers. Casey deserved better from his country but he did pretty damn good in the mom department.

I hope you find the peace you seek somewhere...

Friday, May 25, 2007

Mental health parity

The North Carolina state House passed legislation this week requiring equal treatment for mental illness as compared with physical illness. For example, insurers would have to cover anti-depressants and talk therapy just as they do allergies or heart conditions. The bill is headed for the state Senate where it will hopefully be passed, a long overdue step in the direction of accepting that mental illness is no less real, and certainly no less damaging, than many physical illnesses.

I took an intro to philosophy class (stick with me - I promise this is related) in college - one of those "how do we know what's real, including us" kinds of classes. I was a psychology major and could never wrap my head around why those kinds of thought exercises matter... I am firmly of the perception-defines-reality camp. If something makes you feel a certain way - like if delusional thinking makes you violent, or distressing thoughts make you feel like you can't possible take a step into the next day - then it's real and it matters and something should happen to change it.

Mental illness, by definition, is "all in our heads"... but we say that as though our brains aren't mysterious and amazingly powerful.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Big Bang Boom

I feel like I should offer a mea culpa for being so bad about posting lately - I truly don't know where the time goes... but instead, I'll offer kids' music, the kind that parents even dig listening to - and it's for free! My gift to my loyal readers... okay, a show my bro-in-law is putting on.

Big Bang Boom, one of Chuck Folds' many musical projects, will be playing at Center City Park this Sunday from 3 - 5. Parents, I promise your ears won't bleed and your kids will have a great time!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Side by side, mourning a young life

When I drove up to First Presbyterian Church last week, I, for a moment, wondered if a wedding was ending. By the side-door stood a large group of sharply-dressed people in their 20s and early 30s; from my brief view through my windshield, I imagined they were waiting to cheer the newlyweds to their car. It was in that moment that I forgot that the person whose funeral I was attending would draw that kind of a crowd: his peer group.

Cannon Harmon was a high school classmate of mine though we did not know one another beyond names and faces. I wouldn’t have attended his funeral had we not shared a friend these many years. In that way, I was mourning her loss, and the loss felt by his friends and family more than Cannon himself. Funerals are, ultimately, for the living.

The minister spoke briefly of Cannon, but at greater length she spoke of the mourning process itself, of the strength the survivors have shown by struggling through their first five days without him and the validity – and necessity – of the tears, confusion and anger that inevitably accompany the death of a person who has not yet reached his 30th birthday.

The minister’s words, the bravery and honesty of the friends who delivered loving eulogies, the primal wail of the bagpipe that began and ended the service, the pews filled with people who likely feel closer to their college selves than their adult selves, the voluminous, imposing space that is First Presbyterian: All of these elements worked in tandem, giving mourners a space in which there was little to do but grieve.

I suppose in some ways, that is the point of a funeral, a time apart from our daily lives in which we are expected to embrace our sorrow, as though our complex emotions are stored in a sponge that can be wrung dry if only squeezed hard enough.

In Judaism, there are set stages for mourners to work through, a year-long process that ends, not with letting go of our loved one, but with moving on, re-embracing life. It starts with shiva, an intensive week of mourning. As the year progresses, mourners slowly re-enter life and, hopefully, replace much of the sadness with the joyful memories of that person. And, because we never stop loving the people we have lost, it is also part of Jewish tradition to commemorate the anniversary of the death, the yartzeit, by lighting a candle that burns for 24 hours and, often, attending synagogue and giving a charitable donation in the person’s honor. I’ve always been comforted by the idea of encouraged mourning with a finite time span; still, I can’t help but wonder if in a death marked by youth and too many unanswered questions, a meager year of mourning is too hasty.

The many people who signed the guest book attached to the News & Record obituary spoke of Cannon’s kindness and caring, his many talents and his love of life. I wish that the funeral could have somehow drained their sorrow but the truth is it is just the beginning, an invitation to experience the emotions his death has evoked in so many people. In whatever way he is mourned, his will likely not be a death easy to reconcile. It seems, however, that when it comes to Cannon, Alfred Lord Tennyson’s words hold particularly true: “’Tis better to have loved and lost/Than never to have loved at all.”

My deepest condolences to all of you.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

A Place of Their Own, LLC

A friend of mine told me about A Place of Their Own, a home for teenage moms and moms-to-be. From a letter by the directors, Saprina Campbell and Chanisty Mitchell:
...the mother should have a sincere desire to overcome the barriers of domestic violence, substance abuse, unemployment, homelessness, financial hardship, institutionalization, or natural disaster in order to achieve greater success in life. The program strives to provide a home-like environment in a therapeutic community setting. Every effort is made to aid in the alleviation of problematic behaviors and issues based on previous emotional trauma. Our mission is to promote this atmosphere by creating opportunities of learning and healing to transition families into a stable and independent level of care.
Even beyond how wonderful this program will likely be for the participants, I'd be curious to know the long-term financial impact of such a program: helping mothers into financial self-reliance, giving children a healthy start which could easily lead to healthier lives, both in terms of physical health and behavioral health... all of which likely means a lessened impact on the welfare system and fewer people in need of free medical care. Preventative medicine, as it were.

A Place of Their Own is just getting started up and they need donations of money and household goods. Contact Saprina Campbell -(704) 293-3446 - or Chanisty Mitchell - (336) 382-0178 - or email to find out how you can help.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Garlicky Greens with Pomegranate Molasses and Anise Crust

Last year, on my now languishing food blog (RIP Thought for Food - perhaps you will inform again someday), I would occasionally post the contents of our CSA (Consumer/Community Supported Agriculture) bag and share some of the recipes I used. This past Saturday marked the first CSA bag this season, breaking my long, winter demotivation for cooking. This recipe is a Frankenstein's Monster inspired by a greens pastry made by Zaytoon and using pieces of a Cooking Light empanada recipe and an greens recipe. This is not fast but it's mighty tasty.

Garlicky Greens with Pomegranate Molasses and Anise Crust

  • 9 Tb hot water
  • 1 star anise pod
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 4 whole peppercorns
  • 2 lb greens (I used braising greens and spinach; kale, collards and chard would also be good), stems removed, torn into big pieces (Note: keep greens separated by cook time, i.e. kale takes about 5 minutes in the steamer but spinach takes 1 minute-ish).
  • 1 Tb extra-virgin olive oil
  • 4 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 tp crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1 small red onion, sliced thinly, vertically
  • 1/4 tp kosher or sea salt
  • 2 Tb pomegranate molasses (available at halal markets, e.g. Jerusalem Market)
  • 2 Tb lemon juice or the minced peel from 1/4 preserved lemon
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (available at Earth Fare or Deep Roots or you can use another cup of all purpose)
  • 1 tp baking powder
  • 1/2 tp sugar
  • 1/2 tp salt
  • 2 Tb butter, chilled, in small pieces
Steep anise, cinnamon and peppercorns in hot water until it cools to room temperature - you can refrigerate towards the end.

Wash greens by swishing in a bowl of cool water. Lift greens into a colander (don't pour - it just dumps the dirt back on top); repeat swishing and draining until there's no dirt at the bottom of the wash bowl. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a pot; add greens and cover, starting with those with the longest cooking time. Allow to wilt completely, probably no more than 5 - 6 minutes. Shock in cold water then drain in colander, pressing out excess liquid with the back of a spoon.

Wipe the pot dry; heat oil over medium heat. Add garlic and crushed pepper flakes; saute, stirring frequently, until garlic is lightly golden, 2 to 3 minutes. Add onion and salt and cook until onions are soft and beginning to brown, about 4 minutes.

Squeeze the remaining liquid from greens and add to pot with onion mixture, breaking up clumps of greens. Drizzle with pomegranate molasses and cook until just heated through. Add lemon juice or peel. Set aside.

This would be perfectly lovely to eat without a crust but...

To make the crust, strain spices out of steeped water.

Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Place flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a food processor; pulse 2 times to combine. Add butter; process until mixture resembles coarse meal. With processor on, slowly pour spiced water through food chute; process just until dough begins to form a ball (dough will be crumbly).

Preheat oven to 400.

Divide dough into 2 equal portions. Working with one dough portion at a time, press dough into a 4-inch circle on heavy-duty plastic wrap (There's a lot of plastic wrap in this section - you can also get reusable plastic and burlap pastry bags). Cover with additional plastic wrap. Place dough in freezer 5 minutes or until plastic wrap can be easily removed.

Slightly overlap 2 sheets of plastic wrap on a slightly damp surface. Unwrap 1 dough portion; place on plastic wrap. Cover dough with 2 additional sheets of overlapping plastic wrap. Roll dough, still covered, into an 11-inch circle. Repeat procedure with remaining dough. Place both portions in freezer for 5 minutes or until plastic wrap can be easily removed.

Remove plastic wrap from 1 dough portion; place dough, plastic wrap side up, into a pie plate coated with cooking spray (I use a pump that I fill with olive oil). Remove top sheets of plastic wrap. Spoon filling onto dough. Remove top sheets of plastic wrap from remaining dough. Place dough, plastic wrap side up, over filling. Remove top sheets of plastic wrap. Pinch edges of dough together to seal. Cut several slits in top of dough to allow steam to escape. Spray crust top with cookie spray.

Bake at 400° for 30 minutes or until crust is crisp and beginning to brown.

6-8 servings

Honest sex ed

Not surprisingly, it seems that abstinence-only education isn't working - kids are still having sex and now they don't have the information they need to reduce the likelihood of pregnancy or STD. But we've known that for a while.

Connecticut, Rhode Island, Montana, New Jersey, and Wisconsin have already dropped out of this administration's State Abstinence Education Grant program. Yesterday the Kansas Board of Education repealed their ultra-conservative, abstinence-only program in favor of "abstinence plus," in which kids are encouraged to wait until marriage but are also given real, complete information about birth control and STDs. Huh - novel concept.

NARAL North Carolina is making a push for similar ends. A bill for honest, realistic sex ed in our school passed through the House Health Committee last week and is on its way to the education committee. If you also think that our teens have the intellectual capacity to make good decisions if given all the information, tell the education committee to pass HB 879 here.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

All those dead and dying, while we fiddle.

From Cenk Uygur, former republican, current Young Turk:

We should all be embarrassed at what we have done. The intelligentsia in this country blithely lobbied for this war because they thought it might an interesting thought exercise. And now they criticize it comfortably from their dens as if they never supported it in the first place. I fought against it tooth and nail from the first day - and I know a lot of you did. But we should have done more. We let them soil the earth in our name. Now, we sit and have academic debates about how the politics is going to play out."

All those dead and dying, while we fiddle."

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Executive Position

This whatever-it-is originally ran in the News & Record on May 2, 2007.

Job Title: Leader of the Free World

Employers: The citizens of the United States of America

Job Type: Full time

Salary: roughly $400,000

Perks include: Company house, car and airplane, extensive private staff, abundant travel opportunities and more

Closing Date: November 4, 2008

Would you love to represent America globally? Have you ever been a member of a secretive and theoretically nonexistent fraternity? Think you could be the political caffeine in the coffee of the tired and disenfranchised of America? This could be the job for you!

No experience? No problem! Here, in the United States of America, we provide on-the-job training for qualified applicants with a sincere desire to learn and the ability to pick up new skills quickly.

With 300 million bosses, the president of the United States must consider the needs of all people, regardless of age, ethnicity, sexual orientation and, most of all, socioeconomic status. Moreover, as the figurehead representing the people of United States in a world of nearly 200 countries, the president must be willing and able to present America as a nation of divergent opinions, compassionate people and generosity of resources. (A willingness to actually be generous with resources is a bonus.)

Though this is a position with a more than 200 year history, recent updates to the job description include a focus on global diplomacy and a renewed dedication to true democracy, not just when the process suits the president.

Minimum Qualifications:

  • Native to the United States
  • At least 35 years of age
  • Wealthy enough to sustain an extensive and expensive interview process
  • Men: A dark blue suit with an American flag lapel pin; Women: a short strand of oversized pearls

Preferred Qualifications:

  • Command of the English language (additional languages a strong bonus)
  • Compassion
  • Intellectual curiosity
  • Acceptance of the Scientific Method

Applicants should submit their qualifications to the people of the United States of America via debates, press conferences, ads and Web sites. Please, no bluster or mudslinging; sociopaths and liars need not apply.

Writer’s Note to the 300 million bosses: Though I realize that American Idol currently commands the bulk of our voting attentions, and that politicking is often a turn-off to politics, I hope you will review our candidates carefully. The president may be constrained by the Constitution to a maximum of eight years, but this administration seems to have made it their mission to remind us that decisions made and actions taken in this relatively short time can have repercussions for decades to come. It’s up to you, America!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The ongoing cost of the Iraq war

If the moral and legal concerns about the war in Iraq aren't enough to make you join the anti-war side of the debate, how about a little pragmatism?

The National Priorities Project has a ticker flying through the dollars being thrown into this mission-less war - even more nauseating, they have comparisons showing what could be spent on invaluable domestic programs - like Head Start and public housing - were the money not being given to Halliburton instead. Mind you, it is to the contractors that the bulk of this money is going. If billions of dollars a week were going to our military, do you really think they would be in substandard healthcare facilities? Would they be under-equipped? Would they be kicked out of government housing?

I've embedded the counter in my blog -------->

You can, too - here.