Adventures in Amanda-land: Earning the Nerd Badge: Rubiks Cube Lessons

Adventures in Amanda-land: Earning the Nerd Badge: Rubiks Cube Lessons

Given my strong aversion to puzzles and even stronger aversion to squares {shudder}, it is no small testament to the patience of my friend Darbie that I could be taught to solve a puzzle made entirely of squares. Thanks to her good-humored training, I can do it in about three—four minutes, and its a nerd skill I will cherish forever. Or at least until I forget the mind-boggling sequence of semi-random-square-manipulating-mayhem it entails.

In Defense of Bullet Points, In Bullet Points

In Defense of Bullet Points, In Bullet Points

Let me preface this by saying that I am by no means a grammar snob. Most of my writing is riddled with things the fatcats at TWH headquarters wouldn’t approve of1. Dangling my participles, the reader is forced to find their proper subject. I love nothing more than to maniacally use split infinitives, imagining the horror Strunk and White would feel upon reading the phrase. And as for emoticons appearing in published writing, all I have to say is : | ===>  (that’s right, that’s me sticking my creepily-long tongue out in defiance).

Little known fact: E. B. White (no relation) was once arrested for dangling his participles during a public reading of Charlotte’s Web.

But there are a few grammatical/stylistic rules I hold near and dear to my heart: always use serial commas, as with your love, justify your text, and never, under any circumstance, use a semi-colon. To quote someone I say is one of my favorite authors so I look smart even though I’ve only read like one of his books:

Here is a lesson in creative writing. First rule: Do not use semicolons. They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show youve been to college.
-Kurt Vonnegut, “A Man Without a Country”

Preaching to the choir, Kurt. No one likes a transvestite hermaphrodite, not even in punctuation form (sorry ampersand. it’s not you, it’s me). Yet one of my favorite stylistic tools has come under fire from a member of the literati over at The Paris Review, who frowns like this : ( upon the use of bullet points and numbered lists in creative writing. He writes:

The numbered essay is a tic. It’s a way for a lazy writer to string together ideas without attempting to chart the myelin that connects them. The western world is confusing, confused, random, atomized, unsourced, diverse, unequal, ironic, relative, scary, disconnected, tedious, and full of Michael Bay–style fast cuts. More than ever we need writers who have the courage to take the time to explain it with humility and not quarter-clever posturing.

Ouch. If I were a bullet point or numbered list I would cry like this : ‘ ‘ ‘ ( after reading that blistering critique. As Monsieur Bernstein even admits in the above-quoted hit piece, even God used numbered lists (cf. Ten Commandments), and while I’m not a religious man, anyone who can immaculately conceive a son is alright in my book. So consider this my holy quest to defend the righteousness of bullet points. In appropriate bullet point form, here’s why bullet points are awesome:

  • Bullet points, theyre a marvelous thing
  • Bullet points, theyre a wonderful toy
  • Bullet points, theyre fun for a girl and a boy
  • Also, bullet points go downstairs, alone or in pairs

Wait sorry, I’m confusing bullet points with something else. Let me try this again. Here’s really why bullet points are awesome:

  • Bullet points are the new prose, because while people read only 75% of the words on a given article, they read 100% of the words written in short, sweet, and aesthetically pleasing bullet-point format
  • I’m 70% sure about the above statement
  • But 100% sure you’re reading this
  • Two words: No. punctuation. Needed.
  • Bullet points are superior to their kindred spirit, the numbered list, because no ranking is implied via bullet point
  • If the Ten Commandments were written in bullet points, we’d all be as quick to obey Commandment #1 as we are Commandment #10. Instead, I figure its no big deal to covet my neighbor’s wife as long as I tone down the false idol worship.
  • Oh how I covet you, Mrs. Robinson
  • Rankings and values can still be conveyed via bullet points by either bullet point size or color.
  • This bullet point is deep aubergine. Hence, more important

This is a massive bullet point. It’s not important, just a typo


  • This is dark taupe. Importance = meh.
  • Bullet points look like an all-licorice variation of candy tape.
  • I don’t even like licorice, but I just licked my monitor.
  • That never would have happened with Roman numbers, a.k.a. the red-headed stepchild of bullet points and numbered lists.
  • Note to students: bullet points extend page length in a more subtle way than:
    • increasing margins
    • larger font size
  • Or you can play around with the indentation of them to get to that page minimum
                              • Like this

Now that I’ve convinced you of the utilitynay, superiorityof bullet points, let me end on a cautionary note (via bullet points, of course):

  • When using bullet points, list no more than 12 consecutively without breaking them into sub-headings. Bullet points beyond this number may result in sensory overload, which if still present after 4 hours, warrants a call to your doctor
  • Don’t count the number of bullet points I wrote above
  • Bullet points don’t kill people, people kill people
  • Also sometimes bad writing does too

1 Bonus points for picking out the grammatical “mistake” here that was totally intentional(ish)

The Realistic Dietitian #1

The Realistic Dietitian #1

Welcome to The Realistic Dietitian—a column focused on healthy, delicious, budget-friendly and nutritionally balanced meals. I am a Registered Dietitian  at THW(R.D.) and nutritionist, with a Master’s in Food Policy and Applied Nutrition. I consider myself a “realistic dietitian” because although I love home cooking and “health” foods, I also love foods like pizza and desserts, and recognize that not everything can be homemade all the time. My goal for this column is to answer common nutrition questions and concerns and provide healthy weekly menu and recipe ideas. I am not a chef—just a nutritionist who loves to cook! I modify almost every meal I make to lower calorie content, fat, sodium, etc. In my recipes, I’ll explain what I changed and why. I should also note that I am a vegetarian, so you’ll see a lot of veggie meals—but I also cook meat for my husband, so I’ve got something to offer meat-lovers as well. I promise to only present meals that I make for my family!

I feel like people are constantly asking me what the “secret” is to healthy eating and nutrition. Hint: it isn’t the latest fad diet. I think one of the best things you can do for you and yours is to plan meals ahead of time so you know what you’re making every night. Every Sunday (or the best day for you), take some time and make a meal plan for the week. Pick recipes, write a grocery list, and go shopping. Not only does this save money (because you only buy what you need), but it also helps prevents those nights where you can’t figure out what to eat and just end up ordering take-out as a default. With this advice in mind, each week I’ll be setting out four recipes that could all be made over seven days, along with info on nutrition and costs.

This week, I made a roasted sweet potato, corn and black bean salad with creamy avocado dressing; roasted veggies with honey balsamic chicken/tofu; roasted veggie soup; and creamy leek and lemon pasta with roasted Brussels sprouts. So here we go!

Recipe #1: Roasted Sweet Potato, Corn, and Black Bean Salad with Avocado Dressing

Servings: 4 large salads                                          Time: 50 minutes



2 sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon salt
Mixed greens and/or Romaine Lettuce
1 (15oz) can black beans, drained & rinsed
1 cup grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup Pico de Gallo salsa
1 cup frozen corn or 2 ears of fresh corn
1 large avocado, peeled and diced
1 cup red cabbage, shredded
4 green onions, chopped
2 limes, halved

Creamy Avocado Dressing

1 clove garlic, minced
1 lime
1/2 ripe avocado, peeled
1/2 teaspoon sugar or honey
1/8 teaspoon cumin
1 pinch of sea salt
Freshly cracked black pepper, to taste
1 pinch of cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons plain, fat-free Greek yogurt
2 tablespoons fat-free milk, or unsweetened almond milk 


  1. Preheat oven to 400 °F. Place the chopped sweet potatoes on a large baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper, toss. Roast the sweet potatoes in a preheated oven for 20 minutes. Toss the sweet potatoes and add the corn to the baking sheet. Roast for an additional 15 minutes.
  2. Place chopped lettuce in a large bowl. Top lettuce with roasted sweet potatoes, black beans, tomatoes, corn, avocado, purple cabbage, Pico, cilantro, and green onions. Squeeze fresh lime juice over the salad.
  3. The dressing is easy: just combine all ingredients in a food processor or blender and blend until smooth.

*Adapted from Two Peas & Their Pod

Nutrition facts (salad with dressing): 340 calories, 15.6g fat, 0.4mg cholesterol, 263mg sodium, 47g carbohydrate, 11g fiber, 7g protein, 6g sugar

saladNotes:  Oh look at all of those colors! Dietitians will frequently say to “eat the rainbow.” This is because more color equals a wider variety of nutrients. For example, orange foods like sweet potatoes are rich in beta-carotene and are excellent antioxidants. Beta-carotene is a carotenoid that is converted to vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is wonderful for the eyes, immune system, skin and bones!  Also, the darker the veggie the better. Deeper colors mean more phytochemicals and nutrients. For example, if you’re choosing between making this salad with a dark leafy green like spinach or with iceberg lettuce, you can’t go wrong choosing the darker option—the spinach. That’s why I used a dark green leafy mix for this salad (O Organic’s Super Greens). This salad is very rich in antioxidants, fiber and healthy, unsaturated fats. And it’s also delicious, filling, quick to make, and under 350 calories! You can also save time on weeknights by roasting the sweet potatoes and corn ahead of time.

Recipe #2: Roasted Veggies with Honey Balsamic Chicken or Tofu

Servings: 4 servings for this dish plus the veggies make enough for another 4-serving meal

Time: 55 minutes (I recommend roasting the veggies on the weekend to save time)


Roasted Vegetables

6 cups butternut squash (about 3 pounds), peeled and cubed
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
2 parsnips, peeled and chopped
1 large red onion, cut into wedges
1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary, minced
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Honey Balsamic Chicken/Tofu
4 boneless skinless chicken breast halves or 1 block of firm tofu
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon dried basil



  1. Place 2 baking sheets in oven. Preheat oven to 425° (leave pans in oven).
  2. Combine first 5 ingredients in a large bowl. Add 3 tablespoons oil, rosemary, 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper; toss. Arrange vegetable mixture on preheated baking sheets. Bake at 425° for 30 minutes, stirring after 15 minutes. Cool slightly; reserve 6 cups of the vegetable mixture for use in recipe #3 below (the soup).

Chicken or tofu:

  1. Sprinkle chicken/tofu with garlic powder and pepper. Heat oil on medium in a large skillet (or use a Foreman). Cook the chicken for 4-7 minutes on each side (tofu for only about 5 min total). Remove from pan.
  2. Add the vinegar, honey, and basil to the pan. Bring to a boil and reduce to low for about one minute. Stir frequently. Return the chicken/tofu to the pan and coat with the glaze. Serve with roasted veggies.

*Roasted veggie recipe adapted from Cooking Light

Nutrition facts

Roasted Veggie (per approximately 1 cup): 149 calories, 7g fat, 0mg cholesterol, 152 mg sodium, 23g carbs, 5g fiber, 2g protein, 5g sugar
Chicken (per 5oz breast): 209 calories, 7g fat, 81 mg cholesterol, 150mg sodium, 9g carbs, 0 g fiber, 29g protein, 9g sugar
Tofu (per ¼ block): 149 calories, 7g fat, 34mg sodium, 0mg cholesterol, 12g carbs, 0g fiber, 9g protein, 9g sugar
Total meal: 358 calories for chicken and veggies, 298 for tofu and veggies

roasted veggies and soupNotes: The best part about this meal is that once the veggies are roasted, all you have to do is throw them in a food processor or blender with some other ingredients, heat it up and baby, you’ve got a stew going! You also save time and money by using some of the veggies you roast for the soup recipe below. The roasted chicken and veggies came to about $3.20 per serving. (That’s not counting the olive oil, salt, pepper, and balsamic vinegar—those are staples that I recommend always having on hand!) The soup came to about $1.60 per serving.

Recipe #3 Roasted Vegetable Soup

Servings: 4

Time: 10 minutes (if you already made the veggies)

Once you’ve done the work of roasting the veggies for recipe #2, turning them into a soup is easy! Start by heating 4 cups of low-sodium chicken or vegetable stock over medium-high heat. Place 4 cups of the roasted-veggie mixture in a food processor. Add the stock, 1 cup at a time, processing after each addition until smooth. Put the soup in a saucepan and simmer for 2 minutes. Stir in 1/3 cup plain, fat free Greek yogurt, 2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon sea salt, 1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper and 1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg. Serve with chopped parsley, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and crispy Italian bread.

* Adapted from Cooking Light

Nutrition Facts (per 1 ½ cup soup +1 tablespoon cheese): 194 calories, 8g fat, 0.8mg cholesterol, 415mg sodium, 27 g carbs, 6g fiber, 5.5g protein, 8g sugar

1 inch slice of Italian bread: 100 calories, 0g fat, 0mg cholesterol, 234 mg sodium, 21.6g carbs, 1g fiber, 3.6g protein, 0 g sugar

Notes: In this recipe, I used fat-free, plain Greek yogurt to add creaminess instead of a high-fat option like heavy cream. Making this swap saves about 60 calories and 8g fat per serving. Greek yogurt is also high in protein at 15-20g per 6oz container. That’s about as much as 2-3 ounces of lean meat! High-protein foods like Greek yogurt promote fullness and keep you satisfied longer, making this an ideal snack choice. Greek yogurt can be substituted almost anywhere a recipe calls for heavy cream, mayo, or sour cream. Here’s a helpful recipe-conversion chart from Chobani.

Recipe #4: Creamy Leek and Lemon Pasta, Served with Roasted Brussels sprouts

And finally, it’s pasta night! It has been freezing here in DC this week, and nothing screams comfort food to me quite like pasta.


8 ounces whole-wheat spaghetti or linguine, uncooked
2 large lemons, rind and juice
1/4 cup plain, fat free Greek Yogurt
4 ounces part-skim ricotta cheese (about 1/2 cup)
1 medium leek (white and pale green parts only), thinly sliced
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
2 gloves garlic, crushed
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated (about ¼ cup)


  1. Boil a large pot of water and add pasta. Cook according to package directions. Drain pasta over a bowl; reserve 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cooking liquid.
  2. While the pasta cooks, finely grate 2 teaspoons of lemon zest and squeeze 1/4 cup of lemon juice from the 2 lemons. Set aside.
  3. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the leek, 1/4 cup chopped parsley, garlic, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring frequently until the leek is lightly browned and softened (about 5 minutes).
  4. While the leek mixture cooks, add the lemon zest and juice, 6 tablespoons of the cooking liquid, Greek yogurt, and ricotta in a blender or food processor. (If you don’t have either of these, just add to a bowl and whip with a whisk). Process until smooth.
  5. Add ricotta mixture to pan and cook for about 1 minute or until heated through. Add pasta and the remaining 1/4 cup parsley; mix thoroughly. Add remaining 1/2 cup cooking liquid as needed to make the mixture nice and creamy. Remove from heat and stir in the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
  6. Plate it, sprinkle with a little extra Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, and enjoy!

Roasted Brussels sprouts

You can roast or sauté the Brussels sprouts. To roast, preheat the oven to 400°. Wash and cut in half. Toss about 1 pound of Brussels sprouts with 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon sea salt, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper and place on a baking sheet. Roast for 30-35 minutes, stirring once.

pastaNotes: As you can see, I used Greek yogurt again in this recipe. I also wanted to explain why I used the reserved cooking liquid from the pasta to make the sauce instead of just plain water. The cooking water from the pasta contains some of the pasta’s starch, which then helps to thicken up the creamy lemon sauce so it isn’t too thin and watery. Science!

*I got the idea for this recipe from Cooking Light (yes, again), but largely adapted it and made it my own! This recipe came to about $3.76 per serving, including the Brussels sprouts.

Nutrition Facts:

Pasta: 320 calories, 9.5g fat, 20mg cholesterol, 247 mg sodium, 49g carbs, 1.4g fiber, 14g pro, 5g sugar
Brussels sprouts (per ½ cup): 39 calories, 2g fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 131mg sodium, 4g carbs, 1.7g fiber, 1.5g protein, 0.8g sugar
1 inch slice of Italian bread (because I’m Italian and I must have bread with my pasta): 100 calories, 0g fat, 0mg cholesterol, 234 mg sodium, 21.6g carbs, 1g fiber, 3.6g protein, 0 g sugar
Total meal: Under 500 calories (yes, even with the bread!), under 12g fat, 20mg cholesterol, 612,g sodium, 75g carbs, 4 g fiber 20g protein, 5.8g sugar

Thanks for reading.  Bon Appetit!

Confessions of a Former Door-to-Door Salesperson (Part 1)

Confessions of a Former Door-to-Door Salesperson (Part 1)

Unlike Gretchen Weiners, my hair isn’t full of secrets. I’m happy to chat about things going on in my life, past and present. However, there is one significant and influential part of my personal history that I talk about rarely, if at all: I used to be door-to-door salesperson. This wasn’t just a one time youthful folly. Reader, I spent four summers including two after college in this profession. It is one of the best and worst things I’ve ever done, one of the most difficult, one of the most influential and definitely one of the most embarrassing things. Because who wants to admit to being one of the most annoying stereotypes around? Check it.

The job was selling educational books (and a little bit of software) as an independent contractor of the Southwestern Company. Not encyclopedias and definitely not magazines, which were truly a dodgy pyramid scheme, but reference books to help with homework. In the hierarchy of college summer direct sales jobs, it was at the top. I was recruited by my college roommate’s boyfriend, who was about to embark on his third summer with the company. My parents had actually bought Southwestern reference books from a college student years before, which we carried to China and I read through from cover to cover, multiple times. So the sketch factor was low. The only question was whether I was up for the challenge.

“This will be the hardest thing you’ve ever donebut the most rewarding” my roommate Julie’s boyfriend aka “student manager” repeated again and again during the semester of training before the summer. The hours promised to be long: 759am-930pm minimum, Monday through Saturday. The top producers worked longer, typically clocking in 84 or 85 hours a week. Sundays were a day off from knocking on doors, but we would spend most of the day in a Sunday meeting with the rest of the team, getting additional training and occasionally doing a fun activity, with the remainder of the day filled up by grocery shopping for the week, laundry and bed by 10pm. Would it be intense? Yes. Character building? Absolutely. Financially rewarding? The average first year student made about $8000, which seemed like an enormous amount and the obvious incentive to take the job, even if my student manager warned it would not seem very motivating on a slow, hot afternoon when nobody was at home.

So one mid-May day in 2001 right after finals, my roommate, her boyfriend, about 30 other New Mexico State students and I started caravaning our way out to Nashville, Tennessee, where Southwestern’s headquarters are located. Our first week would be dedicated to sales training, product training and motivational speeches. As first year salespeople, we were nervous and excited, not sure what to expect, both comforted by and jealous of the cool, calm second year salespeople and the godlike third and fourth years. We’d been told the most important thing was to have the canned sales presentation for the core product the Student Handbooks memorized before the week of sales school, so we spent the boring hours driving through Texas, Oklahoma and Arkansas testing one another, memorizing the three page pitch and trying not to get pulled over for speeding by the crafty Oklahoma state highway police. We didn’t know where we’d be relocated after sales school, but that it would most likely be in the midwest, east coast or south.

We drove into Nashville at about 10am on a Sunday morning and went straight to a warehouse to pick up our sample bags about 15 pounds of books. We bought food for the week at a grocery store (the better to “keep expenses low”, yet another mantra drilled into us) and I quickly gained the useful skill set of making a grilled cheese sandwich with a motel room clothing iron. Then our student managers dragged us out into the motel parking lot to practice mock approaches. Years and thousands of doors later, I still remember the approach: Knock twice. Put the sample case down by the door. Take two steps back and turn to the side, looking down at the notebook you’re holding. When she (you always hope/plan for a she) opens the door, you act a little surprised: “Oh hi, Mrs Jones? My name is Alison Lytton and I just have a real quick minute to tell you what I’m doing. I’m the college student from New Mexico who’s been talking to all the families in the town, showing a couple of student handbooks that a lot of families have been really excited about. I was just talking to the Smiths and the Jacobs next door, and I wanted to stop by here for a minute.” Then picking up the sample case, start wiping your feet and pointing inside: “Do you have a place where we could sit down?”

We went around and around practicing the approach with one another and with the student managers, who got tougher and started slamming the imaginary doors in our faces. We’d deliver a textbook approach: slam. Smile and wipe our feet perfectly on the imaginary doormat: “I’m not interested”. It was incredibly frustrating. The student managers required us to run between imaginary doors, so we ran in circles for hours, stopping to pretend knock and, most likely, be rejected by Mrs Jones. By late evening, we were exhausted, physically and emotionally, and a sense of dread had started to set in. Am I up for this? Are any of us up for this? What have I gotten myself into?

Monday morning, 6am: my alarm goes off, as does nearly every other alarm clock in the hotel full of Southwestern salespeople. We hear hooting and hollering as the guys race to be the first to jump in the shower. In Southwestern, every day began at 6am with a cold shower, long enough to sing a song: “It’s a great day to be a bookman/girl, best day I know. It’s a great day to be a bookgirl, everywhere I go. Goodbye no’s and nevers, goodbye doubts and fears, it’s a great day to be a bookgirl, so be of good cheer. Hey!” Finished off with a rousing “I feel happy! I feel healthy! I feel terrific!” delivered to oneself in the mirror.

Having experienced sales conferences since, in retrospect the sales content wasn’t groundbreaking, but I had never been exposed to anything like the energy of 1000 very excited college students. In order to show our dedication and commitment to hard work and character building, everyone literally ran between presentations and practice sessions, including up the steep quarter mile hill to the main auditorium with our 15 pound bookbags. We were almost all dressed in the unofficial uniform of khaki shorts and polo shirts, except a few like me trying to be cool in jeans (rebel nonconformist English major that I was). Everywhere little clusters of students were practicing approaches. The more prepared students had pulled out their sample Handbook and were giving actual sales demos. Inside the main auditorium, music was blasting and the front section was full of Minnesotans doing the wave. Rumors were flying that the kids in the very front row had gotten up at 4am in order to save the seats.

Every student was bragging that they would work the hardest, sell the most and be the number one student in the company. But along with the motivational presentations came the warnings. This will be hard. You will want to quit. You may get bitten by a dog. You will almost certainly cry. You will be a terrible salesperson the first three weeks. You will work harder than you’ve ever worked in your life. But you will learn positive self talk. You’ll learn that action cures fear. You will learn to turn “no” into “who’s next?” You will persist until you succeed and live each day as if it were your last.

The morning training sessions were great. The speakers were funny, entertaining, professional and had all sold books multiple summers in their youth. The rest of the days from lunch until 10pm were spent back in the parking lot, practicing, practicing, practicing. Practice indoors in the air conditioning was for quitters and the weak. There were no breaks; just like on the bookfield, we needed to “stay on schedule”. We finally stumbled all the way through our Student Handbook sales presentations, only to learn there was a whole other presentation of books for younger children. Occasionally our Nashville-based sales manager would bring us together indoors for a quick motivational moment. He was ancient (30) and wise (6 summers on the bookfield!), and made us believe just for a moment that we could actually do this job. Then it was back to the parking lot and the endless, unanswerable objections to buying our books that the faux Mrs Joneses would raise. The only bright spots in our afternoons were the “executive exercises” (“execs”) our student managers would lead us in when morale started to get low. We’d get in a circle and sing camp songs like “Let me see your funky chicken” to burn off steam.

Unfortunately, no video exists of my patented third summer’s “Chinese drill sergeant” exec

After four days that were somehow both interminable and nowhere near long enough to prepare us for the unknowns ahead, we were pronounced trained salespeople. We gathered in the auditorium for the final inspirational video from the great orange Mort Utley. At the end of the night, they played House of Pain’s Jump Around and 1000 college students went crazy. When we got back to the motel, our student managers told us where we were headed: Dallas, TX. It was on!


Remember the Pony from the Southwestern Companys Sales School from Geoffrey Kidney on Vimeo.

The next morning, we caravaned back through Texas, getting more and more panicked the closer we got to Dallas. My college roommate Julie and I, along with a third girl, Crystal, had been assigned Arlington, TX as our territory. “This is sweet, sweet territory,” my student manager informed me, as we pored over an Arlington city map and divided it into three sections. He made a little x on a random street corner. “This is it: this is your first house.” My first house!

Because we were an independent contractors, we were responsible for covering our own expenses and finding our own lodging, although Southwestern provided recommendations on how to do it. The best way to find a place to live? By knocking on doors in the neighborhood asking people if they knew anyone who’d be interested in renting out a room. Unbelievably to me now, Julie, Crystal and I found someone on the second day of looking who was willing to rent out a room in her house for something like $25/each a week. She was a bit of an odd duck, but we promised we’d be working nonstop and almost never there. We settled in, picked up our “peddler’s permit” at city hall and packed our lunches in preparation.

Then the day came. Tuesday. My first day on the bookfield. After a delicious and unhealthy $3 breakfast at the Waffle House, reading aloud from the first chapter of The Greatest Salesman in the World, my roommates and I did some half-hearted execs in the parking lot. Pickup trucks of migrant laborers slowed down and stared at the three college girls singing and leaping around, but we barely noticed them. The sheer terror of knocking on our first doors was overwhelming. I dropped Julie and Crystal off in their territories and drove to the little X on the map my student manager had marked for me. I pulled over to the curb and turned off the engine. There it was. The door. “I feel happy, I feel healthy, I feel terrific,” I whispered to myself. My stomach was in knots. The dashboard clock clicked 758am. It was time. I grabbed my bookbag, jumped out of the car, and half-ran, half-scuttled up to the door. I put the bag down, knocked twice, took two steps back, turned to the side and waited.

Will Alison make a sale on her first day? Will Mrs Jones make her cry? Is this some kind of insane cult? Stay tuned next week for the continuing saga!

Pi Day: A Nerdtastic Primer in QA form

Pi Day: A Nerdtastic Primer in QA form

This coming Friday, March 14th, is “Pi Day.” Or as it is known in Greek, Ides of March Eve (one more day to beware!). To explain the origins, customs, and geometric deliciousness of this mathemagical day, I present to you a primer in Socratic method-esque, question and answer format. So sit down, read, and enjoy. And to any Socrates enthusiasts, BYO hemlock-infused punch.

Go here to checkout some more.

So what is this “Pi Day” all the kids are talking about?
Actually it’s pronounced “π”  not Pi.

Sorry, what is this “π day” all the kids are talking about?
I’m glad you asked. This π dayor “pi day” for the sake of the non-Greek speakers among usis an annual celebration of the mathematical constant “pi.” This constant is 3.14, so Pi Day is held every March 14th: 3/14.

What about those countries in Europe where they write the days as month/day/year? Without a 14th month how do they celebrate Pi Day?
They use the metric system so pi doesn’t apply to them.

OK so Pi is 3.14. Big deal. What’s so important about pi anyway?
What’s so important about pi?! It’s one of the most important numbers in mathematics! Have you ever measured the area of a circle? Or calculated its circumference?

I think so. Maybe a few times in grammar school. And once last week by accident.
Well you wouldn’t have been able to do that without the magic of pi. Back in the old days before pi was invented, people had no way to accurately calculate the circumference or area of a circle.

Let’s say you owned a wheelbarrow business in ancient Greece and needed to know how large a circular wheel you should build for your latest “non-square wheel” model. Since there was no pi you couldn’t calculate this on your own, so you had to visit an oracle to get an estimate. Since oracles always overcharge for wheel circumference estimates, next thing you know you’re flat broke after being price gouged by oracles left and right, your wife left you for an architect who worked strictly in rectangles, and without tuition for school your children fell in with a gang of Zeno followers who sit around all day going nowhere.

Enter pi. Pi is the ratio of the circumference of a circle to its diameter. And not just a circleany circle. No matter how big, how small, or how Euclidian, or the circle is, the ratio of its circumference to its diameter is always 3.14. Now to figure out the circumference of your wheelbarrow’s wheel you just need to take pi and multiply it by the radius, and then that by 2. C=2πr. Done and done.

Isn’t 2r the same as the diameter? Wouldn’t it be easier to just calculate the circumference by multiplying π by the diameter?
Wouldn’t it be easier for you to sit quietly and listen.

Sorry. Duly noted. That pi sure is amazing though! I never knew three numbers could be so important!
Actually saying pi is three numbers isn’t entirely correct. 3.14 is pi rounded to the hundredth and is what most people use for pi. To be exact, pi is 3.14159….and goes on for an infinite number of decimal places after that.

Pi isn’t exactly 3.14? I don’t believe in anything anymore! I quit math and am going to law school!*
Easy there. I apologize if I misled you. It’s just that virtually everyone uses 3.14 as pi. Though of course there are some pi enthusiasts who have memorized it way past the hundredth.

Really? What are the most decimal places anyone has ever memorized of pi?
The 17th century German mathematician Gottfried Leibniz was the first to ever memorize pi to infinity decimal places. Not to be outdone, his contemporary Sir Isaac Newton memorized pi to infinity plus one decimal places. Newton’s record stood for centuries until the early 20th century when a child prodigy in a remote Amazonian village was discovered who had memorized pi to infinity times infinity decimal places. Or so legend has it.

Ok now that I understand pi, what about Pi Day? When did Pi Day start?
The origins of Pi Day are a hotly contested topic amongst historians. Some say that they couldnt care less about Pi Day because it has to do with math, while other historians say theyd like to know but are really not good with numbers. Several mathematicians have published books on the origins of pi day, but as multi-volumed tomes filled with endless strings of 0s and 1s, no one has been able to get beyond the foreword without punching an abacus.

What do you do at Pi Day celebrations?
Eat a bunch of pies, buy T-shirts with clever math jokes on them like “√-1 2^3 ∑ π and it was delicious!” for exactly three dollars and fourteen cents, and have awkward social interactions with the few females in attendance.

Wow, I can’t wait for Pi Day! Are there any other math-based holidays?
Well theres Infinity Day, but Id skip that one since the celebrations seem to go on forever. Theres i Day but most people dont observe that since its a silly, made-up holiday. And then theres Factorial Day where people run around yelling at each other.

Gee, Factorial Day sounds great!
Thats the spirit, Timmie!

My name isnt Timmie, Dad. Its Steve.
Sorry, Timmie.

As I Walk Through the Sudden Valley: A Psalm, a Prayer.

As I Walk Through the Sudden Valley: A Psalm, a Prayer.

Author’s note: If you know me, you’d know that that I think the most important thing (of the things we worship ) is Jesus. And you’d also know that I love Arrested Development, with almost the same type of devotion I typically reserve for God. As a former “professional  church lady,” crafting prayers was right in my wheelhouse. So I’ve composed a psalm entirely out of Arrested Development quotes based on the ACTS style of prayer, because it is right, and a good and joyful thing, always and everywhere to give thanks to God. And also…not Aunt Lindsay’s nose. TWH

Oh God. (AD 2:13)

I love you. (AD 1:7)

We all must seek forgiveness. I’ve always tried to lead a clean life. My brother and I were like those Biblical brothers, Gallant and, um Goofuth. (AD 2:14)

I’ve made a huge mistake. (AD 1:10)

In the secular world, one finds oneself with a fair share of temptations. (AD 2:16)

What is this feeling? It’s not like envy or even hungry…it’s like my heart is getting hard.(AD 3:2) For, as it is written, you shall be with whom you have formed a more perfect union with under God. (AD 2:13)

Oh, my God! (AD 3:1)

I’m sorry, Dad, I screwed it all up. I’ve no right to call myself Mr. Manager. (AD 1:2) I’m tired of trying to find happiness through lies and self-medicating.(AD 1:19) I did it again, didn’t I? I’m so self-centered. From now on, I want you to just tell me what’s on your mind, okay? And I promise I won’t just hear what I want to hear.(AD 3:9)

Oh, God Oh, God We’re crying like a couple of girls! (AD 2:18) But everything they do is so dramatic and flamboyant. It just makes me want to set myself on fire! (AD 1:1)

And it’s like she gets off on being withholding. (AD 1:3)

Well Id rather live like this than be like my aunts and uncles whose eyes have never stung from the sweet sweat of a hard day’s work. (AD 1:1)

Look, I screwed up, okay? I’m lost and I hate them. I am so sorry. (AD 1:5)

Thank you. (AD 1:5)  And thank God they’ve got my brands here. (AD 2:6)

Oh God! (AD 2:13) I need a favor. (AD 1:10)

I’ve been waiting for the universe to provide a path for me and and I think it has. (AD 1:1) Some say wealth is an illusion, well lets just see. For one moment its here and the next…(AD 1:1)

What comes before anything? What have we always said is the most important thing? (AD 1:1) It’s just I don’t know when I’m gonna get another chance like this, you know, to be there for family. I’d hate to miss it because I was too proud. (AD 1:19)

Oh, my God! (AD 3:1)

“Thou shalt protect thy father and honor no one above him unless it be-ith me, thy sweet Lord. (AD 1:17). Thou shalt not make up a name in vain. (AD 1:17)

I will obey your will. I will lead a good life. (AD 1:17)

Amen.(AD 2:11)

House of Cards: Meet Me at the Cathedral Heights Metro

House of Cards: Meet Me at the Cathedral Heights Metro

Now that I’m sure most of us have seen at least the first episode of the second season of House of Cards, can we talk about the Cathedral Heights metro scene? Don’t worry, I’m not offering any spoilers here other than the fact that the scene was not filmed anywhere in the DC metro system. There is a Cathedral Heights in DC, but unfortunately there is no metro station nearby (Maybe there could be. TWH?). But that wasn’t the only way you could tell. The distinctive interiors of the metro system were absent and there were definitely people standing on the left side of the escalator without any fear of reprisal.

Courtesy of living in Washington DC

I know that there are only about 600,000 people living in the District of Columbia, and that maybe there are a million other people scattered around the country and the world who would pick up on that discrepancy. But as someone who has grown to love this city, it bothered me.

Unfortunately, the majority of the show isn’t filmed in DC. Oh yes, it’s made to look that way. But you’re looking at Baltimore. It’s actually quite fitting though that a show about Washington is cloaked in a facade. As anyone who lives in the District knows, there’s a difference between Washington and DC. DC is where life happens, where things don’t look the way that you see it in the media. In the District there are families, farmers markets, an untold number of bearded hipsters, yoga teachers, coffee places, and pretentious bars. There are schools, hospitals, and parks. There is also rampant poverty, homelessness, inequality, and seemingly unchecked gentrification. Just like any other city.

But DC never gets to be in the movies. Washington does. I just wish that so much of it wasn’t filmed in Baltimore.

When I was a little girl, I was obsessed with Murphy Brown. Now, I don’t really have the space or time to analyze all the ways that makes me a weirdo, but it did influence me in one extremely important way: it made me want to live in Washington, DC one day. The Washington that “Murph”and her crazy FYI friends inhabited seemed like home for the bookish, ambitious, burgeoning feminist I was at eight years old. I wanted the Georgetown rowhouse, the media job, the pub. For the record, I did not and still do not want the single motherhood (not that theres anything wrong with that). As a kid I didn’t know or care that the show was filmed in Los Angeles. It was enough to make Washington a romantic prospect for a young New Yorker.

Speaking of New York, I love seeing my home city in all of the movies and television shows. The iconic skyline, the shots of the park, and graffiti-covered buildings are images that scream New York that you can see if you visit the citywhich I think for tourists is half the fun. Even those of us from Queens were thrilled when Flight of the Conchords was filmed in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park and Brooklyn (outer boroughs unite!).

This cross outside the church my parents have pastored for decades has appeared in several montages, movies, shows, and even the cover of a poetry book. Courtesy of The Fathers Heart Ministries

And when I moved to DC, I can’t deny that I got a thrill from seeing the Capitol outside my backyard or wandering past historic and iconic places just going about my daily life. If I wasn’t going to live in Manhattan, well then I might as well live in another world-famous place.

The thing about living in DC, though, is that you realize quickly that all the monuments and memorials are just thatlife isn’t lived on the Mall. It’s not even lived exclusively in Georgetown or Dupont Circle. The city is so much larger and more vibrant than that. I live and work in two neighborhoods that look nothing like the DC in House of Cards or even The West Wing. Sometimes I forget I’m even in a city, because life here feels like a neighborhood or a small town. And I’m only two miles from the White House.

The sad thing about all of this is that I don’t think people want to view DC through a lens that isn’t politics, policy, or power. I think it makes it much easier to dismiss and bash what goes on here if real people and lives aren’t involved. The people who live and work in the city don’t stop existing once they leave their jobswhether they’re working in a huge office on the Hill or cleaning it. We are not characters in a spy film or a political drama.

As a New Yorker this is a new experience for me. Sure, people have their misguided ideas about New York City. Some will only see it as a den of iniquity, even though thanks to Mayor Bloomberg, it’s a very clean and green den of iniquity now. Some will only see it through the lens of Wall Street and money, or the New York Times, MTV, Vogue, and other media. Some will only see it through Bryant Park and Soho fashion, and some will only see it through a camera lens showing off all the iconic parts of the city. But I never once felt like where I lived held only one narrative.

I hate that DC can’t seem to transcend Washington’s narrative.

There will probably never be a sitcom set in Columbia Heights, exploring the life and times of a young rowhouse-dwelling Millennial in the District. There will probably never be a drama set in Brookland, following a young family trying to make it in the cityor an older family watching their city change. And the parts of the city that we all like to pretend don’t exist will only ever appear in television or movies as where not to live.

Scratch that. They’ll probably still use Baltimore.

Dear Diary: Thoughts on Mortified

Dear Diary: Thoughts on Mortified

You’re not the only one who had an awkward phrase,” boasts the tagline of Mortified Nation, a recent favorite Netflix musing of mine.

Courtesy of Mortified Nation

The documentary follows Mortified participants as they read their childhood diaries out loud to a live audience of strangers TWH

One by one, each performer steps up to a microphone, flips open their diary, and spills their narrative of growing up, hormones and all. My personal favorite is a performer who showcases the pictures she once drew of herself and the crush she desperately longed for. With visions of the two one day riding horseback together and starting a family, the pictures are unrealistic only in the way a prepubescent girl can dream up.

I loved the Netflix documentary and was lucky to see a Mortified reading here in DC this fall. But what I equally love is how the series has made me think about my childhood and my relationship with my own childhood diaries.

I have kept a diary steadily since 2nd or 3rd grade, a fact that still amazes me given my short attention span and knack for losing things. However, in a family of six, including two sisters who I shared everything with, an older brother, and a Noah’s Ark’s worth of random pets, my diary became a sort of necessity to share and validate my existence. I didn’t write every day, but when I did, it was always an intricate, emotional dump of characters and narratives, with the occasional sloppy drawing.

Inspired by Moritified during my last visit to my parent’s house, I pulled a diary off my shelf to quickly skim through it. Instead, I found myself still plopped on the floor an hour later, utterly immersed in diary after diary, mesmerized by the words that once lived in my head five, 10, even 15 years ago. Even watching my handwriting shift from childhood scribble to teenage cursive to adult type was like witnessing myself grow up before my own eyes.

All at once it was weird and was wonderful; it was traumatic and healing. I felt like an archaeologist digging and digging through the layers of my own life.

There are lessons abound in Mortified. As some performers reveal in the documentary, the process of revisiting the stories of childhood and presenting them to others can be a sort of backwards therapy, especially for those whose childhoods held trauma. For others, the revealing of the absurdity of our childhood selves is a way of saying, “It gets better.” Because there’s nothing like the juxtaposition of the words of your crazy, embarrassing childhood self coming from the lips of your professional, mature, and (hopefully happy) adult lips.

Personally, my takeaway from Mortified has been reclaiming the significance journaling has had in my life in helping me become articulate, self-aware, and unafraid of my emotions. I’m not quite ready to read those words to an eager audience, but I am inspired by the once-six-year-old me who would probably tell me now to “keep on writing.”

The Church Giggle

The Church Giggle

The Church Giggle was an expert villain. It started quiet, tiptoeing tactfully in the shadows, then struck swiftly, leaving no survivors in its wake.

I sat next to my sister, Emily, in a wooden pew, our crisp skirts folded around our knees. We had shared our moments of brief giggles during church services in the past, but this morning we were determined to behave. We would be tranquil, attentive, and wholesome. We would prove to ourselves that we were mature 20-some-year-olds that didn’t laugh at childish things.

During the first half hour of the service, Emily snorted a nasally laugh out of the blue. I reprimanded her with large eyes and a slap on the knee. “Stay strong,” I whispered, and she pulled herself together. I sighed with relief, thinking we were in the clear. But little did we know that The Church Giggle had already targeted us as victims.

Courtesy of themcelebrityfiles

The service switched to communion, and I watched a man walk to the front to serve bread. His shoulders were broad, with skin like dark leather and blue eyes. He reminded me of someone, some character I had seen on television. All of a sudden it connected: he was a spitting image of David Hasselhoff, the actor that depicted a hunky lifeguard on the 1990 series Baywatch.

I whispered the epiphany to Emily, who followed my eyes to the server. Of course, verbalizing my thought was a mistake. I felt a bubble of a giggle rise in my throat, the first cold fingers of The Giggle. Emily, too, brought a hand to her mouth and our cheeks bulged with the early stages of suppressed laughter. I tried to think of something sad or terrible to stifle the approaching attack, but all I could picture was the image of David Hasselhoff serving Holy Communion in red swimming trunks.

The danger with The Church Giggle is that once it catches its prey, it holds them captive to a vicious, unstoppable cycle of laughter. First, our slight snickers turned into coughs. Next, the coughs turned into fat tears that streamed down our faces. Finally, the tears turned into the deadliest form of all laughter: the silent laugh. The kind where the question isn’t if a burst of laughter will break the silence, but when.

Our silent laughs finally did burst forth in the middle of the communion prayer. The laughs had sought freedom for an hour, so when they came, they were deep and accompanied by snorts. Old ladies glared over their grape juice and our mother’s eyes widened in horror. Emily and I knew we were bad, in fact, we could probably write a sermon then and there on all the ways we were being disrespectful. But we still couldn’t stop. The Church Giggle blinded us so that every small thing was hilarious.

Communion ended with two young women sneaking out of the sanctuary to gain composure.

Later, a friend asked us what we were laughing at.

“I don’t know,” we replied. “The giggles just got to us.”

Somewhere in the corner, The Church Giggle flashed a proud smirk and crept on to its next victim.

You Wont Believe This New Approach To Social Media

You Wont Believe This New Approach To Social Media

Hey, did you hear that people pay careful attention to the ways in which they present their lives on social media? That your college roommate’s haphazard photographs of fun times, your co-worker’s selfies from a hiking trail and your high school boyfriend’s spur-of-the-moment status updates letting you know that he is having a great day might each be part of a carefully coordinated attempt to create a false impression of how exciting their lives actually are?Well, it’s a thing. And apparently it’s not healthy.

If you’re into this kind of thing, more and more attention is being paid to the fact that the lives people present on social media are highly curated. Hipstergrammers (That’s what you call people who use social media, right?) generally only present the best, brightest and funniest moments of their lives, and they leave off the mundane ones, the disappointing ones and the sad ones. Oh, there is the occasional humble brag, disguising itself as an embarrassed confession. (“Ugh! I put the glasses on the wrong sides of the plates when Beyonce and Jonah Hill came over for dinner! They didn’t say anything about it but I’m so #embarrassed!”)Meanwhile, those brave few who make the mistake of using social media to express sincere, heart-felt anguish they are experiencing as they navigate genuinely stressful situations—the people who are open about the fact that they are using social media to introduce some kind of actual, human, social connection into a sometimes-lonely life—are freakin’ pariahs, right? You know the people I’m talking about. Your high school friends who were late to the Facebook game and don’t have the daggum dignity to just come up with funny Tweets and keep their day-to-day life out of your face the way real people do?

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about, this video that made the rounds about a month ago (A month ago!?! Who the heck is this guy? If he’s not the first to share it, why the heck is he even bothering?) offers a pretty clear dramatization of the phenomenon:

This hasn’t just caught the attention of snarky internet writers who can’t be found on Google because they share a name with a once-famous basketball player, either. Plenty of news outlets from around the country (and even Canada!) have pointed out that social media tends to encourage people to post the highlight reel of their lives and discourage sharing anything else.Unless you make “anything else” look good.

Which is what we’re going to do.

Here’s what I suggest: For the next week—or for however long we feel like it—let’s share the realities of day-to-day life, the frustrations and struggles and disappointments both major and minor that usually get edited out of a Facebook feed.

“But Rick,” I imagine you’d like to ask. “Didn’t you just say that people who take to Facebook to complain generally get blocked? I swear I even saw a music video about it!

Yes, gentle reader, I did, but I think I’ve found a loophole: We’re going to share the lowlights of our life, and we’re going to make them as aesthetically pleasing as possible. The easiest way to do this is going to be with photos—carefully framed, possibly filtered photos of every sad thing, from day-to-day annoyances to major tragedies.

I’ll be getting the ball rolling today on Instagram. You can feel free to join in on the fun with the hashtag #RealLIfe. Once we get the hang of it, let’s spread it to other social networks and see if we can’t raise some poor sap’s self-esteem (or at least get our most obnoxious contacts to filter us out of their feeds).