Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Opera at the Ballpark

One fun thing we did last month was attend Opera at the Ballpark. It was a LOT of fun, and scored high on the Fun Cheap Date scale. This is basically a simulcast of the live opera performance, on the Jumbotron in the SF ballpark. The opera being performed was Lucia di Lammermoor. The event is free, so all we paid for was the train tickets to get up to the city.

Thousands of people attend. We arrived early, and the throng, I mean line, was already wrapped around the ballpark. The afternoon was borderline scorching, too, but Sugar Daddy (a prince among men) fetched me an milkshake from the ice cream place down the street, while I held our place in line. Strangely, despite the massive crowds, we happened to run into a couple of friends, V. and M., while standing in line.

Even though the line was long, we scored a primo spot on the baseball field and spread out our picnic blanket. Dinner was a picnic of sandwiches (free, courtesy of a Panera Bread gift card), a salad of field greens, chips and dip, fresh strawberries, cherries, and chocolate. Yum.

The late-night weather was perfect - pleasantly mild, which is almost unheard of in that part of the city, even in summer.

I enjoyed the show. Sound quality was surprisingly good for an outdoor music event.

We headed home on the train. I broke out a pack of playing cards for a friendly game of rummy on the slow ride back. Strange coincidence #2: we ran into two more friends, J. and A., on the train. They were returning home from a different event.

All in all, an awesome date and I would do it again. Here is a fun YouTube video that someone posted that captures the Opera at the Ballpark experience quite nicely.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Jazz is not dead

We just went to the student performances for the Stanford Jazz Workshop and it was exciting. They had three different stages with various combos playing at different times. Ages varied from middle school to high school; skill levels varied too. Some kids were good for their age; many were just plain good.

Performances ranged from young'uns getting started playing basic riffs on a blues progression, to older ones delving into tunes with a high level of harmonic and melodic complexity. It's exciting to see the advanced students trying out a broader palette of tone colors, dynamics, phrasing, interaction with their fellow ensemble members, etc.

The rhythm sections were surprisingly strong across the board. I don't know if that was by design or because the slots for those instruments were especially competitive. But it worked out really well, because the rhythm sections served an important function in keeping everything together during those times when individual student soloists weren't totally secure. I saw teen and pre-teen bassists and drummers who were pretty damn solid, and I'd be glad to have them back me up. And some of the pianists...wow.

Some of the workshop faculty are quite inspired and inventive. One of them brought a troop of 15 violinists and a cello onto the stage. I half-expected a group "Twinkle Twinkle" a la Suzuki, but instead, he led them in this jam in which all of the players simultaneously improvised at a level at which they were comfortable, yet the end result sounded fascinating.

The whole event reminded me that I've been doing too much left-brained stuff lately and need to do some more right-brained activities. Perhaps more music listening, exposing myself to genres I don't listen to often, more music playing.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Update on Change.org blogger position

Some sad news - I didn't get an interview for the blogger job. They had more than 1000 applicants and fewer than 50 interview slots! Thanks to all of my friends who supported me, though, especially those who wrote recommendations. Your support is greatly appreciated, and I will probably tap it again!

May and beginning of June have been a particularly busy time for me. I will be posting an update on my recent activities.

Conversations with a non-profit technology co-op member

I just spoke to T., a developer and project manager at a tech co-op that serves non-profit organizations. He was kind enough to chat with me on the phone and share a lot of helpful info about his own experiences and career path as an NP techie. They are a small org that does websites and web apps for NP's and do a lot with Drupal and CivicSpace. I have a fair amount interest in working in a similar setting and with those technologies, so I listened eagerly to his perspectives.

Background of T. and of co-op

Recent college grad; active in campus activism/volunteerism; changed tracks from for-profit to non-profit in final semester

Career path: NP web guy -> Americorps IT consulting -> met members of the co-op

Spent 1.5 years as freelancer/loosely affiliated w/co-op

Co-op decided to specialize in web apps/web presence (rather than any tech-related project under the sun)

Currently has 7 full-time employees, with insurance! W-2 instead of 1099 forms!

Only a few similarly-structured co-ops nationally. Hillsborough something on East Coast?

Work environment

Tight-knit team - like a web start-up - friends outside of work, too

True co-op style - they try to keep the organizational structure as horizontal as possible

Totally virtual - most are generally in the same area of the country, but a couple of them are far afield

However, this can make management and HR decisions difficult, esp. w.r.t. performance evaluation

Also can be tough to get decisions made, get things done w/this kind of structure

Members fall into different philosophical camps: 1) business-focused: emphasize the sustainability of the business when choosing clients/projects and making decisions, 2) Idealists/idealogues (two flavors: the open-source/tech idealists, and the cause/mission idealists)

The art of client selection: evaluate them for their mission (do you want to support it), organizational readiness

Resist the urge not to bill hours (in the heat of enthusiasm about a cause or project!)

Quality vs. price - ugly reality is that there's not always the time or budget to follow software best practices. Have to be strategic about designing and testing the software. More often than not, can't build the elegant/reusable software solution, and can't do a lot of testing.

Co-op bills at $75/hour

It's an unusual niche that has its challenges. They want to be able to continue serving small orgs; however, they also want to be competitive for larger projects, especially when they're bidding against for-profit firms that charge 3x but also have 3x the resources (and can thus do 3x the work, or do the same work 3x as fast)

Co-op is transitioning into more of a sustainable business venture rather than a network of loose affiliates. Has been evolving in this direction for the past couple years. Have hired full-time staff and seem to be at the take-off point.


Non-profit sector mythbusters:

Myth: "People in NP will all be working for good, all the time. People in the corporate are all about the money."
Reality: There are people in NP for whom it's just a job they do for $$$. Conversely there do exist corporate folks who care (as my own experience bears out).

Myth: "NP budgets may be smaller, but their timelines are more flexible, so I will have more opportunity to write good software."
Reality: Budgets are definitely smaller, but timelines are not very flexible!

Put foot down for including testing as part of the dev cycle for large projects (well above & beyond a McWebsite). Been burned before.

McWebsites: Basic web presence for $1500-$5000. Includes informal/free support (fortunately this is not abused because they have a good, informal, open relationship w/clients and can turn around and say "hey, that's more support than we can offer w/o doing a new engagement".)

Advice on freelancing, work-life balance

Have a contract! This is a no-brainer, but T. has been burned before!

Beware of having too little or too much motivation. Need to bill enough hours to eat! But, since your home IS your office, it's also possible to be "at work" 24/7! E.g. T. sometimes bills 60-80 hours on busiest weeks, translates to 80-100 hours actually in front of the computer!

On a related note, myth of billable hours: if you are billing 40-50 hours/week, you are actually working more hours than that! Maintaining your business and dealing w/the business side of things, finding new clients, etc.

Many freelancers/co-op members also still volunteer for their causes of choice. This can keep you very busy!

Toggl.com - good tool for tracking hours

Desirable skills for NP techies

If you already have tech skills, look to building project management skills. There are a lot of code jockeys out there for the NP sector to draw on. What's in short supply is people with management/PM skills who can serve the NP sector. Problem is the pay and also the career advancement (you top out in a couple years). People with these skills are desperately needed.

Soft skills

Ability to work on the NP's organization processes

T.'s co-op looks for these skills when evaluating candidates for hire.

Project management

Kitchen-sink RFPs for <$5K "champagne on a beer budget" - these are common!

Response: Do a needs assessment engagement. Deliverables are a project spec and a brief. Client is under no obligation to engage the co-op for the development stage - they are invited to shop it around. The brief is written with a target audience of grantmakers - often, the briefs are dropped straight into the grant proposal. This is valuable because often the RFP authors are not that tech-savvy and benefit from having someone with technical knowledge write the brief for their grant proposal. The client may receive the grant and often they come back to the co-op work for the dev work too.

Walk the client through the website process. Use mock-ups (easy w/Drupal). Repeat back to them what they just said.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Frugal green blogs; Change.org blogger position

Well, after much typing and sweat, I've submitted my application for the Change.org blogger position. It was a good excuse to update my resume, which I've been meaning to do for a while.

While drafting the application, I decided to do some reconnaissance on blogs that are green and frugal, since that's what I'm proposing to Change.org. There are not as many blogs on that topic as there are on, say, politics or the general green movement. But still, there is quite a community of bloggers on the subject:

A more green and simple life: saving money
Budget Hippies
Cheap and Green
Consciously Frugal
Cranberryfrog: Simple Living
Crunchy Chicken
Frugal and Green
Frugal Fu
Frugal Nuts are Green
Going Green
Green Boot Camp
Green Living | Wise Bread
Green Minded Wallet
Green Simple Frugal
Healthy, Green and Frugal
Living Cheap and Green
Living Green Below Your Means - v 1.0
Living Green Below Your Means - v 2.0
No Impact Man
Organically Inclined: The how-to journal for simpler, greener and cheaper living
Simple - Green - Frugal
The Greening of Gavin
The Greening Tree
The Lean Green Family

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Green career counselors

Met P. for dinner at Hobee's last Thursday - yum. She recommended two green career counselors:

Marie Kerpan - founder of Green Careers - based in Marin

Three Month Visa Coaching and Consulting - based in SF
Life and Career Coaching - Life Sabbaticals - Long-term Travel

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Blogging job with my name on it

Okay okay okay okay okay. Opportunity (that elusive vixen!) has presented itself yet again with a listing for a paid blogger job that just landed in my inbox and that has my name written all over it - details below. I need to submit an application, ideally by end of next week. Here is my to-do list for preparing an application:

* Polish up my resume
* Gather some competitive intelligence: who else is blogging/writing about consumer culture and frugal green living (my subject of choice)? I know some of the answers, but need to probe a bit further
* Get some recommendation blurbs from my peeps that I can include in a cover letter
* Put together a convincing case about why Change.org wants to have me as one of their bloggers
* Write some thoughtful responses to the application questions

Apply to be a Blogger for Change.org!

Want to blog on an issue you are passionate about for an audience of hundreds of thousands of activists and nonprofit leaders?

Want to create the premier online space for your issue and become a leading voice for social action?

Change.org is launching a social action blog network this summer and is currently hiring a team of part-time bloggers/editors to help create a movement for change around the major causes of our time.

Each blogger will lead an online community focusing on a different social, political, or environmental issue, maintain a daily blog covering news and offering commentary, convene leading nonprofits and activists working on the issue, and help people translate their interests and passions into concrete action.

Change.org's blog network will include communities around the following issues:

Global Warming
Human Rights
Universal Health Care
Public Education
Peace in the Middle East
Disaster Relief
Gay Rights

Human Trafficking
Global Health
Women's Rights
War in Iraq
Global Hunger
Promoting Democracy
Immigrant Rights
Fair Trade

Prison Reform
Humanitarian Relief
Animal Rights
Cure Cancer
Domestic Abuse
Mental Health
Rights of the Disabled
Sustainable Agriculture
...and more to come...

Additional Details

* Positions will start in June - we'll start interviewing in mid-May and positions will begin in mid-June.
* Part-time - this is a part-time position. There are no formal hourly requirements, but the blogs will require daily activity, so you will have to be willing to dedicate significant time outside of your normal work.
* Monthly stipend - we will be paying all bloggers a modest monthly stipend.
* Collaboration - this is a collaborative effort, and you will be in regular contact with Change.org's Managing Editor and participate in weekly phone calls with the other Change.org bloggers.
* Location: anywhere - the Change.org team is distributed across the country, and you can write from anywhere you like

To apply, send the following information to bloggers@change.org

1. Your resume

Nothing fancy here - just send us what you've got.

2. The social issue you want to blog about

Each blogger will focus exclusively on one of the issues mentioned above. Please include the primary issue you are interested in writing about. You may also list any other issues you'd also like to be considered for, including issues we may not have listed above (we'll be expanding this list soon).

3. The URL of any blog(s) you have written for before

Applicants are not required to have previous blogging experience, but if you do, please list the URLs of the blogs you have written for in the past, including your personal blog if you have one, along with links to specific posts.

4. Why you're interested in the position

This is free-form and casual. In your email give us a short intro about why you're interested in the project and any brief background info you want to highlight. This is not a formal cover letter and we're a laid back organization, so don't spend too much time laboring over this.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Your Nonprofit Job Search: Where to start

Just found this article:
Your Nonprofit Job Search: Where to start

Are you just starting to look for a job in the nonprofit sector? Don't know where to begin or how to go about finding work in this area? To help you get started, we've created this overview on how to look for jobs in the nonprofit world.

The following paragraphs provide an introduction to the types of jobs available in this field, advice on how to go about determining where you fit into the nonprofit world, and tips for finding work in the sector.

Whether you are looking for full time employment, a fellowship in public service, or long term volunteering opportunities, this overview will provide you with ideas and resources for beginning your search. Read more

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Sharing knowledge with fellow travelers on the journey

Last month I had a chat with D., who contacted me after reading an article on personal finance that I wrote. Like me, she is interested in making the transition from the corporate world to more values-based work and/or a saner pace of life. I tried to give her as candid a summary as possible of my transition process thus far, and I also recommended some resources that I thought she might find helpful.

I really welcome phone calls and emails and face-to-face chats with people who contact me to learn more about my experiences and to have a sounding board for their own experiences and plans.

I also seek out people who are living and working in a way that I admire and to which I aspire. I try to find mentors and cultivate relationships with them, or at least chat with them and glean what I can from their own experiences.

I feel strongly no matter where we are along our journey, we need to share our own stories and support with those who are following in our footsteps. And we need to seek out the knowledge and support of those in whose footsteps we follow. It's especially important if we choose a life path in which we are swimming against the tide.

Nonprofits and "Mission over Membership"

Just read this article from the NTEN newsletter that I found both pointed and refreshing and wanted to make a note of it for myself:

Mission Over Membership in Online Advocacy by Charles Lenchner, DemocracyInAction

It is a good reminder for those involved in non-profit work that technology/fundraising/outreach strategies must always be in service to the mission - not the other way around!

Mushroom growing kit, day 35, 36: dinner is served

We've gotten two more meals out of the mushroom growing kit! The one below was very simple...we fixed them plain, just to do a tasting of the oyster mushrooms by themselves. Without any seasoning, the flavor is mild, very faintly sweet. The texture of the thicker pieces actually is somewhat like shellfish or abalone as mentioned in the MSSF cookbook - chewy and slimy in a good way (?!?).

The following night, I prepared another recipe from the MSSF cookbook:

Stir-Fried Oyster Mushrooms

Serves 3 to 4 as a side dish

* 2 tablespoons peanut oil
* 1/2 tablespoon Asian sesame oil
* One 1/8-inch-thick slice fresh ginger, peeled and minced
* 3 garlic cloves, minced
* 1/2 pound oyster mushrooms, sliced or torn in even pieces
* 1 cup fresh or thawed frozen peas
* 2 tablespoons chicken broth
* Pinch of sugar
* 2 Chinese-style (firm) tofu cakes, cut into cubes
* 2 tablespoons soy sauce or more

Using a wok or skillet, heat the peanut and sesame oils together until bubbling. Add the ginger, garlic, mushrooms, peas, and sugar and quickly stir-fry for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the broth. Cover and simmer for 3 to 5 minutes. Add the tofu and soy sauce. Cook uncovered for 3 minutes. Serve immediately over rice. --Louise Freedman

Prepping the ingredients:

Into the pan:

Almost done:

This dish with its ginger, garlic, peas, and broth actually reminds me of a dish that R.'s mom makes that I enjoy, with shrimp, quail eggs, ginger, peas, and cashews.

This may be the last mushroom kit update for a while, if not indefinitely. The weather's getting warm, and the kit has been dormant for the last week!

Read the entire saga of the mushroom growing kit

Decluttering into the virtual toy chest

Well, in the course of this massive decluttering project I'm doing, the time has come to part with some of my old toys...

I'm taking a page from my friend S. and photographing the items I'm unloading. Same memories, less storage space! Here is a slideshow of my virtual toy chest.

Updates: opera, househunting, socializing, beading, and (eek) coding

Updates, updates, updates all around...

On the musical front:

Watched DVDs of two operas and one operetta: Rigoletto (film version with Pavarotti), a rather sensual production of Massenet's Thaïs, and The Pirates of Penzance by Gilbert & Sullivan.

Attended more master classes at Stanford, one by John Bellemer and one by Rudolf Jansen (wow. has his own Wikipedia page) for both singers and collaborative pianists.

Broke down and finally got an MP3 player. It's coming in very handy so far, especially after I installed Rockbox on it. I have to confess that I'm enjoying playing with my new toy. What tipped the balance is that Sugar Daddy and I use MIDI and MP3 files a lot during our music practice sessions, and I finally realized that during those sessions, we were basically using our laptops as expensive, power-hungry, and not-very-portable MP3 players. I hope that's not too much of a self-deluding rationalization :)

On the creative front:

Made this bun cover (for a hair bun) out of beads from my trip to Africa a couple years back. I'm working on a pair of matching earrings, too.

On the practical front:

Decided to get serious about buying our first house (well, condo, most likely) this year. Signed up to get new real estate listings. Also doing lots of research, reading, and surfing.

On the technical front:

Working on the local Sierra Club's website event calendar. TOTAL time suck. But I am fast learning Drupal, which is the point (and which is why it's a time suck, being new to it and all).

On the social front:

Had A. over for dinner Sunday night - delightful! A nice bonus is that the apartment is clean, something that only happens when company comes over :) And last Wednesday, met R. and B. for dinner at B.'s place and did a lot of catching up. Had a delicious dinner of garlic naan, Indian vegetables, braised tofu, fresh spring rolls, tea, and peach mango cobbler.

Meeting with About-Face executive director

Last month I had coffee with Jennifer Berger, the executive director of About-Face. About-Face is a media literacy non-profit that equips women and girls with the tools they need to understand and resist harmful media messages that affect their self-esteem and body image. I've been a supporter of About-Face for several years now, and it is always exciting to meet the people who are working to effect social change in areas that I'm passionate about.

I wanted to make some notes about our discussion before it all dribbles out of my head, like stuff tends to do these days...

State of the organization

Three active campaigns
Media literacy workshops for girls at schools/clubs/orgs
"Take Action" program for training girls (teens and young adults) to create change in the media landscape. The girls are in charge of envisioning and executing the action; About-Face provides training, resources, and mentorship/guidance
About-Face website: revamp of tools/resources, update of the Gallery of Offenders and Gallery of Winners
They are in capacity-building mode. Pursuing grants, donors. Big push for funding, esp. building funding momentum for "Take Action" program
Other orgs doing related work on girl's issues: Girls, Inc. (J. recommended that I check them out) and Girls for a Change (local, based in San Jose; "Take Action" modeled after them)
They are on eBay - MissionFish

What are About-Face's current needs? (besides funding, of course :)

Pro-bono or discount consulting: organization and/or tech
Trying to incorporate video into their media literacy presentations & website - dealing with fair use & copyright protection issues
Board members - 3 more needed. ~10 hrs/week commitment plus a "personally significant" monetary contribution; 6-mo. trial term; currently a "governing board" rather than a "working board"
Finding and connecting with new donors
Charitable gift registries
Technology needs/questions
We may have some common interests here (building my resume while assisting their org) - explore further
Understanding CRMs, what they can do for you, which CRM (if any) is best for this org's needs
Pro-bono Salesforce.com consulting (me?), Salesforce Foundation product grants
CMS (esp. Drupal, Joomla) vs. Dreamweaver + Contribute
Trusted community/mailing list for tech advice
They are a Mac house

Action items

List of charitable gift registries
TechSoup white papers on CRMs, CMSs
NTEN affinity groups/mailing list
Explore tech consulting possibilities
Think about people in my network to tap for potential board members, donors

Recent reading: Simple Days

I just finished reading the book Simple Days: A Journal on What Really Matters by Marlene A. Schiwy. As I read Schiwy's journal, I felt several touchpoints of kinship with her: her love of long walks, good food, Baroque music, and singing in a choir; her yearning for simplicity; her frustration when trying to cultivate intimate friendships as an adult, and her different, more relaxed rhythm of life as a non-9-to-5er. And her occasional massive decluttering sessions! From her book:

"Last night I browsed in The Artist's Way and came across the idea that when we find ourselves sorting through things, cleaning out and uncluttering, we are making room for something new in our life. Julia Cameron writes, 'One of the clearest signals that something is afoot is the impulse to weed out, sort through, and discard old clothes, papers, and belongings....By tossing out the old and unworkable, we make way for the new and suitable.' I am in such a phase now, wanting to get rid of things and clear some space, in more than one way. I would love to see my study bare and orderly, not piled high with books and papers, as it currently is. But what is the 'new and suitable' that I am apparently preparing for?"

I found this passage in the book to be one of the most profound and moving:

"Yesterday I read Elisabeth Kübler-Ross's The Wheel of Life: A Memoir of Living and Dying. Her final words of advice are profound: 'It is very important that you do only what you love to do. You may be poor, you may go hungry, you may live in a shabby place, but you will totally live. And at the end of your days, you will bless your life because you have done what you came here to do.'"

Best of all, there were tasty recipes! I love it when a non-cookbook includes recipes! I've copied some of my favorites here:

Pumpkin Walnut Bread (two loaves)

2 c. whole wheat flour
1 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 c. oats, or wheat germ, or wheat bran, or oat bran
2 t. baking soda
2 t. baking powder
1 T. cinnamon
1 t. nutmeg (optional)
1/2 t. salt
1/2 c. canola oil or melted butter
1 1/3 c. sugar (adjust amount as desired)
1 t. vanilla
4 eggs
2 c. cooked pumpkin or any winter squash (e.g., acorn or butternut)
2/3 c. water (or milk or soymilk)
3/4 c. raisins
3/4 c. chopped walnuts or pecans

Sift together all dry ingredients except sugar in a bowl. Beat together oil, sugar, and vanilla in a large bowl. Add eggs, one by one, beating well after each. STir in pumpkin and water. Add flour mixture, stirring just until smooth. Stir in raisins and walnuts. Bake in two loaf pans, at 350 degrees F for 50-60 minutes. Let loaves cool in the pan for 20 minutes, then put on rack or plate. This is a tasty, low-fat, and nutritious autumn breakfast loaf. I make it often, sometimes doubling this recipe. It freezes well.


3 1/2 c. unbleached flour (I use up to half whole wheat)
2 T. cocoa
2-5 t. baking powder
1 1/2 c. sugar
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 t. cloves
1/2 t. lemon extract or 1 t. lemon rind
1 c. honey or syrup
2 eggs
5 T. milk
1/2 c. softened butter (1 stick)
1 c. hazelnuts, lightly toasted and ground

Sift together flour, cocoa, and baking powder. Mix together sugar, spices, lemon, honey, eggs, and milk. Pour liquid mixture into middle of dry ingredients and knead until thoroughly blended. Add butter and nuts quickly so the dough does not become sticky. Put in refrigerator for an hour (or for up to 3 days). Roll out dough on a floured surface and cut out with cookie cutters, OR pat with your hands into a low cake pan so dough is 3/4" thick. Bake cookies 10-15 minutes; cake 15-20 minutes, at 375 degrees. When cool, you can decorate them with your favorite icing, or simply melt chocolate chips and coat cake or cookies with chocolate. Cut cake into 2" squares.

Hazelnut Fig Bread (two loaves)

1 c. hazelnuts, roasted and ground*
3 c. unbleached flour (can substitute up to half whole wheat flour)
1 c. oat bran
2 T. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
8 oz. dried figs (remove stems and soak figs in enough water to cover them for several hours or overnight, then drain)
2 c. milk or soymilk
4 eggs
1 c. brown sugar
1/2 c. melted butter or canola oil

*Put hazelnuts in a baking dish in a preheated 350 degree oven for 10 minutes. Rub off skins, and when cool, grind in blender.

Mix flour, oat bran, baking powder, salt, and ground hazelnuts in a large bowl. In blender, puree figs with milk, eggs, brown sugar, and butter or oil. Pour liquid mixture over dry ingredients and mix just until they are combined. Pour batter into two loaf pans that have been greased or sprayed with Pam. Bake 40-45 minutes at 350-375 degrees. Leave loaves in pans for an hour to cool off. This is very good with butter, or cream cheese or other mild cheeses.

Blueberry Corn Muffins (one dozen)

1/2 c. softened butter or vegetable oil
1 c. sugar
2 large eggs
1 t. vanilla
2 t. baking powder
dash of salt
1 1/3 c. unbleached flour (you can substitute whole wheat for some or all of it)
2/3 c. cornmeal
1/2 c. milk
2 c. blueberries, fresh or frozen
1-2 t. sugar mixed with a sprinkle of cinnamon or nutmeg

Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a muffin pan with foil or paper cups. In a large bowl, beat butter with sugar until fluffy, then beat in eggs, vanilla, baking powder, and salt. Measure flour and cornmeal together and add to the butter mixture. Fold in milk and blueberries just until mixed. Put batter into muffin cups and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Bake for 20-25 minutes until golden on top, and let cool for 15 minutes before taking out of pan. These freeze well and I always double the recipe.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Mushroom growing kit, day 34: new crop started!

The moment we take our eyes off the mushroom growing kit, it starts sprouting new mushrooms! Some babies made their appearance a few days ago, and look how much they've grown already!

Here's a closer look at a cluster of babies. Not sure if this particular cluster will make it to maturity. According to the kit's instructions, not all of them do.

Getting Drupal experience as a Sierra Club web volunteer

This was in a recent newsletter of the Loma Prieta chapter of the Sierra Club (of which I am a member):
Web Support Needed

Help improve the chapter’s website and web services. Seeking a web developer familiar with Drupal related services including installation, configuration, design, module development, and customization.
It's a fortunate stroke of serendipity. I am looking to get some Drupal experience, and this is a great opportunity to do so while helping out a local environmental organization - and putting it on my resume as non-profit experience.

I had a chance to chat with the person coordinating their website effort, and we've identified some easy tasks for me to start with. I'm going to start working on it tomorrow.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Job listings at Beaconfire Consulting serving non-profit clients

This contractor job listing caught my eye. I don't have the qualifications (yet), but in future, this is the kind of work arrangement that appeals to me.
Beaconfire Consulting: Careers

Beaconfire often utilizes independent contractors as part of providing our clients with the best advice and solutions for their business needs. We prefer contractors who are not employed full time and who may be able to commit anywhere from 5-20 hours per week on an as needed basis. Flexibility, availability and reliability are key to building a contracting relationship.

We are looking for contractors with the to fill the following roles. If interested, send resume and cover email/letter according to the instructions in each listing. Please include the role or position of interest in the subject line.


Mushroom growing kit, day 27: another feast, and back to square one

We harvested the rest of the mushrooms from the kit and prepared another recipe from the MSSF cookbook:

Scrambled Eggs with Oyster Mushrooms

Serves 4 as a main course

Most mushrooms may be used with scrambled eggs, but oyster mushrooms converts them into an elegant main dish.
  • 1 pound oyster mushrooms, sliced
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup peanut oil
  • 1/2 cup slivered shallots or green onions
  • 8 eggs, beaten slightly
  • 1/2 teaspoon Tabasco sauce
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon Asian sesame oil
Dredge the mushrooms in the flour. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan or skillet. Add the mushrooms and cook until brown. Add the shallots and continue to cook for a few more minutes. Stir in the eggs, Tabasco sauce, parsley, salt, and pepper. Scramble the eggs and sprinkle the sesame oil quickly over the eggs while they are still soft. Serve immediately. --Edward Lodigiani

I recommend it! It's one of those recipes where the ingredients and preparation methods are very simple, but the combination of flavors and textures is ingenious and delicious.

Now we are back to square one. Sniff, sniff...the mushroom block is bare. We will keep watering it per the instructions and see if we can get another flush of mushrooms.

Read the entire saga of the mushroom growing kit

Keep CA state parks open - public hearing on Tuesday 4/15 in San Jose

I just sent this message out to family and friends:
Dear friends and family,

If you share my concern about the state government's plans to close a number of state parks, I invite you to join me at a public hearing on the closures, to be held in San Jose next Tuesday. At this hearing, the State Park and Recreation Commission will be accepting spoken and written public comments. Details on the time and location of the hearing are given here:
I haven't seen confirmation of these details from an official source, so I recommend contacting the California Department of Parks and Recreation to confirm the date/location before attending: 800-777-0369, www.parks.ca.gov

Also, please spread the word to other interested folks who might be able to attend. Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Science Debate 2008

I heard about this today and it interested me. You can join as a signatory to show your support for the debate and for candidates to accept the invitation. From their website:

Science Debate 2008: Call for a Presidential Debate on Science & Technology

Science Debate 2008 is a grassroots initiative spearheaded by a growing number of scientists and other concerned citizens. Science Debate 2008 has invited the presidential candidates to participate in a debate on policy issues affected by science and technology, to be held on April 18.

The debate may include such policy issues as: American economic competitiveness and support for scientific research; policy approaches to climate change; clean energy; the healthcare crisis; science education and technology in schools; scientific integrity; GM agriculture; transportation infrastructure; immigration; the genome; data privacy; intellectual property; pandemic diseases; the health of the oceans; water resources; stem cells; conservation and species loss; population; the space program, and others.

This is a policy debate. It is not intended to be a science quiz. Nor are we interested in state-level battles such as the evolution versus creationism/ID debate. Our goal is to find out how aware candidates are of America's major science and technology problems and opportunities, and how they propose to offer the kind of visionary leadership and policy solutions that will tackle those challenges and ensure America's place as the most scientifically and technologically advanced nation on earth. This is your opportunity to demonstrate that you are such a leader.

The debate will be held at 7PM on Friday, April 18, 2008 at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. This is four days prior to the Pennsylvania primary. The debate is non-partisan. All viable candidates for President will be invited. It will be held even if only one candidate participates.

The cosponsors have reputations for putting on fair and informative events serving the best interests of the public and the highest principles of this nation. We intend to make the debate available for broadcast on nationwide television on April 18 and re-broadcast at a later time on both television and the internet.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Mushroom growing kit, day 19: harvest and feast

We picked several of the clumps of mushrooms today. Here's the first:

And here are a couple more clumps:

The mushrooms await their culinary destiny...

Which is to be prepared with the following recipe from the MSSF cookbook:

Mock Abalone

Serves 4 as a side dish

Sautéed oyster mushrooms are similar to abalone in taste. Serve them hot.
  • 1/2 cup flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1/8 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 2 small garlic clove, minced
  • 1/8 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 pound oyster mushrooms (cut large ones in half)
  • 5 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons mild vegetable oil
  • Lemon wedges and/or soy sauce

Put the flour, salt, pepper, marjoram, thyme, garlic, and paprika in a small paper bag. Add the mushrooms and shake well.

Heat the butter and oil in a sauté pan or skillet and sauté the mushrooms on each side for 2 minutes or until golden brown. Serve immediately with lemon wedges and/or soy sauce. (by Lois Der)

Here the mushrooms are getting coated with the seasoned flour:

And now into the pan!

They're cooking up nice and golden:

Getting the fixin's out. For mock abalone, gotta have our salt, lemon wedges, and tabasco:

Bon appetit!

A closer look. The spouse pointed out that they look like pork chops.

And so we ate them. Delicious! The texture and appearance does bear a resemblance to abalone or some other mild shellfish. I do think that this dish attests to the fact that ANYTHING breaded and fried in enough butter tastes good. The spouse commented that "it tastes like something as unhealthy as you would get at the county fair," which is not necessarily a good thing in his book, but is fine by me :-)

More recipes and pics to come, I'm sure - those mushrooms are ready to eat!

Read the entire saga of the mushroom growing kit

Mushroom growing kit, day 16-18

Day 16, front:

Day 16, back:

Day 17, front:

Day 17, back:

I see stir fry in my future.

Day 18, front:

Day 18, back:

Notice how the edges have gotten quite frilly and turned up.

We are going to be eating a lot of oyster mushrooms very soon. Fortunately, the Mycological Society of San Francisco has an excellent online mushroom cookbook with a whole section devoted to fabulous oyster mushroom recipes.

Read the entire saga of the mushroom growing kit

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Mushroom growing kit, day 15

The silly spouse insists that I photograph the mushrooms every day. He is pretty enthusiastic about the mushrooms himself, and waters them obsessively. Sometimes I have to remind him that it's my birthday present :)

Yes, this is the same clump of mushrooms next to which I held the quarter in earlier posts.

This is the back side of the kit. The Big Momma mushroom is actually hiding on this side - way at the bottom.

An underside view.

Read the entire saga of the mushroom growing kit

Green Your Career

Last Wednesday I attended an event called "Green Your Career", sponsored by Acterra and held at the Green Building Exchange. Five panelists in various green careers gave short presentations. The moderator was Carol McClelland, who runs a career coaching business and website called Green Career Central.

I didn't learn anything hugely profound that I didn't know already. The panelists had diverse backgrounds and careers and had interesting stories. However, there wasn't any particular panelist that I felt like I identified with closely, in terms of what they are doing in their career. Also, for the "Green Technology Career" presentation, I would have liked to hear from an actual technologist (the panelist was a marketing person working at a technology company). However, I really appreciated the expertise of the moderator, who asked some excellent questions of the panelists (given below) and dished out quite a bit of good advice herself.

Download the presentation handouts here. My own notes follow:

  • Positioning yourself for emerging industries
  • Be realistic about the current state of your target green industry/company. Is it emerging, or is it mature and well-established? This affects how ready they are to hire.
  • Engage in policy-influencing activities; these will create the green economy sector that you want to work in
  • Check out the GreenerComputing newsletter

Green Marketing Career - Lynn Strand Marks
  • Whatever job role you may have now or in the future, you can always advocate green values to the people and processes you interact with
  • Marks only figured out what her calling was about 6 mos. ago!

Renewable Energy Career - Max Greenberg
  • Salespeople for residential/commercial solar energy installations are in big demand

Green Building Career - Danny Beesley
  • Beesley doesn't just give out green building advice, he has also given green career advice to many people who have asked him and has served as a mentor

Green Technology Career - Krista Van Tassel

Environmental Management Career - Michele Beasley

What one experience best prepared you for your current green career?
  • Reframing past experiences and applying them to the current job
  • Acterra's Be The Change environmental leadership training program
  • Real estate experience
  • Hands-on construction experience
  • A background in traditional marketing
  • Working with diverse groups/stakeholders/volunteers

What are the hottest jobs in your green sector?
  • Behavioral/creative influencers
  • Marketing writers
  • Solar energy sales consultants
  • Solar design engineers - residential and commercial
  • Solar installers - work under a foreman (who is usually a licensed electrician) to install solar energy systems
  • Solar hot water systems
  • Internships (unpaid) at the Green Building Exchange (they are a start-up and don't have the money yet for all the areas where they would like to grow/hire!)
  • GreenPoint Raters - these are professionals who apply the GreenPoint rating system to assess how green a new or existing home is. In general this job requires some experience in construction, you must also get additional training on the GreenPoint system. Regulatory changes in the SFBay are causing a local surge in demand for GreenPoint Raters.
  • Home building performance - consultants who assess energy efficiency of homes. Policy changes are in the pipeline which may result in the federal government subsidizing this particular sector in the near future.
  • Green your current job! E.g. an in-house corporate event planner who decided to green her company's functions
  • For advocacy groups - policy research experts, advocates
  • Internships (usually unpaid) at Greenbelt Alliance
  • Elected officials - consider running for office!
  • Urban planning

What training was most important to you for your green career?
  • U.C. Davis - studied both human development and agriculture
  • Previous work with people with developmental disabilities - learning to communicate, not necessarily with words; learning about different ways to solve problems, think, and relate
  • Social work
  • Find mentors - lots of them
  • Diversity in jobs, broad experiences, life experience
  • "Speaking the language" - knowing how to communicate with many different types of people/constituencies/stakeholders/organizations
  • Working with passionate/knowledgeable/idealistic/committed people within my green company
  • Entrepreneurial skills
  • "DIY" degree, certifications, seeking out learning opportunities - e.g. the
  • Build It Green training programs
  • Variety
  • Meeting people - maintaining a good rolodex - networking
  • Taking initiative - one panelist "volunteered" for Sun Microsystems' Eco Reponsibility Initiative even while she was holding a different job within Sun. It was hard work! But when new positions were created as part of that initiative, she was tapped to fill one of them!
  • Urban planning, policy, environmental management
  • Mentors - meet people for coffee, lunch; it's amazing how many people are happy/willing to meet with you and talk!

How did you find your current green job?
  • (From a self-employed panelist) Meeting the right clients - companies/NGOs with a green angle
  • Discovering your team's hidden passions and then turning that into a values-based company mission
  • Having a strong intention
  • Monster.com
  • Roll with the punches - One panelist had a crappy interview. He had to buy an expensive last-minute plane ticket to get there, dropped his laptop, and felt like he said all the wrong things at the start of the interview. Yet, he was able to salvage the situation and eventually get the job!
  • Craigslist
  • Idealist.org
  • Build your reputation for high-quality work within the company you work for

Sun Eco Responsibility Initiative
  • Started as an R&D solution to an engineering problem - 5 years ago! (product line of energy-efficient processors)
  • It turned out that IT cost problems were also environmental problems! (high energy consumption of data centers coupled with high energy costs)
  • A way to sell their energy-efficient processor - so it seems there is a strong marketing aspect to this initiative

Tips & tricks for making the leap into green careers
  • Know your green niche - YOUR special passions, skills, talents
  • No magic bullet
  • First focus on passion, not money

There were more tips, but I had to leave early! Check out Green Careers Central, though.

Alternative Gift Registry, and some very good news!

One of my major accomplishments this week was to finish my volunteer website development project at New American Dream's Alternative Gift Registry (check it out!).

You can see a few things that I worked on. Among other things, I added a bunch of new resources to their Green Celebration Tips page, and if you create a registry and browse the list of sample gift ideas, you will see a lot of my contributions on that list.

Finally - some nonprofit technical experience to add to my resume!!!

The best news of all is that after I completed this project, their IT guy said that he has some consulting budget money this year and would like to hire me to help with various projects as the need arises. Yay!!! I said yes and quoted him an hourly rate, which I have revised (upward) based on my findings on hourly rates in the nonprofit world. One caveat: I must pray that their funding does not suddenly dry up as it did in the last go-round!

New career, here I come!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Mushroom growing kit, day 14

Just look how they've grown in the space of two days!

Monday, March 24, 2008

Messiah sing, voice lesson clip, Lucia di Lammermoor

This past Palm Sunday I finally attended the Messiah Sing at West Valley Presbyterian Church, the one where we, the audience, perform the entire work (2 1/2 hours or so). I've been wanting to do this for a couple years now. I'm happy to report that I handled it respectably, even the movements that I don't know so well because they're usually not included on Christmas programs. I had to be strategic about which movements I wanted to sing, because if I tried to sing every note written for soprano in that work, I'd have no voice by the end of the night. I like these Messiah sing-alongs, even though sometimes the more difficult movements end up as train wrecks :) Partly, I enjoy these events because they're the only venue where it's ok for me to sing "Rejoice greatly" in public.

While there, I heard a guy with a beautiful voice behind me and to my right, singing the tenor solos. Tenors, especially good ones, are always in short supply, so I thought to myself, "I should recruit that guy for my choir!" Later, when I turned around to take a peek, I realized: "That guy IS in my choir!" Which was reassuring. I believe it's his first season with our group - hope he sticks around!

I've been excited about my voice lessons lately, so much so that I am daring to post an audio clip from one of them. Normally I would be too self-conscious to do so, and I can certainly hear my own shortcomings in the clip. At the same time, though, this clip represents a lot of progress, considering where I started from a year ago. (I'm singing a passage from the aria "Una donna a quindici anni" from Mozart's opera Così fan tutte.)

Also this past week: watched the DVD of Lucia di Lammermoor from the Met production with Sutherland and Kraus. No happy endings there. Great singing, though!

Mushroom growing kit, day 12

My darling mother-in-law decided to indulge my fungal pastime by sending me an early birthday present - a mushroom growing kit from Mushroom Adventures. It grows Blue Oyster mushrooms (same kind of oyster mushrooms you get at the grocery store). Basically, it is a block of substrate inside a black plastic bag with holes punched in it. The substrate is already inoculated with mushroom spores, and the mushrooms grow out of the holes in the bag. There's also a loose plastic sleeve that goes around the block to keep the humidity level high. The kit is pretty easy to use - all you have to do is water it a couple times a day.

The mushrooms started sprouting this past weekend and they grow at an unbelievable rate, so I am going to post updates with pictures as things progress.

Friday, March 14, 2008

A gold star day in the voice studio

...is what I had the other week at my lesson. Over the past two or three lessons, I've experienced some breakthroughs and a "singer growth spurt". In the previous lesson, we breezed through the vocal exercises and made good progress on the piece that I was working on. Then my teacher brought up the subject of repertoire, and we discussed possibilities for songs and arias I should tackle. I believe he was giving me a nudge to start working on more difficult pieces. I feel like I've graduated to the next level. It is exciting and rewarding! I never thought I'd have the interest or ability to sing pieces from the operatic repertoire, but here I am, taking the first baby steps in that direction.

I've updated my repertoire list accordingly.

Other recent musical endeavors:

Saw tenor John Bellemer perform at Stanford as part of the Shenson Recital Series. The following day, I sat in on the masterclass he gave for Stanford voice students.

Recently learned how to use LilyPond, an open-source software package for music notation. I used it to prepare some sheet music for my choir. It lays out musical scores beautifully, but it is not all that user-friendly, and using it is practically like writing computer code. However, it is free. I checked out the commercial alternatives, Finale and Sibelius, and they are definitely not giving them away!

Monday, March 10, 2008

Updates: T-shirt quilt, Mt. Everest, Fourpiter, Twopiter, and Dinky

Here's a photo of my completed T-shirt quilt!

So I did decide to make one after all, to replace a picnic blanket that I own (and will now freecycle). There are cottage businesses for making custom T-shirt memory quilts (like this one), but doing it myself had a few advantage. One is price - it is NOT cheap to have it done. Another is the creative control of designing it EXACTLY as I want it. And the last, unexpected, bonus was that in taking the time to do it myself, I had time to reflect on the memories embodied by the t-shirts. And since I'm the T-shirt Queen, the story of my life is written in t-shirts - this quilt touches on everything from my junior and senior high school days, college and dorm life, choir and band, my spouse, first jobs, friends, travels, and shows I've seen.

While working on this, though, I did come to the realization that it's a VERY time-consuming project, especially for a non-quilter like myself. Definitely something to undertake only while taking time off from work :) And I don't blame the professionals for charging a lot to make one of these!

As for other stuff I've been up to...

The Grand Decluttering continues. I've been recycling, freecycling, and selling old junk on eBay (and incredibly, people are bidding on it!).

Recent reading & viewing: I read two books on the disastrous 1996 Mt. Everest climbing season and one on the 1967 climbing disaster on Mt. McKinley. Also watched three documentaries on Everest. Don't worry, I'm not planning to climb it, I prefer armchair mountaineering.

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster

Climbing High: A Woman's Account of Surviving the Everest Tragedy

Forever on the Mountain: The Truth Behind One of Mountaineering's Most Controversial and Mysterious Disasters

Mountaineering disaster books are a guilty (and probably sick) pleasure. You get to read real-life tales of conflict, suspense, and harrowing tragedy, set in the some of the world's most dramatic settings, while lying in your bed eating ice cream.

Recent astronomy-related activies: We went to a talk called New Worlds and Yellowstone: How Common are Habitable Planets?, which was part of the Silicon Valley Astronomy Lecture Series at Foothill College.

The lecturer, Dr. Geoff Marcy, related a story about naming extrasolar planets: "I have gotten suggestions from a lot of school kids. For example, if you're looking at this schematic of Upsilon Andromedae with the inner, middle, and outer planets, I got a letter from a school kid -- now it's been two or three years -- and she was in 6th grade and she said: “Dear Professor Marcy, I just read in the newspaper that you discovered three planets around Upsilon Andromedae. I don't know if you have names for them, but I have suggestions for you” and I thought oh boy, here it comes and she said: “Well, the outer planet I saw in the newspaper has four times the mass of the Jupiter, so I think you should name it Fourpiter. I kept reading in the newspaper and the middle planet they said it has twice the mass of Jupiter, so I think you should name it Twopiter. The inner planet, I think you should name that Dinky.”

Fourpiter, Twopiter, and Dinky! Love it!!!

And here's a bonus, something that we saw at a recent astronomy club meeting...a video of a volcano erupting on Io, a moon of Jupiter:

The frames were captured by the New Horizons probe. The plume of volcanic debris is 200 miles tall!