Archives for the month of: December, 2010

Thanks for a great 2010!

It’s the last day of the year. Like many others, I am thinking back on how it went.

Like Seth Godin, I am focusing on what I accomplished. While my sensations and experiences as I went through 2010 were mixed (there were times when it felt very hard), when I look objectively at all that got done, I am pleased with all that I was able to complete and ship.

What Got Shipped

Here, in reverse chronological order, and a mixture of professional as well as personal, are the highlights of my year:

I think there may be other items, but these are the main ones and I can honestly say I am happy with them.

My Message To You

That’s the “results” side of 2010. There’s another piece of 2010 that I count as one of the most significant developments. For many of us, 2010 was the year our online social interactions exploded. I know that, for myself, I am deeply grateful to everyone with whom I interact with (some of you on a daily basis) online.

This aspect of my daily life has been an important factor in improving the quality of my life.

And so, I have recorded this quick video which is my message to YOU.

Have a great 2011!

When we have a few people coming over, and something casual on the agenda, I often get a request from the family for me to make a batch of enchiladas. They feed a lot, are tasty, and look like they are harder to make than they are.

Here’s my recipe.

What you need:

  • Chicken (boneless skinless thighs)
  • Enchilada sauce (at least four cans)
  • Shredded Mexican cheese mix (at least two 16 ounce packages)
  • Onion
  • Celery
  • Chili Powder
  • Whole Peppercorns

First, you’ll need to cook up some chicken. It is best if you don’t use chicken breast, which will dry out because of all the cooking you will need to do. Instead, go for boneless, skinless thighs. They won’t dry out. I start out by making a court bouillon to cook my chicken:

  • Start with a pot of cold water.
  • Add a quartered onion, a few sliced celery stalks, a handful of whole peppercorns, and a bunch of chili powder.
  • Add the chicken thighs and make sure the water barely covers the whole thing (you may need to add water).
  • Put the pot on the burner on high until it starts to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for fifteen minutes.

Making Court Bouillon

Turn off the heat, and remove the chicken pieces. Now you will need to cut it all up into bits. This is a fun part!

Before

After

Meanwhile, while the chicken was cooking, it’s best to get everything else ready:

  • Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  • Mix shredded Mexican cheese with enchilada sauce.
  • Prepare baking dishes by spraying with Pam and pouring enchilada sauce to cover bottom.
  • Warm up at least 10 flour tortillas (microwave a package for 1 minute).
  • Put the cut-up chicken into a bowl.

At The Ready

Now you are ready to build your enchiladas! It’s easy, and really messy:

  • Open at least four cans of enchilada sauce.
  • Get a big plate, pour enchilada sauce to cover the bottom.
  • Take one tortilla and put it in the plate.
  • Flip it so both sides are covered with sauce.
  • Put a little line of chicken and the cheese/sauce mixture across the diameter of the tortilla.
  • Roll it up and put it in one of the baking dishes.
  • When dish is full, cover with more enchilada sauce and cheese.

As you run out of sauce and cheese, add it to keep your supplies topped off.

Now, cook the enchiladas at 400 degrees for about 15-20 minutes. You want the cheese to be bubbly all through, so make sure you give it enough time.

Enjoy! Whatever you don’t eat is awesome the next day or the next.

Nom Nom Nom

A long time ago, a friend of mine told me the story of how she was staying over on another friend’s boat down in Florida. She had been having a lot of problems, bumping up against the world so to speak. Things weren’t going her way at the time, and the harder she tried the worse it seemed to get.

She woke up one morning and went into the bathroom. On the medicine cabinet mirror, there was a small sign that said: “You are looking at the problem.”

The insight that note provided actually allowed her to turn her life around. She realized that, for so many things, she herself was the only thing standing in the way. She realized that acceptance is the key to happiness in this world.

I took her lesson to heart, and here is the sticker I have had on my dressing mirror for many, many years:

You can see that someone has crossed out “problem” and written “answer” in its place. That was my daughter, who happened upon the sticker one day and thought it too depressing.

I have kept the edit, because I actually think they are both right. In so many cases, I am both the problem and the answer. I’m the problem, because I get in my way, or don’t accept the world as it is, or try to power-drive the people around me, or try to live as if things can be perfect. I am the answer because all by myself, if I want to see change I need to cultivate the capacity of willingness — willingness to accept, willingness to put in the effort needed, willingness to forgive.

I am thankful for this little scrap of wisdom I get to see every morning as I get dressed. And thankful to my friend and to my daughter for teaching me.

My cousin Jessica recently shared this quote from Mother Teresa:

If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.

It got me to thinking about the webs we create between one another — whether we mean to, or whether we recognize them, or not.

Think about all the ways you really belong to other people. Think about the effects your actions have on others. Think about how others depend on you. It can be bracing, and exhilerating, and terrifying.

Mother Teresa also said:

Unless a life is lived for others, it is not worthwhile.

Regardless of whether we want to be connected with others, we are, and we must be. I hope, at the end of my days, I will be able to believe I have lived a useful life.

Thank you, Jessica.

Photo: Flickr user 'Rain Rannu'

Today I spent much of the day working ahead. A least it felt that way . . . I do have a deadline looming, but I am on track to get my work done with plenty of time for revisions before I submit.

This is how it goes when I am feeling on my game. Many are the times when I finish in the nick of time, stressed out and bedraggled. But the holiday season has afforded me the time to focus on just the projects at hand. I am quite grateful.


By the way, I am posting this from my iPad using a program called BlogPress. So if it looks funny, you will know why.

Photo by Flickr user 'cliff1066'

This afternoon, in the locker room at my gym, I witnessed a scene I would not see just any old where.

There were two Japanese men, one younger and in his twenties, the other looking mid-fifties or so. They were speaking to one another in a patois of Japanese and English. Mostly Japanese, with a smattering of English words and half-sentences. I did not really pay much attention, and went about my business.

Then I heard the older one say to the other, “each state gets two.” This was followed by more Japanese that I did not understand. My ears pricked up, and I wondered if they were talking about the Senate. Naw, I thought. Why would they be?

But, evidently not only were they talking about the Senate, but the older man appeared to be giving the younger man a lesson in U.S. civics. I clearly heard “minority leader,” “House,” “president,” and more.

I felt both pleased and crestfallen. Pleased, because it is cool to live in the nation’s capital region, where you run across such conversations more often than you’d imagine.

Crestfallen, because I just can’t imagine two American expatriates having a similar conversation in, say, a Japanese bath house.

Friends know that I have recently been bitten (more than a little) by the yoga bug. I thank my wife, Andrea Jarrell, for her years-long example — and P90X for getting me started.

After doing yoga once a week as a part of my P90X routine (which I completed in late Spring), I found that I wanted to continue. I was looking for something that was similar to the “power yoga” in P90X. I had begun doing Bikram Yoga with my wife (who is a rockstar) but I had gotten it set in my head I wanted a something else too (I still practice Bikram with Andrea at least once per week). So, in May this year, I discovered Down Dog Yoga Studio, which is rooted in the form of yoga practiced and taught by Baron Baptiste. (P90X is based on Baptiste too.)

But, this essay is not about yoga. It’s about choices.

Patty Ivey (photo borrowed from Facebook)

I read an article about Down Dog Yoga founder Patty Ivey by Austin Yoder. It’s an entrepreneurial profile of Patty, and it contains this passage:

Patty Ivey started Down Dog Yoga in the April of 2003. She started the business with a business partner who was focused and experienced with Yoga. She was a runner and didn’t practice Yoga as a form of exercise. She was asked to help because she had business experience.

At some point, Patty’s business partner decided she was not cut out for business, moved to the west coast and left her with the company. She hadn’t come up with the idea, wasn’t a Yoga teacher and found her self in a situation she didn’t know much about.

To make sure the business continued to operate and pay the employees, Patty did what was necessary. She took over the business by putting “her nose to the grindstone” and decided to start an intensive journey of her own yoga studies.

I found that fascinating. As I have been becoming a member of the Down Dog community, I’ve come to see a sort of myth surrounding Patty. Her classes are very challenging and she has what seems an encyclopedic knowledge of yoga. She has a background as a runner, so she speaks insightfully about some of the considerations yogis who also exercise in other ways ought to keep in mind.

I had assumed that Patty had, like many, discovered yoga at some point and saw the benefits — and that this discovery was voluntary. But, if the article is correct, that’s not how it happened.

She was invited to be a part of a new business venture and agreed. The founder left. Patty then had a decision to make — carry on or fold up shop? She chose to move ahead, because she knew how to run a business, not because she had always wanted to run a yoga studio.

This was a conscious choice, yes, but it is not one she necessarily wanted to make. So, on one level, she was “pushed” into yoga.

However, that’s not the real choice she made. She could have just plowed ahead, just focusing on the business aspects and finding someone else who knew the yoga-teacher stuff . . . but instead she decided to go all-in when it comes to yoga. She committed to learning it, and as she did, it infused the business itself.

I recognize that I am reading a great deal into someone’s life based just on a blog post. So the reality of how it unfolded may be different than my description. But the point I am trying to make, I believe, is valid. It’s this:

Sometimes things over which we have no control throw us a curve. We have a choice about how we respond — we can accept the reality and work with it, or we can fight to change it. The thing is, we never know what the outcome will be.

And . . . that outcome is often remarkable.

Next time I get a curve ball, I plan on trying my best to say “yes.”

Friends, I am delighted to announce the imminent release of a project I have been working hard on for the better part of the year. My company (The Mannakee Circle Group) has been lead partner on the first-ever Maryland Civic Health Index. This report was developed as a partnership between The Mannakee Circle Group, the Maryland Commission on Civic Literacy, Common Cause Maryland,  and the National Conference on Citizenship. It was funded in part by the Center for Civic Education.

The Civic Health Index is developed using data from the U.S. Census, and is mandated by the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act of 2009. The National Conference on Citizenship developed a national report, and partnered with a variety of local organizations in developing a number of state and local reports.

I am proud to say I was the chief author of the report. My very good friends at CIRCLE did the core data analysis and I am deeply indebted to them.

In addition to the census data, the Maryland partners convened a number of community conversations throughout the state and culminated this listening effort with a Civic Literacy Summit held on October 23 where workgroups made recommendations for moving forward.

All this is given in detail in the report. I will release a link to the report after it is made public on December 8 in Annapolis. The report can be found here.

Below is the event announcement:

ANNAPOLIS, Md.  – A coalition next week will release the first-ever report on the civic health of Maryland, evaluating in numerous areas how Marylanders work together in society for the common good, and how their level of work and engagement compares to residents of other states.

To evaluate the Free State’s civic health, the first-ever Maryland Civic Health Index looked at indicators that include volunteerism, social connections, voting habits and political engagement, among others. The report sketches a picture of Marylanders engaged in their communities more than residents of many other states. But it also suggests that given its higher than average median income and education levels and proximity to Washington DC, it is not as high as expected.

The report will be released at a press conference, details below.

Press Conference Details

What:   Release of Maryland Civic Health Index 2010

When: Wednesday, Dec. 8, 9 am

Where: Miller Senate Building

Who:

  • Judge Robert Bell, Chief Judge, Maryland Court of Appeals
  • Dr. Nancy Grasmick, State Superintendent of Schools
  • Barbara Reynolds, Director, Governor’s Office on Service and Volunterism
  • Senator Allan Kittleman, Chair, Commission on Civic Literacy
  • Marcie Taylor-Thoma, Vice-chair, Commission on Civic Literacy
  • Dr. Stephen Frantzich, Professor of Political Science, USNA
  • Wanda Speede, Maryland Higher Education Commission
  • Brad Rourke, The Mannakee Circle Group, report author
  • Susan Schreiber, Common Cause Maryland

The 31-page report was prepared by the Mannakee Circle Group, the Maryland Commission on Civic Literacy, Common Cause Maryland, and the National Conference on Citizenship. It is based on analysis of state data from the National Conference on Citizenship’s America’s Civic Health Index, and conversations with Marylanders throughout the state in summer and early fall of this year.