Baking stops and starts: White chocolate macadamia cookies


Almost no cookie I have made in my whole baking life has been as popular as the white chocolate macadamia nut cookie. They used to grace each and every of my big bakes, but that was back when I could get my hands on white chocolate chips regularly. Those days are long over, and now I have to ration the chips I have. Interestingly though when I have made them, they are not quite the popular sweet bits they were in my old job.

I am going to make some of these this weekend – it has been ages since I baked. Time to get the assembly line moving again.

Roasted cauliflower and cumin soup


I have previously documented my obsession with making soup. It’s easy, delicious and makes me happy.

Tonight I threw half a head of cauliflower, cut into smaller florets, into a baking dish with some olive oil, ground cumin and cumin seeds, tossing the cauliflower in the pan to coat. I roasted it at 185C for about 20 minutes.

roasted cauliflower, ready for soup

roasted cauliflower, ready for soup

Meanwhile I made broth in a pot on the stove – I sauteed one small onion in olive oil for about five minutes, threw in two chopped garlic cloves and added about three cups of vegetable stock.

When the cauliflower was sufficiently soft, I removed it from the oven and tossed it into the pot and let it simmer for about 20 minutes until the liquid reduced.

I blended the mixture in the pot using a handy dandy stick blender, returned the pot to the stove and added a bit of coconut milk (you could use yogurt or cream, if desired).

I garnished with a bit of olive oil and a healthy dose of black pepper, but I think some fried onion would be a nice touch.

creamy cauliflower soup, ready to eat

creamy cauliflower soup, ready to eat

The changing workscape: Women, self-awe and flex(ed) work and muscles…


The other day, in the haze of being a bit too tired to censor myself and my own moment of self-congratulations, I told someone that I am actually “in awe of myself”. Mostly this is because I felt in awe of the copious amounts of work I was able to complete all at once and my general ability to produce prolifically without a huge effort. I was almost immediately embarrassed about saying something so arrogant, even if it really was an expression of surprise at how much I had done (and can do) more than it was a boastful statement.

But then I thought – why shouldn’t I be in awe of myself? Why shouldn’t we all be in awe of ourselves – or strive to be?

In fact women in particular, finally starting to make progress on finding a work-life balance (supposedly, at least), should start from a place of feeling in awe. Not awestruck as in overwhelmed. But awe as in excitement about all the things that

Being able to “have it all” (which, quite honestly, I know nothing about since I don’t really have it all in the way this expression is generally used) does require a bit of rejiggering and sometimes making choices that no one likes. One way women are starting to be able to “have it all” and do more – and thus feel a more tangible sense of resolve and awe – is by being able to have more flexibility in their work lives. Balance, according to a recent Forbes article, is taking on a clearer shape with remote and virtual work arrangements.

I have written a lot about remote work and allowing for flexibility in the workplace – and I too benefit from negotiating for a bit of flexibility. My own work-life balance has improved – and has actually shaped my ability to be more productive and thus in more in awe. 🙂

The changing workscape: Clawing your way to a “career”


It’s never permanent – and would you want it to be? Recently I had a conversation with someone who had been a die-hard loyalist to a company, going so far as to say that he “would have died” for the company, and he was devastated when he got laid off. My response was that my own feeling about companies is that it’s a “two-way street of disposability”.

Much like the trend of offering “every man for himself” “hot desks” in workplaces (a step beyond the open landscape office we all hate so much), jobs themselves are becoming a bit like hot desks. We are doing one thing (sitting somewhere) and the next thing we know we are on an entirely different career path (or desk). No rhyme or reason behind it – but the changing organization or – some factor (who knows what?) – means that a lot of people get in line for one career and end up with something else without having had much say in it. All this just to point out that sometimes we find ourselves cobbling together or clawing our way to a career. And the bottom line – nothing is ever permanent.

In fact, at least in American workplaces, the prospect of a “career job” has never been less likely. At the core of this article, the CEO of online recruiting site, Jobvite, Dan Finnigan, explains that today’s workforce will be made up of people whose careers comprise up to 20 jobs, and will require a lot of shifting and changing jobs. In an environment of economic uncertainty in particular, “…employment—even for well-educated and -trained professionals—is never a sure thing.” The essence of the article – and of career building in general – is that we, in some ways, end up being our own architects. Sometimes driving the process, sometimes clawing our way in or up. Either way, as the article states, employed people never feel secure, and even if they are happy with their current situations, they actively search for the next job or next connection that might lead to a job.

A side note: Of course cultivating all these connections can also lead to the ultimate in cobbled-together careers: freelancing/running your own business. It can be satisfying to pick and choose what work you do and want companies and industries to work for (if you have that luxury), but not everyone wants to or can do this.

But along the same lines, the job market being what it is – with everyone on the hunt all the time – are perceptions changing about what constitutes a career and how to get there? Are our frames about “working” changing at all? A recent article I stumbled across on LinkedIn covered how most people synthesize information, which then creates certain “frames” that frame or govern the way things are or how we think they are supposed to be. The article takes the frames theme a step further by questioning the frames we commonly have for how we perceive work and the search for meaningful careers.

“We have frames that we’ve been building since we were children, and those frames dictate how life is supposed to go.

The collection of frames itself becomes our religion. We don’t question our frames. We’re very comfortable with them, because we grew up with them. We don’t even see them. It’s the examination of those frames, questioning them and pulling them apart, that makes up much of our activity and our worldview at Human Workplace.

One of the biggest job-search frames most of carry around is the frame “You’re lucky to get a job at all. Who are you to be choosy?”

Another one is the frame “The employer is always in the driver’s seat.”

This is a good and relevant question given the landscape of free-market, gun-for-hire workers: Who are you to be choosy? But shouldn’t one be choosy? We are choosy about everything else – so how is it our frame when it comes to work has been built using limitation-inducing barriers?

Holding pattern – Flying blind


Feeling half-blind after a completely sleepless 24 hours (I tried) and driving three hours in the darkness, encountering a few timid deer and one idiot riding a bicycle on a winding country road at 2 a.m. (no lights, no reflectors, dark clothing – death wish!), I can only think of a poem I have cited before. I feel like one of these “between-creatures” myself.

Marin Sorescu (Romania)
It is time to learn from the bats
The between-creatures
Who can home in the dark.

Learn flying blind.
Dispense with the sun.
The future is dark.

Feeling – Poetry – Moments / Momentos


Another one of those poems stumbled upon again in reaching for words that explain the malaise, the feeling of waiting for something and being perched on the edge of something that never quite arrives.

Moments – Julia de Burgos

Me, fatalist,
watching life coming and going
from my contemporaries.
Me, inside myself,
always waiting for something
that my mind can’t define.

Me, multiple,
as in a contradiction,
tied to a sentiment without edges
that binds and unbinds me
to the world.

Me, universal,
drinking life
in each shooting star,
in each sterile scream,
in each sentiment without edges.

And all for what?
-To go on being the same.

Yo, fatalista,
mirando la vida llegandóse y alejándose
de mis semejantes.

Yo, dentro de mí misma,
siempre en espera de algo
que no acierta mi mente.

Yo, múltiple,
como en contradicción,
atada a un sentimiento sin orillas
que me une y me desune,
al mundo.

Yo, universal,
bebiéndome la vida
en cada estrella desorbitada,
en cada grito estéril,
en cada sentimiento sin orillas.

¿Y todo para qué?
-Para seguir siendo la misma.

Feeling – Poetry – Morning Blues


Today’s feeling is a lot like I stumbled across in a poem, “Morning Blues” by Radmila Lazic:

I’m fed up with faking happiness,
Play acting contentment
As if it was all just fine,
As if things are beginning to go well
Now that I’ve played the role of my life
And won the big prize at the lottery.

I yearn for something I have no name for,
For something that would change my life,
Turn it upside down,
make it leave the rails on which I travel
making punctual stops.

The changing workscape: Embracing negativity


It’s not negativity, dummy – it’s reality. Listen to reality! Do not be held hostage to “groupidity”!

An ongoing frustration for people grounded in reality is the failure of the organizations they work in to listen to and act on the reality of a situation. Today I read in Business Week why negativity is an undervalued – and often completely dismissed and discouraged – aspect of the workplace. We have all worked with someone who constantly “disrupts” the seeming flow of the perfect plan with 100 questions about the real implementation of the plan. Everyone gets frustrated with this because it is almost always seen as negative, dragging the group down and not being positive about the plan. But the truth is – if a group could tap into even a fraction of the “negative doubts” being raised by that one “pain in the ass”, it is possible that a lot of pain could be saved down the line.

“Why did they try to shoot the messenger instead of listening to the message? One answer is that’s what organizations do—especially dysfunctional organizations. As a young IT consultant, I sat through more than one meeting where we, or someone, tried to stop a client from doing something obviously crazy. Usually, the result was that the client did something crazy, and that someone went looking for another job.

Doctor No, that grating in-house critic, can be your most valuable employee—if you can make yourself listen. That’s surprisingly hard to do. Organizations exist for the purpose of doing stuff. That’s what their staff is hired to do. The guy who says maybe we shouldn’t do that stuff—or the stuff we’re doing isn’t working—is not very popular. There’s a large body of literature on dissenters, and it mostly tells you what you already know if you’ve ever been to a project meeting: Nobody likes a Negative Nancy.”

Interestingly, the article cites the Challenger space shuttle launch decision and the systematic redefinition and reassessment of “risk” and risk parameters to justify the launch and ever-riskier decisions and behavior. Of note, back in the late 1990s when I was doing my MPA, the book the article refers to (The Challenger Launch Decision by Diane Vaughan) was a text we used as a case study to look at risk assessment in the public sector. It was fascinating.

“Investigations into the disaster showed NASA had fallen prey to what you might call “groupidity,” a special form of groupthink in which we collectively become willing to take risks we individually recognize as stupid—because everybody else in the room seems to think it’s fine. NASA had been noticing unexpected problems with the O-rings for a while. At meetings about that issue, they systematically redefined what they considered risky, and concerns about the O-rings were downplayed.”

Not all corporate decisions are life or death, as the fateful Challenger decision turned out to be, but can anyone afford to ignore the cold hard facts of reality?

An extension of stifling the “voice of reason” – particularly by maligning it as being a naysaying, nitpicking killjoy who likes to derail things just for the sake of negativity – is that people pay a high price for acting happy and inauthentic. I read an article (kind of a tangent but still came to mind for me) about employees forced to behave in a certain “happy” way in customer service roles, and I would argue that this extends to being forced or pressured to pretend that reality is other than it is (or being sidelined because no one wants to hear your reality), i.e. swallowing the “group truth” to go along with the happy sheep herd of “groupidity”.

“Surface acting is when front line service employees, the ones who interact directly with customers, have to appear cheerful and happy even when they’re not feeling it. This kind of faking is hard work—sociologists call it “emotional labor”—and research shows that it’s often experienced as stressful. It’s psychologically and even physically draining; it can lead to lowered motivation and engagement with work, and ultimately to job burnout.

Having to act in a way that’s at odds with how one really feels—eight hours a day, five days a week (or longer)—violates the human need for a sense of authenticity. We all want to feel that we’re the same person on the outside as we are on the inside, and when we can’t achieve that congruence, we feel alienated and depersonalized.”

This article discusses the customer-facing employee – but what about the employee facing and interacting with other employees within an organization? The “Negative Nancy” illustrated in the previous example article about the benefits of negativity? How is Negative Nancy, with her deep thinking, analysis and bad news supposed to face coming to work every day facing a room full of skeptics who think everything is okay? What kind of emotional labor is she facing?

And how do we handle this in an organization – particularly one that is dysfunctional or downplays/discourages dissent and may even ostracize those who are notoriously critical? (And where is the distinction between “negative” and “critical”!?)

For now, late on a Saturday night, try not to take it to heart, because, as Mark E Smith of The Fall  would advise in his mad genius wisdom, “Life just bounces/so don’t you get worried at all…”. Perhaps this is willfully ignoring reality and becoming a Pangloss (i.e., “everything will be fine in the end because it will turn out how it’s meant to turn out”).

The culture of taking undeserved credit


I have been thinking a lot lately about the workplace culture of assigning and/or taking credit for accomplishments, undeservedly or unwittingly. It is pervasive in almost every work culture. I don’t really want to go on a rant – but I suspect I will.

For example, an employee’s name may be assigned to a project, and that person may ostensibly, supposedly be contributing to a project – but perhaps that person is contributing nothing (and is possibly even detrimental to the project being completed on time). Yet somehow the incompetence is covered for, or just never exposed, and while the project team suffers, the higher-up management types just assume this dead weight in reality is pulling her weight in theory.

I have worked in a lot of situations populated with characters who fit this type to a T. They are sure to have their name prominently featured in the project and get themselves assigned to a handful of tasks they will never actually complete (causing the rest of the team – or even people outside the team – to pick up the slack). Often internal corporate pressures will force the rest of the team to “support” this person because, you know, we’re all working on this collective farm (welcome to the kolkhoz!) together toward the same goal thing. At some point, as the culprit does not deliver, does not attend required meetings (or attends physically but not intellectually) and delays progress, everyone gets frustrated but no one knows quite what to do. What is the sensitive corporate way of handling this kind of situation? The culprit is also a part of multiple other projects, sometimes even insisting on taking the lead. But these projects drag on for months without any discernible progress, and when the culprit is asked about the status of X or Y project, s/he says, “Due to my obligations in Z project, X and Y are not finished” – never mind that, for example, project Y may have an impact on project Z and thus needs to be completed in line with the requirements of project Z. The real problem is that the culprit – like all those who manipulate in the workplace – is playing a game, creating the illusion of being so busy (and probably actually being busy running around in circles pretending to do all the things s/he has taken on), that s/he earns a reputation as some kind of workhorse and saint who takes on all kinds of projects outside her purview.

Problem is – nothing gets done, and yet most people (especially decisionmakers and executives) don’t see it because they are not on the tactical frontlines (or to keep up the collective farm analogy – let’s say, they’re not plowing the fields because they are too busy making five-year plans while the people around them starve) and because other people cover these culprits’ asses. (And the culprit is usually a “play dumb” type who relies on the goodness and open, sharing nature of corporate teammates. S/he milks team members for just enough key information to say all the right things to the right people to make it seem like s/he knows what is going on. But in fact, s/he does not.)

In every situation to which I have been privy, however, these are the exact people who get promoted and who are championed as “future leaders” in companies. Maybe not always (because sometimes these characters manage to out themselves as idiots). But generally speaking these characters know how to play the game – they do the bare minimum but do get actively involved just when the stakes are high enough that someone “important” will notice. They generally look and act the part and know how to play a political game – and want to play it. It’s a game of appearances.

Naturally not everyone wants to play it or look the part. I certainly don’t. I just want to do my work and move on. I would go so far as to say that in most roles and situations, I just want to be invisible – deliver what is asked and little else. I don’t really need credit.

The thing is, though, that while I may not want or need credit – I also do not want someone else to take credit for my work. I had a long discussion with someone about this recently – we are not attention whores or credit seekers, but it burns us up to see someone (usually the aforementioned “culprit” type) sliding in and taking credit for things that had very little to do with them. Again, how should one handle this dilemma, particularly when there seems to be an institutional blindness to it, which is applicable almost across the board in most companies? The real driver of work and progress is often also seen as a troublemaking, squeaky wheel because s/he keeps pushing and asking questions. S/he doesn’t, therefore, seem like the ideal candidates for promotion. But someone who plays politics, forms some alliances, seems subservient enough to his/her managers while giving the appearance of being both a high performer and team player – while in reality being neither – and who is happy to unquestioningly toe the corporate line and never ask any questions – that’s the future of the company.

Clearly there are people who craft entire careers around building false impressions and being just what they need to be in the perception game that corporate life really is.

Credit and the dirty little secret of maternity leave

In the Nordic countries, where I have spent most of my professional life, maternity leave is a right and an obligation – and it is usually comprised of anywhere from ten months to 1.5 years off work when a person gives birth. (Men and women share the allotted time off.) I am sure I will instantly set myself up as a lightning rod for criticism here – because who on earth attacks pregnant women taking their much-deserved maternity leave? No one attacks mothers but those who want to get their asses kicked.

But when it comes to workplace credit-taking, being on maternity leave seems not to be an impediment to receiving credit for accomplishments and achievements. It seems not to be a reason that a woman should not include projects and achievements on her CV when she was nowhere near the workplace when those things happened. In the former case, I won’t say this is the fault of women who go on maternity leave – they cannot control whether someone at work assigns credit to them for work they never did. This is a matter of perception and impression.

I have been in enough situations where people who have been on maternity leave for a year are getting credit for things that happened wholly while they were away. This is not their fault – this is a byproduct of the impression they left before going on leave, and how relevant their place in the company is. A good example of this – in a previous role, I helped in a rather instrumental way in bringing a project together – there were a lot of people involved, so it is not like I was the sole horse who pulled the plow (you knew the farm would come back into it, of course). (Definitely a big difference between the plow horse and the one-trick pony of the oft-cited dog-and-pony show.)

But when the time came for a big public event in which the contributors were thanked, I was not on the list while all kinds of people who were only tangentially involved were – including one woman who had been on maternity leave for the entire duration of this project. Her influence, her work – absolutely nothing that was connected to her had any connection to this project, and yet, her presence or role in the company was pronounced enough that she could be named as someone to thank in this project while invisible, under-the-radar me was, well… invisible. Again, it’s not that I thought I should be feted for doing my job – I just did not want to see people who had absolutely no hand in it get credit. Maybe it should not matter in the big scheme, but in some way, acknowledging someone else for work in which they had no part at all is a bitterer pill to swallow than not being acknowledged myself. In this case, it was, as I said, someone on maternity leave, so it was not as though she was one of these aforementioned “culprits” who operate in snake-like fashion to slither away with undeserved credit.

It further confirms the idea that credit – and promotability – is about appearances. Not only literally looking the part but most importantly acting the part: some variation of loud, outgoing, social, always-on, opinionated, always-networking, making your presence known. Arguably in work situations, you have to be this way to some degree to climb the ladder. Almost no amount of genius or competence can help you climb the ladder in sales and marketing if you don’t have some of this memorable surface-level personality to match. And in many cases, all you need is a memorable enough surface-level personality. Generalizations, yes, but based on observation. The larger the organization, the more true these observations seem to be because accountability and personal responsibility is diminished further and further the more layers of people, processes and projects you have to cushion your performance or lack thereof.

The latter part of my argument touches a bit more on the diabolical part of taking credit, and in these cases, it would be almost indisputable that the person in question had no hand in the project/accomplishment at all because they were supposed to have been on maternity leave. No one is going to check into this, though, so it makes me wonder about whether this is some kind of tacit, silent understanding between employers, future employers and maternity-leave takers that CVs will be padded with false or misleading accomplishments? (I have no idea – I have never been on maternity leave to test out this theory.)

I have known several people who spent virtually their entire engagement at a company on maternity leave, and yet after the leave ends, particularly if they are moving on to a new company, they pad their resumes with accomplishments that could not possibly have been theirs. Basic math would tell a prospective employer what s/he needs to know without even consulting former employers/references. The projects they highlight were undertaken wholly (or mostly) while they were out having and rearing a child. But no one questions this even though maternity leave in the Nordic countries is about a year in length.

I don’t know if job applicants and potential employers just have an unspoken understanding that this is how it works or if these potential employers scrutinize the claims made on a resume more closely when they hire. It’s just another case of taking credit where it isn’t due and leveraging it to create a false perception and expectation. That is not to say that these claims, however misleading, are untrue in that the person in question cannot deliver the results they claim – they may very well be absolutely qualified. It is true, though, that they definitely did not deliver those results in that specific case listed on their CV. I am just wondering about the underhanded mechanics of this process and whether it is ever actually questioned.

And back to the collective with me…

Why I Changed My Mind: Ben Affleck


My ex-boyfriend and I were at the movies in Reykjavik once when a preview for the film Hollywoodland, which starred Ben Affleck, appeared. The text that flies across the screen in the beginning of films with an authoritative voiceover read: “Academy Award Winner Ben Affleck” and my then-beau, despite hating people who talk in movies, whispered, “What? Ben Affleck won an Oscar?” At the time it was for his co-writing of Good Will Hunting, but seeing this “news” disappointed the guy – how could Ben Affleck win an Oscar? (Long before Argo won for best picture – note the guy isn’t likely to win any acting awards.)

Ben Affleck has long been the butt of jokes – we are not the first to make them, but the joking days may be (at least close to) over. After a lot of poor role and film choices and very public relationships (most notably with Jennifer Lopez), Affleck put his head down, made some good choices, started directing, married Jennifer Garner and had a family. I also would argue that he is not someone who overreaches – I respect actors who choose roles that may challenge some perceptions about them and may challenge their own abilities, but not so far out there that they become totally unbelievable. Affleck never bites off much more than he can chew.

The reason I decided to write about him now, though, is that I read in Mother Jones about his upcoming Congressional testimony on Congo. I don’t really like the way the article defends Affleck’s so-called authority on the subject:

“It’s pretty easy to laugh at the idea of the one-time Gigli and Pearl Harbor star now lecturing senators on atrocities in Central Africa. But the Oscar-winning future Batman knows his stuff. He isn’t some celebrity who just happened to open his mouth about a humanitarian cause (think: Paris Hilton and Rwanda). The acclaimed Argo director has repeatedly traveled to Congo and has even met with warlords accused of atrocities.” (Italicized emphasis mine.)

This kind of statement makes it sound as though just showing up a few times and having a few meetings with warlords imparts expertise. How do we know that these warlords did not just meet with Affleck because they liked Gigli and Pearl Harbor – and they spent their meetings talking about that together? I also don’t want to discount his expertise – I don’t know whether he has any or what the depth of it is.

Compared to a lot of people being named as ambassadors to countries they have never visited (see The Daily Show’s hilarious take on the “diplomat buyers club”) and have no connection to or knowledge of, I’d say Affleck’s got a leg up. I would also venture to say that most of the Congressional members hearing testimony from Affleck or from the line-up of Central Africa/Congo experts know nothing about the subject, if anything, about Africa as a whole. Comparatively speaking, Affleck is bloody well an expert.

Considered, reconsidered – I used to think Ben Affleck was a joke – as an actor, entertainer and, had someone laughably suggested, as a “Congo expert”. As I stated, though, the guy does not overreach when it comes to his acting, seems to have a healthy sense of self and good sense of humor about who he is – and then “does the time” when it comes to serious issues in which he chooses to get involved – and bottom line – he really does not have to. I have a newfound respect for the guy and have come to appreciate some of what he’s done cinematically. Quite honestly, as well, any light we (or he) can shine on atrocities in DR Congo is also welcome.

Me, I am just happy to take a look at the DR Congo passport (again!)

Congo passport

Congo passport