Update-o-rama!

23 Jun

It’s been a while since I’ve shared my writing accomplishments, so this week I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve published recently. April, May and June have been busy–some of the busiest months in my writing career–and exciting months in terms of how my career has grown. I’ve gotten the chance to work on a number of different writing styles, and I appreciate getting experience that expands my skills and has given me some interesting insight into a number of different topics. Here’s a look at the new types of work I’ve been doing:

Whitepapers

I’ve published my first whitepaper, “Managing ATM Security: Layered Approaches for 21st Century Issues,” with ATM Marketplace. First off, ATM security is tough these days–the kinds of attacks criminals and hackers develop are pretty amazing (and if they applied that creativity in a positive way, how would that help society?!), so financial institutions (or FIs, if you want to use some industry lingo) really need to develop multifaceted security approaches to ward them off.

Stringing

I’m really excited about my new gig as a stringer with GateHouse Media, the owner of WickedLocal-branded papers in the Boston area, because I’m redeveloping my skills in covering local news, writing on tighter deadlines and getting harder journalism experience. So far I’ve published pieces on Cambridge’s new retail strategy plan and its redevelopment of the Foundry Building. Gaining more insight on the region has been a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to writing more–future stories are in the works!

Content Producing

In May I had the opportunity to produce the copy for U.S. News & World Report’s “Best Low-Interest Credit Cards of 2017.” This project gave me a chance to work with a content producer, and I had a great experience with a collaborative editing process. Although it’s not a bylined piece, I’m really pleased with the finished product and got some insight into content production and how it helps publications in a world that requires constant content.

If you’re interested in learning more or have needs for a writer in these areas, please drop me a line!

 

Postcard from Ohio

16 Jun
Pressed Penny machine in an Ohio rest stop along I-90. What a monstrosity! Click through to find out why!

What’s wrong with this picture?

Oh, Ohio.

I used to look forward to finding a great pressed penny machine at your I-90 rest areas. But this? This newfangled “penny press” machine? No.

First off, it’s electric. What a waste of energy. Traditional pressed penny machines with a hand crank don’t need electricity–people make them work! Do these break down more (I’m sure there’s got to be some issue with active kids overturning a handle until it breaks, but still)?

Secondly, pressing a button and watching the machine do its thing is boring. Part of the fun of the machine is getting to make the penny yourself. Not that you have a ton of control over what it looks like, but it’s a lot of fun to crank that handle and see what comes out. Sometimes the penny comes out long, sometimes it’s fat. It’s always a surprise. Passively watching the machine work disconnects you from the process. The penny becomes something you gather, not something you’ve made.

Thirdly, it’s a buck. I realize that pressed penny prices for the most part haven’t changed much over the years — most machines are two quarters and one penny, except for those lame machines that are four quarters, or even worse, the machines at Lincoln Park Zoo that are five quarters, one of which is pressed. Why do I want a pressed quarter? It doesn’t fit into a pressed penny wallet! A quarter is actually useful to buy other things!

At any rate, it’s expensive for a tiny souvenir. I get that people might have a dollar in their wallet versus 51 cents, but still. If pressed pennies are going to cost a dollar, that’s something I might take a pass on–well, actually, I did. My philosophy has always been that whenever I see a pressed penny machine, I get one design. If I don’t like the design (“lucky penny” and “I love you” designs are lame in my book–a pressed penny should say something about a particular place), or by some fluke, have all of the designs, I skip the machine. Driving across Ohio, I should’ve picked up three or four pennies. Instead, I got one, because only saw one design I liked enough to spend a dollar on. Who’s losing here?

Let’s not make this a trend, Ohio. Modernity isn’t always progress. Other owners of these machines, you’re on notice.

Your pal,

Jill

Well, That Was Quick

2 Jun

While folding a load of laundry today, I discovered this:

A sad moment, considering that I’d just written about them, but maybe this guy couldn’t handle the pressures of fame, the pressure of living up to the dream of being the ultimate sock in the drawer–that sole sock that knew the history of my feet better than I did.

But I have at least one other pair just like this–and it’s continuing with the dream of eternal sock longevity.

[Hopefully my grandiose dreams won’t result in another follow-up post next week with another sad picture of holey socks. I’d take that as a sure sign.]

Waiting for the ‘Wear it Out’

26 May

socks.jpeg

There comes a point in time when something that’s potentially embarrassing becomes an exciting challenge, and I’ve hit that point with these socks.

I’ve had these socks for a long time–probably a good 12 to 15 years, although time is relative because there were many years that I avoided wearing them in favor of other socks. They’re pretty thick, so they were too hot in the summer; because they’re anklets, they were often too cold in winter. Now that they’re fairly threadbare on bottom, they’re just about right.

The Boy saw me put them on one day and kindly suggested that I retire them. He’s one to talk, as Old Stripey still takes up space in his closet. Old Stripey is a short-sleeved button-down white dress shirt with bluish and reddish vertical stripes. It’s at least 20 years old, though I think I’m being kind with that number. The Boy doesn’t wear short-sleeved dress shirts–if it’s a short-sleeved button-down, it’s a Hawaiian shirt.

Why is it so beloved that it has a name? Well, we live in New England in an apartment with closets that any HGTV-home-searching couple would reject in an instant, so space is at a premium. We don’t really have the room to house clothes that we don’t really wear.

I was cleaning out one day, and since I’d never seen him wear this shirt, I thought maybe he’d want to donate it.

“Not Old Stripey!”

“What?! This shirt has a name? And you think it still fits?”

Gauntlet thrown, he squeezed into Old Stripey, and by some miracle, no seams ripped or buttons popped off.

“See! It fits! We’re keeping Old Stripey!”

OK, we’re keeping Old Stripey. He’s been hanging out with us ever since. Never worn, but the proof of fit still happens on a regular basis.

Needless to say, based on Old Stripey, I can keep my socks for a while longer. Sure, I don’t really need to keep this particular pair–my sock drawer is full of socks that are in much better condition. Why keep these?

Well, one day I put them on thinking that my heel would poke through immediately, and that didn’t happen. Then I thought for sure the threadbare area would rip in the wash. That didn’t happen either. Now the question is, how strong is this amazing thread?

So far, they’ve lasted the entire winter, with no signs of ripping. I wear them at least once a week–more if I do laundry more often–so they’re getting regular use. Can they go the entire summer? Can they make it to 2018? Looks be damned, that’s a challenge I want to try.

Unless I make a bargain with Old Stripey.

 

 

 

 

Link

Censored!

19 May

A few years ago, I picked up this copy of Bill Buford’s Heat in a used bookstore. I’d heard good things about it and wanted to use it for research to get an idea of what it’s like to work in a restaurant kitchen.

Here’s the thing with used books: You never know what you’re going to get. I was reading away, enjoying the book, when I flipped the page to this:

Wait a sec–the black bar? What’s so bad that I shouldn’t read it?

I flipped the page and held the book up to the light. Oh, I thought. It’s “got cocky. Someone thought I shouldn’t read that.”

That made me chuckle, but as you might imagine from what I’ve heard about the back of house in restaurants, this was just the beginning of the censorship. A few fucks were crossed out, maybe some other words–the censor got really good with their blackout technique.

Then there was this choice:

 

 

 

So…..let’s cross out every time “fucking” was used, but “bastards” can stay in?

 

 

 

 

 

But the last straw was this:

 

This little passage must have gotten the censor really angry, because any word that’s part a sexual suggestion has been blacked out. Like “kissing.” Bad!

I don’t understand–if the book’s so horrid that someone was compelled to censor it, why even bother to make sure it exists anyway? Why not just recycle it back to the pulp from whence it came? I can’t imagine the couple of bucks they got for it really was worth the effort of all of this fine handiwork.

And if it was, this book certainly landed in the wrong hands, because I don’t give a fuck about they think.

 

Postcard from Niagara Falls

12 May

If you find yourself traveling in the Buffalo area, you might think, Hey, maybe I should duck over and see Niagara Falls while they’re so close. And that’s a good thought to have — they’re pretty spectacular. But if you’re not from around the area and trying to find parking, you’ll probably end up in the official State Park parking lot, which costs $10.

Seems like a decent chunk of change to go glance at some water, right?

Not to worry! The State Park parking lot gives you 20 minutes of free parking, which is plenty of time to get a Niagara Falls experience.

Take a parking ticket, and park in a spot that gives you easy exit access. This is important because if you’re running short on time, the last thing you want to do is coast through the parking lot and get stopped by tons of cars pulling in and out of parking spaces.

Now, you book it.

The main access to the Falls is through the visitor’s center. Walk in and go down the stairs that are either on your right or left. Avoid the store at the bottom and walk to the back and out the door. Viola! The falls are right there!

Head over to the railing and look to the left. There’s the falls! Marvel at them, wonder what they look like from the Canadian side (sorry, but they’re better), take some pictures and selfies. Head back quickly–your 20 minutes are almost up and you want to be able to walk like you’re a normal person and not on some non-existent Amazing Race.

That’s it. Head back in, avoid the crowds, head back up the stairs and out of the visitor’s center. What? You wanted a souvenir? Pull four quarters and a penny out of your pocket and make yourself a pressed penny (I know, pressed penny aficionados. Four quarters). The machine is downstairs, next to the door that goes out to the falls. You’ll have time for that.

Once you’re out of the visitor’s center, start walking quickly back to your car. Check your parking ticket–are you still in your 20 minute window? Good! Don’t even bother trying to pay for parking. Even if you’re under 20 minutes, the machine will try to tell you that you owe money. Don’t let it confuse you.

Get back to your car–even if you have to run at this point–and hightail it to the gate. Stick your ticket in the card reader, and congratulations, you’ve just gotten a free quick side trip to Niagara Falls.

 

Getting Culture Where You Can

5 May

When you travel a lot, it sounds impressive. But ask anyone who does some heavy-duty travel, and they’ll tell you it’s not vacation. For whatever trip you’re on, you’re in _______ most of the time–and “_____” is not the pool, or a theme park, or a museum, or the beach. It’s usually an office or a conference room–or in my case, some sort of sporting venue.

I’m fortunate enough to have gone to Argentina, but the majority of my time there was spent here:

In terms of roller derby venues, this one was cool. This room was the handball/futsal part, which connected to a cafeteria and a weight room, other class- and exercise rooms. In the courtyard, girls took roller skating lessons. There was a restaurant and an outdoor seating area that abutted a tennis court. But back to my room for the weekend. For watching derby, it was great because you were above the action.

Still, 75-80% of my week in Argentina was spent here, which means that my exposure to “what is Argentinian” is mostly limited to my hotel room, my walk to and from the venue, and the venue itself–and don’t get me wrong, the venue gave me an interesting insight into some aspect of Latin American culture, as I had a heavy duty conversation about bidets while I was there and that’s something I really don’t think about in America. My narrow window notwithstanding, if I’m to get a feel for the area, it’s likely going to be through food.  Food’s a lifeline to understanding culture, and as I love understanding how other people live (and if they do life better than I), I needed to eat like they did.

Now, Argentina is known for its delicious empanadas. I myself happen to make a decent empanada. I have my own recipe–it’s really the only one I’ve developed so far–and the Boy loves it. It’s not a traditional Argentinian recipe, but I have to say, it’s pretty darned good. Problem is, I like them with cheese, and the Boy doesn’t do dairy, which means there’s a lot of separating going on in our kitchen.

Enter my Argentinian empanada take out experience. On the last night of the tournament, several of us got an empanada delivery of a mix of varieties. With it came the above cheat sheet to tell you which one was which, and then a light bulb went off in my head. Why not fold my cheesy empanadas differently?

This past weekend, I made a big batch–some to share with friends, and some to eat at home. Some with cheese, some without. Since I’d been exposed to different folding techniques, I knew that I could develop my own folding code for home use, and man, did it ever make a difference in calming down some allergy nerves.

All I can say is, thank you, Argentina.

Postcard from Argentina

28 Apr

A couple of weeks ago, I got to go to Argentina to teach an officiating clinic and officiate at a tournament. Argentina hadn’t been high on my list of places to visit, though the Boy and I often joke that we are Argentinian because we tend to eat dinner around 9 or 10PM. But I didn’t really know why else one should go to Argentina–and from what I read, there’s not much touristy about Buenos Aires. You really go there to live it.

This is also fine with me, as when I travel, the ratio of museum visits to everyday activities skews heavily toward the latter (if you pit a high quality museum against a trip to Carrefour, 9 times out of 10, I will pick Carrefour. That 10th time I’ll visit the museum out of guilt). But it did very much make for a lot of pre-trip confusion and concern about what it is that I’ll actually do with the couple of days I had off–and because my Duolingo lessons had focused heavily on horses and military titles, I wasn’t quite convinced that I’d be able to figure out much.

Needless, to say, I had a lovely time, although I just barely scratched the surface of a complicated part of the world. I stayed in Vicente Lopez, a nice suburb of Buenos Aires, but did spend a bit of time in the city too. But “nice” is relative, and Vicente Lopez–to me, at least–was a good example of the juxtaposition I felt was likely a characteristic of this area. Nice houses and apartment buildings lined dirty streets with randomly patterned cracked sidewalks. A fantastically huge park with a great walking/biking path and playgrounds and fitness stations and more butted up against a river full of trash.

But for all the layers of pollution and graffiti, there was also inventive, colorful art and architecture that I’d randomly come across, when I was not looking down trying to avoid the piles of dog crap dotting the sidewalks. This element of surprise and discovery (along with a late dinner hour) really made this place captivating–and one I’d like to revisit.

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The Travel Advice Service Tailored for You

14 Apr

I’m getting ready to go to Argentina, and part of my mandatory travel routine is to call Ma Jaracz and let her know I’m heading away from home for a little while. As with most trips, she has some advice for me:

Don’t eat the meat!

Wait, what? One of the things I’m most excited about doing in Argentina is eating beef. Chorizo, bife de chorizo, vacio, entraña, bring it. Even better, bring it at 9:00 or 10:00 pm, because that’s when I normally eat! I’m going to be with my people–how can I not eat like them?

Turns out that when I was in Australia, the meat industry in Brazil had some upheaval, with a major scandal exposed where meat processors used chemicals to cover expired meat smells and they filled out sausages with flour and cardboard.

OK, I’m going to Argentina. While it does have a shared border with Brazil, it’s not that long. And Argentina produces its own beef, so why would they import it?

Tell that to Ma J, and she concedes, but still. I need to be careful.

This got me thinking that my mother could probably make some extra money giving her patented travel advice. Remember, this is the woman who told me last year before I went to Alaska:

Just be careful up there. They don’t solve their murders.

And before the Boy and I went to Japan, she told us:

You remember Pearl Harbor! You remember Pearl Harbor!

While Ma Jaracz’ advice might sound a little absurd, I think it serves a good purpose: It makes me forget the stressful and scary parts of traveling, namely getting out of your comfort zone and experiencing a different culture. In this case, it’s going to be my first time in South America, and I’m a little nervous. The second-world country factor is one–though cities in the US have parts that likely aren’t much different–so I’m a little concerned about wandering into the wrong place or getting taken for a ride. I’m also worried about the language barrier. I realize I just went to Dubai, where I was worried about that too, but once I got off the plane and saw that English was everywhere, that fear faded away. I’m not so sure I’ll have exactly the same experience here.

I have been preparing though. Over the last couple of months, I’ve been cramming in lessons on Duolino. According to it, I’m 17% fluent, which is a slight comfort because it’s better than the 0% fluent that I was before I started to learn, but then, I’m learning what they teach me, which tends to be a fair amount about owning a horse or cooking onions. Now that I think about it, I don’t think Duolingo has taught me anything about steak, but maybe Argentina’s a fair ways down on their cultural list when it comes to language learning.

Still, I’m nervous, and because I also have some pre-roller-derby-tournament anxiety, that’s really made me a mess this week. That’s when I think Ma Jaracz’ Travel Advice Hotline would come in handy. Give her a call before your trip. She’ll tell you something nonsensical that takes away your focus on whatever it is that’s worrying you.

Thanks to her advice, while I’m packing, I’m wondering if anybody noticed the cardboard taste in the Brazilian sausage, or if the original just tasted that bland. When I’m on the plane, I’m likely going to remember Pearl Harbor or wonder how the cold cases are going in Alaska. Her advice will get me through some take-offs, some turbulence and perhaps even over the nervousness until I get to a place that I’m actually really excited to experience. And perhaps she can do that for you too–care to find out her rates?

 

 

What’s Your “Back in Time”?

7 Apr

My friend Angwa hipped me to this BBC show called “Back in Time for Dinner,” which I’ve turned into my lunchtime fun time for the week. Each one-hour episode has the five-member Robshaw family living through a different decade, from the 1950s to the 1990s. The first floor of their house is transformed into what a typical house of that decade would look like–kitchen, living room, dining room; they wear the clothes; they do the things; and they eat the food.

In the 1950s, this means that mom’s stuck in the kitchen all day doing amazing amounts of housework. There’s no fridge–you keep things cool on a slab of marble in the larder. The country still is rationing food, so there’s not much meat.

Throughout the years–and some decades have massive amounts of change in a very short time–we see the introduction of refrigerators, freezers, TVs and highly combustible chip pans. Fish sticks, ready meals and Rice Krispies vie for stomach space. Society changes, and therefore the family changes with it–things like women working and kids moving out of the house. World events like the 1970s energy crisis have a major impact on day-to-day life that many of us would find shocking.

It’s fascinating to see how society changed with regards to our food and how we make it, and how our living standards have changed. It got me thinking about what’s “back in time” for me–and what’s not.

For example, the Boy and I don’t have a microwave. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, this is an appliance that 90% of Americans have. I remember the magic of getting our first one when I was maybe 10. We could cook hot dogs in 45 seconds! We learned that you don’t nuke foil-wrapped burgers! We got yelled at if we stood in front of it while it was on!

But as an adult, I’ve never really cared about owning one. Last year, when our 16-year-old microwave–the one Ma Jaracz got me because she didn’t know how I was living without it–bit the dust, we decided not to replace it. Heating up leftovers is kind of a pain now, but we manage just fine doing whatever we did in the microwave by using the stove and oven–and have more counter space.

However, about three years ago, I joined the ranks of the 60% who have a dishwasher, and it’s  revolutionized my world. I grew up with a dishwasher, so spending most of my adult life without one was a big step back. Having one has completely changed how much time I spend washing dishes, which changes how much I’m willing to experiment with cooking and baking. If a recipe doesn’t work out, it’s not as miserable an experience to clean it up as when I had to spend an hour washing up the failure.

Even the food trends are interesting to think about–and how cyclical they can be. Consider popcorn. As a kid, it was a big deal to get an air popper. Then we graduated to microwave popcorn. Now I make it on the stove old-school style–but with my fancy popcorn pan.

We also have a lot more packaged food that makes life easier–but maybe isn’t really the best thing for you. When I was a kid, making a cake from scratch was the most difficult thing you, but the Boy’s chocolate cake recipe takes maybe five more minutes than a boxed cake mix. And it tastes much better.

But today we also have so many more global spices and flavors–and this has made our food so much more interesting and allows for a lot more variation and enjoyment.

At any rate, this week I’ve spent a lot of thinking about where our society has been with food and home innovations, and wondering where we’re going. I can’t imagine why I’d really want a smart refrigerator, but in 20 years will it be the norm? What new cooking gadgets will revolutionize our world? What food won’t we be able to live without?

Let me know your thoughts. In the meantime, I’ve got to eat lunch, which today means I’m going back to the 1980s. I hope I see an electric can opener!

 

 

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