Dreaming of Winter … in the Summer

It’s true what they say: we want what we can’t have. What I spend most of the year wanting is summer. Here in Vancouver, the weather is pretty mild, but most of the year it’s cool, and it rains. A lot. When summer finally comes, it’s late (usually hits around July) and it’s short (sticks for a couple of months) but Vancouverites enjoy it like nothing else. If there’s one think people in this city never take for granted, it’s hot days and sunshine.

However, I will be the first to admit that, a few weeks into the summer, I always start longing for autumn and, eventually, winter to creep back; it’s not that I don’t relish the warm weather, but I realize that some of us are more “winter people” than “summer people.” And I’m definitely one of the former.

What’s there to like about the colder months? Plenty:

Boots, boots and more boots. Did I mention I love boots? I love boots. As far as I’m concerned, they’re the sexiest form of footwear (my boyfriend wholeheartedly agrees). Summer’s all about busting out cute heels and comfy flip flops, but the second the temperature dips low enough to throw on a pair of jeans, the boots are out in full force. I’ve been known to stock up on several pairs in a single shopping trip.

Hot drinks. There’s nothing quite as comforting as curling up with a cup of hot tea. When I discovered chili hot chocolate last year, I was in heaven. When I discovered how easy it is to make medieval-style hot spiced wine, I was ecstatic. There’s something masochistic about hot drinks on a sweltering summer day, but when it’s cold out, nothing’s as satisfying to warm you up from the inside.

Board games. When going out requires a parka and a tarp-sized umbrella, I instantly opt for the ultimate stay-indoors activity: board games. It’s one of the few times my fiercely competitive side comes out … even more so after a glass of wine.

Comfort food. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind a good salad, but I would much rather go for the carbs, meats and butter. In the summer, it’s much easier to eat light and healthy—and much more necessary, considering you’ve still got to look semi-decent in a bikini, but in the winter, rich, starchy comfort food is one of my greatest vices. One dish I would never, ever turn down? Mashed potatoes. Yes please.

Dark, moody music. My listening preferences vary greatly depending on my mood, and my mood is heavily dependent on the weather. In the summer, I’m all about upbeat, cheery tunes. But in the winter, I can finally get back to my favourite grungy bands, like Alice in Chains and Soundgarden.

Bundling up. Who doesn’t love to be cozy? Whether in a fierce coat, an oversized sweater or a fleecy blanket, there’s something super comforting about being bundled in layers of warmth.

Are you also cold weather person? What are your favourite things about fall and winter?

Images filed under Creative Commons license and link back to their original source.

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The Key to Creativity: Zoning Out

Think back to your school days—there were always a handful of kids (one of whom may have been you) who the teacher constantly reprimanded for not focusing in class, who were constantly startled out of a daydream. In post secondary school, the ability to focus and concentrate on the task at hand is viewed as crucial to studying, note-taking, and essay-writing. Even most jobs these days revolve around a model of focusing on a single task at a time in order to succeed. When was the last time your boss or professor encouraged you to let your mind to wander while working on something? Probably never.

And it’s not good for us.

According to several studies, zoning out and letting your mind wander from the task at hand increases creativity and turns on two parts of the brain—the part that’s responsible for decision-making and problem-solving and the part that’s usually active when you’re resting—that were previously thought to only function separately. Reversely, when you consciously focus on solving a certain problem, you’re less likely to come up with an effective and creative solution than if you let you mind zone out without thinking about that problem. It’s all about letting your brain go into a state of free associations, where you’re unconsciously forging links between different ideas in a creative way that isn’t possible while you’re focusing on a complex task.

Remember a time when a brilliant idea or a solution to a problem that was nagging at you popped into your head out of left field? You were most likely listening to music, or doodling, or doing some mundane task that doesn’t really require much effort. This is a prime condition in which creative thoughts flourish. On the other hand, when we’re doing something like reading a complicated book or trying to add up some long numbers, our brains are too busy concentrating on the task to zone out and be creative. Meditating has been found to be a great way to achieve a similar state of mind-wandering as well.

The problem is, our society constantly encourages this state of mental exertion, and often look down on us when we let our minds wander. If there’s a complex project at work, our immediate solution is to hold a focused staff meeting involving brainstorms, idea generating, and planning—in other words, tons and tons of concentrating on one specific thing; rarely are we encouraged to forget about it for a while and let our ideas and creative juices simmer, especially since we’re already being bombarded with work that won’t give our brain a proper break.

This idea that focusing on a single complex task at a time is ideal while zoning out is a sign of failure is preached early in life: kids are being diagnosed more and more frequently, and at younger ages, with attention-deficit disorder. Those who don’t concentrate the way they’re expected to tend to fall behind in information-heavy subjects such as science and math, but these kids are often the same ones who thrive in creative fields like art. Simply put, the school system does not facilitate creative thinking and problem-solving as much as it encourages the memorization of facts.

There’s danger in working, studying, and living in a society where the majority of our time is spent over-exerting ourselves on complex tasks. When we’re used to—and are praised for—constantly racking our brains to get things done, we lose the ability to let them go into a mode of relaxation, and therein lose the ability to think creatively. And when we lose the ability to think creatively, problems become that much harder to solve and our work goes from innovating to commonplace. In other words, we lose one of the most extraordinary traits of being human—the capacity for creative thought.

So ask your boss for a mediation break, and bring up the issue with your teacher. If it weren’t for creative thinking, I doubt we’d have put a robot on Mars by now.

4 Interview Personality Dealbreakers

Today I co-interviewed a few potential university students for the intern position at my job. It’s something I’ve done a few times over the last few years, and it’s a process that somehow never gets less cringe-worthy. Sure, I’ve been the one interviewed for jobs in the past, and sure, I was nervous while trying to make the best impression I could. When your sole purpose is to prove that you’re more qualified for a job than a handful of other people, most people will tend to go into alter-persona mode. And it can be scary.

Over my years of interviewing for a creative position, I’ve come across a few “types” of interviewees. Surprisingly enough, I seem to encounter these alter-personas each and every year, and I’m always amazed that the same personalities show up over and over again. Often, I’ve hired based more on how well we meshed at the interview over how good a resume looked, and it’s something that many employers do. Skills can be learned and honed, but working closely with someone you can’t stand for nearly a year is something that no amount of talent can buy.

My main point: when trying to prove that you’re the best person for the job, be human. Be approachable. Be friendly.

Biggest interview fails:

  • Can’t identify any negative feedback, mistakes, or problems solved in past experience when asked and, frankly, looks a little insulted that you asked.
  • All past work examples are described in a 100% positive light. Refuses to admit any type of weakness or oversight in past projects.
  • The only question they’ll ask of you is when they can expect to hear back about getting hired.
  • Scoff at something you ask (seriously, that happened to me today).

Why they’re a dealbreaker:

  • We’re human. Even the best of us make mistakes, so who are you trying to kid? When you refuse to admit to your past mistakes, I figure you won’t take criticism well, and there’s no room for improvement when criticism is rejected.
  • You appear arrogant and completely un-delightful to work with.

The solution:

  • Employers don’t care that you made mistakes in the past—they do want to hear about how you solved them. Talk about your weaknesses, because it’s a chance to show that a) you’re a pleasant human being, not a cyborg and b) that you’re able to learn, improve, and work well with criticism.

Biggest interview fails:

  • They’re so quiet, we have to lean in to the point where the interview becomes an awkwardly intimate experience.
  • They answer questions with anything from one word to one sentence.
  • They have nothing to ask the employer. They just want to get out of there ASAP.

Why they’re a dealbreaker:

  • You appear uninterested, terrified, and completely lack passion. This translates to your work.
  • Having to ask you to repeat yourself every day on the job sounds exhausting. And incredibly awkward.

The solution:

  • Employers aren’t waiting for you to screw up—they just want to chat and get to know you. They can’t do so if they can’t hear you or if you have nothing to say, so speak up and say a little more than “yes” or “no.” Treat every question as an opportunity to tell a little story about how awesome you are (just don’t go overboard like the dude above).

Biggest interview fails:

  • They recite lengthy, word-by-word excerpts from the company’s website, brochure, or annual report when asked if they know anything about it.
  • They will somehow turn every single answer about their past experience into melodramatic praise about the company or fervent assurance about how much they would love the opportunity to do anything you asked them, as long as they get hired.
  • They nod vehemently and grin psychotically the entire time.

Why they’re a dealbreaker:

  • This personality appears phony more than anything else. I’d be disappointed if they had no idea what my organization was about, but hearing page 26 of the annual report recited back to me is overkill. There’s a huge difference between knowledge and memorization.
  • I know you want to get hired. Everyone does. I assume that’s why you applied in the first place. Please stop trying to convince me of the fact.

The solution:

  • This type reeks of phoniness and desperation. While you want to show that you’re acquainted with the company’s main goals, you don’t want to show that you stayed up until 3am last night memorizing the names of the board of directors. Instead of schmoozing, try to make a human connection. It’ll be much more appreciated.

Biggest interview fails:

  • They talk way too much about their religion and/or try to convert you (happened to me).
  • When asked how they respond to stress, their eyes grow saucer-sized and they mutter endlessly about chaos and explosions (yup, happened to me too).
  • They giggle maniacally at everything you ask or say (check).

Why they’re a dealbreaker:

  • I wouldn’t want to meet this person on the street, let alone work with them.

The solution:

  • Employers love to see your personality. But, please, no matter how nervous you might be, don’t compensate by trying to be over-the-top, as it can easily be interpreted as psychotic. We’ll take boring or normal any day.

The Dark Side of Pinterest

Pinterest

When I first discovered Pinterest, I was instantly hooked. I don’t need to go into depth about what this website is all about—it’s quickly become about as ubiquitous as other social media sites like Facebook and Twitter—but in a gist for the uninitiated, Pinterest is a “pin board” of images selected by users off the web, each image linking back to its source page, and which other users can add to their own Pinterest boards, “like,” comment on, and share.

That’s it in a nutshell. But, to get a better perspective, let’s take a look at some recent stats (source) about Pinterest users:

  • Almost 70% of them are female
  • Half of them have kids
  • The highest percentage of them are in the 25-34 age range; the second highest is 35-44; and the third highest is 45-54
  • Pinterest gets about 1.36 million visitors every day

A Woman’s World

So the most common Pinterest user is a woman in her late 20s to early 30s, who may or may not have kids. For those of us who have used Pinterest enough to recognize typical and popular content pinned to the site, this explains a lot. While content is certainly varied enough, there is an overwhelming traditionally feminine aspect to it—pins for recipes, child-rearing tips, women’s apparel, hair and makeup techniques, weight loss and exercise strategies geared towards women, images of superlatively decorated homes, countless wedding ideas, and quotes. Tons and tons of quotes. Many are motivational, largely geared towards achieving “the perfect” body (most of which are accompanied by related imagery); many others are quotes about love, heartbreak, courage, and friendship.

On one hand, having all this content in one place and in very, very high abundance seems wonderful: whatever we need to know, however we want to be inspired, any idea or method we’re looking for can be found on this one site. A plethora of them, in fact. In the first couple of months after creating a Pinterest account, I had found and made an awesome bead necklace using a tutorial I stumbled upon on Pinterest; I created a beach-inspired dining table centerpiece using related images I repinned; I used a bunch of recipes I discovered to cook some fantastic meals; I even realized that I didn’t hate peplum as much as I thought I did and bought a peplum top solely inspired by the gorgeous models donning peplum I kept running across on Pinterest. Any moment of free time I wanted to do something with, I could easily fill with an idea I found on Pinterest. Within a couple of months, my pinboard exceeded 2,000 images of things I wanted to make, do, be, look like, live in, visit … I could go on forever.

Too Much Yet Never Enough

You know what happened after that? I started wanting to change, improve, and update everything around me. I could no longer appreciate the breathtaking mountain and ocean view reflected in my huge living room mirror—all I could see were the curtains that needed to frame it, and the only ones that would suffice would be ones that I could sew on my own and paint chevron striped onto. I started becoming more self-conscious of my hair than ever, which seemed like it could always use one of those fancy buns I still had to learn to do, or that cool ombré colour job it seriously lacked. And don’t even get me started on exercise; there were so many gazillions of workouts I was either missing out on or not doing right, each one more effective than the other towards creating that perfect figure that was oh, so far from my own average, somewhat lumpy, untoned, pale, mere mortal frame. Clearly, I was not pinning enough motivational quotes.

There were so many ways to make my life more beautiful, more exciting, more healthy, more efficient, and more enjoyable, and they were all right there to take advantage of … and they were making my un-Pinteresting life look so blah. Clearly, I was a failure.

A Barrage of Information

When the printing press came along, it changed the way information was transmitted and received all around the world. When computers came along, they revolutionized the speed and efficiency with which we could work. When cell phones came along, they changed the most fundamental nature of our interaction with each other. While it may be too soon to predict whether or not, and how, Pinterest may be revolutionizing anything, I can say with certainty that its quick rise in popularity is definitely playing a significant role in the life of its users.

If we consider the average user, a woman in her 30s who may be a new mother or is planning to have kids, a bunch of major implications arise right there. These are women in the most critical stages of their lives—they’re starting a new family, they’re starting a new career, they’re in a new stage of their relationship, they’re moving into a different income bracket—and they want the best for themselves and their loved ones. No wonder they’re instantly attracted to an endless supply of information for how to get all of this and more, so much more, quickly, easily, inexpensively, and effectively.

There are some dangerous side effects to Pinterest. They’re not blatant or instantaneous, but the inherent nature of being bombarded with the type of content found on Pinterest at an endless rate is very conducive of certain outcomes:

  1. It’s all about me. Me me me. Of course, nothing in the 21st Century is lacking that self-absorbed aspect (case and point: this blog), but Pinterest can sometimes be self-improvement and self-obsession on acid. There is nothing wrong with wanting to be a better person, but there is something wrong when most of that energy is focused on achieving the elusive and non-existent goal of “perfection.”
  2. It’s a highly visual medium, which puts most of the focus on what we see over anything else. The danger in this is that it hinders thought, examination, and discussion by luring us in and distracting the analytic part of our brains with eye candy. Can you blame yourself for instantly feeling that pang of self-loathing upon seeing images like this? You’ve already concluded that you’re not good enough to a certain degree because you don’t look like that, whether consciously or subconsciously, before you’ve even had a chance to examine all the social meanings behind images like this.
  3. It doesn’t encourage us to learn through our mistakes. When every possible aspect of life is illustrated, explained, and step-by-stepped to us as if we have the mental capacities of second graders, it is far too tempting to take the easy way out and lean on these guides rather than experimenting, taking risks, falling down and letting that teach us how to get back up.
  4. It constantly reminds us that whatever we have or do, we can and should be satisfied with so much more. Got a nice house? It can be nicer. Healthy? Your abs could be more toned. In a happy relationship? You could be doing it better. Love your wedding album? Whoooo boy, you better divorce that sucker and do it all over again, because it could be a billion times more romantic.
  5. It puts pressure on us to be the “superwoman,” or the jack-of-all-trades. Look at you just sitting there, reading your book and sipping your tea when you could be jogging with your stroller to the store to buy ingredients for a low-fat, gourmet vegan feast. What? You haven’t learned to paint perfect, to-scale galaxies on your nails yet??? Oh, and by the way, your toddler’s going to resent you for not sewing her an entire wardrobe from scratch yet. Yeah—2 years old know.

Use With Caution

Am I proposing that Pinterest be banned and permanently stricken from the history of the interwebs? Of course not. I still think it’s a pretty damn cool site. And just like any other technology in the world, it has its uses and it has its problems. Nor am I saying that every single user is susceptible to every one of its problems in the worst way possible. It’s just something to be cautious of.

What I am urging every Pinterest user, young and old, male or female, to remember, is that, just because it may appear like you can have it all, do it all, and be it all doesn’t mean you should. That, sometimes, you can discover amazing things just by going out into the world and learning them on your own, even if it means taking a horrible tumble along the way. That an hour, a minute, a day or a lifetime spent gazing at the sky, daydreaming, or burying your head in a book can be the most precious time you’ll ever spend. That the little you have may the most you could ever need; that the imperfections around you can be appreciated for their beauty more than any glossy image you’ll ever see; and that we all have the capacity for unlimited happiness inside us from the simple act of being alive than any quote of inspiration will ever provide.

Happy pinning! ;)

Recipe: Baked Garlic-Dijon Salmon with Sweet Potato Mash

Last night my super amazing boyfriend cooked a delicious dinner I have yet to stop licking my lips over. Good thing he made leftovers—I will be enjoying it for lunch again today! Bliss! He used this recipe for baked salmon with garlic and dijon, throwing in our fave veggie, broccoli, as well as this one for mashed butternut squash (though he substituted the squash with sweet potatoes, which are very similar in the sweetness). As you can see, the combo of salmon, broccoli, and sweet potatoes make for a very healthy combination; so healthy, in fact, I think it a sin considering how delicious it was! The smell of the garlic dijon sauce (he poured it over the broccoli too) was already making my mouth water while still in the oven, and it tasted even more heavenly. The sweetness of the mash made for a nice, sweet contrast to the fish. So if you’re looking for a healthy, summery meal, I highly recommend this!

Salmon and Broccoli
Salmon Broccoli with Mash

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