Monday, July 28, 2014

Art In Nature ...

I have yet to find a respectable peach this season – as I tweeted yesterday, every peach I find at the grocery store is as sumptuous as a league ball – but I was delighted to find this artful tendril of vine in yesterday's grapes.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Love At First Sight ...

I rummage through a lot of antique stores. Well, no, "rummage" is not the right word. I wander through a lot of antique stores and I scan. My eyes rarely fall on anything I wish to investigate further. There is a lot of junk in the world. And a lot of that junk doesn't qualify as "antique." So, really, I wander through a lot of junk stores.

But I have a few sources that are legit: beautifully styled and stocked with wonderful finds (from estate sales, perhaps?) and I was in one of those stores yesterday and oh, oh the awesomeness. My mom and I both stared at it. (I get much of my taste from her.)

It is very clearly an antique yet entirely modern, too, a daybed with trundle that would make a very awesome couch.

We left the store. We had walked there. It's not like we were going to tote it home. Well, guess we could have rolled it down the street. But we didn't.

But when I got home and sat where I am sitting now, on a piece I bought when I moved into my first apartment – 20 years ago – which is still in surprisingly good shape but which I really, really, really want to replace, I started thinking about how amazing the daybed would be in this spot. And then I started thinking about its depth – which isn't very deep – and that it would require a custom cushion (on the order of a mattress, really). And then I started thinking that that cushion-mattress would be awesome in worn leather.

And then I started wishing that I had unlimited amounts of money to spend on The Daybed Project and everything else I'd like to do in this house.

Alas, I do not have unlimited amounts of money. But I may have to buy the daybed anyway. Before someone else does. For someday. Because it's too fantastic. It could live in my basement for a while. We shall see.

In any event, it's nice to dream.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Blueberries …

Awaiting their muffin destiny ... .

Friday, July 11, 2014

Interactive Résumé, Updated Edition ...

I created this post in 2011 but it was due for an update. A lot has happened since then. And several links had broken. Turns out, not everything on the Internet lasts forever. Here, then, an update:

Funny thing about humility: It's not the most desirable trait to put forth when looking for a job.

Not talking about oneself for fear of seeming boastful? Some other time, kid. Not now.

One day last week, I applied for a job for which I thought I was qualified and well-suited. The following day, I received a boilerplate "After careful consideration, we regret to inform you ..." reply. It was nice of someone to reply, but I don't think there was a whole lot of careful consideration; in my book, careful consideration would have involved several staffers under the tiresome glow of florescent lights, all night long, in a conference room, their sleeves rolled up, their hair mussed from so much head clutching, the table strewn with grease-soaked pizza boxes littered with discarded crusts and congealed, plastic-seeming bits of cheese.

My résumé, by virtue of being static, can't convey all that I have to offer. But here, here I can create an interactive experience. Granted, prospective employers may never click on the link I supply to this post, but it will be out there, in the world, an opus of 1s and 0s, a beacon of awesomeness, and people everywhere will be drawn to it, drawn by its burning intensity of fabulousness. It will become a symbol of hope for all mankind. And I shall wake one day to find pilgrims from around the globe camped out on my lawn and in the street and throughout my neighborhood, city, and state, all waiting, waiting for me to step out onto my front stoop, coffee in hand, to share with them my awesome creativity.

Or it might help me to land a job. Either outcome is fine with me.

❑ To lay the groundwork, allow me to share with those who may not know it, the story of the day I interviewed Kurt Vonnegut at his home in Sagaponak, New York. I was writing a paper about Nelson Algren. For a college class. I was 19. Yes, it's a well-known tale to some, but it's an unknown tale to others, and if I can reap mileage out of it in this situation, I'll reap. (For those who may be so inclined, they can read the back story of the adventure here.)

❑ While in college, I spent a couple of summers holding down the fort of Jeff Zaslow's office at the Chicago Sun-Times. I was 17 when I met Jeff. We're still friends. [Even now that he's gone, I think of him that way.] I form lasting relationships. Both my personal and professional networks are vast and varied, and they often overlap.

❑ Also while in college, I interned at Chicago magazine. It wasn't a paid position, but one day, a check arrived in my mailbox, my first-ever payment for something word-related. (I Xeroxed it. I still have it.) I called my editor, confused as to why he had paid me. He told me I deserved it. Also, it was at Chicago that I came to understand that brownies are one of the keys to forming the aforementioned lasting relationships. People appreciate small gestures. Especially if those small gestures involve chocolate.

❑ After college, in a less-than-perfect job market, I landed a part-time gig at the Chicago Tribune. In Sports. Those who knew me asked, skeptically, "Beth, do you know anything about sports?"

"There are three periods in hockey and four quarters in football," I replied. "I'll figure out the rest as I go."

My plan was to stay at the paper for six months, maybe a year. I figured I could round out my résumé with another name-brand publication and wait for the job market to strengthen.

I stayed nearly five years. So much for plans.

I did OK in Sports – I could code a box score with the best of 'em – and then moved on to the News desk where I acquired the enviable title of "Dumper." Thankfully, my editor, Randy Weissman, indulged my curiosities and presented me with opportunities as they came along. One such opportunity led to a full-time job in Features, where I wrote my first article for the paper, for which I interviewed Bill Kurtis. At the end of our phone conversation, he said, in that legendary voice, "Well, Beth, you'll have to come by sometime and see what we do here."

So I did. I was 25 when I met Bill. We're still friends. In terms of baked goods, however, he prefers oatmeal raisin cookies.

❑ I left the Tribune to take a job with the now-former Thomson Newspapers. Thomson exists. Thomson Newspapers does not. But while there, I had the great good fortune to work with some truly exceptional people, including Paul Camp, who remains my best boss to date. Myself not included.

❑ More recently, I had the privilege of lending an editorial hand to The Last Lecture, the missive that Carnegie Mellon University professor Randy Pausch left for his children that he was kind enough to share with the world. Jeff Zaslow was Randy's co-author, you'll remember, and I was one of Jeff's editors, though Jeff was such a talented writer, there was not a lot for me to do. But if you pick up a copy of The Last Lecture and notice that Thin Mints is capitalized, that's my doing. Editing. It's a glamorous life.

❑ Also, I interviewed Melissa Etheridge for my first-ever celebrity profile. We kept chatting past my allotted time and she invited me to come backstage during her then-upcoming tour to say hello. As luck would have it, her Chicago date was right smack dab in the middle of the Chicago Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure (in which I walk every year), but her publicist kindly arranged for me to meet her in Milwaukee a few nights later.

So I did. Unlike with Jeff and Bill, Melissa and I have not become friends. But I was thrilled to see her perform that night. She's an extraordinary artist.

❑ And I bake. And write about what I bake. And photograph what I bake. One of my recipes was featured in Fine Cooking and is now part of this cookbook. And in January, I began contributing monthly posts to angelo:HOME, the lifestyle site of designer Angelo Surmelis, who, like others, has become a friend. Our baking adventure began with a shortbread necklace which inspired January's entry, and I've since created February's, March's, April's, May's, June's, July's, August's, September's, October's, November's, and December's.

And for 2012, January's, February's, March's, April's, May's, June's, July's, August's, September's, October's, November's, and December's.

And for 2013, January's, February's, March's, April's, May's, June's, July's, August's, September's, October's, November's, and December's.

And for 2014, I'm posting every now and again.

❑ And for those who like images of food – and who doesn't? – I created a Flickr page.

❑ And then I spent some quality time with iWeb and started noodling around with a web site.

And my résumé contains other conversation-worthy tidbits. We have to have something fresh to talk about in person, right?

And I didn't even mention that I have two voiceover demos and that I sing jazz. Until now.

I have two voiceover demos and I sing jazz.

❑ Since creating this post, I've completed the shift to working for myself (yep, this bullet point is an update), and am pleased to work with a great slate of clients on word projects of all stripes.

❑ One of those clients is the estimable Michele Woodward. I am delighted to be a part of her team and help her clients and others create great resumes, write more creatively, and get book projects off their starting blocks.

My name's Beth and I'm a creative.

What can I create for you?

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Crumbled ...

I never was a cupcake maker.

I have no childhood memories of baking cupcakes with my mom.

I have childhood memories of selecting cupcakes at Cub Scouts meetings when I was very wee. I have childhood memories of looking for the cupcake with the most frosting. I have childhood memories of scraping the paper cupcake liner against my bottom teeth to capture the bit of cupcake that was left behind.

But the only cupcake-baking episode I can recall happened a couple of years ago and resulted in the cupcake at the top of this post. I baked a whole batch. I didn't frost most of them. I threw most of them away. My pursuit was a singular, picture-perfect cupcake. I did eventually eat it. It was OK.

Yesterday, when I read that Crumbs, the cupcake chain, had closed all of its locations overnight, my only thought was "Of course it did. Fads don't last."

How anyone thought they could build a sustainable business on a single food product is beyond me. McDonald's doesn't just sell hamburgers. Starbucks doesn't just sell coffee.

But even if they did, hamburgers and coffee are much more staples of the American diet than cupcakes.

The precipitous rise of the cupcake foretold its precipitous fall.

I never did buy into the cupcake craze. I never ate a Crumbs cupcake. I never set foot into a Crumbs store. (The reaction on Twitter yesterday was decidedly anti-Crumbs. If tweeters are to be believed, Crumbs cupcakes were dry and topped with overly sweet frosting. If that was truly the case, it's no wonder Crumbs didn't last: There are only so many curious first-timers in the cupcake world.)

For that matter, I've never had a Magnolia Bakery cupcake or any other. Cupcakes don't entice me. And I really dislike fads.

I make really good blueberry muffins and I make really good cream currant scones. I bake sensational brownies, I don't mind boasting. But cookies are my thing.

And cookies are my thing because the borders of cookies are so malleable. When I baked monthly cookies for Angelo, and I would clack out ideas, many were the time that I had to rein in my thoughts because I was really exceeding the boundaries of what constitutes a cookie.

But, like hamburgers and coffee, cookies will never go out of style. Cookies are as timeless as they are infinite.

If I ever do open a bakery, though, I will sell more than just cookies. Not much more. I will not try to be all things to all people, but if someone walks in and wants a brownie, they will be able to buy a brownie. Biscotti? You bet. (Yes, I know they're cookies, but some biscotti are second cousins to cement and have gotten a bad rap and are sometimes shunned. Mine are buttery and crunchy but pleasantly so.) Scones? Maybe not every day. Maybe I'll have a rotating special.

But if anyone wants a cupcake, they'll have to go elsewhere.

If there's anywhere left to go.