Archive for September, 2014

Smells Like A Memory


There’s something I love about a city waking up. Especially when it’s a little cooler outside and you can feel fall is looming.  The air seems fresher, just a faint hint of diesel as the trucks and buses begin to move.  Most days you can still smell the dampness of the pavement from the morning dew and an aroma of anything-is-possible is carried on the breeze.

I was enjoying just such a morning the other day as I was out for a walk in Minneapolis. Then I caught a whiff of coffee wafting by.  All of a sudden I was transported back to a tiny town in Southern Spain where I lived in the 1980’s.  I could still picture the scene as if it was unfolding before me that very moment.  The businessmen and shop keepers would be pulling back the gates to their ground-level businesses.  Women would pause briefly to chat while stepping outside to dump the day’s mop water.  Young people would walk past, often times shaking off a sangria-induced haze from the previous evening.  It was Spain coming to life.

As I would watch from my balcony, the smell of cappuccino and espresso would float up to me, calling out for me to come have coffee. Sometimes I had the strength to ignore it.  Many times I did not.  I would follow my nose to the corner shop to enjoy a diminutive cup of deliciousness.  But who could stop there?  The freshly fried churros were like little fingers waving me over, pointing out that amazing chocolate that went along with them so nicely.  Sigh.  How could a girl say no?

Then the sound of a bike coming up alongside me brings me back to reality, back to Minnesota. For a moment I am sad, missing my lazy Spanish mornings and afternoons filled with siestas.  But then I think of where I am, who’s around me.  I take a deep breath and remember why I’m glad I’m here.  A crisp Minnesota morning and the city is just waking up.  I sip my tea and walk on.




Three Tips for Better References


I was discussing references and résumés with a colleague recently.  As someone who’s been on both sides of the hiring table, I thought I’d pass along three tips to help with your list of references.

  • When you’re deciding whom to list, try to use people who are familiar with your work.  Skip the personal contacts.   Supervisors or peers from previous employment are great references since it shows you’re not afraid to back up what you’re saying on your résumé.
  • If you are using someone from a group or association you’re involved in, be sure to give them a copy of your résumé. First of all, they may know of an opening but don’t know all of your qualifications, ergo an opportunity lost. Second, if you want them to speak of your greatness, they should have an idea of your work history. If they don’t, they may come across as someone who doesn’t really know you, and that will not go over well for sure.
  • List five people. Yes, five. I know some places only ask for three, but what if one of your references is on vacation, or is just really bad about returning calls? It’s better to have a couple extra listed and not need them than to only have a few. And, this may seem like common sense, but make sure to verify with them that it’s okay to use them as a reference. A surprise call to a past employer could backfire. Let them know what type of companies you’re applying to and for what kind of work.

On your reference sheet, list their complete name, title, company, phone number, and city/state as a minimum. I know some people list emails, but I always called when checking references—you can’t tell tone of voice in an email.  And you better believe that if I knew someone who worked for a previous employer, I called.  Even if they weren’t on the list, that was just being thorough.

The Flexitarian Next Door


You may have heard the term “Flexitarian” tossed about in the last decade or so. In case you are not familiar with the meaning, a flexitarian is not a vegetarian.  It refers to a person who eats a primarily vegetable/fruit diet that is supplemented with grains and legumes and, yes, still eats meat…occasionally.  That is the key differentiator from a vegetarian.

Although the name has gained a little momentum in the last few years, most people still do not know what a flexitarian is/does. In fact, a large portion of the population is already living as flexitarians with no knowledge that there is a name for it.  Many people favor a diet that limits meat consumption strictly for the health benefits.  That makes a lot of sense, since red meat has long been attributed to a host of health issues when over-consumed.  However, there is no proof that a person must completely sacrifice their favorite steak or burger, totally eliminating red meat.  Just practice a balance and make that the sporadic treat.

Another great benefit of the flexitarian lifestyle is the ability to practice social responsibility. If you have a diet high in fruits and vegetables, you have the option to purchase large quantities of these items locally—at least seasonally.  We live in Minnesota.  We are not going to find many fresh vegetables grown locally in the winter!  But we sure can do our part the other seasons when we don’t have to look too far for great fresh foods that are supporting local growers.  And the same can be said for your occasional meat/fish option, just look a little closer to home.

Still not sure a flexitarian diet would work for you? Try this great meatless soup.  I swear you won’t miss the meat!

Southwestern Meatless Chili

1 cup wheat berries—find by rice/lentils at supermarket or at whole foods bulk store

1 can/bottle beer-I use light                           1 can tomato soup

1 green bell pepper diced                                1 can creamed corn (14.75 oz)

1 sweet red pepper diced                                 1 can tomatoes w/chilies (14.5 oz)

3 stalks celery-with leaves-diced                   1 can black beans-rinsed

½ onion diced                                                   3 T dry ranch dressing mix

Big pinch of red pepper flakes                       2 T dry taco seasoning mix


Soak wheat berries overnight with at least two inches of water covering them. In a soup pot sauté peppers, celery, and onion until softened.  Drain and rinse wheat berries and add them to the pot with the remaining ingredients.  Simmer covered, stirring often, over low heat for about 1-2 hours.  (You could also put all ingredients in a crockpot and cook on low all day.)  To serve, add a dollop of sour cream, broken tortilla chips and shredded cheese.


7 Tips for Easier House Hunting

We’re still in the midst of our house hunt.  It has definitely been a learning experience for me.  Since we are looking at different cities around the Minneapolis suburbs area, it gets a bit confusing at times.  I’ve never lived in this area, or even near it, so all the searches turn up unfamiliar neighborhoods.  Thankfully The Hub is from here so he’s guiding the search.  Having gone through a long couple of weeks, I thought I’d pass along some of the things I’ve learned along the way.

  • Before you start your search, talk to your banker and get preapproved for a mortgage. You can’t go out looking for your dream home if you don’t know what you can afford.
  • Make a wish list. Get the whole family involved in determining what you’re looking for. The Hub’s minimum request was at least two garage spaces, The Caboose wanted country life near a snowboard hill. I don’t want a bunch of traffic or neighbors right next door. Will we all get our wishes? Probably not. But at least we have a good place to start.
  • Start your search online. Look at sites like for home listings. Here you can enter a very detailed wish list and set a price ceiling. I definitely suggest searching a little over your budget’s max. House prices drop as demand wanes, and the longer they sit, the better the chance is that you could make a lower-price offer. It doesn’t hurt to ask.
  • Find a realtor you can trust to represent you. They have access to all sorts of information and can help to streamline your search. Having someone to set up showings, find out background details, or work with the seller’s realtor is a must. If you don’t know a realtor, check the local Chamber or a business networking group.
  • Location does matter! Pay attention to any nearby train tracks, busy streets, high schools, etc. that will increase traffic and noise around your new home. You may think walking distance to school is handy, but just remember how many kids will be driving and perhaps looking for parking. And even if you wax poetic about the lonesome call of the train whistle, it may not be so romantic in the middle of the night a block away.
  • As you do your showings, wear comfortable clothes so you can peak in crawl spaces, attics, and basement nooks and crannies. Wear shoes that go on and off easily, since most sellers request you remove them upon entering the house.
  • Bring paper and pen! After a few showings they all start to run together. You’ll want to remember which house had certain traits and you don’t want to rely on your memory for this. It is helpful to have a listing detail page printed out for each house you see, that way you’ll have the specs for each house at your fingertips.

When the time comes and you find the house you want, be prepared to write an offer and have an inspection.  But, as I learned the hard way, don’t become emotionally attached until the inspection comes back.  Little things can lurk behind the scenes and it’s much easier to walk away before you’ve imagined your furniture in the living room.  Happy house hunting!