Tag Archives: Self-Reflection

Happy 6th Birthday, Culture Cookies!

29 May

It’s that time of year again: my blog birthday! I love that WordPress sends an alert, because it’s truly a reason to celebrate. Six years is a pretty long time to keep up any sort of personal project, don’t you think? Especially when you’re not monetizing it ūüėČ

IMG_3834

Just feels fitting to give this post a cake. Even if it’s only a picture of cake.

I started this blog as a personal outlet for things I loved to do, but wasn’t getting out of my job at the time. Back then, I was a management consultant and my days mainly consisted of spreadsheets, process flows and PowerPoint slides. I missed writing essays, and¬†decided to start a blog so I could¬†write about anything on my mind.

This blog has carried me through so much since then: a cross-country move,¬†several apartments, job swaps, relationships. I ran into one of my loyal readers the other day¬†(Hi Mary-Lynn!) and we¬†chatted¬†about how I post less frequently than I used to. That’s partly because of my second blog, which¬†often steals my attention away from this one. But it’s also because my relationship to this blog shifts over time, depending on what’s happening in my life. Like any hobby, its role fluctuates depending on what I’m doing and how I’m feeling.

Culture Cookies began as a¬†space for commentary and long-form writing. Then I shifted into¬†a brand strategy job, and spent my days thinking about consumer behavior. I’d read trend reports, conduct consumer research and think about how brands should express themselves. That meant marketing and behavior were always on my mind, so many of my posts ended up touching on consumer psychology, social commentary and brands. Even though the blog synced somewhat with what I did at work, it was still an outlet for long-form writing since most of my “official” work still ended up in PowerPoint slides.

Now here we are, May 2017, and suddenly: writing¬†is¬†my job. I get to write for work, day in, day out.¬†But¬†while I do see lots of¬†data (I’m a business writer!), and I do often write about consumer behavior, my daily work¬†doesn’t focus on spotting behavioral patterns anymore. ¬†And I do think that has had an impact on this blog. In the past six months or so, I’ve written much more personal reflection than¬†social strategy or marketing analysis. It makes sense: switching jobs last fall marked a big change in my life, a change that prompted lots of self-reflection. So naturally, the blog evolved again.

But as I told Mary-Lynn the other day, I miss the old Culture Cookies. I enjoy writing personal essays, and don’t plan to stop, but I do want to beef back up the other parts of this blog that I’ve sort of abandoned for the past ten months. Consider this my blog birthday pledge: I¬†pledge to reboot my marketing talk and behavioral commentary. It’s time to turn more of my scheming scribbles into actual posts.¬†I already have a couple of drafts in the works, and promise to share them in the next few weeks.

As always, thanks for reading. Hope to see you back here soon!

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It’s Just A Few Months

6 Apr
Varied treats... yummm

Strawberry balsamic bread, lemon sugar cookies and smore’s bars

When I was in 6th grade, my class was given an assignment called “The 4 Month Project.” This wasn’t a very creative name: we were literally tasked with learning a new skill over the course of the next 4 months. We picked our own topics, and at the end of the 4 month period we each did a presentation to show what we’d learned.

I had known this assignment was coming, because I have an older brother who’d done it a couple years before. So I already had potential projects in mind when the assignment landed on my desk. When I went home that night, I announced to my mom that I had thought of two perfect options for my project. “Mom,” I said, “I want to learn either woodworking, or flower arranging.¬†Silence. More silence. And then my mom said: “Why don’t you to something that’s a little easier to coordinate? Like… baking?”

At first, I was bummed. How did she not see the value of paying for woodworking classes for her 11 year old daughter?! Ridiculous! But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that learning how to bake was a really good idea. You see, baking has always had a special place in my family. Every special event and holiday has its own set of baked goods, and it’s been that way ¬†since I can remember. New Year’s means oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Thanksgiving means zucchini bread. Birthdays mean a special mint chocolate cake. Over the course of the next 4 months, my mom taught me how to make our favorite recipes and encouraged me to find new ones to make, too. I’m sure my classmates were happy to be the test subjects for my baking experiments!

Cake balls for a friend's birthday

Cake balls for a friend’s birthday

Now that I’m older, I am SO glad she talked me into the baking plan. First of all, it was wonderful to spend time with my mom, learning her techniques and recipes. I still measure everything the way she taught me, leveling off each measuring cup with the back of a knife. Second, she was right that it was easier to coordinate- we could shove in “4 Month Project” time whenever we had a free moment, as opposed to trying to schedule classes with a master woodworker or driving far away to hit up a flower market. And third: my 4 Month Project has become a lifelong passion. I didn’t just learn something so I could get a good grade: I learned a hobby that I’ll have for life. Sixth grade was a long time ago, and to this day, baking is one of my favorite things to do when I have some free time. So I guess what I’m saying is: thanks mom! So happy I learned.

And now, a couple of recipes! The oatmeal chocolate chip cookie recipe my family uses actually came from an old Quaker Oats tin. They’ve since changed the recipe somewhat, but I think this one I found online looks about right. We swap out raisins for chocolate chips, but that’s up to you!

And because I love it so- here’s the zucchini bread recipe we use, too:

Delicious Zucchini Bread 

1 tsp shortening
2 medium zucchini (1.5 cups shredded)
2 cups flour
3/4 tsp salt
3/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp baking powder
1.5 tsp cinnamon
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/2 cup oil
1.5 tsp vanilla

Pre-heat oven to 325

Use shortening to coat ends of a 5×9 inch loaf pan. Line sides and bottom with waxed paper. Scrub¬†zucchini, but do not peel. With disc¬†in place in your food processor, add¬†zucchini¬†thru the feed tube. transfer to a large mixing bowl. Reassemble processor with steel blade. Add flour, salt, soda, baking powder,¬†cinnamon, and sugar. Cover feed tube with hand. Process just until blended. Remove cover and add eggs, oil, vanilla. Process only until blended. Add to bowl with¬†zucchini- stir, or use your hands to blend. Pour into prepared pan.

Bake 1 hour 15 minutes, or until bread shrinks slightly from edges of pan. Enjoy!

Everyday People

6 Nov

Today’s a pretty important day over here in the U.S. Some might even call it “historic.” And while I certainly don’t want to diminish the significance of today’s elections, I’d like to direct your attention to a different kind of a history, just for a few minutes.

The other day, the administrator of a historic home explained to me that they can’t declare that anyone famous lived/slept/breathed there without very concrete proof, i.e. a visitor log, belongings that were left behind, DNA, etc. That’s why hotels tend to have more “so and so was here” signs than other places- they have guest registers and are more likely to have the right info to make the claim. It made me giggle to think of just how many hotels would be able to put up “Felicia slept here” plaques if I were to become famous. After all, I’ve stayed in at least 20 hotels in the last year alone. You’re welcome, hotel friends!

But if I don’t become famous, it’s not like that history disappears. My everyday, personal history still matters, and it’s still there, seeping around the corners of the places I’ve been. It may not be evident to anyone else… but it’s undeniably there. As I think back to all the places I’ve lived and visited, I have very vivid memories of what happened at specific intersections, in particular restaurants, etc. That’s my everyday history- it’s the things that have happened to me and have shaped my life. Some of them may be classified “monumental” on my personal timeline- e.g. graduating from college- but others are simply memories of a really lovely afternoon or a particularly great first date.

You know when you walk through a historic site and there’s little plaques everywhere telling you what happened in each exact spot? Now imagine doing that to the town you live in. Where would those plaques go? What moments would you deem important enough to mark? What moments would you keep to yourself? It boggles my mind to think about how many people’s lives have played out in the exact same places, unbeknownst to anyone but the parties involved. For example, there’s a spot in the main square of Madrid that I specifically associate with meeting a particular new friend. But that square has been integral to Madrid since at least the 15th century. So, I wonder, how many other sets of new friends have met in that same spot? What other personal histories have played out there? If I were to round up 25 Spaniards and take them to that spot, would it also be on their personal history guided tour? Or, maybe, they would have never even noticed that spot before, and they’d be surprised to hear I find it so important.

I know you all want to get back to monitoring your Facebook newsfeed’s reactions to Election Day, so I’ll wrap up here. But when all the hoopla of the Election has died down a bit, I encourage you to rewind your brain and think about what happened to YOU, specifically, over these few days. Elections and voting aside. YOUR life, the apolitical part. Because maybe what happened to YOU, personally this week is not going to change the way our country is run- but it might be an important part of the Biography of You.

Encounters With Strangers

21 Oct

When I overhear people talking about something I can relate to, I have a strong urge to join in. But as I’ve mentioned before, I typically hold back, assuming that others wouldn’t truly appreciate input from a total stranger. My sometimes exception to this rule relates to giving directions- if I see people who look totally lost and are pointing at a map, I feel perfectly fine asking if they need help.

But I broke my rule a couple days ago. I was in a bookstore, rummaging around, when I overheard a woman asking the owner if he had books by a certain French author. The problem was, she couldn’t remember the author’s name. So, the customer and the owner began a guessing game to see if they could figure it out. This of course stirred up the former French major that lives inside me, and I started to play along, too, from a couple aisles away. She finally mentioned a specific book title, and it all clicked. Of course! She was talking about Emile Zola!

I didn’t have a chance to rush over and solve her mystery (to the rescue!) because she actually remembered the author’s name a few seconds later and blurted it out. But for some reason, I still felt the need to join the conversation. Something moved me to remark out loud that I had been wondering whether she was talking about Zola. And then I followed her to the part of the store where the owner said his Zola novels rested. Because you see, I wrote my college thesis on Zola. In fact, my thesis’ main focus was the very book she wanted to buy. I still get a weird rush of excitement when I see anything about the book, or even just see the book on the shelf. And part of me wanted to talk to this woman about why she wanted to read that specific book.

I felt a little weird dashing across the store with this total stranger, and felt the need to explain myself. I told her I really loved Zola and wanted to see what the store had. That seemed fair enough, so she nodded. But then when she pulled down the actual book- the wonderful¬†The Ladies’ Paradise¬†(Au Bonheur des Dames,¬†en francais)- I just had to talk to her about it. I told her it was a fantastic book. Minimal reply on her end. I told her it was something I really loved. Slight reply. I told her it had so many layers of story and social commentary. Cha ching! That got her interested, and we chatted for a bit about Zola and his style.

But, at some point, it felt weird to keep talking. I knew the time had come to move on, so I wished her happy reading and started browsing books on art. And I thought to myself about just how badly I had wanted to talk to her about that darn book. I think it was due to a couple of things. Number 1, of course, is my love for that book. But number 2… I think that as humans, we have strong urges toward relating to others. Even people who strive to stand out have their own construct of acceptance and understanding. What I was looking for with this woman in the bookstore was a moment of shared understanding- a moment where we talked about why we were interested in the book and what we hoped to get out of it. I wanted to reveal to her all the hidden layers of that novel, those layers that I peeled away in my thesis. I didn’t get the chance to do that (though I’ll gladly lecture YOU about it if you’d like!). But I still got some joy out of the encounter, because it just made me so happy to see someone else excited about reading one of my favorite books. Even though we didn’t have a long, deep conversation about the book and its meaning- I realized that just sharing an appreciation for the book felt very, very good.

Made You Look

3 Oct

We’ve all grown accustomed to “learning” about people through the endless stream of updates flowing through our Facebook news feeds.¬†I can easily tell you which of my acquaintances are excited that pumpkin spice lattes are back in stores. Based on my news feed, I’m also pretty sure that Thailand is “in” when it comes to international travel. And, for better or for worse (answer: worse!), I can also tell you what certain people cooked for dinner Every.Single.Night.This.Week.

As a concept, news feed intrigues me. It brings an accidental sense of discovery to using the social networking site since you aren’t actively seeking out specific people’s profiles. I just scroll down for a bit, and wow, news that I didn’t MEAN to learn that about someone: Facebook made me look! And Facebook keeps “making us look” in new ways. First there were promoted posts from brands and organizations. Somewhat annoying, not especially surprising. And sort of fun to see which companies target you! Then came the option to highlight your closest friends so they showed up more often on your news feed and got prime territory near the top of your feed. That feature makes a lot of sense to me- I’ve never quite figured out how Facebook decides who to tell me about- but I haven’t ¬†actually bothered to use it.

A Mashable article published today revealed that Facebook just introduced a whole new way to mess with our news feeds: self-promotion. Some would argue that Facebook is just one big tool for self promotion anyway, but this takes it even further. Soon, commoners like you and I will be able to PAY to promote our own content.¬†Yes, you heard me right: you would pay to promote your facebook updates. Worried there won’t be enough likes on that cute picture of you and your boyfriend? Just pay a bit of money and your picture is suddenly top bill for your facebook crew. Concerned that you won’t make enough people jealous about your recent trip to Hawaii? Pay a litlte dough and shazam: your comments about enjoying a delicious mai tai at Waikiki are at top of everyone’s news feed (also known as their “passive stalking” feed).

As was wont to happen, there’s already some outcry about how this changes the character of Facebook. To some critics, this means the end of the Facebook meritocracy as we know it. ¬†One Mashable critic¬†went so far as to suggest that this is going to create inflated demand and build up pressure for people to pay to get noticed. Etc etc.

Which really begs the question: does it matter? Does it matter if 10 people see your post vs. 20? Does it matter if you have the most likes? We all say no, but we do know we love the attention. I definitely like getting “likes.” Just like I love it when I see a lot of hits on my blog. So I get it. But do you REALLY think that this change is going to push the Facebook world into pure and utter chaos, soon to be overtaken by the wealthy elite? I just don’t think so. I don’t stop calling friends to say hi because I’ve seen so many of their status updates I think I know everything there is to know. And I would hope my friends feel the same way about me.

So friends, please take heed: I will never pay to promote my Facebook activity. If you want to see what I’m up to and it’s not ridiculously easily accessible high up there on your news feed… I guess you’re just going to have to make some effort to type my name into the search box and click a couple times. It’s a tough life, my friends.

Guilty By Association

20 Aug

I was recently out with a group of friends. A single friend turned to me and sighed. She said “I’ll never meet anyone I like at this bar. Everyone seems way too boring.”

Now, I know that she didn’t truly mean that everyone at that bar was uninteresting. She was just expressing her exasperation at what seemed to be a hopeless scenario. But it made me think about the “everyone here stinks” logic people tend to use when they’re in the bar setting. Note that I’m talking about here is the wording of the statement, not its meaning. I’ve always found it hard to accept that kind of declarative statement from a rational perspective (from an emotional perspective, I totally get it!).¬† I find it hard to accept because it’s missing a key element. Though it isn’t said, what that people truly mean when they say “everyone here stinks” is “everyone here stinks… except for me.”

My approach to this is rather glass half-full, and not very realistic when you’re the one in the position of being annoyed at a bar. But let’s think about it from a distanced perspective. If I’m out somewhere, why is it so hard to imagine that someone else like me is at that same place? If I went there, why couldn’t someone like me have made a similar choice to go the same place? It seems logically impossible to me to claim that EVERYONE stinks. It seems to me like everyone at a specific place is guilty by association: unless s/he was physically dragged there against his/her will, that person made a choice to show up. Why couldn’t a worthy counterpart have done the same?The situation reminds me a bit of that famous quote: “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me for a member.” Turn that around and upside down, and it describes the bar situation to a T. Why would you deride everyone who hangs out somewhere you too chose to hang out? When you pull the emotional bit out of it and just consider the words, it sounds silly, no?

I definitely did not share this logic with my friend at that exact moment, of course. Instead I made sure she had a great time, regardless of whether she met someone or stuck with her friends the whole night. But it got me thinking about the world of bars, and the world beyond it. Because really, the same logic could apply to anywhere you find yourself. Next time you’re willingly out and about and you find yourself generalizing (negatively) about the people around you- remember they very well could say the same about you!

Through the Eyes of Another

24 Jul

Whether you’re acutely self-conscious or not, I’m sure you’ve wondered from time to time what other people think of you.¬† It’s odd to think that you can never be completely sure how others perceive you. I’ve certainly thought it’d be convenient if I could just jump into someone else’s brain from time to time to see how I shape up. Which is why I find Facebook’s “View As” feature so interesting, philosophically speaking. The feature lets you type in the name of one of your Facebook friends to check how they view your profile. It’s technically there to help you control your security settings- you can confirm whether people have the level of access that you intend them to have. But I can’t resist imagining that feature as something more profound: a virtual identity viewer. Type in a friend’s name and POOF. Up pops a snapshot of how someone else sees your virtual self.

I’ve written previously about how I consider online profiles a curated display- each user can pick how he or she is portrayed online. Every profile on Facebook is the result of explicit choices about which photos to include, which posts to display and how to share information. So that “view as” feature intrigues me. Every now and then I like to type in someone’s name simply to see how my profile appears to people other than myself.

The truth is, the controls I have in place about what gets published to my profile aren’t complex enough to make my view and someone else’s view that distinct. And if you never modify your settings, there’d be no difference at all. But the intrigue of “view as” isn’t so much in the actual action of seeing your profile a different way. For me, it’s more of a mental exercise, wondering how someone else looks at and interprets my profile. It gives me a bit of a mental kick as I think about how someone else would use my profile to try to understand my life. Does Facebook make us all cyber anthropologists? Not really. But it does give us tools and data to try to build a picture of someone else’s existence. And while that picture may be curated or incomplete, it is nonetheless fascinating.

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