Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Public Good is Good Business

Everywhere I go these days seems to be lined with flower borders: white alyssum edging blue lobelia fronting on red begonias. From one condo to the next shopping mall to the museum in the city, there’s the same flower invitational. I’m not sure what to make of this. Either Home Depot was having a sale on sixteen packs for the last several weekends, or some one landscaping company has nailed down every contract within a 30-mile radius.  Flowers speak of beauty and formal order.  Outside of that ring, I find frustration.  Some is my own, but not all.

Why, for instance, did it take Wells Fargo Bank eight months to tell me that I do not qualify for the Home Affordable Mortgage Program (HAMP) because I had in the past co-signed on a loan? I only received that bit of news after jumping through a tunnel of hoops that began with a Joe McCarthy litany: “What is the property address? Do you plan to continue to live at the residence? What is your telephone number? What are the last four digits of your social security number?” I wondered if I seemed like the type of person who moved around every two weeks.  I don’t think I could pack and unpack my boxes that quickly. 

For months, I spoke to any number of agents in the “Loss Mitigation” department who nearly caused me to lose my mind by the amount of misinformation that was ever dispensed through the handset of a telephone. Only after finally writing a letter to the Executive Complaint Department located in Des Moines, Iowa, did anyone call with helpful information.

Then there’s the thrill of having to deal with the unemployment office, otherwise known as the Employment Development Division who up until the month of May, was located in an easily accessible location with ample parking. But their offices have been moved downtown with only metered parking. Everyone knows that you can’t go in and out of EDD without spending copious amounts of time. I thought we supposed to be unemployed and were saving money?  

Sure, I’m whining, but I have a strong sense that our institutions are failing us. Somewhere there’s a bottom line that says that the public good is not good business.  I haven’t been to a civics class lately, but I believe that already has been disproved by the Founding Fathers and several Greek philosophers who created the basis for our democracy.

Okay. But what I really need to do is find a job. Then I wouldn’t have so much time on my hands to be bothered by this stuff. But this may be another part of the Marie Antoinette --"Let them pay parking" -- thing.  Keep people so tied up working one or two jobs and what happens? We don’t have time to write letters or to get our squeaky wheels out of the shop.

This morning as I edged my way to the computer I heard two phrases: “Focus” and “Go Deep.” You must know that I’ve been to a great number of career counselor motivational type speaker presentations.  Everyone, like Gypsy Rose Lee, has their own particular gimmick, advice to share with the job-seeking sisters and brothers, and like Wells Fargo, much of the information is contradictory. 

Some say to polish your resume until it shines like a diamond from Tiffany’s. Others advise not to bother, but to bet your money on networking (as though anyone can get beyond the word to understand what it means).  Some counselors think that we must brand ourselves like cattle from different box tops, offering a particular service that can be summarized in a sentence.  I could go on, but this morning as I sat in front of my laptop smelling a peculiar odor which I gathered had to be my cat relieving herself beneath my desk after sharing the apartment over the weekend with two little dogs, I realized that I needed to select what was useful from these offerings, all with their own shelf life. Here’s what I understood:

  • It was okay for me to be confused, mixed up and not knowing where to start because I had to begin someplace. 
  • Going to job connection meetings has not been a waste of time as I told myself every time I came home from a job connection meeting because if nothing else, I knew I was not alone.
  • There is no one “right way,” only useful tools and different approaches.
  • Know what you want. That’s the hard one.  So after reading the 200th job description, see which ones  start to look interesting, and try to understand why. 
  • Move in that direction.
To be continued. But right now I feel like treating myself.

Public Good Brownies
Who needs a recipe for brownies? Everyone has one.  But here’s mine that I’ve taken from the back of a chocolate chip bag with some added stuff .

2/3 cup flour
½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
¼ tsp cinnamon
1/3 cup of butter, softened

¼ cup peanut butter
½ cup sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
2 cups total semi-sweet chocolate chips (divided into 1 cup each)
1 cup total of miniature marshmallows (divided into ½ cup each)
1 tsp vanilla
2 eggs
powdered sugar, sprinkles from last year's Xmas cookies, or coconut (whatever you've got)

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Put 1 cup of chocolate in a glass bowl with ½ cup marshmallows. Microwave in two 1 minute sets (one minute at a time). Set aside to cool.
  3. In small bowl, combine flour, salt, baking powder, and cinnamon and set aside.
  4. In large bowl, cream butters (including of the peanut variety), sugars, and until they are looking “fluffed out.”
  5. Add vanilla and eggs. Beat well.
  6. Stir in melted chocolate/marshmallow mixture.  Blend.
  7. Gradually add flour mixture to chocolate mixture.  Stir well.
  8. Stir in remaining 1 cup of chocolate chips into the batter.
  9. Spread half of the batter in a buttered 8” square baking pan.
  10. Sprinkle the rest of the marshmallows over the top.
  11. Cover with the remainder of the chocolate batter.
  12. Bake in preheated over for 30-35 minutes. Cool. Sprinkle with some powdered sugar, sprinkles, and or coconut when done.

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