The Captured Fig

How I Manage an IT Staffing and Solutions Business

As a high school student, I was creating mini applications in my bedroom. Years later, I still do much of my work from home. Viderity’s office is a short drive from my house, but I rarely visit the place. Instead, I spend my days either traveling to meet with clients and staff or holed up in my home office, where I often blast music and work on Internet strategy and contract documents into the wee hours.

In the morning, I have certain aspirations. One of my goals is to avoid checking work e-mail for at least an hour after I wake up. Instead, I’ll go and brew some tea. But the computer’s always kind of pulling me toward it, so I end up looking at e-mail sooner than I’d like to. I also try to avoid alarm clocks as much as possible, because it’s just nice to wake up without one. I usually eat a big bowl of cereal for breakfast or two protein shakes. I also avoid morning meetings: The earliest meeting I’ll personally set up is 10 a.m.

I like to read first thing in the morning. I read a lot of business books, because I feel like I should figure out how to be a real businesswoman before someone figures out that I’m not one. I don’t read fiction. I find it a waste of time. There are so many amazing things that are real; I don’t need to spend any time on a made-up story. I also like to read psychology books and biographies, especially books about inventors and amazing leaders. Reading is my break. Otherwise, I go to sleep and wake up thinking about my business.

In my home office, I have a large, 30-inch computer monitor connected to two PCs. I also have a laptop, which I have with me all the time, whether I’m going overseas or to the doctor’s office. I’m pretty rough on my laptops. I go through one a year.

One of my favorite programs that we is Rescue Time. It runs in the corner of my computer and tracks how much time I spend on different things. I realized that even though I was doing e-mail only a couple of minutes at a time, it was adding up to a couple of hours a day. So I’m trying to reduce that. I have an email rule that runs and places high-priority e-mails into one folder and the rest go into others. Tim Ferriss, who wrote The 4-Hour Work Week, advocates checking e-mail twice a week, but that is too severe for me. Instead, I’m trying to implement Leo Babauta’s approach from The Power of Less. He suggests small steps, like checking e-mail five times a day instead of 10. It’s like dieting: People who binge diet gain it all back. That happens to me with e-mail.

Music helps me when I’m writing and researching, which is how I spend most of my time. When you’re writing a business proposal, you really have to be in the zone. I’ll listen to a single song, over and over on repeat, like a hundred times. And I turn off instant message and e-mail. If you are taken out of the flow, you’ve lost it. The moment you look away, it all falls to the ground, and you spend 10 minutes getting it all back in the air again.

I also manage people who are scattered all over the globe, from Washington, DC to New Zealand to Paris. My management strategy is to find extremely self-motivated and talented people and then let them go. There’s no manager looking over your shoulder every day, so you need to be able to completely direct yourself. For every person I hire, I might get 300 applications. I always start people on a contract basis. Everyone I hire truly loves playing with web technologies. It’s what they are doing for fun at night after they’ve already worked for eight hours a day.

I don’t believe in the 40-hour work week, so we cut all that BS about being somewhere for a certain number of hours. I have no idea when my employees do their work — I just know they get the work done and meet their agency’s requirements for being on-site during core hours, if there are such requirements.

When I’m working from home, my hairless cat, Teeky, requests that I cuddle and pet her for around 10 minutes every few hours. I initially find her annoying, but then really get into giving her love and rubbins. It is an initially unwelecomed, but well enjoyed, stress release for me and reminder of all that is good in this life.

I rarely have meetings with each team more than once per week. Meetings are often a huge waste of time, and they’re costly. It’s not one hour; it’s 10, because you pulled 10 people away from their real work. Plus, they chop your day into small bits, so you have only 20 minutes of free time here or 45 minutes there. Creative people in particular need unstructured time to get in the zone. You can’t do that in 20 minutes.

I almost always eat lunch at my desk while I reply to personal emails from family and friends and read stuff on the Web that’s goofy or discover something new. Lately, I’ve been eating lunches from diettogo.com. They are freshly made and heat up in the microwave. So, they taste a little better than frozen meals.

I don’t have big, long-term plans, because they’re scary — and they’re usually wrong. Making massive decisions keeps people up at night — I don’t like to make those. The closer you can get to understanding what that next moment might be, the less worried you are. Most of the decisions we make are in the moment, on the fly, as we go.

I usually stop work around 6 or 7pm to go to the gym for a fun boot camp or spinning class. I also go out to dinner most evenings after the gym, but I don’t like fancy dining experiences. I find people putting a napkin on my lap uncomfortable, and I don’t like worrying about using the wrong fork.

Around 10pm at night, I often get a real productive boost, and I do one to two hours of work. Usually the more complicated, detailed things that require deep thought. I like to keep up with the technical details of every project. It helps keep me sharp. Plus, I find it hard to manage somebody’s work unless I have an intimate knowledge of how to do it myself. Otherwise, how can you differentiate a good idea from a bad one or know how long something is going to take? But sometimes, I just wind down by reading or watching shows that I DVR’d, like Modern Family or Real Time with Bill Maher.

xo, rachel

Summer’s Ending! Kung Pao Tofu

As summer comes to a close, my yoga teacher training is starting back up, and I start teaching my fall yoga classes at Chakras, my husband and I have recommitted to our healthy mostly-vegan, low sugar/wheat/alcohol living after gorging ourselves at a business dinner last night at Baltimore’s Cinghiale on excessive, rich cured meats and local cheeses. Plus, I think my in-laws are starting to suspect that I may have a drinking problem…

Tonight, I made Kung Pao Tofu, which was flavorful, filling, vegan, and tasted just as good as take-out. Better than take-out, actually, because we had enough energy afterward to enjoy our evening, instead of passing out or complaining of stomach-aches from too much sodium/fat/oil/etc.

This recipe will definitely work its way into our monthly rotation. Note: I replaced the cornstarch with arrowroot to make the recipe a little healthier.

xxx
js.

Paris Street Art

While on a family tour of London, Paris, and Rome, I spent three days in Paris and fell in love with their amazing street art. There’s such a stigma with the word graffiti, that the word seems hardly appropriate for the level of artistic talent on display. Paris reportedly has very loose laws on graffiti, but it’s hard to tell whether the city’s unspoken embrace of the art is what has allowed it rise to such an amazing level, or whether the brilliant artistry is what caused the city to embrace it. Either way, it’s everywhere and it’s incredible! Now while there’s still some done in the traditional way you’ve seen under your local freeway crossing, a lot more is done with a method of plastering pre-made stickers onto the sides of buildings. I presume this makes the application process a whole lot faster, but it also allows for far more elaborate and realistic designs.

The infamous street-artist Banksy seems to have inspired many of these Parisian artists, not just in mood and technique, but also by remaining completely anonymous. There’s a certain feeling you get by seeing inspiring art where the artist wants to intentionally remain unknown. It almost places more significance on the art itself, since that is the only thing seeking and witnessing your appreciation. When you see it and experience it in an unexpected location, you only have a relation to the piece. You have no history of how long it’s been there, or of who made it, or whether the owner of the store that it’s on the outside of asked for it to be there. All you have is you and the art.

Some artists however, feel free to place themselves more in the public eye, presumably because there is such a different level of acceptance for street art in Paris than in other parts of the world. These known artists tend to act in a more serial nature. If you’re not afraid to be known, than there’s no reason to be afraid of people recognizing your art. It’s not like some 16 year old kid spray-painting his girlfriend’s name on all the 7-11s in town. Some of these artists will even have gallery showings happening at the same time their art is out on the streets. Suriani is well known for his stunning animal-human hybrids…

There’s obviously a sense of merging grace with obscurity, and in a way that’s what Paris has always been about; constantly on the cutting edge of art and fashion, and this is only a further extension of that history. A lot of this art is incredibly bold, and much of that must come from the temporary nature of the medium. If you know that your art is going to be potentially removed, or painted over, or vandalized, you may as well make it as wildly ambitious as you can. There’s no need for perfection here, so no need to fear failure, so why not try to make the most enormous and obscure thing you can…

When you see such amazing street art everywhere, the overwhelming sense you get is of how logical it all seems. If you have a decrepit wall in the middle of the city, of course you’d rather have it be an astonishing piece of public artwork.

I stumbled upon these pieces done by Nick Walker, where he highlights the art of making street-art itself. The florescent jacket in the one picture makes me assume he’s wearing it to make himself look more professional, since he seems to be making the art on a public wall in broad day-light. There’s something both inherently modern and timeless about his work, and it’s truly inspiring.

The spontaneous nature of all this art gives such a modern and lively nature to the City of Lights, that you feel like around every corner there’s something new to take you by surprise and that you know no guidebook would ever be able to tell you about. I’ve found this in some of the bigger, more liberal cities in America, like New York or San Francisco, but neither of them matches the modern art movement that is currently thriving in Paris. It makes the city feel so much more alive than you could imagine. And anytime you see a piece, it may be the last time you ever get to see it. That fleeting nature of it imposes a certain relevance on it that links directly to you. It’s like you’re being constantly being bombarded with this beautiful reminder to be aware, and to be present, and to embrace the moment. The artist has let go of his creation, and he thus creates an ongoing cycle of Zen acceptance for any people who subsequently get a chance to view it. But it also can make you feel like more of a tourist because you find yourself looking around so much to make sure you’re not missing anything! Check out this amazing three-dimensional piece in a run-down public restroom…

Or this subtle face hidden outside the Paris Apple store…

And yes, even their more traditional graffiti has a certain elegance to it…

And the best part is that the next time we go to Paris, all the art will be brand new!

xo, rachel

July Inspirations…

Homemade candles from recycled wine bottles with a cork lid.

Hot air balloons at sunset outside our window.

Clipboards made from flip-flops:

Fabulously indulgent weekend at dear friends’  lakehouse in New Hampshire complete with lobster bakes and rolls:

Pouty faces:

Chakras’ July newbie training program and visit from Krista Scarlett of Hagerstown Magazine:

Chubby little legs:

xx-jessica

Feathered Cutie Patooties

I have two major weaknesses:
One is an unnatural attraction to all baubles that shine.
I’m an easy victim for vendors selling overpriced, yet beautifully twinkling, costume jewelry and I would easily spend my last dollar on gaudy junk jewelry in the accessories section of Nordstrom, one of my blingbling meccas.

My second weakness concerns all plushy, fluffy, fuzzy animals. Baby kittens, puppies, ducks, monkeys and baby bears … I just can’t help myself.

While my friends and family are photographing major institutions on our trips, like the exteriors of famous castles and museums, I’m photographing…ducklings.

I’m fascinated by new born baby animals’ naivety. Adult animals have learned to fear humans (as they unfortunately should!) and the babies are still undecided about humans and curious about us.

At one point I had several ducklings waddling around me with  one trying to eat my skirt. So adorable!

It took a while to convince their apprehensive mother that I was not a threat, but she finally accepted me after giving her several pieces of Focaccia bread.  She became fine with my presence and relaxed while her babes played around me. It’s as if she was thinking “Ah well, since you’re here, maybe you look after all of us while I take a little nap”.

xo,
rachel 

Art Journaling July Goals

I first learned about art journaling in one of Kimberly Wilson's workshops in DC and ever since, I've been hooked.  A group of some of my favorite women and I get together once a month to art journal to our hearts content for a few hours on a Sunday evening tucked away in a corner of Teaism.  We chat while catching up on our monthly goals/dreams/inspirations with magazines, unused (but treasured) cards, tissue paper, and envelopes, peppering in text, phrases, and, of course, glitter.

Art journaling combines images with text, which is optional, to create mini-masterpieces all in one place.  I like to create a few pages each month to refresh my goals for the next 30 days and collect pieces that I love in a place other than the upholstered basked in the back of my closet.  

This month—July—is the halfway mark for the year 2012.  I did two general pages this month.  The first reminds me to take time every day to observe and capture beauty everywhere regardless of the state I’m in.  The second page evokes images reminding me to take 10 minutes a day to experience pure gratitude.  After the general image pages, I love to art journal specific pages that include text similar to what you would see in a regular journal.  These pages always reflect on what I want to do each day to create my best life:  highlighting how I intend to be constantly improving and growing for that particular month (1 % each day); how I will be bringing in new ideas, inspirations, and experiences during that period of time; in which ways I can dream bigger and remove blocks; and pathways to enhance vitality in my mind, body, and spirit. 

On another note, Rachel will be returning from her European holiday this week and I can’t wait to see her and, hopefully, lots of pics from her trip!

xx~jessica

June Inspirations

The year is now half way over.  While I am in the process of art journaling July goals, here are my June inspirations:

1. My summer tablescape with glass, succulents, and birds:

2.  Finishing homemade curtains and pillows for our bedroom with Moroccan fabric found at Mood in NYC:

3.  One too many Market bagels with our new fetish: smoked salmon cream cheese:

4.  Zentangle signs and chandelier ribbons to celebrate hubby’s birthday:

5. Judah’s first weeks in daycare:

6. Weekend trip to LA:

7. Paint the town Frederick (Amazing!):

 

8. Demolition begins to create our yoga/community room at Chakras: (no pic)

9. You’re never too old for bowling fetes with friends:

10.  Fresh hydrangeas (our engagement flower) from my mother-in-law’s garden:

11.  Enjoying summer evenings with a view:

Happy 4th!

xx~jessica

Benefits of Being in a Book Club

If that stack of murder-mysteries on the beach leaves you with nothing but wasted time and sand in your shorts, then maybe it’s time you redefined your approach to summer reading. Just because you’re relaxing in the sun doesn’t mean you can’t be productively improving your state of well-being. Heck, maybe even that old Agatha Christie novel could teach you a thing or two if you had someone to talk with about it. The idea of a book club may raise the stigma of stale crumpets and debates over Ayn Rand protagonists, but the modern notion is to illuminate and expand upon your own personal connection with a work. I myself lead a club (http://www.meetup.com/Self-Improvement-Book-Club) that focuses on self-help and psychology books, which are not only ideal topics for engaging conversation, but are essentially designed for post-reading interaction. The benefits of being in a club however, transcend any and all topical boundaries, and I’ve found the potential for personal growth is within the pages of any author – even if you’re just looking for other people to share in your shameless passion for the Twilight series.

1) New Points of View

Alternate perspectives are the fundamental reason for all book clubs’ existence. Many writings will be intentionally vague about their intent, crafting a story that is designed for one’s own unique interpretation. Enlightening yourself with someone else’s take on a reading can open you up to angles of understanding that may have passed you by. What may seem completely obvious to you may be incomprehensible to others. Understanding their viewpoint will not only deepen your educated look at the world, but will also help you to see how your own views are unique to yourself and who you are. Irregardless of how open-minded you may be, we all sub-consciously craft an individualized and subjective picture of the world around us. The only way to truly understand the nature of anything is to combine and compare your perspective with those around you. The common threads that arise are the signs that lead to inherent truth.

2) Community Interaction

Book clubs allow the opportunity for like-minded individuals to engage in intellectual conversation that may have otherwise slid idly by in the grocery aisle. If you have a passion for 17th century Romanian poetry, your morning weather talk with the neighbor is most likely not headed in that direction. Unless you walk around wearing an “Ask me about the Ottoman Empire” t-shirt, you’re probably not going to have someone to talk about such topics with until you are in a book club structured around it. Book club members find themselves in stimulating conversations with people who may have otherwise been a nameless stranger. Likewise, once you are in a club with people you know and trust, you may be opened up to books or topics that you would have never considered engaging with. A common passion will connect people from all walks of life, and each person’s unique tastes can then branch the club in an array of other stimulating directions. In short, it’s a great way to meet unexpected new friends.

3) Freedom for Open Discussion

If you have a friend who loves a book that you utterly despise, she’s much more prone to explain why she loved it rather than try to understand why you hated it. However, the whole idea of a book club is to have a free-flowing discussion where you try to understand another’s perspective. It’s a situation where you are encouraged to openly express your opinion with no fear of judgment. The other members are willing listeners who want to understand you, not rabid fans who think you’re crazy because you didn’t like The Hunger Games. Not only is differing opinion accepted, it’s encouraged. Someone else’s appreciation of a book may even help you further understand what you didn’t like about it.

4) Improve Communication Skills

Not all of us are great public speakers, let alone public conversationalists. The stem of the issue arises from a lack of confidence – either in the topic being discussed, or in one’s abilities. By being in a book club geared towards topics you know and enjoy, you’re surrounding yourself with like-minded peers. There’s no possibility of your opinion being “wrong,” nor even a requirement for participation, so there’s no fear of failure or humiliation. And even if these aren’t concerns of yours, there’s not doubt we all benefit from being in a “comfort zone.” Finding a familiarity with open discussion and intelligent debate is something that is nourished by the book club, yet can extend into all aspects of social and business encounters. Plus, if you thought you didn’t connect well with a book or truly grasp it, there’s always just another one right around the corner.

5) A Regular Break

Book clubs serve as a scheduled and certified escape from the frivolous distractions of the world. It’s the one place where you’re guaranteed to not get caught in a discussion about which Hollywood starlet is pregnant, or about which Senator is cheating on his wife. It’s a way to fully immerse yourself in another structured reality for a designated time. Even in my self-help book club where discussion of personal experience is frequent, it’s comforting to know that the conversation won’t stray from that centralized topic. It’s like a planned time for group meditation where everyone’s minds are focused on the same central story.

With Laptops and Kindles and Smart Phones, it’s easier than ever to read whatever and whenever you want. And from the women in my Self-Improvement Book Club to the lovers of Romanian Poetry, the Internet can connect any potential network of like-minded people. If you can’t find a book club near you, or one’s that’s focused on topics you enjoy, then start one! Find one friend who likes to read as much as you do and go from there. Local libraries and bookstores are great places to find already active clubs, as well as to seek out members for your own. But remember, you only need the two of you to start. I lead the following book club: http://www.meetup.com/Self-Improvement-Book-Club in which we meet other women who are interested in the topic of self-improvement and psychology books. We discuss a variety of life topics that focus on improving the self, from personal strength to living authentically. We discuss the advice offered in relevant books. We dig beneath the surface, uncovering our vulnerable issues, dreams and desires. We then brainstorm and act on what we have uncovered. I like to write up discussion guides for my meetings – I find it can sometimes help things move a little smoother. Here’s some that I’ve authored:

xo,
rachel

(Series) To Do in Frederick: Baker Park

I am still feeling the high of our recent move to Frederick, Maryland.  We still spend the majority of the week in Hagerstown for our businesses, but enjoy the weekends in this enchanting little town.  Frederick has poured millions of dollars into renovating the downtown, and it shows.  My favorite thing to do in Frederick this week is walking along the canal to Baker Park, which is a few blocks from our apartment and has an amphitheater, two pools, tennis courts, playgrounds galore, gardens, signs marking Civil War historic sites, waterfalls, bridges, and various baby animals along the ways.  Of course, after a long run, there is nothing better than our all-time favorite bagel place: Market Bagels.  Try the everything bagel with lox cream cheese, red onion, and tomato.

Zentangle: Pattern-Drawing as Meditation

Remember how you survived high-school Trig by drawing your boyfriend’s name 1000 different ways in your notebook? Well it turns out there were some real psychological benefits from all that doodling, and that rewarding piece of mind is now being deeper explored within the craze of Zentangle Art. I just recently stumbled upon this concept of meditative drawing and I think it’s perfect. The key notion behind the creative process is that this is artwork that anybody can do. Even if you think you have zero artistic skill, you can still greatly benefit from this simple meditative process – and actually draw something that looks amazing as well! The confidence and reflective acceptance that can be gained from such a seemingly simple activity is incredible.

Now at first glance, the drawing above appears to be an incredibly complex and plotted piece of art. Yet, this is the result of a straightforward, unplanned Zentangle process. The general structure behind the method is to draw a series of small, repetitive patterns which form together into one unified piece. Each pattern is done one deliberate, solid line at a time, and any mistakes are merely the start of a new pattern. As you can see, the final image is quite clearly more powerful than the sum of its’ parts. Of course, in the true nature of Zen, it’s not the finished product of which you gain peace from, but rather the act of creating it. The idea of focusing on a simple, repetitive notion can release tension in parts of your mind in phenomenal ways. Now I’m no Mr. Miyagi, but here’s the process I’ve learned of not only “How-To Zentangle,” but also “Why-To Zentangle.”

Step 1 – Get a pen and paper:

In other words, you don’t need much – but the pen is essential. There is no erasing anything in Zentangle, and this provides a needed acceptance for how everything happens. If you make a mistake at any point, you should only think of it as an opportunity to start a brand new pattern you’ve never thought of before.

Work small. The beauty of the Zentangle is derived from its’ limited scope. A piece of paper 3x5 inches will easily suffice. You should be able to complete one of these within a half hour.

The other good thing about this is that it’s an actual physical process. You’re not on the computer, you’re not on the iPhone – you’re just reuniting with the fundamentals. Not everybody relaxes by playing Angry Birds at their lunch-break. And if you’re the kind of person who feels a desire for constant productivity, then you should acclimate to this sense of meditation that has a tangible end result.

Step 2 – Don’t think – just start:

At no point during the drawing should you have any preconceived notion of what the end result should be. Take calm in the unlimited potential of the creative process. There are no wrong Zentangles!

Draw several large distinct lines on the page, and use these to make the starting grid-work of your design. Once those are established, start filling in a pattern in one of the grids and don’t start another pattern until the first one is finished. Keep going until you fill up the whole page, making as many distinct patterns as possible.

Step 3 – You’re Done!

Yep, that’s all there is to it. Pretend that old History teacher from Junior year is rambling on in the background, and go to town. Just kidding – but there are a few things to remember if you’re having trouble.

  • First off, if the process is stressing you out, then stop. It’s not for you. Zentangle is meant to induce calm, not repel it.
  • Depending on how well your creative juices are flowing, you may have trouble coming up with different patterns. At www.zentangle.com, you can actually purchase a Zentangle kit that comes with over 100 different patterns to learn and utilize. There’s also an image gallery on their site that can provide you with plenty of inspiration.
  • Don’t be discouraged if your end piece doesn’t look all that great. Keep at it, and try to honestly embrace the notion that the end result doesn’t matter anyway.
  • The key to it all is to go with the flow…

THE FLOW

Zentangle is not meant to be a task or a project, but rather a state of mind. It’s the repetitive nature of the process that allows the mind to comfortably wander. While you preoccupy portions of your brain with a simple, repeated pattern, the rest of your mind is free to drift and relax. As you become further immersed in the Zentangle, time becomes irrelevant, the patterns begin to develop in unexpected ways, and you find yourself in a state of flow, or as some may say “in the groove.” It is this meditative state of flow that the Zentangle process is hoping to induce. As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says in his best-seller Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, “What makes an experience genuinely satisfying is a state of consciousness called flow. During flow, people typically experience deep enjoyment, creativity, and a total involvement with life.” If you have faith in giving into the process of flow, and realize that some things benefit from having less analytical thought put into them, then you can find new levels of personal strength, growth, and confidence all through a simple doodle. Don’t try to control the Zentangle, just let it flow out of you. That acceptance and release will help you embrace the Zen state and enable you to incorporate it openly into other aspects of your life. Free your mind and the pen will follow.

Don’t let the unpronounceable name intimidate you, Csikszentmihalyi’s great book on the benefits and psychology of being “in the zone” can be found at www.amazon.com/Flow-The-Psychology-Optimal-Experience/dp/0061339202.

 

xoxo,
rachel

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