Ask-a-Zontee

A Cheerful Space is a Productive Space: 3 Tips for Office Decor

I was listening to the “Hidden Brain” podcast on NPR recently, when the featured an interview with Tim Harford (economist and host of the “More or Less” podcast from BBC). Harford talked about experiments that showed that people are happier and more productive when they are given the ability to decorate and organize their own desks/work spaces, and it made me think about what makes me happy about my own office.

Media Volery (my marketing agency) is based out of a co-working space in Gowanus, but we do have our own, dedicated space, and we’ve made it our own through decor and furniture. In particular, there are a couple of things that I think help make me more productive in my office.

Organize and Personalize

One of the reasons I got this bookshelf (above, from Ikea) was that it acts as a divider to help create some separation between my desk area and the hallway area, but it also allows me to show off my personality and keep all of my supplies and books at hand. Labeled boxes and baskets help keep things neat and tidy. Plus people other than me can find things easily, even if I’m not around.

It’s also a fun place to artfully display gifts from clients, as well as some of the tools of the trade (see my USB microphone?).

It’s All About Ergonomics

When I walk through the halls of my coworking space, I often see that other members are using thick books as ad hoc risers for their computer monitors. Now, I believe that raising one’s monitor helps with eye strain, neck pains, and back pains, but I’m not going to trap my books under them. I have this Satechi monitor stand, which gives me additional USB Ports and has space beneath, where I slip my keyboard and mouse when I’m not using them. At $35, it’s a worthwhile investment in comfort and stability.

I also have an adjustable footrest to help keep my spine more aligned as I sit and type all day.

Let Green Things Grow

We have a veritable wall of plants succulents going currently. What started out as one tiny planter soon expanded into two…and now, we have a 6-foot run of different glass bowls and pots. Plants are soothing, and with “forest bathing” all the rage, it seems right that we would have some to liven up the place.

I like that succulents are relatively hardy (and can survive my business trips with no problems), so we have lots of them. Although it should be noted that the poinsettia pictured survived my broken ankle and has bounced back since my office mates forgot to water it for a month.

What helps you be productive in your office? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

Oh, and if you’re interested in this podcast episode, listen to it here or on the NPR One app.

Some of the links above are affiliate links, and I get a very small commission if you buy something. 

Advice for My Students: Make the Most of Your Informational Interviews

Each year, I spend time speaking to students and mentees about their career goals. For many, I recommend informational interviews as an important tool to help clarify what potential career paths might look like. I also believe that informational interviews are an incredibly powerful way to build connections in an industry that might be new to them.

But as someone who has conducted quite a few interviews and have worked with many young professionals, there’s definitely a right way and a wrong way to use the precious half hour or so (a good length) that you might ask a potential connection to spend on the phone with you.

Don’t waste your interviewee’s time

Be sure to plan ahead. Research them so that you know exactly what you want to say. Prepare questions.

Get on their calendar. If they’re particularly busy, make it a phone/video call instead of an in-person meeting. When you get on the phone, confirm that it’s still a good time for them to speak.

Learn about them, their company, and the industry

I always recommend that you start with the 1-minute elevator pitch of who you are and why you wanted to connect and then to focus the rest of the time on the interviewee. Find out how he/she got where he/she got.

Find out what’s important to his/her company, how the company recruits, and what he/she values in team members.

Find out what are the areas of opportunity within the industry as he/she sees it.

Use it as an opportunity to network outwards

Use these interviews to fill the gaps in your own network. If you just spoke to someone about working in marketing automation but want to learn more about agency life, ask the interviewee if he/she knows someone at a digital agency.

If you were a thoughtful, considerate interviewer, he/she will most likely be happy to oblige.

 

The Ultimate Resource Guide for Living on Crutches

It’s been about 15 weeks since since my rock-climbing accident, and it’s been about 2 weeks since I’ve been fully off crutches. But since I’ve spent the last several months living, traveling, and even climbing on and off of boats with crutches, I thought I’d write a guide for living with crutches, with links to some of the resources I’ve found valuable.

Crutch skills

Yes, your occupational therapist/physical therapist should be giving you some lessons on using crutches, but sometimes they don’t answer all of your questions (or you don’t realize what questions you have to ask until you’ve gone home). Here are a few of the videos that were most helpful to me for sitting safely, climbing stairs, and getting through heavy doors (very important!):

Crutch upgrades

One of the most common comments on crutches I heard from well-wishers was, “Oh, the crutches must hurt your armpits.” Honestly, if you’re using them correctly, you shouldn’t be leaning into your armpits; you should be bearing your weight through your arms/hands. (Side-note: My arms have gotten pretty buff…okay, not quite, but I’ve definitely lost some arm jiggle.)

BUT if you do need some extra padding, I’ve seen lots and lots of good reviews for the Crutcheze line of products which also include bottle holders (which is definitely something I wish I had known about earlier on in the process).

One thing I did upgrade was the tips of the crutches. The ones that come with the crutches are okay if you never encounter water, but just a smidge of water under the hand-dryers at a bar while I was out one night almost sent me flying. These guys aren’t elegant, but they do the trick for sure. NOTE: It does take a day or two to get used to them, but I like that their design reminds me of those mountain goats who can climb up extremely steep cliffs—the spread of the rubber (or soft hooves) does the trick.

Food and diet

If you are like me and need to take medication with food, it can be really beneficial to have granola bars and nut bars (I like the Kind bars) around the house.

It’s also worth noting that one of the main challenges of getting around on crutches is that you don’t have your hands free. This means that cooking is basically a non-starter, so buckle up for lots of takeout and frozen food in trays (easier to manage). Don’t be afraid to avail yourself on some friends who like to cook to make you things that keep in the fridge or freezer.

Speaking of preparing and transporting food (say, you want to make food in the kitchen and eat it in the living room), I recommend that you put your food into a plastic container, and put that (plus utensils, napkins, etc.) into a plastic bag that you can hold onto as you crutch into the other room.

For drinks (of all kinds), I recommend a thermos and water bottle that has some kind of handle or loop, so you can thread your fingers through as you hold onto the crutch (or again, invest in one of those bottle holders as mentioned earlier). The water bottles were super useful to me—and when I finally was off medication, they were also useful for making and transporting cocktails (makeshift shaker) when I wanted to treat myself.

Home upgrades

There are lots of things you can do around the house to make it more convenient. Before I left the hospital, I made a whole list of things to move around in my house to reduce tripping hazards: I had my father move all the shoes by my front door, the small throw rug in my bedroom, some low-hanging artwork, and one of the small organizers on the floor of my bathroom.

I even had him remove my bathroom door (my bathroom is a small 4-piece), so that I’d have a more direct route to navigate. Finally, I had my parents move my bed, which is usually centered in my bedroom, to one side, to give me the maximum amount of space to move in the bedroom.

In the bathroom, you may also consider getting some temporary grips (which have been very helpful to me) and a shower chair, so that you’re more comfortable while bathing. Also change out your shower head for a hand-shower if you don’t already have one; it’ll make your life much simpler.

Speaking of bathing, I recommend that you get a cover for your cast/injured area, so you can wash without stress. I was pretty happy with one of these loose covers, but I also got one of these vacuum-style covers that you can go swimming in when I went traveling.

Exercise

I broke my ankle while rock-climbing, so you may have guessed that I am generally pretty active. Because of that, going from walking/running several miles a day to barely walking a quarter mile was a big shock to the system.

To keep myself exercising, I found a good recommendation to get an under-desk bike—you can actually use it with your arms (on top of a table) in order to get some cardio exercise in. I also did a little light weight training for my upper body, since the crutches were hard work at first.

Apps and services (Lyft, Instacart, Alfred, Amazon Prime)

Living in New York City, I have access to a lot of apps and services that made my life easier, especially since I live on my own and most of my friends don’t have cars. I realize that these services might not be available to everyone, but I feel like they’re worth mentioning here just in case.

A few of my favorites included:

Lyft – Reliable car services, on demand, at affordable prices [Use my code: ZONTEE746598 for $20 on your first ride]

Instacart – Groceries from your local supermarkets, hand-picked and delivered

Amazon Prime – Free 2-day shipping on millions of items, plus lots of music and movies/TV to keep you entertained during nurse visits, doctor’s waiting rooms, etc.

Alfred – This isn’t a service I’ve actually used, but I feel like it’s a pretty useful when you can’t do a lot of errands and chores yourself: it’s a “butler” service that pairs you with a person who comes weekly—I would have loved to have someone take out recycling, bring in packages, and do other things that are tricky when your arms are otherwise occupied

What else?

I’m sure I’ve missed some things, so leave me a comment and I’m happy to add to this list.

In the meantime, I’ll add one more tip: if you have good credit, consider applying for a zero APY credit card with a cash bonus to put your bills on. It’ll allow you to pay off your deductables, co-pays, co-insurance, etc. over a longer period of time, instead of in lump sums. NerdWallet.com has some good reviews that were helpful to me.

I’m now on my last week in the CAM boot, so the end is nigh, and I’m definitely looking forward to it. If you’re in the beginning of the process, just know that it feels much shorter once you’re on the other side. Hang in there!

3 Ways to Invest in Yourself and Your Career

Recently, I had coffee with a former colleague of mine–a young woman I supervised at a previous company–and we talked about her career and what her next steps should be as she transitions into the next phase of her job. As an adjunct professor and as someone who has been through this process myself, I often find myself talking about this topic with young people.

In my experience, it’s important to make time to work on your career health, just as you should make time for your mental and physical health. Just as you need to work on both cardio and strength, you can find ways to stretch and exercise your skills. Here are three ways that are particularly useful.

Find and Attend Conferences

A former supervisor of mine used to say that it was really important to keep learning and that conferences were a great resource. Learn more about your field (or the field that you want to be in) by researching events that will push you outside your comfort zones. While you’re researching, talk to your company and see if they will pay for this kind of professional development–even if it’s slightly outside of your current field, if it’s a conference whose subject matter will benefit you in your job and/or help the company fill knowledge gaps, you may find that they’re more than willing to foot the bill.

Join Local Professional Organizations

No matter what field you’re in, you can find Meet-Ups and/or trade organizations to join. I’ve been a member of New York Women in Communications for several years now and always find it beneficial to go to panel discussions and presentations with their excellent guests. Again, even if you’re a newbie in a field, it’s worthwhile to join an organization so that you can learn from guests speakers and other members.

Conduct Informational Interviews

Learn more about your chosen field, others’ career paths, and the skills that managers value by speaking to people who are actually working in that field. Start with a trusted and connected colleague and ask him/her to introduce you to 2-3 other people that they think can help you to learn more. Schedule 15-20 minute phone calls or meetings with them and pick their brains about how they got into the field, what areas they think are up-and-coming, and what skills are essential for you to brush up. Then ask each of them to introduce you to 2-3 more people and start the process over. You’ll find that most people are willing to share their knowledge and experiences.

Places with Wifi South Brooklyn: Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Downtown Brooklyn, Gowanus

Wifi in Carroll Gardens

This October, I’m rounding up some of my favorite things in my part of Brooklyn. Check back all month for new blog posts.

One of the challenges of working remotely is that I don’t currently have an office space, and I find that if I work at home for too long, I start to get distracted by chores and the siren call of personal projects. Therefore, I’ve gotten really familiar with places in the neighborhood that have wifi. Since I know that’s a perpetual question on people’s minds in NYC, here’s a quick list of some of my preferred haunts.

Carroll Gardens

Abilene – Dive bar with a decent lunch menu, as well as coffee and tea, if you’re not looking for the hard stuff. A good spot to settle in for early lunch and hang out until the happy hour set drops in.

Court Street Grocers – Coffee, tea, pastries, sandwiches and platters. A good afternoon spot, after the lunch rush.

Farmacy – Breakfast, lunch, ice cream, shakes. Come for breakfast or a little later in the afternoon. Otherwise, be prepared for gaggles of little ones and possible sing-alongs.

Maybelle’s – Breakfast, lunch, pastries, coffee and tea. Settle in around lunch and hang out for a bit.

Park Bench Café – Crêpes, doughnuts, pastries, coffee and tea. A decent spot all day. I haven’t spotted power plugs though.

Petit Café – Breakfast, lunch, dinner, pastries, coffee and tea. Slow service, but with a cafe area in the front and a full restaurant in the back, it’s a good spot for the transition from working to dining with friends.

Teaffee – Wide selection of loose-leaf teas and coffee, pastries. A comfy spot in the mornings, before the afternoon light makes it hard to see your screen.

Treats Truck Stop – Breakfast, lunch, pastries, coffee and tea. A great place with delicious, easy comfort-food favorites and a cool staff. Come before or after children’s happy hour (3-5pm) so that you’re not surrounded by small kids screaming.

Cobble Hill

Bien Cuit – Delicious French pastries (including awesome croissants), light sandwiches/tartines, coffee and tea. A pretty small bakery, so limited seating, but again the croissants are yummy.

Ted & Honey – Breakfast, lunch, pastries, coffee and tea. Right by Cobble Hill Park, so there’s a bit of a nanny set in the afternoons. It’s also on a shady street, so keep that in mind if you like a little more sunlight. Otherwise, enjoy some comfort food and some wifi.

Downtown Brooklyn

Barnes & Noble – The Starbucks cafe is on the second floor, and it’s a good spot until the after-work crowd starts streaming in around 5:30.

Brooklyn Bridge Park – Piers 1, 5, and 6 have wifi, and with a cafe down on Pier 6 where you can charge up (first floor, little wifi signal though), it’s a nice place to work in the sunshine, for a change of pace. I like to work at the picnic tables on Pier 5 or work in the grass on Pier 1.

Gowanus

Ample Hills Creamery – Ice cream and sorbet, shakes. A nice upstairs room and roof deck make this a cool place to treat yourself and do a little work.

Bar Tano – Italian breakfast, lunch, dinner. The food’s delicious, and it’s a great place for a little morning/noon dining and working.

Those are just a few of my favorite places, but I’d love to hear from you too! Have other places in the neighborhood to recommend? Leave a note!

Ask-A-Zontee: How to Transport Mini-Cupcakes Without a Carrier

My friends and I often joke that I’m the person they call randomly when they need a good recommendation of a place to take out-of-town guests or advice on around-the-house projects. With that in mind, I’m sharing my answers every once in awhile, here on my blog. It’s Ask-a-Zontee, so named by my friend Liz.

Ask-A-Zontee: How to Transport Mini-Cupcakes Without a Carrier | ZonteeHou.com

Dear Ask-a-Zontee,

I have to transport a bunch of mini cupcakes to a baby shower Friday afternoon. How should I transport them?

– Liz

Dear Liz,

I’d recommend that you put your mini cupcakes in a metal pan that’s deep enough so that you can cover it with a piece of cardboard (or if you want to get Macguyver-esque and you have a 13 x 9 baking pan, you could balance a dinner plate that’s flat and 10 inches in diameter over it), and then put a second layer of cupcakes on that. If your cupcakes are too tall, I’d consider putting them in a clean shoe box or two (so they can be stacked).

– Zontee

The Continued Hunt for Non-Dairy Yogurt

The Continued Hunt for Non-Dairy Yogurt | ZonteeHou.com

You may have seen my blog post awhile back about how I’ve been hunting for non-dairy yogurts, since I want to consume less animal protein at home and because I’ve gotten a lot more lactose intolerant over the years. In addition to the Nancy’s Cultured Soy I mentioned last time, I’ve tried a few more in the last couple of weeks:

Non-Dairy Yogurt Reviews

Almond Dream’s almond yogurt I rather like, because while it’s lightly sweetened, the plain flavor is pleasant and light. My friend David points out that it has more of a pudding texture than a yogurt texture (which he didn’t like), but that doesn’t really bother me.

Next, I tried So Delicious’s coconut milk yogurt in Vanilla, which has a nice texture, although it tastes quite coconutty (making it a non-candidate for cooking savory dishes). It was also rather expensive compared to some of the others on the market, so not necessarily a pantry staple.

In contrast, Trader Joe’s coconut milk yogurt (tasted in Vanilla) was cheaper, milder in flavor (I mean that in a good way), and generally had a good texture. I’d buy it again…although, again, not sure if it’s quite right for cooking.

I also tried the So Delicious’s Greek style almond yogurt, with a lot of high hopes, as I love Greek yogurt for cooking. Alas, it has a chalky mouth-feel and even a vigorous beating doesn’t help with its lumpy texture. It also has a strong tang that is tough to take.

Alas, nothing was quite right, so I decided to try making my own.

Experiments in Non-Dairy Yogurt Making

The Continued Hunt for Non-Dairy Yogurt | ZonteeHou.com

My brother and his girlfriend got me a yogurt maker for Christmas, so I decided to break it out, and try it with some non-dairy yogurt recipes. There are lots out there, but I trust Fat Free Vegan’s take on soy yogurt as a good jumping off point, if you want to try it out.

I first tried homemade almond milk (shown here), which was a bit thin for my preferences (I ended up draining each serving in a sieve before eating it), and I used a store-bought non-dairy yogurt as a starter, which was okay, but didn’t give it the best flavor. It was also slightly pink, as you see here, which was not the most attractive thing ever.

The Continued Hunt for Non-Dairy Yogurt | ZonteeHou.com

My second attempt was with freshly cooked soy milk, and the color was much better (nice light cream). I used 1 quart soy milk, 1 Tbsp sugar, 2 tsp xanthan gum, and about 5 ounces of the almond yogurt as a starter. (You can see it with some pumpkin butter on Instagram.) It was pretty decent, but since I wasn’t happy with the flavor still, I decided I should order some starter. I found this vegan option, and now that it’s arrived at my house, I’ll be doing some experimenting. I’ll be sure to share how it goes.

If you have any thoughts and/or recommendations on non-dairy yogurts on the market or your recipes, share in the comments!

Ask-A-Zontee: Favorite Flu Remedies

My friends and I often joke that I’m the person they call randomly when they need advice on everything from shopping to health. With that in mind, I’m sharing my answers every once in awhile, here on my blog. It’s Ask-a-Zontee, so named by my friend Liz.

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Zontee! Need your help. I swear I’ve been coming down with the flu the last hour, and fast (chills, aches, skin hot to touch, weakness). I didn’t get a flu shot this year. Any tips? Anything I should stock up on while I can still move? I trust your knowledge on these things!

– Katheryn

Well, I’m definitely not a medical professional, but I’ll tell you what I rely on when I’m sick: Theraflu, zinc spray, lots of tea and soup. Particularly, I suggest chicken soup (or vegetable stock) cooked with goji berries (high in nutritional value and antioxidants) and ginger.

When I was a child, that was the traditional Chinese home remedy that my grandmother and mother would make for us, and it always helped me to speed towards recover. If you don’t have stock, boiling ginger and/or goji berries and drinking the broth can also be very fortifying.

Get well soon!

Ask-a-Zontee: 5 Top Tips for Podcasters

I often joke that I’m the person my friends call randomly when they need a good recommendation of a place to take out-of-town guests or to purchase that perfect cocktail dress. With that in mind, I’m sharing my answers every once in awhile, here on my blog. It’s Ask-a-Zontee, so named by my friend Liz.

One of my current job responsibilities is our award-winning* podcast, YarnCraftThat entails everything from writing, producing, and co-hosting it, as well as editing the raw recordings. I’ve been asked about my top tips for people interested in getting into podcasting, so I’ve decided to share them here on my site.

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Zontee’s 5 Tips for Podcasters Getting Started

1. Know who you are.

Don’t act like an expert unless you are one—you’re more likely to reach an audience who relates to you. The audience wants you to be genuine, so know your voice and stay true to it. I’m by no means a stitch diva, but I’m a decent yarncrafter with a wide range of skills and interests. I bring in guests ranging from expert teachers and designers to fun characters—they’re the people I’d want to talk to about my crafting, and they’re the people that my audience will relate to best.

2. Get the right equipment.

I’ve heard some podcasts where it’s obvious to me that the host is recording on a headset at his/her computer. What gives it away? The popping of hard consonants like Ps, as well as the very noticeable breathing.

If you really want to record at your computer, that’s okay, but you’ll want to get a good USB mic. Something like this. I’m personally a fan of the Zoom mics, since they’re portable and they have great sound quality.

The right equipment also extends to software. Host on a service like Libsyn or Podbean (podcasts take up a lot of bandwidth). Get some audio editing software (Audacity is free). Create a blog or website as a home base. Get on iTunes.

3. Edit your podcast for “extra” noises.

Whenever possible, I recommend cutting extra pauses, throat clearings, phlegmy coughs, etc. They’re distracting, and while pauses can be forgiven in video (or in real life) because the audience is distracted by other information in the form of visuals, long pauses are extremely noticeable in audio. Plus, if you’re not “live to tape”, it also gives you (and your guests) the opportunity to redo lines that come out awkwardly the first time.

4. Keep it interesting; keep it organized.

There are a lot of podcasts that are a single host waxing poetic. For shorter formats (10 minutes and under), I think that this style is just fine, but for anything longer, I highly recommend other voices. Either have audio essays by contributors, interviews with guests, or consider an interplay between two co-hosts. It keeps things interesting. “Man on the street” is another way to go.

To keep your show moving (again, short format shows can get away without), I also recommend segments. Think about “This American Life”, a show in three acts. My show usually has 5 segments (intro, banter, body, change-of-pace, outro).

5. Plan ahead.

Create a calendar where you can mark down ideas, breaking out ideas for various segments. Schedule interviews ahead of time. Know what you’ll talk about on future episodes. This allows you to tease future episodes on current ones so that your listeners come back for more (and have the opportunity to share comments and questions that you can use for conversation fodder when you record your future episodes).

*PR News Platinum Award Winner 2008, Honorary Mention 2009 & 2010.

Ask-a-Zontee: Manhattan Bars Where You Can Take Your Parents

I often joke that I’m the person my friends call randomly when they need a good recommendation of a place to take out-of-town guests or to purchase that perfect cocktail dress. With that in mind, I’m sharing my answers every once in awhile, here on my blog. It’s Ask-a-Zontee, so named by my friend Liz.

Joanna: What are some Manhattan bars where you can take your parents for a classy drink around the holidays?

If your parents are into wine, I’d recommend Corkbuzz near Union Square. It’s been lauded by the NYC publications, has a nice dinner menu in case they feel like sticking around for food, and they have this great “blind tasting”. They bring you three (pretty generous) pours of wine, as well as a little info sheet to fill in. It’s perfect for those parents who love a challenge or a game.

For those whose parents are fans of Sinatra and the glamorous old days, take them for cocktails at the Flatiron Lounge in the Flatiron District. The Art Deco bar is definitely classy, albeit a wee bit dark for some—ahem—older eyes. Make it up to them by sitting closer to the bar. Enjoy the Japanese crackers cum bar snacks.

Looking for that classic New York experience in a tourist-friendly place? Check out Celsius, the temporary bar at Bryant Park’s winter ice skating rink. While they’ve set it up for a posh lounge look, the crowd is decidedly touristy. Go for a spin around the rink, and then warm up with a spiked hot chocolate.

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