Monday, September 10, 2007

Work It, Mom's inspirational CEO

I met Nataly Kogan by accident, after following a link from one of my favorite bloggers to a post about freelance writing on Nataly's online community for working mothers, Work It, Mom! It only took a few emails before I decided I just had to write about this amazing and inspirational person; that profile appeared in the Boston Globe Sunday Magazine yesterday, as the "First Person" feature.

September 9, 2007

Working It
How can women juggle parenting and a profession? The question
drives Nataly Kogan, CEO of Work It, Mom!, every day.

By Lylah M. Alphonse

Why start an online community for working mothers?
Last fall, I said to my husband, "You know, I want to talk to other career moms." I'd always had this kind of very high-powered office job. I didn't know how else to do it, and I didn't know what the options were. So I went online and started typing in "communities for working moms" and "connect with working moms," and I kept coming up empty. And I said to him, "Avi, I'm going to do this."

How is different from other mom-oriented sites?
One of the things we really wanted to do is present for moms the different ways you can work. And I think, in a broader scale, if we can influence change, I'd love it, because I think corporations have to understand that you can have a mom who works from home two days a week, and she's putting in a tremendous amount of time and energy. She's not slacking. ... [More]

What's not in this short, Q&A profile could fill a book. Born in Baku, Azerbaijan, and raised in St. Petersberg, Nataly immigrated with her parents to the United States via refugee camps in Italy and Austria, arriving here at the age of 14, speaking nearly no English. She decided that the first thing she needed to do was to master the language and lose her Russian accent; she did so quickly, and now has only the slightest hint of New York in her speech. It's typical of the way she approaches life: Determine what needs to be done, and then do it; failure doesn't seem to be an option for her.

"Coming out of Russia, being a Jew in Russia, there were only certain things that you could do," she told me during a recent interview. "America -- it truly is a land of opportunity. I feel very justified saying this. You can try to do whatever you want to."

For instance: Only a few years out of college and newly married, she and her husband, Avi Spivak, whom she calls "a recovering English major," found that life in New York City would require a bit more money than they were pulling in. "[Avi] went in to work in publishing and then realized you can't really live on $20,000 a year, so... I pushed him, and I said, 'You don't have to rise up through the ranks, we'll start our own company'." They founded Students Helping Students, running it at night and on weekends since they also both had day jobs, and later sold it to Penguin Group's Perigee imprint. She blogs over at The Huffington Post, has another blog about being an entrepreneur, and her first book, The Daring Female's Guide to Ecstatic Living, was published last year by Hyperion.

And she's hit the nail on the head with Work It, Mom. There really isn't anything else like it out there. It's a fantastic resource to women who are trying to juggle their careers and their families, and I'm looking forward to being an active part of the community.

The Making of a Goddess

I have a thing for historical literature, and I have a thing for ancient Egypt, so reviewing Michelle Moran's new novel, Nefertiti, was the perfect opportunity to indulge both of my, well, things. Given the current interest in King Tut, it only make sense to learn a little more about a woman who was, in a manner of speaking, his stepmother. Here's my review of Nefertiti, which ran in the Boston Globe:

September 8, 2007

Historical novel breathes life into a legendary Egyptian queen

By Lylah M. Alphonse

A girl's quest for empowerment. A paranoid young king in search of immortality. Untrustworthy advisers, mutinous soldiers, and, of course, lust, greed, and betrayal. It's the stuff of legend, and author Michelle Moran weaves it all together spectacularly, crafting a novel about the making of not just a powerful queen, but a goddess. Even now, some 3,000 years after her death, her name is still familiar: Nefertiti.

This meticulously researched and richly detailed debut, "Nefertiti," is fiction grounded in fact. In 1351 BC, 17-year-old Prince Amunhotep becomes pharaoh after his older brother's sudden, mysterious death. His mother, Queen Tiye, chooses her 15-year-old niece, Nefertiti, to be his chief wife, but the girl, aghast by the way the pharaoh reaps the glory while the queen runs the country, wants more. "When I am queen," Nefertiti says, "it will be my name that lives in eternity."

The story is told from the point of view of Nefertiti's younger half sister, Mutnodjmet, a healer. It is much more than simply a love story, or the documentation of an epic political power play, or a tale about the relationship between two sisters. Written in a conversational, intimate style, the book draws the reader in effortlessly, making ancient Egypt accessible, and its inhabitants - and their flaws - familiar.

The young, new pharaoh is egomaniacal, unstable, and easily manipulated. Nefertiti takes full advantage of this, breaking traditions at every turn without regard to the consequences. When he turns his back on the traditional god, Amun, she joins him, stripping the priests of their power and leading the people in worship of a new sun god, Aten. She installs herself in the pharaoh's chambers to make him inaccessible to his other wives. She grants her favorite artist access to every part of her life, ensuring her celebrity. She agrees to allow the army leave Egypt's borders untended, ordering them instead to build temples and a new capital city in Aten's honor. "I stood frozen, stunned by the sprawling landscape dotted with pillars that pierced the sky," Mutnodjmet describes. "Thousands of builders groaned under the weight of heavy columns, hoisting them up with ropes. The columned courtyard of Aten's temple had been completed."

History has already told us what happens: Amunhotep changes his name to Akhenaten, in honor of his chosen god. Nefertiti gives birth to several daughters, while another of Amunhotep's wives give him sons - most notably, Tutankhamun. But Moran deftly fills in the gaps left by historians, taking their discoveries and using them to bring the ancient society to life. For example: A portrait found in the ruined city of Amarna shows Mutnodjmet standing to the side, her arms down, while the people around her are depicted embracing Aten; Moran saw this as a statement of Mutnodjmet's defiance of her sister, the queen, and tells her story accordingly.

Almost every character in the book is based on a historical figure, and Moran fleshes out their personalities beautifully, highlighting the teenage pharaoh's arrogance and paranoia, underscoring his queen's ambition and insecurity. When warned by one of his chief advisers that his new city has been built hastily and is not structurally sound, Akhenaten snaps, "What does it matter so long as the temple and the palace are built to last? The workers can rebuild their houses. And I want this city before I die." Nefertiti is never satisfied, even when her visage has been carved or painted onto every available surface in the city, even when Akhenaten hands her the symbolic crook and flail, crowning her pharaoh and co-regent of his kingdom.

Inspired by the distinctive bust of Nefertiti at the Altes Museum, in Berlin, Moran has created an engrossing tribute to one of the most powerful and alluring women in history.

© Copyright 2007 Globe Newspaper Company.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Perfect PB&J

Is there anything better than a peanut-butter and jelly sandwich? OK, fine... but a well-made PB&J is a pretty good thing, too. Michael Saunders, The Boston Globe's Assistant Living/Arts Editor for Multimedia, wrote this amusing and informative article about it in today's Food section:

September 5, 2007

One man's search for PB&J perfection

By Michael Saunders, Globe Staff

The quest for the perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwich is as personal and subjective as the search for beauty or truth - but far more filling.

I've made countless thousands of PB&Js over the past 40 years, most for myself and many for my five children, and I still believe a well-made PB&J is a great mix of salty, sweet, and tart flavors, and just the right smooth and sticky contrast, the textures playing off each other like jazz soloists. Add too much of one ingredient, or use the wrong bread, and the whole thing becomes an unpalatable mess. ... [More]

And, of course there's a cool video tutorial, too! Click and enjoy with a tall glass of cold milk.