Sunday, September 26, 2010

I am Brook, Hear Me RAWr!

Quote of the blog:

Talia: “I’m not sure I could ever date a vegan. Our principles would be so different. Mine being ‘I want steak all the time.’”

Allyson: “And mine being, ‘Feed me more bacon.’”


Earlier this year, my friend Amy, who is a health-conscience vegetarian, (aren’t they all?) challenged a few of her friends to go Raw for one week. She tried Raw for a couple of months, and while she isn’t a life-long Raw food advocate, she says, “there are so many benefits that come from weaning yourself off the SAD (Standard American Diet) to a diet rich in fresh, unprocessed, real food.” I agree and agreed to the challenge. An excerpt from her original email explains what we were to do:

To get wikipedia on you: Raw foodism is a lifestyle promoting the consumption of un-cooked, un-processed, and often organic foods as a large percentage of the diet. Raw foodists typically believe that the greater the percentage of Raw food in the diet, the greater the health benefits. (Food is not cooked above 118 degrees in an effort to preserve enzymes.)

For a week, beginning May 9th [the challenge] is to experiment with subsisting entirely on fruits, veggies, nuts, seeds, sprouts... nothing cooked or processed.

I wish I had somehow recorded the reactions of my coworkers when I told them I was going Raw for a week. To some extent, we are all foodies and work-talk is interspersed with food-talk of gastronomical proportions. We talk about Iron Chef, the Food Network, recipes, and restaurants. At breakfast time we talk about what we’ll eat for lunch, at lunchtime we talk about what we’ll eat for dinner and sometimes even what we should eat the next day.

Currently, no one in our small office is vegetarian or vegan let alone a Rawist (I may have made that term up). The amount of skepticism they showed made me nervous. I put on a nonchalant front, “Meh, should be fine, it’s only a week.” but was slightly nervous on the inside. I did Raw one week after everyone else because of conflicting non-Raw-friendly plans the week of the challenge. This meant I heard feedback from everyone else who tried it before I did. Amy found that most of her female friends didn't have any issues with going Raw, but most of her male friends found it difficult. But my nonchalance turned to nervousness after our friend Ryan sent us an email about going Raw for a week. I knew it would be a good read when I saw the subject line: “Raw is War Spelled Backwards.” An excerpt from his thorough (and unbelievably amusing) email is below:

By the time Thursday rolled around, I had no appetite whatsoever. I wasn’t craving the food I couldn’t eat, and I certainly wasn’t craving the ones I could. I was just over the whole thing. Tired of thinking about food all day, and tired of being mad at Amy and everyone else around me. I felt no burst of energy as promised and I think I actually gained weight because I over-compensated by eating approximately four times the amount of fruit I usually do. And what’s worse, I felt none of the cool bragging rights I thought I’d feel. Before, oh how I longed to tell people things like, “Oh I’m sorry, I’ll have to pass… I’m on a RAW DIET you see” and then soak in all of their praise and respect. I didn’t care for any of that. I was ashamed and embarrassed about what I was masochistically and unnecessarily doing to myself. I was like a cutter. Who just cut fruit and no cheese. I just wanted to go back to the old Me. If I wasn’t broke, why break me?

I do love my fruit and vegetables and generally eat healthy foods, but as I read Ryan’s email and thought about the upcoming week I wondered if I was self-imposing an early descent into the 3rd level of Hell – the level reserved for the gluttonous (if eating meat and cooked foods is gluttony).

The Friday before the week of Raw I went grocery-shopping with my co-worker Pei. She is the coworker who eats dinners for breakfast (see “Roast Duck” in the post “Come Again?”). We started in the fresh veggies/fruits section of Fairway. I bought broccoli, avocadoes, spinach, onions, dates, apples, bananas. Then we moved on to grains; I bought quinoa, dried chick peas, raw almonds, flax seeds, wheat berries, etc. As we walked around the store Pei pointed out all the things I couldn’t eat. “See those cookies? You won’t be able to eat those!” or, pointing to the meat section, “Or that!”, the hot soups, “or that!” And then she looked at my basket and shook her head, “Zoo food! You are buying food for zoo animals!” Then she laughed.

Oh, by the way, when I first announced that I was going Raw I changed my gchat status to “RAW!” which prompted various inquiries, but my favorite was from a friend, “Raw what? Is this from a song I don't know?”

And the week before I started Raw I announced in my best monster-truck voice, “I’m starting RAAAAAAW on Monday! Monday! Mondaaaaaaaaay!” Unfortunately, that led to a friend asking if I was prepping to watch WWE ( No, but I would have my own personal battle with sprouting wheat berries and the blender.

On Monday, day one of Raw, I was prepared. I started the morning out with blended banana, apple and soaked flax (actually delicious). I had salad for lunch. And ate veggies and quinoa (that I had sprouted) for dinner.

On TuesdayI was eating a salad and my coworker glancing at my meal said, “I’ll be right back, I’m going to go eat something cooked.”

The next few days were pretty similar although I realized I should have planned my dinners better. One night I blended sprouted wheat berries with a banana, blackberries, and strawberries and ate a kind of cold wheat berry sorbet. It was tasty but I wanted something to eat. I wanted something hot and cooked. I ended up slicing and salting a raw potato. Imagine my joy when I found out raw fish was on the relatively short “OK TO EAT” list. The next two days I ordered sashimi for lunch.

I also made almond milk – which I found surprisingly delicious. And, unlike Ryan, I found some self-congratulatory satisfaction in trying Raw for a week and saying, “Oh, what's this? It’s almond milk. I made it.” Although, it’s not as impressive when they’d find out that all you need is a blender, raw almonds, water, agave, and cheesecloth.

Going Raw for a week influenced the way I eat. I’m more aware of what I’m eating and have incorporated more grains (albeit cooked) into my diet. And I love raw almonds and almond milk. All in all, trying Raw, even for such a short amount of time, was a good experience.

Even though my weeklong fling with Raw happened last May it still comes up in the office sometimes. Someone might talk about steak or bacon or a turkey sandwich and then say, “Remember that time Brook went Raw?” The room falls quiet for a brief moment of silence and headshaking.

On the last and final day of Raw, I went to dinner downtown with some friends. I told them about the week’s experiment over a big, juicy, hot, cooked, cheeseburger.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

The Subway Hero

Quote of the blog:

Brook: “Holding Out for a Hero is my theme-song.

Justin: “ order to attract a hero, you may not want to openly admit that.”


You need just a bit of background about me for the following story (don't worry, it's just a little bit). I'm a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, sometimes called LDS, sometimes Mormon. We meet in churches every week to worship and hold our services, and then we have temples where sacred ordinances (such as temple marriages) are performed (inquiring minds can visit or

While there are thousands of churches where members meet weekly to worship, there are just over 130 temples in the world. We are lucky enough to have a temple in Manhattan just a block away from the Lincoln Center. The Manhattan LDS temple is completely staffed by members who are called as volunteers. I've worked as an Ordinance Worker in the Manhattan Temple for almost four years. It's been one of the most amazing opportunities I've ever had and I love it.

I currently work every other Wednesday evening after work, but when I first started serving in the temple I worked every other Saturday morning. My friend Anna and I worked on the same Saturday morning shift and we would leave our building at 4:40 am to catch the train to be there by 5:30 am.

Just a bit more background - when a member of the church is called to fulfill a “calling” whether it’s as a Sunday School teacher, Bishop, Ordinance Worker, or Primary Teacher, we are interviewed by an authority in the church. If the calling is extended, or offered, and the person is willing to serve in that calling he/she is receives a blessing and is “set apart” to do that calling.

So when I was interviewed and asked to serve in the temple by Pres. Lee, then a member of the temple presidency, he asked me if my neighborhood was safe early in the morning. I told him that I had never really been out in my neighborhood at 5:00 in the morning. I’ve never felt unsafe in my neighborhood but know that, like most neighborhoods, the later it gets the more crazies come out. When Pres. Lee set me apart he said that I would be protected and safe in my travels to and from the temple.

Ok, a couple of months later, Anna and I walked the ten blocks or so to the 1 train. The Dyckman 1 train stop is one of the few outdoor, elevated, subway stops in Manhattan. It was chilly 4:30 am morning in April and we walked quickly leaving little puffs of breath to dissipate behind us. We walked up the chipped stairs at the Dyckman stop and sat on the wooden benches under the peeling awning. Few people are on the platform that early and as the only white people and the only females we were the minority.

The trains come every 20 minutes or so that early. We sat close together for warmth and waited and drowsily chatted. A few minutes later a massive man walked up the stairs. He was well-built, 6’3 and probably 220 lbs. The word hulking came to mind. He was unkempt and looked like he had had a rough night. He sat at the end of our bench. I would need to confirm with Anna to see what she thought, but my impression was that he’d been in a fight earlier. He just looked rough. He sat for a moment then looked over and started talking to us - maybe "speaking at us" would be more appropriate. I won’t write what he was saying, but it was uncomfortable at best. It didn’t take long to realize he was completely drunk. It’s hard to know what to do in those situations. Around my neighborhood I find it more effective to ignore catcallers, etc. because they usually just kind of shrug and let it be. In Harlem I take a different approach since ignoring men there tends to incite them.

Since Anna and I were already talking when he started speaking to us we just kept talking and didn’t make eye contact. He spoke to us the whole time we sat there. It was maybe the longest ten minutes I’ve ever waited for a train.

When the train finally arrived Anna and I looked at each other. I could tell we both thought it would be wise to walk down one car so we weren’t on the same one with the drunk. We stood in front of the train shifting our weight and adjusting the grip on our purses. We were impatient and nervous. As soon as the doors opened we hurried to the next car and hopped on. We looked around: there were ten or so people in the car, mostly older men on their way to work. We sat down at the same time we heard outrage erupt behind us. It was the drunk. He had assumed, rightly, that we went into a different car because we were trying to get away from him.

It was like one of the moments in the movies where the protagonist dashes into the elevator and you hope the doors can close before the assailant gets in. We could hear him coming. His roar reached the doors before he did but they didn’t close in time. The train had sat motionless just long enough for him to exit his car and rage to ours.

He entered cursing, balled fists held out to his sides and the doors closed behind him. His head was lowered and his bleary eyes burned at us. He charged. I really didn’t know what to do. Anna and I stood up and rushed between the moving cars into the next one. We raced passed passengers whose only motion was to register surprise and apprehension in their expression. The drunk was still roaring his rage. He moved with surprising agility – and was catching up to us.

I didn’t know what to do but was sorting through options. The next stop was coming but not soon enough. The belligerent drunk blocked access to the train conductor (who was in his booth three cars back). To get to the driver we needed to race through another five cars and I was doubtful we could make it before the drunk reached us. I looked around at the passengers as we passed. There were three men in this car. They looked up, looked back as the roaring drunk entered, and then looked down again.

The words from the blessing when I was set apart as a temple worker came to mind - that I would be blessed with safety and protection on my travels to and from the temple. I knew right then that we would be OK, but I just didn’t know how. I wasn’t scared but I was definitely nervous. My heart was pounding. I heard the drunk close behind us yelling, “Where do you think you can go? You think I can’t follow you?” I glanced back; he was ten feet away. I realized that he would reach us before we could go through another emergency exit door to the next car. Anna and I turned to face him. He was just a few feet away.

Just then the door at the other end of the train was yanked open and a young man, about 25 years old, ran into the car behind the drunk. He had a small build - maybe 5’6 and 140 lbs? He reached up and tapped the angry drunk on the shoulder. The drunk half-turned. Our Subway Hero said pointedly, “What are you trying to do? Get yourself arrested? Leave these ladies alone.” The drunk turned fully and started yelling at Subway Hero –spat out obscenities with vehemence but the young man stayed calm. The drunk sat on a seat still yelling and swearing .

Our Subway Hero placed himself between us and held his hand up in front of the drunk, like a cop stopping traffic. As the train pulled into the 191st station he informed us that the drunk was not going to bother us anymore and that we could go to the next car or get off at the next stop, whichever we preferred. That if anything happened this guy would get arrested. We nodded our understanding and appreciation. The doors opened and we went to the next car. Subway Hero stayed with the (still swearing but sullen and subdued) drunk to make sure he couldn’t follow us.

He was our Subway Hero. I’m not sure what would have happened if the drunk had made it the last five feet and reached us, but I’m grateful someone intervened. I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t even say thank you to our Subway Hero, all I could do was nod. I still wish I knew his name and could thank him properly but I think, and hope, he could see it in our eyes.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Connecting the Dots

Quote of the blog:

Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college, but it was very, very clear looking backwards 10 years later. Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backwards, so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something--your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever--because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference.” Steve Jobs’ 2005 Stanford Commemoration Address “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”


First off, sorry I’ve been MIA. I will not make excuses and will only say I’m glad to be blogging again.

One night, just about a month ago, while I was getting ready for bed in Oxford, England, I realized I’ve spent a part of the last seven/ten summers in Europe. I hadn’t thought about it like that before and paused mid-toothbrushing to look in the mirror and reflect. I thought about Steve Jobs’ 2005 commemoration address at Stanford University title “Stay Hungry, Stay Foolish”. He describes looking back at his life and “connecting the dots” (decisions/events) that lead him to where he is now. I love that idea. So, I stood there with my toothbrush in my teeth and looked in the mirror and thought about what brought me where I am now.

Where am I now? Well, I’ve been in Manhattan for over four years and I work for a company that coordinates summer study abroad programs in England, France, and Spain for students in 9th-12th grade. We spend the year marketing, advertising, and recruiting for the programs. I’m the Executive Coordinator for our 8th-9th grade program in Oxford so I’m there for six weeks in the summer.

When I tell people there are 150 students in 8th and 9th grade on my program sometimes their congratulations turn to congratudolences (a mixture of congratulations and condolences). But, that’s ok. I love my job. People often ask me how I got my job; sometimes I just want to answer “God” since a series of very specific events led me here.

Almost every one of these events could be their own story, but below is the Reader’s Digest synopsis of how I ended up here.

My dad was in the Air Force I had moved nine times by the time I turned 13 and had attended five elementary schools. Ever since I was a child I’ve loved moving and change. My dad retired just before I started junior high so I attended the same schools through junior high or high school.

After HS graduation, I opened my acceptance letter to Rick’s College (now BYU Idaho) in 1998 and saw the insert for a British Literary Tour. It was a yellow bookmark flyer. I knew in that moment I would go. When I graduated from Rick’s in the summer of 2000 I traveled with forty other students to England, Wales, Belgium, Ireland, Scotland, and France. We affectionately called the British Literary Tour the BLT 2000. It was amazing and sealed my conviction about study abroad experiences – which is basically that everyone should go if given the chance.

Three semesters later in 2002-2003, I became the president of the UV Leaders (now the UV Mentors) at Utah Valley University (then UVSC) – this organization helped teach students how to study and succeed in college. The experience I gained through the UV Leaders: presenting, coordinating, organizing, and leading, has been invaluable. I sometime refer to this time as my Glory Years. I loved them.

N.B. As I write this chronology I realize that there are quite a few events that will date me. My children will say things like, “You went to BYUI when it was Ricks??” and “That was waay back in the glory days when the UV Mentors were called the UV Leaders and UVU was UVSC.” Sigh. So it goes.

In 2002 I heard about UVU’s London Study Abroad Program. Students studied in London for six weeks and then traveled to Paris for five days. I volunteered to sit at the tables and pass out flyers, etc. not knowing if I would be hired or not, but I was excited to be involved. The enrollment for 2002 was small because of 9/11 that they didn't hire any student PA's on the program. But I really enjoy being a part of group planning and I am a huge fan of shared experiences.

I applied for the London Study Abroad Program Assistant in 2003 and was thrilled when I found out I got the job (so maybe I ran around the room cheering after Kate, one of the coordinators, called me). The job entailed marketing and recruiting and planning for the program from January to May. Since different professors teach on the program every year I had to apply separately for each summer. I was hired for 2003, 2004, and 2005. They are some of my favorite summers ever.

After I returned from LSA 2005 I found myself job-hunting. I was only submitting resumes in Utah, but one night my brother Ty, who had moved to New York a few months earlier called me. His roommate had just moved out and rent was paid through the end of the month. He wanted me to come stay with him. I wasn’t so sure. He called me a few days later, “Brook, we just went to a free philharmonic concert in Central Park.” That was Wednesday. On Friday I bought my ticket and flew out the next week not knowing when or if I would be back. I started temping at the Public Relations agency where my brother worked and The City started to woo me and I wanted to stay. Ty’s then-girlfriend, Erin, helped me revamp my resume and I started submitting my resume in NYC.

One Saturday after we went sailing on the Hudson I got a call from UVU asking if I could interview for an advisor position that Friday. I happened to be going home for a niece’s baptism that weekend and I would actually be in town to interview. I flew to Utah, interviewed, and was hired as the Advisor for the School of General Academics a few hours later. I moved back from New York and started the job almost immediately. I loved that job. I got to meet and help so many people. My boss KD was amazing and I met some of my best friends through that job. I felt fulfilled when I went home. It was fantastic.

Then one day, just a few months after I started at UVU I got a phone call from Tamica at Fleishman-Hillard (FH), a Public Relations Firm in New York City. She told me that she received my resume and understood that I was going to be in NY the next week and they would like to interview me. My sister and I were indeed going to visit Ty the next week, so I agreed to interview. I figured if nothing else the experience of interviewing at a global firm would be good experience. After I hung up the phone I called Erin - FH was the company where my brother’s girlfriend worked.

She answered and I said, “Erin, I just got a call from FH and I have an interview next week.”

Erin gave a guilty giggle, “I hope that’s ok! I turned in your resume and I figured if they called you then great and if not I wasn’t going to say anything!”

The first interview went well and I had a second interview through FH – this time via the internet a few weeks later. The company wasn't hiring until the end of the first quarter, which worked out perfectly because I didn’t want to leave UVU in a bind. When FH called at the beginning of April to offer me the job I told them that I needed to finish out the semester. It took a lot of praying and weighing the pros on cons of moving. I loved my job at UVU but I felt like an opportunity had come to me that I shouldn't pass up. I knew that five years down the road I would regret it if I said, "I could have moved to New York...I just didn't." So, I moved to Manhattan on April 28th, 2006 and started work on May 1st.

I worked in the health care department on biotech and pharmaceutical accounts. And long story short, after a few months I knew that PR wasn’t for me. The science behind the drugs was interesting but I had gone from helping people every day to writing press releases and fact sheets. I used to say that corporate America was sucking my life away and I started looking for other jobs. Then one day in September 2007 (I should write this full story sometime), a year and half after I started working at Fleishman, they laid off 11% of the healthcare department, including me.

It was one of the best things that happened. I walked out the front doors of the News Building on 42nd street and have never missed it since (except for maybe that art deco globe in the entryway).

I had received a severance package and had some savings that offered me some time to reevaluate life and what I wanted. My friend, Amy, had me do the “Flower Exercise” in What Color is Your Parachute (I actually recommend it) and did a bit of research to figure out what types of jobs I would most love to do. I promised myself that I would only apply for jobs that fit that category.

- I actually have a diagram connecting the dots of the next series of events that led me to my current job. I won’t share them all, but one of the more important ones happened in Utah.

I flew home to spend the month of December in Utah with family and friends. One day I visited my friend Jeff, who was an adviser at UVU. He gave, and still gives, some of the best advice I’ve ever received. It was during our conversation that he reminded me how much I loved coordinating study abroad and how it was a pretty specific skill. He recommended I look into it. I kind of laughed. My only experience with study abroad had been short-term work during the year that was something someone did for fun and not for profit.

But I did a search for “study abroad” in Manhattan on Craigslist and a job posting for Oxbridge Academic Programs popped up. The company had posted it just a week before. The job description was almost everything I did for UVSC’s London Study Abroad programs but on a larger scale and was a full-time position. I sent in my resume and had an interview two weeks later. It was just what I had been searching for.

I’ve been with the company for almost three years and I love it. The job allows me to travel, work with people I really like, and feel like I’m making a difference. And that, my friends, are the dots that led me to where I am right now. And honestly, for this stage of my life, I can't imagine a better situation.