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Girl Crush: Mindy Kaling

I’ll admit it: I was late getting into The Office. I had seen an episode here and there, and knew I had a giant crush on John Krasinski, but until two weeks ago never sat down and watched the series as a whole.

I’m here to tell you that I watched eight seasons in two weeks and I’m not sure if I’m happy with that statistic yet or not. What I am happy about is how The Office introduced me to my new favourite lady: Mindy Kaling.

On The Office, Kaling plays Kelly Kapoor, the lovable office chatterbox, but she also holds the title of producer, writer and she made her directorial debut in season 6 with the episode “Body Language.” Now Kaling is the creator of the show The Mindy Project, which she also stars in, writes for and produces. The Mindy Project is a fun show that takes place in an Ob/Gyn clinic, and is the perfect show to fix your post-Office withdrawal. (This is coming from someone who is almost done with The Office and quickly needs to find her next television obsession.)

As if Mindy Kaling doesn’t already seem like the busiest woman in show business, she wrote a book called Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) which I finished in just over a day and then promptly lent out to all my friends. Kaling covers a wide variety of topics including chest hair, one night stands, punching your best friend in the nose, and her own funeral wish list.

Kaling’s book left me in hysterics; it felt like I was reading the diary of my best friend. Her cheek-in-tongue humour perfectly captures the tone you would use while out for lunch with your girlfriends, and her brutally honest tales of Hollywood fame are refreshing.

The reason why I love Kaling is because she has worked hard her entire life to get to where she needs to be. When she couldn’t find roles that suited her, she wrote her own. She produced her own work until someone noticed her, and then she became the only female on the writing staff at The Office. She works 16+ hours a day. She is not afraid to be completely herself and show herself at her most unfiltered and unflattering.

Mindy Kaling is warm, personable, talented and very, very funny.

And once I finish making her a friendship bracelet, she will officially be my best friend.

Follow Andrea on Twitter @andreeahluscu.

Follow Women’s Post on Twitter at @WomensPost.

Real life real estate

I’m a sucker for real estate reality television. Property Virgins, House Hunters, and 2 a.m. reruns of the Property Shop – I live for these shows, and always love watching couples and families go through the highest of highs, the lowest of lows, all to finally find the property of their dreams, and right on budget too.

As a real estate agent though, sometimes I have to giggle at how easy it seems. House showings to key pickup, all wrapped up in a 22 minute time slot. Of course, with the time limitations, there isn’t enough time to get into the intricacies of a normal, average real estate transaction, but I imagine that most viewers who haven’t actually been through the process might romanticize the experience with the information provided on these shows.

In the real world, the process can take months. Buyers have to talk to financial professionals to apply and qualify for financing or a mortgage, and then find the right agent with knowledge of their circumstances, their needs, and the area that they’re looking to purchase in. Then there are the house showings. On television, they show three houses and decide between the given options. I’ve had clients go on as many as 15 showings before deciding on a property, and rightly so. This is not a pair of shoes, this is a home, for families with children, dogs named Rover and cats named Meow. While timing can be of the essence when it comes to getting your home once you’ve decided on a property, finding the right home for you is a process that in my opinion shouldn’t be rushed or double-guessed.

Even after getting an approved offer, we’re often not ready to pick up the keys just yet. Accepted offers are usually “conditional”, meaning we now have to deal with home inspectors, appraisals, and final steps for financing. Your dream home might end up being a nightmare property if an inspector turns up foundation issues or termites, so there’s usually a period of time when a buyer can walk away from a property.

But I’ve seen firsthand how these shows have affected the real estate market in a very real way. Buyers and sellers are more educated now, and real estate professionals have been forced to step up their game. Sellers understand the value of “curb appeal” and not having animals or dirty laundry in the home during showings. Buyers are learning to see past superficial things like bad paint colours and minor improvements to see how a home can be made to fit them. Knowledge is power, and in the real estate game it can be the difference between a make or break deal.

All in all, these shows, by necessity due to timing and probably in large part entertainment, are condensed versions of what to expect when you’re purchasing a property. I take whatever lessons I can from real estate powerhouses like Tatiana Londono, but in the end, I really just take it for what it is: entertainment. Good, clean, funny, exciting, licorice and white cheddar popcorn on a Thursday night entertainment, and I love every second.

Parental seal of approval

Last Friday I finally made the parental introduction. Mr. Unexpected and I joined my mum and her husband for dinner on King West.

As we walked from my condo to the restaurant I could feel my heart pounding; I’ve never wanted my mum to like someone so much in my life and I honestly didn’t know how it would go. But when we arrived at the restaurant all of my nerves and fear melted away as Boyfriend fell into an easy rhythm and immediately got along with both my mum and her husband.

At one point Boyfriend looked at me and just said, “Get over it,” in reference to something silly. It made my mum howl because according to her if my brother ever told me to just, “Get over it” I would probably deck him. This is mostly true except that my little brother is about 9 inches taller than me and a rugby player and I’m about 100% sure I’d lose that fight.

A lot of our dinner conversation revolved around a new job that I’ve recently accepted and the support coming from both my mum, her husband and Boyfriend made me feel like I’ve finally got the family I’ve always wanted. Because my mum only remarried last year we don’t refer to her husband as our stepdad, but he’s more loving and supportive that my birth father ever was and I think that stems from his deep love for my mother. Their relationship is the kind I want for myself. I never once looked at my parents and thought “I want that,” because things were never that good, but looking at my mum and how happy she is now I finally understand what people with happy parents were saying – I want what they have.

But the best part of the whole dinner was the email that came from my mum a few days later letting me know how happy she was, how proud of me she was and how nice it was to see me with someone who is good for me and good to me. Boyfriend and I complement each other but because I’m in it sometimes I forget that, so it’s nice to hear from someone on the outside that we work well together.

I was nervous for nothing, I was afraid for nothing; I was a complete spaz for nothing because in the end introducing someone I love to my mum felt good and right. I wanted her to love him and she does – because according to her he’s lovely, kind and charming none of that was relayed to him though; I don’t want him to get a big head.

Now that he has every possible approval necessary, my best friend, my mum and boy bestie I think it’s time that I start calling him Boyfriend here officially instead of Mr. Unexpected. He was unexpected in October, he was a complete surprise, but now he’s earned the Boyfriend title. And while he still surprises me daily mostly I just realize exactly how lucky I am to have found someone who isn’t perfect but is perfect for me.

The push and pull of blog promotion: Part 2

After making progress with the art of pushing blog content to readers, it was time to drag more people directly to my blog. I required readers on my blog in order to increase the odds of collecting valuable feedback about the writing content, and to build momentum for future advertising revenue opportunities. To drag readers to my blog, I employed the strategies of pull marketing, with a ’social’ flare.

Social-izing Pull Marketing

Including the post link in a communication is intended to pull viewers directly to your content. An interest-sparking headline or lead-in prompts the reader to click to follow the content. If the writing fulfills its promise, visitors might be motivated to read other posts and become dedicated followers. If there are ads on the site that entice, viewer clicks may earn income for blog ads that represent a revenue source.

Pulling readers to your blog site provides the opportunity to create more loyal followers and potential for ad clicks. Since most advertising deals pay per click, more volume equals greater revenue. Once a viewer is on your site, they may also ‘like’, ‘share’ and ‘tweet’ your content so that other members of their network learn about the blog. Referrals are a great way to gain new readers. Having the credibility of the source contact increases the odds of connecting with their network audience.

The downside of pull marketing is relying on continued revisits from your readers. Since they will not be receiving an email or RSS feed notifying of the new post, their loyalty must be relied upon. This strategy requires them to make a decision to view each time they see notice of a new post through social media. To increase the odds they will continue to make an affirmative choice, quality post announcements are essential.

With pull promotion, the pitch that entices a reader to click must be enticing and succinct. For example, I recently wrote a blog post asking for opinions about telling my 8 year old how the Easter Bunny really delivers goodies to our home. The other option I have to deal with the truth is waiting until she hears something at school and decides to ask me. My actual question to readers was, “Do I tell my daughter the truth about the Easter Bunny?” My social media pitch, along with the blog link was, “Do I tell?”

Both are truthful, which is vital. A pitch that suggests something untrue about the content will make the reader feel they have been tricked into visiting your blog. The second pitch is more tempting for a wider audience of readers. If a reader is not interested in weighing in on the Easter Bunny decision, there is still the opportunity to entice them with another post on the site, since the pitch pulled them to your vast collection of content.

To push or to pull – that is the question. The answer is both. A balanced combination of both strategies will maximize the outcome. The size and quality of the promotion investment will be reflected in the results. The cost of marketing your blog content is almost entirely human resources. It takes a significant amount of time on the social media sites to organically develop relationships that are authentic.

Each site has its communication methods, language and etiquette. Social media experts debate the pros and cons of repeating content on multiple social media platforms. One point all social savvy individuals seem to agree on is the inevitable importance of these platforms for any business to compete.

 

Next column: Tweet to Compete

The push and pull of blog promotion: Part 1

How could I grow my blog audience? Outside of the following of friends, family and colleagues, it was time to source methods of attracting new readers. I had been using Facebook for the sole purpose of social connecting. I had registered a Twitter handle months before, but had sent fewer than a dozen tweets. I was intimidated by the new language and etiquette that were quite foreign.

It was time to marry my traditional marketing experience with practical use of social media. I needed to find ways to both get the posts out to readers and bring them directly to the blog site. This stage of “going social” started to feel like I was driving in my own lane again.

I went to my marketing roots for direction. Traditional marketing defines the push and pull strategy as the seller’s push of a product or service to the consumer, compared to the pull of said commodity by that consumer. The push could be a store sending me a flyer to sell shoes, versus my pull of calling the store to inquire about a sale of shiny red pumps.

Social media adds a new layer to push and pull marketing. It drives consumers to action from the convenience of their own computer, tablet or smartphone. Books are downloaded and read without ever visiting the bookstore. Travel is arranged over the internet and via email communications. Merchants for clothing, jewelry and so much more rely on the ability to both push offers to buyers and pull buyers to their sites for instant deals to be closed.

TIP: In this era of immediate gratification, it is more critical than ever for sellers to have a succinct pitch to ignite that deal. After much trial and error, I learned to spark interest in 100 words or less.

Social-izing my push marketing

Posting a picture or details of a promotion pushes product over social media to potential buyers. One may choose to receive information from a supplier by being a Twitter follower or ‘liking’ a business page on Facebook. A seller may expect you are a partially qualified purchaser, in that you have indicated an interest by agreeing to participate.

In order for a prospect to gain qualifications, a seller needs to know if they are interested in the product or service, do they have the authority to make a purchase decision, and do they have the funds to buy. If the supplier has created a “sponsored post” on Facebook or a “promoted Tweet” on Twitter, the audience is unqualified and considered mass market, with which the deal close ratio is much smaller.

I wasn’t ready to invest cash into a sponsored promotion. Since I needed the practical experience with Facebook and Twitter, I invested many hours of my time learning the tricks of the tools. Once the skills started to develop, both sites became rather addicting. Making likeminded connections is a natural activity. Learning to authentically attract followers to push content toward took more time.

Communicating on ‘The Social’ needs to be true to its name, social communication. The conversation is friendly chitchat where people with common interests share thoughts, quotes and resources that might be of importance to the audience. The goal is motivating people to sign up for your blog without sounding like you are begging for followers or being too pushy.

The benefit of pushing content out is the consistency of reader contact. The blogger maintains control of how often content is viewed. It is critical to achieve balance between keeping the audience interested and informed, yet avoiding inundating them with an overwhelming amount of information and risking pushing them away. Empathy is a key quality in achieving that balance. Put yourself in the position of your audience. Does your content offer something beneficial or is it completely self-serving? Followers want to know that they are being put first.

The downside of push marketing is that you are playing on the purchaser’s turf, as opposed to your own. For example, pushing out an email or RSS feed sends the most current content to a reader, but it does not entice the audience with other posts or advertisements that might be seen if the reader was pulled to your own blog site.

Part two of promotion will explore how I went from “being pushy” to dragging people to my blog with pull marketing tactics. Subtlety is not my greatest strength, but I’m adjusting.

 

Next column: The Push and Pull of Blog Promotion: Part 2

Living by the 80/20 rule

Maybe it’s just me, but it seems that so much of life these days is about “more “: do more, live more, work more, be even more than what everyone expects. One hundred percent is not quite enough.

I have seen this, too, in how some people approach their diet, or in how they think they need to be approaching changes toward a healthier lifestyle. There is merit in being able to embrace a lifestyle concept entirely and live by it with full force but it is a rare individual who can go cold turkey from old habits. It can be quite stressful to do a complete overhaul; rebound binges may occur and guilt becomes yet another emotional hurdle to overcome. It can also be socially restrictive, preventing someone from being able to enjoy an evening out at a restaurant or at a friend’s house for dinner.

I like to support the 80/20 rule of living, especially when it comes to diet. The idea is that most of the time (this can be anywhere from 80% to 95% for a given period of time), I eat very nutrient-dense, clean food such as organic produce, cold-water fish that is simply prepared, and creative vegan meals. For a meat-eater this may also include organically-raised chicken or grass-fed beef. I stay hydrated with filtered water or herbal teas—my current favourite is Tulsi/Holy Basil. I can honestly say that I really enjoy eating this way and I certainly feel better for it. Over years of steady transition from what is the Standard (North) American Diet, my palate has adapted so that these foods are what I crave most.

The other 5-20% of the time, I am able to enjoy some of life’s indulgences. Here’s my confession:  the neighbourhood bakery makes really delicious, sinful brownies so I treat myself to one every month or so. I relish times spent with friends over some wine and a meal that they have lovingly prepared. There are also those nights, usually once a week, when neither my husband nor I are in the mood to prepare a meal so a local restaurant serves up a nice break from cooking.

The catch of course is being honest with yourself about on which side of the dividing line your choices lie. Is your 80/20 more of a 60/40 right now? That’s okay. As long as you know what your goals are and what your true starting point is, you can get to 80/20 by making small, steady changes over time. Then you CAN have your small piece of cake and eat it too.

 

 

 

 

Book review: Where Chefs Eat

4/5 stars

Where Chefs Eat: A Guide To Chefs’ Favorite Restaurants is the ultimate foodie reference guidebook and is perfect for traveling. It is an easy read and very organized. You can read the book front to back or search a specific city. I prefer front to back since I discovered Morton’s The Steakhouse listed under Shanghai, but if you can’t travel, you can always find it in Toronto and use the recommendation.

The chefs are introduced with a brief biography and you are told the meaning of specific categories. For example, they define the budget for you. The chefs are well-known and established. They include Marcus Samuelsson, Daniel Boulud, Hugh Acheson, and many more. The book itself is divided by continent and a map is provided for each section. Every restaurant says who recommended it and they specify the area in the city for ease. In addition, they always provide the website and a reservation e-mail if it is needed. Each page contains a quote from the chef and mouth-watering food descriptions. The restaurants are not all well known and allow readers to discover hidden gems in their own city or abroad. Where Chefs Eat also comes with a yellow bookmark, which is a nice addition.

Although I was very impressed with this book, I wish that every restaurant had quotes from the chef and a brief description of the atmosphere, dishes and chefs. I feel that more detail would have improved the book.

Where Chefs Eat also has an iPhone and iPad app that was released in May. If you prefer to have your smartphone while traveling rather than carrying a book, this is a very practical idea. This is one of the few books that has an app.

Overall, I thought that this was a great book. At 643 pages, it is massive and features varied cuisine that is sure to fulfill any taste bud or craving while traveling. Instead of relying on internet reviews, the chefs have authority in the industry and recommend restaurants for any budget. They even include restaurants that the chefs wish they’d opened. This is the perfect travel companion for summer.

How tacky is it to sell things on Facebook?

We’ve all seen it.

“Hey, I was cleaning out my closet and itemised, catalogued, and photographed all of this stuff to be sold. Oh maaaaaaaan, there sure is some good stuff here!”

Maybe you’ve even been the one doing it.

“Hm, instead of donating all this old crap I could make a few quick bucks. Stacy did say she liked this top after all. And it was fifty bucks new when I bought it in 2009. I suppose there is no harm in making an album and selling a few things, right?”

Wrong.

My mother used to drag us around to yard sales on every spring and summer weekend looking for deals. On the right kind of day you’d see half a dozen just driving to the grocery store. We would stop at every single one and then stop again on the way back to get the things she wasn’t sure about the first time we were there.

There is a dignity associated with the yard sale. This is a family, couple, or person who has come to the end of their spring or summer cleaning and actually just has a bunch of stuff to get rid of. They’ve thrown it all out on the lawn and put a kid with a tin box on the hopes of scrounging up four dollars for their once priceless CD collection, or maybe a quarter for a Rocko’s Modern Life colouring book that is half finished.

By the end of the day the afternoon are mostly empty and you have to go knock on the door to get their attention. By supper time they’ve given up, folded up the card tables, and thrown everything left into a hamper with “FREE STUFF” written on a poorly torn piece of cardboard in front of it. Game over. They participated in the time honoured tradition of the yard sale whereby you are granted no more than eight hours a year in which you can shamelessly grub for money from your friends and neighbours for stuff that is worth little more than it’s kitsch value.

Although it exists in the digital world, Facebook peddling is still a violation of this ancient suburban rule.

Remember that one yard sale that was just a little ways out of town that would be going on all year? You stopped and looked a few times and it was the same old crates of coke bottles and dog eared Danielle Steele novels every time. The reason you felt uncomfortable at these extended yard sales, aside from the pitbull chained to the tree in the lawn, was because you already understood that they were violating this code.

In your mother’s generation it was Tupperware parties or AmWay that violated The Rule by trapping friends, family, and neighbours into situations where they felt obligated to buy something to avoid the risk of being rude to someone close. No one enjoyed this, save for perhaps the person without social skill who pinned them there.

Today we have Facebook peddlers to fill this role by trying to run their apartments as if they were stores. Let me be the one to tell you that whatever money you may gain is most likely lost tenfold in respect from your peers. If you need the money so badly you should try and sell it on Craigslist or at a pawn shop.

But they won’t give me a decent price for it on Craigslist or at a pawn shop. 

Then you can’t get a decent price for it, and expecting your friends to pay more doesn’t put then in a very high regard. If you can’t find a decent price for it then donate it to a non-profit drive like Goodwill or a local church

But this is too nice to be donated to some stranger.

Then donate it to your friends. In addition to saving your friends from feeling obligated or uncomfortable by seeing your used clothes tick by in their newsfeeds you’re saving yourself the social disgrace of being considered tacky.

Bottom line: If it’s still good keep it, if you can get a buck sell it to a stranger, if you can’t then give it away.

Is the Happy Hotdog Man the perfect this-makes-me-gag gift?

When you give someone a gift, it’s important to remember that they will look for the meaning behind it. I think making associations is a good thing to do, and a good way to get ideas for the perfect gift.  For example, a blender is a great gift for someone who loves to make smoothies, an iPod is perfect for someone who loves music, and a gift basket full of body lotion is a great way to tell someone that you forgot about their birthday until four hours ago.

You know the feeling: you give the person their gift, they give you yours and suddenly you realize that gag gift from late night TV isn’t as funny as you thought it was. Maybe they got you something deeply personal or romantic, and you got them some “hilarious” infomercial product, like The Happy Hot Dog Man.

Is everyone familiar with The Happy Hot Dog Man? If not, I’ve included the video below for your viewing pleasure. The Happy Hot Dog Man solves one particular problem: how can we get kids to eat more hot dogs? Go ahead, treat yourself.

Isn’t that amazing?  I thought I already owned a Happy Hot Dog Man, but in my house we call it a knife.

I’ve also never been to a party where “bringing ordinary hot dogs to life” has been an activity.  The little girl was just gushing about how you can cut them like girls and boys and decorate them, and I know you were thinking the same thing as me: she really needs to get some better toys.

Gift giving is like an art form on its own, and it is a very tricky one to master. Go for the thoughtful, creative gifts over the late night infomercials, no matter how tempting they are after the fourth glass of wine. Am I right? Anybody? Whatever.

 

Getting fit by shaking my booty

I am not athletic, but I am trying to branch out. So I decided to try a fitness class and found myself at the Danforth Booty Camp Fitness.

“Working out should never be boring,” states Susan Chung, an Elite Drill Instructor at the fitness centre. Her workout approach is to have fun. “Without fun, there is no motivation or drive to keep moving.”

“For the most part, it’s all about having fun at camp and working towards similar fitness goals.  The recruits love getting their kick-booty sessions – a mix of cardio, high or low intensity muscle conditioning work with options for all levels of fitness, and HIIT (high intensity interval training). We get our sweat on,” says Chung.

Chung started the class with a light jog. I struggled with the rock climbing leg movement. They did leg lunges, which I really enjoyed, followed by burpies, which are sort of similar to jumping. In addition, we did the traditional sit ups, crunches and push-ups. The class also did Booty Camp Wars, which was really fun, and a series of leg exercises followed by ‘The Britney’, a leg and arm movement which is very hard to describe. Chung ended with some stretching to ease the muscle tension.

Chung was searching the Internet one day and was attracted to the website with the pink colours. “I thought that having an all women’s boot camp around the city was incredibly empowering. I’ve never seen that before,” she says. “To share the love of fitness and to share it with so many amazing women each day is gratifying. I am blessed.”

Overall, I found the class to be very supportive and personal. If you were slacking or doing something wrong, Chung or a peer would correct you, which was nice and a motivator. The workout itself was fun but intense and there were water breaks. Chung is also very flexible with the class times for her recruits.

One of the perks includes a healthy cookbook called Eat Right Made Simple, which the recruits adore. Kennedy has a blog with delicious recipes on her website, and she shares them on a weekly basis via social media. I tried the Banana Mousse, Barbecue Chicken, and Sunshine Rice, all of which were simple, tasty and guilt-free.

If you’re looking for a medium to high intensity workout with supportive women and a cookbook, Booty Camp Fitness may be right for you.