Thursday, November 24, 2016

Giving Thanks

"Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life.
It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity.
It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home,
a stranger into a friend.
Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and
creates a vision for tomorrow."
~Melody Beattie

I have loads of half-written posts that I need to finish and publish, but I wanted to pause for a moment on this Thanksgiving morning to reflect on that for which I am most thankful. Since lists and I like each other, here goes...

1. I'm thankful for my family. Their love, their support, their humor, their interest in me, and their encouragement (they are great cheerleaders!). It's nice to know that you have a whole group of people in your court.

2. I'm thankful for my job. It may not be all I wish for and I may not love every minute of it, but overall it's a good place to be. And the alternative is certainly not a place I want to be right now. Good people. It's giving me experience. It's paying my bills and for that I'm grateful.

3. I'm so thankful for my home. I love my home and being in a nice warm, cozy place is pure luxury, I know.

4. I'm thankful for the formal education I have had and am now getting. So many teachers, so many topics, so many lessons learned. My life is forever enriched by all of them and the desire for life-long learning continues to burn within me.

5. I'm thankful for trees. And for mountains. And the ocean. And sunsets and sunrises. CLOUDS. I'm thankful for clouds. For the rain and treasured foggy, misty mornings.

6. I'm thankful for friends. New and old. Those who have come and gone and those that are here to stay. I'm immensely grateful to those who warmly reach out to me. Reaching out to others comes relatively naturally to me, but it's like a breath of fresh air when someone else takes the lead.

7. I'm thankful for God. The comfort and peace that come with having a relationship and connection with God is a blessing. Knowing and imagining what my heavenly parents are like gives me hope and peace.

8. I'm grateful for Zumba. It breathes in new life every time. Endorphins! And my Zumba teacher, Jennifer. Her smile and cheerful nature is infectious.

9. My bed. Oh, I'm so thankful for my bed. It's the best.

10. The internet. I'll say it. I'm thankful for the internet.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, October 08, 2016

Lessons from Cynthia Cooper and the WorldCom Fraud

"Whether we are found out or not, when we make decisions that go against our values, our lives start to implode." 
~ Cynthia Cooper, WorldCom Whistleblower

Cynthia Cooper planned to live a relatively peaceful, quiet life. Life in accounting generally was rather low-key. Cynthia started working as chief auditor for WorldCom in her hometown of Clinton, Mississippi in 1994. A town with a population of less than 25,000 people, Clinton and its residents were extremely proud to be the headquarters to this Fortune 100 company. In the 1980s and 90s, WorldCom grew to be one of the largest, most successful companies in the United States, second in its industry only to AT&T. That all ended in the early 2000s, when Cynthia, as head of internal audit, unenviably became the whistleblower to a 3.8 billion dollar fraud scandal, the largest incident of accounting fraud in The United States at the time..

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to hear Cynthia Cooper speak about her experience, her over-night leap to front page of the Wall Street Journal, and what has happened in the years since. This opportunity was especially exciting to me because I just started my Executive MBA and learned more about Cynthia and WorldCom in my first accounting class.

"Most financial fraud happens in round numbers," Cynthia said.

As we ascend a mountain, Cynthia warned, we can sometimes be blinded by the summit. We can walk right through ethical dilemmas as we try to meet our goals. Senior management at WorldCom were pressured to meet guidelines and expectations of Wall Street. And they bulldozed right through that ethical dilemma, making one wrong choice after another. Quiet, seemingly little, adjustments to their financial statements.

No adjustment to a financial statement is a little deal. It's a very big deal.

Cynthia and her team worked diligently, often through the night so as not to draw too much attention, to investigate suspicious journal entries in an account call prepaid capacity.

Bringing questions to senior management did no good because their answers just got weirder and weirder. She knew she was uncovering something that people were trying to hide.

During the months of her internal investigation, her head was spinning, her stomach queasy, but she continued on, often repeating the 23rd Psalm in her mind.

1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they fcomfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

Cynthia's team uncovered $3.8 billion in fraud before they blew the whistle and turn it over to the SEC. Following the investigation by the SEC in 2003, it was determined to be even more. WorldCom's assets has been inflated by around $11 billion, making it the largest incidence of accounting fraud in U.S. history. I'd say that's a big deal. A big enough deal that five people went to prison due to their actions.

Unlike most whistleblowers, who leave their company within a year, Cynthia stayed on for two more years after the scandal went public. Two more very difficult years.

Imagine being the person who was seen as the cause of people losing their jobs and the company going into bankruptcy. Her life and her family's lives were up-ended and on edge. Her face was on the front of the WSJ; reporters were standing on her doorstep and on her parents' doorstep; and she found herself looking through the yellow pages for an attorney. Cynthia was not living the quiet, peaceful life she imagined.

During the internal investigation, the aftermath of the fraud going public and then being investigated by the SEC, Cynthia said the greatest peace came when she started to read the New Testament.

"In many ways, this story is about human nature, about people and choices," writes Cynthia in the epilogue of her new book, "Extraordinary Circumstances: The Journey of a Corporate Whistleblower." "It shows how power and money can change people, and how easy it is to rationalize, give in to fear, and cave under pressure and intimidation."

"Whether we are found out or not, when we make decisions that go against our values, our lives start to implode," Cynthia Cooper warned.

There are ethical battles of all kinds in the business world. Cynthia gave four main tips of wisdom to consider.

1- Know what you stand for - write your own mission statement. Be intentional.
2- Find courage - courage to stand in the face of fear.
3- Don't ever let yourself be intimidated. Ask yourself how you would feel if your face were on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.
4- Don't keep it to yourself. Just because it's legal doesn't mean it's ethical. Ask yourself, "do my decisions line up with my core values?"

One thing that really stuck with me was the story of Betty Vinson, one of the two accountants who were convicted along with three other C-suite executives. Betty, testified that she was pressured by superiors to make the false entries. "I felt like if I didn't make the entries, I wouldn't be working there," she testified. She lacked the courage that Cynthia talked about having in the face of fear.

"The very darkest times cause us to change the most. [You need to] find out, decide what is most important." ~ Cynthia Cooper

Betty was afraid she wouldn't have a job if she didn't do what she was asked. To me, that means she was not in a personal financial position to rock the boat. The takeaway for me? Be courageous; do not be intimidated; do the right thing; AND be prepared financially to get up and walk away from a situation where you are asked to do unethical things. If you have your finances in order and are able to turn and walk away, you will be much less likely to make decisions that are not in line with your values.

Cynthia said, "The very darkest times cause us to change the most. Find out, decide, what is most important." What should be most important is your character, your moral compass, your values. That is who you are.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Recipe: Broccoli Bites

Eat food.
Not too much.
Mostly plants.
~Michael Pollan

Bright and early this morning, I picked up my Bountiful Baskets co-op order, the first in a very long time. I forgot how much I love getting all these vegetables. Plus getting up early starts my day off well because I feel so productive.

I've been trying to make a concerted effort to eat more healthfully, to eat REAL food. Real food doesn't have labels. Therefore, eating real food requires spending more time (not necessarily more money) preparing food. More time reading recipes. More time planning the week's meals. But I've noticed that as I make a focused effort to eat well, all of that time becomes much more meaningful and therapeutic.

Food is medicine. Food is fuel. And food is fun. Recently, I completed an online course with Stanford University, through CourseEra, called Stanford Introduction to Food and Health. I'd recommend it. As I went through the course, I was reminded of all the reasons cooking at home is generally best: it's healthier; it's tastier; you know what's in your food; it's therapeutic and rewarding to spend 15 minutes preparing your meal or a few hours once a week making meals that will last.

And so, I'm making an effort.

Today's Bountiful Baskets offering

With a table full of vegetables (and some fruit) this morning, I knew I had to be creative with my food preparation. All of this for $28 (regular basket plus a St. Patrick's Day add-on - everything in the plastic bags is the add-on) and I'm certain it will last me at least two weeks.

So far I've made a batch of vegetable soup with onions. leeks, garlic, broccoli, carrots, fresh thyme, dried herbs (Costco's blend is terrific), and some salt and pepper. I may add some chicken at a later time, but it was pretty tasty.

Because I not only had the two heads of broccoli you see in the picture, but an additional three heads already in the fridge, I decided to make some broccoli bites. I've read a few recipes in the past (probably on Pinterest) and decided to try a batch of these.

Broccoli Bites

For a first time shot, they turned out really yummy, but I'd still change a few things next time. Although, I didn't measure many of the ingredients, here is the recipe I came up with, with a few modifications I would make next time.
Broccoli Bites by Emery 
2 cups of broccoli, lightly steamed and chopped (do NOT over do it; the broccoli will cook a little more in the oven)
1 cup grated cheddar cheese
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
3 eggs
1/4 onion, finely chopped and maybe sauteed
1 cup seasoned Italian bread crumbs
Any fresh or dried herbs, to taste (Costco's seasoning mix would be great)
Salt and pepper, to taste 
Mix it all together in a large bowl. With hands, form small patties and place on parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake at 375 for 25 minutes, depending on the size of your patties, allowing to brown a little. Turn over once after the first 15 minutes. Serve warm alone or with your favorite dipping sauce.
This recipe makes about a dozen 2.5 inch patties or 2 dozen 1.5 inch small patties.

Delicious! And I still have three broccoli heads left!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Top Ten at the 2016 Golden Globes. Long and flowy stole the show.

"People will stare.
Make it worth their while."
~Harry Winston

And I'm back with another fashion post. I'm still cranking out my posts from my trip to Jordan and Israel, so keep checking back. They'll be back-dated, but you can always click on the Jordan/Israel label and get all the posts with that tag.

The red carpet at the Golden Globes this year certainly made up for last year's, which was really a non-event for me. This year's choices proved to keep my eye much better.

Viola Davis is just beautiful. The dark navy, the flowy skirt, the sheer fabric, the silvery sparkle. Though it was a bit busy with sparkle, she looked stunning. Just look at that smile.

Viola Davis in Marchesa
Golden Globes 2016
Photo credit

Alicia Vikander, whoever she is, chose a white gown that looked a little bit like wainscoting or beadboard to me. I liked the fun, feminine look until I got a view from the side--the sides were non-existent. But from the front, I think it was a fun number.

Alicia Vikander in Louis Vuitton
Golden Globes 2016
Photo credit

Julianne's dress didn't blow me away, but I liked the color which went well with her coloring. I think I would have liked it a smidge better if the thing wrapped around her neck had been left out.

Julianne Moore in Tom Ford
Golden Globes 2016
Photo credit

Amber Heard's flowy pink number by Gucci had a lovely, ethereal feel to me. The flowers circling the neckline were a nice touch with her matching lip stain. The pink/peach color variation was really pleasing too, soft on the eyes.

Amber Heard in Gucci
Golden Globes 2016
Photo credit

And then there's the teal and gold that Calista Flockhart wore. I love the color combo. The dress had a lot of potential, and I like it, but I think the neckline could've been different or maybe if there were well-placed seams in the bodice. But still, it looked great.

Calista Flockhart in Andrew Gn
Golden Globes 2016
Photo credit

Keeping with the blues, Queen Latifah's gown caught my eye. She looked lovely. A fresh and clean look with a little sparkle is always a good choice.

Queen Latifah in Badgley Mischka
Golden Globes 2016
Photo credit

Although her makeup and hair weren't as flattering as they could've been and I wished that she would've smiled, Uzo Aduba looked great in this black sequined gown. I haven't been able to learn the designer yet, but I'll update if I do. Simple with a bit of flair.

Uzo Aduba in unkown designer
Golden Globes 2016
Photo credit

A surprise favorite, Olivia Palermo's short multi-colored dress was a break from my usual style, but it was fun and it worked on her slim frame.

Olivia Palermo in Delpozo
Golden Globes 2016
Photo credit

Caitriona Balfe is just stunning. Isn't she? If you don't know her, she's the lead in Outlander. She spent years as a runway model, which is evident in her poise and the way she carries herself. Her black dress with the lacy tulle-like overlay and ruffly sleeves was great. Funky, but it works for me. Plus, I'm just in total awe of her, and frankly she wouldn't NOT make the list.

Caitriona Balfe in Alexander McQueen
Golden Globes 2016
Photo credit

And then there was Sam. Blue got me again. Sam Heughan was the best dressed man at the Golden Globes. Again the deep blue with his reddish hair was just a great combo. Don't know Sam? Well, watch Outlander and become acquainted. I insist. You won't be sorry.

Sam Heughan in unknown designer
Golden Globes 2016
Photo credit

And there you have it. What were your favorites?

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Let there be light. And a little frill!

"If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun."
~Katharine Hepburn

I decided awhile back that my lamp was really blah and that it needed something to liven it up. I took straightway to Pinterest and determined that I needed some pompom trim. And here is the result.

Tada. Let there be light.