Sunday, January 22, 2012

Review: To Prove or Improve?

MINDSET: The New Psychology of Success
By Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.

288 pages. Random House (February 28, 2006)

  • You can learn new things, but you can’t really change your basic intelligence.
  • To be honest, you can’t really change how much talent you have.
  • You can do things differently, but the important parts about who you are can’t really be changed.

Do you agree with those statements?
After more than 20 years of research in motivation and personality psychology, Carol S. Dweck introduces her findings in Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Mindsets are basic beliefs about you and your intelligence, personality and talents. They form a foundation for how we interpret our world. Starting in childhood, they shape our goals, our attitude towards work and relationships, and how we approach new tasks. Dweck reports that people tend towards one of two basic groups: a fixed mindset or a growth mindset.
Visit Mindset Online.
People with a fixed mindset must constantly prove themselves and believe their abilities cannot be significantly changed. Convinced that personality, talents and intelligence fall like lucky numbers in the lottery, you either have it or you don’t. Those with fixed mindsets do not challenge their abilities; they cannot risk failure. Further, they often need to excel in comparison to others and cannot tolerate mistakes. Fixed mindset people spend their resources trying to look smart and talented at all costs.
People with a growth mindset seek to improve themselves and believe their intelligence, talents, and abilities can be developed over time. They believe abilities, such as athletic or musical ability can be improved through hard work and persistence. When a task gets difficult, they see a challenge to overcome with effort. They do not fear failure, but welcome the opportunity for self-improvement.
Dweck writes, “When you enter a mindset, you enter a new world. In one world--the world of fixed traits--success is about proving you’re smart or talented. Validating yourself. In the other--the world of changing qualities--it’s about stretching yourself to learn something new. Developing yourself.”
Everyone understands that an athlete needs to practice, practice, practice. In the sports arena, excellence requires dedication and hard work. No one makes fun of Michael Jordan for practicing on the court. “Even at the height of his success and fame--after he had made himself into an athletic genius--his dogged practice remained legendary.” His former coach labels him “a genius who constantly wants to upgrade his genius.”
Success stems from our approach, our mindset. Jordan says, “The mental toughness and the heart are a lot stronger than some of the physical advantages you might have.” Dweck continues, “But other people don’t. They look at Michael Jordan and they see the physical perfection that led inevitably to his greatness.” They look past the years of dedicated effort perfecting his skills, past his determination after defeats, and only see the phenomenal athlete.”
Your mindset is not permanent. The belief in change at any life stage forms the basis for the growth mindset. Accepting growth challenges people “to give up on using personal fixed traits as a source of self-esteem and instead derive their self-esteem from effort and embrace things formerly thought of as threatening such as challenge, struggle, criticism, and setbacks.”
Respected child psychologist, Dr. Haim Ginott, says, “Praise should deal, not with the child’s personality attributes, but with his efforts and achievements.” Praise should be given to the effort and persistence rather than intelligence or talent. This holds true not only for children, but also for adults.
Mindset shares stories of school achievement, artistic ability and the positive and negative effect of labels. Corporate examples from Enron, Ford, GE and AOL Time Warner, among others, illustrate the damage fixed mindsets at the helm of our nations’ greatest companies can do.
Dweck offers clear and convincing advice to a general audience based on over two decades of well-defined research. Her research on the whys behinds success has been featured in The New Yorker, Time, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Boston Globe and she has appeared on Today and 20/20. She is a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University and has held professorships at Columbia and Harvard Universities.
Stretching across multiple arenas, she gives parents, teachers, coaches, and business leaders tools to practice a growth mindset and realize meaningful success. Read the book and prove it to yourself; your mindset shapes your life.

Will you choose a fixed mindset or a growth mindset?

Friday, January 20, 2012


With the school year already six weeks underway, I finally agree to take the computer technology instructor position. The head of school is confident in what I will bring to the classroom.

“I need someone who knows our community, who knows the content and is an educator. You are two out of three,” he smiles.
Portrait of Cheryl Foley
by Edwin Remsberg
Leaving a corporate environment behind ten years before, I never considered teaching a part of my career plan. How could I be responsible for developing curriculum for five classes and teaching young children to use their minds and their computers?
Enter Mrs. Foley, science teacher and my recently appointed mentor teacher. A barbershop singer, she wears a gracious smile each day. She breezes down the hallway with a smile adorned in long flowing skirts, stylish scarves and sparkling jewelry. I have never been able to wear a scarf. I fidget, snagging pens, books, and table corners, then get tangled up and almost strangled in the finest paisley pashmina. Beaming students circle Mrs. Foley in the hall, eager to share a new observation or story. She infects her students with bubbling enthusiasm and genuine excitement for learning. Older students jealously monitor the crayfish habitat constructed in her intermediate class. The dozen waterlogged critters become mascots for the weeks they live in the science lab.
A brainstormer who is always ready with relevant ideas, Mrs. Foley makes her job look easy. She shares with me her secret for how to get one hundred percent compliance in the classroom.
“When you give instructions, make sure you stop moving. Ask for ‘all eyes on me’ before proceeding. By name thank each student as they comply. Do not continue without all eyes focused on you. Then proceed with the instructions.”
Now I recognize this is elementary classroom management, not astrophysics. Sounds so simple, intuitive even. I have addressed international audiences and delivered a keynote speech. I have managed millions of dollars worth of high-tech inventory, difficult personalities and a household of strong-willed and quick-witted children. How ridiculous is it to need coaching on giving instructions? Well, I did.
Mrs. Foley breaks tasks down into bite-sized pieces and shows me how to direct the cacophony in the orchestra pit. Stand still. Ask for attention. Acknowledge it with positive comments. Begin. And it works--the instruments warm up and the class gets ready to make music on the keyboards. I want to be like the magical Mrs. Foley. Master the classroom, effortlessly manage the students and bring out their best every day. If I were more like her,  life would surely be more harmonious.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Review: Woodberry Kitchen

Farm to Table: Homegrown Flavors at their Finest

From the foundation to the food, every aspect of Woodberry Kitchen emanates comfort cuisine and homegrown attention to detail and the finest flavors of Baltimore and the Chesapeake region. Named for its historic Baltimore roots in the 1802 mill town, Woodberry Kitchen delivers seasonal dishes from local growers and organic meat producers using sustainable agricultural practices. Tucked away in a trendy pocket of Hampden, the rustic restaurant nestles inside the renovated Clipper Mill factory.

An outdoor wood-burning fireplace gently illuminates the large patio lining the front of the restaurant. Inside impressive two-story wood-beam shelves stacked with round-cut logs and canned vegetables ground the open floor plan. Exposed brick walls, the open kitchen and a wrap-around dining loft contribute to the unpretentious, comfortable setting.

For reservations, visit Woodberry Kitchen.
Coordinated, not contrived, Woodberry Kitchen radiates energy and genuine excitement. The menu includes the local farms, labeled local heroes, which produce the table’s bounty; farms like my neighbors One Straw Farm and Daily Crisis Farm in White Hall. Often menu items name the source, for instance the Tilghman Island Crab Pot ($15) and the Springfield Farm Chicken & Biscuit ($28) entrée. Local harvests from sustainable agriculture provide the ingredients for every dish.
Soups, salads, snack and supper sections of the menu each offer several meat, fish and vegetarian options. Organic cuts of pork, poultry, beef and lamb grace plates with seasonal root vegetables. While seafood choices include fresh crab, shrimp and rockfish, a variety of Chesapeake Oysters ($13-19) come highly recommended and allow a connoisseur to select the desired brine intensity and preparation. Gluten-free and children’s menus are also available.
A cocktail menu featuring original adaptations complements the local, organic wines and regional beers. Our server, Corinne, suggests a unique spin on a classic drink, the Manhampden ($12). It blends Maryland-style rye whiskey, California sweet vermouth, new-fashioned bitters, Peychaud’s and an orange twist.
For those seeking nonalcoholic options, the teetotaler selections look just as promising. Each glass of WK Lemonade ($4) is hand-shaken with fresh-squeezed lemons sweetened by local honey.
After a table basket of house-baked ciabatta, cranberry wheat bread, and yeasted cornbread, we segue into a snack course. A wooden lazy Susan is placed in the center of the table topped with a variety of homemade crackers and gingerbread, local soft cheeses, a baby jar of Cybee honey, blueberry relish, apple butter and sliced pears.
Simply yet elegantly presented, the supper entrées further highlight Woodberry Kitchen’s consistent attention to every detail with a sophisticated flair. Buttered cabbage, country bacon and fingerling sweet potatoes dress the juicy and tender Whitmore Farm Glocester Old Spot Pork Chop ($27). Crispy lardons intensify and add salt to the lightly sweet and hearty flavors of the oven-roasted sweet potatoes and create a cohesive dish.
The Pooles Island Rockfish Out of the Oven ($28) salutes the state fish of Maryland. The chef’s preparation accentuates the beautiful contrast between the light, crispy skin and the buttery, flaky meat. The fish is presented atop a blend of young potatoes, turnips, butternut squash and a smooth parsnip cream.
For dessert, try the C.M.P. ($11)--a malt ice cream concoction with marshmallow fluff (M) and wet peanuts (P). The C could stand for chocolate sauce, or maybe the thin layer of candy coating that seals the sundae, or maybe ice cream. Who cares? Order it with confidence and eat every bite. Every item is handmade onsite. In fact, executive chef Duff Goldman, owner of Baltimore’s own Charm City Cakes, showcased C.M.P. on The Best Thing I Ever Ate.
The music, acoustic rock, and din of a full house rises to the balcony, so ask for a table downstairs if you are seeking quiet conversation. In addition, tables in the separate dining room, when available, provide greater space and privacy compared to some of the tighter-packed seating near the bar and kitchen.
Charming atmosphere, friendly and attentive service, outstanding quality and upper-moderate menu prices make Woodberry Kitchen a true value not often found. The portions are just right and the comfortable pace allows each course to be savored. Exceptionally well planned and well executed, Woodberry Kitchen presents a humble paragon and delivers the highest culinary offerings of the Chesapeake. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Review: Redlight King

Raised in the steel town Hamilton, Ontario, songwriter and singer Mark “Kaz” Kasprzyk released two albums as “Kazzer” in the early 2000s. When drugs and depression derailed his plans, the three-year sober Kaz hit the road to the west coast and poured his pain-fueled creativity into rebuilding his music career.

Official Redlight King website
His new musical project, Redlight King, belts out a redemptive rock anthem blended with rap and peppered with hip-hop. Named for the starting red lights of a drag race, Redlight King released its debut album Something for the Pain in 2011 on June 28th with Hollywood Records.

The album chronicles his triumph over adversity and choosing to turn life around. Rock guitar, bass and drums dominate eleven distinctive tracks, most songs at just over three minutes. A variety of expressive styles flow throughout the tracks, seamlessly fusing old-school rock sounds with a modern rap music influence.

In fact, the song Old Man samples the Neil Young iconic 1972 hit, the first-ever artist approved to do so. This nod from Young speaks volumes of Kaz’s dogged perseverance to overcome obstacles. A fierce competitor, Kaz grappled with the Canadian judo team as a 2000 Olympic hopeful. Old Man salutes the tumultuous relationship with his father, an amateur stock car racer. Unexpectedly, it also convinces us that Neil Young and Kaz’ rap-rock style belong together. No easy feat.

The dulcet title track launches into the dark days with a hard beat and driving bass line. Recovery and redemption storylines play out in Bullet in My Hand and Comeback with heavy percussion. “I’m diggin’ up six feet tonight,” sings Kaz with a raw honesty about climbing out of addiction. The hard-driving beat, the vocal intensity, and the dark lyrics paint the desperate scene of Underground. The pensive songs that look back are grounded in rock, while tracks looking forward showcase rap, albeit a lyrical rap, style.

Built to Last pulls in hip hop rhythms, rap chants with a hard-edged rock foundation. “I’ve been beat up and broken down/And I’ve been there a thousand times/I may have walked through the worst in hell my friend/And we all got our reasons why.” Offering smooth solidarity, Little Darlin promises to get it right this time around in a love song.

Rap-centric Drivin’ to Kalifornia catches Kaz leaving a cold, dark past behind him and channeling his energy into “livin’ free . . . where the sun shines.” The dark side of City Life is a tribute to the working class struggles of his industrial hometown. A softer, acoustic guitar graces When The Dust Settles Down as Kaz reflects on mistakes and closes with the refrain “start over again.”

Don’t let the rap-rock tag scare you. Clear vocals, a blend of hard beats, strong guitars, and deep reflections couple with a determined honesty that pulls the wide range of influences together into a cohesive sound that works. Though based on his personal struggles, each track tells a relatable story. Kaz sings, “Now I know I was built to last.” I have to agree; Kaz and Redlight King will be sticking around.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Review: The Help

The Help 2-Disc Bonus Pack: Blue-Ray + DVD Bonus Features
Released August 10, 2011

“Change begins with a whisper.” But Kathryn Stockett, author of the runaway bestseller The Help, and screenplay writer and director Tate Taylor no longer whisper. Together with an ensemble cast members Emma Stone, Academy Award-nominated Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer and Bryce Dallas Howard, Stockett and Taylor tell a compassionate story of unlikely friends in complicated times.

Visit the official movie website
In 1963, the civil rights movement is well underway. The white folks of Jackson, Mississippi just don’t know it yet. When recent Ole Miss graduate Eugenia “Skeeter” Phelan (Stone) returns home to Jackson, she feels lonely and out of synch with her married friends. Appalled by her friend Hilly’s (Howard) racial comments, she approaches a maid, Aibileen (Davis), about sharing what it’s like to work for a white family. Joined by spitfire Minny (Spencer), together they find the strength to shine by sharing their poignant stories through tears and triumph, laughter and love.

With the Blu-ray release of The Help, never-before-seen bonus features and additional deleted scenes are now available. “Making of The Help: From Friendship To Film” chronicles childhood best friends Stockett and Taylor, exposing their struggles, insecurities and southern stubbornness. Interviews with almost a dozen cast and crew members share a story of loyalty: loyalty to friends, to the maids and to Mississippi. At twenty-three minutes, the candid discussions and the personal inspirations behind the characters open up a greater appreciation and deepen our understanding of the beautiful love stories unfolding in The Help.

Also available only on Blu-ray, “In Their Own Words: A Tribute to the Maids of Mississippi” takes place in the church from the film. Tate Taylor and Octavia Spencer lead eight women, many joined by their daughters, in an open conversation about southern food, dreams and working as a maid in the 1960s. Both Taylor’s mother and maid join the sentimental, yet engaging twelve-minute feature.

Taylor introduces the five deleted scenes with commentary. The DVD release included two scenes: Charlotte’s reaction to Stuart’s heritage and an alternate end to Minny’s story. The Blu-ray release includes those and adds three additional scenes: Hilly confronting Skeeter about the “typo,” Johnny Foote coming home early, and fearful maids calling Aibileen at home. Deleted scenes add some value, but fall flat of adding dimension to the characters.

Both the Blue-ray and DVD release include the music video for Mary J. Blige’s emotional ballad “The Living Proof.” After watching a screening of the film, Blige wrote and performed the song especially for The Help soundtrack. Powerful lyrics like, “Nothing about my life has been easy/But nothing is gonna keep me down,” resonate with audiences. The video mixes an uplifting montage of short clips and Blige in a studio performance.

This award-winning film brings the beloved novel to life with compassion and honesty. The Help is not a statement about race; it is a novel and film dedicated to the truth and honoring their stories. The Blu-ray bonus features present a compelling backstory of loyalty that bring us all along for the ride on a Cinderella story set in Mississippi. Highly recommend the book, film and bonus materials.

Aibileen says, “God says to love your enemies. It hard to do. But it can start by tellin’ the truth. No one had ever ask’d me what it felt like to be me. Once I told the truth about that, I felt free.”

PG-13, Drama, 146 minutes 

Monday, January 2, 2012


Georgia & James in 1937
with his brother Worthington (left)
I have a panoramic black and white photograph of a small town in northeastern Kansas where my maternal grandmother lived. The photo curls into a tight tube of heavy, yellowed paper. Flatten it, and you'll see more than a hundred people not smiling, as was the custom, and squinting into the sun. The town no longer exists; the photo was taken before the town disappeared under a deluge of rerouted water. The state constructed a dam, flooding the small town and forcing the relocation of the residents. As I child I would hear this story and envision her father's grocery store and a schoolhouse under water with fish swimming through the broken windows.

Georgia, my grandmother, was visiting her uncle in Chicago in 1936. A 26-year-old second-grade teacher, she loved her students and turned down offers of marriage just to keep her job. She first met my grandfather, James, on a hot summer Saturday night while sitting on her uncle's front porch. He was tall and handsome, wore a black hat, and was thirteen years her senior. A mailman by day and previously a speakeasy buster at night, he sold the confiscated liquor on the side. They were married the following Wednesday after an eleven-day courtship and cherished each other for the rest of their days.

My mother's parents were 42 and 55 when she was born an only child in 1952. James was born the youngest of twelve in Virginia and was already losing brothers and sisters by the time my mother entered this world. His advanced age and poor health made travel difficult; most of his family never laid eyes on her. My mother cannot even recall the name of his parents.

Only a few scattered stories remain today of my family before my grandparents. A set of china, a Civil War-era quilt, and some portraits we can barely identify. No deeper roots, no stories of how they got here, no trace of their lives before America. What remains are only the questions and ponderings of how we came to be where we are, of how we came to be who we are.

As published in What You're Writing of Baltimore's Urbanite Magazine in January 2012.