I love hats!

I am obsessed with hats. Not just any old hat, but big, flashy church lady hats. I am talking about the kind of hat that no one wants to be stuck behind on any Sunday morning because you will see nothing else. The lamp shade hat, the flying saucer hat, the stovepipe hat — the bigger the better. A hat like this will give you an attitude and make you stand up straight and walk proud. There is a reason that some women refer to these hats as crowns

Harriet Rosebud NYC

Harriet Rosebud NYC

This started a couple of years ago when I signed up for Pinterest and was browsing for things that interested me. I started off with shoes. That was natural for me because I have always loved a good pair of heels. From there, I moved on to looking at fashion – runway and ready to wear. Next thing you know, I saw photos of some Kentucky Derby hats and it was a wrap. I was drawn to those outrageous hats that served absolutely no practical purpose. Do not even get me started on the lids that were sported during the Royal wedding because no one rocks a hat– or a fascinator — like the Brits.

The Duchess of Cornwall

The Duchess of Cornwall

I see you Camilla Parker Bowles looking like you are headed to some kind of society function with tea and crumpets on the menu.

My family is from the south and my grandmother wore hats to church regularly, so my fondness of big hats is genetic. Back in the day, a woman wouldn’t dare go to church bare-headed. And for many women who toiled in menial jobs during the week, wearing a nice hat to church once per week gave them a real boost of self esteem. My grandmother had a serious hat collection, but I have no idea what happened to those magnificent brims once she passed away. I sure wish that I had one or two of those hats for sentimental purposes. Unlike back in the day, wearing hats to church regularly is no longer as prevalent now outside of certain denominations like the COGIC whose members are known for wearing gorgeous hats and matching outfits. These stylish ladies could give the royals a run for their money.

Mr. Sax Unlimited

Mr. Sax Unlimited

Donna Vinci ensemble

Donna Vinci ensemble

Otherwise, you will not normally see many hats during a church service unless it’s Easter Sunday or a special occasion like church anniversary. That is why I have to search for pictures online since it is rare for me to see a fabulous hat in real life.

Another significant hat event happened during during President Obama’s first inauguration in 2009 when people were carrying on over Aretha Franklin’s hat like it was the most unusual thing that they had ever seen. That hat had its own Facebook page. People photo-shopped that hat onto themselves, family pets and historical figures from Abraham Lincoln to Gandhi.

The (in)famous Inauguration hat

The (in)famous Inauguration hat

It was a great moment for the art of millinery. Now that Mr. Song creation was definitely impressive, but I was watching at home thinking that you would easily see something way more elaborate during a Pastor’s anniversary service because the average First Lady will go all out for her hat for that day even if she won’t for any other time.

You can buy a beautiful hat that is already made, or you can go to the next level with a couture hat made just for you. For those of us with larger heads, this is probably your best bet to insure a good fit. You can customize the fabric, decoration and height however you like. These custom hats are beautiful, but they can be pricey – I have seen some go for more than $500.

For all my fascination with hats, I do not own even one. I rarely get dressed up enough to justify buying one, so I have to live vicariously through others, but if I ever had an occasion to finally buy myself a hat, it is going to be something spectacular. Until then, I will stick with collecting photos on my Pinterest board.

Healing in Ferguson

Iyanla Healing Ferguson

Iyanla Hugging People in Ferguson, MO

Iyanala Goes to Ferguson

Iyanla Vanzant announced she was going to Ferguson to promote healing after the murder of Michael Brown, and the backlash was immediate. She was called an opportunist and her motives were questioned, and her critics were all in an uproar based on what they thought she was going to do despite her not having a history of being an exploiter. Furthermore, Iyanla is a lawyer, minister, life coach and a full human being with the right to express herself. I am not even going to give those negative Nancys any more attention because now that the show has aired, you can judge for yourself whether the visit was effective. The 90-minute special “Iyanla Fix My Life -Special Report: Healing in Ferguson” aired on August 26, 2014 more than two weeks after the unarmed 18-year old was killed by a police officer in Ferguson, MO.

“I’ve Come to Interrupt the Pattern”

In the weeks since the shooting, the streets of Ferguson have been chaotic. The police are in tanks hurling tear gas with snipers trained on the crowds of protesters and even some reporters have been threatened and arrested.  Violence and bad feelings abound. These horrible images were being broadcast all over the world every day to the point where people from Palestine have been tweeting tips to the protesters in Ferguson about how to deal with tear gas using the tags #Ferguson and #Palestine.

This is the environment that Iyanla was walking into to try to offer some much-needed healing and interrupt the patterns that lead to this tragic situation. She thanked the community for allowing her to visit and upon being embraced by an older woman, she told the woman that as an elder in the community she needs a voice: “We cannot be silent any longer. We cannot!”

Iyanla showed up with a camera crew ready to have some tough conversations with the interested parties including Police Chief Thomas Jackson and Pastor Charles Ewing, Mr. Brown’s Granduncle. I give the Chief credit for showing up even if he did seem to dodge the questions about the poor optics of having a militarized police force squashing peaceful demonstrations. She allowed Pastor Ewing to speak from the family’s perspective about the desire for justice, and the Chief expressed his sympathy for the loss of  life that happened on his watch. The Chief said that the investigation into the shooting is still ongoing and  that he needs at least 14 days of peace to wrap things up, and Pastor Ewing agreed to that. Now they just needed to convince the protesters to remain peaceful despite the high tensions.

Iyanla Healing Ferguson

Iyanla Meeting with Pastor Ewing and Chief Jackson

 

An Elder’s Apology

Next Iyanla met with a group of clergy, protesters and concerned citizens to find out what they hoped to accomplish by demonstrating every day. The protesters are very angry not just about this particular shooting but about the ongoing issues of racial profiling and discrimination that they have been dealing with for years. She tried to get to the root of the problem and let them know that the Chief requested 14 days of peace and gets them to agree to enforce this moratorium on violence.

The next meeting with a group of protesters, including some gang members, was the part of this episode that stayed with me long after the show was finished. Iyanla apologized to the young men for failing them as an elder by not showing them the way and let them know that continuing down that path that they have chosen is very dangerous since they have no real plan of action, and the police were prepared for brutal retaliation. One young man had on a shirt that said “No Justice No Peace” which was a familiar rallying cry, but as she pointed out “Now you don’t have justice, and you don’t have peace.”  They are understandably angry, but that alone won’t change anything. After a long discussion about their fears and expectations,  there were promises to do better and hugs. You can tell when someone is just returning a hug to be polite, but these young men fell into Iyanla’s embrace and were clinging to her like she was a lifesaver.

Iyanla Healing Ferguson

Iyanla meeting with some of the protesters

In asking the young men to commit to enforcing the peace, Iyanla asked them to do three things:

  • Pause – to get clarity
  • Plan – have some goals in mind
  • Participate – show up and be counted

After that, they headed out to march and were immediately confronted by police officers and National Guard members who asked them for their passes – reminiscent of what happened in Johannesburg under Apartheid – and then herded them over to an approved assembly area.

The Takeaways

Iyanla’s visit started some necessary conversations and could lead to real changes down the road. The protesters needed to know that violence begets violence and as she put it “someone is benefiting from you staying disorganized.” She stated more than once that she was an outsider and was not there to tell them how to handle their business, but as a coach, she did make some good suggestions.  She also promised to return to Ferguson in the future without cameras. For all the advance criticism, she was received with open arms and those young men seemed to genuinely appreciate her love and guidance. And I liked that she made the point about how some people are so busy clutching their pearls and being afraid of these young men that they cannot even see how they have failed them.

A $20 piece of cheese

wensleydale cheese with cranberries

Wensleydale Cheese is Delicious

I made a truly shocking discovery this weekend. There exists in the world cheese that costs $20 per pound, and I like it! I mean I really like it although it’s wildly impractical. Wensleydale cheese with cranberries is one of the tastiest things I have tried since I discovered the almond croissants at Trader Joes, and I am mad about a few things — that it took me this long to discover it, the price is ridiculous, and I really want to buy some despite the ridiculous price.

The Fresh Market is Slick

I love the Fresh Market. I love everything about the place. The variety and quality of foods, the classical music that is usually playing in the background, and I especially love the free samples that they were giving out over the weekend. I was just there a couple of days ago for red velvet cupcakes when I saw that they were having a sampling event over the weekend with specials on some of the featured products – not a bad way to pass part of the afternoon.
Fresh Market Sampling Event

Hooked by a Sample of $20 Cheese

There I was happily trying out the pasta salad, the Cajun crab dip and the bread and olive oil when I strolled past the cheese counter. Eh, I can take it or leave cheese so I was not all that pressed to sample any of it. There was some Manchego set out on a tray and it was nothing special. Then I noticed that the cheese person (or whatever you call the person who slices and displays the cheese) was wrapping some cheese that had fruit in it. It looked good, but this special cheese was not available on the sample tray. Undaunted by it not being one of the advertised freebies, a friend asked the cheeseman for a sample, and we were both rationed two small cubes of cheese that were truly delicious.

I cannot describe how good that cheese was! It was a soft and creamy, and the cranberries added a bit of sweetness and texture. That cheese was pure happiness in dairy form. That cheese was the edible equivalent for finding a cute pair of shoes in your size on clearance with an additional percentage being taken off that reduced price. I had to know the name of this fabulous cheese and was ready to buy some to take home. Then cheeseman said that it was Wensleydale Cheese with cranberries, and nonchalantly mentioned that it cost $19.99 per pound. The very small wedge that I picked up was $9.60 and was smaller than a deck of cards. Now I am no bumpkin– I realize that some of these fancy joints charge exorbitant amounts for even the smallest things, but $20 per pound for cheese was shocking.

$20 per pound for cheese?! No

I could not wrap my head around that price, so I checked online and learned that this cheese is imported from Yorkshire England and was first made by Cistercian Monks in 1150. For all that, if I am paying $20 per pound for cheese, it needs to grate itself, boil the macaroni, pre-heat the oven, make the cheese sauce and bake itself at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Hours later, I was still thinking about that cheese and how much it cost. Do you know what you can get for $20?

  • 1/3 of a tank of gas
  • 1 pound of crab legs
  • 1 Pack of 16″ Wet & Wavy Human Hair
  • Three pairs of Jockey underwear (the combo pack)
  • A tube of Mac Tinted Lipglass
  • 1 Bottle of Jose Cuervo

Unlike the cheese, half those things are necessities that will last more than a few minutes. The cheeseman offered to cut a smaller piece for me to make the price more reasonable, but it still would have been $20 per pound, and that I cannot do. I can always  start a campaign on gofundme if I really just have to try that cheese again. Either that or take out a small home equity loan for that and a tank of gas.

 

 

 

Assessments Used In Hiring

1815-3-kolbe-bottom-lines

Kolbe A Assessment used for Hiring

I took the Kolbe A Assessment last week as part of a screening process for a new job.   After a brief phone interview, a recruiter from company X said that they wanted me to come in for a couple of hours so that they could see how I measured up to what was required for this position. The phone interview went well, so I was really excited if a little unsure about what to expect next.  The recruiter also requested a copy of my college transcripts.  While this is a relatively entry level position, I graduated from college quite a while ago, and it’s been a long time since anyone asked to see my transcripts. Nonetheless, I was prepared, or as prepared as I could be seeing as I was warned that I could not study for this test.

Three Separate Tests

Job Interview cartoon
I showed up early with the requested documents ready to get started. I was set up in an office and handed the first part of the examination – an 80-question test covering word problems, vocabulary, logic  and spatial reasoning. Much of it was multiple choice, but there were some questions where you had to come up with the answer and write it down. The recruiter who I’d spoken with over the phone was the one administering the tests and she assured me that everyone that they hired had to undergo the same process. She also said that most people left feeling defeated after taking the test which was not exactly a confidence booster for me. The next part was a relatively simply grammar test. It seemed kind of basic, so I was not worried about it.

The final component was a type of personality exam known as the Kolbe A Assessment.  There were a list of scenarios with four statements about how to proceed and the applicant was to select two answers for each of these questions – one representing how you are most likely to react while the second one indicates how you are least likely to react. There were about 35 questions in total.

Kolbe A Assessment

Sample of the Kolbe A Assessment

The test is designed to determine how you work and learn best – as part of a team or alone, and you can learn more about the test on the developer’s web site.

I found the process interesting since I had never gone through this type of testing as part of the interview. Ultimately, I was not selected to move forward in the process, but it was a great learning experience. The last time I had to look for a new job I simply checked the paper and responded to an ad. That seems downright quaint now. One thing is certain, you have to prepared to adapt to rapidly changing realities or be left behind with very few options.

 

 

The Comic Genius of Little Richard

Little Richard

Time Magazine’s unpublished photos of Little Richard “The Wild Man of Rock”

 

Little Richard is a legend

Little Richard has been around forever and is a pioneer and a musical genius. He is also hilarious. I love to watch old interviews of him because before it is over he will have told the viewers how he is the real King of Rock and Roll and probably will have hollered “shut up” once or twice while batting his eyelashes. The man is a character. It takes a certain level of confidence to still rock Pancake #31 and a jehri curl after all these years, and Uncle Richard is still styling on everyone.

When Richard Met Jimi

I of course knew about his contributions to music, after all he is the one who brought us songs like “Good Golly Miss Molly,” “Long Tall Sally,” and “Tutti Frutti” –  A-wop-bom-a-loo-mop-a-lomp-bom-bom!  But I had no idea that he used to work with Jimi Hendrix. Apparently he and a young Jimi Hendrix worked together briefly during the 60’s and Richard was interviewed about the late rocker for a  documentary where he talks about the man as only he can.  

I found this clip  last year, and oh how I cackled about it for weeks. I  would repeat lines to other people who’d seen it telling friends about how something made my big toe shoot up in my boot. Or even announcing dramatically “I have something to tell you!” when I really didn’t. Uncle Richard is comic gold – those facial expressions and those mannerisms. Finding that video made my day.

The clip is less than 2 minutes long and Uncle Richard is serving up tea for your fever letting you know that he is the one who gave Jimi the confidence to not mind looking freaky because he did it first. You peons better recognize. He is resplendent in a a blue spangled jumpsuit with batwing sleeves and a headband that fails to keep that glorious mane out of his eyes so that he has to keep pushing his hair out of his face. He even manages to quote a little Scripture for you heathens.

I don’t know who it was that was keeping Little Richard away from Jimi Hendrix once he became a star, but shame on you. Just imagine the collaborations that could have come from them working  together as equals instead of Jimi just being in the band and having to stay in the background.

Get on Up

Uncle Richard is featured briefly in the new James Brown movie “Get on Up”  where he is played by Brandon Mychal Smith, and those scenes really do stand out because you see him schooling James Brown about the music business with his trademark spunk – and eyeliner. Little Richard is also the subject of a cult classic biopic from 2000 starring Leon that was just okay. It would be great though if someone made a major motion picture about his life while he is still here to have some input. Until then, do yourself a favor and enjoy the interviews and performances available online – you will not be disappointed.

Brandon Smith as Little Richard

Brandon M. Smith as Little Richard in “Get on Up”

 

Learning SEO, HTML & CSS

SEO Infographic

Running my Websites

Now that I have a couple of websites up and running, I am finally learning about Search Engine Optimization (SEO). I am Tardy for the Party on this one because while SEO is a term that’s been around for several years, I am not a techie and had no real reason to pay attention to it until now.

 

SEOinfographic

I bought two domains recently — marladshepard.com and marlashepard.com to establish a digital identity and distinguish myself in this crowded job market. The sites are real basic right now, and I mainly wanted to have a place to park my resume and contact information, but I did already have a blog on WordPress that I used to ease my way back into writing. WordPress is so easy to use that you really do not need much technical knowledge to create a blog, and working on that blog has been a lot of fun.

Having a website with SEO tools has been an awesome learning experience. It shows you how certain phrases and keywords can improve your search engine rankings and get your content to a wider audience. No matter why you’re on the Internet, getting more people to view your content is probably one of your goals, and SEO helps you accomplish this.

 

SEO Meme

 

Upgrading my skills

In addition to helping me find my way as a relatively new blogger, learning SEO is also helping me to develop a marketable skill which is crucial in this challenging economy. In just scanning job descriptions, I have seen SEO listed often and not just in jobs that having to do with the Internet or e-commerce. This was reinforced for me by an article by the Levo League that I found on Pinterest of all places.

Because I’m always searching for ways to make myself more marketable, earlier this year I decided that I was going to learn how to code. I have been studying on TeamTreehouse.com and Code Academy.com which are two good sites that will help you learn the basics – Code Academy is even free. I was also inspired by groups like WomenWhoCode and GirlsWhoCode – non-profit organizations whose goal is to increase the number of females working in technology. Technology is an attractive field because there are many jobs available and these jobs tend to pay very well.

I learned quite a bit from those sites, but like anything else, you have to put new knowledge into regular practice to retain it which I have not been able to do for a variety of reasons. I have a grasp of the basics, but I think it would be more productive for me to take an actual class with an instructor and other students in a physical space.

HTML & CSS, Coding

Learning to Code

I am combining all this new knowledge into the work that I am now doing on my websites. I can use my limited HTML skills in WordPress because although there are templates, there is still a space in there where you can edit your blog using HTML and CSS.

I’m far from an expert, but I am on my way to a better understanding about the Internet, and that is a good thing.

What I learned this week

people-networking2

What an interesting and productive week this has been for me.

I’ve been in a rut lately doing the same thing each day and not really getting any results, so I finally accepted that I needed to try something different. I’m a very social person, but I moved a little while ago and do not know many people in the area other than relatives. This is a problem because as much as I love my family, a girl needs a life. Plus, I’m looking for a new job and have learned that a huge part of even getting an interview depends on having contacts who can vouch for you. It really helps if you know someone who can make an introduction or at least pass along your information to the hiring manager.

Determined to make some things happen sooner rather than later, I put on some real clothes and my business wig – don’t judge me – and headed over to a Women’s Power Networking Cocktails and Contacts event that was held at a local winery. Not only did I have fun, but I also met some wonderful ladies who were friendly and helpful. The wine was not bad either. I am usually not one for small talk, but I made an effort and it paid off. The ladies meet weekly for coffee at a local restaurant, and I will be joining them again to make even more connections.Thumbsupblackwoman

Now I of course already understood the importance of networking which is why I’m on LinkedIn. Still, there is no substitute for meeting someone in person, looking them in the eye and shaking hands. You want to make an impression to separate yourself from the crowd, and you can do this more easily face to face rather than from behind a computer screen.

The next thing that I learned is the importance of enhancing your digital presence by owning a URL that contains your full name. You can use this URL to promote your work, post your resume or just post pictures of your pet if that is all you want to do. The URL gives you a digital home and improves search engine optimization (SEO) so that you can influence what comes up first when people Google you. Also, a recruiter explained to me that a lot of companies do not want to pay to view resumes, so if you have a resume on a web page that is easily accessible it will improve your chances of gaining a hiring manager’s attention. He explained this during a seminar about searching for hidden jobs – the ones that are not advertised to the public.

I purchased http://www.marlashepard.com and am working on creating a professional site right now. Domain names are really cheap and you can get one for as little as 99 cents for the first year so long as you check around. Web hosting is a little bit more but again, you can find a good deal if you shop around.

I feel good about what I’ve done this week and believe that it will pay off. This calls for a happy dance!

carlton

Dr. Maya Angelou Phenomenal Woman

Dr. Maya Angelou

 

“Lyrical Witness of the Jim Crow South”

The world lost a great treasure on Wednesday, May 28, 2014 with the passing of Dr. Maya Angelou who lived to be 86 years old. Earlier in the week her family said that she was not well, but I don’t think that anyone was prepared to hear that she had died. This wise woman was the kind of person who seemed to have been around forever and many of us thought that she would continue to be with us a while longer. Dr. Angelou was many things – a poet, an actress, a singer, a political activist, a professor and an all around phenomenal woman as proclaimed in her famous poem. The New York Times hailed her as a Lyrical Witness of the Jim Crow South. She rose up from terrible circumstances and became someone universally lauded as a great thinker and writer who performed for Presidents and inspired people from all walks of life with her very being. She was a tall, regal woman who spoke with the cadence and intonation of the sage that she was. When Queen Mother Maya told you that you were bright, beautiful and worthy of love and respect  – you believed it. Her words tended to our psychological wounds and fed our hungry souls. Just as Ossie Davis declared Malcolm X to be our living Black manhood and shining prince, Dr. Angelou was just that for Black women. A champion, a crusader and an example.

With the death of someone so prominent and revered, I should have known that those with ulterior motives would try to appropriate her story for their own agenda, but I did not expect that to happen this fast. Dr. Angelou passed on a Wednesday and by Friday there were already stories about the Westboro Baptist attention whores — I will not refer to them as a church because they are vile and hateful — planning to picket her funeral which had yet to be announced. I thought that the death of their founder Fred Phelps last year meant that we’d heard the last of these disrespectful idiots, but they are still at it. Oddly enough, they kept the details of Phelps’ funeral secret so that they would not have to deal with this sort of disruption.

Since these vipers have no decency, I hope that the security around the area of the funeral will be enough to keep them far away from the services what with all the dignitaries and famous folks who are likely to attend. And if all else fails maybe they will finally run into some folks who can show them the error of their ways.

Now as sickening as the thought of a protest of our beloved teacher’s funeral may be, in an even worse turn of events, a blog about sex workers is claiming that Dr. Angelou’s past as a sex worker is being hidden in the name of respectability politics. Dr. Angelou already discussed this part of her life in her 1974 autobiography “Gather Together in My Name” and has said that while she is not ashamed of what she did, she does not recommend it:

“I wouldn’t suggest it for anybody. I mean, if you happen to fall into that sort of experience, what you have to do is forgive yourself. If you’re in the very gutter, see where you are and admit it. As soon as you admit it, you can be like the prodigal son, the prodigal daughter. Get up and go home – wherever home is.”

 

maya-angelou-twitter

You cannot hide something that had been publicly documented, and while Dr. Angelou was not ashamed of her past, this is not exactly something to be celebrated. These people should not try to build their movement for social acceptance or whatever it is that they are seeking on Dr. Angelou’s name because she is not here to consent to it. And that was but a small portion of her life.

I understand that Dr. Angelou was many things to lots of different people but I had hoped that the opportunists might at least wait for her to be buried before they started trying to stake their claims on her biography. Let her family and friends grieve for a while before showing up like parasites trying to feed off someone else’s life.  Dr. Angelou was a dignified woman and she deserves to have a respectful homegoing free of foolishness and fabricated controversies.

 

Dr. Maya  Angelou