Wednesday, December 31, 2008

A thank-you letter for the New Year (or, This post goes out to the ones I love)


Dear everyone in my life,

I didn't do Christmas cards this year. In fact, I haven't done them for a few years 1) because I haven't had time to make them really thoughtful, and 2) I sorta don't have all your address. (So I've rectified this situation by avoiding the issue altogether. Brilliant!)

But as well-wishes came in from loved ones this holiday season, via card or e-mail or Tweet or Facebook, I remembered what makes notes so affirming. People were thinking of me, appreciating me, praying for me, and taking a moment to reflect on where our unique relationship stands at this moment in the space-time continuum.

Which meant that amid this year's rapid change, upheaval, turmoil, and progress (for everyone), you helped me refocus on what keeps me -- indeed, all of us -- going day in, day out.

So since you shamed reminded me, I wanted to make the most of a particularly reflective New Year's Eve, and return the favor to you -- the people who thread their lives with others' because you know it makes us all stronger in the end.

TO MY IMMEDIATE FAMILY: You know my voice better than anyone. Thank you for giving me the security to use it freely. For even as the wider world gets to know me, I will always be brightest with you.

TO MY EXTENDED FAMILY: Yes, we're a bit frenzied at times. But it's a welcoming hubbub born of love, interest, care, concern, and an unspoken belief that yes, blood really is thicker than water. So I'm not complaining. I'm just buying ear plugs.

TO MY OLDEST FRIENDS: I count you as blood, too. We've seen each other through big bangs and glasses and braces and school and first jobs and triumph and heartbreak and aggravation and change, lots and lots of change. Mainly the big bangs, though. Which is why I'm not letting ANY of you out of my sight.

TO MY NEWEST FRIENDS: Oh boy, are you in for a ride! I'm relatively low-maintenance, I swear. And no, I am not faux-maintenance. Stick with me, and you'll get a lot of hugs and free meals. And I in turn get to grow alongside your excellent self. Can't beat that!

TO MY MENTORS: Some of you know who you are. Others may not. But together, you're the noisy bunch in the corner who keep telling me to write till I'm published (and then keep going); to lay the groundwork for future success without sacrificing the present; and to make and learn from my own mistakes. Stay noisy, please -- I need it.

TO MY SOCIAL MEDIA MAVENS (bloggers, Twitterers, Facebook friends, FriendFeed followers, etc.): I can connect faces and voices with some of you. Yet the majority of you I've met only through words and pictures on a screen. How is it then that I know your voices and missions so well, and would not think twice about grabbing coffee with you based on nothing more than 140 characters a couple times a day? Thank you for guiding me through the newest communications, and reinforcing that the fundamentals of community and connection are unchangeable, no matter the medium.

And last but faaaaaaaaaaaaaar from least ...

TO MY READERS: I'm going to let you in on a little secret -- I started this blog back up in earnest to force myself to write every day. I continue this blog because it struck a chord with you, and you were kind enough to let me know it. Please, keep the feedback coming -- we've only just begun!

Now go get some champagne and welcome 2009 with bubbles on your lips! I can think of no better way to welcome happier times. And again ... thank you. :)

Photo by rustman

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The one resolution you can't live without


Eat less. Work out more. Find a new job. Do more community service. Call your mother. Improve your cooking ...

Goals like these all seem so simple when in a list, don't they? Well geez, if it's this easy, let's throw a few more into the mix -- you know, big ones! Like, broker world peace. Go on tour with the Stones. Split the atom ...

Ah, if only it were that easy. Hell, even the EASY ones aren't that easy, especially when you set out to do all six 10 32 at once. Yet every year, at some point after Christmas and before Groundhog Day, we get it into our heads that we are Superpeople capable of achieving anything we set our minds to, because by God, it's a new year and thus a new life.

This delusion, boys and girls, is what leads to RESOLUTIONS. Resolutions are promises we make to ourselves without including accountability. They get us all excited for a few weeks before we start to fumble, get scared, and give up completely until the next ball drop when the cycle begins again.

Every year I wonder why this happens. And for the first time, I think I might see why. You see, there's a critical split in the resolution process. On one hand, hope is VITAL. We've all gotta believe the best of ourselves, and we all need to look toward a richer future. Stretch goals help us grow and learn more about the world and our own potential. Hope keeps us going AND keeps us fulfilled along the way.

On the other hand, though it's a new year, it is NOT a new life altogether. Our circumstances might change, sure. Situations will vary. Decisions and dreams evolve. If everything remained constant, in fact, I'd fear for the depth of your life.

But YOU and YOUR life -- your gifts, your personality, the fundamental elements that make you who you are -- have not really shifted. I'm the same person on Dec. 31 as I am on Jan. 1. So why would I behave as if I am literally a new woman? (The old one's not half bad!)

Too many people approach resolutions as a complete 180, rather than as gradual changes built on a solid foundation. And it only worsens when folks don't have the solid foundation to begin with, and strive to build one from the wrong end.

The good news is, I think the answer is as close as the dictionary. Let's look for a moment at some of the definitions (yes, plural) of resolution:

a: the act of analyzing a complex notion into simpler ones
b: the act of answering : solving
c: the act of determining
d: firmness of resolve
e: the point in a literary work at which the chief dramatic complication is worked out

Now let's put these to the big, broad, general idea of "resolutions" that govern our lives, commercials, and blog posts this time every year:

a: Take your big goals/dreams and break them down into simpler, tactical steps. This is strategic planning for the soul.

b: Answer whatever questions have nagged you all year. Look inward, seek professional help, etc. -- whatever it takes to solve the riddle of why you're not feeling like your best or maximum self.

c: Determine which goals/dreams come first. Prioritize accordingly, and don't worry about achieving them all in one calendar year.

d: Be strong, comrade! You can do it! Stick to your guns! Hold yourself to a worthy standard, but remember to forgive yourself too. Any progress is good progress, even on an adjusted timeframe.

e: There will come a day when you achieve your goal. Might not be in the exact way or time you planned (in fact, will almost certainly not be), but it WILL come. And if that doesn't take the pressure off you, I don't know what will. (Red wine perhaps?)

A final note: At the bottom of the Merriam-Webster page for resolution, it says "Synonyms: COURAGE." And on the Visuwords graph for resolve, it links directly to PURPOSE.

We all need both of these all year, each month, every minute of our lives. Without them, no dream or vision can be fully realized, no matter how often we write them down.

So maybe the question we should ask this New Year's is not how much weight to lose or which job to pursue. Rather, are we brave enough? Are we strong enough? Do we know enough about who we are and what we can do?

And maybe, just maybe, answering those questions will be enough for 2009.

Photo by carf

Monday, December 29, 2008

This I Believe #2: Nights Left Open to Chance

Installment #2 of my personal This I Believe series.

This I Believe: Nights Left Open to Chance

When I was a senior in college, my housemate stuck a calendar quote on my door one evening while I was busy studying. It was from Mignon McLaughlin: "For the happiest life, days should be rigorously planned, nights left open to chance."

My 21-year-old brain interpreted this as "make sure your studying gets done in daylight so you can hang out with friends after dinner." But now, four years later, seen through the lens of young adulthood, its meaning has evolved from a 1-minute essay on time management to a lesson about living in the moment.

Indeed, no court of law could convict me of being too spontaneous. I hold my To-Do list holy. I like to plan out how I spend time and money. And I'm usually not eager to toss aside carefully crafted schedules.

I've discovered, however, that living on my own has quietly, subtly, stealthily forced more flexibility upon me. Being in charge of me and only me reinforces how quickly time passes. I see that productivity, though necessary, doesn't always bring me the right kind of happiness. So I know it's up to me now to grab hold of those chance opportunities that lead to freer, more fluid life experiences.

Yesterday was one of those days. It was the end of a satisfying Christmas holiday, and I was driving home with my housemate Jacob -- a routine and pre-planned affair. We were singing along to the radio, telling stories, sharing silences, all around having a grand time.

I didn't want it to end. So as a desperate half-joke, I suggested we stop along the way and catch a movie, just to keep our vacation going.

To my surprise, Jacob agreed, even though it was a work night for him. Within minutes the usual route was abandoned. We found ourselves Googling directions from his phone; making U-turns all over Columbia, Md.; eating macaroni-and-cheese and chicken pot pies at Boston Market; and ending up at a movie theater to see Slumdog Millionaire.

Maybe this doesn't sound terribly exciting to you. After all, it's not like we jetted off to Paris or discovered a wild party in an old warehouse or did any other event often cited as "spontaneous." But it was OUR adventure, our moment to turn the ordinary upside down even a little bit, our chance to forget responsibility and live out our free will with nothing but a healthy sense of the ridiculous urging us on.

So we didn't worry about wasting time, because we weren't. Quite the opposite: we were squeezing every last ounce of juice from it in a fit of idealogical thrift.

The result? I learned my way around a Maryland shopping center. I ate Velveeta for the first time in years. And I realized anew how much I love -- really, truly love -- my resident partner-in-crime.

It was a night -- a heart -- a life left open to chance ... all of which I intend to pursue more rigorously. I hope Mignon is proud.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Prayer #46: God Bless Us, Everyone


You can also take a pilgrimage with BBC correspondent Aleem Maqbool as he walks from Nazareth to Bethlehem -- just like Mary and Joseph did. (Parts Two and Three here.)

Prayer #46: God Bless Us, Everyone

When the stockings are emptied,
And wrapping paper is tossed,
And new presents lose their sheen,
And feasts turn to leftovers,
And carolers' notes fade,
And guests wave goodbye,
And decorations return to the attic,
And daily life returns to routine --

When all these moments are lived, loved, and past --

Help us remember that a baby was born,
And a message was carried,
And hope filled the streets,
And a belief took root,
And God joined us on earth --

So that life and love became more eternal,
More abundant,
More present,
Than they ever had before.

For this season --
And for this reason --
We give praise.

Alleluia and Amen!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Don't eat Jesus' friends! Or, the origins of La Vigilia


You may have guessed by now that I am Italian-American. (If you have not guessed, then you are blind and have a poor screen reader, because it's in the title of my blog.)

And as a dutiful third-generation Italian-American, I strive to keep certain traditions of the motherland alive here. Beautiful, time-honored, ancient traditions such as yelling. Making gravy. Buying Jordan almonds for weddings. And of course, supporting my mother in preparation of La Vigilia, aka the Feast of the Seven Fishes.

But what exactly are the origins and significance of this maritime-themed meal? Now is the perfect time to reveal (or perhaps deepen) the mysteries as my family sits down to its 10th annual Christmas Eve feast. (Which means I'm eating many delicious things, and you're sitting on the computer. Come over!)

First, let's get a few things straight. La Vigilia di Natale is NOT a widespread Italian tradition. Considering the country wasn't even unified until 1861, that left plenty of time for a wide array of traditions to spring up.

The feast in particular seems concentrated in central and southern Italy. Both sides of my family are from Abruzzo, which is located in the middle along the Adriatic (east of Rome), so we fit the bill perfectly. [To round out the setting for you: See Abruzzo church traditions here and helpful vocab pertaining to the holiday here, as well as some photos and maps.]

The reason behind the number is foggy. The Bible has lots of mystical numbers -- 7, 9, 13 -- and many corresponding patterns, so it's hard to pinpoint exactly which meaning to ascribe, and thus people pretty much make however many fish they want.

Our household tradition of 7 is most commonly traced back to the gifts of the Holy Spirit or the sacraments. Other hypotheses include days of the week (boring!), the time it took Mary and Joseph to travel to Bethlehem (really? that was it?), or the pilgrimage churches in Rome.

And why fish anyway? Roman Catholics have always had a thing for abstaining from meat on holy days, so it's probably an extension of that religious observance. [See understandable Wikipedia explanation here. See wordy but accurate Vatican explanation here.]

It's also said we shouldn't be eating anything that was in the stable with Jesus. Thank God, because we were THIS CLOSE to eating baby!

Kidding. I'm kidding. Maybe.

Anyway.

Then comes the question, which fish? Again, this varies by family. Some swear by eels, others by baccala (salted cod), or calamari (squid). We prefer the latter two on our table; in fact, if we ever had eels in any form, I might be forced to break ties and be adopted by someone else. And the other five assorted fish change annually, based on my mother's ingenuity and whims.

Whatever its fuzzy origins, the celebratory tenets of La Vigilia remain the same: food, family, friends, and joy! No explanation needed there. And I'm excited to say these traditions carry on in beautiful abundance in our household every year!

Further reading, just to prove I'm not making the ambiguity up:

La Vigilia, Feast of the 7 Fishes (upbeat entertainment news)
Buon Natale (Italyville.com)
Seven Fishes Feast Roundup 08 (Italyville.com)
Merry Fish-mas? (Adventures by Johnny Black)
Gravy Wars (Lorraine Ranalli)

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

How to prepare ANY feast, stress-free


Yesterday was FREEZING. The wind was blowing. The ice was not melting. Yet all systems were go for leaving our cozy house and venturing into the insanity that is pre-holiday food shopping.

It could have been a disaster packed with shopping cart brawls and egg scrambles and thrown elbows in the macaroni aisle. Fortunately, my mother is an experienced and wise shopper, who -- with 7 distinct fish dishes and assorted sides to prepare for 12 people come Christmas Eve and about minus-6 degrees of patience left -- is not about to mess around.

Truly, I learn from a master Italian Mother. Allow me to pass her unspoken wisdom on to you before you begin your own feasts, whatever the season or occasion.

Tip #1: Make a list.
My mother sits down at the table with every recipe she's planning out, and lists out the type and quantity of every ingredient. She then breaks them up by store, depending on availability, quality, and prices. While this is knowledge she has accumulated over time, you can always get some recommendations for good stores in your areas from friends, or even the grocers at stores where you can't find what you need.

Tip #2: Check the circulars.
My mother cross-references her master list to the circulars of said stores to refine where she's purchasing something or to clip some coupons. When you're buying hundreds of dollars worth of food, this step can save you time AND money (on gas, sale items, # of stores hit, etc.)

Tip #3: Learn to substitute.
We did a lot of sole-searching yesterday and came up empty-handed. This could have been a huge problem since it was a sole recipe. But my mother knew what she had to accomplish in the recipe (rolling the fillets), and also knew the basic taste and consistency of the fish that would make it happen (white, light, mild fish). So she was able to substitute tilapia with minimal agita, thanks to her advanced prep.

Tip #3: Fresh is best.
Preparing the Feast is not meant to be a logistical accomplishment. It is first and foremost a culinary one. That means finding the freshest, tastiest ingredients -- and knowing the off-the-beaten-path places that sell them. For example, we bought our fish and produce at Assi Korean Market. And we found homemade pasta sheets (rather than storebought lasagna noodles) at Taste of Italy. Look up locally owned or ethic stores in your area that might carry some of your more unusual ingredients -- and usually at more reasonable prices to boot.



Tip #4: Train a helper.
Sometimes I wonder if my mother had children so she'd have extra hands in the kitchen. (Don't tell her I told you that.) No matter her motives, the outcome works for me because 1) I'm alive, and 2) she gets a tried-and-true right-hand woman for the days leading up to the feast. Find your own version of me -- someone who can make their way around a kitchen without injury, quickly respond to all demands requests, and support you emotionally throughout the process.

Tip #5: Cook ahead.
My mother puts the emphasis of the holiday in exactly the right place: on the people coming together to share her love and food. So, to leave herself time to enjoy her guests, she tries to prepare as much as possible in advance so her Feast day is not spent only in the kitchen. That way, it's just a final bake/toss/saute the day of, and off to the living room to visit. For your feasts, find dishes that are either a) easy and fast to make the day of your gathering, or b) can be broken up into stages to eliminate crunch time later.

Tip #6: Never make anything with French lentils.
They're arrogant. They're little. They smoke too much. And they're impossible to find at any area stores. Just ignore them. (See Tip #3.)

And now for a food moment of Zen:

Monday, December 22, 2008

The ice storm cameth ...

And left this remarkable glass world behind in southeastern PA:




You can find other cool winter 2008 pics on Flickr.

Any terrific images from your neck of the woods? Let me know, and I can share them here!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Funny Baby [Video]: The Cat Dance

The Levin family keeps me in business with audio and video (no wonder, given that Papa Levin is addicted to all things digital recording). Today I present you with an oldie but a goodie -- daughter Ariel performing an entirely original song and dance routine, inspired by colors and cats.

P.S. I think the tap dancing is my favorite part.

P.P.S. Strike that, the Broadway belter stylings are pretty sweet.

P.P.P.S. If there had been easy-access recording equipment when I was a child, there would be videos like this of me floating around cyberspace. Actually, there could be videos like this of me as an adult floating around.

Hmm.

::writes note to check on that::

Friday, December 19, 2008

9 sites to get you to 5 pm on Friday

Be honest -- you know you're not working right now. You've just taken two hours for lunch, are counting down to happy hour, and trying to do as little as possible in between.

So I'm going to help you out by offering some productive and not-so-productive places to put that aimless energy. Because really, what's more fun than ignoring the huge pile of work staring you in the face.

This first batch is designed to allay your guilt by entertaining AND educating you. I call it the "I'm not wasting time, I'm helping to save the world!" list.

That's So Gay: ThinkB4youspeak.com

This joint effort by GLSEN and the Ad Council are fighting one of the most pervasive forms of discrimination -- saying "that's so gay" when you're calling something stupid. The ad with Wanda Sykes here is great -- you can also catch three other videos here and on YouTube.



Playing for Change

This multimedia campaign (brought to my attention by Henri -- thanks!) is designed to inspire, connect, and bring peace to the world through music. Join the movement, and help build music and art schools around the world! (Playing for Change blog here.)



Beth's Blog: How to Think Like a Nonprofit Social Marketing Genius: What's Your Brilliant Thought?

I consider this post a must-read for anyone responsible for formulating, selling, and executing marketing strategies at ANY organization, not just nonprofits. Beth hits on 7 critical lessons that will lay the foundation for successful and comprehensive campaigns that take Web, social media, and classic outreach into account. Further evidence that tools change, but evangelism does not.

Thank you for being good little boys and girls and putting in your learning time. As a reward, I now give you the "I cannot tell a lie -- I really am wasting time" list.

Note: The vast majority of these were sent to me by my roommate Jacob. During his work hours. We will withhold any comment on his productivity levels.

For people who love fuzzy baby animals and educational commentary:
Zooborns

For people who love biting, profane mockery of fuzzy animals:
F*&@ You Penguin
(My fave -- Platypus: the ultimate buzz-kill.)

For people who think spending time on any office intranet -- even fake ones -- is worthwhile:
Wonderglen Productions

For people who wonder what Santa's inbox looks like at this time of year:
Santa's Gmail Account Exposed

For people who like babies leading pep rallies (only a Philly baby would have the gumption to do this):



And last but not least ... for people who get turned on by the smell of frame-broiled Whoppers:
new Burger King Flame scent

{Stay strong, comrades! You're mere hours from the weekend ...}

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Cappuccino tastes better on barstools (and 14 other snapshots of a wonderful life)

Ever seen the movie Sunshine? Ralph Fiennes plays three generations of men in a Hungarian Jewish upper-middle-class family that sees the tragic and tumultuous regime changes of the 20th century's first half. (Fiennes also takes every opportunity to get naked and bed lots of woman with stock European accents. Lustiness must run in the family.)

But that's not what matters for this post. What DOES matter is the Sonnenschein family recipe -- the one for the famous healing tonic "Taste of Sunshine." And while the handwritten recipe is lost by film's end and the boat sinks!, its lesson for joy in life remains: "Try to photograph what's beautiful in life."

Now, I'm not the world's best photographer (see any previous post I've written that has an image), but I do like to think I can turn a nice phrase. So I'm going to share the literary equivalent of the Sonnenschein lesson: brief snapshots of beautiful moments I've remembered -- or realized -- or recaptured -- in this last week.

* Impromptu peasant meals made out of random fridge ingredients and shared with a friend should be washed down with red table wine.

* The Metro door stops right in front of you on the platform.

* Hot, fresh coffee is tastiest after church, held in a gloved hand, on a sunny winter day.

* A guitar is strumming in the basement. You know a song is about to be born.

* The baby in church whom you first recall seeing as an infant at Easter is now a bouncing baby boy with sticky-up hair and a propensity for wriggling.

* Errands are best run in daylight and on foot.

* You find yourself in the cookie aisle, staring at the shelves. Not buying, just staring. Because sometimes it's ok to stand around and not think.

* Squeaky new galoshes let you walk in every puddle. Warm, dry feet are more fun when decked in argyle.

* Rain makes cities cozy. All that bustle is reduced to the space under your umbrella and the steam on the inside of bus windows.

* The clocks creeps past midnight. You're still in bed with a good book, and have no intention of leaving it until it's finished.

* Luxury: not reading, writing, talking, or thinking in the hour it takes to get from one end of the city to the other. And not hurting from it, either.

* You enter a train station and there stands a good friend you haven't seen in awhile, and he gives you a huge hug and kiss on the cheek and company for the ride -- just when you need to feel you are not alone in the city.

* Why scrape the batter beaters completely clean? Your mother's not there to stop an extra lick.

* Cappuccino is best drunk on a bookstore bar stool.

* Your best friend calls when you're sitting blue on the blue couch. You tell her how you're around but not with people today, and she says she feels the same, and by the time you're done sharing and swapping and giggling and gossiping, you realize you are again with someone, even if she's 180 mi. away.

What are some of your favorite snapshots?

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Lessons from the breadline, part 1


Welcome to the first of a semi-regular series on "things I'm learning while unemployed." With today marking two weeks since I entered the job market again, I thought it was an excellent time to lead the examined work life. And if you're unemployed -- or once were unemployed -- or might possibly BE unemployed at some point in your life -- then chime in with your thoughts as well!

LESSON 1: The milk of human kindness flows like honey (and other mixed metaphors) in times of crisis.

People blow me away. I so much as send out one email or tweet, and I get a flood of helpful responses and advice back.

Allison Fine at Demos put me in touch with as many fine people in her Rolodex as she could think of. Josh Levy at Change.org told me to find the narrative that threads through my diverse resume. Jessica Clark of Build the Echo pointed me toward progressive job sites such as DemocraticGain.org. And they're just the tip of the iceberg. Wait until the next edition of this series, and I guarantee this list will go on, and on, and on ...

LESSON 2: You become your habits, whether you recognize it or not.

My work was between my church and my gym. I didn't even have to cross a street to get from one place to another. But now that a very large piece of my daily life was removed from that destination equation, the others are thrown into turmoil. How do I work out if I don't have to go downtown? How do I get to activities at church on time in the evening if I'm not already right there? Do I still get a membership discount? Should I wait to cancel? Should I pull out of volunteering?

Point is, you don't realize how many little pieces make up your day-to-day life until you're forced to change them all. And though it might sound odd, this upends my sense of order and stability more than the prospect of months without a paycheck.

LESSON 3: Really, don't sweat the small stuff. Or the big stuff. Or the medium stuff. Do it, just don't die for it.

I worked some very long hours before Thanksgiving to prepare for our website launch. I faced a lot of stress and agita right when I got back, too. But by Thursday of that week, it didn't matter anymore. Suddenly all these VERY IMPORTANT TASKS were easily shunted off to the remaining people, or deleted, or ignored, or canceled, or rendered meaningless by different decisions. So I had to ask myself, was it worth getting so upset along the way?

And that's how I learned that I must strike a better balance between passion and stress. Because the caveat is, all my work COULD have mattered even more. I could have stayed employed, in which case all those balls would still be in play. So I will absolutely always do what I need to do to fulfill my job responsibilities and continue growing. I just won't sacrifice my sanity or health to it.

Ok, your turn. What wisdom have you gleaned from the breadline?

Photo by Nemo's great uncle

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Prayer #45: If Music Be The Food of Love

Alas for those that never sing,
But die with all their music in them!
{Oliver Wendell Holmes}

Prayer #45: If Music Be the Food of Love

Play on, play on, all you musical creatures --
With voices and strings and other fine features
That vibrate our souls in ethereal chords
And speak of vast worlds that live beyond words.

Play on, all you gifted with joy in your hearts!
And teach all you meet their harmonious parts.
Music, like fire, has been with us since dawn,
And like water or blood, we know it flows on.

For music is heard in our joints and our bones,
Our minds and our eyes -- not just ears alone.
Thus no one is tone deaf, and all are musicians
Simply by joining life's symphonic procession.

So gorge on love's food, and gulp up its wine,
And savor each bite, for it's wholly divine.
God gave us our songs not to swallow but sing --
So throw back your heads and play your heartstrings!

Amen.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Egg nog, emphasis on the nog

'Tis the season to spike every festive beverage -- and egg nog is no exception. Today's recipe comes courtesy of my uncle Albert, who in turn got it from his friend Anthony.

In fact, Anthony's original recipe is written so delightfully, that I'm going to present it, uncut, unedited (I do mean unedited, so don't judge), and ready for your consumption. Drink up!


Egg Nog
In memory of
James Vincent Rotella (Grand pop)
He passed away in 1976 but his eggnog recipe lives on.
Enjoy… Anthony.

Ingredients

5 pounds of sugar.
5 dozen eggs.
2 Quarts of Whiskey. Any brand you want… I use the cheap stuff.
1 Quart of Rum. Again… the cheap stuff.
10 Quarts of cream: A combination of Heavy cream, Light cream and Half & Half.
You can use the cream in any combination you want.
I use 4- half & half, 3- light and 3- heavy.

Separate the eggs and put about a third of the whites in the refrigerator to be used later. Discard the other two thirds of whites.

Mix the yellows of the egg… mix and mix and mix… get the point?

Add about half of the sugar then. Mix… mix… mix. Mix until the sugar is gone.

Add two quarts of half & half and the remaining amount of sugar…. Mix again until there is no more visible sugar.

Add the remaining amount of creams… mix… mix… mix.
Add all of the liquors…. Mix … mix … mix.

In a separate bowl fluff the egg whites then mix them into the eggnog.

Bottle, refrigerate and enjoy.
FINISHED.

You can add any flavor you want, Vanilla, Almond.. etc.. I do not add any.
You can also add nutmeg to each glass.
This recipe was my Grandfathers he passed away in 1976. This recipe has been around a long time; no one has died from it… yet.
Keep everything cold.
This will make about 3 ½ to 4 gallons.

Addendum: Hi all, me again. Here's the ingredient quantity breakdown if you want to make 1 gallon (though I think it comes out to more like 1.5).
2 1/2 cups sugar
15 eggs - separate the whites- keep 5 to whip and blend in later, discard the rest
2 cups whiskey
1 cup rum
1 qt half and half
1 qt light cream
1 qt heavy cream

I made this today for my holiday party, so I have some other timely tips:

1) Use a mixer. Makes it much easier and faster.

2) If you use a mixer, make sure it can hold up to a gallon or so of liquid. It got a little hairy for me at the end when I had no wiggle room left in the bowl and still a cup of rum and the egg whites to add.

3) I did not add any flavor either, though I did set out spices and liquor in case the guests want to augment.

4) Remember: You can never have too much nog!!

Friday, December 12, 2008

12 Christmas wishes you will not see anywhere else

Some families traditionally have gift exchanges at Christmas. Others attend services. Still more host feasts. My family? We revel in the annual reading of my brother's Christmas wish list.

This is no ordinary list. This is a carefully crafted, superbly written feat of holiday cajoling. It has humor. It has drama. It even has a cover sheet with Dickensian font! And it stands as one of the brightest moments in our Christmas spectrum.

So this year, I'd like to share the list with you. If you enjoy what you see and want to reward the tenacious author, please send all gifts to Julia's Brother, c/o Julia, Blogtown USA. Thank you.

[Brother] Rocchi’s Annual Christmas List 2008

Below are all the things I want for Christmas, you may decide for yourself which ones are feasible within the next month. I expect to get everything on this list EVENTUALLY, so don’t start slacking just because the holiday season is over.

1. Call of Duty: World At War (Features the Pacific theatre, don’t be fooled by imitators and previous editions).

2. The ability to talk to animals.

3. TKE gear, which will be highlighted in that mini-brochure I got in the mail.

4. Just one Faberge egg. Just one, that’s all I ask.

5. Gloves. Not just any gloves, legitimate leather gloves. Hitman gloves, for lack of a better term.

6. An alcoholic beverage should be named after me. This is not a Christmas request, I just want you to know that. If it’s a beer I want it to be “Rocky’s Lager” and if its hard liquor it should be “Frankie the Goon’s Prohibition Whiskey” (These are working titles, feel free to offer suggestions).

7. The rest of Dante’s Divine Comedy, Purgatoria and Paradiso.

8. This is a big one. I am trying to get a larger TV, playing Xbox 360 on a 20 inch screen is a waste of the Xbox. I would never ask you to get the whole thing, but maybe a small contribution via best buy card or something…your call, its not a big deal.

9. One of George Washington’s wooden teeth.

10. A small bag of various toiletries (I’m running low on the supply Kevin and Lisa got me last year for the Pollyanna).

11. 100 acres of land in an old growth forest. For two reasons 1) Land, it’s the only thing they’re not making more of 2) I want to sit on my front porch with a mint julep and remark “its good to own land.”

12. A horse so I can properly survey my 100 acres.

The End.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Advent reflection: Does fear reverse faith?

One constant joy of visiting Philly (besides seeing my cute parents -- hi Mom!) is getting to attend my old parish, Mary Mother of the Redeemer. It's a lovely suburban community of all ages and backgrounds, led by three wonderful priests who do have the oft-spoken-of, not-oft-seen inner peace and joy the religious are purported to have.

I was home this past weekend for my mother's birthday, which also happened to be the second Sunday of Advent. So off I went to services out of guilt like the good little singing Catholic girl I am.

Rev. William J. Teverzczuk -- who introduces himself as Fr. Bill because his last name doesn't have enough vowels to pronounce it -- was celebrating Mass. And he gave a sermon about the four attitudes that keep us from connecting with God: anger, selfishness, resentment, and fear.

If there was ever a sermon designed to hit home with a congregation in the throes of a recession, this was it. Or at least so I felt, given that I was sitting there newly unemployed, exhausted, tense, worried, and distracted by the fact my pants were too baggy.

One by one, Fr. Bill went down the list. ANGER keeps God at arm's length. SELFISHNESS prevents you from loving creation and Creator. RESENTMENT -- stemming from the Latin resentire, to feel again -- "pokes old hurts" and delays healing. And FEAR ... fear reverses faith.

That's when my ears perked up. Fear you say, Fr. Bill? Why, whatever would make me fearful right now? Perhaps the fact that I'm job hunting during the holidays AND an economic downturn? That every day, another one of my friends is let go? That I'm not seizing the opportunity to follow my heart, or worse, following the wrong path?

Or is it that I become more convinced with each dateless year month I'm never going to be in a committed relationship? That my brother will be attacked on the streets of North Philly? That my grandparents will die before I get a chance to say goodbye?

Or maybe it's that we're headed toward World War III ... that we're frying the planet ... that we're killing people in God's name ... that we're 8 million years away from world peace ... the list goes on.

Yeah, I silently said to Fr. Bill. Yeah, fear reverses faith alright. And the reversal becomes only more pronounced as the nights get longer, the days get colder, and the worry lines in people's faces deepen.

No wonder fear damages our relationship with God. Opening your heart lets all feelings in, fear and faith alike. Acknowledging apprehensions makes them real. It forces us to deal.

And if you're spiritual, a big part of dealing can mean reaching out to a Higher Being you've been doing your best to stay distant from. Because you know that It knows that you both know what you need to do -- and talking about it might force you to do it, even if it's frightening, difficult, or sad.

But then again ... what better time of year to be afraid and then remember faith? We have four (now two) weeks of waiting in the cold and dark for what we know will be an unabashed celebration, centered solely on good news and babies and light and angels and music and cookies. (Ok, cookies aren't part of the liturgical canon. But they should be. Wafers aren't cutting it.)

Simply knowing that good stuff is coming takes the sting out of waiting. It turns apprehension to anticipation. The trick is holding onto that sense of anticipation -- of wonder -- of hope -- when you have no idea how, when, or if a celebration awaits.

So if fear reverses faith, then trust restores it, I decided. Trust in God, trust in myself, trust in the mysterious machinations of a cyclical universe designed by a constant creator.

Trust that we'll all find our purpose, that we'll all be safe, that each person will make the right and noble choices to help set our world on a regenerative path.

Trust that dark turns to light, that celebrations always come, and that Advent is a perpetual and enriching state of being.

I trust that faith reverses fear.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

What product/service doesn't exist -- but should?

What product or service does not exist yet that you wish did? OR, what variations, improvements, or additions do you envision for existing products?

This question comes courtesy of Jocelyn Harmon, the brains behind the Marketing for Nonprofits blog. She initially asked it of me during our coffee chat yesterday, but I realized I'm not as immediately visionary as I once supposed.

So I'm passing it along to you, my brainy audience, for additional noodling while I rack my brains for something so earth-shattering it will keep Jocelyn on speaking terms with me. Leave all flashes of brilliance below. THANKS!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The 5 C's of job hunting (for diamonds in the rough)


Yes, yes, I know I said this post was going to be about why someone should hire cute, nice, big-ball-of-fluffy-hair me. But that's self-serving and -- let's face it -- not really that interesting (hairball aside).

So instead, we're going to talk about why people should hire YOU -- or rather, what makes you stand out as a diamond in the rough. And what better way to gauge your uniqueness that by evaluating your C's -- the essentials you should bring to the table, no matter your field, to make sure yours is the signature on the offer letter.

1. A clue.
Understand what's going on in your industry. How does the economy, the government, the political climate, technological developments, etc. affect the organizations you're interested in working for? This shows the company you grasp the forces at work outside your cubicle, AND insulates you from making stupid career moves (i.e. becoming an investment banker the day after we plunge into our next depression).

2. A crystal ball.
Nostradamus would have quite the round of interviews today if he were available. While none of us are at that level, we can still posit where we think our fields -- and roles -- are going and could be going. What experience do you have that situates you well not for your dream org's current needs, but also its future ones? Articulating this demonstrates you think long-term and are prepared to adapt. The good news: You won't be 100% accurate. So don't fret about it. Just worry about making an informed prediction.

3. Common sense.
This rare and precious trait should manifest itself from the details (you know everyone's names, you give reasonable/achievable answers) all the way to the big picture (you understand workplace and organizational realities). Do you approach challenges with a cool, clear head? Do you think through a situation before making a decision? Can people trust you, and do they entrust decisions/tasks to you? In short: flighty people are fun at the holiday office party and nowhere else. Show you're not part of that group.

4. Confidence.
Dead fish handshakes drive me bonkers. They scream "mamby pamby" to me. That said, I have found them to be a helpful indicator of a person's approach to his/herself and a position: if they're that weak at the outset, chances are they're shrinking violets the rest of the time too. That's why it's imperative to project strength, poise, and polish from your cover letter to your interview to your first day to your first review ... and beyond. If you don't have faith in yourself, why should others? Note: Do not mistake confidence and character for charisma. Confidence is much deeper and more innate. Charisma might get you the gig, but confidence will keep you there.

5. Connections.
We get by with a little help from our friends ... and from our colleagues, our relatives, our neighbors, our associates, etc. So ask for help. It's called networking. It's common, acceptable, and even encouraged. (Yay!) Call, write, share lunch or coffee, go to meet-ups -- whatever works for your personal style. Making appointments is only half the battle, though. You gotta ask the questions and share the info once you're together. And you should be doing this even when you're employed so you're not caught flat-footed should that blessed state of being change.

Case in point: I chatted it up with lots of lovely people at conferences and over Twitter as part of my organizational blog preparation. Now that I'm back in the hunt, these lovely people (Jocelyn Harmon, Andrea Michniak, Chris Fowler, Mark Miller, Henri Makembe, to name a few of many!) have already helped me with contacts, postings, advice, and all-around affirmation.

So there you go -- 5 C's with a C example to boot! What am I missing?

P.S. My apologies for the delay in posting something new. As you might have guessed, getting a head start on the job search has occupied most of my time this week. I'll be in the swing of the new routine soon. Thanks for loving me anyway!!


Photo by Monster Pete

Friday, December 05, 2008

This writer's for hire!

Soo, remember that time I talked about the sky falling down and worst work-related nightmares and wanting a viable reason not to go into the office? Well, I have one now: I was laid off.

Now, before you get agitated and call/Tweet/Facebook-message me with your concern (which I really love and appreciate about my mother you!), let me tell you the story. And then I will tell you why this is a blessing, even amid a recession. And then I will ask for your help in finding a job.

The news was sudden, unexpected, and gasp-worthy. "Mourning" doesn't begin to describe what the office was feeling as some of us packed our things. I got more hugs in 1 hour than I have in the past 3 weeks. The hardest part was the huge reality leap the day took: I started employed, in my normal routine, ready to buckle down ... and ended unemployed, networking, and with a lot of free time on my hands.

The good news is, the balance of positives to negatives about this situation tips heavily to positives. Case in point:

POSITIVES

* I can soak up Vitamin D in these winter months because I have the freedom to go outside.

* I can ride my bike, which Jacob rudely calls the Huffy.

* I get to make full use of my much loved Twitter network.

* I can enjoy holiday festivities and travel without PTO looming over my head.

* This coincides nicely with the administration change, so perhaps some government opportunities will open up. And at the very least, perhaps Obama will work magic and fix the economy in 3 weeks. (Girl can dream, can't she?)

* I have the chance to recalibrate my career and get back to more writing/editing/content development rather than content management.

* I have done more networking in DC in 10 months than I ever did in Philly over two years. I'm hopeful this will serve me in good stead now.

* I already live here. No moving or travel required for interviews. One big step done!

* I picked up some amazing lessons about social media, content development, the nonprofit sector, and workplace management during my brief tenure (to be built out in future posts)

* The house will be really, really clean.

* My terrific colleagues are now my full-time friends. I didn't lose anything except the pleasure of seeing their cute faces every day.

* Can we say "thank God I have savings"?

* I will once again enjoy the thrill of the chase. Who knew that last month's audition would prove good training for interviews??

* I'll get to spy on the neighbors see more of our neighbor's new puppy.

* I can play with all my other unemployed friends (of which there are quite a few ... hopefully not for long).

* I can go to DC tourist traps on Wednesday mornings and avoid the crowd.

* I can take my burgeoning addiction to social media to an organization or industry that wants to see the light.

* I don't have to wear high heels or panty hose every day!

* I can use some of my free time to learn more about Digg and delicious and all the other services/communities I haven't yet tried because I've been too busy on Twitter.

* I can tell people I'm retired.

Of course, there are some counterpoints:

NEGATIVES

* I won't get to work on the new website and blog I put a lot of time, energy, and passion into.

* My whole routine is different. My life no longer exists on one block in the city.

* Oh God! Say it ain't so! No more free kitchen snacks???

* Will I ever work downtown again? Hell, will I ever have that much VACATION time again?

* It's very likely I will no longer have my own office. Or a window. (Ah well. That was a anomalous stroke of luck anyway. And in the meantime I'm in my office at home. In front of a bay window.)

* I must remember to suggest networking meetings over coffee with people rather than lunch so as not to derail Weight Watchers. (Though, not being around the chocolate covered pretzels is a positive. And I've lost 2.5 pounds! And will continue losing if I have no money to buy groceries! What Bridget Jonesian optimism!)

* Ummm ... we're in a RECESSION?

Overall, I say I'm coming out on top (unless you weight the points, like the recession, but let's not, k, thx.)

The immortal words of Annie Get Your Gun's "I Got the Sun In The Morning" say it best: Checking up on what I have and what I haven't -- what do I find? A healthy balance on the credit side. Ain't it the truth!

In my next post: why you should hire me (or tell important people you know to hire me [I'm very cute and nice, you know]).

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Prayer #44: Unexpect the Expected

The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated. {Mark Twain}

Prayer #44: Unexpect the Expected

Nature abhors comfort.

Security, consistency, predictability ... all are pleasant ideas that have bearing in our lives, but are no means as dependable as we wish them to be.

It's not such a bad thing. Having a wolf at your door can help you move faster, think smarter, act stronger. (Or you can become paralyzed with fear and become a wolf snack, but that's a moral for a different time.)

Wouldn't it be lovely, though, if you could be fast/smart/strong WITHOUT the wolf? Just act that way all the time, on your own, in good times and bad? How much would we get accomplished then, I wonder. How much could we achieve, and dream, and grasp?

Lord, help me unexpect the expected. Grant me the wisdom to understand -- and I mean REALLY UNDERSTAND -- that life is change, and I change with it, not merely in response to it.

Keep the wolf at my mind rather than my door -- a prowling, pacing reminder that we don't need to live in fear, we just need to live aware.

And I pray that when the expected expires, and the known is no more, that You stay by my side and re-focus me on the only dependable comforts out there: Your love and Your grace.

Amen.

Monday, December 01, 2008

The origin of the phrase "bite face"

"She is so cute, I just want to bite her face."
"Oh, bite his face, he's such a cute stinker."
"Bite your face -- aren't you a doll!"

All these phrases -- plus several other permutations referring to babies, toddlers, and/or considerate young men who are being unintentionally romantic -- are correct uses of the expression "to bite one's face."

Though it sounds cannibalistic, biting one's face is a term of endearment, meant to signify only the highest level of charm and cuteness. It is a distant cousin of the accepted idiom "eat it up" (particularly when applied to children, as in "you're so cute, I could eat you up.")

The phrase originated about 10 years ago among the IMS-stricken community, and has since spread to this group's closest friends and family. It is now common practice to exchange emails and phone messages centered solely on exclamations of "bite his/her face!"

Do not be alarmed if you hear this phrase issue from the lips of a person you've known to be sane, balanced, and safe to allow near children up to that point. They mean no harm; they simply can't contain their overwhelming urge to squeeze, snuggle, and kiss whatever/whoever it is that warranted the outburst in the first place.

Note: It's best not to stand in their way. Simply step aside, and let them carry on. Everyone will be happier for it.

EXHIBIT A*:


* As in, if you don't want to bite their faces, you have no soul.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

5 easy ways to survive Christmas

Alternate title: How to survive Christmas without (too much) alcohol or heavy medication

While on a drive with my mother Friday, I counted 78 wreaths, 56 Santa Clauses, 43 porches with lights, 11 inflatable snowglobes, 4 candy canes, 3 choo-choo trains, and some assorted “reindeer” of the unnaturally posed variety that I think the crazy people around the corner keep up year-round even though their “fur” is chipping.

All fun, all bright, all cheery. Except it's the day after Thanksgiving. And we were driving around at 11 am. Which means these households decorated for Christmas:

a) instead of eating Thanksgiving dinner with their family,
b) as the sun rose on Black Friday, or
c) in July.

None of those options is acceptable. Not because I don't think people have a right to celebrate whenever and however they please, or I'm a curmudgeonly Scrooge, or I have an aversion to high, seasonal-based electric bills. Their decorating is unacceptable because it stresses me out.

Here's where I start to hear tsk-tsking from you all. “Julia, it's no skin off your nose if people decorate early -- just more light and cheer to spread around, and you get to enjoy the view. Chill.”

Oh, but if it were only that simple.

You see, when these eager beavers decorate so early, I think of all the other holiday trappings they are probably handling months in advance -- cards, menu planning, gift-buying, wreath-buying, tree-picking, etc. And such careful planning and forethought only serves to remind me that I will be lucky if I make it to Christmas vacation alive, much less with wrapped gifts in tow.

Now, a note: I love Christmas. I love the religious significance, the goodwill, the brightest light in the darkest of winter, the carols, the peace, the togetherness, the waiting.

But I abhor Christmas commercialism -- Black Friday, gift “obligations,” overboard secularism, nonstop commercials, bad pop renditions of classic holiday music, the rush, the mania, and the idea that it all stops cold on Dec. 26.

The latter obstructs, clouds, and diminishes the former. I know few people who walk away feeling rejuvenated or restored. Most breathe a sigh of relief, chuck the wreath, and start jotting down New Year's Resolutions. (Item 1: Don't invite 62 people to Christmas dinner next year.)

The result: a neutered holiday that would pack 100x its spiritual and emotional punch if allowed to occur in its original, elegant, and essential simplicity.

After all, the first Christmas comprised a baby. A family. A star. Visitors. A few thoughtful gifts. Reflection. Music. Humble beginnings. And probably breastfeeding and a good poop. (The last two are totally open to personal interpretation and inclusion.)

So, in an effort to get back to basics this year, I'm declaring a state of Yuletide emergency. I will save my season from others' expectations. Indeed, no stress need occur for ANY of us with the proper precautions. For example:

1. Cancel Christmas cards. They're pretty to look at and good to stack in piles and useful in keeping the USPS in business. But unless you plan to write a personal message and an honest-to-goodness update in yours, don't bother sending them to me. I will not be sending them to you, because I'm spent all year keeping in touch with you and staying interested and active in your life. A card will not amplify and diminish that fact, so I'm not directing energy toward them – especially when I'd rather direct it toward YOU.

2. Forgo gifts. I hereby release you from buying me gifts this year. I am well assured of our love/friendship/respect/working relationship. Scented candles and lotions do not change your status in my life. Instead, put that money toward paying your credit card debt, making a donation, having me over for dinner, etc. I'll get more joy out of it, and so will you.

3. Remember time is of the essence. We are finite creatures. The one thing we cannot create on this earth is more time. This makes our coming together all the more special and critical. Set aside visits/trips/moments with those you love in 2009, and we'll all be richer for it.

4. Think propagation, not obligation. The first -- and greatest -- Christmas gift was an infant. (And yes, I do realize the Josh Groban backstage passes I so desperately covet do not begin to approach this in significance.) Reflect on what will help you feel reborn this holiday season. Is it service? Cooking? Gift exchanges? Travel? Prayer? Whatever it is, dedicate yourself to it and forget the rest. I certainly won't be keeping tallies on what you did or didn't do to mark the season. The world will notice only that you're so sopped with joy, you're spilling it on the rest of us.

5. Look at the calendar. See also: Read the news. Check your email. Call your mother. Christmas is one day. The season is a mere four weeks (unless you're a retailer, in which case it's three months). That's about 1/12 of a wild year in which we saw economic turmoil, an administration change, and the relentless march of world events. And let's not even try to calculate all the births, deaths, illnesses, graduations, weddings, divorces, surprises, fights, dates, meals, vacations, naps, lessons, workdays, and grocery trips that made this year meaningful for you.

So, in admiring recognition of your hard work at this thing called life, I release you from performing any activity you don't find fulfilling in this very short, intense, and manufactured period. Remember: Mary's son arrived despite her glaring lack of bed, roof, or doctor. So will life go on in splendid mayhem for you -- with or without six different kinds of Christmas cookies in your oven.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Prayer #43: The Turkey's Not Thankful

A blessing.
The blessing of God.
The eternal goodwill of God,
The shalom of God,
The wildness and the warmth of God,
Be among us and between us
Now and always.
{Anonymous -- Hat tip to S. Kathleen for sending}

Prayer #43: The Turkey's Not Thankful

God, in your wildness and warmth, grant us the invigorating grace of your presence this Thanksgiving.

Be with us in the mayhem of family.
Be with us in the bedlam at the grocery store.
Be with us in the fanfare of parades.
Be with us in the blare of football games.
Be with us in the clatter of dishes.
Be with us in the chatter of visitors.

Be with us in dark meat and white meat and cranberry can circles and the trappings and drippings of a holiday centered on eternal gratitude for all the things that might drive us mad one minute, but sustain us through the whole next year.

So this holiday, I'm most thankful for YOU, God, and for your being there behind and amid the nurturing chaos. Really. Thank you.

Amen.

P.S. One favor, though -- can you cut the turkey a break?

Sunday, November 23, 2008

This I Believe #1: Love Comes Cropped 3x5

I've been wanting to jump on the This I Believe bandwagon for a long time. These three-minute essays, which appear on NPR's All Things Considered, Tell Me More, and Weekend Edition Sunday, are at the heart of a national media project that gets people writing, sharing, and talking about the values and beliefs that guide their daily lives.

My plan: to write the rough drafts of what I believe here, let the ideas percolate, and then submit them down the line. Let me know what you think!


This I Believe #1: Love Comes Cropped 3x5

I get hung up on photographs of myself. I never look as pretty or slender as I think I do in the mirror. I never look fashionable or dramatic. I never look like the fascinating type of person -- you know, the kind who's not beautiful, but arresting -- that pro photographers are always putting in fancy exhibits as "Anonymous Girl #5" because of their undeniable, irrepressible character.

Yet, I love having pictures taken. I love grinning and posing. I love how beautiful I feel in that moment. I am addicted to the possibility of finally having the perfect shot -- the one image that could go in a gallery, sit on my grandchildren's mantles, and prove why a man could fall in love with me across a crowded room.

You can see what a tall order this can be. And you can see why I'm always hopeful, never fulfilled. Except, however, when it comes to the person behind the camera.

I am thinking specifically of my dear friend Mark. He has an artist's soul and eye, working magic and taking risks with his regular Kodak digital camera. In fact, he never stops snapping, to the point where I'm sometimes embarrassed that he's pulling out the lens at such inappropriate moments.

Secretly, though, I'm thrilled. Because if he's documenting my life in such ordinary detail, then chances improve that one of those shots will be THE one: the real, amazing Julia captured forever in time.

As a result, I have albums upon albums of pictures from Mark. Pictures of me laughing, singing, sighing, putting my hair up, appearing in reflecting pools, dancing, eating breakfast, rolling my eyes, making jazz hands, sporting pigtails and winter hats. Some are adorable. Some are unflattering. All are intimate, as they reveal the way my friend looks past photography as record-keeping, and instead uses it to amplify what I mean to him.

That's why Mark's photos are my favorites, despite my visible imperfections. When I flip through the images, I see my life through his eyes. Each frame shows the joy I am to him, and what fun we are having, and what adventures are still to come the next time he finds us bored and with camera in hand.

Turns out, that is the real Julia in the shots. I'm the goof, the drama queen, the co-conspirator, the friend. A shutterbug who didn't care wouldn't bother snapping me so much. Instead, I have one who cares in abundance, and who lends his perspective on my existence with every click.

And what do the final images tell me? That character trumps being photogenic. That every word, action, and expression I make shows others who I am -- undeniable, irrepressible. And that I will always be beautiful to those who love me.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Critical career lessons I learned this week that you should know too

Oh boy, has it been one of those days/weeks/months/years/lives. I got sick, my boss resigned, the sky fell down ... ok, the last one didn't happen, but in my more dramatic moments I wished it would. At least then I'd have a viable excuse to not show up at the office.

The good thing about times like these, however, is that they help refocus my energy on professional development. I reexamine what I'm contributing, and where my goals are now. And it forces me to remember -- or flat out learn -- the necessary workplace lessons that will keep me from:

a) pulling my hair out,
b) getting an ulcer,
c) losing my temper,
d) crying at the office, or
e) all of the above.

Note: All of these have happened already except the ulcer. And just give that one time.


So, here are just a few of the latest lessons:

* Your manager can hand in his two weeks' notice and really mean three business days. Plan accordingly.

* Figure out what constituted the happiest hour of your day at work. Do your best to make it happen again amid the unhappy hours.

* Your worst work-related nightmare can come true. And it will turn out it's not all that bad, and you'll just deal, because you're a big kid now and life goes on.

* Sometimes, you do have to ask "how high?" when someone says jump. The question is, are you having to say it all the time at the detriment of your professional satisfaction and growth?

* Some people are perfectly happy coming into the office everyday, doing whatever, collecting the check, and going home. My mentor calls this "making the donuts." They have no investment in the reach or effectiveness of their creative work. I don't understand this mindset. But I need to, because donut makers constitute a large part of the workforce.

* It takes a strong and desperate person to quit a job in this economy without another gig lined up. Conversely, this speaks volumes about the health of the environment he or she is fleeing.

* If your manager asks you to take a "leap of faith" and follow his lead, try to believe him. Why? Because if the leap pans out, then you've learned something new about your manager and improved the relationship. And if it doesn't, then you've saved yourself the stress of assuming responsibility that isn't yours to assume.

* You cannot reverse the Titanic's course by yourself. Don't kill yourself trying. State your concerns, do what you can to help, and then let it crash. Just make sure you're in a lifeboat.

* At the end of the day, you walk out of the office with only your interests in mind -- your career, your mission, your passion. The rest is ephemeral. Bend your work opportunities to your long-term vision. And when you can no longer bend them, take the skills elsewhere.

That's a lot of takeaways from a 42-hour week. So I'm pretty sure you've got some from your work experiences. What tips can you give this over-sensitive, over-committed young career woman to help prevent "e" (see multiple choice question above)?

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Mashed sweet potatoes in 10 minutes

Nine days until Thanksgiving, which means cooks everywhere are hauling out the big guns -- i.e. pots, peelers, and mashers -- to make their annual mashed potatoes. But this little chef asks, why slave over a hot stove burning your hands on taters when you can make a delicious (and much healthier) bowl of mashed sweet potatoes in the microwave instead?

This autumnal side dish hits all the high points -- nutritious, delicious, fast, and cheap. Hat tip to the Express yet again for keeping me not-fat, smart, and happy with such great recipes.

But before I give you the recipe, here are some fun facts about the humble sweet potato:

* People have been enjoying sweet taters since prehistoric times. How do we know? Sweet potato relics dating back 10,000 years have been discovered in Peruvian caves. (source) Thank God folks didn't clean up back then!

* Christopher Columbus brought sweet potatoes to Europe after his first voyage to the New World in 1492. (source) It seemed a fair trade for guns and pestilence.

* The English word "yam" comes from the African word "nyami," which refers to the starchy, edible root of the Dioscorea genus of plants. (source)

* Although the terms are generally used interchangeably, the U.S. Department of Agriculture requires that the label "yam" always be accompanied by "sweet potato." (source) This way, we never really quite know what's going on.

* One baked sweet potato (3 1/2 ounce serving) provides over 8,800 IU of vitamin A. This is TWICE the recommended daily allowance, yet it contains only 141 calories making it valuable for the weight watcher (like me!). (source)

* The sweet potato is not a potato or even a distant cousin. Potatoes are tubers; sweet potatoes are roots. (source) In other news, a chick pea is neither a chick nor a pea. Discuss.

* A sweet potato by any other name would taste as sweet, right? Here's what they're called around the world: batata, boniato, camote (Spain); kumar (Peru); kumara (Polynesian); and cilera abana,"protector of the children" (eastern Africa); kara-imo, "Chinese potato" (southern Kyushu, Japan); Ubhatata (South Africa); and satsuma-imo,"Japanese potato" (most of the other parts of Japan). (source)

But enough of all that. You just wanted the recipe, didn't you? ("More eating, less learning, Julia!") Ok then, here you go.

Mashed Sweet Potatoes

Ingredients

1 2-pound 8-ounce can sweet potatoes (usually called yams) in syrup, drained
2 Tbsp honey
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon (or to taste -- I sprinkled willy-nilly)
1/4 tsp nutmeg (again with the willy-nillyness
1 cup chunky apple sauce (go with unsweetened, no need for extra sugar. Smooth works as well.)

In a large microwave-safe bowl, mash the sweet potatoes with a potato masher or fork. Stir in the honey, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Stir in the apple sauce.

Cover the bowl, then microwave on high for 3 to 5 minutes, or until hot, stirring once midway through. I found five minutes did the trick.

It says it serves 6, but I don't believe the recipe. They would be very little servings, which is ridiculous, because as we LEARNED above, sweet potatoes are very healthy and can be eaten in decent quantity. So I'd say this really serves more like 4.

And that's it! You're done! I don't even have an opportunity to make snarky asides, because that's how fast and easy this recipe is. Enjoy!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Word on the street: Super Pollo

If you ever doubted the value of having a proofreader, here's a flyer from our local Peruvian chicken place that will prove why you should always have a native English-speaker someone else give your copy an eyeball:



Super Pollo -- Healty choice to eat
Its trully Fresh, Healthly and Naturally
Eat Freshly Cooked Food
All day Every Day
A Large Variety of Food
Chicken, Sub, Burger
Daily Special Food


P.S. Super Pollo means Super Chicken. In case the poultry in the cape didn't give it away.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

If you enjoy this blog, you might also like ...

Want to see inside my brain? Here's a cheaper option than a CAT scan: browsing my blog roll.

I just updated this list o' links today -- a long overdue task -- to better reflect what I'm reading, thinking about, and learning at this moment in time. But a list of links doesn't tell you much, so here's the 5-minute digest of what these fine bloggers can offer you.

Bizzlepix. I learned about this photo blog via Rich Levin (later on this list) via Joe Mezzanine (The Mezz). Gorgeous photos with a lot of humor and pathos. Great slice of Americana caught on film.

Andrea's Recipes. I had the pleasure of meeting Andrea at BlogHer in October. Her recipes are well-researched, well-tested, and well-written. A must-tastefor the foodie reader.

Bad Language. I've been following Matthew Stibbe's blog for a couple years now, and find it a great resource of writing tips and tidbits. Is now a good time to admit that I'd love to move to England and work for him someday?

Bob Sutton: Work Matters. Bob's blog appeals to the work/life balance nerd in me. Want to know about The No Asshole Rule? Bob's your man.

Brazen Careerist. Penelope Trunk (whom I had the pleasure of interviewing a couple years ago) is the bridge between Gen X and Gen Y when it comes to workplace issues. She's also an habitual oversharer and self-analyzer -- two traits that endear her to navel-gazing me.

Chris Brogan
. I'm late to the game on Chris's blog. Thank God blog posts archive so I can catch up. This social media rock star is an excellent example of the work, attention, and sleeplessness that it takes to become a thought leader in this space. I'm sorry he doesn't get much rest, but his insomnia is our gain.

Church of the Customer
. Another oldie but goodie on my Bloglines. Jackie Huba and Ben McConnell make a terrific marketing team, offering lots of useful case studies, interviews, and analysis. Good read for 21st century marketers.

CNN. All news is good news. Stay informed.

Copyblogger. When I need a reminder of how to write for online media, this is a strong place to start. Sometimes a tad elementary, it nonetheless provides fast, actionable tips for spicing up posts.

CREATIVE DC. I also met Amanda Hirsch at BlogHer and have been digging her blog since. DC-area readers: Follow her to gain access to some of the coolest and most under-the-radar art scenes in our nation's capital.

Escape from Cubicle Nation. Pam Slim gives me hope that one day I'll be my own boss and not starve while doing it. When I need to feel mothered via the Internet, her blog is a nurturing place to start. P.S. She's writing a book! Love watching her journey on this.

The Fluent Self. Um, I'm totally crushing on Havi Brooks's personal development-slash-yoga blog right now. Every time I read it, I find an application for the content in my life. Bless her for being a calm voice in the maelstrom of professional growing pains.

gapingvoid. Reading Hugh MacLeod reminds me that I'm not cool, but one day can be if I follow my heart now. Fans of art, cartooning, writing, and the creative process will love him.

How to Change the World. Another blog roll standby. I am just one little fan amid the thousands (tens of thousands? millions? everyone except your mom?) that follow Guy Kawasaki's thoughts, recommendations, and interviews. Offers clear steps for action and innovation in an unclear world.

Jeannine Norris -- Children's Author. Jeannine is my bestest's aunt, and therefore feels like one of my aunts too. (As if I didn't have enough.) Her first children's book, Tonight You Are My Baby, just came out! Beautiful Christmas story with portions of proceeds going to the At Least Kids Foundation. Truly the reason for the season.

Inside Lidia's Italy. In addition to wanting to be an author, social media rockstar, and font of work/life wisdom, I also want to be Lidia Bastianich. Or at least host an incredible cooking show with my mother and sing in the kitchen. Or be from Italy. Or eat. Lidia's blog lets me vicarously live all four. Tutti a tavola a leggere!

My Party of 6. Blogger Sue (another BlogHer attendee!) has me hooked on her honest, touching, and funny portrayals of life in the motherhood. I feel like I'm always over for coffee when I read her posts. So secretly it's a party of 7.

The Onion. You know it. You love it. You realize that its headlines sometimes aren't as absurd as real ones. Keep laughing -- it's the only thing that can save us.

Pat Rocchi. Shameless familial plug because if he weren't on my blog roll, I'd be disowned! Yes, Pat is my dad, and yes, I get my passion for writing from him. Unlike me, however, he has decades of experience and lots of awards. Check out his "been there, learned that" take on the evolution of communications.

PunditMom. Thank the Lord she went to BlogHer and I learned about her, because she proved indispensable during the election. Informed, smart, witty, and comprehensive political analysis -- nuttin' beats that.

PC Talk Radio. Shameless mentor plug! Rich Levin was the first boss who stole my professional heart. He updates only once a month or so, but the incredible in-depth interviews and exceptional audio quality are worth waiting for. Plus, Rich understood exactly what I meant when I coined the phrase "fundork," and is helping me spread the usage. Such dedication ensures eternal loyalty.

Smithsonian Channel blog. Lead blogger Andrea Michniak was at -- yes, you guessed it -- BlogHer, where I first found out about her blog. Fun, easy read for all history and social studies junkies out there.

Washington Post. No good DCer leaves home without it.

Why Am I Starting Another Blog? Shameless friend plug! My BFF-from-the-neighborhood Brian is living the red-haired, Philadelphia, B-school lifestyle and telling all. We like to comment on each other's blogs to spread the love. Spread it with me.

The Wind in Your Vagina. No, it's not a porn site. It's a fantastical take on life and love as we know it. What's fact? What's fiction? Who the hell cares? Just buckle up and let a writer/dad named Black Hockey Jesus take you behind the velvet rope and into his creative mind.

Yellaphant. Shameless friend plug! Old coworker and ardent Philly-ite Bridget Hanahan never regrets or apologizes, and you won't either once you read her. Some blogs go soup to nuts. Bridget's goes tampons to puppies to Chase Utley's butt. I can't explain; just read it.

Phew. Epic. Let me know what you think of these ... or if you have any recommendations for ways to distract me further reading.