Monday, June 30, 2008

Change, change, chaaaaaaaaaaaange ...

Spare change. Noun. The coinage and assortment of other small metal objects found in pockets/couch cushions/tip jars around the world.

Now try this on for size: Spare change. Verb. To use life's shifting events frugally or carefully. To avoid the full experience of new decisions or circumstances.

Or this: Spare change. Adjective. Bare, as referring to life. Lacking in amplitude or quantity. Plain, unembellished, and just plain boring.

Do you really want to spare change in your life? Do you want your picture next to these definitions? Ariane de Bonvoisin wants to make sure both your answers are NO.

She and her book -- The First 30 Days: Your Guide to Any Change (and Loving Your Life More) -- were the subject of a Guy Kawasaki interview earlier this week that caught my eye in my RSS travels.

Maybe my own recent life changes were still fresh in my mind. Maybe two separate conversations with my Philly BFFs about new directions and doubts kickstarted the train of thought. In any event, I read the article, and discovered the nine principles that make people good at change (straight from Ariane's mouth):

1. They have a positive belief about change and are generally optimistic. I call these people "change optimists."

2 They believe in the change guarantee: that something good always comes from change.

3.They know that they possess a "change muscle"--that they are strong, capable, powerful, and intuitive enough to handle any change that comes into their lives or that they want to initiate.

4. They refuse to become paralyzed by "change demons"--negative emotions that arise during change.

5. They don't resist change--choosing instead to accept the reality of their situation.

6. They understand that their thoughts, the words they say and the feelings they allow themselves to experience during change have a direct affect on how easily they move through the transition.

7. They believe that life has a deeper meaning than what can easily be seen or felt, that something greater is at play, and that no change is arbitrary.

8. They surround themselves with a support team to help them move through change.

9. They refuse to get stuck during change. They keep moving and take care of themselves mentally, physically, and emotionally.

You can view these principles through a few prisms -- spirituality, pragmatism, philosophy, and so on. Whatever your context, though, the truths remain the same. Change happens to you, within you, and through you. All three steps must be present for change to succeed.

So don't be stingy with change. Grab it, gulp it, glory in it. Otherwise, the only thing getting lost in the couch cushions will be you.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Prayer #33: S'more Grace, Please

Should four people camping for two days in a national park camp zone -- no biking, no kayaking, just hiking/cooking/sleeping -- require an entire carload of gear? Isn't that just more for the bears to get into?

Prayer #33: S'more Grace, Please

In the beginning, was there camping?

Did Adam and Eve fall asleep counting the stars in your heavens? Did they hike through Eden, and absorb breathtaking vistas? Or did they hop in their Winnebago and run, tires squealing, from Paradise?

Be with me this weekend, Lord, as I head to Your great outdoors. Keep me safe from [unrolls list] mosquitos thunder lighting rain bears mountain lions hunters trailers litter fire sticks blisters food poisoning hail flash floods bees campsite bathrooms Indians snow rocks landslides wolves poison ivy getting lost my traveling companions my self.

Because You know I am rarely as understanding as I could be, patient as I should be, or calm as I must be. If only I could wrap my faults in a bear bag and pull them high into a tree, far away from my human weakness, so that only my more divine instincts would play out.

But since I can't, I'm sending up a pre-camp S.O.S. to You instead. Thank you in advance for leaving trail markers. I hope the bears don't eat them. Or me.

Amen.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Yes actually, I DO think I can dance!

I had lofty ambitions tonight to sit down and write about accepting change in our lives, or about the surprising result of the latest Pew Forum Survey on Religion in America. They were shot to hell, however, when I instead sat down to watch "So You Think You Can Dance."

First, a small disclaimer. I'm relatively new to the reality show genre. I blame my reality-lovin' roommate for sucking me in. Even now, my enjoyment record is spotty. American Idol got on my nerves by the quarterfinals. I can't stand to be in the room when The Mole is on. But dance shows ... well, they are quite a different story.

"Dancing With the Stars" in past seasons, and So You Think this season, draw me like a merengueing moth to a krump flame (or some equally awkward metaphor). Maybe it's because of all the art forms I pursue, dance is one of my weakest. Maybe I'm subconsciously celebrating the human form. Or maybe, just maybe, I'm vicariously living the dream of wearing half a dress.

No matter the reason, the outcome is always the same: I turn off these shows feeling energized, elated, inspired. I believe that given the right combo of steps and sequins, I could waltz my way on there and bury the competition, if only I believe. Helping to fuel this dream is my (scant) past ballroom experience -- the one genre where my body said rejoicing, "Hey! I can do this!!!", and promptly forgot all embarrassing moments from past attempts at club dancing.

Sadly, I'm never in a position to immediately go salsa or ballroom dancing after one of these shows. It's a shame, because that's when all my inhibitions have fallen away, and I'm confident in my ability to roll these hips and live the beat. Instead, my roommates are treated to my prancing around the 1st floor, shaking what my mama gave me in my oh-so-sexy pajamas. I'm sure they can barely contain themselves.

The real test will come when I work up the gumption to go to a dance class again and act the part of a seductive siren who never wants to be anywhere but in her own sultry skin. And then, I hope I can summon that natural high simply walking down the street, making every movement a fluid routine. That's power. That's enticing. That's sexy.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Gazpacho, muchacho?

DC heat and humidity can wilt a person within minutes during the summer, so I'm always on the lookout for oven- or stove-free dinner recipes. And what fits the bill better than gazpacho?

Gazpacho is a Spanish word meaning "cold soup for people who are too lazy to slave over a hot stove or even chew." It usually consists of many chopped vegetables in a tomato base -- think soupy salsa. This pure tomato version is an equally yummy alternative, takes 6 minutes to make from start to finish, and can stretch over many meals if you're eating for one (and gets better the longer it sits).

I adapted it from Martha Stewart's Everyday Food. And by "adapted," I mean "stole the ingredient list and made it completely different."

Ingredients

1 28-oz. can whole peeled tomatoes (I used San Marzano, but that brand can be hard to find, so do whatever is cheap and available)
1 28-oz. can diced tomatoes
2-3 tbsp. olive oil (or to taste)
2 tbsp. red wine vinegar (or to taste)
Salt and pepper to taster
Fresh basil leaves, whole (I used four big ones, but again, to taste. Can you tell I'm from the school of interpretive cooking?)

Pull out your blender. A food processor might work too, but I wouldn't know because Jacob's grandmother hasn't yet delivered on her promise to give us one as a housewarming gift ... I digress. If you try it in the processor, let me know how it goes.

For now, the blender. Pour in the can of whole tomatoes. Break apart the tomatoes with your hands (away from the blades, please). To be honest, I don't know if this carries any culinary benefit. It's just fun to make them squish. Then pour out 1/2 the can of diced. At least, that's about how much I could fit in my blender without fear of explosion. Feel free to experiment with your personal kitchen equipment.

Add the olive oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, and basil leaves. You can substitute dried basil for fresh, but really, why would you want to? Fresh spells summer, and it's so easy to grow in a windowsill garden that even the blackest of thumbs have little excuse for not keeping it on hand.

Sorry. I digress again.

When it's all in the blender, cover and hit blend until it reaches the consistency you like. I was so excited about cooking something in 6 minutes without heat that I let the blender go awhile, and got a perfect creamy concoction. Only problem was, I was going for slightly chunky. So play around and see what happens.

For best results, stick the whole pitcher in the fridge for a couple hours to get it nice and chilled. Or, if you're in a hurry, you can probably blend in a couple ice cubes to speed the process.

The result: A tangy, basil-infused, fast, healthy, and beautiful soup that looks much fancier than it actually is, particularly if you are pretentious enough to garnish it with quartered plum tomatoes or parsley.

Serves 4 generous bowls. As for calories, who cares? It's vegetables. Give a prayer of thanks to St. Lycopene and dig in. Mangia!

Sunday, June 22, 2008

19 steps to becoming a handywoman

1. Assert your independence as an able woman of the world who does not want to be dependent on a man for common household repairs.

2. To underscore this point, choose a project that is one -- or several -- steps above your current level of competency.

3. Make the appropriate purchases -- curtains, lightbulbs, small accent items, furniture stain, hammer, brightly colored paint, fabric patterns, drill bits, life insurance, etc.

4. Find instructions.

5. Read them.

6. Convince yourself you have a better way of doing it.

7. Shred instructions, and proceed with project.

8. Twelve minutes into project, hit your first snag. Immediately become frustrated.

9. Attempt to overcome snag on own. Inflict permanent damage on wall/table/chair/self in process.

10. Curse.

11. Fish instructions out of shredder. Attempt to reassemble.

12. Proceed with project based on garbled instructions.

13. Finish phase one of project. Have a stiff drink.

14. Enlivened by drink, begin phase two. Immediately hit next snag. Do not wait to curse.

15. In fit of pique, barrel through remainder of project. Make the promise of another stiff drink the carrot at the end of your personal stick.

16. Right before paint drys/varnish stains/curtains hang/ambulance comes, decided you want your carrot now, and enjoy said drink.

17. Finish project. Procure any necessary medical attention. Return unused drill bits.

18. Enjoy the look of project. Similar to childbirth, you quickly forget the pain and suffering said project inflicted on you.

19. Revel in household independence. Tell all your friends they can do it too. Plan next project.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Word on the street: Quotable quips

The scene: IM conversation with the Philly bestest.

Emily: HULES!!!
Julia: MIMES!
Julia: sorry, was in a meeting
Julia: what's up?
Emily: nothing major is up. i just wanted to see your voice


The scene: The first exchange of the day with a coworker.

Julia: Good morning.
Susannah: Good morning. I just found out my old high school classmate has changed from a man to a woman.


The scene: Spotted on a T-shirt in the Metro on the way home.

Haikus are easy
But sometimes they don't make sense
Refrigerator

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The best advice I have yet recieved

"Everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time."

I can't remember who told me this. I think it was my grandmother. But it doesn't matter because it's one simple, silly maxim that drives the bulk of compassionate feeling in my life. And it has to do with PANTS.

Here's why I love the pants saying:

1. It humanizes everyone. It reminds me we're all facing the same daily grind, the same routine habits, and the same mortal condition. If that doesn't put petty problems and arguments in perspective, nothing else ever will.

2. It reduces fear. Whenever I feel cowed or intimidated by a person of great authority or celebrity, I remember that they still clothed themselves in the morning. The pants didn't magically fly on thanks to their 'famous person' magic powers. They put them on themselves. And suddenly we're all on one level.

3. It humbles me. The "cocky Rocchi" gene is strong in me. Confidence sometimes slips in arrogance. But when I think of this phrase, I remember how I feel when someone doesn't treat me with respect or understanding. It forces me to open my ears, drop the attitude (you thought I was going to say pants, didn't you?), and be sincere.

There's only one exception, courtesy of my coworker Nemo ...

nemoncf:
"Best advice I ever got: Everyone puts their pants on one leg at a time."

juliartcf:
Give me something new, nemo!!! I know what I say!!

nemoncf:
You haven't seen my amazing "jump-into-my-pants-two-legs-at-a-time" act.

(Rimshot!)

Monday, June 16, 2008

Separated and unequal

My mother cried when she said goodbye to me at Union Station yesterday. This is not unusual. In fact, it's expected of my mother for all major events -- college, travel abroad, new jobs, moving, weddings, well-executed dinner parties, and so on.

Yesterday's farewell, however, was *not* a major event. It was the end of a lovely weekend visit, and consisted of one big hug and kiss before I see her again in a month. One month. Yet there she was, mascara smeared, nose sniffling, hugging me every two steps, and blaming the whole hot mess on hormones.

The other passengers kindly ignored us. And I knew it wasn't hormones.

Right now, you're probably thinking I'm an insensitive clod who doesn't appreciate parental devotion and the vagaries of female emotions, and thus doesn't deserve such a loving and arugula-bearing mother. Au contraire, dear readers. It was all I could do not to cry myself at the first sight of her tears, while the nagging catch in my throat poked holes in my cheery goodbyes.

The truth is, my mother's sudden leaking at Gate K tapped into a much deeper emotional vein for me, one I'd been struggling with since I finished moving my stuff out of my parents' house. Yes, I am seeing her and Dad again in a month -- but that's still one month. For however quickly the time passed in retrospection, 30 days can be a helluva long time to wait to see/hug/catch up with people you once saw/hugged/caught up with every day.

The homesickness -- or people-sickness, as it were -- extends beyond my parents. There's my whole circle of relatives that I can't join for family parties, lunch, or impromptu get-togethers. And we won't even get into my friends -- a few of them my "bests," many high school pals, work pals, singing groups, and more, all of whom I no longer get to be with in my regular comings and goings.

Indeed, the task of staying in touch is daunting. There are simply too many people, and out of sight is more out of mind than I realized. College transience kept much of this reality at bay, because it was a manufactured and temporary situation. But this move, from Philly to DC, is real life. My adulthood is irreversible. I could live here for many years to come, or perhaps move even further. Even more than the long-distance, the uncertainty tightens my chest, and makes me wonder if I made the right decision.

Of course, you sometimes don't gain the perspective and experience to judge such decisions' value until you've taken the risk. I could very well adjust to living outside of Philly within another 6 months. I might never get used to it. I might be able to live with it, and plan visits accordingly. Or I might have to move back as the only answer to that need.

I'm not leaning in any direction right now; it's really too soon to tell. I'm simply explaining why I wanted to cry right along with my mother in Union Station, and why I suddenly felt far more adult and responsible than I cared to at that moment. My life is here. My life is now. And the thrill of change is tempered (balanced?) by the ache of growing pains.

No return ticket here. One month will pass. We'll visit. Then we'll plan the next visit. And I'm confident my mother will cry. How wonderful to know the best things in life never change.

Friday, June 13, 2008

A care package only my mother could love

Some mothers bring cookies when they visit. Mine brings greens.

The situation: Mama Rocchi is coming to visit this weekend. I receive the following email this morning.

OK. I’m ready right now to get on that train. This day is going to verrrrrrry long.

Just wanted to say that.

Have a great day and see you tonight!

Love, Mom


PS: I’m bringing two big bunches of arugula with me. I know your father won’t eat them over the weekend and I didn’t want them to go bad. We can have a yummy salad!

This brings me back to my college days when I would receive that most holy of mail items -- the care package. Except my mother didn't stoop to the pedestrian treats. Here's how the scene would usually play out:

Roommate: "Wow, look at all the cookies and candy my mom sent me!"

College-aged Julia: "Wow, look at all the ... articles my mom sent me ... oh, and here's some V8 ..."

Though I will say this: I avoided the freshmen 15 entirely and knew to sidestep unhealthy college hook-ups (thank you, Philadelphia Inquirer) all because of my mother's care packages. And if that's not love, I don't know what is.

UPDATE: My mother's response to this post.

LOL x 2

X 2 because I just sent [your brother] an article inside a good luck card for his internship AND I left an article for him on the kitchen table yesterday morning.

But I DID give him $20 last night so he would have a little pocket money for his first day tomorrow!!!

Am I that predictable ... and un-fun?


Not at all, Mom. Not at all. :-)

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Word on the street: When shoes trump rent

The scene: Waiting for the N4 at 18th and M. One young woman walks up to another. They know each other from work, and begin to chat. This conversation really took place.

Girl #1: So I got my first paycheck last week, and as a treat to myself, I spent it on shoes.

Girl #2: Oh yeah?

Girl #1: Yeah, I spent $600. Got four pairs of shoes.

Girl #2: Four pairs.

Girl #1: Yeah, I got them at the outlet when I was visiting home.

Girl #2: That was the outlet price?

Girl #1: Yeah, I know, can you believe it? Such a deal. But then I had to carry them all home on the plane, because they wouldn't fit in my suitcase, and since I didn't want to let them go, I ended up carrying them for the plane ride.

Girl #2: Wow.

Girl #1: Yeah, they're really hot. One's got this really high heel, I got some black shoes, some red ones ... so now I have like 10 pairs of black shoes, and 8 pairs of red. Except now I won't be able to pay rent this month.

Girl #2: Are you serious?

Girl #1: Well, my roommate is screwing me over. She broke our lease so she could move in with her boyfriend, but I still need to pay her part of the rent, and now I can't afford it because I spent the $600 from my paycheck on shoes.

Girl #2: ...

Girl #1: But I'm not too worried because my dad will help me out. Ooh, that reminds me, I gotta call him!

She pulls out her phone and dials.

Girl #1 (on phone): Hi Sheila, it's --. Is my dad there? Oh. Is he booked all afternoon? Well, can you have him gimme a call back whenever he's between patients? Thanks!

She hangs up.

Girl #1: Just wait until you see these shoes ...

Monday, June 09, 2008

Running laps around "lapsed"

Are Catholics the only denomination ever referred to as lapsed?

Lapsed + Catholic is so pervasive that when I searched "define: lapsed" in Google, this is the first definition/example that came up. Merriam-Webster was in on the act too. And look at the articles that accompany the definition in MSN Encarta.

To borrow a phrase from fellow sons of Abraham -- oy vey. How did we end up in this state? I rarely, if ever, hear of lapsed Muslims, lapsed Jews, lapsed Hindis. It begs the question: Are they not lapsing? Or are lapsed Catholics simply more newsworthy -- or more expected?

I can't help but wonder how Catholic guilt might play a role in this. Our emphasis on ritual and adherence to catechism can make others' finger-wagging all the more satisfying when someone isn't following the "rules" anymore. Maybe if we were more pragmatic in our approach to helping others grow in and develop their faith, we wouldn't get the reputation of whip-cracking, and it would put these perceived "lapses" in their proper context: as a natural, even essential part of spiritual maturation.

However, the bigger, more important question is why Catholics are lapsing in large enough numbers that their religious activity has become the standard for non-practitioners. Without a doubt, more significant issues than definitions and common turns of phrase are afoot here. (Abuse scandals, anyone? No chance of female ordination? etc.)

So, church leaders, riddle me this: Are you going to take the time to look up the answers -- and then take the right steps to change the entry?

Thursday, June 05, 2008

My Date with Tony Blair

It was an evening of taboos. There I was, a young twenty-something, talking faith and politics deep into the night with the former denizen of 10 Downing Street, who also happens to be a married Catholic.

A dangerous, exhilirating evening, except for one snag: Tony (may I call him Tony?) wasn't there. And he has no idea who I am. Oh, and I was only sitting on my couch reading this Time article about his "leap of faith." But it didn't matter. I sure felt like we were conducting an intoxicating spiritual affair. Why? Because he is unafraid to be faithful, and eager to have it inform his life's work. And that's hot.

Let me give you the context for this drooling. I'm writing this post as a religious and politically engaged American who is aggravated at the use (or misuse) of religion in the American political spectrum. For me, this coin has two sides:

1. American politicians who sometimes claim a spiritual life to court faithful constituents, but are not actually spiritual or religious.

2. American religious voters who sometimes fall so into lockstep with their religion's dogma that they miss the bigger political pictures or solutions.

Right now, side #1 is taking precedence. Bibles have been worn on sleeves for the past two terms. God is invoked in speeches. The religious right have been crucial advisors. Yet the policy decisions that have been made do not say "God" to me, at least not a God I know (exhibit A: war).

Now, I know not all leaders are religious and/or spiritual. That's fine. I don't expect them all to be. I also recognize our leaders are human, and that those who are spiritual are subject to human frailties and misgivings.

Believe me, I appreciate these facts of life. What I don't appreciate so much is the apparent mindset that simply saying you're religious -- or, god forbid, 'on God's side' -- automatically makes it so. And I recoil at the hypocrisy of feigning faith for political gain, and then following it up with policy that flies in the face of those previously espoused beliefs.

Faith takes work. It can take as much strength out of you as it puts back in -- so much so that you can see the wear and tear on a person. Consider it a mark of authenticity. And it's that seal, that brand, that's missing from many of our political leaders today.

That's why I was so struck with Tony's personal story -- his being forced to downplay his faith while Prime Minister, convert only after he left office, and wait until he was a free agent to pursue interfaith world affairs. He carries the battle scars of striving to live a faithful life in a very human world, on a very global scale.

This quote in particular should be blown up, framed, and mailed to all political, religious, and those-that-straddle-the-line leaders on the world stage today:

"You don't put a hotline up to God and get the answers," [Tony] says. At the same time, he plainly thinks his faith has helped him make tough decisions. "The worst thing in politics," he says, "is when you're so scared of losing support that you don't do what you think is the right thing. What faith can do is not tell you what is right but give you the strength to do it."


If more leaders understood this, maybe then I wouldn't be so aggravated.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

My Blog is a Meatball

My blog is made of meatball.

Leave the extended metaphors about meaty and saucy at the door. If I do this thing right, it will have both qualities in the long run. At the moment, I'm going for bigger themes.

Consider everything that goes into a meatball. The physical labor of mixing and forming it. The mental attention devoted to the recipe. The culinary wisdom required to add a pinch of this, a smidge of that. The transportation and travel behind its ingredients. The forethought of planning the menu and purchasing its elements. The ritual of laying out a spread, and the hospitality of sharing it with others. The warmth of a red checkered tablecloth, the wine that spills on it. What music you pipe into the room. Which loved ones surround the table, and what stories they share over the steaming plates. All the countries where some version of a meatball exists, and all the people that partake in them each day. The grace said before the meal. The love that goes into it all.

That's what a meatball is made of. Good works, people, stories, faith -- a pinch of this, a smidge of that. All for a satisfying dish that leaves you fuller once you partake.

May my IMS-driven blog be that for you. Now eat before it gets cold.