It’s The Little Things.

So, we all know the basics we’re thankful for every year on Thanksgiving: family, friends, food, clothing, a roof over our heads, having a job. Absolutely. I agree completely and am thankful for each of those every day of my life. However, I feel like the little things are sometimes forgotten. Things that we overlook, take for granted. Things that make our lives easier and less stressful. Things that make you smile. So today, I would like to share my list of little things I am thankful for, and perhaps it will make you thankful for a few little things of your own.

  • soft toilet paper
  • toothbrushes & toothpaste
  • pets (cats, dogs, hamsters, you name it)
  • pasteurized milk (multiple varieties)
  • chocolate
  • bubble baths
  • public transportation
  • Wal-Mart (or other get-everything-in-one-stop-inexpensively shops)
  • recycling centers
  • yoga
  • sticky notes & dry erase boards
  • cell phones, specifically the iPhone (& really, any Apple product)
  • public wi-fi
  • contact lenses
  • hybrid cars
  • hair ties
  • forks, knives, & spoons
  • Febreeze
  • ATMs
  • central heat & air
  • Groupon & Living Social
  • Arrested Development
  • flowers
  • sunglasses

So, as you sit around your table with your family tomorrow, take a second to remember the little things in life that make you happy. Things you are lucky enough to have, that don’t really get the credit they should on a regular basis. I am so grateful to have my friends and family in my life that continuously make me a better person. I know I complain from time to time about my job (who doesn’t?), but at the end of the day, I am lucky to have one.  And thanks to that job, I can afford my apartment, clothes, and food. So embrace the day to day extras that we are lucky enough to have in our lives. It’s the little things that are the icing on the cake, or rather the Cool Whip to our pumpkin pie.

Must Try: Portabella Mushroom Burger.

Recently, I’ve found myself spending a lot of time with a friend who happens to be a vegetarian. It’s kind of a great thing; I’ve experienced a lot of fantastic (and rather healthy) food I would never have normally tried on my own. I feel inappropriate and/or immoral ordering something for carnivores when we go out to eat, so I end up secretly sneaking to Chic-Fil-A in the mornings for breakfast from time to time still. I’m not quite turned to the other side just yet, but I’ve definitely cut down on my consumption of meat. The Richmond Vegetarian Festival was a blast. Lots of interesting vendors and activists, a variety of musicians and bands, and a huge row of vegan and vegetarian friendly food and drink tents. Not to mention some fabulous hippie-esq clothing I mentally took note of for future shopping ventures.

Okay, back to food.

Fake chicken is tasty, especially with cranberries and goat cheese. However, I’m glad I found out what it’s made out of after I decided I liked it. A while back I tried tofu and absolutely hated it, but after giving it another try a month or so ago, it’s actually pretty legit. I guess it’s all on how you cook it. Also, there’s a place downtown, Sammy T’s, where I tried my first tempeh burger. It was rather salty and had a very interesting texture, but I could have it every now and then as something different.

Additionally, I’ve amped up my servings of vegetables quite a bit over the past few months. One of my favorites is mushrooms, in omelets, on burgers, in stir-fry, everything. So, I went hunting online for an easy, quick meal involving mushrooms. I happened to find one, however, changed quite a few things to make it my own. Here’s what you’ll need and how to make them.

2 portabella mushroom caps
2 kaiser rolls
1 orange bell pepper
1 yellow bell pepper
1/2 sweet onion
1 container of roasted red peppers, seasoned
1 fresh mozzarella ball, thinly sliced
1 small package of herb chèvre
olive oil
Montreal steak seasoning, for those of us who don’t own each seasoning separately
butter

Slice the onions and peppers into 1 inch slices. Add olive oil and seasoning to pan. Cook onions and peppers until soft, caramelizing the onions, about 7-10 minutes on medium heat. Coat the mushrooms in olive oil, sprinkle salt and pepper, and grill for about 5-7 minutes, or until tender, depending on the size. The longer you cook them, the tougher they will be. Just before the mushrooms are done, slice the kaiser rolls in half, butter, and toast in a pan until golden brown. Add peppers, onions, and roasted red peppers to the bottom, set the mushroom cap on top, place the mozzarella slices above that, and spread the chèvre on the top bun. Give it a minute to let the cheeses melt a bit.

Probably one of the best burgers I’ve ever had. There’s a lot going on, but it tastes fantastic. Only takes about 20 minutes to prepare and cook, and guess what! All your crazy non-meat eating friends can enjoy it with you.

Bon appétit!

Gossip Girl.

Gossip. Noun. Idle talk or rumor, especially about the personal or private affairs of others. We all do it. It’s difficult not to. There are TV shows and news articles and magazines that speculate with no factual evidence. It’s all around us. How can we not gossip? Perhaps it’s impossible to stop. We just can’t help ourselves. What’s holding us back from planting that seed that grows into a full blown lie? Perhaps our conscience (assuming we have one). Or what about that book you enjoy quoting so much? Let’s focus on that for a minute. (If you can’t understand the King James version, feel free to click the provided links. The Basic English version is rather simplified.)

“He that goeth about [as] a talebearer revealeth secrets; therefore meddle not with him that flattereth with his lips.” –Proverbs 20:19
“He that is void of wisdom despiseth his neighbor; but a man of understanding holdeth his peace.” –Proverbs 11:12
“A talebearer revealeth secrets; but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.” –Proverbs 11:13
“A forward man soweth strife; and a whisperer separateth chief friends.” –Proverbs 16:28

Need more Proverbs? Wonderful: 18:7, 18: 8, 21:23, 26:20. Sick of Proverbs? Alright, let’s move on.

“Thou shalt not go up and down [as] a talebearer among thy people; neither shall thou stand against the blood of thy neighbor.” –Leviticus 19:16
“Judge not, that ye be not judged.” –Matthew 7:1
“And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove [them].” –Ephesians 5:11
“Lay hands suddenly on no man, neither be partaker of other men’s sins; keep thyself pure.” –1 Timothy 5:22
“I said, I will take heed to my ways, that I sin not with my tongue; I will keep my mouth with a bridle, while the wicked is before me.” –Psalms 39:1

I’m not a saint, nor do I pretend to be. I talk with my girlfriends, just like any other 22 year old female. But please, if you’re going to start and/or spread stories about people you don’t know, make sure you get your facts straight first. It does no good to slander someone when you have absolutely no validity to your statements. The least you could do is live by the words you quote on a daily basis.

I can understand that we are human. I can understand that we make mistakes. I cannot, however, understand how it feels to knowingly not live what you preach.

The Urban Liberal.

Recently, I’ve been asked a bit about where the phrase “Urban Liberal” came from and/or what exactly it means. Over the past few months, this phrase is something I’ve come to relate to on a personal and political level. One morning, while browsing the political section of Joseph-Beth, I happened upon a tiny little book on the bottom shelf. It was the only copy, but as I flipped through the hundred page book and realized it was under $10, I knew it had to be my copy. I brought it home and read through the first chapter. Here is what caught my attention:

Toyota Priuses, Montessori schools, and the Gap were made for them. They work in law, academia, marketing, or computers and, as such, flock to urban centers where the work is and where Whole Foods, fusion restaurants, and stores with massive wine selections are. They’re why NARAL, the ACLU, and gay-marriage organizations do so well with fundraising. Same story with Barack Obama’s campaign. They saw themselves in Obama, with his fashionable clothes, smart wife, adorable children, interest in keeping himself healthy, and secret smoking problem. Obama is still a little hip for all his ambitions and hardworking qualities, and that’s what every urban liberal wants to be.

This type spans both the baby boomer generation and Generation X, the major difference between them being that the former clings to coolness by retaining its Grateful Dead records and perhaps having a collection of doodads from around the world (often with a Native American focus), while the Gen Xers lean more toward having concert or pop art (always tastefully framed). No matter what their age, they love The Daily Show and they love rock music, and most drift from a period of being on top of the newest mysic to being set in their ways without even realizing it.

They’re environmentalists who long for universal health care and good public transportation and shop at farmers’ markets, but they’re not anti-capitalist, no matter what Rush Limbaugh says. They’re downright brand-conscious, in fact, especially when it comes to Apple products. They’re the people who got fair-trade coffee into Starbucks, and massage therapists into Microsoft.

Everyone loathes them.

No, really. When right-wing talk-radio hosts rant about the “liberal elite,” they mean these folks. Leftists hate them, too, calling them sellouts or worse, and suggest that liberals’ tolerance of capitalism may be worse than conservatives’ championing thereof. Urban liberals even kind of loathe themselves, or at least are eager to trip over themselves to make fun of themselves, which is why the website Stuff White People Like was such a massive hit. This very section is another flavor of that same type of mockery.

THEIR VERSION OF UTOPIA: One where Republican voters calmed the fuck down, looked over the facts, and started voting like sensible beings, instead of a rabid pack of uneducated reactionaries. Urban liberals don’t need much more than that, because, outside of the world of politics, we’re talking about a pretty satisfied group of people–or self-satisfied, if you prefer.

Now, let me point out a few differences. I am actually a little more into the new Honda CR-Z and H&M. Perhaps that’s because I’m Generation Y, wishing I had been a Gen-Xer. Right on though, with the Andy Warhol artwork, The Daily Show, and my music selection. Apple is truly the one brand I very much enjoy. To the point that my new iPhone 4 is being shipped to me overnight so I can throw this BlackBerry out my window on my way to purchase fair-trade coffee from Starbucks. My Utopia would also include Glenn Beck being banned to a gulag in Siberia. Well, I guess I’d settle for him being thrown in a loony bin, kept away from innocent civilians so he stops invoking terror every day to the uneducated. Anyway, back to the point. This bio of the Urban Liberal is me.

So, folks, this is what Urban Liberal means to yours truly. Thank you, Amanda Marcotte, for writing with such a passion that inspires me every week to write the book in the back of my mind with my partner in crime, The Juris Atheist. Fin.

Fine, Call Me A Tree Hugger.

Originally, I had started this post because a friend (or frenemy, rather) brought up the idea that reducing my carbon footprint means nothing. I, as one person, am not going to change a single thing. Buying organic toothpaste, recycled paper towels, or a Brita filter will do nothing but cost me more money than if I were to purchase regular merchandise. However, I beg to differ.

  • If every family in the country purchased one package of 100 percent recycled napkins instead of regular, it would save 1 million trees.
  • Last year, the US used over 39 billion (yes, billion) plastic bottles–enough to circle the globe 190 times. Each Brita filter can save up to 300 of those bottles from being tossed in a landfill.
  • By replacing one box of 48 ounce petroleum-based powder laundry detergent with Seventh Generation’s vegetable-based detergent, we could save 96,000 barrels of oil–enough to heat 5,500 houses per year.
  • It takes 75,000 trees to print one run of the New York Times Sunday edition. Read news online.
  • The average grocery shopper uses between 500 and 1,200 plastic bags per year. Buying a couple reusable bags from your grocery store will save those bags from resting in landfills.

Anyway, those are just a few things I can personally do that A) make me feel like I’m making a difference, B) don’t take a lot of effort, and C) show how one person can, in fact, change the world. My goal for next weekend is to actually buy a sorter for my paper, plastic, and aluminum waste that I can keep in my kitchen. My apartment complex does not have a recycling facility, but there is one exactly 4.2 miles away. That is my next step in becoming a little more eco-friendly each day. Not to mention, we keep our townhouse at a whopping 64 degrees, unplug the electronics, and reuse our water glass each night. And perhaps down the road, an environmentally friendly wedding theme will be in the picture. Basically, I want to do good. I want to see others doing good as well. I’ve joined the Green Team at work, and would like to see one established in my neighborhood. To sum it up, at the risk of sounding completely cliché:

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” -Mahatma Gandhi

Things I’ve Learned.

With 22 years under my belt, there are a few things I’d like to share with you. Some realizations are my own, others I’ve stolen from friends and coworkers, and some were borrowed from various internet sources collected along the way. Either way, take a few. Read them. Share them. Let them inspire you. Laugh. Think back and smile. Agree. Comment. Shake your head at the ridiculousness of a few. But most of all, know that I appreciate your procrastination skills at their best right now, since I’m sure you have better things to do than read my useless blog tonight.

  • I can take my phone out of my purse, look at it, and put it back two or three times before I actually realize what time it is.
  • Parents are the reason we have Limited Profiles on Facebook. No one wants their mother looking through pictures of them getting wasted with their friends when they were 16.
  • There’s no worse feeling than that millisecond you’re positive you’re going to die when you tip a little too far back in your chair.
  • Shirts get dirty. Underwear get dirty. Pants? They never get dirty and you can wear them forever.
  • Everyone should have a go-to karaoke song.
  • I have a hard time deciphering the fine line between hunger and boredom.
  • I would rather carry ten bags of groceries into my house than have to go back to my car for a second trip.
  • The freezer deserves a light as well.
  • If it’s not on Facebook, it’s not official. I know this sucks, but you know it’s true. And it kind of hurts a little when someone denies your friend request.
  • I automatically dislike you when you tell me you hate gay people. These days, it’s almost as unintelligent as saying that a woman’s place is in the kitchen.
  • You never know when it will strike, but there comes a moment at work when you that you just aren’t going to do anything productive for the rest of the day.
  • Bad decisions make great stories.
  • Hangovers are cured only if you combine coffee, water, IB Profin, breakfast of some sorts, a cold shower, deleting texts from last night, talking about what exactly happened with the other people that were there, and then complaining on Facebook about how lousy you feel. In that exact order.
  • Obituaries would be a lot more interesting if they told you how the person died.
  • There is a great need for a sarcasm font.
  • Nothing sucks more than that moment during an argument when you realize you are wrong.
  • The best nicknames are the ones people don’t know they have.
  • More often than not, when someone is telling me a story, all I can think about is that I can’t wait for them to finish so I can tell my own story that is not only better, but more directly involves me.
  • Every time I hear a recording of my own voice, I am convinced that I would not be friends with me, even if I was someone else.

There’s a billion more, but perhaps there will be a “Things I’ve Learned: Part Deux.” Have more? Feel free to share.

High Dynamic Range.

High Dynamic Range, or HDR, is one of my favorite types of photography. It is an interesting process to achieve this look, something I have yet to accomplish, but will one of these days. You can either take one image, or a series in different exposures (over and under exposed) and combine them for a very unique type of picture. It also requires (to look legit and not Picniked) software that costs money that I don’t have. Anyway, by combining the different exposures, you end up with images as such:

I actually have a very good friend of mine who is working on perfecting his skills. He’s just now playing with HDR and is already phenomenal. He makes me wish I had actually gone to school for photography, not just taken one class. I admire him, look up to him. One day I aspire to have works as great as his (in general, not only the HDR). I have yet to ask his permission for reposting his work, but keep your fingers crossed he’ll be happy his work is getting exposure.

If you’re interested in learning more about HDR, I definitely recommend checking out Stuck in Customs. This guy’s work is amazing, and gives a very user friendly tutorial on how to make your own HDR images. Kudos to you, Trey Ratcliff, for your ability to make beautiful artwork.