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!

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

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.

Sanity: Restored.

It’s 6:04 AM as I manage to somehow turn off my alarm in the dark of my good friends’ apartment. I roll off the couch and attempt to avoid a sleeping woman on an air mattress, a naked attention-craving cat, and other objects out to trip me on my way to the bathroom. Somehow, I managed to shower, put on make up, and grab a cup of coffee after my power nap of three hours (due to catching up/sign making/watching the original Amityville Horror until 3 AM). Friend with job and I navigate to the nearest Metro, which surprisingly wasn’t as crowded as I imagined it would be at 7 AM. The car was packed with signs and laughter and jokes and compassion. The people ranged from teens to grandparents, in every color, plenty of gay couples, and they all had one thing in common: the desire to restore sanity to America.

Upon arrival at the Smithsonian exit, I held my sign proudly on the long walk to the front of the line. Strangers galore, but everyone was friendly. Friend with job and I were interviewed by Forbedre about why we were there (my answer: to have more people show up than at the Rally to Restore Honor… CHECK) and the economy and so on. We continued our journey to the front with compliments, smiles, chuckles, and photo shoots along the way. I did not receive a single negative comment or look towards my poster the entire day. The mindset of this group of people was that of humor. And perhaps acceptance.

Despite the fact that we had no idea where we were going, or where the best place was to stand, we somehow made it to the front. We settled in, a little to the right of the stage and in front of the mega screen. As I check my phone for the time, I realize there’s very little signal and that we would be standing in that spot for the next four hours until the rally began. We made some friends, used the porta-potties, and waited with anticipation for what? We weren’t entirely sure.

At noon, on the dot, The Roots start to play. I had heard their stuff before, but they were incredible live. Makes me want to go buy their album. As everyone was getting excited because it finally started, there was a fabulous surprise. John Legend made his way on stage.  The day progressed with Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert bickering back and forth about how sanity was better!-no, fear was better!-no, back to sanity! Which included a rather interesting playoff between Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train” and Ozzy’s “Crazy Train,” followed by the O’jays’ performance of “Love Train.” The whole ordeal was an interesting mix of music and chaos, that just happened to fit together perfectly.

Acts between the music were humorous. Father Guido Sarducci gave a benediction of sorts, asking “God” to give us a sign when he stated the “correct” religion. Stewart gave out awards to people who have acted rationally in a difficult situation (like the lady who calmly explained how she and others needed jobs, and felt like nothing was being accomplished to Obama) and Colbert gave fear awards (my favorite was to Anderson Cooper’s tight black t-shirt).

Towards the end, Stewart and Colbert held a Formidable Debate. Colbert tried to defeat sanity with his giant life size personification of fear, which was then destroyed like the Wicked Witch when the crowd chanted that we were no longer afraid. Next on the agenda? Jon Stewart’s closing speech.

“I can’t control what people think this was. I can only tell you my intentions. This was not a rally to ridicule people of faith or people of activism or to look down our noses at the heartland or passionate argument or to suggest that times are not difficult and that we have nothing to fear. They are and we do.  But we live now in hard times, not end times.  And we can have animus and not be enemies.”

“If we amplify everything, we hear nothing.” Jon Stewart managed to pull everything that happened that day together in his closing speech. To give you the Spark Notes’ version of it, basically the media takes every possible issue and blows it out of proportion. There are terrible, horrible things happening every single day, but the extent to which the media makes it out to be, is unacceptable. To be able to make rational, informed decisions as American citizens, we need more unbiased, rational, informed, news stations. And yes, although I do blame Fox “News” for most of the biased-ness that is occurring, most other news stations lean left. It’s not that hard to figure out. Either way, we as Americans need to start working together instead of being torn apart by our religious, political, and ethnic differences. We’re different, yes, but we don’t need to continuously bash each other. We’re all still Americans, and I’m glad we at least have that in common.

 

When I get a chance, I’ll also link all the bogs, news articles, and magazines that my sign made it into.

PostSecret: A Memoir.

It’s Sunday morning. I roll over, grumble a little as I realize my phone says it’s only 8:30 and it was my day to sleep in, and throw the covers over my head to shun the bright lights. When I almost suffocate from the lack of air flow under the covers, I face the reality that it’s time to wake up. I prop my pillows up behind me and say good morning to my other half. Instead of the old school couple who reads newspapers at the breakfast table in their robes, my boyfriend and I are the epitome of the urban 21st century couple. We open up our Macbooks, check our emails and Facebooks, glance through the headlines on CNN.com. Perhaps we’ll watch a Youtube video or two. But since it’s Sunday, I never forget to head to my weekly dose of crack: PostSecret.com.

I started following PostSecret in 2004, the year it began, when a good friend sent me a link to this uber cool art project online. After a couple months or so of seeing these secrets creatively drawn on postcards, I decided I was going to make one. It was on a piece of poster board, cut to the size of a postcard. I used a yellow piece of lined paper, and made a copy of the list I had been keeping with my best friend at the time. This list consisted of quite a handful of boys I had made out with, with numbers next to each name. The card said, “I keep a list of all the boys I’ve kissed. And then I rate them.” I never actually sent it in, but it felt liberating just making it. She and I were the only two who knew about the list (and I’m certain the boys on it would not enjoy the idea that they were being compared to others), and even though I did not send it in, it felt like I had still shared my secret.

After that first secret, I made many more. All of which are stored away in my closet somewhere safe. Each time I would make one, I would feel a little more free. I felt like it wasn’t such a burden, keeping that secret, if it was written down somewhere. It was almost like keeping a journal, but it took more than just writing paragraphs to a diary; it took thought and creativity, and you had to find the perfect few words to get across a point that fit on a 4 by 5 piece of blank poster board. Each secret helped me move on, even if just the slightest bit.

I don’t mind sharing my secrets, now that they are in the past. I made one that said, “I don’t want to be the other girl. I want to be the only girl.” It was made out of cut out words and had a poster of a friend’s in the background. Another was, “Why won’t you let me in?” It had a set of bright blue eyes. The only secret I ever sent was about one of my best friends. It was a chopped up map from Google starting at my house and ending at his that said, “The only thing stopping our perfect relationship is the distance. I love you.” I sent it when I was 17, I think? Instead of sending it to PostSecret, in fears it would get lost or not get posted, I sent it straight to him. He really was my best friend, and had helped me through one of the most difficult times in my life. I had the courage to tell him, rather than a bunch of strangers. That is when I realized PostSecret helped me in ways I did not recognize until I sat down and thought about it. It gave me courage, it gave me hope, it gave me the chance to use my creativity in ways I had never imagined.

But what I want to thank Frank Warren the most for doing, is allowing me to feel like I’m not alone. Since 2004, I have saved hundreds and hundreds of secrets (419, to be exact) that I can either relate to now, have related to, or have inspired me. I found myself saving more when I felt lonely or depressed; it was nice to know that others felt exactly the way I did. Other times, when I was in a happy relationship, I saved the sappy, sweet secrets. Recently, I have been saving more inspirational ones (despite the lack thereof). I’ve found that when I’m the happiest, I find less secrets to relate to. Is that because more times than not, peoples’ deepest, darkest secrets are that of pain and suffering? Or is it because we tend to share joy and hide pain? I don’t have any secrets of how happy I am. Everyone knows. My family, my friends, random people who read this blog (which I know is approximately zero, but we’ll get there one day). Either way, I’ve realized the rate of secrets I save each week has decreased substantially, despite my weekly dedication to the blog. Frank, we need to see some more happy secrets. Maybe that should be my next one.

So here’s to PostSecret. Here’s to each and every person that PostSecret has touched, helped, inspired, or saved. Here’s to Sunday mornings being dedicated to something worth committing to. Here’s to happiness and joy and inspiration for years to come.

So I Hear It’s Healthy.

So I hear it’s healthy to start something and commit to it. I’ve started many-a-blog and have yet to truly commit to one. However, I have a feeling this one will be different. I watched Julie & Julia the other day, and it inspired me. I felt connected to Julie-she was scatterbrained, living in a tiny apartment she and her hubby (and cat) could barely afford, working at a job she didn’t study four years of college for, and could never really fully commit to finishing something. She had great ideas but could never quite reach her long term goals. Well, this is my Julia story. It’s time to commit. It’s time to start something I can finish. It’s time to blog.