Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday Playlist: Dance Like No One Is Watching

It's Friday! This week was a long one filled with hospital visits, busy work days and two long after work meetings. Tiring? Yep!! But I can't complain. Good things happened every day. Today, I'm in the mood to dance in the driver's seat all the way home. Here's what I'll be wiggling to. Hope it makes you dance like no one is watching. Date night, here I come. Cheers!!!

Sneak Peek

Usually, I don't do a sneak peek of what is coming up on the blog. I have a list of post ideas in the month before I plan to post them but it changes all the time. Sometimes, projects don't come out as expected. Sometimes, I have to move things around because of my schedule. Sometimes, I'm too sick or too lazy to plough through to the end of a post idea and I bump it over to the following month. In any event, you get it . Previews aren't my thing.

This month, for some reason, I am like a kid wanting to peel back corners of wrapping paper to reveal what's under the Christmas tree. The regular features (Friday Playlist, Monday Quotable, Happy Hour, What I Can Control (Lupus)) will still be around but may have a bit of a holiday bent. Tis the season!

Without further ado, here's a little visual sneak peek of what's to come during December.

Here, we'll be doing a gift series. Gifts under $25, gifts for a good cause, DIY gifts, and hostess gifts for those wonderful people in your life who open their homes for your holiday enjoyment.

Under The Roof: All about Christmas Decor (well, almost). I'm in the spirit and doing some DIY to bring my new black and white theme to life. I'll be posting as it comes together.

Style: It's the season of holiday parties. The Style page will be all about fun frocks and sparkly accessories to get through the season in style.

Food: The focus will be on Christmas menus, holiday party finger foods, and tons of sweet confections for eating and gifting! Even Happy Hour will get a bit of a holiday makeover.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Happy Holidays!

Pull up a chair, here's a cocktail. How've you been?

I've been absent for a bit due to some much needed time off to travel and spend time with family for Thanksgiving. If you're in the states or celebrating abroad, I hope your holiday was relaxing and filling (both spiritually and culinarily--don't think that's a word but I couldn't leave out the food).

I was happy to have time to reflect on what I am thankful for and enter the last month of the year with those people/things in mind. It has put me in a great and peaceful place. I'm ready to officially welcome in the hustle and bustle of the rest of the holiday season.

As I do so, my intention is to completely avoid the stress of the season. Last year was the first year I managed to do that. It was due in large part to my mom's idea to simplify Christmas. We were at her house a few days before (celebrating her birthday) and the topic of the Christmas dinner menu (and shopping for it) came up. After going back and forth and accommodating everyone's wants, we had a long list and hours of prep and cooking ahead of us. That was on top of a little last minute gift shopping and wrapping (since we couldn't fly with wrapped gifts) that I needed to do. It wasn't that this was atypical. It's a yearly saga but this time, we decided to scrap the menu and shake things up a bit. Here's how we did it.

1. Eat what you love. I. Love. Food. Over the years, I've done my share of recipe destruction and filled kitchens with smoke and trash cans with unsuccessful experiments. I used to start the menu by listing the soul food/southern staples (mac and cheese, candied yams, green bean casserole, deviled eggs, yeast rolls, collard greens, dressing/stuffing, honey baked ham and turkey) and then I'd peruse recipes and magazines to find new items to impress the masses. The results were mixed (some are now staples and some will never be made again) and I'd inevitably be in the kitchen with my mom and sister until the wee hours of the morning (and once right up until the food was on the table). At the end of it, we'd collapse into our chairs and crave a nap more than a plate of the food we'd cooked. Now, we pick favorites--whether they "belong" on the table or not and we lazily eat and chat. Last year, we had a mix of Superbowl food (chicken wings, meatballs) and soul food. We totally dropped the turkey from the menu. It. Was. Fabulous!

2. Shake up the gift exchange. When the economy went south, we decided to stop giving each other big ticket items (popular electronics, high value gift cards, fancy clothes/jewelry). Money was tight for me and Ash (but you know that story). My sister was student teaching. Mom was helping us out. The first year, we decided that we wouldn't exchange gifts at all. The next year, we started the 15 and 15 gift exchange. We had 15 minutes to run around Target and $15 to spend. We drew names before running around and engaged in covert activities in the store to avoid each other and preserve the surprise. It ended up being so much fun that we kept it in place even when finances got better. You'd be surprised what you can find. Hooray for clearance racks!

3. Laugh a LOT (even at yourself). I'm lucky to say that laughter is a huge part of every one of my family gatherings. We crack jokes, recount funny memories, play games, dance...we make memories. It's a good time and if you can't find the humour in the fallen souffle or the slightly askew wig of a family friend, you'll never get through. Don't take the minutia of the day so seriously. Find the real importance of the season (whatever it may be to you) and stay focused on that.

4. Be creative. In coming up with fun things to do over the week my family tries to spend together at Christmas, my mom came up with the idea to do a "gingerbread" house competition. You notice gingerbread is in quotes. There was never a romantic notion that we'd be baking slabs of carefully cut gingerbread and making homes worthy of a Food Network Challenge or the White House Christmas special. We use graham crackers and stock up on icing, sprinkles, candies, etc. Garbage bags are spread out over the work surface, all supplies are placed in the middle and each person has 30 minutes (my mom is into the time thing) to create a masterpiece. My sister always has a story with her creation that will pull on your heartstrings and get her some votes (she builds group homes and children's hospitals), Ash always has some out of the box creation (last year he had a plane and a landing strip) and I'm always too optimistic for my own good (I tried to build a high rise apartment building one year--it collapsed during judging). It is ridiculously fun and a total outlet for the crafty girl in me. I also totally get into decorating my house. It's always been a fun thing for me. This year, I am changing my theme. So excited!

5. Chill. Be on your own schedule. This is the most important part. Over the Christmas week, we celebrate my mom's birthday, have a Christmas Eve game night, Christmas day breakfast and the big Christmas dinner. Last year, we had a super late game night--that was filled with margaritas and junk food. We slept in and Christmas breakfast became Christmas brunch, which knocked dinner back a bit. No one minded. Take the extra time you need to relax. Throw on some carols and unwind.

Ultimately, what we did may not work for you but I thought I'd share my secret to a stress free Christmas (or any celebration that requires feeding lots of people and giving gifts). The most important thing is to do what makes you happy...even if that involves sticking with tradition. Be merry. That's the point, right? Cheers!

Monday, November 19, 2012

Monday Quotable

A bird does not sing because it has an answer; it sings because it has a song. ~ Chinese proverb

As we approach Thanksgiving, I am thankful for so many things. I am surrounded by love and encouragement from great parents, a wonderful husband, friends who are like family, and 2 of the sweetest pets around (I am biased but seriously, they are awesome little balls of joy). In this economy and this social media driven culture, I am thankful to also have a job, space and freedom to dream, resources to pursue my passions, and face to face friendships that exist beyond twitter, facebook, instagram, etc. (Don't get me wrong, I still use all of those applications and like that I can see what's going on in the lives of loved ones who aren't in NY, but its nice to talk to and go out with the people I love sometimes). I'm thankful for medication that is working for me and my amazing doctors.

Anyway, this year, despite my health issues, I recognize that I have a LOT to be thankful for. These are the things that put a song in my heart. So, this little bird is singing thank you and sending gratitude out into the universe. Happy Monday and Happy Thanksgiving!!

Friday, November 16, 2012

Friday Playlist: Mellow Out

It's time for another Friday playlist. It has been a long, busy week for me so I thought I'd gather a collection of some of the more mellow tunes that have been playing while I pushed through the stress. Hope you enjoy it. (Of course, as soon as I start getting ready for date night, the "Dance Like No One is Watching" playlist will take over...happy dance!) Stay tuned for that one next week.

Have a great weekend!!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Monday Quotable

Photo from
"As human beings, our greatness lies not so much in being able to remake the world . . . as in being able to remake ourselves." —Mahatma Gandhi

Photo from
"It is confidence in our bodies, minds, and spirits that allows us to keep
looking for new adventures, new directions to grow in
 and new lessons to learn--which is what life is all about." --Oprah Winfrey

I've missed a couple of weeks worth of Monday quotables between power outages courtesy of Hurricane Sandy and catching up with work/life following those power outages. For that, today, you get two for the price of one. Both of these quotes inspire me to focus on working on and believing in myself. It is easy to get discouraged when things are moving slowly or dreams get put on hold while you tend to daily life obligations but I try to remind myself that I have to have confidence in my gifts and keep pushing forward. Hope these quotes lift you up in some way today. Cheers!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Friday Playlist: Sandy

The Friday Playlist is back after a power outage induced week off. The songs are related to the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. They are songs about New York and New Jersey. They are songs about helping others and needing help. I also included songs from NBC's Benefit Concert/Telethon from 30 Rockefeller Center right after the "Frankenstorm." Hope it hypes you up about my area of the country and inspires you to help! Happy Friday!

Be Like Big Bird

Sesame Street did an episode about a hurricane hitting the neighborhood (airing November 9, 2012). The residents came together to clean up emphasizing the importance of service and community. I swear, Sesame Street teaches lessons for all ages! It was my favorite as a kid and maybe I need to start watching again.
It has been a bit since my last post courtesy of Hurricane Sandy. Luckily Ash and I didn’t have any major damage. We lost some trees and lost power/internet but we don’t have flood damage in my area. I can survive a little cold and 2 hour lines to fill up my car…but maybe in the future, I will invest in a generator.
Since I got my power back, I’ve been doing a lot of research on what I can do to help. After all, life really isn’t worth much if you’re keeping your blessings to yourself. I’ve taken in friends and donated items but there are lots of options to get involved. Talking to friends and co-workers who lost loved ones, homes, cars, etc. or those that are still without power 2 weeks later really pushed me forward. I'm determined to do my part as I've been blessed not to be in grieving through those circumstances. If you are interested in helping, here are a few options.

If you aren’t in the area and can’t make it here to do physical work, several shelters have set up websites listing items that they need. You can buy in person and take them to your local shipping provider or you can log on and shop through sites like Amazon, Target and Walmart and have the items you buy shipped to a shelter/organization you want to support. At least one shelter in New Jersey set up a hurricane registry using Amazon’s wedding registry section. You can log on, buy exactly what they need and Amazon will take care of the rest. If you're buying on your own and not off of a list, check with the shelter/organization first so they can tell you what they need.
Truck navigating flooded roads in Southampton, NY.

You can also text to donate money. Here are a few options:

American Red Cross: Text REDCROSS to 90999 to donate $10 to American Red Cross Disaster Relief.

Salvation Army: Text STORM to 80888 to donate $10.

World Vision: Text the word GIVEUSA to 777444 to donate $10.

United Methodist Committee On Relief: Text the word RESPONSE to 80888 to donate $10.

Jewish Federations Of North America Hurricane Relief Fund: Text the word RELIEF to 51818 and choose your donation amount.

American Humane Association: Text the word HUMANE to 80888 to donate $10.

Flooded homes in Seaside, NJ

There are many organizations—both national and local—driving recovery efforts. If you want to do more than text, you can call organizations to see how you can best help. Here are a few:

Community Food Bank Of New Jersey: This group coordinates efforts with the state's Office of Emergency Management, as well as with state and local nonprofit organizations. Phone: (908) 355- FOOD (3663), ext. 243. Website

Feeding America: The organization will deliver food, water and supplies to communities in need through its network of food banks and the agencies they serve. Phone: 800-910-5524. Website

Catholic Charities USA: Catholic Charities provides emergency food, shelter, direct financial assistance, counseling, and support "regardless of religious, social, or economic backgrounds." Phone: 800-919-9338. Website

Flooded subway station at 86th Street.
Americares: This group provides emergency medicine and supplies. Donations are accepted on its website. Phone: 800-486-4357. Website

New York Cares: This local NYC program is "the city's largest volunteer organization, running volunteer programs for 1,300 nonprofits, city agencies and public schools." It is recruiting volunteers to help with Sandy relief efforts, and is also raising money. Phone: 212-228-5000. Website

World Vision: This is a Christian humanitarian organization providing flood clean-up kits, hygiene kits, blankets and food kits. Phone: 888-511-6443. Website

United Methodist Committee On Relief: Provides immediate relief, assistance with cleanup and rebuilding, pastoral counseling and support for children and youth who have been through trauma. Phone: 800-554-8583. Website

Dog rescue in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

If you want to help with pets injured or displaced by the hurricane, the Humane Society and the American Humane Association are working on rescue projects.

Humane Society of the United States: For those who had to evacuate and couldn’t take their pets with them, the Humane Society's Animal Rescue Team is assembling staff and equipment to help rescue pets in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Phone: 301-258-8276. Website
American Humane Association: The association is helping animals that may need rescue or shelter. Phone: 866-242-1877.

Rock and Rawhide: This organization is doing a food/blanket drive to benefit pet owners and homeless pets hit hard by Hurricane Sandy in New York City. Donations are being accepted at all Petco and Petco Unleashed locations in Manhattan from Friday through November 18th. To kick off this food/blanket drive, a pop concert will be held this Saturday, November 10th from noon to 3:00pm outside the Petco Union Square Store on 17th and Broadway. Website

Home destroyed by Hurrican Sandy.
Finally, some organizations have also set up Facebook pages to keep people informed about what they can do to help. For example, Staten Island Hurricane Relief Community Assistance Portal and Jersey Shore Hurricane News have set up pages for updates and ways to help.

Flooded cab lot in NYC. 
As much information as this is, it is not everything. Truly, it doesn’t begin to cover the large number of organizations helping out. If you know of another organization helping out, feel free to post it in the comment section. Do your part to help survivors get through this recovery effort.