Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Book Club

Hi peeps! I promised to answer some of the book club questions I put up previously. I'm curious to hear your thoughts on The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl and would love for some of you to answer the questions that jumped out at you. 

I'm also announcing the April book club selections. I chose two books because one is a quick read and since I am highly recommending the audio version (which includes guest readers and brings the book to life in a special way), I feel like you'll get through it in no time (because you won't be able to stop listening). 

First up is Amy Poehler's Yes Please. Following that will be Paula Hawkins' Girl on The Train. You can read one or both. I'm reading both.  My book club question responses are below. Happy reading! 

The anonymity of the internet, particularly in its early days, when it was difficult to upload pictures and find out who was friends with whom, allowed Issa to project a personality different from her own. Was that the internet's "age of innocence," or the beginning of so many troubles we now associate with hook up culture?

I was also into chat rooms when I was young. The anonymity made it comfortable—especially for a shy girl like me. Then, I started to realize people weren’t necessarily who they said they were. Enter “To Catch A Predator” and see Nicole exit chat rooms stage left. It was also a time when AOL was kind of petering out. I don’t know if that was the age of innocence as much as it was the age of unknown evils. It was definitely the predecessor to the “Catfish” era.

Like so many, Issa struggles with weight, sometimes putting on thirty pounds more than what seems optimal. After successfully completing the Master Cleanse, she writes, "once the compliments come in, you're totally seduced into equating self-worth with skinniness...The compliments were the most addictive drug of all." Can you relate? Do you, too, "live for the validation that accompanies weight loss"?
I don’t know that I “live for the validation that comes with weight loss” but I can relate to enjoying someone saying I look nice after losing weight. I have the same reaction when someone notices a haircut, says my outfit is cute or compliments me on my work. I think underneath that—at least for me-- is a need for approval, which I’m kinda ashamed of.  I aspire to a life where only my approval is required for comfort and everything else is gravy. I’m close but it wasn’t always that way.

When I was at my heaviest and doing Atkins I did live for the compliments. Then I got sick and lost a shit ton of weight. People still complimented but I was so worried about my health that I didn’t appreciate the compliments. I was like “HELLO! Don’t you see I’m wasting away?” Through that, my relationship with compliments changed but they still feel really good.

I’ll confess that I did Master Cleanse before (painful and not with nearly the same results as Issa—no six packs over here). I also did Atkins (which worked best), Blood Type Diet, some sort of 6-week fat melt and every at home exercise set from Tae-bo to Zumba.  I was also vegan for a few years (I have lupus and it helped tremendously) and now I’m somewhere between vegetarian and pescetarian. At some point my doctor asked me to eat an egg a week and that opened the door to cheese. Recently, I started having seafood while on beach vacations or an occasional piece of salmon (not farmed) at home. I’ve officially made this answer too long. Needless to say, I could relate to all of the weight loss and diet talk. Still working on the six pack.

Issa writes amusingly of the apprehension she felt as a young girl when she thought she might be expected to fulfill stereotypes associated with being black: to either know the latest hit rap lyrics by heart or to be able to dance like she came straight from a video shoot. She felt as if she were expected to "put my hands on my knees, pop my booty, and do the Tootsie Roll." How does she use humor to deflect the anxiety? What stereotypes have people projected onto you, and how do you deflect their assumptions?

I’m bi-racial (Black and White) but didn’t have stereotypes projected on to me as much as I had people constantly questioning my nationality. I’ve been yelled at on a flight to Puerto Rico for “not knowing my native tongue.” A nail technician asked if I was Korean or Japanese. People have asked my husband why he was dating a white girl. Race is an issue that always rears its head but I have never felt the need to perform and prove my blackness or whiteness, as it were. I did, however, drop it like it’s hot on many occasions—especially in college (sorry, mom) and draw some surprised reactions for being the “white girl” at the party with the big butt and the ability to dance. I’d get the same while reaction riding with the windows down and Wu Tang Clan blasting out of my car speakers. People use the most ridiculous markers to determine whether others fit it. Issa’s humor on this topic made me laugh out loud because I could remember parties and school dances where people were talking about people who couldn’t dance. That same stereotypes re: dancing and knowing rap lyrics still persist. I think the only thing to do is laugh at it.

In "Leading Lady," Rae writes, "You could say I have an entertainment complex. It stems from growing up during the golden age of nineties television. I look back and realize what a huge and amazing influence it was to have an array of diverse options to watch almost every night of the week." She then laments how the subsequent decade offered fewer options. What about now? Are our choices more diverse? Does the internet with YouTube and the like, level the playing field in a substantive way?

I think there are a number of diverse options to watch on television this year and I hope the selection is growing.  Shows like Blackish, Empire, Fresh off the Boat, Jane the Virgin and Being Mary Jane are among my favorites. There are also shows like The Walking Dead with diverse casts that reflect society. That said, I can remember the golden age Issa is talking about. Nineties television was diverse and entertaining and something happened in the millennium where everything “diverse” was relegated to BET or UPN. It’s nice to see diversity coming back to primetime network TV. I do think YouTube offers many options but I am not sure it has leveled the playing field in a substantive way—at least for me. My primary viewing is still on TV/Netflix. I know some web series can be picked up for TV but I’m not sure its enough to level the playing field just yet. It does provide a platform for creators who may not otherwise have been seen but a trajectory like Issa’s (web series to TV)—particularly from creators of color is still rare I think.

The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl is about learning to accept yourself. In Rae's case she had to accept that she was typically the most awkward girl in the room. How did being an introvert limit her? If you are an introvert, how does it limit you? Is the world easier for extroverts?

I think being an introvert is limiting. That’s why I’m out here taking improv classes and planning to rappel down a building to break out of my shell. In many ways I think the world belongs to extroverts though I’ve read a few articles contradicting my assertion.

Issa talks about being in a committed relationship but not wanting to get married. What are your feelings on the need for marriage?

Full disclosure, I am married and the decision to do so felt like a statement about the level of commitment I have to my husband. That said, I don’t think there is a NEED for marriage. You can certainly love and be committed to each other without the certificate. I know a lot of people make it a religious issue but much of the basis of marriage in modern society deals with property rights, taxes, child custody and the like. Ultimately, it’s about what people who love each other want/feel comfortable with.

Describe times in your life when you, too, have felt awkward. Do you think it is something you outgrow or something that is a part of you? How does Rae see her own awkwardness?

I’ve felt awkward during the first 30-45 minutes of every networking event I’ve ever been to (unless I’m with friends). Trying to walk up to strangers and figure out what to say is painful for me. I’ve actually stood still and looked around a cocktail reception after a conference and just stared at groups wondering what to say. I’ve also chosen bathroom breaks and heading back to my room over networking during out of town conferences. I think Issa sees the awkwardness as part of who she is (though she doesn’t strike me as awkward in interviews). She has embraced it. I’m trying to kick mine to the curb.  

Food Tuesday: Smashed New Potatoes and Sprout and Baby Arugula Salad

Today's recipe is for days when you want a light meal that feels a little indulgent. Ash and I had a late breakfast over the weekend and when lunch rolled around, we weren't famished but needed a little something to hold us until dinner. I flipped through the collection of recipes I've pinned or saved over the last few weeks and came across "Grown Up Tater Tots" from The Kitchn. I paired it with a baby arugula and shaved brussels sprouts salad tossed in my honey mustard vinaigrette. It was the perfect light meal split between us and could easily be paired with the protein of your choice to make a bigger meal.

Grown Up Tater-Tots (The Kitchn)
1 lb. small potatoes (I used new potatoes)
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Italian parsley, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Thoroughly scrub the potatoes and arrange them on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 20 minutes or until they are tender enough to pierce with a fork, but not browned. Let the potatoes rest for 10 minutes or until they are cool enough to handle.

Turn the oven up to 450 F. Using the bottom of a plate, a sturdy rocks glass, or measuring cup, smash the potatoes with firm, downward pressure. Squish each potato to about 3/4-inch thick. They will crack and split, but they should, for the most part, stay in one piece.

Brush or drizzle generously with olive oil, sprinkle with mined garlic, and place back in the oven. Bake until crispy and golden brown, about 15 minutes.

Sprinkle with salt, pepper and parsley, and try not to eat the whole pan by yourself.

NOTE: I topped my tots with a bit of mozzarella cheese.

Shaved Brussels Sprouts and Baby Arugula Salad
2 cups shaved brussels sprouts
1 cup baby arugula
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil
Kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

Shave brussels sprouts using a food processor. Toss the sprouts and arugula together in a bowl. In a separate bowl, mix lemon juice, whole grain mustard, garlic, honey and vinegar and stir. Stream in olive oil until you have a thing consistence and dressing is well mixed (emulsified). Taste and add salt and pepper as needed. Toss sprouts and arugula in the vinaigrette and serve.

NOTE: You don't want to let the greens set overnight in the vinaigrette because they will get soggy. You can let it sit for a few hours though. They salad is great served over fish once the greens have wilted a little.

NOTE: Feel free to experiment with the vinaigrette. That's how I created this one. I just experimented with flavors I like and played around with it until I was happy with the taste. 

Monday, March 30, 2015

Monday Quotable

Today's quote makes you ask what really matters right off the bat. Then, it makes you wonder how to define what matters. I mean on the one hand, I've succeeded in one career (by some standards) but if it's not my passion, does it really matter? I've won arguments and proved my point to loved ones but does that short lived victorious feeling really matter?

What I've decided is that the things that matter are the things that you want to be known for at the end of your life. You can still succeed at things that don't fall into that category but you need to give your extra energy into blowing the things that do out of the water. If you want your significant other or your children to remember how much you loved them, be present and love them with all your might. Don't sacrifice time with them to build things that you won't care about in the end. To be clear, I'm not saying do a crappy job at work or bow down on every argument. What I am saying is when you have the choice to sacrifice the things that really mean the world to you for the things that result in fleeting feelings and accolades, choose wisely. Be scared to choose the things that truly don't matter. It will change your life.  

Friday, March 27, 2015

Artist Spotlight

I'm a little late to the party on today's music. I have a running list of artists to spotlight and was putting together a playlist when I came across The Civil Wars' cover of Billie Jean. Dueces to the other playlist (at least for this week)!! Then, I found out the band was no longer together. Because of the breakup, I went back and forth about spotlighting them. Then, I said screw it. The music is beautiful and deserving of a bright, sparkling spotlight.

Joy Williams released her debut solo album in 2001 and has released four more solo albums and four EPs since then. John Paul White released his first album in 2008. The two met at a writing camp in Nashville and they formed The Civil Wars in 2009. Their debut album, Barton Hollow dropped in 2011 and won four Grammys. The band went on hiatus in late 2012 based on "internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition." In 2013, the band's self-titled album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 but there was never a tour or much press for the album. Sadly, the band split last summer (August 2014) after releasing a final song--a cover of You Are My Sunshine (as an aside, I never knew such a chipper, childhood song could be so heartbreakingly beautiful).

Though they aren't together, the music lives on as new people discover it every day. Joy is continuing to collaborate with artists like Hayley Williams (Paramore), Chris Cornell (Soundgarden and formerly, Audioslave) l and Matt Berninger (The National). John Paul is helping run Single Lock Records, which he formed with Ben Tanner (Alabama Shakes) in 2013. Since The Civil Wars split, he's been busy with production but hasn't eliminated the possibility of putting out new music of his own. Whatever these two decide to do, I'm here for it.

Here is a full length concert The Civil Wars put on in New Orleans in July, 2012. The Billie Jean cover is at 1:02:05 and You Are My Sunshine is at 18:30 (back story at 18:02).

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Book Club (What I'm Reading)

Earlier this month, I mentioned I would be adding a book club component to the What I'm Reading series for those of you who want to read along. This month's book was The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae. The book is an easy, fun read--particularly if you are a fan of the web series by the same name. You get a glimpse into her life, which helps shed light on her relationship with technology and her feelings on race, love, pop culture and of course, social awkwardness. Her honesty is refreshing and her use of humor breaks down barriers to allow for real conversation on topics like sex and race. I am a huge fan and this book just further cemented that. Here are a few book club questions (largely from the publisher's site). I'll post my answers with the April Book Club selection by the end of the month. If you have suggested questions or want to share your thoughts, please do so in the comment section!! Cheers!

1. Rae writes candidly about her family in nearly all of her essays. How does she use humor to write about very private family stories in a very public way?

2. The anonymity of the internet, particularly in its early days, when it was difficult to upload pictures and find out who was friends with whom, allowed Issa to project a personality different from her own. Was that the internet's "age of innocence," or the beginning of so many troubles we now associate with hook up culture?

3. Like so many, Issa struggles with weight, sometimes putting on thirty pounds more than what seems optimal. After successfully completing the Master Cleanse, she writes, "once the compliments come in, you're totally seduced into equating self-worth with skinniness...The compliments were the most addictive drug of all." Can you relate? Do you, too, "live for the validation that accompanies weight loss"?

4. Issa writes amusingly of the apprehension she felt as a young girl when she thought she might be expected to fulfill stereotypes associated with being black: to either know the latest hit rap lyrics by heart or to be able to dance like she came straight from a video shoot. She felt as if she were expected to "put my hands on my knees, pop my booty, and do the Tootsie Roll." How does she use humor to deflect the anxiety? What stereotypes have people projected onto you, and how do you deflect their assumptions?

5. Race is a central issue in the book, but Rae describes her frustration at people who make it a central point in their lives. How does she walk this line herself in the book?

6. In "Leading Lady," Rae writes, "You could say I have an entertainment complex. It stems from growing up during the golden age of nineties television. I look back and realize what a huge and amazing influence it was to have an array of diverse options to watch almost every night of the week." She then laments how the subsequent decade offered fewer options. What about now? Are our choices more diverse? Does the internet with YouTube and the like, level the playing field in a substantive way?

7. The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl is about learning to accept yourself. In Rae's case she had to accept that she was typically the most awkward girl in the room. How did being an introvert limit her? If you are an introvert, how does it limit you? Is the world easier for extroverts?

8. How is Rae's life and artistry unique to the internet age?

9. Is it okay to use humor to talk about difficult subjects? Are there any taboo subjects, i.e., those that simply can't be approached with anything approaching humor or satire?

10. In "The Struggle" Rae writes, "I love being black; that's not a problem. The problem is that I don't want to always talk about it..."Does being a card-carrying member of one group mean you always have to represent that group in public? What group do you represent, and are you expected to always speak for that group? (Gay, Asian, single mom, Latin, trust fund baby, Jewish, geek, metrosexual, big girls, skinny girls, for example).

11. The topic of infidelity is a difficult one to approach with cool-headed nuance. How does Rae come to terms with this difficult topic in her life?

12. Issa talks about being in a committed relationship but not wanting to get married. What are your feelings on the need for marriage?

12. In what ways does Issa's unique background--half African, half African-American, one half of her childhood spent on the East Coast, the other on the West Coast--position her to see the world in a unique way? If your life is also composed of interesting cultures, how was your perspective on life been influenced? Is it empowering? Or more fractious?

13. Describe times in your life when you, too, have felt awkward. Do you think it is something you outgrow or something that is a part of you? How does Rae see her own awkwardness?

14. Pretend you have to write an intimate essay about one of the most difficult parts of your life. What do you think would be the obstacles in writing about this topic? Would making the essay funny help you deal with some of those issues or would it exacerbate them?

15. Watch all of The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl on YouTube and pick a character who you think has been inspired by a person from Rae's book. How is that person's depiction different on screen and on the page? 

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Love List

1. When I was younger (and a whole lot more dramatic (think teen years)), I used to write pages a day. Now, I use an app to keep track of things I'm grateful for...on most days. More often, I just say a quiet "Thank you, God." I do like the idea of journaling one line a day though. There is something nice about digesting everything down to one line. It forces reflection on the day. (Barnes & Noble)

2. This video is beautiful. It's a nice reminder about how important it is for everyone to feel heard and acknowledged. (Bored Panda)

3. Bitmoji is the latest in the avatar app world and I'm a bit obsessed. It's a fun departure from the regular and while it is a time waster, I am totally here for it. (Bitmoji)

4. I am still working on getting through a 5K with a time I can be proud of. This inspirational fitness story was a great kick in the butt to start working on running again. (Runners World)

5. Winter is officially over and though I am currently in boots (it's 38 degrees today), I am getting my feet ready for warmer days. Can't wait for sandal season and this BeBe foot mask by Etude House does the trick. (Etude House/Amazon)

6. I consider incorrect word use a little pet peeve...particularly with respect to the confusion between "there," "their" and "they're." This article provides 39 Incorrectly Used Words That Can Make You Look Bad. (Inc.)

7. I've been trying new ingredients this month and kumquats are among them. With new ingredients come new recipes. I've discovered that I like my kumquats candied and over a citrusy pound cake. This recipe from Martha Stewart is delicious. (Martha Stewart)

8. I often say I wish adults had nap time (pre-school style). For times when you can afford the luxury, here a guide to everything nap related. (io9)

9. I was a manicure fiend for many years. Every few weeks, I'd go have more acrylic shaped onto my nails and then painted in a lovely, demure shade of pink by Essie called Ballet Slipper. Then, with very damaged nails (and hands swollen from lupus), I stopped and started doing my own nails. I actually love doing it now but imagine my excitement when Sally Hansen released Miracle Gel. Professional, non-nail destroying manicure that lasts for at least 2 weeks? Sign me up. (Ulta/Sally Hansen) 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Food Tuesday: Sukuma Wiki

Recently, while looking for new recipes to try, I came across a Kenyan dish called Sukuma Wiki (braised greens with tomatoes). While you may not have heard of the name, I’m pretty certain you’re well acquainted with the ingredients. The name of the dish means “to push/stretch the week” and the dish is suited just for that purpose. It is a dish you can eat alone or mix with other ingredients to stretch your groceries for the week. It’s also super affordable and delicious.

There are quite a few variations on the web in terms of spices and what to serve it with. I'm just sharing the recipe I used. I’ve seen recipes that only call for salt in terms of seasonings and there may be versions that are more authentic. That said, I think the spices in this particular recipe added a depth of flavor and gave the dish its magic. Here’s the recipe:

Sukuma Wiki*
2 medium tomatoes (about ½ pound)
1 large white onion (about 1 pound—I used a red onion because I prefer the flavor)
1 tablespoon peanut oil (or oil of your choice—I used avocado oil)
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon coriander
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 lemon, juiced (about 3 tablespoons)

1 pound of kale (or collard greens—I used kale)


Chop the kale into rough 1-inch pieces, including the ribs. Roughly chop the tomatoes. (If desired, reserve about 1/4 cup fresh tomato pieces for garnish.) Peel and dice the onion.

Heat the oil in a large, deep pot, or a large wok. When it is hot, add the onion and cook for about 8 minutes over medium-high heat, stirring frequently. When the onion is getting soft, stir in the cumin, coriander, and turmeric. Stir in the tomatoes and cook for about 2 minutes.

Add the greens one handful at a time, stirring constantly to coat them with the onions, oil, and spices. When they have all been added, sprinkle the salt and a generous amount of fresh pepper over them and stir.

Pour in 1 cup water. Cover the pot and turn the heat down to medium. Cook for 10 to 20 minutes, or until the greens are tender to your taste. (I like mine fairly toothsome, so I only cook them for about 10 minutes.)

Remove the lid, turn off the heat, and toss the greens with the lemon juice. Serve hot, garnished with extra tomato, if desired.

I served the dish over creamy mashed potatoes and it was perfection for my palate. I also think it would go well with farro, quinoa, brown rice, couscous, polenta or grits, etc. Pretty much any grain will work. You can also serve it with ground meat (which is a bit more traditional) or vegetarian crumbles. Ash had it with some shredded chicken he had from a meal the night before.  Essentially, the dish goes well with whatever you choose to serve it with.   Experiment and enjoy!

*Recipe from The Kitchn.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Monday Quotable

Once again, my health (and lack of a content reserve) has taken me down and NCL right along with it. The funny thing is I was on track to have enough reserved content. The posts from the week of March 9th were all written a week in advance, leaving me time to work on last week's posts. Then illness complicated it all and the only thing I felt like doing was laying in bed and staring at the TV screen. I say staring instead of watching because I can't promise I comprehended anything that passed across the screen. But, enough with the excuses. On with life. Happy Monday.

Today's quote jumped out at me because I am all too guilty of jumping to conclusions. I have a story for every moment and while my gut is quite trustworthy, I have found myself on the wrong side of a conclusions a few times in the last couple of months. It was a good reminder that people vary from patterns and what may appear on the outside isn't always indicative of what is going on. It was also a kick in the pants to get my writing goals in gear.

You know the moment when your brain says (scolds/yells/nags):

If you spent half as much time (enter talent here) as you do (enter vice here), you would have finished (passion project) by now!!

Well, this quote triggered that for me. If I spent less time worried about what others are doing and jumping to conclusions about the things around me, I'd have time to focus on the opportunities on my own plate. So here I am again, getting re-focused and moving forward on another Monday. The cycle is tiring but I'm doing to the work to dig under and address my vices. Little by little, I'm getting to a better, more focused place. I also know that end of the monthly check-in is quickly approaching and I'm holding myself accountable. It's going to be a busy catch up week but I'm all in.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Monday Quotable

I talk a lot about life's lessons existing in every joy or struggle and I couldn't agree with today's quote more. Sometimes the lesson isn't apparent but you will continue to go through the same experiences until you find the lesson. For instance, I certainly dated the same kind of guy over and over--no matter how miserable and undervalued they made me feel. When one relationship ended, I wasn't looking for the lesson. I was busy looking for the next relationship. While in the relationship, I spent my time trying to be the casual "I'm not looking for a commitment either" (total lie) type of girl. Meanwhile, I was trying to find my value through them. If it didn't work out, I turned the blame inward no matter how crappy they were.

It wasn't until I spent some time (a year) being single and living life on my terms that I found the lesson: I matter and am valuable all on my own. That gave me confidence that translated its way into many areas of my life and while I still have moments of doubt, I go back to that place. That particular lesson was a huge one but there have been many others along the way. Sometimes, they are small but they all matter. The lessons you collect along the way pave the path to a fuller, significant, rich life journey.

Happy Monday. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

What I'm Reading

I'm bringing back "What I'm Reading!" Perhaps, the excitement in that exclamation mark is misplaced. I'm not sure if you liked reading reviews about the books I was churning through last year or not. I tried to bring it back last September (here) but ultimately didn't follow through. Now, I'm focused and exited for the series' return. This blog is supposed to be about moving towards a life well lived and I think a lot of my growth has happened through reading. Whether I'm plugging through a self-help book or a fictional page turner, I've pulled something from each one--including how to be a better writer/storyteller in my own right.

Here's what I read while being lazy and not posting reviews. Awesome books (some so good they got a second read) and widely varied. I laughed, I cried, I was inspired and kicked in the ass. This was a great run and I owe it to Audible (and no, I'm not being paid to say that).

Here's what I'm reading (and loving) now:

If you haven't heard of Issa Rae (I'd be shocked), you should give The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl a read. You should also check out her uber successful, award winning (and wonderfully, relatably (don't think that's a word) hilarious) web series by the same name. The series has over 20 million views. She is currently working on a pilot for HBO with Larry Wilmore called Insecure, which will focus on themes/situations similar to those in ABG. I haven't finished the book yet but it is a short, easy read so I'm likely to be finished by the weekend.

I'm not sure what's up next but there are 41 items on my wish list to choose from. So here's the twist. I want you to read with me! Yay! Homework for you! I'm not going to do a Google Chat book club or anything but I will post a review and book club questions. Feel free to engage with me or others in the comments OR push the book on your friends and have them over for cocktails, food and book chat. The March book is The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl.

Starting in April, the book of the month will go up on the 1st of the month and the questions will be posted towards the end of the month. If you haven't finished, skip the questions until you do, as there might be spoilers. Happy reading. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Love List

1. When I finished Serial, I immediately started looking for a podcast to fill the void. I happened upon Invisibilia, which is totally different but somehow just as enjoyable for me. The show is hosted by Lulu Miller and Alix Spiegel from NPR and launched in January. The hosts explore "the intangible forces that shape human behavior" by presenting different people's stories each week focused on everything from emotional entanglement (through a woman who can feel what others are experiencing to a debilitating degree) to computers and their impact on us as a species (through a man/cyborg and his journey through school). Sadly, season one (at least I hope it's one of many) is only 6 episodes. Check it out here. (NPR/Invisibilia)

2. I've probably highlighted a similar jewelry line before but I love custom pieces. This line of coordinate accessories is gorgeous. I especially love the double ring. Shop the line here. (Ruelala)

3. Buzzfeed compiled another list of life hacks we all need to know. Check them out here. (Buzzfeed)

4. You've likely heard of the "mother sauces." If not, they are basic sauces that can serve as the base for tons of other sauces. You can find the recipes/instructions for making the 5 mother sauces here. (Food 52)

5. Tired of the snow and salt messing up your floors every season? Forget the mud tray. There's another option that will get your shoes off the floor and add some visual interest in your entryway/mud room. These wall mounted shoe holders are a great solution if you have a narrow entryway (an issue I'm currently dealing with). (Cool Materials)

6. Confession: I drink tea all day so I can keep my hands warm in my frigid office. Well, clearly I'm not the only one. Check out the Toasty Mug! I need this ASAP. (Sabrinia Fossi)

7. As the season transitions, I'm starting to trade my boots for heels but it's still chilly. To keep my legs and feet toasty, I'm opting for these creative "no show" socks. (Key Socks)

8. As a curly girl, the start of this video broke my heart. I've certainly been there. I think the beauty/fashion industry pumps out constant messages telling us we need to change to be beautiful and it creates a "grass is always greener" mentality. It's why the industry is so lucrative. I'm all for anything that does away with low self esteem caused by made up beauty standards and pushes towards self-acceptance and love. Though it is also part of the beauty machine, Dove does a lot to uplifts as it informs. I hope this campaign along with the company's previous ones leads to positive change. (Dove)

9. I'm officially addicted to West End Salvage. How can I hate a show about upcycling? I caught a marathon while sick in bed and have been looking for DIY projects ever since. I've been going for old or older looking pieces (check thrift shops and estate sales) and distressing or repurposing them to breathe new life into our home on a budget. I'm going for shabby chic pieces like these at Dot & Bo without spending a ton. I may sound nerdy, but I'm having a blast! (HGTV)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Food Tuesday: Udon Noodle Soup

One of my goals this month was to try new ingredients. I've had udon noodles a million times (it used to be a lunch staple because of this great shop right near my job) but I've never cooked with them at home. I've also never used purple carrots (I know that's a stretch because the flavor is largely the same as the orange variety--but hey, we're going technical until the farmer's markets open and I can explore a bit more). I have a couple of additional purchases to cook with too. Look out for them later in the month. Pardon the digression.

The soup turned out just right. It had a good amount of salt balanced with the bite of the ginger. I love the meal because it is comforting, filling and flexible. You can really add anything you want to the broth base, including a protein of your choice. I hope you will try this at home and go crazy experimenting. Feel free to share your recipes in the comments. Cheers!

Udon Noodle Soup
4 ounces udon noodles
3 1/2 cups vegetable stock
1 cup of water
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and julienned
1/2 cup carrots, sliced into thin coins (I used orange and purple)
2 cups curly kale
1/2 cup shaved brussels sprouts
1/2 cup chopped mushrooms
1/2 tablespoon white miso
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 tablespoons scallions

Put vegetable stock, water, ginger, carrots, and soy sauce into a medium sized (3 quart) pot.  Bring to a boil and reduce. Let the ingredients simmer for about 5 minutes. Add miso and stir until it is dissolved. Add noodles and allow to cook until they come apart and are loose in the broth. Add mushrooms, kale and brussels sprouts and allow to cook for 2-3 more minutes. Add scallions and serve. Makes 2-3 servings. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Monday Quotable

This weekend, we went out to for a low key (I don't feel like cooking) dinner. When we go out, we sit at the bar. The ONLY exception is if we're going for optimal romance and want to sit at a little table for two. That night, the bar was mobbed as were the high top tables around the bar. We got into that "table stalker" mode where you're browsing in what you think is a covert fashion to scope out who is almost finished eating/signing their check. Ash knew one of the guys working and he gave us a heads up on a couple who was wrapping up. We walked in that direction and another group walked up at the same time. Intent on getting the table, they surrounded the table and sized us up as if they were ready for a fight. It sounds insane but I'm not kidding. One of the guys actually widened his stance, put his hands on his hips and started Ash up and down. I found it comical because (i) Ash is 6' 6" and solid muscle and (ii) we are not going to fight for a table. The sizing up? Dude, get a grip. It's not that serious. Coincidentally, there was a table right next to the surrounded table where a woman was eating alone. Ash and I spotted her and went over to the bar while we waited for her to finish her meal. As we glanced over, she waved us over and said she saw the whole thing with the pissing match crew. She noted they'd been breathing over her shoulder while she ate and said it has been that way for most of her meal. She offered us a seat at her table and said we could have it when she was done. We looked at each other, shrugged and sat down.

Let me pause to remind you that I am not the greatest at small talk with strangers. The "check in" look was absolutely Ash asking (without words) "Is this okay with you?" It turned out to be a wise choice. The woman is new to the area but we had a lot in common. I ended up leaving the conversation with two new contacts (one of her good friends is in a field I've always wanted to get into) and a renewed sense of faith in the value of random connections. The point is I squashed the fear and just started chatting. There were no awkward silences. After the conversation was over, it struck me that I've worked towards overcoming shyness for a while with the faith that I could eventually overcome it. It's all in my head after all.  I moved past it for this small moment in time and look what happened.

Today's quote works for anything, big or small. The point is you can spend your time letting fear rule your actions (and inhibit your growth/life experience) or you can step out on faith that everything is going to be just fine. Happiness only exists in one of those. Here's to leaving fear behind more and more each day. Happy Monday! 

Thursday, March 5, 2015


Normally, I would call this post Weekly Meditation...or something equally as original (wink, wink). As you know, one of my goals for the month is to meditate and pray every day. I am trying to increase my time as I go. One thing that really helps is guided meditation.

I decided to post the guided meditations I like over the course of the month just in case you want to join in. I promise they're not all about sleep (though who's fully rested these days??). Sleep meditations are just what I happen to need tonight. My sleep schedule is totally off. 

Link your favorite meditations in the comments below. Also, don't forget Oprah Winfrey and Deepak Chopra are starting another series up on March 16, 2015. 



I love the idea behind the #DearMe campaign. If you don’t know about it, read more here.  Below is my written version…who knows, maybe it will become the first video on my own channel. It's kinda stream of consciousness but here it goes...or actually, maybe we should start with a photo of the young me: 

Dear Me,

What other people think of you is none of your business. Don’t waste your time worrying about it.

Don’t let boys string you along. The breakup was for a reason. Trust your gut!! Thank God and move on.

Your voice matters. Speak up!

Stop stuffing your bra. Girl, people can tell. No one goes from an A to a C overnight.

Stop saying you don’t care about things to prepare yourself for the worst. You can never be prepared for the worst things in life…and by the way, you’re spending so much time doing that you’re missing out on the joy.

Don’t be afraid. There are a lot of people around you who have your back and believe in you.

Happiness is a choice. Live life like you know it and kick miserable things and people to the curb ASAP.

Cherish this time. Do not rush to grow up.

Your mom is awesome and she is right most of the time. This will continue through your whole life. 

Stop that teenage “ugh, my mom is so annoying” bullshit. She’s a friggin’ rock star and you will be more and more grateful for her every day!

When choosing your career, don’t be scared to bet on yourself. You don’t have to choose a tradition and when you do (because you absolutely won’t listen) don’t be driven by money. If it makes you miserable at the outset, chances are it will continue.   

And this whole shy thing…LET IT GO. It’s all in your head but the longer you hold on to it the more problems your’re going to cause. 


Feel free to share links to your own Dear Me posts or videos in the comments section. We’re almost to Friday! Cheers!

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Goal Report

I dread writing this post because, to be honest, I am disappointed in my performance this month. I feel myself falling into old habits. I’ve been filing ideas away and telling myself that each day is a new start but I haven’t made big leaps this month and that is what I want this year to be about. In March, I am going to have to make up for the lack of progress I made towards my goals in February and me kicking myself in the ass is going to have to be how it gets done. No one else is kicking me. Everyone is content to let me relax after a long day. Seems awesome, right? It’s not when you want to completely change your life. Maybe I need to go another round with “You Are A Badass” rather than downloading another novel.*

For now, let’s get through this month’s report card. I’m also starting a tracking chart to show how I’m scoring month to month. What do you do to track goal progress?

Create a YouTube channel and create at least 1 video-Fail. Just epic fail and I am really disappointed. Every time it came up, I was too tired, busy, uninspired or delayed by weather. In short, all I’ve got to show for this goal is a string of excuses. Note to self: Dear Nicole, get your life together, sis.  

Stick to debt elimination and savings plan-I have continued paying down debt. I did go over my discretionary budget but not with dining out. This time, I went shopping for a work conference. That was planned but I spent double what I budgeted. At least they are clothes I will wear again. I will also return the 1 shirt that I didn’t wear during the trip.
Attend a networking event-I attended a conference this month and stepped out of my box to chat more and make more connections. It was tough (does it ever get easy?) and I absolutely had moments where I was just standing alone scanning the room for a familiar face so I could chat in a comfort zone. Yet, I’ll still call it a success.  
Try two new restaurants-This one is never hard. LOL. This month, we went to a local seafood place that I wouldn’t write home about but it came highly recommended. Maybe it was just an off night. I’m sure we’ll end up trying it again on a double date. The other two places were for events. One was a sports bar and the other was for a birthday party. Good times were had by all at both places but they wouldn’t be on my list of must visits. Because they fell in the middle, I’m not going to knock them online.

Finish home improvement projects -The work is still in progress and spring cleaning time is just around the corner (though we probably won’t need it). Visits are looming so this will be done within the first two weeks of March.
GO TO THE GYM-I want to plead the 5th on this one so badly but I won’t. I haven’t been. I’m eating clean and drinking dramatically less but I haven’t done anything more strenuous that walking this month. I was sick for a couple of weeks but it’s really not an excuse because I still mustered energy for a couple of social engagements.

Continue eating clean 90% of the time-I’m still on track for the most part. I have indulged my sweet tooth a bit this month but the large bulk of my meals have been vegan and unprocessed.

Try a new recipe with an ingredient I’ve never tried-I tried quite a few new recipes this month but nothing with new ingredients. It’s actually a bit harder than I thought it would be. I think this goal will be easier when the farmer’s markets open.  

Meditate/pray for at least ten minutes a day every day for the rest of the month-I was proud to achieve this goal. It helped me to balance the stress of the month and gave me a sense of peace. This month, I want to work my way to 15 minutes a day. I don’t think it will be hard because Oprah and Deepak have a new meditation coming up on March 16. Until then, I’ll be choosing guided meditations online and praying on my own. I’ll keep you posted on which ones I am using.

Create two weeks worth of reserve blog material (suggestions more than welcome!!)-Still working on this one but I will say it is nearly 2:30 a.m. and I’m plugging away. The downside is I had all day to work (it’s the weekend) and I rested instead. Granted, I didn’t feel awesome but I could have created instead of catching up on shows I missed while I was at the conference.

So now, the slate is clean. March is here and it’s time for a second (or third) bite at the apple.  Here are the goals:

The “Sis, Get Your Life Together” List
Finish house and sell/donate everything there isn’t space for.
Create the damn YouTube channel already.
Stop stalling and launch the podcast.
Go to the friggin’ gym.

The March Goal List
Try something new.
Log 20 hours of writing for novel.
Do first pass of editing for March writing.
Start or join a book club.
Eat two raw meals a week.
Disconnect after 10:30 p.m. at least 5 days a week.
Plan and go on a weekend trip.
Book an acupuncture session. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Dr. Seuss

I'd be remiss if I let the day pass without honoring Dr. Seuss. From the first time I picked up Green Eggs and Ham, he became a childhood favorite. Although today's quotable didn't come from him, since its Monday, I thought the best way to honor his memory would be through some of my favorites among the quotes that made his work into magic. Happy Monday!

Monday Quotable

This quote made me smile when I read it. It really sums up the humor of life's journey. We've all been there. You are in a content place, thinking you've learned every relationship, career, family, health, etc. lesson life has to offer. You're so confident in your arsenal of lessons, you feel you can teach them and then, something happens or someone says something and you have that "I never looked at it that way" moment and you're learning something new. Sometimes, you can move forward with that lesson and sometimes you're not ready. Sometimes, the lesson shakes you to the core and sometimes, it's a "DUH!" moment. No matter what, the point is to be open to learning. Life is stagnant when your mind is closed.

As you pick through the lessons that fall in your lap (or smack you upside your head), it's also important to develop confidence in your inner voice. There are things you grew up "knowing" because it is what you were taught by your family, surroundings or experiences. The lessons spin their way into the fabric of your life story and the threads are hard to break. As you get older, you may start to question things and the voices of the people in your life try to box you in/keep the threads in tact. Sometimes, it is for your own good and often, it comes from a beautiful "I just want to keep you safe" place. That said, you have to let your inner voice be your guide. You have to be happy with your choices at the end of your journey. Don't let people make them for you! The choices you make will directly impact the lessons you learn and can pass on. Be blessed. Happy Monday!