Sunday, November 27, 2011

WinterFest 2011

Happy Holidays!

I usually try to limit the holiday posts to one or two around the week of, but I wanted to post some of the pictures from last night's tree-lighting in downtown Cleveland.

WinterFest is an annual event the Saturday after Thanksgiving. Downtown Cleveland lights up with holiday spirit and lights alike. Free carriage rides around the city, local product fairs, music, entertainment and more. The tree-lighting ceremony is a lot of fun for all ages.

Every year, my extended family all get several rooms with windows facing Public Square. It provides a great view, plus a place to rest between the running around.

On a different note, I just passed my fourth year blogging anniversary! My first post was published on November 18th, 2007.  A lot has happened since then and a lot has changed and I am still here writing away.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

I Caved.

No, I didn't overeat at Thanksgiving. I didn't bake cookies or break out the eggnog....

But the holiday music has started. Oy vey. This is the worst it's been in a long time. Usually I can hold off until a couple weeks before. This year, it all went downhill as soon as a friend mentioned that the music was already on the radio. So I started listening to that. Then I went out and bought a couple albums. Not one, but TWO holiday albums. Damn you, Target and your sales on seasonal music.

Here's hoping I'm not completely sick of the holidays by the time Christmas and New Year's roll around!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Thankful Much?

Things I'm thankful for:

...a roof over my head little hole-in-the-wall apartment
...a car to drive
...for food to eat, today and every other day of the year
...being with family today
...being able to pay my bills
...great friends

Credit for this photo

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Gifts That Give Back

I am, historically, a very difficult person to buy for. I am picky and hard to please and I often lose sight of the things that really matter. This year, to facilitate the gift-giving, my siblings and I all made wishlists on Amazon that the rest of us can work off. I put a good amount of items on there, canvassing a wide price range. As I look over this list of stuff that I want, I am hit with the realization that I really don't need it. Oh, don't get me wrong, I want it. I really do. But do I need it?

Sometimes I forget the impact that a small amount of money can have when put to the best use. Ten dollars here may buy an album or a coffee mug, but $10 overseas in a third world country can do a helluva lot more good. With this in mind, and trying to continue on the path toward becoming a better person, I added a few more 'gifts' to my wishlist. Here are a few of my favorite organizations and their gifts.

For those of you that don't know, Oxfam is an organization that is fighting poverty and social injustice around the world. They've been around for almost 70 years and they also have some great gifts listed for the holidays. Some of my favorites:

  • $12 for Seeds - "This gift is a unique investment in rural communities. Each pack is a reserve of native seeds that ensure that there are plenty for the next planting season and that traditional seed varieties are not lost. Protect native crops and feed the hungry with this fruitful gift."
  • $12 for Soap - "For many of us, a bar of soap is a staple by the sink. For others, a bar of soap can save a life. Soap can stop the spread of disease or keep a child healthy. This gift supplies a community with 20 pounds of multipurpose soap. So, help families lather up!
  • $90 for Human Rights Training - "This gift allows three community members to participate in a training program that will help educate them about human rights and equality. The program helps women speak up in their communities and educates men about the importance of women's roles as leaders, citizens, and breadwinners."

Amnesty International is known across the globe as an organization that strives to protect human rights. They work on everything from attempting to free political prisoners to ending torture and campaigning for the rights of refugees. One hundred percent of the proceeds from the Amnesty International store go to protecting human rights. Some of my favorites:
  • $30 Binh Minh Loop Scarf - "Binh Minh is Vietnamese for morning sun, and this collective in Northern Vietnam is just a few kilometers from the South China Sea, a spectacular vantage point from which to welcome the sun each and every morning. It is here the collective of 20 families operates 25 looms and can weave up to 5,000 shawls and scarves a month. Binh Minh uses only local Vietnam raised silk in all of its hand spun yarns.
  • $14.98 Putumayo Presents Cuba - I love the Putumayo albums. Great music and a great cause. "The music of Cuba developed from a unique set of historical and social circumstances. African slaves, brought to work on the Spanish sugar plantations, soon outnumbered the European colonists... Most of the songs on this collection are a style called son, (lit. "sound") one of the most popular and influential Cuban musical forms. Migrating musicians brought son west to Havana in the 1920s, where it exploded in popularity."

Heifer International is a great organization which is attempting to combat hunger and poverty in a sustainable way.  I first found out about this organization as a senior in college and I can't believe I didn't know about them before.  Another great thing that they do is encouraging the recipients of the gift to "pass it on" by either giving someone the animal produce, or one of the animals, some of the seeds, etc. A gift that keeps on giving? I'm in! Some of my favorites:

  • $20 for Ducks - "In Xiang Qian, China, ducks are as much as tripling some families' incomes. People like Zonglin Zhou began with a starter flock of ducklings, and now they manage hundreds of ducks that enable them to send their children to school and offer them secure futures - and help others achieve the same success through Passing on the Gift."
  • $20 for Chicks - "A good hen can lay up to 200 eggs a year - plenty to eat, share or sell. With Heifer recipients' commitment to pass on the offspring and training, the exponential impact of adding chickens to communities in poverty is truly a model that helps end hunger and poverty. Because chickens require little space and can thrive on readily available food scraps, families can make money from the birds without spending much.In Tanzania, Omari and Kulwa were struggling to raise a family on just 50 cents a day. Now, through passing on the gift, all of the children in their village are going to school."

Thanks for reading! And (a little early I know, but) happy holidays!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Long Journey Home

That is my attempt at a very sappy title. Basically, it means I'm on my way home after a long vacation. Looking forward to getting back to my apartment and my family.

The last few days of my vacation were spent a) cleaning, b) sleeping, and c) stressing out about life in general. Sometimes I wonder if life is worth it. Sometimes I wonder if I ever should've done all the things I did: go to college, leave Michigan, move to Cleveland, etc. But at the same time I look at that and realize that I wouldn't be who I am today without those decisions, whether I can categorize them as "good" or bad".

In other news, I'd like to point you all to a great, funny post. Nat is one of my best friends and I always appreciate her humor and honesty. Her post really got me thinking. When is a blog not self-centered? Even if I say I'm doing it for another reason nominally, it really is all about me. Who doesn't thrill to see the comments, likes, "+1"'s, or other feedback? Who doesn't write in order to get a response or to portray a certain image of themselves?

The problem with blogging is that it's so easy to portray myself how I see"me". It's so easy to avoid criticism or criticize without consequence when you're blogging. I say this because I myself am guilty of it. There are things that I say on my blog that I would never have the opportunity to say outside of my blog.  I would like to state that while I say this, I am in no way saying that blogs, social networks, and other online media sites are hindering our social nature. On the contrary, I believe it is just another stage of social communication evolution that we will work through.

Happy Tuesday!

Allison (another best friend!), myself, and Nat

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Importance of Self and Well-Being

Throughout the past couple years, I've had to learn some hard lessons. One thing that I'm learning more and more is the need to know yourself and do what is best for yourself.

For a long time, I thought that that was a selfish concept. I assumed that to care about yourself was a self-centered mission and that those who did were self-serving and uncaring toward others. Little did I know. While it is a good and gracious thing to put others before yourself, I've learned that there is a big difference between taking care of myself and being a self-serving brat.  Here are a few of the things I've learned:

1) Taking on extra work isn't always helpful to someone else, and it definitely isn't helpful to me.
Giving up my personal time and money, and taking on more stress for someone who doesn't care is not worth it. While I never want to be the person who is never willing to help, I need to learn to say "no" now and again.

2) There is only so much time
I need to learn to treasure the time that I have. It sounds kind of morbid, but so many people spend their lives working towards material things and completely miss the beauty of life. "Wake up and smell the roses" sounds so cliche, but it's appropriate.

3) There has to be a balance

I cannot sufficiently take care of others if I don't take care of myself first. I need to make sure that I am whole before I try to help anyone else.  The Dalai Lama was once asked what surprised him most: "Man, because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then he dies having never really lived."

That Dalai Lama really sums up my current outlook on life right now. Or what I'm trying to adopt as my outlook on life. There is so much truth in that statement. I want to learn to live, and not to waste the time and the life that I have.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Mussels Aioli

Enjoying some time off with some great friends!  Tonight's dinner was wine-steamed mussels with aioli over pasta. Good stuff. 

In a food processor, combine garlic, dijon mustard, olive oil (about a cup), S&P, two egg yolks, and lemon juice.  Steam mussels in white wine with garlic cloves.  

Serve mussels and aioli over pasta.  Mmmm... enjoy. :)

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Less is More


I've been getting everything around my apartment cleaned up so I can go out of town guilt-free and come back to little work. One thing that's struck me as I attempt to scrub down kitchens and bathrooms and reorganize closets is that having a lot of "stuff" really gets in the way. Why do I need eight sets of silverware if there's only me and I rarely have friends over? Why do I have a closet full of clothes I never wear?

My newest resolution is to just have less. I'm downsizing the silverware -having too much of it is just an excuse not to wash dishes (not having a dishwasher makes this even moreso). I'm nagging up my clothes for Goodwill. I am a five minute walk from a Goodwill and as I pretty much wear variations on the same thing every day, I don't need all this extra stuff.

The American culture is more and more looking for gratification through stuff, stuff, and more stuff. According to our advertising-centric culture, if we have no happiness, we should be able to go out and buy some. The new car, the new clothes, that "must-have" pair of shoes, it's all just a gimmick.