Thursday, February 25, 2010

New York Cares

I'm happy to say that I'm finally registered through New York Cares to begin volunteering throughout the city at will. I have an official orientation in a couple of weeks but I'm so very excited about this! My coworker told me about the program ages ago but I just never got off my butt to research it.

I've wanted to volunteer here in New York for so long but it's always seemed so overwhelming. All the questions like where do I start? or how can I really give back? have always kinda stopped me. I think a great deal of people in life have things in their heart that they're passionate about but the fear of moving forward blocks their way. In a city like New York, getting involved can feel extremely overwhelming and sort of as though you're just one tiny fish in a huge pond. That sort of makes you stay in your own little bubble and comfort zone. Until you live here and experience how life is day to day, you can never really understand how a city can make you feel so small. It takes balls and strength to live here, to find your way, and to foster solid relationships. However, things don't just fall in your lap, either. You have to go out, be proactive, and make things happen. I believe god has the rest worked out and he'll fill in the blanks. ;)

After orientation, I will be able to choose an unlimited amount of ways to volunteer and opening this door is leading to other great things, too. I'll be volunteering for the AIDS walk this year also and cannot wait to get integrated through Hope for New York as well, which is an awesome program I learned of through Redeemer. I'm not sure many other things in life make the heart as full as giving of your time and energy to others who desperately need it. I'm really and truly excited about this!

Monday, February 22, 2010

Spring, I Miss You!

This weekend was a complete tease in terms of weather. The sun was nice and warm but the air was still crisp and it reminds me of those first few days of spring. I just love that! Of course, it was back in the 20's this morning when I left the apartment. Brrrr! Anyway, it was the most perfect day for a run on Saturday. I woke up so excited to do the Haiti race and it was nothing short of awesome to see the amount of people who turned out. 10,000 runners showed and it was a really moving thing to see considering all proceeds went to Haiti relief! Allison and I ran with our friend, Steve, and basically just chit-chatted the whole way. We completely enjoyed ourselves:
After the race, there was music and celebrating and, though it was only 4 miles, it was one of the better races I've run. :)

When you live in a 'walking city' like New York, weather determines almost everything - mood, plans, commute - and having such a lovely weekend really makes it hard to be patient for winter to be over. I happen to love the cold and, though most southerners don't because they're not used to it, that's precisely why I do. When I first moved here, I don't think I even owned a pair of gloves! To me, it's such fun getting bundled up and sharing warm comfort foods with friends. I definitely took advantage of the sun though to meet a friend for coffee, read outside for a while, meet more friends for some catching up and just made me long for spring and summer to arrive where picnics in the park are the norm each weekend. I also cooked a really nice homemade tomato sauce that is one of my favorite simple 101 Cookbooks recipes, though I jazz it up a good bit:
(FYI, Italian turkey sausage is delicious and you hardly miss the fat. I use it all the time in Italian dishes.)

I also spent a good deal of my weekend in prayer. I feel like god is moving in distinct and powerful ways presently and urging me to truly release a great deal that I've struggled with. I've heard so many times in life about how god "speaks" and so on but I have never truly experienced that...until now. I'm finding that the more I begin to let go and "let god", the more he moves and the more I begin to see even tiny cracks in windows opening around me. I have come to physically know that I cannot do anything in my life without god. It is a highly personal and intimate thing for me and it is based on very deep reasoning due to certain experiences but it is something I know beyond the shadow of a doubt. At the same time, this sort of growth is nothing short of excruciating at times. Learning to close my eyes and just jump off the cliff is terrifying but it is also incredibly fulfilling. I started the year determined to begin fresh. With that, has come some deep confusion of the heart and some very raw pain but I cannot explain how incredible it is to embrace this season and to allow it to grow me. I spent so much time in prayer this weekend because I am humbled, grateful, sad, in pain, weary...but I am alive. I've never before been "called" to give up so much but I am following what I feel to be god's requests and I will obey, even though it hurts. I'm building my life on a foundation of stone, not sand as I have before, and it is so colorful and real for me. For the first time, I'm not afraid and I'm instead simply ecstatic about what and who god has to reveal to me in time.

You know, I write this blog more as a journal for myself than anything. I want something to look back on as each year goes by that shows me how I've changed, messed up, and grown. Over the weekend, my beautiful sister, Stacy, wrote to tell me that she feels inspired when she reads this. She feels inspired by my words. Reading her note was like pure validation that my greatest hope, for people to see god through me, is happening. Can you believe that? I wouldn't have before. But, I do now. That, my friends, is joy.

Driven Creative

I'm excited to say that a good friend of mine out in California is starting up a really neat company called Driven Creative. He's working with a team of people he trusts greatly and I have no doubt that their ideas and efforts will be so rewarded in time. The idea behind the company is, of course, creative services and they hope to eventually run and manage projects of all background and diversity. Please check them out at their new site and continue looking for updates as this is all a brand new start for them. As a person looking to begin my own venture in working for myself, I greatly support their vision and dream and I relate to their passion in pursuing this.

Also, as a mighty important side note, I got to do my part in recording the general voicemail for the company which I'm confident is one of the biggest reasons people will want to call in. :P

Friday, February 19, 2010

Hoo! Hoo!

I went out for a lovely evening with my friend last night to some really cool places I'd never heard of. New York is the most exciting city in the world when it comes to neat bars and restaurants. The biggest reason I choose to fork out the money to live here is so I can have the amazing experiences I do when going out and about. There is absolutely nothing that compares to feeling alive in this city. Anyway, I met my friend downtown at this great lounge called Blue Owl. He'd already told me I would love it and he was right! I so enjoy "NY" places like this with their expertly mixed cocktails and innovative drink menus (I had a drink with muddled strawberries and pimms!). I also love going to places like that on the early side before all the arrogant folks stroll in, flashing their black Amex cards. Anyway, afterward he took me to dinner at the coolest Yakitori place where I tried several interesting dishes, all of which I loved. We had a nice drink after dinner and I was able to mark down three more places on my list that I had yet to try in this fabulous city.

I've written before about how much I love and miss Georgia and the peacefulness that abounds there. I definitely have a hole in my heart that only Georgia can fill but, whenever I leave New York, I know that same hole will be there. So, nights like last night remind me of just how exciting it is here and how so extremely fortunate I am to have the experiences that I do. When I look back on the past decade or so, I really feel proud of who I have become now and what I have accomplished in order to live on my own in this wonderful place. I think it's very important in life to constantly maintain perspective - perspective of where you're at, what you're able to do/not do, what blessings are exploding around you daily - just to always be in a spot where you keep perspective of just how much of a blessing life really is, here and now. I think the moments that happen in life that teach a lesson or serve as reminders of how to keep perspective are so vital to cling to. I've been faced with my fair share of this recently and I was so glad to enjoy an entire evening that helped remind me what joy there is right in front of me daily.

As I head into the weekend (thank goodness!), I feel excited and happy. There's nothing like a 'New York state of mind' sometimes. :)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Run (carefully!) for Haiti

I was so thrilled the other night to be able to visit with my best friend from childhood, Grace. She's been in town for work and I was able to show her my cute apartment and then head out for dinner in my neighborhood. We had such a wonderful visit and I am just beyond blessed by having that woman as a friend nearly my entire life (we met when we were 2!). However, on the way home, I slipped and fell on ice and banged my knee and chin up pretty good:

Might I add that Grace could not get her composure due to how hard she was laughing. Yes, she checked if I was ok but I can't blame her for cracking up. It was all so 'slow motion' as I tried to get my bearings but down I went, skirt and all. I also love how not a soul on the street remotely even asked if I was ok. I've seen people fall so many times in this city and I always check to see if they're ok. Grrrr, boo on selfish New Yorkers. Thanks for all the love from you too, Grace. :P Actually, I sit here and giggle thinking of what I must have looked like...

Anyway, I got worried after I fell considering I'm doing a race to benefit Haiti on Saturday morning. I'm so excited to be a part of this and, while it's not a long race, it's another way to contribute to supporting Haiti AND something good for myself, too. I went running yesterday and my knee seemed to be alright but good grief, it hurts when I'm just sitting here. So, wish me luck on Saturday. I'm crossing my fingers for no ice, too!

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Pasta and Chili and Soup, Oh My!

One thing I can say about myself with complete confidence is that, when I am determined, I am determined - and there is no stopping me. At times in my life, I've started things and not finished them or I've had a great idea that I never had the guts to pursue, but I have never had an issue following through when I'm determined to do something. I love this about myself.

That said, I have kept very much in line with the goal I wrote about of getting back to cooking the way I used to. In the past few days, I went a little overboard with the amount of food I made but I can happily say that it's brought a huge smile to my face to do so. I first decided to make homemade chicken noodle soup for the first time. I love soup. I love the comfort and warmth it brings and I love how it makes you feel like you're 'home'. Soup is one of those things that actually evokes emotion when you eat it and I find that to be so invigorating. I equally love cold soups in the summer for the energy and refreshment they bring. Ok, back to my chicken soup before I ramble off topic. The recipe I used has been passed down to Erica from her mother's family and there are no real measurements. That, my friends, is how a true cook cooks. Erica has raved about this soup plenty of times so I called her, got the 'recipe', and put myself to work. You boil a whole chicken so it's rather time consuming but you're essentially making your own stock and that makes all the difference:
I used classic celery, carrot, onion and parsley as the veggies and also plenty of garlic and fresh cracked black pepper:
As I worked to remove all the chicken, I was excited to see how much meat I got out of it. There was so much, in fact, that I didn't even add any pasta noodles! This soup had the taste and feel like it had been simmering slowly all day and I loved every single bite:
I know, you're thinking what's so special about chicken soup?! but, if I had you over for some, you'd know. ;) I can safely say that I'll be cooking this again very soon.

My second feat was linguine with shrimp in lemon oil. This is a Giada recipe that I absolutely love but, again, I do many things different. For the oil, I measure out 3/4 cup of olive oil and I add the zest of one lemon, four or five cloves of minced garlic (you can never have too much), a pinch of salt, and dash of crushed red pepper flakes; it then sits all day to infuse. For the shrimp, I use a pound or so and I let them sit in a bowl with the zest of two lemons and lots of fresh cracked black pepper. I do not salt them as that will dry them out and make them tough. I let them sit for an hour or so until I'm ready to cook. As a side note, I have to say that lemon is one of my very favorite smells. It's crisp, clean, and fresh (I even love citrus based perfumes!) and when you use it to cook, it fills your kitchen with such a summery note. I saute shallots in a little olive oil with the juice of one lemon and, as the liquid reduces, it's just the most wonderful fragrance. When the shallots are tender and the linguine is cooking, I add the shrimp and cook through. I dump the lemon oil in with the hot linguine, goodies and all, and get the noodles nice and coated. (A good trick I use to get the oil even more infused with the lemon/garlic flavors is to warm it over super low heat while I'm cooking everything.) I toss the shrimp and shallots in, add a container of baby arugula, and the most wonderfully light and fresh dinner is made in no time. This dish makes you long to be sitting beach-side, listening to waves, and drinking ice cold pinot grigio. It's no wonder I chose to make it during this snowy and cold weather. I honestly don't ever mean to brag when I cook but some dishes I make are just freakin' good.

So, if soup and pasta weren't enough within several days of each other, I decided I needed to add chili on, too. I am an admitted glutton, people. I ain't ashamed. I scheduled running in between all this and didn't eat it all alone, don't worry. :P Anyway, I have fun making chili. My sweet mom knows this about me and surprised me by mailing a pack of chili spices to me last week that I used to only be able to get in GA. I make chili different each time but this pot was super basic with the addition of one can of drained corn. I also used a pound of super lean ground beef and a pound of ground turkey to lighten it up. Chili is one of those things you don't want to rush and you don't want to over-liquify. My chili is usually extremely thick and could probably be eaten on a bun as a 'burger', no lie. It pairs mighty well with my homemade jalapeno-cheddar cornbread too buuuut I skipped out on making that this time around. I simmered the pot on low for a couple of hours, added the cans of beans to heat through, and enjoyed the taste of "winter".

All in all, this was just the outlet I needed this weekend, paired with some good guitar playing and wine drinking. Seeing 'The Wolfman' on Valentines Day was also just the "celebration" my friend and I appreciated together on a very silly and over-saturated 'holiday'! :P

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Valentine's Gia

Last year, I wrote a post about my dear friend, Erica, and her darling daughter, Gianna. One of the things I mentioned was how that little girl brings such a true smile to my face. I just had to mention her again today because, well, I smiled from ear to ear when Erica sent me this photo:

She took Gia to a Valentine's Day party at a neighbor's house this morning and snapped that photo. :)

One of the hardest parts of living in New York for me is being away from my parents and sweet friends in Georgia. I have to watch Gia grow up in photos and I have to schedule phone dates just to be able to catch up on each others' lives. It's tough on me and, as I get older, I recognize more and more of the things that truly matter to me. There are many things I miss about Georgia such as the peaceful quiet when the sun goes down, summer cookouts at the pool, big clean grocery stores, running with my dog - I mean, the things are really too numerous to count. But, what pains my heart the most are missing out on cherished time with my parents and friends. I think I've become quite reflective as I look 30 in the face and I've begun to prioritize my life in ways I never have before. I was actually chatting with both Erica and Allison about these things this morning and those women are such a rock for me. I simply don't know what I'd do without them. I actually joke with Allison about how I will be packing her with me if I do decide to move back to Georgia next year, hehe. I have some big decisions to make over the course of 2010 but, for now, I'm just focused on my 'one day at a time' mentality. Those days are made much easier because of sweet moments like having a picture of Gia pop up in my emails. God is in the small things, too. :)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Heartfelt Moments

Two nights ago, I went to check out an evening of short plays that were written by students in a class that my friend has taught for the past 16 weeks. He told me about the event a couple of weeks ago so I wanted to go and support him. Little did I know just how much I would enjoy the evening.

This class was under TheatreWorks!, a part of The Working Theater's "25 Projects/25 Weeks/25 Years" series celebrating their 25th anniversary. The class is truly a remarkable part of the series. Basically, working adults from all walks of life, all education levels, all backgrounds, and all reading/writing levels take this class to broaden their 'creativity horizon'. They work like normal during the day and come to class in efforts to comfortably explore how to express deep inner feelings and how to find their voice. As my friend wrote, "For some, it's the first thing they have ever written and I mean the first thing; not a letter before or even a grocery list. One woman from Albania with less than a third grade education wrote a heartbreaking play about the loneliness and longing she experienced on a trip back to her country. She wrote it entirely phonetically". I mean, talk about amazing. The other night was the culmination of their hard work performed and let me just tell you what a pleasure it was to see.

Most of the people were maintenance workers, doormen, security guards; people that, on the surface, one might never think would have such creativity buried inside. I was brought to tears several times both by the performances and what they were based on and by what the authors printed in the "playbill" about themselves and their lives. Most of the performances had to do with issues like alcoholism, prejudice, and issues with god and I thought each one was fascinating. Yes, a couple had no clear or streaming line of thought but, for the most part, I was deeply touched by what these people had to say. Their honesty and openness in sharing a piece of themselves moved me and I was truly glad to be a part of their evening.

My friend is such an amazing man and it was totally a testament of who he is by being a part of leading such a program like this. I'm really glad there are guys out there like him with such humility who truly touch people the way I hope I do, too.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Saints Went STOMPING In

The Superbowl is one of those events that completely fascinates me in terms of the following it has. Of course, I feel similar about football overall (or really any pro sporting event) but the Superbowl is one day out of the year where I really believe there is commonality amongst every American across the country. It may seem silly to some people but, to me, it's such an exciting day. This year, the Saints did NOT disappoint, that's for sure.

Let me back up though because I actually had a tremendous weekend outside of Superbowl Sunday, too. Friday evening, I wanted to be low key so I kept Allison company while she baked. I've said this before and will say it again - I am not a baker. Unless I'm making muffins where I mix batter and dump it in a pan, you won't find me baking often. So, it's fun to just chit chat while someone else does it.

Saturday, my friend had me over for brunch at his beautiful Park Slope apartment. Since he's bragged on the delicious french toast he makes, I gladly made the trek out. He did not disappoint, might I say. ;) Brunch was fantastic and we sat around after just talking and laughing. It was such a good afternoon spent in my old stomping grounds. Of course, I had to walk by my old apartment which made me so badly want to go in and see what it looks like now after ten years. Wow, I can actually say it's been ten years since I lived there, sheesh. At any rate, I left Park Slope smiling that afternoon. :)

Come Sunday, I did not end up doing the run I'd registered for. It was 17 degrees when I got up that morning (nine degrees colder than the 15K when I thought I would literally die!) and I just did not see the point in freezing to death for 4 short miles. So, I ran them on the treadmill instead and went straight to cooking food for Superbowl. I don't mean to brag buuuuut I made the most delicious homemade macaroni and cheese and it even blew ME away, which is tough to do since I'm my own worst critic. In addition, I did 7-layer dip and spinach dip, all of which was mouth watering:

Yeah, there were veggies there too that I ate next to none of. Anyway, the game was awesome and the Saints won their first Superbowl in franchise history which was just so exciting to see. I'm glad I got to be a part of watching that. Sadly, this means football season is officially over yet again but that sure doesn't mean I won't have wings and beer on lazy Sunday afternoons!

Another good weekend for the books. I'm liking 2010! ;)

Monday, February 8, 2010

Tim Burton: Visionary Genius

As previously mentioned, I went to check out the Tim Burton exhibit at MoMA last week and I can't even explain how glad I am that I did. I've been a fan of his for many years but there was quite a bit I didn't know about him. So, seeing his life chronicled out the way it was in the exhibit was fascinating. His mind is so full of fury in the most artistically brilliant way. To say he's 'imaginative' is such a flat description of his talent. I had no idea he was a painter, in addition to a sketch artist, nor did I realize that he'd been 'working' since even before he was a teenager. His creativity is unmatched and his work is flawless in the most eccentric and, at times painful, way. They had so much of his work framed and that even included random items like a bar napkin he'd sketched on. They had portrayed his idea notes for his films and they had actual items on display from some of those films, as well. I mean, it was truly mind blowing to see how precise and detailed his imagination really is after having seen several of his films. For example, the notes he wrote out on his ideas for 'Edward Scissorhands' and 'Beetlejuice' were totally and completely in line with what was created on screen. It was remarkable.

As one would assume, photography was not allowed in the exhibit so I tried my best to get a couple of clear photos from the brochure they handed out:

Needless to say, this was definitely one of those evenings that I was so glad that I live in NY and have the resources at my fingertips to see something like this. I'm also thankful for the small world that NY truly is when you run into one of your company's brokers afterward who decides to treat you to food and wine all night, too. Tee hee hee...

Thursday, February 4, 2010

It's February!

My goodness, here we are into February already. It's like I blinked and January was over! I can officially say that the start of the new year has been equal parts exciting, weird, and fun. I've been praying consistently for god to show me the things I need to see and to direct me on which path I should be taking. At times, I feel like I've heard him clearly and then there are the moments where things just seem blurry. The most important thing is that I am doing my best to hold on to my convictions and to be aware of the things that are best for me. I have worked too hard in these past months to "lose" any of the lessons I've learned so, again, the start of 2010 has been an adventure for me. Hmmm, how ironic that one of my resolutions this year was to have more adventure in my life. Ha! I guess that's definitely the case. :P

This week has been particularly great. Tom came back in town for another visit and extended his trip for a few days which really made me smile. Above that however, I got some cooking in (a delicious homemade mushroom sauce served over baked chicken), fun times out with friends, annnnnnd I bought a new guitar! I've been wanting to for some time and, luckily, I had a little extra "me" money saved that I wasn't sure what I'd do with. I mentioned before that the lack of cooking I've done recently has affected me a bit but I've also known for a while that I've wanted to pick the guitar back up and get to playing again. I took two years of lessons and it's a shame that I ever put the guitar down in the first place. It's really like starting at square one again but I know it'll come back to me if I commit some time each night to play.

Anyway, after church on Sunday, we headed downtown to check out Ludlow Guitars and the guys there are just awesome. They've got a wide range of selection and the folks are super knowledgeable. There wasn't that arrogant feel to the shop that so many boutique guitar places have which was so great. For example, while slightly embarrassed, I still felt comfortable saying I completely don't remember how to play that when the guy sat me down and said ok, strum an E chord. Ha! Anyway, I gave him a price range, he went $200 lower which was so very cool of him, and I walked out the door with my new Walden. I am so happy. Now, it's up to me to put in the time and effort to re-gain what I've lost over the past couple of years. At least step one is outta the way though, weeee!

Now, I'm just looking forward to a weekend full of food and friends. I have brunch in Brooklyn on Saturday, my fun run on Sunday morning, and lots of homemade goodness waiting to be cooked for Superbowl Sunday evening. Before all the weekend fun, I'll be checking out the Tim Burton exhibit at the MoMA this evening and I seriously cannot wait! I love his eccentric visionary mind; should be awesome stuff. So, overall, I think this first week in February is shaping up to be just super. :)