Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Where is home?


When people ask me "where are you from?" I never know what to say. I was born in Brooklyn, New York. But when I was a baby my father's job was relocated to Columbus, Ohio. That is where I grew up, essentially. But then again, my teenage years were spent in Nowhere, Indiana, because when I was 13, we were uprooted once again. Though I never wanted and never liked Indiana, I never loathed my father for moving us there.  (Well, ok, maybe I did when it first occurred, I *was* 13.) He was just providing the best he could for his family. Ever since the first day I set foot in Indiana, I hated it. I didn't want to be there, I didn't want to leave my friends. I was already enough of an oddball in Ohio. Growing up in the Midwest with New York-state-of-mind parents gave me enough of a moral dilemma on how to act on a daily basis. From the very start, I was a typical Type-A, hurried, impatient New Yorker. That, mixed with a firey attitude and a roller coaster of an emotional personality, I definitely stood out among the slower, calmer Midwest mindset. I knew from a very early age that the lack of sense of urgency around me really bothered me. 

Once I was old enough and able to flee the confines of Smalltown, USA (aka, Indiana) I decided to do all I could to move to Chicago. It's not New York, which I ultimately want someday. But it's a large city, and it's close to my parents and my young brother, which I wasn't too sure I was ready to be farther from than driving distance yet. 

Though Chicago is the third largest city in the US, (and a beautiful one, at that) she's still in the Midwest, and most people here aren't originally from the city. That lack of urgency still lingers. I find myself riding public transit and walking through crowds with the mindset of an angry New Yorker, getting annoyed at slow walkers and rolling my eyes every time the el doors open and no one rushes to go inside. (They actually wait for people to get out first before boarding here!) 

Multiple solo trips to The City in more recent years make it clear that New York is home. I want Brooklyn, I want The City. For a few reasons, it's a little far from reach at the moment. But I love the feeling knowing that home is waiting for me, no matter how long it takes to get there.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Walter




For almost a year now, I've considered getting a cat. I have a hard time deciding what to eat for dinner, let alone major life-changing events. I really wanted to make sure I was ready for such a change. To let you in on why a little fuzzy cuddle machine would make such a difference in my life, here's a short list of things that would pop into my brain while deciding:

Litter box location. I refuse to be that person who has people over who immediately want to die because of cat smell. 

Longevity. My family's little 8-pound fur pot lived until she was 18 years old. If I get a cat that's 5 years old now, I'll be in my forties when it's that old. FORTIES. 

Moving. What if I move? Looking for pet-friendly apartments will narrow my search.

I go to work and the gym. I have a pretty regular work and work-out schedule. But being in a home is better than a tiny cage in a shelter, right?

Cost. What if it develops some food allergy and has to have the most expensive food and monthly vet visits and shots and medicine? Of all the people to raise a diva cat, it would be me. 

I don't want to adopt a cat then have to give it up again in a year because I realize too late that I can't take care of it. All my doubts, though, seem to fill my head just because I want to be the best "mom" to this innocent creature that I can be. And of all the doubt in my mind, the one thing I've never doubted was my ability to be a good mom someday. So while I'm in no position to have kids now, I can definitely mother a four-legged fuzz bag. 

Cut to last weekend, April 12th, when a coworker took me to Chicago's Anti-Cruelty Society. I walked past a cage and was greeted with green eyes, grey fur, and a high-pitched meow. There he was, all 15 pounds. After a short play time outside of the small cage, I went home without adopting. My house wasn't ready yet. I didn't have all my supplies. I had planned on visiting other shelters the next day, but my mission was clear: give the giant grey kitty a loving home, outside of the noisy shelter. Hours later, after buying a variety of food, a littler box, food bowls, and a laser pointer, I drove downtown (Yes! I drove downtown.) back to the shelter to pick him up. 

I named him Walter. My grandfather's name is Walter. I just think that's a great name, and this lovely grey, regal cat is worthy of such a name. He is almost seven years old, declawed from previous owners, who had to get rid of him because they developed an allergy. (Or so said the paper on his cage at the shelter. I have yet to see this cat shed!)

He settled right in, takes naps on the furniture, eats regularly. One week later, we're growing to be pals. I see him trusting me more, and getting more comfortable. All my doubts are gone. 

For more photos, follow me on Twitter! @LaLaLauren

Monday, March 18, 2013

One-Week Challenge


Very often we get into daily habits, and we don't even realize our routines unless someone else points them out. I haven't lived at home for about seven years now. And, I haven't lived in the same city as my parents for about four and a half years. As a self-labeled health nut, when I go visit my parents, I notice little habits they've created for themselves through the years. They existed when I lived at home, but I wasn't aware of them until I was able to see things from an outside perspective. 

The longest standing habit that I noticed was my parent's consumption of soda. Growing up, we had soda at dinner. Dad and I always had regular, caffeine free. Mom always had diet. I stopped this routine in college, when I was on my own and able to develop my own eating habits. I chose water instead. I'm so glad I got away from this nasty little habit, especially with all the developing health buzz through the years about these sugary, artificial beverages. But, when I visit my family, they still have soda at dinner, and sometimes lunch. While their soda habit is actually pretty normal for the average American, I can't help but wonder how their health would be positively effected if they quit this sweet and bubbly daily fixation.

Added to the soda, we have coffee. I began to drink coffee occasionally in college. After I graduated and lived with my parents again for a short time, I enjoyed a Thermos of mom's coffee in the morning on the way to work. It was completely irresistible, especially on cold mornings. I love the smell of coffee, and she added a sprinkle of cinnamon to the grounds so the aroma was even more inviting. When I moved into an apartment by myself, I found it wasn't always easy to wake up early enough to make coffee for myself, and I eventually stopped the daily habit. After a few scary caffeine withdrawal headaches, I decided to keep coffee for "special treats" only. To this day, I try to keep the caffeine consumption to a minimum. Long story short, I get a more positive energy boost from a short walk near the agency windows (sunlight), a tall glass of water, and a piece of fruit.

My mother recently expressed interest in developing better eating habits. After a small happy dance, I started to think of easy ways she could incorporate more healthy choices to her daily life. (Ask LaLa for healthy habit advice and ye shall receive!) I thought it would be fun to challenge ourselves for one week. I thought of a challenge for her to do for seven days, and she thought of one for me. 

Thinking of my mother's caffeine routine, I wondered how she could do without it. I know she still brews that inviting cuppa every morning, yet I know she also has the diet soda at dinner, and sometimes an artificially sweetened latte or a diet soda at lunch. What if she only had her morning boost? My challenge to my mother was to quit the caff all day except for the morning. But rather than cut her off of cup completely, I gave her suggestions to replace these artificial beverages with something more clean and natural. 


My challenge to mumsie:

Afternoon:
Stop the afternoon coffee and have a cup of herbal tea. My mom is used to sweetening her coffee with Splenda, and having diet soda, which is also sweet. Unsweetened tea can be a bit of a change for someone who is used to sweet beverages, so I limited her to one teaspoon of agave nectar. 

Afternoon and evening
Replace the lunch and dinnertime soda with lemon water. Room temp water with a hefty squeeze of lemon aids in healthy digestion while quenching thirst. In larger doses, caffeine can dehydrate your system by causing liquids to pass through your body more quickly. Also, the sweet taste of soda can make your body crave more sweet things later- diet soda or regular. A clean glass of water with lemon is just better for your insides than artificially colored and flavored carbonated beverages, sweetened with sugar or aspartame. 

Mumsie's challenge to me:
Edit your brother's senior photos, already! One photo per day. And, call your grandmother more often. 


My results:
Yes, I can do this! I knew I had a busy week, with events scheduled almost every night, (I'll get to more of this in my "reflections" section) so I decided to hit the ground running on Tuesday night and edit about eight of his photos. Cheating? Perhaps. But I got a lot done, more than just the photos my mom picked out that she liked. And the week after, I still edited more, because I wanted to. Sometimes I forget how much I love editing photos on my own, outside of work. I need to remember that just because my work day is done, my creativity is not. 

As far as calling grandma, I try to do that already, but I always think I could call her and my grandfather more. They are pretty amazing people and always seem to have a joke to crack or something nice to say, even if their week is filled up with doctor appointments. 

Mom's results:
(This is a direct quote from an email she sent me about the challenge.)
"I like not having soda all the time, it helps with the sweet cravings. I will continue to have it once in a while, but not as much as I did. As for my coffee...I can't say that I will continue to not have it in the afternoon but I can say that I will think 'tea' first if I want something. It's a rare day when I have more than 2 cups in the day." 


My reflections on both of us
As for my mother, and most every other person in the US with soda and/or coffee being a part of their daily lives, it is difficult for something so normal and comforting to be taken away. I was hoping this challenge would make her see that she doesn't "need" it, rather, she "wants" it. I think she partially understands that now, but it is a journey, for anyone, to change the way they view what they consume. One week is just a kick-starter. We have a long way to go.

As for me, oftentimes I come home from work, flop on the couch and wonder what I'll do for the rest of the night. I like to usually try and schedule things after work so I don't flop on the couch and stay there. My "challenge week" happened to be full of events, including spending time with a good friend who was visiting from out of town. It also included zumba and yoga, and the gym. (Regularly weekly scheduled post-work events are usually fitness or friends related!) Rather than cancel my plans with anyone or any class, I worked around them. I find that if I try to focus on one thing in my life, I get way too consumed with it, and forget about all the other things I was excited for in the first place. I managed to retouch more of my brother's photos than we originally planned on, as well as go to the gym and see my friend. So, as this was a rather small challenge for me overall, it really taught me a lesson on balance. Just because one big thing comes up doesn't mean I need to neglect all other things.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Nothing in this life is permanent.





A short post today, as a few things are on my mind lately. As always, let me know how you relate. Feel free to leave a comment here, or send me a tweet.

***

A good friend recently said some calming words in one of his podcast episodes. I won't get into the issue of which he was speaking because it isn't relevant to my topic for this post. But in context or out, it makes sense to me. 

"Nothing in this life is permanent."

As scary as that is to think about, I think he's right. Events happen to us every day which we do not expect. Also, if something in our lives isn't right, we can fix it. (It's just up to us to dig through the mound of excuses we tend to pile up.)

I've been thinking about how his statement applies to obstacles we face in life. 

A specific example I thought of is weight loss. If you want to lose weight, you have to live healthfully, completely. Don't dive in and focus on a number on a scale. Learn to live in a state of health first, and the results will follow. Weight is very much a state of mind as it is a shape. 

For another example, think of your job. How many of you go to work every day and don't enjoy it? Do you really need to continue to go there every day? What's stopping you from finding something you truly enjoy doing? 

And on a more "suddenly-in-the-moment" scale...sometimes we encounter things we never anticipated or prepared for- illness, layoffs, love. If we remember that nothing in life has to be permanent, we can change our day-to-day and accommodate new events, people, or situations. It's okay to change. It's okay to move things around a bit to invite new things into our lives. If we want something badly enough, we can make it happen.



(My photo above is a shot of Lake Michigan at Oak Street Beach from this past weekend, March 9th, 2013. The air is changing from Winter to Spring, and the lake is slowing going through nature's process of thawing out and becoming a "beach" again. Yep, it's watermarked. Stealing isn't nice.)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Learning


Stress can do a lot of things to our bodies. I may sound like an annoying broken record here when I mention getting laid off again, but this summer I felt a stress that I've never felt before. Some of it was good, actually. I had beautiful days to myself, so why not go out and enjoy them if I had nothing else to do. But after my days of fun, I couldn't help but feel this overwhelming sense of guilt. Guilt for not using all that free time to find a new job, or network to at least find new freelance jobs. Then, I felt myself counteracting that guilt and thinking, I've been working since I graduated college and never had time to myself. Why not just enjoy it? The constant back and forth mentally exhausted me. There were days where it was hard for me to even leave the house. I've felt depression before, but this wasn't the same. I wasn't sad, or crying. I was just in this constant argument with myself over what was the right thing to do.

The stress took over my body, physically. My scoliosis started bothering me again. (Luckily I found a free yoga class to join. Yoga makes me feel so much better.)

If it weren't for my solid foundation of supporting friends and family, I'm not sure what I'd be doing today. I'm so appreciative for everyone's support and help. My best friend even encouraged me to make a long term goal- to run my first ever 5K in September.

Now, nearly eight months into my "unemployment" I'm adjusting. I don't quite feel so "unemployed" anymore. I fill my days with a significant amount of freelance work. And on my days off, I've learned to just try and enjoy them.

I've also learned I don't need a lot of money to be happy. I was always sort of aware of this. We never had money growing up. My professional field doesn't exactly pay the big bucks. But I thought for sure, in the beginning, that not having any work and living off government unemployment allowances, I wouldn't have a life here in Chicago. I thought, "well the job is gone, the money is too. My life in Chicago is done." I didn't think I could take little odd jobs and projects to make ends meet. Boy, did I prove myself wrong.

I truly am happy here. Happy that I made a life for myself and by myself in Chicago. And while I may have hit a huge bump in the road, I still managed to make it ALL work.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Vegetable Garden

Though he'll be the first to proudly proclaim his New Yorker status to anyone who so much as mentions the East coast, for as long as I can remember my father has had a rural vegetable garden in our back yard. Once in a while I'll break out my status as a native New Yorker as well, but in actuality, as much as my parents don't want to admit it, I'm more used to Midwestern soil, as my parents had to relocate our small family to Ohio when I was just a baby. If I recall the story correctly, however, my father has always had a green thumb. His first attempt was an avocado plant started from a simple avocado pit in a glass of water, held up by toothpicks. This plant relocated with our family, not just from New York when I was a baby, but to Indiana when we had to move again when I was thirteen.

Every summer I see the garden go from a small patch of fenced-in dirt to a thriving jungle of home grown goodies, overflowing with endless tomatoes, green peppers, banana peppers, scallions and zucchini the size of baseball bats. Though I really can't stand raw tomatoes, I would still help dad pick the reddest ones, willingly getting my fingers dirty, yet dodging any visible earthworms.

Late August and September rolls around and the summer comes to a close. Now is the time to harvest the hidden gems of the garden: the potatoes. Buried underground beneath their green leafy plants, Dad anxiously digs up the earth to see if the potato crop is "good" this year. (This year, not so "good"... about 30 pounds as opposed to the usual 70+.)

One more crop thrives this time of year, bright yellow spaghetti squash. The vines of this plant are out of control, vibrantly growing well beyond the garden's fence, nearly into the neighbor's yard. This hefty squash isn't exactly a power house of nutrients, rather a quiet amount of Vitamins A and C and folic acid. Anyway, it's just plain fun to prepare. And so I'm brought to the original reason for my posting: to share my recent spaghetti squash recipe with my father who asked me for it on Facebook 15 minutes ago.

I regret not taking more pictures while cooking this bold yellow squash. But it's so easy, you won't even need pictures for guidance.


-Preheat your oven to 350
-Cut the squash in half, length-wise
-Place the squash, cut side down, in a baking dish.
-Fill the baking dish with about a half inch of water.
-Bake the squash for about 40 minutes, or until tender when poked with a fork

Now is the fun part. If you have kids, they should really love this. Let it cool a bit, and use oven mits or tongs. Take the squash out of the baking dish or flip it over. Now just simply take a fork and scrape all the insides out. It should easily come out in strings that resemble angel hair pasta.


Now what? The squash has a mild flavor, so you can get inventive here. Spaghetti squash, like most winter squashes, can go either savory or sweet. So for the last four or so days, I've been eating this stuff for breakfast. (Also, the seeds roast up quite nicely!)

If you're tired of oatmeal, replace your oatmeal with spaghetti squash! Here's how to dress it up:

Add a bit of butter or margarine, a dash of brown sugar and a pinch of cinnamon. Throw in some raisins and chopped apples. Now just microwave it for about a minute, then stir it all up.

You can also use spaghetti squash as a substitute for... you guessed it, spaghetti! Try adding some marinara and basil and garlic for an interesting twist on a classic dish.

If you're not feeling so inventive, this squash works well as a side dish, simply with a little butter and salt.

Though my potted plants and roof top basil can't compare to the lush garden my father grows every year, it still comforts me to have a little bit of home here in the city. If you have any recipes for spaghetti squash, share them with me! If they're on a blog I can link to them for you. Just leave a comment with all the info.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Easy Pasta Salad


I once bought a box of pasta salad. Pasta, seasoning packet, three easy steps explained on the back. I ended up adding so many of my own ingredients I wondered why I ever thought to buy a box of pasta salad in the first place. What's so hard? Pasta. Easy! Other stuff. Easy! And fun. Today I tried it out on my own, as you can see in the photo above. Here's all you need:

Pasta (Rotini is my favorite for pasta salad. Any variety will work!)
Olive oil
Vinegar (Balsamic, flavored balsamic, apple cider, whatever you like.)
If you don't have/don't like olive oil and vinegar, just use bottled Italian dressing
Seasoning (think of stuff like garlic powder, black pepper, crushed red pepper, parsley flakes, etc.)
Veggies (Anything you can think of! Broccoli, carrots, radish, snap peas, red pepper, tomatoes, onion, cauliflower, chickpeas...)

Cook and drain the pasta. I used about one and a half to two cups uncooked. Add two or three tablespoons of dressing or olive oil/vinegar mix. This is all to your taste, so more or less. Add in your spices. I used ground black pepper, garlic powder and McCormick's Perfect Pinch seasoning in roasted garlic and bell pepper. Add your veggies. I used snap peas, radish and onion. (To tone down the onion flavor, I quickly sauteed them for a few minutes until slightly soft.) Just add it all together in a bowl and stir it up! Put it in the fridge for a few hours until it gets cold. try adding chunks of feta or mozzarella cheese before serving for an added flavor. There you have it, the perfect summer pasta salad!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

B.R.A.T diet


We've all had those days when our stomach gets upset. Here's a remedy for turbulent tummies my mom taught me.
Just remember B.R.A.T:
Bananas
Rice
Applesauce
Toast

Very simple foods. Depending on what kind of bread you use for toast, its all vegan, too. The toast should be dry. You can add a small touch of salt and/or seasoning to the rice so it's not so boring.

(For those of us like me who stick to their health nut status while sick, try no-sugar added applesauce, wheat toast, and brown rice.)

Feel better!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Crispy Kale (or Kale Chips)

Hello everyone, after a short hiatus I am back. I have a few easy recipes lined up to share. Quite honestly I just wasn't feeling the blog lately, I felt like the only post that ever got any attention was how to remove your no-chip manicure! (Which is cool, share that with your friends!)

Anyway, here's a YUMMY and easy recipe. Kids even love this, and can help make it.

Some call it crispy kale, some call it kale chips. If you want a new way to eat nutritious greens, give this recipe a try. It's a flavor all in its own.

What you'll need:
kale
olive oil (about 1 tablespoon)
large bowl to hold raw kale
sea salt
baking sheet

1) Pre-heat your oven to 375. (My oven gets very hot so I set it lower. It has taken me a while to perfect the temperature for these, I think it all depends on how your oven acts. If you see that after the second round of baking the kale is still soggy, increase the temp a little.)

2) Get a bunch (unit of measurement- bunch!) of kale. Cut out the thick center stem so you're just left with the tender leaves. (It seems like a lot, but keep in mind, kale shrinks as it cooks.)



3) Wash and THOROUGHLY dry the leaves. It's VERY important to make sure the leaves are completely dry, otherwise this will turn out soggy. Try using a salad spinner, then lay the leaves out and pat dry with a towel.

4) Rip the kale into pieces. Use your judgement here, I like to make larger pieces since they shrink. If your pieces are too small they'll just burn up.

5) Place the kale in a large bowl. Take about one tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle it over the kale. Now just mix the kale and olive oil, until the kale is nice and lightly coated. It doesn't sound like a lot of oil, but it will spread out evenly if you mix it well enough. I just use my hands!

6) Evenly spread the leaves out on a baking sheet. They probably won't stick since they're coated in olive oil so you shouldn't have to worry about using non-stick spray on your baking sheet. (Don't put the salt on them yet, this will make it soggy!)



7) Put the kale in the oven for about 8 minutes. Take it out, flip and rearrange the leaves, then put it in the oven for about 7 more minutes.

8) Check your leaves again. If they aren't crispy enough, rearrange them again and put them back in for 3 minutes or so. (If you see there's no crispyness happening, this is where you would slightly increase your oven temp.) Keep an eye on them, you don't want them to burn. Continue this step until they've reached the desired amount of crispiness!

9) Now you can add some sea salt. It's a nice addition to the crunch. Serve immediately! Enjoy.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Acceptance

About two months ago I received an email from someone I've never met. She randomly found my portfolio website and was complementing me on my work. I was flattered and wrote a thank-you email.

Last night I received an email from that same person who complemented me. The email shocked me. Turns out, the email was not intended for me, she accidentally typed my address instead of her friend's who is also named Lauren. It shocked me because it contained several photos of a man's head Photoshopped onto a woman's body, along with a message that said something like this: (I didn't want to directly copy and paste the email to protect her privacy, but this is pretty close)

I can't believe your brother is a cross dresser! Print these photos I made and put them in your closet, he'll find them and get the clue that you don't want him borrowing your clothes anymore.


The email was MUCH longer than that. And there were about 20 photos attached.

Again, I have no idea who this person is. But I felt I had to stand up and say something. I felt terrible for this man who was about to be attacked in such an elementary, cowardly approach. Here's a summary of what I wrote:

I know you wrote me an email once complementing me on my portfolio website and I thank you for that.

If all this stuff you're writing about this man is true, you're a very cruel person and need to mind your own business.

Who are you to say how someone can live their life? If this is a joke you're playing on someone, you should probably rethink it. I'm a gay rights advocate and I do not find humor in any of this, whatever it's about.

She wrote back and apologized for the confusion, then went on to tell me how she is trying to "bring out the truth" and by doing this she doesn't want to cause him any unnecessary stress (!!!) Then she wrote, "when he's ready to come out to us he will."

Exactly.

I wrote back to her... when he is ready to come out, he will. Talk to him like a rational human being if you're that concerned. I told her that from an unbiased, outsider stand point, this whole situation sounds so cruel and hurtful and cowardly. I asked her to reconsider her actions. I didn't want to give up, even for this stranger, wherever he is in the world. This poor man.

Then finally I saw what I wanted to see. She asked for my forgiveness for her ignorance and said she is throwing out all the photos and will not go through with this course of action. Perhaps she was lying to shut me up, who knows. But there's still that chance she was being sincere and spared this man embarrassment and hurt from his own friends and family.

As allies of the gay community, we need to do this. We need to stand up for each other as humans. Even if its something as small as this, just one person... it all helps. If you're ever faced with a situation where you have the chance to stand up for someone and help, I hope you take it.