Tuesday, October 22, 2013

To Be Dutch or Not to Be Dutch...Is that even a question?!

As some of my close family and friends already know, I have been fortunate enough to make two new friends this year named David and Nikki. They are a brother and sister who live in The Netherlands, and if you have read my previous technological post, you may remember David and his YouTube channel in my list of suggestions. David's fun and creative videos caught my eye last Winter. After laughing at many of his skits and admiring his musical skills, I sent him a message to let him know that I enjoyed his work and told him to keep it up. This message led to many more throughout the past year, and I feel lucky to be able to now consider him a friend. His sister, Nikki is someone I have also come to know and she is one of the sweetest, honest and most open-hearted people I have ever known. She is a writer, like me, and it has been so much fun learning from her and sharing a passion that we hold close to our hearts.

Like any good international friend should do (completely kidding...sort of), David and I decided to send each other country care packages since neither of us had been to the other's country. Back in April, I went ahead and sent him popular American snacks-most of the ones I grew up with-as well as some American apparel and even a chocolate scented American teddy bear (He cleverly named him Captain Abearica). He made a special YouTube video of him and Nikki opening the things I sent here: http://youtu.be/070BrcOErV4 and you should totally check it out. I received David's Dutch care package a couple of months ago now, and figured it might be fun to use this blog post to share the contents with all of you (not literally of course) and give my opinions on each one. David also created some YouTube videos while getting ready to send the package out to me and in each video, he gives information on each product. It has been very helpful on my journey in enjoying everything he's included. I recommend in addition to reading my take on these fab products, that you also check out the videos he made here: http://youtu.be/gM4FoZbG-OQ since he provides much more factual information than I do. Now, are you ready to feel Dutch? If so, let's go!

DAVID'S DUTCH CARE PACKAGE CONTENTS

*Netherlands Flag



Well, this is a given. In each photo, you can see this great flag underneath the contents. What good is a Dutch Care Package without the home country flag included? And folks, don't confuse this flag with the flag of France or Russia which contains the same color schemes but in different order and placement. ;) What a great way to start off some Netherlands pride!












-Food Items-

*Hagelslag,Vlok & Muisjes

One of the most anticipated products David sent to me is the hagelslag. I had heard about this breakfast delicacy before and had seen multiple photos. It's something that always looked so good and I always hoped I'd be lucky enough to try it someday. Dutch people often enjoy this snack on a piece of bread. It's similar to chocolate sprinkles that can be found in America, but they have a richer taste and slight thicker texture. In addition to hagelslag, he sent me a box of vlok, which consists of thick chocolate flakes. David was also kind enough to send me all different flavors of both hagelslag and vlok including milk chocolate and fruit, in a travel size combo of boxes. Muisjes is the box shown with the blue and white round sprinkle-like pieces. These are traditionally eaten by the Dutch to celebrate the birth of a baby (blue for boys and pink for girls) on a biscuit type cookie of which I talk about in one of the following sections. I will admit, because muisjes tastes sort of like black licorice (which I am not a fan of), this was not one of my favorites in the package. However, I would still recommend this to anyone who doesn't mind that flavor since it is very tasty. As for the hagelslag and vlok, I tried both on a piece of bread in the morning, and it was every bit as good as I had hoped and imagined. It's perfect if someone is in the mood for a sweet breakfast. Instead of going for a chocolate chip muffin or cocoa puffs cereal, I had my hagelslag and I loved every bite.

*Pannen Koeken & Schenkstroop



The Dutch term for pancakes is pannenkoek and unlike in America, they are often eaten for dinner instead of breakfast. The Dutch version of maple syrup is schenkstroop. I went through these two fast because of how much they satisfied the taste buds. Although we already have pancake mix in America, the Dutch pancake mix that David sent me, makes pancakes that are slightly different due to their thinner texture and lighter taste. The syrup isn't too sweet and I actually enjoyed it even more than the maple syrup found here in the states.

*Stroop & Poedersuiker



In addition to schenkstroop, the other two toppings for Dutch pancakes that David included are appel-peren stroop and poedersukier. The appel-peren stroop is a fruit like spread/syrup similar to fruit jelly. The flavor that David included is apple-pear. It is made of 100% fruit and because of that, it has a fresh, non-artificial sweet taste. I enjoyed it very much. The poedersukier is basically a powdered sugar to sprinkle on top of the pancakes. It's not too different from American powdered sugar and I also enjoyed this very much.

*Roomboter Speculaasmolens, Volkoren Beschuit, & Stroopwafels



Roomboter Speculaasmolens reminded me a bit of gingerbread cookies. They are a really good snack with a hot beverage like tea or coffee. The volkoren beschuit is a biscuit-like crunchy cookie (think biscotti) meant to be used with the muisjes. Although I did try this combination, I prefer eating them without a topping. Perhaps one of the most well-known Dutch treats in America is the stroopwafel. There is nothing better than a waffle dipped in maple syrup. One of the best snacks to come out of The NL. Although you can buy a similar snack in the states, nothing beats the original Dutch kind. Another favorite of mine from the package.







*Dutch Candy: Drops, Koffie Hopjes,


Drop is the Dutch term for licorice. Since Haribo is a brand we have in America, the wheel drops are something I had already tasted. Again, since I'm not a fan of black licorice, these are not my favorite. However, Haribo is certainly a great brand for any flavor of licorice. I usually get the red. The Kleuren Drops remind me of the American candy, Mike & Ike. They have the same texture and a similar taste. The Katjes Drops are basically the equivalent to black licorice gummy bears. The Napoleon lempur bag is full of sour candy pieces with a lemon flavor. I found these to be quite good. Lastly, the koffie Hopjes are coffee & caramel  flavored hard candies. The flavor is strong and seems to be a perfect substitute for a cup of coffee when a craving arrives.

*Dutch Candy: Wilhelmina Pepermunt, Schuttelaar Roomboterwafels, Kaneelhompen, Cherry Stick



The Wilhelmina peppermunts are just what they sound like: peppermints. The canister used for them has many pictures and gives information on the different generations of Dutch kings and queens throughout the years. I thought it was very cool and interesting to see. The Schuttelaar Roomboterwafels are waffle shaped hard candies and have a tasty buttery flavor similar to butterscotch. The Kaneelhompen pieces are cinnamon flavored candy pieces unlike anything I've ever tasted before and I also enjoyed these very much. The cherry stick is a candy normally sold at Dutch fairs and of course, I enjoyed this as well. Who wouldn't enjoy a gigantic candy stick that tastes like cherry?!

*Jodekoek Cookies



These cookies are another favorite of mine in the Dutch package. They taste similar to shortbread cookies and I have already enjoyed them numerous times with tea and coffee.


-Non-Food Items-

*Wooden Shoe Slippers, Coasters, Note Cards, BLOF CD, Rugby Key Chain, Holland Kissing Couple Ornament, Wooden Shoes Keychain, Etten-Leur Postcard, van Gogh Cube, Beessies



There are so many great things included in this category and I have been very excited about each and every one of them. Everyone has heard of or has seen the wooden shoes that the Dutch have worn for centuries. It's a very famous tradition and David included some slippers in my size that are modeled after these. They're super comfortable and quite the style. I love wearing these around the house and although it may seem funny at times, I'm proud to have them. He also included a little key chain modeled after the shoes. The coasters feature some artwork of popular Dutch things like windmills, a famous kissing couple and cows. The Holland kissing couple figurine is the same one that is shown on the coasters and I think it is absolutely adorable. The note cards also feature some super cute artwork of Dutch things including the Netherlands flag and cyclists. BLOF is a Dutch band David has told me about and it's been fun getting to hear their music through the provided CD. David also sent me a rugby ball key chain since he is a rugby player back in his home of Etten-Leur, and he included an Etten-Leur postcard with pictures of popular sites from his hometown including the city hall. The popular painter, Vincent van Gogh had lived in The Netherlands for some time and also included in the package is a cube with his picture on it. When you open the cube, it features some of his many paintings. This was also very interesting and cool to see. Finally, the orange fuzzy creature with eyes is called a beessie. This cute little guy is a popular World Soccer giveaway from a large supermarket chain in The Netherlands and David included lots of them in the package. I couldn't be happier about that.

*"Erin" Notebook by Nikki



Last, but definitely not least in the package, is a personalized handmade notebook made by Nikki. She is extremely talented and I couldn't have been more surprised and pleased with this wonderful present. On the front cover, she designed my name with an attached piece of lovely fabric and a button made into the shape of a flower. On the back cover, she drew a great picture of one of my favorite animals, a guinea pig, in honor of my precious, Bailey. Additionally, on the inside front and back covers, she included some beautiful drawings of designed hearts, and to top it all off, she attached a ribbon bookmark. This is definitely another favorite of mine from the package. The amount of thought and time put into this handmade gift touches my heart in ways many things never could. I'm very grateful to Nikki for sharing an example of one of her many talents with me in the form of my own prized possession. Her personal video about this notebook can be found here: http://youtu.be/yZXYQfO-qu4

I hope you enjoyed reading about the goodness that is Dutch! Thank you again to David and Nikki for their unbelievable kindness. If any of you readers ever find yourself in The Netherlands someday, make sure and give these yummy treats a try...or you could just find yourself a nice Dutch friend. ;)






Monday, April 1, 2013

The Power of a Smile

The other day, when I was going through some old boxes in my closet, I came across a piece of paper that contained handwritten notes. I was taken aback for a few seconds, not knowing what it was. After glancing over a couple of words, I remembered it was from an exercise that my co-workers and I participated in at one of my former jobs a couple of years ago. This paper contained two columns. At the top of one column, the question asked what the best thing you brought to the job was. The other column asked what it was that you could improve. We were all supposed to answer these questions by writing down our opinions anonymously on everyone's paper except our own. It was to help us become aware of what our strengths and weaknesses were in the company, so we could be better at our jobs and progress as a team. After ignoring the weaknesses (naturally :P) and instead reading my list of positives, almost every single thing listed out of about 12 answers, had to do with my smile. "Your smile," "Personality and smile," "Your constant smiling and laughing." I had forgotten all about this exercise and reading over these answers again got me to thinking. Does a smile really impact others? What is a smile? What is it worth? What can it do?

I am a silly person by nature. I laugh at the most ridiculous things and I laugh A LOT. If most people think something is lame and too stupid to laugh at, I guarantee you, I'm probably laughing hysterically at it. I once laughed for over an hour straight at work with a co-worker after watching the intro to the old children's show, Bananas in Pajamas on YouTube. Fortunately, this co-worker also had a silly personality. Otherwise, he probably would have thought I was insane. I can't help it. It's just something inside of me that I can't control. I've been commented on it a bunch of times, of course. I've even received nicknames like "Bubbles" because of my obvious bubbly personality. Comments, such as, "You laugh at everything," "You are so silly," etc. are ones I'm still used to hearing. Upon hearing these comments over and over again though, sometimes I thought maybe it wasn't a great way to be: always smiling and laughing at lots of things. I realized it may even be annoying to some. But, after reading those opinions on that paper, I was pleasantly surprised that these people seemed to like my silly personality and it made me think about the effects of a smile and if/why people remember it.

Now, make no mistake. I may be easily amused and laugh and smile a lot, but I am also terrible at hiding my not so great emotions. And when I say terrible, I mean terrible. If I'm having a bad day or feel upset for whatever reason, I can't hide it from others. I've tried and it just doesn't happen.Someone once told me that not being able to hide what you're feeling inside is a good thing. It means you are an honest and open person. That may be true, but I have to say, I think it's quite ironic that a smile that comes so easily to me when I am feeling okay, is the most difficult thing to me when I am feeling low. I'd go as far to say that it's almost impossible. Again, I've tried and had no success. But, that leads me to ask, how far does a smile go and what is it truly capable of doing?

First of all, there are all different kinds of smiles. Everyone has their own type with a sunny side of unique character to it. Some people have a smile that lights up their entire face. It makes their eyes twinkle and you cannot control smiling back when you see it. It is a contagious smile. I've known a few people that have had this kind of smile. Not many people do. One of my favorite singers, the late, great Selena had this kind of smile. My friend from college, Jenna, has this kind of smile. A boy I knew a few years back had this kind of smile. Stephanie, one of my team leaders from the Obama campaign, also has this kind of smile. It is my favorite kind of smile.Others may have a warm smile or a mischievous smile. A crooked smile or a grinning kind of smile. No matter what kind of smile though, there is one common thing that remains: It affects us like nothing else.

There is a reason that just one smile from a boy I had a crush on in school could make my entire week. A smile is something so simple, yet expresses so much about what we're feeling. If you see a smile on someone's face, it usually signifies that they're happy and if the smile is directed at you, it usually means you're the reason for their happiness in that moment. I don't know about any of you reading this, but my favorite thing in the world is making someone I care about happy. Making them smile. The number of smiles a person has in their lifetime depends on the number of things that make them happy. If I can be the cause of one of those smiles, it gives me satisfaction like nothing else can.

We've all heard the saying "An apple a day keeps the doctor away." Well, a smile a day keeps our sadness at bay. There may be many different scenarios for smiling, but the effects are generally the same. It's been said so many times, but it's true that smiling to a stranger on the street can have a significant impact. There's just something incredibly awesome about having your heart touched or being able to touch someone's heart that you don't even know without words. Smiling to an acquaintance or co-worker is also something that comes to mind. A few years ago, I worked at a big call center with many employees. Although we all worked for the same company, because it was so big, we were comprised in groups of about 10 people. As a result, you would see many of the same people everyday at their stations, but you wouldn't necessarily know their names and you may never have talked to them. I remember there was this one boy who's group's station was located next to mine. Because of this, I would walk by him often. Every time I did walk by him, he would look at me and smile. I would smile back. I never spoke to him, but I told some friends at work about it and we playfully nicknamed him "Smiles." It got to the point where I would sometimes purposefully walk to the bathroom just to pass him and see his smile. It would brighten up my day. Today, whenever I think of him, the first thing that comes to mind is his smile. He made that impact.

Of course there are also fake smiles, and I'm usually a good judge of a fake smile. But this blog is not about fake smiles, it's about genuine smiles. Sometimes, we don't feel like smiling, but we force ourselves to because we want to make things better. This is not a fake smile however, because you still want to smile even if you don't feel like doing it. That desire is still genuine. As I mentioned earlier, it's not easy for me to put on a smile in difficult times. Over the last few years, if I was feeling low because of certain things in my life, I would sometimes read quotes or self help books to see how I could become happier. I was skeptical and became frustrated at advice that told me to stand in the bathroom every morning, smile in the mirror and that would somehow make me happier. How would doing that make me happier? How would pretending to smile to myself (and look like a fool in the process) make my day better? But then I realized, it's not about pretending to smile. It's about the process of wanting to smile. Smile like you mean it. It's about doing something so many times that you actually start to feel it. This is the hardest kind of smile. I call it the hopeful smile. It showcases our hope in a time of need. I'm getting better at this smile. My goal is to not need it very much, but we all need it sometimes, and that's okay. This smile is something no one can take away from us. It's our hopeful smile.

Then, we have the easy smile. These are the smiles for the good times and for the people we love and care about. It's never hard to express a smile in our cheerful moments. It's that smile you get when you are at the airport for a person you are picking up whom you haven't seen in a while. It's that smile you get on your Graduation Day when you are surrounded by people you care about. It's that smile you see on a Bride and Groom on their Wedding Day while reciting their vows for one another. It's that smile you get when reading a nice text message, letter or email from someone you like. It's that smile you get while at a concert seeing your favorite band perform. It's that smile you get when you finally realize you are happy with yourself after struggling with it for so long. These smiles are the smiles we wish we had every day of our lives. If we did though, we wouldn't appreciate them as much as we do.

We smile in pictures because we want people to know we are happy in that moment. We smile to be kind and we smile to release negative things. You don't have to be an optimist to smile. Contrary to popular belief, I wouldn't consider myself an optimist at this point in my life. I would like to be one someday. It's something I work on daily and it's good to know that a smile from someone else or a smile to myself is the first step to getting there. I wish we could all be optimists, but it's harder for some more than others for various reasons. It could be because a person battles depression or it could be because they've had many bad things happen to them in their life. Whatever the reason, never say never. Even if we never consider ourselves optimists, at all times, a smile is just a few muscles away.

I've heard that the most powerful tool we have is our body. In my opinion, it's our smile. It really can change the world. Isn't it amazing to think that one smile to someone could change a course of events over a period of time and in turn, change the world? The Charlie Chaplin song, "Smile" says: "You'll find life is still worthwhile if you just smile." These words couldn't be more true.

I'm not sure what kind of smile I have. Maybe it's a warm one or a grinning one. I don't know. What I do know though, is that I'm so grateful for every person that either makes me smile or shares their own smile with me. It's a beautiful sight that never gets tiring to see. Hey, that rhymes. ;) But, seriously, if you're reading this, then you already made me smile by checking out my blog. So, thank you. You indeed made my day a little brighter.

Here is a list of my favorite songs about smiling with video links. I hope you check them out and enjoy them too.

* "Smile" by Uncle Kracker https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ffej15-Dgl0
* "Smile" by Hanson https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAUGGJxqNik
* "I Love Your Smile" by Shanice https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QGXxcSdsXJ4
* "Smile" (Charlie Chaplin original) by Nana Mouskuri https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FkNNudYo-Ug
* "Smile Like You Mean It" by The Killers https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wr4SVUH1MbM
* "Smile" by Vitamin C https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WRPLaobXG2k

I'm sure most of you heard that it takes more muscles to frown than to smile. That's all the more reason to do it. Besides, smiling makes everyone look better.

So, when you get up every morning, remember to say cheese and smile at least once that day...


It's worth it. ;)

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Miserable, Blissful, Technological World

Hello everyone! I hope 2013 is treating you good so far. I was sitting here going through the stats of this blog and was pleasantly surprised to find many views from all over the world. This got me to thinking about how far our technological world has come. Let's face it, if a person in this day and age, had to go without the Internet for even one day, it's likely to actually cause them a great amount of…wait for it…stress. *sigh*
Technology…the Internet…It’s amazing to think how much this has changed the nation and the world. I remember being younger and not living in a high-tech infested society. Up until I was about 16 or 17 years old, not everyone had the Internet. For some of you younger folks reading this, that may be hard to imagine. I assure you though, it's true. Let me give you a little pre-Internet flashback...

In school, when we had a paper due, we didn’t type it, we wrote it by hand. When we needed to do research, we would go to the library and borrow books to look up the information. When we were lost, we used good old paper maps, and when we wanted to hear songs by some of our favorite artists, we needed to actually buy the CDs and play them through our stereos. Movies? Well, we had to buy those too, and if we wanted to see a new episode of a T.V. show, we had to watch it when it came on or we missed out. There was no way to go watch it after it aired, so it was a big deal to make sure you were available at the day and time it came on. Otherwise, you may not see it again until it repeated years later. Video games were played on either an actual game system like Nintendo or the battery operated Game Boy. If you wanted to purchase something like new clothes or groceries, you’d have to physically get yourself to the store to pick them out. When you wanted a recommendation for a restaurant, you’d ask someone you knew what they thought or just take a leap of faith. When you wanted to reach out to someone you couldn’t see, you would mail them a letter or give them a phone call on an actual land line phone. Finding pen pals through a pen pal program in a magazine was the coolest thing ever, and when you wanted to keep up with your favorite celebrities, those Teen magazines were lifesavers. Oh yeah, and concerts were always a one of a kind experience because you didn’t hear about reviews before your favorite musician came to your town. It was all a surprise. If you needed to find an apartment, a real estate agent or an ad in the newspaper was your answer, and jobs? You needed to go into the company you were interested in to find out if they were hiring and apply there.
In my opinion, the Internet, like many other things, has its good and bad effects. We have this wonderful ability to do almost anything within the matter of minutes through this magical virtual world. For example, we don’t have to stress about wondering who the world’s tiniest person is if we don’t have a Guinness Book of World Records book. We can just ask a little friend of ours called Google. Yet, there is still something about those books that is unlike any screen that you could read. I remember my Guinness book when I was in elementary school. It was the thickest paperback I had ever seen at that point. I would bring it to class to show my friends and they were just as fascinated as I was that the tiniest person in the world looked like a porcelain doll, or the largest cake ever made needed a ladder to climb up the top. It would keep us entertained through all of recess, lunch and even secretly during class time. It’s one of my fondest childhood memories. There was so much laughter from just one simple, tangible item.
However, I think it is so incredible that the Internet gives us access to people from all over the world with just the click of a button. People that we would never talk to or meet otherwise. People that we can learn from and build lasting relationships with, despite the distance. It truly is the World Wide Web. I have currently been learning Russian. It’s a language I have always wanted to learn, but for whatever reason, never got around to it. I was recently contacted by someone from Russia through Facebook. He asked me if I could help him learn English. I told him I would be more than happy to help, and it in turn, inspired me to fulfill my desire to learn Russian. What better way to learn a language than to speak to someone with a native tongue? I am happy to say that my Russian friend and I are in contact frequently and progressing at our new languages every day. We not only teach each other about the languages, but also about the culture of our countries. It has been one of the most interesting and fun experiences I have ever had, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the Internet and its programs. Another positive Internet experience for me has been Email and video chats. Since I am away from a lot of family and friends these days, these tools make me feel better knowing I can easily and quickly keep in touch.

Technology is a beautiful thing as long as you balance it into your life in the right way. This is especially important for kids growing up today. I’ve learned, as I'm sure many others have, that there are so many important things that should be done when you're a kid. In addition to sharing laughs with books, I also participated in outdoor activities with classmates/friends. However, my favorite memories were always those derived from using my imagination. Like the times I would pretend my bike was a bus and I’d pick up passengers that would look an awful lot like my stuffed Big Bird and Teddy Bears. Or the mornings I would plan an all inclusive wedding day for my Barbie and her handsome groom, Ken. Pretending my bedroom was a video store is also high on my favorite memories list. I would line up all my video tapes (yes, I said video tapes) on the floor and have my friends play the role of customer. We would enjoy this for hours. It sounds so silly now, but when you're a kid, anything seems possible if you just imagine it. You can’t get any of that from a computer or a cell phone. It’s only through brain power, and it helps us become who we are. An active imagination helps us realize what our true passions are and what's in our hearts before the many influences of the outside world are forced into our inner world. Of course, things are different now, and not everyone’s life will mimic mine, but keeping technology at a fair distance in our lives will help us build character. We'll be able to learn what we are capable of when we only have ourselves.
With all that said, I’ve noticed I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on the posts where I shared and recommended some of my favorite things. So, for this internetastic post (see what I did there?), I figured I’d share a few things on the Internet that have been entertaining me recently. Hopefully, you’ll find them equally entertaining and then you’ll go outside, ride your bike, and tell your "passengers" all about it. :P
The Dungeon Master-Short Film, iTunes download
If you’ve been reading my blog posts, you get that I am a big fan of actor/filmmaker, Rider Strong. I’ve mentioned him many times already, but I couldn’t resist mentioning him again to let you know about his short film that he produced with his brother, Shiloh called The Dungeon Master. This brilliant, simple, yet enticing film is for the geek in all of us, and especially for anyone who played the game, Dungeons and Dragons at some point in their young life. The plot is about a group of friends who decide to play the game again as adults. What they encounter is amusing and it left me, as a viewer, wanting more. The film was first shown in 2011, but just became available to buy on iTunes a few weeks ago. It’s only $1.99, and if Rider and Shiloh make enough, they will have a big enough budget to turn it into a full length feature.These guys paid nothing to the actors in the film, borrowed equipment and made their own costumes. I encourage you all to head on over to the link and download this unique and entertaining film. I highly doubt you'll be disappointed. Even if you decide it’s not your cup of tea, you’ll know you’ve helped two great filmmakers pursue what they are passionate about, and that ought to make you feel good. I repeat, it's only $1.99! I’ll even make you a deal. If you decide to take my advice and purchase it and DON’T like it, I will pay you back. (But this will never happen because you will love it and thank me for it and tell all your friends.)
It’s David, Not David-YouTube Vlog

http://www.youtube.com/itsdavidnotdavid

I came across this YouTube channel by accident while looking for something else and I’m so glad I did. David (that's Dav-id and not the American Dave-id) is a charismatic, funny and talented vlogger and singer/songwriter from The Netherlands. The time and effort he puts in each video is impressive and results in videos that range from challenges with other YouTube users to interviews with himself while portraying multiple characters. Another video contains a self-produced song for his viewers (yes, it does include all 70 subscribers’ screen names), and his most recent video is a virtual, interactive Valentine’s Day date with him (Seriously). On his YouTube page, you can also find links to his music channel, which includes original songs and some pretty nifty covers of bands like Coldplay and Counting Crows. One of my personal favorites is his piano cover of the Super Mario Brothers theme. ;) Amazing. Check his channel out, subscribe to it, like his Facebook page and most importantly, spread the word! Believe me, he will brighten up your day. :)
No Vital Signs-Hip Hop/Rap duo

My good friend of almost 12 years, Gerard, has started this Hip Hop duo with his friend, Jared. I am extremely proud of him. Music has been his passion for a long time, and after serving in the Army for the last few years (SO much respect for him), he's home now, and has the time to pursue it. They are both talented, and even though I normally don’t listen to much rap, I urge all you Hip Hop fans to check them out. Each track has its own twist with versatile beats and well thought-out, inspiring lyrics. They just released their album at the link I’ve provided. Take a listen, share their page and send some love. True talent and hard work should never go unrecognized.
Will Sean Podcast?-Weekly Podcast

If you’re looking for a weekly dose of sarcasm and humor with a side of inappropriateness, the Will Sean Podcast is for you. Yes, they are just another duo on the Internet rambling and ranting about current events, yet they still seem to stand out from the rest. There is just something highly amusing about a guy from Long Island with a thick accent paired with a Jewish guy from LA conducting random interviews and carrying on about their movie buffness. They even have an enemy for every episode that they make sure you know about. I was lucky enough to be the featured guest for their election episode back in November to talk about my work on the Obama campaign, and I didn’t walk away from the interview without a good dose of comic relief. So, instead of listening to your usual radio station on your morning drive to work or school, try these guys out. I promise I won’t tell them if you don’t like it. (They already have enough enemies.) :D
STAGEIT-Online Concert Venue

I experienced StageIt for the first time a couple of weeks ago when I attended the online show of Chase Coy, an independent singer/songwriter that I’m a fan of. The website's concept is brilliant to me. Musicians can hold live online concerts from the comfort of their own homes and broadcast it to fans all over the world through StageIt's stream. Fans can purchase tickets for whatever amount they choose and attend the show at the set date and time. Fans also have the option to tip the musician while the performance is taking place. There’s a pretty cool chat room during the show for viewers to interact with each other and the musician as well.
As a music promoter, I believe StageIt is a great tool that provides a way for musicians to connect with their fans through an intimate setting, especially those fans that aren’t able to physically see their favorite musicians in concert. It’s also a great way for fans to support the independent artists they love and provide them with the funds they need to make more records. It makes for something really special, and if you’re someone who’s passionate about music, like me, you will certainly appreciate it. If you’re a musician, use it and if you’re a fan, enjoy it and let the music live on.

Now seriously, go ride your bike. ;)

Monday, December 24, 2012

Happy Holidays!

Happy Holidays to everyone! Christmas Eve is here and to help get everyone in the holiday spirit (if you aren't already), I figured I would write a fun holiday themed post. In this one, I've listed a selection of some of my favorite things at this time of year. Most are Christmas related, but I hope it's still a fun read no matter what holiday you may celebrate. To cap it all off, in preparation for the new year, I've ended the post with some of my most memorable moments from 2012. I hope you all have safe and healthy holidays, and thanks so much for reading. Enjoy!

My Favorite Holiday Places

Rockefeller Center

This is a holiday classic. Rockefeller Center is one of my favorite places in the world at any time of year. But, of course, it's most beautiful during the holidays. The beautiful tree and the large ice rink couldn't be more perfect. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to spend time here during the holiday season and it was so magical. It was freezing outside, but it didn't take away from the gorgeous lights and warmth of the holiday air. Skating on the rink was like a dream. I had watched some of my favorite figure skaters skate on this rink on television and it was always a sight to see. Rockefeller truly defines Christmas and has that vibe that no other place has. There are also many wonderful restaurants that overlook the rink and tree in the Rockefeller building. There's nothing better to me than sitting down eating a cozy, yummy meal and watching people from all over the world skating and enjoying the holidays. I absolutely love it here.

Boston
Being from Massachusetts and attending college in Boston is what helped put this place on the list. I miss my college days in the winter. I would get up in the cold morning air, bundled up in my coat, with a warm Starbucks drink in hand and be on my way to class. I was surrounded by excited fellow students looking forward to the upcoming holiday school break. Going to Emerson College had its perks. The campus was downtown Boston, so I was able to experience a snow covered Boston Common right across the street from my dorm. The lit up Newbury Street with all the shops was only a couple of blocks away and Frog Pond was also across the street. It was a great place to celebrate the holiday season and I will always consider it part of my home.


My Childhood Yard 
One of my favorite early winter memories is being in my yard as a child outside my old house in Massachusetts. There was a small hill with stones on the side of the house that would be covered in snow and ice during those cold months, and I would go out there with my plastic sled and go sledding down this hill. Although the hill was very small, I had some of the most fun I've ever had as a kid sliding down it.

Church
 There is no place like Church during the holidays. No matter what
religion you are, a church during Christmas time is a comforting and beautiful place. Up until I graduated high school, I would always go to our local church with my Mom and family for the Christmas Eve mass. It's a great Christmas tradition and I always feel the better for it.




My Favorite Holiday Snacks/Food

Starbucks' Gingerbread Latte 
This is one of my favorite drinks from Starbucks. I always get mine with soy milk because I am lactose intolerant and it has just the right amount of sweetness.

Andes, Creme De Menthe Thins
I grew up on Andes around Christmas and although they are actually around all year, they will always be a holiday candy to me. I'm a big fan of peppermint and my Mom would always have these out on the table at our house on Christmas Eve for everyone to enjoy.

Pillsbury Peppermint Sugar Cookies 
These are a new favorite of mine. I've gotten them for the past two years. They are pretty delicious and go great with hot cocoa. :)
 

Apple-Glazed Pork Chops

I've been making this meal for the past couple of years. It's become a Christmas tradition ever since I've been living on my own. I discovered the recipe through my favorite figure skater, Ekaterina Gordeeva. It is one of her own recipes and was posted on the Smuckers brand website after a Smuckers sponsored skating television special a few years back. I've included the recipe below in case you want to try this great dish. It goes great with a side of mashed potatoes/sweet potatoes, veggies and some apple sauce!

 Katia Gordeeva's Apple Glazed Pork Chops

1/2 c apple jelly
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1/8 tsp cloves
4 1 " thick pork chops
2 small baking apples, cored and sliced

Combine first four ingredients in saucepan. Cook over low heat, stirring occasionally. Keep warm.

Place pork chops on rack in broiler pan. Broil 5 " from heat; seven minutes per side. Remove from oven; brush 1 side with glaze and broil 3 minutes. Flip and brush other side with glaze. Top with apple slices and drizzle with remaining glaze. Broil 3 minutes.


Mom's Maple Chicken & Macaroni Salad
 Two of my favorite holiday meals are my Mom's originals. Every Christmas, she makes her delicious chicken wings glazed in a combination of maple syrup and soy sauce. So yummy and tender. Her macaroni salad consists of macaroni mixed in french salad dressing and parsley. Equally yummy. I've started attempting to make these on my own on a few occasions, but of course, they are never as good as the creator's. ;)

My Favorite Holiday Movies

The Holiday 
This is one of my recent favorite holiday movies. I love the two story lines in the film and how it affects the spirit of the holidays in different, yet similar ways. Kate Winslet is one of my favorite actresses and it's a nice contrast to see her playing a rare, playful, comedic role. A sweet and fun movie.

A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas
If you want a laugh and a little holiday cheer to go with it, I highly recommend this film. I'm a big fan of the Harold and Kumar films and this one is even more over the top than the first two. It's definitely greater for it. I love the impossible becoming possible concept of this film and although it's not a kid friendly feature, it still gives off that magical feeling of Christmas. That to me, is an incredible feat. Besides, who wouldn't want a Wafflebot for Christmas?!

Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer 
 It didn't feel like Christmas growing up if I didn't watch this on T.V. It will always be one of my favorites. The animation held its own during that time and the moral of the story is both heartwarming and inspiring. I will never feel too old to watch this.

Home Alone
Who doesn't love this movie? As a kid, it was awesome watching another kid left home alone for the holidays, doing what he wants and kicking two robbers' asses in the process. It's what we all would dream of as a kid until, you know, the reality of responsibility sets in.

Love Actually
I heard so many positive reviews about this movie before I actually watched it. When I did, it lived up to all of my expectations and more. I love when multiple stories are told in one film and somehow all interact with each other to make a perfect ending. The holiday theme only adds to its brilliance.

A Christmas Story
What a classic movie this is and rightfully so! Its witty occurrences and family themed humor is unique, enjoyable and unforgettable. There is no other Christmas movie like this one.


My Favorite Holiday Gifts

Books
The fact that I'm a writer may have a little to do with books being on my favorite gifts list. I absolutely love reading books. I will read almost any category and nothing is better than receiving a new story to read during the holidays.

Fragrances 
My favorite perfume/fragrance is something I will never get sick of and it's also something that will always eventually run out. Therefore, I will always need more of it. This is why is makes a great gift. You can never have enough. Some of my favorites are "A Touch of Pink" by Lacoste and "Jewel" by Mark.

Music 
I would always love getting new music for Christmas as a kid. Every time I would open a new CD on Christmas morning, it would keep me entertained for hours the rest of the entire day. A new album is timeless.


LOVE 
It may sound a bit cliche, but love is one thing that can't be touched, but it can be felt. The feeling of love is the best feeling in the world and no tangible gift can compare. Whether it be a phone call from your parents wishing you a "Merry Christmas", a card from a friend with the words "Thinking of you this Christmas" on it, or a hug from a co-worker while wishing you "Happy Holidays", it is all irreplaceable. Love will always be the true meaning of the holidays and without it, the holidays wouldn't be what they are. Everyone wants and needs love. It is everything.

My Favorite Holiday Songs

"Silver Bells"
I love this song. Classic and beautiful. I don't really have a favorite rendition. The song itself is just great.

"Merry Christmas Baby" by Hanson
"Snowed In" is definitely one of my favorite Christmas albums of all time, and this one is a memorable and fun one from the album. It always gets me in the holiday spirit every single time I hear it.

"There's a New Kid in Town" by Billy Gilman
Billy does a fantastic version of this song. His young, yet strong vocals are a perfect fit for the track and the lyrics remind us again, what Christmas is all about.

"Merry Christmas, Darling"  by Carpenters 
 This is such a sweet song and is great to listen to if you are missing a certain someone during the Christmas season. Although originally sung by the Carpenters, the television show, Glee also did a great rendition of this song on their Christmas album.

"River" by Joni Mitchell 
The minute this song starts playing, I am put in an entirely different mood. One of the saddest, most beautiful songs I've ever heard.


and finally...





MY MOST MEMORABLE MOMENTS FROM 2012

Moving to Los Angeles
If you've read my blog from the beginning, you'll know that moving to L.A. is what inspired me to begin writing this in the first place. It was a big step for me this year, and is only the beginning of hopefully, many new and great experiences to come.






My Friend, Jessica's 
Wedding 
I was lucky enough to be one of the bridesmaids in my good friend, Jessica's wedding this past October. I don't get to see her much since she lives in New York, so it was wonderful to be part of such a special day in her life. I couldn't help but get emotional when I saw how happy she was on this beautiful day. It's always great to see someone you care about have something good happen to them, and I will always remember this day because of that.

Las Vegas Canvassing Trip & Obama Rally
No need to explain since I already have in my last post. I will never forget these two incredible moments.

President Obama's Re-election
It's no surprise that this awesome moment of 2012 is on this list. I've blogged enough about it and, it will always be dear to my heart.




Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!!!



Tuesday, December 4, 2012

An Election Worth Fighting for is an Election Won


"WE DID IT!"  This was a phrase I used many times in the first week after President Obama's re-election. I can't believe it's been almost a month since that big day. Since the election was something so close to my heart, I figured I'd use this blog post to share with you some of my final experiences as a volunteer and event coordinator with the 2012 campaign.

I decided to spend the last weekend before Election Day canvassing with other supporters in Las Vegas. It was a final push to do what I could to help our President win for our future. Deciding to go on this Vegas trip was the best decision I could have made. It turned out to be one of the best times I had throughout my entire time volunteering with Organizing for America.

The trip started out when my campaign friend, Kieren and I met up with our van and group in a city outside of L.A on Friday, November 2nd. The group of supporters we shared the van with was the same group we canvassed with and what a wonderful, diverse group it was! Kieren and I were joined by two Indian couples, a Nigerian man, and an African American woman. Kieren had commented that "President Obama himself, would have cried in happiness if he could have seen our van." It truly represented the American dream and signified what our President does. He brings all Americans together no matter what race, ethnicity or religion through inspiration and belief. A belief in a man, a belief in a country and belief in that man to see the country through.

With our van & canvass crew outside the Las Vegas staging location.
 The four and a half hour van ride to our destination included many laughs, Starbucks trips and friendships formed. Before the end of the night, we checked into a nice, paid for, hotel right on the Vegas strip (Thanks OFA!). Although we were there for just one weekend, it was a packed one. We met many wonderful staff members and other volunteers at one of the many Vegas OFA staging locations. (A staging location is where volunteers go for either Get Out the Vote trainings, phone banks or canvass prep.) Hearing their personal stories and seeing all the hard work, time and effort some of these people put into this campaign was nothing less than heart warming.

Canvassing materials.
We spent most of our time walking door to door in the hot weather hoping to catch people at home and talk to them about the importance of voting. It was difficult at times, especially trying to find impossible apartment numbers in huge complexes. We did get tired and we did sweat but it was all worth it. The experience taught me so much about myself.

We did it the true grassroots way, the best way. The grassroots way showcases community organizing at its finest and it's what the President did back as a community organizer in Chicago. It's that "greater together" approach. It's something that high tech computers and cellphones can't capture. It's a face to face approach that allows us to connect with other Americans by looking them in the eye and saying "Please vote because it's one of the greatest privileges we have and it does make a difference." Let me tell you, I never knew I was able to truly make a difference until I went out and I did. I'm a lot more powerful than I realized
and so is every person on this planet if they have
enough passion to do something.

In front of our van.
After our canvass goals were reached, our trip ended on Sunday, November 4th. The van ride back home was filled with lots of reminiscing about the times we shared that weekend. We spoke about our camaraderie, about our different backgrounds and our plans to celebrate President Obama's victory. I think we all knew deep in our hearts he was going to win. When the trip came to an end, it was sad to have to say goodbye to these wonderful people but we vowed to keep in touch and always remember the impact we made together.

The night before Election Day also proved to be historical. It was the night of the highly anticipated Obama rally event I had organized and planned on hosting. It consisted of speeches given by Obama supporters I knew, a screening of the documentary "The Road We've Traveled" and a live performance from a band. It took place at a pub in L.A. and the speakers were the following: my friend and fellow OFA volunteer, Kieren, my comedian friend, Jeb, actor Ahmed Best (he played Jar Jar Binks in the Star Wars films) and finally, one of my favorite actors, you guessed it, Rider Strong, who agreed to speak after I had reached out to him when I learned he was a fellow Obama supporter. Pretty cool, right?  Common Rotation, a great folk rock band, performed for us that evening.

With the speakers & band after the rally on November 5, 2012.
Everyone spoke about the experiences they've had while supporting the President. As host, I started out the night by talking about how President Obama's "anything is possible" attitude inspired me. I talked about how success should be a possibility for everyone willing to work for it, no matter how much money they have. I also mentioned a journal entry I read on a visit back home in Massachusetts a few weeks prior. I had written it at 12 years old and it was about my determination to make it to L.A. someday and chase my dreams. "I will make it to L.A. someday, no matter what it takes..." the entry read. And I did. It felt good to be able to say that.

I ended my speech with one of my favorite quotes from President Obama. It comes from a story he likes to sometimes tell at his own rallies about the creation of his campaign slogan, "Fired Up and Ready to Go!" It was started by a woman who attended one of his early 2008 campaign speeches in Greenwood, South Carolina. President Obama, a senator at that time, stood in front of a small awkward and tired crowd that remained quiet until this woman decided to take the initiative and shout out "Fired up and ready to go!" She was attempting to make the crowd and Senator Obama feel supported and energized. And she did just that. Within a few minutes, everyone in that room was feeling fired up and ready to go. This woman expressed her voice and the campaign changed. It now had a new slogan. As the president describes it, "It shows you what one voice can do. If one voice can change a room, then one voice can change a city. If one voice can change a city, one voice can change a state. If one voice can change a state, one voice can change a nation. If one voice can change a nation, one voice can change the world. Your voice can change the world." I told the room full of people in that pub that their voice and their vote could change the world.

Another photo after our rally.
 Kieren gave a heartfelt speech about our time in Las Vegas and touched upon a meaningful conversation she had with a supporter she called while phone banking for the campaign. Jeb put his comedic skills to use by telling funny stories about his time fundraising by phone for the campaign and Ahmed talked about the unity of America and closing that gap between "Republicans" and "Democrats". I had the chance to introduce Rider as the final speaker. As I did, I joked about how I would have never ever thought back when I was a fan of "Boy Meets World" at 12 years old, I would be introducing him 16 years later at an event I was hosting for a guy named Barack Obama. It's funny how life works, isn't it? Rider had a wonderful thought-out speech that mentioned his 2009 road trip across country for the inauguration and the seemingly consistent trend of Republicans' too good to be true ideas encompassed by their 'just trust me' approach. The night ended with a great live performance from Common Rotation. They finished their set with a cover of (audience sing-a-long included) Twisted Sister's song "We're Not Gonna Take It." Very fitting for how we all felt about this long, tough election. We concluded the event with some final chants of "Fired Up & Ready to Go!" All in all, it was a great night.

Election Day proved to be a full day of hard work, excitement, anxiety, determination and lots of other raw emotions too difficult to describe. The entire campaign worked toward this one day, these final hours. I woke up very early, grabbed some coffee and went straight to the staging location that my turf worked out of. This was a small, hot room with no air conditioning and a few tables and chairs.There was already a room full of phone bankers when I arrived at 8am. It was wonderful to see.

After helping out all morning around the office, Kieren and I left to go do the most important thing we could: vote. It was my first time voting at the polls. I voted via absentee ballot in 2008, so it was a proud moment for me. I couldn't help but smile and feel proud while standing in line and when it came time to actually vote, it was quite refreshing. Like so many Americans that day, I wore my "I Voted" sticker like a badge of honor. I began to feel most of the anxiety I had that night after I voted. It was then that polls began to close in some states on the East Coast and results started pouring in. I had confidence and hope of course, but it was only natural to feel a bit uneasy with how close things had been.

This was the first election I actually cared so much about and as we got back to the staging location, I paced back and forth watching the results slowly come up live on T.V. I had already heard stories from supporters who campaigned in the '08 election about what kind of feelings I should expect on election night, but their words couldn't fully prepare me for the actual emotion I did endure. The finish line I had been waiting for was so close to being crossed after a long, hard race and it was the campaign's moment to shine.

Our hardworking team right after President Obama's re-election.
The pacing didn't stop until the end of the night. In addition to watching the live coverage, I spent those last few hours calling people in some swing states like Nevada and Colorado, that were some of the last to close its polls. "Hi, this is Erin..." I would say, "and I am part of Organizing for America, President Obama's re-election team. I'm just calling to make sure you voted today and if not, please go out and do so. Your polling place is at _______  and polls close in just 15 minutes." I could have said that in my sleep and it was awesome.

When we all saw the electoral results that determined President Obama was re-elected, it was a moment I will never forget. I couldn't help but jump up and down as I saw his votes go past the 270 he needed to win. Everyone around me burst out in cheers, hugs and many tears. One of our team leaders opened a bottle of champagne and we had a toast. I couldn't help but feel so connected to every person in the room. We were all working toward this same goal, working for a better America and we did it. Even people I had just met that day felt like family in that moment. I called my mom and shared the joy. I truly felt like this huge weight was lifted off my shoulders. It was the weight of an America possibly falling backward instead of going forward. It was the weight of fear for the middle class, for women's rights, for the LGBT community and so much more.

I received a lot of kind messages that night from family and friends who congratulated me and thanked me for my hard work. I am truly honored to have been able to use my time for this President and for America. Although I am grateful for the thanks I did get, I am just as thankful, if not more, for everything this campaign has given to me. I'm thankful for the experiences, for the wonderful people I've gotten to know, for the opportunity to be part of such a special fellowship and for the ability to use my voice to represent something so much bigger than myself.

The campaign released a video two days after the election of President Obama visiting the Chicago campaign headquarters office. He expressed his appreciation through an emotional speech in which he thanked all the volunteers for their hard work. I also had the privilege of being able to listen in on a conference call for volunteers. President Obama came on the line, thanked us all again and expressed that we have a lot of work still left to do to make this country what it should be. He also told us he loved us. Moments like these are what it's all about. To build a world full of contagious love, hope and kindness is what we aim for.

A famous quote by a philosopher says, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." This journey couldn't have existed without so many people taking that first step and showing up to volunteer, making that first phone call, knocking on that first door and making that first decision to give some of themselves to a greater cause. So, I thank all those people who joined me on this journey and to everyone who voted, no matter who you voted for. This experience was unlike any other and I look forward to a future full of progress.