Guest Blogger – Chai Latte with Southern Charm

The past few days at work have been crazy (I know, there was a weekend squeezed in there, but still) so my sister graciously offered to help out today (and by offered, I mean, I forced her to). As you will probably see, she is the real writer in the family. She has countless journals filled with her writing from high school, college and beyond. Unfortunately she has directed her writing away from short stories and spends most of her time writing up swim practices. I have tried to encourage to her start her own blog, but between coaching 50+ college swimmers and taking care of her adorable dog, she doesn’t seem to have the time. Which is why I am so grateful that she was able to help out today! Enjoy.


Like many people I have a Starbucks addiction, unlike many people mine is far less caffeine driven and has a lot more to do with the routine; unsurprisingly after spending countless hours swimming back and forth over a black line I have become a creature of habit. When I lived in NYC I would get the same breakfast every day (sesame bagel with cream cheese) from the BEST bagel shop of all time, Absolute Bagels—it got to the point that I would walk over on a Sunday when the line was out the door and the man behind the counter would see me, make my bagel and let me cut the entire line—talk about perks of being a regular!

Now that I have moved to Virginia I have traded delicious bagels for delicious treats (aka chai and the occasional peppermint mocha). Nearly every morning after practice I go home, pick up Bexley Ann (my puppy) and head over to the Starbucks drive-thru; it has gotten to the point that when I drive up instead of placing an order I just say ‘good morning, it’s Abby’ and they know what I want and we spend our time chatting about the dog and other such exciting things. Because Bexley has been going to Starbucks since she was 8 weeks old, she gets super excited every time we pull into the parking lot and is quick to jump up on the front seat to stick her head out the window to say hi to the people who are working. When I don’t bring her with me both Bex and the baristas are disappointed.

I have come to know the baristas by name; and am even friends with a couple of them on Facebook. At least once a week I get a handwritten note on my cup from Dylan and Bethany wishing me a happy day and for the holidays they got me a card that had a buy one get one free coupon inside—like I said, my Starbucks is the best ever.

Now that my season is over, I have been heading over to Starbucks a little later in the day which has allowed for a little more conversation with the baristas—don’t really hit the morning rush when you are showing up at 10.30. I have come to learn that Dylan’s talents as a barista pale in comparison to her musical abilities; she is seriously amazing—

Needless to say, transition from NYC to Fredericksburg, VA was not easy, but luckily with the addition of the world’s cutest puppy and the world’s greatest baristas I am surviving and have a reason to get out of bed every morning. Cheers!



(Don’t worry – I have already yelled at Abby about phone usage while driving. She wouldn’t never do this again – not even for blog footage!)

click here for Abby’s last guest blog appearance

Two Years Later in Haiti; Aid Still Required

I am excited to announce that my favorite guest blogger has returned to “Focus on the Little Things.” Recently, Dan Parziale began working for a nonprofit in LA called Aid Still Required (ASR). This organization focuses on sustainable development in places that have been hit by disasters. The idea is that right after a big event, like the tsunami in Indonesia, international organizations and aid money pours into the country. A lot of this attention tends to move elsewhere when other disasters take place. What happens in these cases is that a secondary disaster takes place–recovery has not yet taken place, but the support has left.

Hunter and Andrea Herz Payne started Aid Still Required about 7 years ago with the goal of helping to “fill the gap” so to speak, and to shine the spotlight back on places that had left the headlines and oftentimes the public consciousness. Aid Still Required does not generally do most “first responder” work like emergency healthcare, providing water, food, and shelter. Instead, ASR is more focused on doing the things that should have a long-term impact on the ability of people in the country to support themselves. For example, the earthquake in Haiti led to hundreds of thousands of people still living in tent camps with very little government oversight. Over 100 rapes per day are reported in Cite Soleil, one of the largest encampments just outside of Port-au-Prince.

ASR partnered with the We Advance Women’s Clinic to provide free gynecological care to women and with Nouvelle Vie to support ongoing PTSD and rape victim therapy. At the same time, ASR is helping to reforest one of the most deforested countries in the world. Aside from the environmental impact of reforestation, it also has an immediate impact as it leads to greater flood control while reinvigorating the soil for farming and providing jobs.

If you would like to learn more about the work they are doing in places like Indonesia, Sudan, Haiti, and New Orleans, please visit their website at www.AidStillRequired.org.

Please Dan’s message below to find out what YOU can do to help.

Today is the 2nd anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti and we are doing a massive social media campaign to raise money for the projects we are doing there and to shine the spotlight back on a country that has still not recovered from the earthquake.

We have roughly 50 celebrities (actors, athletes, musicians, authors, TV personalities) with a combined Facebook and Twitter following of about 150 million people. We have recorded PSAs from Maroon 5 and the LA Kings.

 

This campaign has the potential to raise an incredible amount of money and would allow us to expand the programs that have been incredibly successful in Haiti so far.

There are several things that you can do to get involved and I urge you to pass this along to others you think might be interested:

1) Post the tweets and Facebook updates (sample text included below) throughout the day. These are the same Tweets and Updates we are asking all of our celebrities to post so the more eyes on these the better.
2) Follow Aid Still Required on Twitter @aidstillreqd
3) Like Aid Still Required on Facebook by searching “Aid Still Required”
4) Go to any of the celebrities’ Facebook and Twitter pages listed below and either retweet or “like” their Haiti post
4) E-mail all of your contacts and ask them to do the same–a short explanation of what ASR is and what we are doing would be awesome. Include the Tweets and Updates listed below for them to put up as well
5) If you feel able to do so, go to www.AidStillRequired.org/donate and make a donation. Just as importantly, explore the site, learn about what we are doing and sign up to be on our mailing list.

Thank you so much and if you have any questions about what to do or you want to know more about Aid Still Required, let me know.

Here is a list of all of the celebrities we have signed up to Tweet and Facebook for us today:
Adam Schefter, Alicia Keys, Blake Griffin, Bonnie Raitt, Chelsea Handler, Chris Bosh, Chris Paul, Deepak Chopra, Don Cheadle, Dustin Brown, Hans Zimmer, Hilary Duff, Hugh Jackman, Jackson Browne, Janet Jackson, Jarius Wynn, Jason Mraz, Jordin Sparks, Kathy Ireland, Kevin Durant, Kevin Love, Kimberly Cole, Lady Antebellum, Maroon 5, Martha Stewart, Mike Richards, My Chemical Romance, Nina Dobrev, Pamela Anderson, Paul Pierce, Rob Kardashian, Seth Green, Sheryl Crow, Slash, Solange Knowles, Stephen Collins, Sting, Thalia, The Killers, Tim McGraw, Tyson Chandler, Usher, Victoria Justice, Will Smith, William Shatner…

And here are the Tweets and Facebook posts that we are asking people to put up:

Tweets
•  Two years after #Haiti quake the number of orphans has doubled. I’m helping through #AidStillRequired. Will you?  http://bit.ly/wTtw7y 
•  2nd anniversary campaign for #Haiti includes you, me + 120 million others!  Chip in at  http://bit.ly/wTtw7y   RT   #AidStillRequired
•  40% unemployment in #Haiti. Join me + #AidStillRequired – plant trees, provide jobs, homes, food, education!   http://bit.ly/wTtw7y 
•  500,000 people in #Haiti still live under tarps and tents. I’m helping thru #AidStillRequired   http://bit.ly/wTtw7y  Hope you will too.
•  1000s of #Haiti women sexually abused – 100 rapes/day in settlements.  I’m helping thru #AidStillRequired. Will U?  http://bit.ly/wTtw7y
 
Facebook Post
Today is the second anniversary of the Haiti earthquake. Millions still have no home, no school, no job, and little food. We can help the people of Haiti.

Our support can plant trees, provide jobs, water cisterns and housing incentives. Our support can send supplies to orphanages overflowing with abandoned kids. Our support can bring trauma relief to victims of rape and PTSD. WE CAN CHANGE LIVES.

Join me and thousands of others by making sure those suffering in Haiti are not forgotten. Be the miracle in someone else’s life.

Go to Aid Still Required  http://bit.ly/wTtw7y
 
Stats
ON THE 2ND ANNIVERSARY OF THE EARTHQUAKE IN HAITI, HERE ARE SOME FACTS…
FACT: Two years after the earthquake, over half a million people are still living under tarps and tents.
FACT: Half of Haiti’s children are illiterate… and most don’t finish 5th grade.
FACT: The number of orphaned and abandoned children has
doubled since the quake. …
FACT: Millions are suffering from PTSD, disease and hunger.
FACT: Haiti still needs our help and we can do something about it.
FACT: Aid Still Required has programs in Haiti which help reforest the countryside and provide jobs, which offer trauma relief and empowerment to women suffering from PTSD and rape, and which send supplies and teachers to orphanages.

Join me and thousands of others to ensure those in Haiti are not forgotten. Go to Aid Still Required: http://www.aidstillrequired.org/home

It’s amazing how powerful we can be when we join together.

I am incredibly moved by the work that Dan and Aid Still Required are doing. Like Robin Hood, they believe everyone, everywhere, is entitled to live in dignity, safety and health. They view post-crisis situations as opportunities to do just that.

Their work is needed – probably  more than most of us are aware. While Robin Hood’s mission keeps our focus on New York City, we are so thankful that there are other non-profits out there who are helping those beyond our reach. So thank you Aid Still Required, and thank you Dan. Your passion is inspiring and I can’t wait to see all that you are destined to accomplish.

Please join me and Dan by tweeting, posting to facebook, and spreading the word. Two years have gone by and the people of Haiti still need our help.

Guest Blogger – Team Building

I am excited to announce that we have another guest blogger today! This is someone who has been highly sought after since I started my blog a year and a half ago but always comes up with reasons why she shouldn’t/can’t write a post for me. After much begging, she finally caved!

This time of the year, people often get together to celebrate the holidays and enjoy each others company. Last night, Matt and I visited the Culinary Loft for his company party and this afternoon, I was be celebrating with my Robin Hood colleagues. And while my sister doesn’t work in a “corporate” environment, that is no reason not to celebrate the festivities surrounding the holidays. Please enjoy her post about the most recent team building activity that she did with her swimmers!

So everyone knows my sister is the just about the best baker ever and so very creative when it comes to her baked goods.

Inspired by her work with Robin Hood and Taste Buds doing gingerbread houses I decided to surprise my swim team on their last official practice with a gingerbread house making party.

We divided into classes and had a competition; at the end of the day prizes were awarded in the following categories:

 OVERALL WINNER: Seniors (they each made a house depicting their apartments on campus and put together village)

 

MOST CREATIVE: Sophomores (what they made isn’t really little things appropriate but it was hilarious)

 CLASSIEST: Juniors (a very classy and well designed house)

 

MOST ENTHUSIAM: First years (they got VERY into building their project…)

 

Thanks to Molly (and mom) for suggesting this as a team project; and thanks to my swimmers for making it fun!

Guest Blogger – Garden in a Jar

I am so excited to announce my very first guest blogger today, Dan Parziale. Dan is new to the blogging world, but not new to the world of gardening. Growing up in Ojai California, lemon, avocado and orange trees lined his driveway and fresh, homegrown food was always incorporated into their meals.

One time when Dan came to visit Matt and I in New York City, he suggested that we cook dinner in one night, a suggestion that I am ALWAYS happy to hear. We decided to cook up a Mexican dish and Dan offered to make fresh salsa. We went to the local grocery store, where our Dan was appalled by the outrageous price for herbs like cilantro and mint.

In today’s post, Dan outlines an inexpensive and fun way to spruce up your cooking! Thank you Dan for being a “big thing” in our life and for always providing “little things” to focus on that make our NYC life a little more fun.

GARDEN IN A JAR:

Do any of the following refer to you?

1) No yard

2) No money

3) No green thumb

4) Desire fresh, homegrown food

5) Running water in your house/apartment

6) You’re a kickass, interesting person willing to try new things

If so, homegrown sprouts are for you. If not, homegrown sprouts are probably still for you. All that is needed is some counter space and a jar and you’re well on your way to healthy, fresh, homegrown sprouts. Keep in mind that any/all of the recommendations here are just that–recommendations. Feel free to alter what you use given what you have or have access to. Its pretty hard to screw this up. That being said, I’ve tried different ways and I think this is the easiest and I’ve had the most success with it.

First, get a large mason jar with the screw on top and some fine screen (not fine like good looking, but fine like small holes). You want the kind of top that has both the ring and lid as you will only be using the ring for this. For the screen, if the holes are too big, then whatever you are sprouting will fall through the screen. I went to the hardware store and bought the screen they sell for screen doors by the foot. You just need enough to overlap the sides of the top of the mason jar by about an inch. I recommend having 2 or 3 jars/tops/pieces of screen so you can sprout different things at the same time. That way, if something doesn’t sprout or if you don’t like the taste of one of the varieties, you will still have good sprouts. That, and it looks badass to have a bunch of different things sprouting in your kitchen.

The screen is extremely cheap. I bought enough for about 8 jars for less than a dollar. You can get the mason jars new at most markets and if you already have jars, but don’t have the tops, you can buy the tops separately. It’s about $15 for a case of 12 quart size jars/tops. Luckily mason jars are sweet for doing things like drinking beer too, so the extra jars won’t go to waste (or you can learn how to make jam–I use half of the remaining jars for beer and half for jam which I think is a good balance).

Next, pick out some of the dry beans/seeds you want to sprout. I have used raw sunflower seeds, lentils (both green and red), black quinoa, pinto beans, black beans and mung beans. I have had the most luck with the black quinoa, lentils and mung beans. In my experience, anything too small (like white quinoa) packs too densely when soaked and tend to rot because they stay too wet.A small one pound bag of lentils will give you about 20 quarts of sprouts so it’s incredibly cheap and I’ve found that the sprouts last longer in the fridge than the sprouts you get at the store.

OK, you’re ready to start sprouting. Put about a half-inch of your product (lentils, for this example) in the jar. For sprouting, you will not use the disk part of the top as you will be replacing it with the screen. Lay the screen on top of the jar and screw on the top (without the disk). The reason you use the screen is so you can fill the jar with water without having to remove the lid and you can pour the water out without worrying about the lentils falling out. It also allows air flow into the jar throughout the day.Start out by filling the jar with enough water to submerge the lentils. Fill it enough so that when the lentils absorb some of the water over the course of the next 24 hours, they will still be submerged. After 24 hours, pour out the water, refill, and pour out again. For the next 3-5 days, you will need to rinse the lentils twice a day. Simply add water through the screen top until all of the seeds are covered and then pour out the water. There will be enough residual water on the lentils to keep them sprouting.

After the 24 hour soak, I lay the jar on its side so the lentils have space to spread out and grow vertically. Depending on the conditions, it should take 3 or 4 days to complete the sprouting but some things take longer–I’ve found the black quinoa takes about 5 days. The sprouts will fill the jar, so don’t use more than a half-inch or so of raw seeds/beans to begin with. You want to remove the sprouts from the jar and put them in the fridge once they look ready to eat. I’ve heard that allowing them to “oversprout” (you start to see some roots form at the bottom) causes them to lose some of their benefits including the ability for your body to absorb all of the nutrients, but they still taste good and are good for you even if they go a day or two too long.

See which kinds of sprouts you like the best–they are great on salads and sandwiches, but there are always new uses for them–as a topper for omelets or on top of stir fry for a little extra crunch. Enjoy!

Three different kinds of sprouts. Top is green lentil, right is black quinoa and bottom left is mung bean
Oversprouted mung bean sprout
The three items you need--quart size mason jar, ring of the top and screen mesh
Submerging the lentils for first 24 hours.
First step of the process--submerging the lentils in water for 24 hours.