Inspiration 12.30.14

Whoops! Forgot to post this Sunday, but happy post-Christmas and almost-New Year! I hope you all have had a lovely holiday. Santa was too good to me this year. There was an amazing friends-Christmas with the darlings of BiblioSmiles and then a happy (and calm, thank goodness) holiday with the family. We left A Christmas Story on in the background all day, as is our tradition, and my mom, true to her Italian blood, cooked way too much food for four people. I helped, by making the decadent desserts, and we all ate ourselves into food comas.

I think the best thing was this adorable French bulldog sweater my mom gave me. And I made sure to give each of my family members a delightfully dorky gift (because, I accept my geekiness, and have a need to foist it onto other people as well). I’m not entirely sure the Star Trek footie pajamas were well-received, but the expression on the recipient’s face (my sophisticated, high-tech gadget-guy father) was well worth it.

And now we’re off to go skedaddling into 2015. Geez. I still remember being in fourth grade and the whole Y2K hubbub. Let’s all distract ourselves with these links before it sinks in that was fifteen years ago, kay?

  1. Awww. It’s amazing how times have changed
  2. These rules for creativity are excellent!
  3. I miss ramen but this recipe for gluten-free instant noodle cups might be a good replacement!
  4. A tumblr look at why millennials aren’t buying houses
  5. I love the idea of a uniform. My brain is so cluttered, this might help!
  6. You can change your dream, your vision, your life, at any age
  7. Kim showed me this great news digest to kick off your day with

Have a nifty New Year.

Love always,
Gabriele

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Making Tradition

Merry Christmas! I hope yours is full of cheer and happiness. I like to dream about all the new and exciting things I still hope to do in my life, but Christmas to me, is a time of tradition and celebrating the blessings we already have in our lives.

Our little chubby Christmas tree

Our little chubby Christmas tree

There are a few traditions I’ve grown up with:

  • No meat on Christmas Eve (easily done for me!)
  • When we were little, we had Advent Calendars given to us from our neighbors (the best, though, was when our parents gave us a Lego one!)
  • Also when we were little, we could open ONE present on Christmas Eve
  • We throw the crumpled wrapping paper at one another and try to decorate the dogs with the discarded ribbons
  • We leave TBS’s marathon of “A Christmas Story” on TV all day
  • There was a brick that my relatives would try to disguise and give to one another on random holidays. Not sure who’s in possession of the family brick now

I love the idea of making new Christmastime traditions though! So I thought I’d share some of my favorites that I find fascinating.

Feast of the Seven Fishes 
Like I said, no meat on Christmas Eve! Instead, for us Italians, we’re supposed to eat fish and some families go all out. The tradition comes from the Catholic practice of abstaining from meat on holy days. The feast usually has seven different seafood concoctions, but some families do even more. I happen to love fish, so that’s fine by me. Nom!

St. Lucia’s Day
December 13th is St. Lucia’s Day. In Scandinavia, girls dress up wearing white and wear a crown of candles in their hair (Lucia means light, after all). Towns have processions and the Lucias visit churches, hospitals and senior homes with fresh baked buns and biscuits. There are other Yuletide festivities the Scandinavians have that I admire, like glogg, or mulled wine. I did my first attempt at making it myself this year at the BiblioSmiles holiday party. Luckily, it was a success!

Christmas Pickle 
Okay, so this one is attributed to the Germans, but it’s really just all us Americans being weird. A pickle tree ornament is hidden on the Christmas tree, and whoever finds the pickle is supposed to win some award. Why a pickle? I don’t know. Nearly every tradition doesn’t make sense if you think about it.

La Befana 
Another Italian goody. I like this story because it’s not overly saccharine, the way a lot of our Christmas stories are.  Befana is an old Italian woman who brings gifts to children on Epiphany Eve (January 5). One of the legends say that the three magi took shelter in her home before continuing on their journey, and asked Befana to come with them. She declined, but then changed her mind and set out after them, bringing with her gifts to see the new baby. But she hasn’t been able to find them, so she gives gifts to good children, and coal instead to the naughty ones. Sometimes she sweeps the floor before she leaves. Which is a lot different than gobbling up cookies and milk.

Kentucky Fried Chicken
If you want to celebrate Christmas in Japan, then you have to get in your orders for fried chicken. Some people reserve their KFC barrels up to two months in advance. Apparently, the story goes, is that it was impossible for expats to find turkey in Japan for Christmas day. So, fried chicken was the logical solution. And from there, everyone wanted to welcome in Christmas with KFC. (I still think I’m just going to leave out cookies and milk)

I hope your holiday traditions are equally wonderful (and possibly a little strange, though nothing is so strange as the pooping log)! Enjoy your holidays, hug your loved ones, and find a little peace, before we plunge into the new year.

Love always,
Gabriele

Inspiration 12.21.14

Happy Christmas Week! (And Hanukkah and Kwanza and the Winter Solstice, which is actually today, so really, I ought to be saying Happy Yule, right?) I’ve always had trouble with the shortest day of the year. When I was little, I was in an after-school gifted enrichment program at another district. When we went to go home, the buses would be lined up out front in random order. It was dark, because of the earlier sunsets, and I wouldn’t be able to read the school names on the sides of the buses. I always raced up and down, my heart pounding, as I tried to find the Byram Hills bus. I was terrified of being left behind!

These days, I try not to get unsettled by the shorter days. There’s loveliness in them too. In cuddling by the fire, slowing down, and taking time indoors to be with yourself and your loved ones, instead of racing around outside. Make some tea, pick a nice book, and breathe. We’ve made it through another year, hopefully with some amazing people by our sides. How lucky are we

Have a wonderful holiday, whatever you celebrate. Enjoy the links!

  1. I always try to bake a million things during the holidays. These gluten free cookies look like candy canes!
  2. Speaking of food, these 15 international holiday delicacies seem rather adventurous
  3. XOJane has a gift guide for ‘weird people’. I guess all I know are weird people because these gifts are SO perfect for the people in my life
  4. NPR has a super cool, super interactive best books list of 2014
  5. What a Jewish mother would have to say of the Disney princes
  6. Another brilliant gift guide! Thirty dreamy gifts for witches, magpies, gym bunnies and domestic goddesses
  7. Or… if you’re more the DIY type, this light-up terrarium is beautiful

Have a very happy week.

Love always,
Gabriele

Liebster Award

Whoa! Here on my little forgotten, hidden corner of the internet, I was given a Liebster award by the lovely Chelsea of Time is No Enemy. Chelsea is a fantastic blogger, with a genuine heart and passion for writing. And we both went to the same crazy arts school! I love her posts – they never fail to be clever, genuine, and quirky. She’s becoming a great interwebs friend of mine, and everyone should check out her blog too!

liebster award logo

What is the Liebster Award?
The Liebster Award was created to recognize new bloggers and welcome them to the blogosphere. In German, Liebster is a term of endearment, meaning basically dearest, sweetest, nicest, beloved, et al. When so many of us feel like perhaps we’re writing into the abyss, the Liebster Award is such a lovely gesture! Thank you so much, Chelsea! I often feel like quitting this blog, but the bits of encouragement I receive from you and others makes me keep going! Even if what I do here is just pointless rambling.

For the Liebster Award, I must answer 11 questions (I realize now that I answered the wrong ones… oops). 

1. Why did you start blogging?
Well. My first blog was a Xanga in middle school, along with an actual spiral notebook that I wrote in at school and was passed around by my friends, so they could read my documentation of our antics. I loved the sense of community and camaraderie from sharing our stories. I’ve had several blogs since then, and I keep this one going to keep pursuing that thread of connectivity that I think all humans have. I’m an odd one.

2. What inspired or influence you to write initially?
Oh gosh. I’ve always written. Even before I could actually write, I was inventing stories for my Barbies and legos and things. My other friends wanted to just dress up Barbies. I… learned about the Salem Witch Trials at a young age and decided to hold one for my Barbie dolls. Sigh. Clearly, I was all on track to grow up into Wednesday Addams. What happened?

But yes. I was always writing little stories in the margins of my class notes, or daydreaming entire worlds. I love stories. I think storytelling has always been a part of the human experience, since we were all cavemen smearing paint on rock walls.

3. Why did you choose the name of your blog?
This blog was supposed to keep my journalism gene alive, and be more of a series of interviews with people I met on their bucket lists. Hence, Brilliant Buckets! But I’ve gotten lazy with the interviews and it’s turned into pontifications on the weird flotsam in my mind.

New year’s resolution is to start up the interviews! 😛 Be less fearful! Ask for interviews!

4. What do you want to achieve with your blog?
I want to understand other people, I want to know their stories. Journalism intrigued me for that very reason! There are so many lives on this planet, and each of them different, each of them a world unto themselves. Neil Gaiman put it best:

“Everybody has a secret world inside of them. I mean everybody. All of the people in the whole world, I mean everybody — no matter how dull and boring they are on the outside. Inside them they’ve all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds… Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands, maybe.”

5. What is your greatest achievement?
Um. I’m fairly impressed I’ve even just survived to the age of 23. I suppose I’m very proud of how well I did in college, and that I managed to survive a monthlong trip to Europe without any real grownups. (Because, at 22, I obviously didn’t count as one).

In terms of writing, it’s definitely NaNoWriMo! Hitting that 50k is like winning an Olympic gold medal.

6. What has been your biggest challenge?
I’m terrible at standing up for myself, though I gladly stand up for others. I have a perfectionist streak and sometimes I become so overcome with weighing all the possibilities, that I become paralyzed by indecision. That’s something I really try to work on.

7. What is your biggest fear?
To do more harm than good. To lose my creativity, my imagination, my curiosity in the world.

8. What is your dream?
I think I have too many. But. My overarching dream, that will make me die happy, is to have helped someone. I want to make a difference in someone’s life. When I was younger, these were more drastic dreams like rescuing victims of human trafficking, girls in countries where they aren’t allowed to read, even children here in bad situations. I got seriously, overly upset reading about their suffering. I still do. But I’ll be happy if I help someone, somewhere. I know I can’t save the entire world.

At least, not until my superpowers kick in.

9. How do you want to be remembered by people?
As someone who was kind, who genuinely believed in other people, and tried to help them. Oh gosh. I really have turned into a Hufflepuff.

10. What did you want to be when you grew up?
I wanted to be everything when I was little! Seriously. I was like Barbie – girl has basically EVERY career, why couldn’t I? But I have wanted to be a writer since I was in elementary school. Hopefully something comes of that one day.

11. What is your favorite post on your blog and why? (Be sure to link to it so we can check it out!)
Oh no. I’m so indecisive. I don’t even have a favorite pair of socks. Well, maybe I do.

Were 11 questions enough? Nope! The Liebster Award also prompts me to spew off 11 random facts about myself. Just in case you weren’t bored yet of hearing about my life. 

1. My first love as a toddler was Barney the dinosaur. My mom wasn’t as enamored as me, and gave my Barney plushie to the dog when I wasn’t looking. D:

2. I’m really, really made uncomfortable by the existence of jellyfish. I don’t think they should exist.

3. I’m 25% German (Rhinelands), 25% Irish (Cork/Waterford), 50% Italian (Sicilian/Napolitano) and 100% awesome. Or at least I try.

4. My mom was going to name me Anastasia, but at the last second, wanted me to have a more ‘vengeful’ name, as she puts it. I could totally be an angel wielding a sword of fire.

5. I can’t pronounce ‘th’s unless I concentrate. Instead, they sound like ‘ds’. I hate the number 33 because of this. Also, some words, I have to entirely avoid. The words ‘thong’ and ’thick’ ends up being something a tad different.

6. I’m convinced JK Rowling based Dolores Umbridge on my 4th grade teacher, or that Dolores Umbridge escaped Azkaban and now works in suburban New York, crushing the souls of children

7. My first website (Geocities!) was when I was 8 or 9. It was a fan-site for the game Babyz.

8. I’m addicted to chewing gum, and was nearly beside myself when the only gum I found in France and Italy were chiclets, not sticks.

9. Despite being an upper-middle class white girl, I received a merit scholarship that emphasized diversity from one of my universities

10. My ultimate Pokemon team would entirely comprised of Eevee evolutions. Except, I’m still waiting on an Eevee that can use Fly.

11. I’ve been mistaken for a mannequin before. Three times. It was awkward.

And here are my three nominations for Liebster Award!

My Life After Purchase
Kim’s stories and wry observations always have me laughing. Like me, she’s trying to figure out what the heck post-college life is supposed to be. While she doesn’t post nearly enough (nudge, nudge, hint, hint), every time I get a notification from her blog, it totally makes my day. Kim and I were roommates (kickbutt journalism cohorts) in college, and her writing has always been accessible, clever, and laugh-out-loud funny.

Léna’s Lit Life 
Léna inspires me every day! She is incredible and does so much good in the world already! Léna is a writer who has led one of the most interesting lives of anyone I’ve ever met. She’s written a YA book, and now she leads Writopia Lab Westchester and Fairfield. She motivates young writers and helps them find their voice, and she tackles everything in her life with her endless enthusiasm, wit, and cheer.

Sincerely, Sara 
Sara isn’t a new blogger, but she’s definitely an amazing one. She has an enviable sense of style and fashion, and also attended my alma mater! I love her creativity and dedication to her blog. She always finds the cutest, quirky things that I instantly need in my life. My absolute favorites are her outfit posts inspired by literature. She’s also an extremely friendly blogger, and always makes me feel welcomed in the blogosphere.

If you choose to accept my nomination, then YOU must follow these rules:

1) Acknowledge and accept the Liebster Award by leaving a comment on the blog that nominated you.
2) Copy and paste the Liebster logo onto your blog.
3) Link back to the blogger who nominated you.
4) Answer the 11 questions posed to you by the person who nominated you.
5) List 11 random facts about yourself.
6) Nominate and link to 3—11 other blogs you enjoy that have less than 3000 followers.
7) List 11 questions for your Liebster Award nominees on your blog.
8) Inform your nominees by leaving a comment on their blog.

Nominees, here are your questions! (Or you could do what I mistakenly did, and answer same questions of the person who nominated you)

1) Why did you start your blog?
2) How do you define happiness?
3) If you could live anywhere, where would it be and what would you be doing?
4) What does an average day look like?
5) What makes you smile?
6) Beverage of choice?
7) Any weird writing quirks or routines?
8) Who are your inspirations?
9) When did you start writing?
10) What is your biggest fear?
11) In 10 years, where do you want to be?

Have fun!

Love always,
Gabriele

Inspiration 12.14.14

Hope you’ve had a restful weekend! Last night, we rang in my friend’s 21st birthday in a Midtown bar. We just didn’t happen to realize the day coincided with Santacon, so there were plenty of stumbling Santas, reindeer, elves, penguins, and even a gingerbreadman. It was so lovely to catch up with some of my friends that I haven’t seen since summer! Even though we all technically live so close, we’re all so very busy as we try to figure out adulthood.

I stayed over at my fabulous aunt’s, and enjoyed a warm December Sunday in the city (avoiding the Christmas crowds, for the most part!). But that’s something I love about cities – you can just dart down a side road, an alley, a nook and cranny, and you’ll find your own little slice of peace away from the chaos.

Here are some links to read before the new week!

  • I miss this Italian dessert so much! Luckily this gluten-free version exists
  • Jo’s quirky friend gift guide is full of fantastic picks
  • Or this gift guide for bookworms… I really just like gift guides okay?
  • Speaking of books, Sara put together these amazing outfits based on the classics
  • In case any of my Hanukkah homies are feeling left out, these homemade jelly donuts are on my cooking list
  • As the year comes to a close, it’s important to think about the sort of people we want to become
  • And a fascinating look at the dual lives of people with mental illness

Have a wonderful week!

Love always,
Gabriele

Mad scientist? How about mad baker?

This is part of my new hobby series, all about exploring new hobbies. Because bucket list items don’t just have to be one-time things. They can be a big part of cultivating your own personal growth – check out my post before, on Tea

It’s cold. You’re bored and don’t want to go outside. But what’s there to do when the weather outside is frightful, your car is buried in a foot of snow, and you’ve already melted your mind on a Netflix binge?

Baking! Anyone can bake. Baking is a science – so really, if you follow the recipe, you should be able to make a pretty passable chocolate chip cookie. Trust me – being able to cook or bake is a great skill and hobby.

In high school, I became renowned among my friends for my chocolate cake cookies, and my cupcakes that had Malibu rum flavored frosting (just a teaspoon! Totally non-alcoholic, I swear). I’ve made gingerbread men, rainbow cookies, a Easter Lamb cake, scones, pies of every kind, puff pastry, rainbow cake, donuts, and pretzels. And you can too!

I bake things

Lamb cake, rainbow cookies, Friendlys copycat monster mash, and glazed donut holes!

But seriously. Baking kicks butt. You’ll always have a gift at the ready, for the holidays, a party, just whenever. Baking, for some reason, really impresses people. Once if it looks pretty, and twice over if it tastes awesome (aim for tasty over pretty, though). I absolutely suck at every other type of craftiness, but I can bake! You’ll feel like Walter White when you pull a delicious Baked Alaska out of your oven.

Start off by EXACTLY following recipes. But throw our your mixes. Those are for the uncultured masses. Follow recipes, and go for more and more intense ones. Slowly, you can start experimenting. One thing to note is not to replace/substitute everything so that it’s a completely different recipe. One of my dear friends in high school was fond of doing this – she made brownies once that more resembled sticky bits of tar. (But we ate them anyway, because we loooooved her)

And I’m not exempt from cooking mistakes either. Oh lord, nope. My mom will pretty much eat anything I make, no matter how awful it is (because she loooooves me). Or, well, there’s the dogs, if it’s not something covered in chocolate.

But one time, we were having friendsgiving in college. I decided to make pumpkin pie! Easy-peasy. Well. Usually. I sort of, kind of, forgot the sugar. I think my friends ended up just pouring sugar right on it and eating it like that.

So, don’t be afraid of mistakes. Which is good advice for how you approach life in general.

more baking!

Mickey mouse pancakes, rainbow cake, pumpkin pie, and chocolate cupcakes! Nom!

Now, if you’re me, you’re already starting off on Advanced Mode. Gluten-free and allergies are game changers. I know people allergic to eggs, to corn, to sugar, to soy, to apples, to everything under the sun, and probably the sun itself. Luckily, there are a zillion blogs out there for every allergy. Let nothing get in the way of your baking mission.

And I’ll give you my secret about cooking gluten-free. Buy a little kitchen scale. Trust me – people in Europe do it! And don’t you want to be classy as Europeans? You can’t just use one gluten-free flour and substitute it cup for cup. That’s a good way for your cookies to come out of the oven like hockey pucks. You either need a mix, or to make your own, which is usually what I do.

A cup is 140g, so usually I weigh out 90g of white/brown rice flour, and the remaining 50g should be a starch, like potato, tapioca, or corn. Then follow the rest of the recipe as usual. What’s awesome is that many recipe sites are starting to write their recipes with weight instructions.

You can play around with other flours and add-ins. It seems like anything can be made into a flour. Sorghum, quinoa, almonds, pebbles (well, maybe not). Xanthin gum acts like gluten, so it’s good for breads. Coconut flour is super high in protein, but it’s a thirsty flour, and needs more liquids and eggs to compensate. Try everything! Experiment!

Here are some of my absolute favorite recipe sites if you need inspiration:
Foodgawker
Gluten Free on a Shoestring
Gluten Free Canteen
Beard and Bonnet
Smitten Kitchen (not gluten free!)

Get cooking!

Love always,
Gabriele

Inspiration 12.07.14

It’s Christmas 7th! December may be my favorite month. I love all the Yule time celebrations. Speaking of, I really think we should just turn the entire month back to its pagan roots.  It could be a worldwide Midwinter bacchanal of drinking and celebration, complete with big bonfires and whatnot. Though we can skip the animal sacrifices. Seriously – I think the whole feeling of the holidays shouldn’t have to be bound by any religion! Goodwill should be universal. And all those Christmas songs too.

I spent the week thinking up my Secret Santa present, seeing friends, hearing some very talented writers read, and blasting Christmas music every chance I had (it’s okay to do that when you’re not being forced to listen to it, i.e. working in retail).

Hope your holiday season is merry and bright!

Have a charming week!

Love always,
Gabriele