How to Talk to People

I have friends who worry that they are incapable of making new friends. Or they fret that they’ll have absolutely nothing to talk about when they go on dates. They believe themselves to be awkward and dull, with nothing to offer of interest.

I am far from an extrovert, but what I do have is endless amounts of curiosity. I want to know the insides of people’s minds, the fluctuations of their hearts, the secrets in their souls. I’ve probably quoted this before, but I absolutely love this Neil Gaiman quote:

“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.” 

Being a journalism major was such an amazing thing for me, because it meant I always had an excuse or reason to go out and talk to people, and prod at their brains. (Not literally, of course, for that I would’ve had to be pre-med).

So, for you awkward special snowflakes, I present the “Gaby Way to Talk to Anyone and Absolutely Everyone”.

Dressing wacky? Also a good conversation starter. Or a way to scare people off. You choose.

Do you dress wacky? Also a good conversation starter. Or a way to scare people off. You choose.

Ask random questions
There are a few questions in my arsenal that I’m always curious to know. What is your desert island meal, the things you would eat if you could only have one meal for the rest of your life? What would your super power be? And of course, because I’m a nerd, what is one of your favorite books?

Seek out their knowledge
Never believe you are the smartest person in a room. There is almost always something to learn from the people around you. They are an expert on something. What is it? Underwater basket weaving? Did they go through a crazy childhood as a circus nomad? Meet a celebrity and have a completely unexpected experience? Find out. Talk about it. Ask about it.

And share your own experiences and knowledge! Keep that dialogue going.

Explore mutual interests
You may have found out some of these through your random questions. Even if you seem like total and complete opposites, there’s probably something shared between you two. Pro-tip, people like complaining. Commiserate over the terrible winter we just had. It did suck, didn’t it? (See, it works!)

Know your current events
So, this actually requires you to be interested in the world too. Find out what’s going on. Even if it’s just about Brangelina adopting another child, know something current and relevant. Read the news or watch an unbiased source. Then ask people what they think. What’s their opinion? People want to be heard more than anything.

At the crux of all this advice, the main points are to be genuine and curious. It’s not about you. That sounds harsh. I mean, if all goes well, they’ll be interested in knowing more about you too, but view each person as an infinite universe and you’re Spaceman Spiff, Captain Kirk, the Doctor, Luke Skywalker, etc etc.

I’ll leave you with one more quote, because I am addicted to words. Just keep this attitude and you’ll be fine:

Do you know, in nine hundred years of time and space, I’ve never met anyone who wasn’t important before?” – the Doctor

Love always,
Gabriele

My Unofficial Resume

I believe everyone should have to work a retail or service job at least once in their lives. It teaches you to be a better person. So you don’t end up like the lady who came into Williams Sonoma, stood by herself in a corner in the back of the store for five minutes, and then started screaming, literally screaming that no one was helping her. I was like, lady, I don’t even work here.

Or just like any of those other people who clearly failed preschool and didn’t learn how to be polite, functional members of society.

Luckily for me, I have done several of these sort of jobs.

Read on for why I was dressed like this!

Read on for why I was dressed like this!

My first ‘real’ job was at a nail salon in my town that has now closed. I worked at children’s parties at the salon, where I was paid under the table because pesky child labor laws don’t let you work until you’re 14 in my state. We gave the little girls mini-facials, manicures, and pedicures. After, we tarted them up like beauty queen contestants with make-up from a wide pallet of eyeshadows/lip-glosses. Just to bring it back down to a child’s level, at the end, we spun them around in a chair and sprinkled them with glitter aka fairy dust. It’s a testament to my town that some of these kids, 4 years old at most, would demand, “Just buff my nails, no polish”, or “Oh, I want a French”.

The best part of that job was getting to eat leftover cake. Even if I did always leave covered in more glitter than a Las Vegas showgirl.

I was a hostess at my local pizzeria for a brief stint. The customers were nice enough but man, the other employees. Most of the waiters and waitresses were fine. Most. There’s one story that’s totally unrepeatable for this blog, or even for, well life. But it goes along the line of the other experiences of the manager and one waiter creeping on us hostesses although we were only sixteen and seventeen. Eww.

I was a camp counselor for five summers, which comes with its own slew of stories. As a head counselor for two of those, and assistant head for another, there was a lot of drama that ended up at my feet. The girl who bit off the tip of her tongue diving into the swimming pool. The boy who had mental handicaps that his parents neglected to tell us about, and just casually walked into the 12-foot deep section of the pool without knowing how to swim. And the lifeguards weren’t paying attention so one of my counselors dove in and scooped him out.

The kid that brought a knife on a field trip. He threatened the trip director with it when she wouldn’t give him more tokens for games. And when his mother was called in, she asked us why we were handing out knives at camp. Right, lady. It was our knife, sure. Then there was the Magic guy we had to fire for taking pictures of the kids. The pool director who was likely a Nazi in a past life and used to shout at kids until they cried if they wanted to get out of the pool. Of course, there were good kids there too, amazing kids and that’s what kept me there for five years.

During one of those summers, I did a job promotional modeling where I handed out sprigs of lavender and coupons at the mall, while wearing a beret. I had to affect a fake French accent and I was uh… pretty terrible. And then for a couple of years, I was a brand ambassador for Nespresso, which was pretty amazing and fun. Luckily, working out of higher-end stores spared me from most of the crazies.

Babysitting too, should count toward my humbling life experiences. Beyond changing diapers and negotiating bedtimes, there were some truly trying times. But dealing with tyrannical toddlers has prepared for life in the real world. When else will I have to scurry after a four-year-old who doesn’t want to go to bed? Drag up him the staircase as he tries to hold onto the bannister? Or, there was the seven-year-old whose idea of playing lacrosse was lobbing balls at me and hitting me in the shins. Or the kids who played “real-life fruit ninja”, in which they wielded a knife and attempted to stab at fruit they tossed in the air. (I loved those last ones though! They were awesome, just gave me a heart attack with the keenness for weaponry).

Ahh… Good times, good times. These jobs were some great training for being human. They taught me quick thinking, and negotiation, and how truly, deeply crazy some people are.

Love always,
Gabriele

Reasons to Go to Iceland. Now.

Right now, I’m battling serious cabin fever and trying to plan my next trip! It’s making me reflect about my first trip, too, and all the amazing places I saw. Upon graduating college, I decided I just had to go abroad before beginning a life of corporate servitude. So a few months before, I looked online for the cheapest flight to Europe, which led me to a flight to Reykjavik for $250. With a final click and total disregard for making a logical decision, it was set. I was going to Iceland.

Before I left, I hardly knew anything about the island nation. It was cold there, right? And… there were reindeer maybe? After my time there, I can’t wait to go back. Here’s why you need to go too.

My lovely safari buddy, Jes and I, staying warm in Iceland!

My lovely safari buddy, Jes and I, staying warm in Iceland!

The People
There is virtually no crime in Iceland. Generally, Icelanders are down-to-earth, friendly people. It’s pretty cool also, how their naming conventions work. If your father’s name is Robert, you would either be Hans Robertsson or Hana Robertsdottir. Nearly everyone knows each other. The hostel I stayed at (Bus Hostel) was run by a group of kind, awesome, fun people, who barbecued traditional Icelandic food for us, and came along to an impromptu viking wedding.

The Beauty
From the moment your plane touches down in Keflavik Airport, you’re transported to another planet. The ground is warbled, frozen lava covered in moss that has taken hundreds of years to grow. Aside from that, there’s a glacier you can visit (and where all the drinking water comes from). Oh, and two waterfalls, and a spouting geyser. And plenty of fluffy sheep and adorable hairy horses that only live in Iceland.

But nature itself isn’t the only beauty there. Reykjavik is dotted with colorful Scandinavian buildings in all the colors of the rainbow. Even the graffiti is pretty. Downtown Reykjavik is full of artsy shops and restaurants. There’s a stunning grey church in the center of the city that stretches up into the heavens, Hallgrímskirkja, made to resemble basalt lava flows. Man. American churches need to step up their game.

The Nightlife
I learned exactly two words when I was in Iceland, “Skaal!’ and “Takk!” What do these mean? Drink! And thank you! There you are. You have everything you need to know to get by in Iceland. This is especially fun in summer, when the sun only sets for an hour or so, and it never really gets dark. You’ll think it’s maybe 9 pm when you get outside. Hah. Just kidding, it’s 4 am. Stumble back to your hostel, you crazy kid.

Penis Museum
Yes. This exists.

The Northern Lights
Come in winter and even though you’ll be freezing your toes off, you can at least die happy knowing you’ve seen Aurora Borealis, the beautiful natural phenomena that ripples across the arctic sky.

or… The Summer Solstice
Fun fact. You can drive along the perimeter of the entire country in one day. Many people attempt to do this on the summer solstice, which is the one day of the year that the sun doesn’t set below the horizon. Still, leave your shorts at home. Iceland only gets into the 50s (Fahrenheit) during the summer. You’ll at least need a light jacket. If you’re continuing to the rest of Europe, this is the time to get creative with your packing.

The Hot Springs
How do you think they survive those winters otherwise? Instead of going to your local Starbucks to catch up, Icelanders head to the nearest hot spring, which are municipal and wonderfully cheap. But, if you feel like being pampered, grab a bus to the Blue Lagoon. The water is a pale, milky blue that’s out of this world. Your body disappears beneath the surface of the almost glowing water.

The Viking Festival was my favorite! I snagged a little miniature of this cool guy

The Viking Festival was my favorite! I snagged a little miniature of this cool guy

The Vikings
Okay, so there aren’t really actual Vikings in Iceland. But there is at least one Viking priest who I saw do an awesome wedding. And a Viking festival every year in Hafnarfjordur, which totally beats the local Renaissance Faire. If watching a bunch of people dressed up like Vikings bludgeoning each other isn’t fun, I don’t  know what is.

Cash, no, credit is king
You’ll be hard pressed to find a place in Iceland that doesn’t accept credit cards. The taxis all accept credit cards, the restaurants, even the little hot dog stand. This is great, so you don’t have to worry about exchanging your money. Though, definitely get your hands on some Icelandic krona to take home as souvenirs!

The Hot Dog stand
Yes, for a country where you can try whale, puffin, lamb, or any other Icelandic traditional food, I am advising you to dine at Iceland’s famous hot dog eatery, Baejarins Beztu Pylsur. This is likely the only time in your life where you’ll have hot dogs made partially with lamb, topped with fried onions, ketchup, sweet relish, and mustard. This is a favorite spot of local Icelanders, and even Bill Clinton has indulged. You will be eating the same hot dog the president ate. In Iceland.

So what do you think? Ready to head over and get your inner viking on? Iceland’s waiting. Take me with you, too.

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: Tis the season to be nice

I mean, technically, you should strive to be kind everyday. But it’s like, even if we’re grownups, we feel the need to be a little nicer around the holidays, as if Santa is still watching us and we may end up with coal in our stockings instead of a shiny new toy (or iPad or pair of socks or whatever you’re desiring this year).

I believe in random acts of kindness. And this month, I’m challenging myself to go over the top with it.

Let’s be good to one another.

Here are some of my ideas, that I’ll be attempting to try as my countdown to Xmas, to make the holiday season a little more jolly. There’s one for each day of December, sort of my own advent calendar. I’ll be sure to update you all on how it all goes.

1. Give a homeless person a Dunkin Donuts gift card or a package of necessities (toothbrush, soap, toothpaste, mittens, etc)

2. Fill up some parking meters (Note: I think this is technically illegal, but I think so was half the stuff Jesus did at the time and no one ever bothers him about it)

3. Volunteer! Animal shelters, senior housing, soup kitchens. You can make a difference.

4. Operation Christmas – buy a present for a kid who might not otherwise get one (Churches are great with this)

5. Pay for the person behind you at a drive-thru or on line (side note, Westchester needs more drive-thru cafes)

6. Write a letter or send a care package to our troops

7. Call up someone who misses you (You know there’s someone out there you’re neglecting)

8. Give someone a random, genuine compliment

9. Give a big tip at a restaurant or to your taxi driver

10. Forgive. Someone cut you off? Forgive them. Barista gave you vanilla instead of pumpkin spice? Forgive. Let it all wash off you

11. Clean out your closet and give your hardly-ever-worn clothes to charity

12. Likewise, donate some of your old books to the library

13. Leave notes of kindness in places that people will find them (in books, on tables, on car windshields – except they’ll be panicking it’s a ticket first)

14. Smile at someone who looks like they need it

15. Bring a random treat/gift to someone (coworkers, classmates, parents)

16. Listen to someone who needs a kind ear and don’t offer advice (unless asked) or judgment; just listen. Seven Cups of Tea is a great place to volunteer a tiny bit of your time to this!

17. Donate to your favorite charity or nonprofit organization you believe in (and check this website to make sure they’re a reputable charity)

18. Make a conscious choice to recycle and/or pick up litter. Be kind to the earth too!

19. Write/reach out to someone who made a difference in your life and thank them

20. Put in a good word for someone. We all need help sometimes

21. Give someone your undivided attention (put down the phone!)

22. Say thank you to someone who probably doesn’t hear it enough but deserves to (a janitor, a mail person, etc)

23. Say sorry to that person you’ve been avoiding apologizing to

24. Collect the spare change in your couch cushions and donate it (even if just to your local coffee tip jar)

25. Bring back the shopping cart to where it’s supposed to go. You know what sucks? Collecting shopping carts from a parking lot that are scattered in fifty billion places. You know what sucks more? Doing that in December. Don’t be that person.

26. Leave a nice review for a product or service that you have benefitted from

27. Do a chore that you know someone else hates having to do

28. Buy locally or from a small, independent business

29. Shut down gossip. Let’s all avoid that irresistible poison for a month. Try playing devil’s advocate for a month and show sympathy. After all, Plato said, ‘be kind, everyone’s fighting a hard battle’.

30. Drop quarters on the ground for people to find. (Kids especially! Don’t you remember feeling rich when you found change as a child?)

31. Be a friend to someone who seems lonely. Because, you know, we all get by with a little help from our friends

 

What do you think? Do you have any ideas for more random acts of kindness?

Love always,
Gabriele

The Sniffles

Sick. Ever since I both got the flu and triggered my body into loathing gluten in one shot, I detest being sick. My body is a temple and in the words of Gandalf, YOU [evil pathogens] SHALL NOT PASS. Usually this deters most of the sniffles and sneezes that come my way.

But, sometimes even my mental Gandalf isn’t enough. Like right now. I am in the throes of my first cold this year. Luckily, I am prepared. And I’m going to share the wisdom with you, so you too are ready to throw the germs into Mordor.

Sick Gaby is Sad Gaby

A young Gaby bundled up to hide from the germs

Hydrate
Drink lots of water. Then more water. Make an entire pot of tea and share it with no one. Make sure to drink it when it still feels like liquid fire, to burn the nasties out of your sinuses and back to hell where they came from. And then there’s the secret weapon, which takes three steps:

1. Squeeze a lemon into a giant mug
2. Pour in hot water
3. Sprinkle in some cayenne pepper
4. Drink up, and pretend each burning flake of pepper is a bomb dropped on the germs

Raw Garlic
Okay. I see most of you cringing. BUT THIS WORKS. Or it’s the placebo effect. Idk. But apparently, aside from keeping away vampires (and anyone who might want to kiss you), raw garlic is antibacterial, anti-fungal, antiviral, anti-BEING SICK panacea. Smash a clove or two. Chop it up all finely, scatter it on your veggies or rice or protein source. I’ll warn you, raw garlic burns. But that’s the magical fires of garlic on its way to incinerate your cold. 

Stay in bed
For those of us whose brains don’t have an off-switch, this is the hardest part. If you don’t have a job to get to, spend a day burrowing into your blankets. Don’t work out, don’t drag yourself out into the cold. Keep your body put, so that it can focus on getting better. This leads into my next point…

Watch TV. Binge on it
I actually have trouble watching tv. I get bored. Reading is more stimulating, but when I’m sick, my brain shuts down and refuses to do any heavy lifting. Last year, I watched the first two seasons of New Girl during my annual horrible cold. This year, I’ve got my eyes on Parks and Recreation. Make sure it’s silly and not too taxing. (I totally recommend My Mad Fat Diary!) 

Drugs
Alright. Time to bring out the big guns. Reacquaint yourself with your friends, Sudafed, Benadryl, and Mr. NyQuil. Maybe even invite EmergenC. It’s a cocktail party and everyone’s welcome. A drug cocktail party. 

Whine
Eh. Sometimes you just need to bemoan your faith like the trapped four-year-old we all have inside us. This often results in me making “why me” and “alas, my body has betrayed me” and other various noises at my dogs (or whichever unfortunate member of my family happens to be around). This usually only lasts til the drugs kick in, but is quite cathartic, all the same. 

Of course, prevention is always the best. If you exercise regularly, you reduce your chances of getting sick. Eat your veggies. Wash those hands, keep Purell handy. Subtly edge away from any sick folks near your sacred bubble. And you know, secretly plot to move far away to a tropical island where winter and getting colds are both myths.

Love always,
Gabriele

Tea Time

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. 

According to Snapple facts, “an average of three billion cups of tea are consumed daily worldwide.”

This means that five billion people on the planet do NOT get to drink a cuppa during their day. And that, is a travesty and a tragedy. You see, tea makes everything better. Feeling under the weather? Drink some tea. It’s gross and bleary and so nasty out that you’re considering relocating to a tropical island? Well, have some tea. Already happy and cheerful? Have some more tea anyway. Stay hydrated, kiddies.

So how to go about finding your tea groove?

My grandma wasn’t fancy about hers. She made Lipton on a kettle on the stove that gave a shrill cry when it was ready. She served it milky, in porcelain cups balanced on saucers, and with cookies that crumbled in your mouth after you gave them a good dunk. Oh, tea is such a comfort. While I could never turn my back on coffee, there is something self-soothing about waking up with a cup of tea instead.

Tea time!

I’m all about the tea in November, when it’s National Novel Writing Month

And sure you can be hoity-toity about it. I went to school with a guy who was a big connoisseur of tea, and of spending money on dried plants in general. Still, it was lovely one day when I was sitting out in our complex’s quad with my roommate and he came out with a fresh brew of this delicious pomegranate black tea. We had a little tea party right there out on the grass. It’s such an easy way to pamper oneself.

But where to start? There are so many different flavors! I’ll give you a bit of a my likely inaccurate assessment of teas, to take you beyond just the Lipton teabags.

Earl Grey tea saw me through my trip to Europe, and when I came back, it was all that I wanted. I bemoaned our American culture of paper cups and rushing through everything. Was it too much to ask, to take the time for a proper tea cup?

Irish Breakfast is hearty. Green or White tea makes you feel healthy, like you could be one of those fabulously fit people who have yoga-themed Instagram accounts. Oolong is slightly whacko. Roiboos is even more so. Chai tea tastes nothing like a chai tea latte so be prepared for disappointment. (Or arm yourself with a LOT of sugar)

Herbal teas are good to mix things up and silly, and technically not tea, but hush, don’t ruin my fun. Chamomile is calming, but I overdid it with it years ago, so now I find it terribly boring.

Cinnamon Apple Spice will destroy your tea tin. It will infect all of your other tea bags with a faint taste of cinnamon and lies. Leave that vile stuff far, far away.

Where to buy your tea? Teavana is overpriced and basically the IKEA of teas. Don’t start there. I like to go to my local foreign/ethnic markets and peruse the different kinds they have. And there are some odd things out there that people have thought, “Hmm, let’s throw this into hot water for a bit and drink whatever leeches out.”

Like dandelion root. St. John’s Wort, which is allegedly, a natural antidepressant. My friend and I once conspired a way to sneak it into her crazy mother’s diet, but alas, our plans never fully steeped.

People can get extreme about any hobby, and tea is no exception. You can get the swankest metal pots. You can take the temperature of your water, time your steeping to the millisecond, and only use the loose leaves.

But you don’t have to. Just take comfort in your cup. Let it be a moment of tranquility. A moment to breathe. A moment of taking care of yourself. Just sip, and let the warmth chase away the winter inside of you. It’s easy. It’s reclaiming a space, one small moment that is devoid of the technology and the hubbub that clogs our lives.

And it’s lovely.

And if you want to read your tea leaves, well, silly superstitious me, certainly isn’t going to judge you. Just be sure to invite me over for a cup, too.

Love always,
Gabriele