The friend I’m about to feature is one of my nearest and dearest. Jenn and I met many moons ago, at my first “real” job at a little local book shop, and I recently realized we’ve been friends for more than half my life.
Jenn has the kind of talent that makes me feel like Will Ferrell in Elf when he realizes Santa is coming to Gimbel’s.
On Monday, my manager, Karla, and I enjoyed lunch during one of our biweekly check-ins. After covering business, we dug into fun stories from our personal lives. We laughed, I finished my tray of warm, delicious bhindi masala, and left her office with, as usual, a skip in my step. Life is grand!
When I returned to her office later that afternoon, I noticed something strange on her desk.
“Did I do that?” I asked, horrified, picturing my steaming, fragrant lunch resting on the gleaming, elegant wood in that exact same spot just hours earlier.
Karla burst out laughing. “I wasn’t going to say anything…”
I immediately started Googling replacement desks.
Now That’s What I Call Commitment (2 of 3)
Okay. I can’t take credit for this, but I just love it.
This is a sign around the corner from my house. You know when it looked fantastic? Halloween.
Do you know when I took this picture? Yesterday.
At least they’re ready for 2019. This project manager approves.
I Just Wanted an Excuse to Post this Picture (3 of 3)
Did you know I went to Dubai in 2016? …That’s okay. Most people missed it. Even people in Dubai. A fairly last-minute meeting brought my boss and I there for a whirlwind 36-hour trip.
A fellow project manager was our tour guide and he crammed in lots of exciting stops for us. My boss was especially tickled when he took us to a restaurant called The Meat House.
At one point, he brought us to The Dubai Mall and led us towards a little kiosk. Before we knew what was happening, people were handing us shiny things, saying, “Put this on. Now hold this.”
My boss and I glanced at each other warily, but it was too late. There was no getting out of this.
Anything you’re apologizing to your coworkers for?
“I have two tickets to an acapella Christmas show at at NJPAC on Dec 1 @ 8pm. Any chance you’d go?”
Longtime readers know “anything”+ “acapella” elicits the following response from me:
Based on all of the times Babs and I had been to college acapella performances, I figured an NJPAC-worthy show would be Glee meets Pitch Perfect. I hoped they’d cover Mariah Carey, maybe a little Jackson 5, and my all-time favorite, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.
“This is going to be so fun!” we squealed over Sangria on Saturday night, the show now only an hour away. As the clock neared 8pm, we scooted past two blue-haired ladies, took our seats and opened the program.
“You said you’ve heard them before?” I whispered to Babs.
“I think so,” she replied. “On the radio.”
I looked at the song list and back at Babs, eyes as wide as Christmas saucers.
Suddenly, the lights dimmed, a hush fell over the crowd, and twelve men in full-on penguin suits (not the fun kind) solemnly formed a semi-circle, singing at an octave they probably could have heard in whatever country the decidedly-NOT-Mariah-Carey song originated.
Tears of laughter streamed down my face and my shoulders shook as I tried not to make a sound.
“I’M SO SORRY,” Babs whispered, and I snorted audibly.
Trapped in our aisle until intermission, we counted down the somber, unrecognizable songs one by one, each featuring a soloist who, while talented, sang higher than seemed safe.
As soon as the last la Navidad was warbled, we ran out of there faster than my mascara. Did I mention Stephen Colbert was interviewing Meryl Streep on the stage next door?
“Shut Your Neck, I Mean, Face Right Now” (Exhibit 2 of 3)
This next story really needs no introduction. Here’s the message I received from my manager last Friday:
“I Manne-CAN’T Believe It” (Exhibit 3 of 3)
Last Wednesday morning, I stepped into the elevator at work and secretly played my favorite “I Wonder What Floor S/He’s Getting Off On” game. As usual, I correctly predicted another “8th floor.” (When the purse matches the shoes, or the dress socks are festively patterned, it’s definitely an 8th floor.)
This time, though, when the elevator doors opened, I spotted something…unusual. A woman, sitting in a chair near the coffee machine, frozen in place. Her hair had a strange, dull luster and she stared blankly into the distance.
Is that a…is she a…?
Yes. It was a mannequin. (Excuse me, “pulse-challenged,” as we’ve been coached to say by our Diversity & Inclusion team.) Enjoying Starbucks and playing Candy Crush like any normal employee at 8am on a Wednesday. She and I proceeded to have a lengthy conversation about “the 7th floors,” and when I returned to my own floor, I asked everyone I could find:
“Did you know the robots have already taken over?”
“I think it’s a decoy,” Karla replied, scratching her new neck tattoo. “Like the fake dog cut-outs they put in fields to keep geese away. They want to stop us from going to the 8th floor and stealing the good coffee.”
That’s a solid theory, Karla. But if I need to start updating my resume, you’ll let me know, right? …Right?
“‘Cause I don’t wanna lose you now, I’m looking right at the other half of me...”
I groaned, cursing my alarm. Wednesday. I quickly swiped my phone to silent. Even Justin Timberlake couldn’t convince me 6:15am looked good on a Wednesday.
Bleary-eyed, I got into the shower, wondering what work-appropriate pants might actually be clean and still fit. As the clock neared 7:00am, I started preparing my Commuter’s Survival Kit.
I opened the fridge and reached for the half and half, suddenly pausing.
I stood there for what felt like days, vivid scenes rushing to mind, clawing for air, demanding to know how I could have been so naive. Maybe I could just go back in time and pretend everything was “normal.” What was normal? Who was I, and why did that person suddenly feel like a stranger to the woman standing in the middle of the kitchen with a twisted expression on her face?
Just hours earlier, I had watched a documentary on Netflix about healthy eating. Or so I’d thought when I’d hit play.
Instead, I’d gotten the awakening of a lifetime. My entire worldview was upended, as if learning that everyone and everything I’d ever known had been in disguise.
Puzzle pieces I’d never known I’d failed to connect suddenly formed a gruesome picture. And I was part of causing that gore.
I poured a few tablespoons of creamer into my travel mug, throwing the remainder into the garbage.
That’s it. Never again.
At lunchtime I eyed the salad bar as though I’d never seen it before. My heart was racing. I felt scared. Alone. So if I don’t have the chicken, or the eggs, or the cheese…are those grains cooked with stock? Are there any non-dairy dressings?
I loaded a plate with greens, tofu, beans, and, Ooh! Nuts! That could work…
My internet browser exploded with new tabs. Vegan Recipes. Beginner Vegan. Why No Honey? Is Wool Vegan? Can I keep my leather hiking boots?
I felt like I was in The Matrix. Except instead of staring dreamily at Keanu Reeves, I was looking at everyone around me, wondering if I’d lost my mind. “They’re eating babies!” my new, red pill-swallowing brain shouted. “BABIES!”
It was so profoundly disconcerting that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to function normally. (As if I was playing with a full deck to begin with!)
I spent the next month combating this dis-ease by learning everything I could about veganism, wondering how long it would take until someone caught on that I was ordering avocado rolls instead of my normal salmon sashimi. I had adopted the notion that no one liked vegans, and this latest epiphany triggered teenage Jules. What if no one wants to hang out with me anymore? What if everyone thinks I’m a judge-y a*shole?
I had been a vegetarian for all of my teen years, but by 19, had succumbed to latent peer pressure and returned to the Standard American Diet. At 34, I was terrified that I’d let that happen again.
The Institute for Humane Education gave me everything I’d hoped it would and more. Because two and a half years later, I’m happy to report: My vegan flag flies loud and proud. And I promise – I’m not here to convert you.
But I am here for this:
I cannot overstate the impact going vegan has had on my life, nor the lightness of heart I feel at every meal, knowing that my decisions align with my values. The real epiphany, though? Realizing my choices matter. I matter.
And we get the opportunity to express our true, loving, compassionate selves every day, through every action we take.
If you want to be a published author, for example, spend a few minutes each day picturing your books already on the shelves and, most importantly, feel how it’ll feel when you achieve that goal. Yes, also put some pen to paper today (“do what you can with what you have”), but don’t spin your wheels wondering about how to get a publisher or whether your idea has already been “done before.”
If you want a romantic partner, don’t get hung up on a specific person, just picture the kinds of things you’ll do with your dream mate and how you’ll feel when you’re together. Yes, you can add specific details like what you’re wearing -and please do!- but if you decide it’s got to be Gary from accounting, you might wind up butting heads with the universe, who’s working overtime to get you stuck in an elevator with Pete from payroll, the perfect guy for you.
When I picture where I want to be in a year, I see an active, fit, social butterfly who’s swimming in creative projects and opportunities, brave enough to say “YES!” when it counts – and “NO!” too.
While I’m trying not to get hung up on too many hows, I know it’s important to work with what I’ve got at my disposal today. For starters, I signed up for a half marathon in May, despite it having been two years since my last run. I even recruited two of the most inspiring “accountability partners” I could dream up, spanning New Jersey to Oregon, to help me get in gear:
To show them how compliant I am, I joined a gym…
…made Google docs outlining every aspect of my ideal life, started logging daily exercise, water and caloric intake…
As the final weeks of my Masters Program commence, I’ve been slacking in other areas…like the kitchen.
The good news?
It means I have some more cheap and easy go-to vegan “recipes” to share! (For more vegan food hacks, click here and here.)
1. CREAMY PUMPKIN STUFF
1 can pureed pumpkin + 1 can full fat coconut milk + 1 onion (+ other veggies if you’re feelin’ fancy) = angels singing Justin Timberlake songs
STEP ONE: Sautee a roughly chopped onion (any kind) in a saucepan over medium high heat until the onions are translucent.
STEP TWO (OPTIONAL): Add your other favorite vegetables like broccoli, cherry tomatoes, and/or baby spinach. I even added black beans to this batch!
STEP THREE: Dump in your canned pumpkin and coconut milk. Stir and let it simmer for a few minutes (it’ll likely thicken up a bit).
STEP FOUR: Season to taste. Some of my favorites with this combo include: white pepper, curry powder, garlic salt and nutmeg.
Voila! Now you can: 1) eat as is as a creamy pumpkin soup, 2) pour it over rice, gnocchi or pasta, or, 3) make a potato bowl.
1 container of any pesto-like thing + vegan protein (veggies, tofu, tempeh, etc.) = Jason Bateman being Jason Bateman-y
This new Zhoug Sauce from Trader Joe’s (pictured above) is my everything. Basically it’s a cilantro pesto, minus the cheese, with a very respectable zing.
Slather your “pesto” (however much you please!) over your vegan protein and then roast the crap out of it (for vegetables I do up to an hour, for tofu, 30 minutes, both between 350-400F, stirring or flipping halfway). The grill works great, too!
You can eat this as is…
…or hey, maybe put it on…
3. PITA PIZZAS
1 pita + your favorite toppings = frolicking baby goats in sweaters
I have so many pictures of pita pizzas, it’s bordering on concerning. (In fact, I’ve already featured them here, but they’re so easy, fun and versatile that I felt they deserved a stand-alone mention.)
Bake directly on the oven rack for 8-10 minutes @ 350F and you’re (literally) golden.
Any kind of pita should work – when I’m feeling healthy, I use whole wheat.
Speaking of healthy, for anyone counting calories, even my vegan cheese-a-rific version comes out to less than 500 calories, so it’s a fantastic alternative to any frozen pizza (serving size = 1/3 pizza? Are they kidding?).
And there you have it! A few recipes you can whip up without breaking a sweat, and still feel like you’re fully adulting!
When an experience kicks up those old emotions -in my case, heartache, rejection and unworthiness- there’s so much I wish I could tell my younger self.
So I did.
Dear Younger Me,
Your first love has a sacred place in your unfolding. These wounds will heal, though the phantom pain will be, at times, very convincing. What an amazing gift to feel so much for another. Tap into this heartbreak and transmute those tears into the stuff that will fortify your soul. You are full and bright and beautiful.
You have this person to thank for showing you what you need from another: Someone who will be there for you in every moment and honor you as an equal. Someone who will strive to build you up as they build themselves up, too.
This person is an important part in strengthening your spirit, for the love you seek requires a heart that knows itself.
How else will you recognize its reflection?
Wiser Older Me
What did your first love teach you? What do you wish you could tell your younger self about it? (If this question makes you uncomfortable, please feel free to post pictures of dogs in costume instead.)