Best of 2009 Challenge: Catch-up 2

Finally, I’m posting the remainder of the days I needed to catch up on. Here are December 7th through 12th from the blog challenge prompts….

Blog find of the year. That gem of a blog you can’t believe you didn’t know about until this year.

In 2009, I discovered a number of great blogs, so I can’t really single out one particular one over the others. There are two though that I visit very regularly these days and really enjoy. Those are, Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen and Procrastinating Writer.

Fat-Free Vegan Kitchen is a recipe blog for vegans (and those who love veg food). Lots of low-fat and lower calorie recipes are posted each week by author/cook Susan. A great resource for those wanting to eat well, but watch the calories (I still count calories to this day).

Procrastinating Writers is a blog for writers, especially those who tend to veer off track and allow their mind to wander into other things instead of that blank paper sitting in front of them (or blank screen as the case may be). Great motivating and inspirational info posted all the time here, I especially enjoyed the site during NaNoWriMo, which is when I discovered it.

Moment of peace. An hour or a day or a week of solitude. What was the quality of your breath? The state of your mind? How did you get there?

Ah yes, I look forward to this each and every week. My moment of solitude takes place on Sundays. This is the one day of the week where I can sleep in, with no worries of having to be any place at a particular designated time or worrying about that pesky alarm clock buzzing me awake. Sundays are my day of rest both mentally and physically.

Mentally, I allow myself to relax at that time and let all the worries of the previous days and of those upcoming to drift away, as though they were aboard a canoe in calm waters. Ideally, my surroundings during this time are calm and positive. Of course, for now, this means that my real “me time” or “moment of peace” takes place out of the home. Maybe in 2010, this will change once I am back in my own place.

Physically, I work out my body. This means I go out for long walk/runs allowing myself to not only get in some cardio exercise, but to breath in the outdoors. There is nothing like being outside on a beautiful sunny day, just taking it all in. I love how it makes me feel, relaxed.

Challenge. Something that really made you grow this year. That made you go to your edge and then some. What made it the best challenge of the year for you?

My challenge of 2009 was to be back in a place that I never planned to be back to, and survive. As silly as that sounds, that was sort of the big challenge for me. Of course, entering the year 2009 as an unemployed individual, was a challenge in and of itself. I had never not been employed, at least not since I was in high school. That situation, along with having to move back home with my parents was my challenge. I was grateful that they were and are there for me when I need them, but moving back home after being out on your own is not the same. Things are quite different when you come back and are your own person. Nothing seems or is quite the same at home. While I never felt unwelcome, I have gone through my share of unhappy and uncomfortable moments being back this year. I went from optimistic job seeker and thinking all would be great soon, to depressed and not caring about anything…then, back to happy again. A mental and emotional ride of an adventure (if you can call it that J ).

In the end though, I feel as though it has been a learning experience for me. I have learned a lot, and while I love my family to pieces, I cannot wait to be back living on my own in 2010 back in my favorite place, Asheville.

Album of the year. What’s rocking your world?

Pearl Jam’s new album, Backspacer is probably my favorite of the year. It is the only full album I paid for a download of on iTunes in 2009. Other artists I have enjoyed, but not their entire album. It’s a great album full of music you can listen to in the car while you drive, or is great for adding to your workout mix. I have added a number of the album’s songs to my walk/run mixes.

The best place. A coffee shop? A pub? A retreat center? A cubicle? A nook?

People have these? Ha, seriously, I don’t really have one best or favorite place. If the location is serene and allows me to sit and write, I am usually happy and content with it. That might be a coffee shop, or a bookstore for me. Also, I enjoy places that I can photograph and feel my creativity pumping. These days, I am more into the outdoors than ever before in my life, so outdoor locations are great.

The only place I have found myself returning to as of late is Celebration. This is a quaint little community near Walt Disney World. It has beautiful scenery and oddly enough, reminds me somewhat of North Carolina in a way. I like how I can go there to merely wander around, check out the Sunday farmer’s market or take a long stroll on their hiking path. Celebration is a relaxing place to spend a few hours or day in just “vegging out.”

New food. You’re now in love with Lebanese food and you didn’t even know what it was in January of this year.

Indian food. Finally bought some and tried it late this year and I am in love. Well, I’m in love with matter tofu at least. I only wish I would have allowed myself to be more open and have tried this culture’s food sooner. I really have been missing out on some good food. Becoming vegan has really helped me open myself to try new things which is nice because I am beginning to have new favorite meals to add to my weekly “menu” for lunches and dinners.

December 30th – Ad

What advertisement made you think this year?

We cannot escape advertisements. Literally, they are everywhere. On television, billboards along the highway, even on other products we have purchased. Ads are all over. Sometimes, the over abundance of ads is overwhelming to the senses.

The ad that has stuck with me though is PETA’s Thanksgiving ad. This is the ad that a lot of stations refused to air. It features a family at Thanksgiving dinner with the young girl saying grace. Her grace includes thanking the poor animal that died to feed her family their turkey dinner. That commercial has stood with me since I first saw it online on Thanksgiving and will most likely remain with me for awhile to come. While I had already been a vegetarian (almost vegan) at that point, that commercial can’t help you visualize everything horrible about the food industry.

This blog post is in response to Gwen Bell’s Best of 2009 Blog Challenge

December 29 – Laugh

What was your biggest belly laugh of the year?

Laughter is the best medicine as they say, and I do agree that is so. 2009 was a tough year in many ways, but sometimes a good laugh or smile moment can wipe away some of that bad taste that develops. Or, at the least, make it fade away for a short time.

What was my biggest laugh? Major props to Gwen for this blog prompt topic, as my brain really had to think about this one for awhile. After some thought, I would say my biggest belly laugh moment was watching Four Christmas’ with my parents back in November. Not that the movie was overly great, but it did allow me and my parents to relax and enjoy some laughs. 2009 has been a tough year, so a good laugh is definitely needed whenever possible. I’m sure I had at least a couple other good laughing moments, but that is the one that stands out right now in my mind.

This blog post is in response to Gwen Bell’s Best of 2009 Blog Challenge

December 28th – Stationery

When you touch the paper, your heart melts. The ink flows from the pen. What was your stationery find of the year?

Ah, stationary, notepads, notebooks, paper, how I adore thee. You are my love, my obsession…no really, this is true. I cannot walk into a store and not look at what notebooks, journals and such that they carry. Some girls have a shoe obsession, instead I have a paper and pen obsession, I am a writer after all.

Did I have a favorite find in 2009 paper-wise? Honestly, I cannot say I did. I still love gel pens when I am hand writing something and not able to simply type into my laptop. And, any good notebook/notepad that is college ruled works well for me. Also, I love legal pads. I must have at least a dozen empty or partially written in notepads all over my room and car. My theory is, you can never have too many writing instruments and writing paper to scribble upon. I mean, when the power goes out and you are sitting there in the dark only illuminated by flashlight or candlelight, you can still write with that pen and paper. Never fails. 🙂

This blog is in response to Gwen Bell’s Best of 2009 Blog Challenge

December 27th – Social web moment

Did you meet someone you used to only know from her blog? Did you discover Twitter?

Ha, well I already blogged about twitter in a previous prompt, so it is already known how much I like twitter and that I think it is a great communication and networking tool. As far as who I have met in 2009, I have to say that I met a lot of great folks online, mostly via twitter.

The people that have stood out in my mind are creators. When I say creators, I mean anyone who creates something. Whether they are a writer, photographer, artist or create crafty items, they are all creators. And, all of the creative people I have met online via twitter, facebook, or the like are amazing individuals. The passion these folks have not only in what they create, but for creativity is awesome. That said, I cannot single out just one or even two of these people. I believe they know who they are. I hope to get to be better friends with each one of them in the next year. And, I hope I can add something to their creative endeavors as well, maybe inspire them in some way.

This blog post is in response to Gwen Bell’s Best of 2009 Blog Challenge

Christmas Eve Baking Adventure

Christmas Eve this year marked my first adventure into vegan baking. For a few weeks prior, I had gone through multiple cookbooks and online recipes in search of ideas of what I might bake for the family. After several possibilities, I decided upon a Cinnamon Coffee Cake and Fudge Brownies.

Once I got home from work on Christmas Eve, I began to get my ingredients and cooking tools and such in order and ready to go. The cinnamon coffee cake would be made first, as this was the most important baked good of the two. You see, my family has a tradition of having a birthday cake for baby Jesus every Christmas. In the past, my mom had always baked something, or in busier years, picked up a cake from the local bakery for the occasion. 2009 not only marked my first year vegan baking, but my first year actually baking the cake solo. I was excited about doing it, and rearing to go.

In all honesty, I’m not a very experienced cook or baker. I am slowly but surely working on improving this, but still very new to it all. Now that I am a vegan, cooking is starting to become more of a regular part of my life, as it is much easier (and more affordable, not to mention healthier) to make your own meals. That all said, I knew it would take me longer than most to get things put together and into the oven to bake. So, I took this into account when I embarked upon the baking task.

Once I got everything out and ready to prepare, I think I surprised myself at how easy it all started to come together. The cinnamon coffee cake I was making was a recipe from Compassionate Cook’s Colleen Patrick-Goudreau’s The Joy of Vegan Baking cookbook. I have really enjoyed her podcast and had been anxious to make something out of her baking book for awhile. The Cinnamon Coffee Cake won me over, as I am a huge fan of anything cinnamon as is the rest of the family (not so sure they love it as much as I do, but they do love cinnamon). In no time, I had the batter made and was whisking it together. The recipe has two parts, the batter itself for the cake and the crumbly cinnamon topping. The topping I admit took me longer than the cake batter did. I ended up making up two batches of it, as it didn’t seem to cover the cake like it should. Not sure if that was my fault or if it had to do with that I had to use a larger pan… either way, once I got enough topping made, I put it atop the cake batter and into the oven. Admittedly, I feared what the pre-baked cake looked like. Made me wonder if I really messed up and did something more wrong than simply the topping.

Trying not to worry too much about the coffee cake, I let it bake and moved on to the brownies. These proved to be much easier to make. I got the batter for these together and mixed in no time. This brownie recipe was one that utilized a banana, semi-sweet chocolate chips (which are very bad to have around, as munching upon them tends to occur while baking and then even later on… 🙂 ) and cocoa powder. Once I had everything mixed up, I poured the mixture into a pan and put it in the oven as I removed the coffee cake. To my great surprise, the finished coffee cake looked good! I was pleased that it didn’t appear to be the disaster I feared it was when I had put it into the oven to bake. Of course, the true test would be Christmas morning, but in the meanwhile, I felt better about my baking of it seeing the finished product.

Once the brownies were finished baking about twenty minutes later, my evening of “slaving” over a hot oven was over. I did the remainder of the dishes and clean up of the kitchen and went to bed looking forward to the taste test of the foods the next day.

Christmas morning came and I gathered with the family with my cinnamon coffee cake and we sang Happy Birthday to Jesus. A few minutes later, everyone took a piece of cake and I awaited the verdict of the tasters. I was happy to hear everyone eating away and offering up compliments on the cake. They loved it. This was the best thing I could have hoped for. I was relieved and grateful for the kind words. Later, after Christmas dinner had been eaten, the brownies were presented. They too were enjoyed by everyone.

My Christmas baking adventure ending up being a great success and I already look forward to baking for upcoming birthdays in 2010. And, I know my baking will only get better and easier in the future the more I do it.

December 25th and 26th – Gift & Insight

What’s a gift you gave yourself this year that has kept on giving?

The gift of better health. I started to approach the getting healthier and losing weight at the tail end of 2008, but it was the first half of 2009 when I achieved this betterment for myself.
By the summer, I was not only 70lbs lighter, but I was in the best health I had ever been in my life. I felt good and what was inside was showing on the outside. Giving yourself the gift of good health is one of the best things you can ever do for yourself.

Insight or aha! moment. What was your epiphany of the year?

What was my epiphany…. well, this came to me most recently. I believe that it was lingering in the air above me for awhile before, but I just never saw it. Maybe I didn’t want to see it, or maybe I just couldn’t until I was ready. Irregardless, my epiphany pertains to my writing and photography. The writing of course is something I never stopped doing, as I’m always working on some story or another during any given year. However, my photography did end up taking a sabbatical for awhile. Whether this was because I felt uninspired or what, I cannot say. Doesn’t really matter when it comes down to it though. I feel as though my future involves both writing and photography. This is not a new thought, but something about it now just feels different. I feel as though it is more of a realization now that it has ever been. I plan on focusing more on the two combined loves in the coming year than I ever have before. It just feels right.

December 24th – Learning experience

What was a lesson you learned this year that changed you?

To be more careful with money, not to just spend without thinking first. True, most of us are taught this lesson as kids, but we honestly don’t firmly “get it” until we are older and have made some mistakes first. All about learning from our own life and the mistakes that come along with it. Money is a big lesson in life. Whether we like it or not, we cannot live without that crazy green stuff. Any and everything we want or need requires the use of money.

This year, I learned that not only do I not want to owe anyone or any company money (never did, but finally am trying to avoid it as much as possible), but that I need to learn to budget myself better in 2010. I am not even close to a math whiz, so even simple things such as balancing my checkbook tend to go undone. I need to be better organized and know what I have in the bank and know that I have this bill or that bill to pay on such and such a date. It shouldn’t be a big deal to take care of these things each month. No, it’s not always going to be easy financially, but if I budget myself better, it won’t be as difficult on myself as I have been making it out to be.

So, in 2010, I hope to be a better person in this area. My goal is to move up to Asheville next summer in as good shape financially as possible. I shouldn’t have to play the guessing game in regards to my bank account. That is no fun to do. Better planning and organization is the plan of action.

This blog post is in response to Gwen Bell’s Best of 2009 Blog Challenge

December 23rd – Web tool

It came into your work flow this year and now you couldn’t live without it. It has simplified or improved your online experience.

Here is where the truth comes out, I love twitter. The ability to be able to instantly communicate with 140 characters to anyone in the world is pretty neat. Not only can this be done online on the website itself, but to be able to continue this communication using your cellphone or PDA device is great. Twitter has quickly become one of my favorite networking tools.

I believe that utilizing twitter has really helped my online presence in 2009. It has helped me meet some great people, and even take part in my first “tweet-up” in NYC. It was a great and fun gathering of folks I had only previously spoken to online via twitter and other online communities.

This blog post is in response to Gwen Bell’s Best of 2009 Blog Challenge

December 22nd – Startup

What’s a business that you found this year that you love? Who thought it up? What makes it special?

Etsy is the business that I discovered this year that I love. It is an online arts and craft bonanza. I enjoy looking through what sellers have created. It is like attending a craft show right from the comfort of your own home. Have yet to make a purchase, but I now that will change in 2010. Also, I plan to begin selling my own work on the site. Some of my photography will make an appearance on etsy in the coming weeks.

What makes the site special in a word is creativity. It allows both creators and those seeking creative merchandise and the like to meet up in one central place. The creativity most of the creators/sellers have is just awesome. You can find all sorts of crafts and art on etsy. It gets high marks for greatness from me.

This blog post is in response to Gwen Bell’s Best of 2009 Blog Challenge