how to become a more sensual person
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For many, the word sensual has a purely sexual connotation, but the more traditional meaning of the word is, 'gratification of the senses'. Using that definition, a sensual person is someone who knows how to stimulate their senses for not just practical, but also both pleasurable means.

Aside from the obvious benefit of experiencing pleasure, being able to tune into or focus one's 5 primary senses has numerous physical and mental benefits.

What Keeps Us From Being Sensual In the First Place?

As babies and small children, we were completely engrossed in sensory exploration of the world around us - putting everything (including our own little toes) in our mouths, delighted to hear the sound of our own shrieks, laughs and cries. Our five senses were the way we learned about everything. But social conditioning and maturity taught us to lessen our sensory interaction with the world in the name of appropriateness. Things like self-touch, loud vocalizations and uninhibited movement were discouraged and labeled as things that 'well-behaved boys and girls' didn't do.  As a result, many of us have become largely detached from our senses, and may even be uncomfortable as over-indulgent or immoral.

sensuality osho
sensuality osho

To become a truly sensual person, some unlearning of the norms of so-called good behavior is necessary.

These tips from MindBodyGreen and Mind Map Inspiration will help you increase your awareness and heighten your senses.

25 Ways to Increase Your Sensual Awareness

  1. Dance
  2. Self-massage 
  3. Walking meditation
  4. Stretch
  5. Give a hug
  6. Eat and drink more slowly
  7. Silently observe nature - watch your cat grooming, listen to the wind rustle the leaves outside, pay attention to the pace and rhythm of your own breathing
  8. Go barefoot
  9. Close your eyes to enhance your hearing
  10. Focus totally on your breath
  11. Look at a close object then a distant one and alternate focus
  12. Study your hand – explore the detail and aging!
  13. Smell deeply – differentiate between subtle odours
  14. Touch with eyes closed – explore textures, surfaces, shapes
  15. Close eyes and feel temperature of objects with hands
  16. Close your eyes and sense individual body parts
  17. Close your eyes and identify objects solely by touch
  18. Close your eyes and try observing your pulse or blood flow
  19. Gently pull your ears out and listen!
  20. Feel the wind – really feel it with all the senses
  21. Close your eyes and pass your hands through water
  22. Identify foods with your eyes closed
  23. Close eyes and brush fingers lightly over arms and face sensing hairs not skin
  24. Walk and be conscious of every step as you plant your feet
  25. Become aware of your entire body and “feel” with every cell

The more we feel with non-judgmental awareness, the more we open to the experience of our innate sensual pleasures"

While becoming more sensual may make you feel sexier - it may even make you a better lover - the real benefit in being more in tune with your senses is improving your ability to deal with the stress of everyday life.

What tips do you use to heighten your senses?

5 self-massage techniques you should learn right now
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Bad posture, stress and overuse can take a toll on our delicate muscles and tissues, making us feel tired, tense and not our best selves. Getting a professional massage may not always fit into our busy schedules or our budgets, but neglecting self-care for too long isn't the best for our physical or mental health. Whenever your body is feeling stiff and tense, try these 5 self-massage techniques to ease pain and stress in your feet, hands, neck and back.

How to Give Yourself A Foot Massage

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AUQYuQC-lWQ

 

How to Give Yourself A Hand Massage

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=168lKIyc3lw

 

How to Give Yourself A Neck and Shoulder  Massage

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uFCO4f-NklA

 

How to Give Yourself A Breast Massage

4 Step Self Breast Massage

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OSd0dpwixvo

 

How to Give Yourself A Back Massage

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6CYAXocIk_U

 

For even more tips on how to give yourself a massage, check out this full-body guide to self-massage from Beyond Talk.

antelope canyon - how to find a moment of peace amidst the chaos
antelope canyon - recipes for travel
antelope canyon - recipes for travel

Antelope Canyon. A breathtaking place. A magical place. Also a very hectic place. Upper Antelope Canyon is heavily visited by groups of tourists wanting to witness and capture its unique beauty. We were one of at least a dozen groups of 10-12 people that filed through the twisting canyon during our fast-paced visit.

Our guide, McCarr, was a small, no-nonsense Navajo woman who let us know in no uncertain terms that we were to follow her instructions or be met with her motherly wrath. During her intro speech while were still parked in the vistors’ lot, She spoke to us like stern matriarch would have when we were little. ‘Look, when we go in this store don’t u go asking for nothin’, touchin’ nothin’ and don’t wander off and get lost. And don’t make me have to tell you twice!’ One of our group, a grown man of at least 40, fell behind a couple of times during our tour because he wanted to take more pictures. I witnessed McCarr smack his hand while he was attempting to take a picture. A grown man!

But like a mama or auntie, she was stern because she knew what was good for us (and she had much more experience in the sometimes-unpredictable canyon than we did (an Antelope Canyon flash flood in 1997 killed 11 hikers). And since no one in our subgroup of 5 girlfriends openly defied her – or at least didn’t get caught doing so – she rewarded us by taking some amazing photos of us and our birthday-girl  and helping us get just-right shots of key features and the ever-shifting shafts of light within the canyon. The rest of the tour, though, was all yelling and ‘hurry-ups’ and ‘move-alongs’ and ‘come this way, no I said this way!’, while trying not to run into or be run over by the next tour group frantically snapping pics in front of and behind us.

In the midst of the madness, which I had expected from reading tour reviews, I tried to have a more serene and memorable experience with the canyon, which, quite honestly, filled me with a sense of joyful awe. I let my arm drag along the canyon wall as I walked slowly at the tail end of our group, the underside of my forearm, my palm and the pads of my fingertips gliding along the cool, smooth- grooved surface of the canyon, stopping for a moment to press my cheek against the coolness, then my right and left eyelids - which temporarily relieved the irritated feeling from all the fine dust and sand swirling around. The sensory experience of my physical existence being introduced to the canyon's would last longer than the photos, I figured. Or at least, it would add a richer element to the memories when I perused the photos later today and years on.

Have you ever visited Antelope Canyon? What was your experience like?

happy inauguration day
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Aight. I’m just gonna speak on this once, then I’m done. This message is for my godchildren, praying folk, spiritual warriors, lightworkers, wakan women, men of magic and mastery, meditators and chanters, and for all those that have ears to hear. All of this railing and gnashing of teeth and swearing at TV screens and hyperbolic commenting on every move or action this new leader makes is not the move. More than ever, your purposeful energy and focus is needed, and frittering it away on ‘being in your feelings’ is effectively weakening our cause. Case in point: I work with a lovely woman, a godly woman who mentioned to me on our way to lunch today that she was doing the ‘Daniel fast’ with her church. I asked her about it and what it entailed and then went on my way. Moments later, we were both in the breakroom. Me eating my lunch and deep into my Facebook feed, purposely ignoring the goings-on in the room. She – along with at least a dozen others – staring at the inauguration on the TV screen with a long face and emitting a caustic comment to almost every line of the new leader’s inauguration speech. When I finished my lunch, I quipped to the others as I walked out, “What y’all watchin’?” before laughing and sashaying off to my next meeting (Yes. I said, sashay, dammit.).

Later, still intrigued by the ‘Daniel fast’ my co-worker mentioned, I googled it to learn more about it. The fast is based on the biblical passage from Daniel 1:12 which talks about eating veggies for 10 days. But looking back to the beginning of the chapter and taking the verse in full context, the larger story is about 4 Hebrew youth (Daniel being one of them) who were true to their faith and considered some of the ‘cream of the crop’ in their community. A new leader had recently taken control of their lands and had specifically picked these 4 to come ‘be on his team’ so to speak, which included learning his language and eating his food. Danny-boy was like, ‘Cool, I get it. New leaders come and go. It’s the Old Testament. Sh*t is mad unstable. But this whole eating the food thing? Nah. Not gonna work for me and my homeys. We are officially anti- that.’

inauguration-danielfast-ill-pass-obama
inauguration-danielfast-ill-pass-obama

The king’s caretaker was nervous. ‘If y’all just eat veggies, you’re gonna be thinner and ashier than everybody else on the team for sure, and that’s gonna get all of us in trouble. No way, Daniel-san. Not on my watch.”

To which Danny replied, “Just give us 10 days.”

After the 10 days were over, Danny and his 3 kinfolk were fatter and prettier than everybody else in the place, so they were left to their own devices from then on. Over time, they came to be known as the wisest men in the land and even became known for having ‘extraordinary’ powers.

Now, all mystical / spiritual texts can be taken either literally or as encoded message. What I took from that text was not a command to eat veggies for 10 days, rather it was a command to not swallow the BS if you want to stay true to your own values and grow in personal power.

Don’t consume the filth, the vitriol, the bad behavior. Refuse it. Ignore it. Fast from it. If you do not, your mind and energy will be scattered with every new occurrence, and you already know there will be plenty of occurrences. Furthermore, don’t be dismayed when some of your assumed kinfolk start supping at the king’s table. Instead, bring all of your energy back into yourself. Redouble your efforts on your work, your craft, your service. Dance your dances and sing your songs with all the windows open and the lights on. Never let them see you looking thin and gaunt, or sad or frustrated or unhappy or bitter. Support and speak life into others who are working on causes that are aligned with yours, and watch us all grow fatter and stronger.

We all have our chosen work. I am not a political person, but I appreciate and support and answer the calls of those who I trust that are activists in that arena. Those of us who focus our efforts on areas that transcend politics have a responsibility to work just as hard as our cohorts. We fail them and ourselves if we focus on the distractions and neglect our own goals and missions.

So, for all of us who are officially ‘anti-that’, today was your inauguration. What promises will you keep, what accomplishments will you count over the next 4 years?

how to tell when you’re working with smart people

Recently, I had an interview with a prospective client about a project they were interested in having me work on. Interviewer: “So, tell me. How do you decide what projects you like to work on?”

Me: “I like doing interesting work with smart people.”

****

I’ve been pretty lucky in my professional career. Not only have I worked for some pretty amazing companies and clients on engaging and challenging projects, I’ve also worked on some great teams. Teams comprised of people of different ages, diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, and various areas of specialized knowledge and experience.

When I first started out as a young management consultant straight out of undergrad, I was about as green as they come. I’d done a couple of internships, but none of them prepared me for the fast pace and demanding ‘expert-at-everything’ role of a consultant working at one of the so-called ‘Big 4’ consulting firms. On my very first project, I felt like a newborn deer. Awkward, unsure of myself, wanting to ‘get it right’, but not knowing exactly what ‘getting it right’ looked like. I was in complete awe of the intellectual and professional giants on my team who’d been working in either consulting or specialized industries for decades.

Thankfully, these were friendly giants.

Instead of leaving me to sink or swim on my own, my more experienced team members met my desire and willingness to learn with an equal amount of information sharing and professional grooming. Over time, as I worked on more projects with different teams, I learned from those people as well. And within just a few years, I’d grown from a bumbling fawn to a swift-moving gazelle with my own unique blend of skills and specialties.

Since those early days of consulting, I’ve come to appreciate the immeasurable value of working alongside smart people. I’ve also come to view work as less of a job and more as 9-to-5 school, so when choosing a new role or project, it’s always important to me that the teams I’m on are people I can learn from.

Sometimes, it’s not possible to tell in advance whether the people I’ll be working with are smart. But it usually becomes pretty apparent after a few months. Here are some of the telltale signs that I’m working with a group of smart people.

working with smart people - work recipes and career advice
working with smart people - work recipes and career advice

They’re generous.

As I learned on my first consulting project, smart people are generous. They give freely of their time, their knowledge and accumulated information, resources, even their humor. I think it’s because smart people realize that most things are better when shared, especially if those things are being shared with someone who has just as much interest in them as they do. Smart people also seem to have a different concept of scarcity and lack. Since they’re less likely to squander their time or resources, they tend to think there’s enough of themselves and other available resources to go around.

Conversely, not-so-smart people are more likely to withhold information or time. This is often due to an underlying idea that ‘there’s not enough for everyone’ or that someone has to lose in order for them to win. On one of my projects, I heard more than one person on my team tell me that, “The way to get ahead in this company is by hoarding information.” It was a telltale sign that I was not surrounded by smart people.

working-with-smart-people-life-recipe-wozniak
working-with-smart-people-life-recipe-wozniak

They are no respecters of title.

Smart people don’t associate title or position with an individual’s degree of ‘rightness’ or worth. Smart people tend to be egalitarian in their behaviors, and they treat high-ranking colleagues with the same amount of respect as a newbie or lower-level team members. When you’re working with smart people, everyone on the team is treated as a potential expert or valued contributor. Not-so-smart people often fawn over the higher-ups in the organization, while completely ignoring or talking down to those who don’t have any significant power or status.

They’re confident, but not arrogant.

Smart people know their strengths, and they’re not shy about showing them off, especially when they see a need for their particular strengths on a project or within a team. Oftentimes, instead of waiting to be asked to put their talents to work, a smart person will confidently forge ahead with what needs to be done, without much prodding and with little fanfare. In doing so, they may even inspire others to be more confident in their own strengths. While not-so-smart people primarily seek praise and recognition for exercising their strengths, smart people are more in it for the satisfaction of a job well done.

They ask lots of questions.

Asking questions is probably how smart people got that way to begin with. Smart people aren’t afraid to raise their hands or open their mouths in front of everyone (or pull someone off to the side) to ask for an explanation, more information or clarification. Even if the question is one that others might consider dumb, tough, or challenging, smart people will ask it anyway. The question that smart people tend to ask most often: ‘Why?’

They learn from (and teach) others.

Smart people are always looking for ways to become smarter. If they see that someone is more knowledgeable or more skilled than they are, they’ll get closer to that person to learn what they know. Sometimes this is done by asking lots of questions, but many times it’s done through careful observation and adaptation.

working with smart people
working with smart people

They act on facts, not feelings.

This is not to say that smart people don’t have feelings or emotions. Rather, they’ve learned to let facts guide their actions instead of reacting to situations or people based on their current emotional state. Even if all the facts aren’t available to them, smart people will rely on previous experience and less-than-obvious clues to make an educated guess or assumption on how to proceed.

They focus on the future.

Continuous improvement, what’s next, industry innovations, what the end goal looks like – these are the things smart people focus on at work. While not-so-smart people tend to emphasize what didn’t work before or are often heard saying things like, “We’ve always done it that way,” Smart people realize that the past is only relevant if it helps determine the future vision. If what happened yesterday doesn’t help them get to where they want to go tomorrow, smart people let it go and move on.

They own up to (but don’t dwell on) their mistakes.

Smart people don’t attempt to hide their errors or mistakes. They readily own up to them and often have a plan of corrective action already thought out when they realize they’ve messed something up. But once the mistake has been acknowledged, they won’t dwell on it or beat themselves up about it. Likewise, they don’t ‘punish’ others for their mistakes. For smart people, the mistake itself is punishment enough.

They admit when they don’t know.

Wait a minute, don’t a lot of not-so-smart people say, “I don’t know” a lot? True. The difference with smart people is that they usually follow “I don’t know” with, “But…” and an action plan or approach to finding out what they don’t already know. Both smart and not-so-smart people may have gaps in knowledge; but not-so-smart people tend to be comfortable remaining ignorant, whereas smart people don’t stay ignorant or unknowing for long.

working with smart people
working with smart people

What differences have you noticed when you’ve worked with smart people? What are some ways you can tell if a person or team you’re working with is ‘smart’?

food as culture – why cooking is important to preserving identity

Food has always been important to me.

Not just the consuming of it, but the cooking of it. More recently, food has grown in its importance in my mind because I’ve come to see it as a primary vehicle of culture.

How Food Defines A Culture

When you think of other cultures, there are usually 3 things that define them:

  • what they wear
  • how they speak, and
  • what they eat

{for example: If I were to ask you what comes to mind when you think of Indian, Japanese, and Jamaican culture – I can pretty much guarantee that – in addition to saris, kimonos and dreadlocks – curry, sushi, and jerk are going to show up somewhere in the list. }

An individual or group’s food culture is more than just what they eat for dinner, more than a single, iconic dish. Food culture is a complex mishmash of history, geography, climate and social values that go into what food is served, when, where and by whom. It’s an important way of preserving and transmitting the culture as a whole.

The Lexicon of Food’s definition of food culture summarizes it perfectly (if not succinctly):

Travel as Cultural Exchange

Travel has definitely influenced my perspective about my own food culture as an American, as a Southerner and as an African-American. After having been invited into the homes of co-workers from other cultures, or being cooked for by people I’ve met travelling, I’ve realized how important food culture is in communicating to someone who you are and where you come from.

I have newfound appreciation for Sunday and holiday dinners past at my grandparents’ house, backyard fish frys and barbecues out in the country, sitting on the front porch shelling beans, patiently stirring a pot of grits, all things okra. I’ve recognized how important it is to preserve my own unique culture by knowing how to cook even a few signature recipes that are intrinsically linked to the land and the people I come from. In fact, I see it almost as a responsibility.

What Exactly is ‘American’ Food?

One particular point of dismay when I’ve traveled has been the realization that people from other countries and cultures typically think of American food as either hamburgers or pizza. It’s an unfortunate side effect of the globalization of American fast food chains, and the failure to mass export more authentic, often regional American cuisine. This misconception makes it all the more important for me to continue to hone my skills in the kitchen and add to my repertoire of true American recipes, so I, too, can share who I am and where I’m from with new friends from other cultures and parts of the world.

I challenge you to do the same.

How to Become a Food Culture Ambassador

Even if you don’t consider yourself much of a cook, take it upon yourself to learn how to prepare at least one dish that is representative of your culture. Use it as an opportunity to learn more about where you come from – to understand the connection between the ingredients used in the dish and the place it originated. Call up someone else from your culture – your mom, another person from your hometown – and ask them to give you some pointers on how to make one or more iconic cultural dishes, then invite them over for a taste. Practice making the dish until you feel proud of it, until other people start to request that you make it for their next potluck dinner, their son’s birthday party, their wedding reception. Once that happens, write your recipe for the dish down on really nice paper. Make copies of it and give them out as gifts to people who’d appreciate it.

Culture is many things – food, dress, language – and each element of culture has a story of how it came to be. Preserving food-related stories, and bits of culinary background info is essential to preserving a culture. Unlike many other countries with more homogenous populations, America has a wide and diverse range of cultures living in proximity to one another and intermingling every day. Some degree of assimilation or fusion of cultures is understandable, but when entire food cultures are abandoned for pre-packaged, mass-produced commodifications of a particular culture’s food (see: Taco Bell, Panda Express) it’s a huge loss for everyone. And since profit and mass appeal are the primary motives of food-centered corporations, it’s we individuals who must maintain the authenticity of our respective food cultures, not only for our own families, but also for those curious enough to seek it out, and those who we meet on our travels.

are you ready to travel solo?
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People’s opinions about travelling solo usually fall into one of two camps. It’s either one of the boldest, most exciting ideas they’ve ever heard:

It’s so empowering!

It takes guts!

Why wait on someone else, when you can just go?

Or, it’s something that they’d never consider doing:

It’s dangerous!

I’d be bored!

What if the kidnappers come, and Liam Neeson doesn’t come save me?

I’ve been travelling solo for years now. Not necessarily because I love it or even prefer it, but mainly because my desire to travel exceeds my ability to wait for someone else to be able and ready to join me. I also know that my travel style isn’t exactly everyone’s cup of tea – so to avoid conflict, I often opt for the solo adventure.

Does that make me a solo travel expert? Hardly. But I often see many women asking of other solo women travelers how we got the nerve/confidence/lady cojones to travel all by ourselves, so I thought I’d wrangle up some questions worth asking yourself if you think you might be ready for solo travel.

find out if you're ready for solo travel
find out if you're ready for solo travel

How Easily Do You Make New Friends?

Can you find something you have in common with almost anyone? Are you the one at a party who flits among various groups and dips in and out of multiple conversations with ease? Those extrovert social skills will definitely come in handy when you’re travelling on your own.

If you’re more of the introverted, wallflower type, you might still consider travelling alone… in a group. Group tours, cooking classes and local meetup groups can make it easier for shyer types to not feel so lonely when travelling alone. Cruises are also a great option for some solo travelers who like being on their own, but still want to be surrounded by somewhat familiar people.

How Do You React to Unfamiliar or Ambiguous Situations?

Are you ok with having to find your way in a new place? Getting lost? Not knowing what other people around you are saying? Having to use rudimentary sign language to get your point across? International solo travel is right up your alley! If you’re ok with everything not being exactly the way it is back home (this could include anything from acceptable clothing to toilet facilities), then you’ll be just fine on your own in foreign locales.

If the very thought of the situations described above is enough to make you break out in hives, then maybe you should start out by travelling solo somewhere closer to home – somewhere with more familiar food, language, sights and sounds. Stay in a hotel chain that you’ve stayed in before; book a room at a bed-and-breakfast in a neighboring state; visit a well-documented, much-visited historical site and enjoy your trip without feeling like a fish out of water. If you're still determined to go abroad, try a country where language or unfamiliar customs won't be a barrier.

best solo travel tool
best solo travel tool

How Strong / Accurate Is Your ‘Little Voice’?

I’ve said it many times – my best travel tool is my intuition, aka, ‘the little voice’. The little voice tends to grow stronger and more accurate with experience, so if you’ve already travelled extensively with others or have lived in a major city where you may regularly encounter potentially shady characters or situations, your little voice is likely well-tuned.

On the other hand, if people who know you well refer to you as ‘too trusting’, or ‘naïve’ (and you know they’re telling the truth), or conversely, if you think EVERYone is a potential murderer/terrorist/rapist, then maybe you should enhance your intuition a bit before striking out on your own.

How Curious Are You?

My biggest motivation for non-work-related travel is curiosity. What’s happening elsewhere? What do people eat there? How do they spend their free time? Are the mens cute? If you’re the curious and exploring type who can only be satisfied by seeing and experiencing something for yourself, that curiosity will not only be a catalyst for you to book your solo trip, it will also make what happens on your trip more memorable and satisfying.

How Much Do You Enjoy Your Own Company?

Let’s face it, there’s likely to be times when even the most gregarious girl won’t be able to make a single-serving friend while travelling. If you’re like me and grew up as an only child, or have otherwise mastered the art of entertaining yourself for days on end, you’ll probably already be back home from your solo trip before you start to feel lonely.

If being away from friends and on your own for long periods of time seems like it would be unbearably lonely or boring, consider keeping yourself occupied by journaling, reading, or catching up on movies or tv shows (hey, you paid for that nice hotel room, might as well use it). Use social media to keep your family and friends abreast of your ecap your daily solo travel experiences with loved ones back home with the free wi-fi calling features on Skype, Facebook, Whatsapp, etc.

solo travel ksolo
solo travel ksolo

How Much of a Girl / Boy Scout Are You?

Preparedness is key when travelling solo. If you know how to use a map, can hunt down a super-strong and totally-free Wi-Fi signal like a trained animal, or always have the latest travel apps and tools downloaded to your cell phone, you’re ready to earn your solo travel badge, scout. Likewise, if you know how to keep your cool in case of a travel emergency.

As you can see, solo travel isn’t made for just one type of person. Even if you’re not the fiercely independent, throw-caution-to-the-wind sort that many assume you need to be in order to pursue solo travel, you can still enjoy travelling on your own. You just need to find the type of solo travel that best suits you, then get out there to see the world!

Are you an experienced solo traveler? What other skills or traits do you think someone should have before going on a solo trip?

how to make anything you cook taste better

Since I caught the cooking bug, I’m always looking for ways to make my food look and taste better. If I’m going to take the time out to cook, I want to make the best meal I can. So whenever I cook at home, I try to come as close as possible to creating a restaurant-quality meal for myself and my guests as I can. Fortunately, that’s not as difficult as it might seem to be.

What makes a really good restaurant meal really good, generally isn’t the fact that the dish contains a lot of unrecognizable ingredients, or that the chef uses fancy cooking techniques. Instead, a really quality meal relies on some very simple cooking tips that should be incorporated into every dish.

how to make anything you cook taste better
how to make anything you cook taste better

5 Tips for Creating Restaurant-Quality Meals At Home

Use fresh ingredients

Fresh ingredients have much more flavor and texture. To make your food taste better, avoid canned or jarred goods if fresh is also available. This is especially true for vegetables.

Canned vegetables are probably to blame for many people who claim they don’t like vegetables. Canned veggies are mushy, and all of them taste kind of the same after soaking in room temperature salt water for god knows how long. In my opinion, canned food is emergency food that should really only be used under certain circumstances, namely:

When you’ve run out of everything else in the house,

When camping, or,

When the zombie apocalypse pops off.

For almost every other occasion, use fresh. Also. If you’re using that jarred diced garlic? Stop.

There are some exceptions where I think canned foods are an ok alternative to fresh, like: beans, tomatoes, fish (tuna, sardines, salmon).

How to Make Anything you cook Taste Better-flavor
How to Make Anything you cook Taste Better-flavor

Add more than just salt & pepper

While salt and pepper are the basic must-haves for seasoning food, if you want to create more complex and interesting food flavors, you absolutely need to use herbs and spices. Stock your spice cabinet with some basics, and learn how to use them in your favorite dishes to make them truly taste like something.

You can even coax more flavor out of your standard salt and black pepper. Instead of table salt, use a good quality sea salt – a tiny bit goes a long way, and you’ll find that you need to use less of it. Which is particularly helpful if you’re looking to cut back on your salt intake. Fresh ground black pepper also tastes much more flavorful and goes a lot further than pre-ground black pepper.

Combine olive oil & butter

If you’re sauteeing, pan frying or roasting something, instead of using oil on its own, combine both olive oil and butter to cook your food. There are a few benefits to this blend:

  1. Adding butter to olive oil adds a richer, more luxurious flavor to a dish than just olive oil on its own.
  2. The browning power of butter creates nice color and crispness on the exterior of the food.
  3. Butter burns much more quickly than olive oil, so adding olive oil protects against over-browning or burning the outside before the food is finished cooking inside.
  4. Since oil and butter have about the same number of calories, by combining the two, you get extra flavor without extra calories.

I recommend the olive oil & butter trick more for meats and proteins (like this recipe for perfect pan-seared salmon), than for vegetables, but if  you’re one who doesn’t really like to eat veggies to begin with, go ahead and add some butter to help yourself out.

Follow the rule of 4

Try to make sure your home-cooked dish includes all of the following 4 taste components:

  1. Salt – as mentioned previously, you shouldn’t only do salt, nor should you overdo salt, but the right amount of salt will instantly bring out the other flavors in a dish.
  2. Sweet or savory – Dishes usually fall into either the sweet (aka, sugary) or savory (non-sugary) category. But any dish can benefit from adding sweetness or savoriness to help balance out already existing flavors. Aside from sugar, sweetness can be added to a dish with: molasses, sweet vegetables like butternut squash or sweet potatoes, and dried or fresh fruits. Ingredients that add savory flavor include: herbs, broths, soy sauce, MSG, and fish sauce.
  3. Acid – Your tongue has bitter and sour receptors for a reason. Don’t forget about them when you’re making a dish. Adding a touch of something acidic – a squeeze of citrus, a dash of vinegar, bitters, something pickled, fresh chopped onions – to a dish creates a layer of brightness and contrast to almost any dish, whether sweet or savory.
  4. Texture – Ok, so, technically, texture is not a component of taste. But! It’s so intricately linked to how we perceive the flavor and taste of food, that the lack or presence of texture definitely influences how good we think a dish or meal is. Words like crunchy, crispy, tender, fluffy, creamy all express texture, or, the way a food feels in your mouth. Be sure that your dish has the right texture for what it’s supposed to be.

Including all of the above flavor components in your home-cooked meals will stimulate all of the flavor receptors on your tongue, along with the sensation of texture. And that means better tasting food.

How to Make Anything you cook Taste Better-pleasure
How to Make Anything you cook Taste Better-pleasure

Plate it nicely

It’s said that you eat with your eyes first. If you’re going to go through the effort of cooking, make sure you show off the finished product – even if you’re only cooking for yourself. Don’t just slop your food onto the plate, take a few minutes to arrange everything nicely and admire it for a few moments before digging in. And, dear God, please don’t serve your lovely home-cooked meal on a paper or plastic plate. I mean I get it, I don’t like to wash dishes either, but my food is better than that, it deserves a proper plate. And so does yours.

If you must eat on plastic, at least refrain from posting a picture of it on the internets. It just looks sad.

If you’ve already mastered these tips for cooking better tasting food, try these more advanced tips from Lifehacker on how to make your food taste better.

What other tips do you have for making your food taste good?

how to get more than money from your job
how to get more than money from work
how to get more than money from work

Money isn’t everything. Yet, when most of us embark on a job search, it’s the primary factor we consider in deciding whether a job is worth taking.

We typically define compensation as, ‘the money we get for working’, but another definition for the word compensation is,

something that counterbalances or makes up for an undesirable or unwelcome state of affairs.

Let’s face it. For most of us, being at work is an undesirable state of affairs. We’d certainly rather be hanging out with our friends, going for a walk in the park, taking a nap or travelling the world instead of going to work every day for years and years on end, right? So, compensation is the thing that makes up for the fact that we have to show up at a job instead of doing whatever we want. It’s the price we accept for selling our time and talents to a client or a company.

But when we only accept money as payment in this transaction, we’re forgetting about the value of other things that we’re giving up in the deal. Things that have nothing to do with money, but would do a lot to make up for the fact that you’re at work instead of snoozing under the covers.

5 Forms of Non-Monetary Compensation

Autonomy / Ownership

The ability to turn your own ideas into reality is an often-overlooked form of compensation. A job that gives you the opportunity to lead projects, come up with ideas or plans for your company or department, or just the freedom to accomplish your own work tasks in the way you see fit and without being micro-managed is much more satisfying.

Dress Code

The ability to wear what you like; not having to invest part of your salary in a totally separate wardrobe for work.

Flexible Work Schedule

Being able to structure your work day as you see fit – working on the days and times when you’re most productive. Being able to schedule your ‘real life’ into your workday.

Flexible Work Location

Being able to do your work wherever you see fit. Having the option to change work location as needed.

High-Performing or Highly Experienced Co-Workers

Working alongside super-smart or super-experienced people is like getting a free education. I owe every soft skill and business know-how I have to working with, observing and learning from people who were way better than me at what we did. Learning via traditional education does have value, but learning via association and apprenticeship is priceless.

Of course there are other forms of non-monetary job compensation like: health benefits, gym memberships, cell phone discounts and the like,  but since these job ‘benefits’ are fairly standard and usually available to every employee, I feel like they’re not as valuable as the ones listed above.

Not all of these forms of non-monetary compensation will be available in every industry or for every job role. But some of them will be. And you should be sure to ask for them during the interview and selection process. If not, you could literally be selling yourself short.

And you’re worth more than that.

What other forms of work compensation would sweeten the deal for you? Have you been able to successfully negotiate any of these forms of compensation for a job?

how to make time slow down
how to make time slow down
how to make time slow down

A while back, I was talking with a co-worker about an NPR story on why time seems to move faster as we age. One explanation offered in the story was that, when we were younger, everything we encountered was new and big and significant – we’d never done most things before, or, we’d done them so few times that it all still seemed like new.

Something about how the brain registers time makes it feel like everything slows down when we’re in new situations or experiences. Likely, it’s so we can process all this new information and store it in a logical place according to our brain’s particular filing system. As we age and repeat experiences, however, the brain takes shortcuts. It no longer needs to record every minute detail of something that you’ve done a thousand times. It speeds past those familiar and known experiences, and as a result we feel like our lives have sped up as well.

But part of the beauty of being older is the accumulated experience. The wisdom that is its own treasure. Even if we could turn back the clock to when we were young and time moved more slowly, certainly we wouldn’t to lose all that precious learning and growth we’ve gained over so many years of living?

So the challenge is: how do I look through ever-older eyes with a forever-new heart? How do we make time slow down like way back when everything was new?

Here are some ideas:

9 Ways to Make Time Slow Down

Be fully present in your body. I think most of us are pretty detached from our bodies. We only really pay close attention to our body when something’s wrong with it (‘my knee hurts’, ‘I’m hungry’), or when it experiences pleasure. Most of our relationship with our body is spent in either avoiding pain or chasing pleasure for it – things that send our mind racing through time. Taking time to slow down and actually focus on how the body functions, and what it feels like when it’s being used, is essential. Active hobbies (e.g., sports, biking, walking), stretching, meditation, sex, even massage are good ways to get your mind back into your body.

Be observant. I can get in the habit of having blinders on while going about my day – walking with such purpose to my next meeting or to grab my lunch, that I don’t really see anything except for what’s directly in front of me. You’ve probably done the same. Convinced yourself you’re in a hurry, even if you don’t want to go where you’re headed (Really? I’m rushing… to work?) or you aren’t on a schedule at all (It’s Saturday, why am I mad that everyone’s moving so slow?). Instead of rushing past everyone and everything to get to your next location, slow down and pay attention to the things that you would normally pass by without noticing. Turn your head from side to side as you walk. Look up at the sky, count how many trees you pass from the train station to the office. Imagine the whole world is a ‘Where’s Waldo’ drawing, and you’re trying to see where that sneaky sumbitch is hiding.

how to make time slow down - ferris bueller quote
how to make time slow down - ferris bueller quote

Change 1 small thing. Routine makes weeks and months pass by in an indistinguishable blur. If you’ve been going about your daily life with minimal variation, introduce a little change. Take a new route on your commute. Switch your brand of cereal. Take a day off for no reason at all.

Go somewhere new. Even if it’s just a new park, a new restaurant or new area of town. Explore somewhere you’ve never been.

Learn something new. A new language, a new dance move, a new joke. Once you’ve got that one down, learn a new one.

Hang with kids. If you can’t be a kid again, be with kids again. Ask them questions, listen to them talk and engage in conversation with them like you would with any other friend. Play a game with them, show each other your best dance moves, have them tell you a story, laugh together at something silly.

Stop saying you don’t have time. I’m a big believer in the idea that what you affirm mentally and verbally, is made real in your life. If you say you don’t have enough time, you won’t. Your actions will follow your words and you’ll keep finding ways to squander away your time on a hundred things that you’ve chosen to do instead of the things you should be doing. If you really don’t have enough time to do the things that you need or want to in your life, that’s a big red flag that you need to sit down and make some difficult decisions about what needs to stay and what needs to go in your life. Ask yourself what and who you need to re-prioritize in order to stop feeling so overscheduled and overwhelmed. Or, you need to stop sweating the small stuff and change that statement from a helpless, “I don’t have time,” to a knowing, “I can’t do everything.”

Be someone new. This isn’t as un-doable as it sounds. I’m not suggesting you go fugue or check into the witness protection program, but do something that lets you see yourself as a different person. Change up your style, get a new hairdo, lose or gain some weight, talk in a German accent for an entire day, schedule some sessions with a therapist or a life coach.

Plan a vacation. Cuz, seriously, time moves at its absolute slowest in the weeks and days before it’s time for you take a highly anticipated trip somewhere.

Do you feel like time has sped up as you’ve gotten older? What other ways have you found to make time slow down?

how to make chunky guacamole
how-to-make-authentic-mexican-guacamole.png

For years, I thought I didn’t like guacamole. The bright green goo that would occasionally appear at house parties, game day gatherings and Tex-Mex restaurants held absolutely no appeal for me. I would turn my nose up at it when I saw it on display.

“No, thanks. I’m not a fan of mush,” I’d say.

Others tried to convince me that I didn’t know what I was missing out on, that I should try, ‘insert texture-less, tasteless store-bought brand name here’, because theirs was reaaaally good. I would occasionally, against my better judgement, try the green goop again. Still, I remained unimpressed.

Then, after my first trip to Mexico, I realized that most of what we call guacamole here in the US… ain’t.

What I tasted at beachside shacks and streetfront restaurants in Mexico was not a uniformly smooth green spread, it was more like an avocado salad – it had big chunks of the lovely pale green fruit; it tasted bright and fresh and was something I could literally sink my teeth into. I dug into it gleefully at every meal during my trip, amazed out how simple the mixture of ingredients was, and how unlike the ‘gwaca-mohl’ I was used to seeing and tasting stateside it was.

After returning from my trip, I was inspired to start making this chunky (and dare I say, more authentic) guacamole in my own kitchen. I’d serve it to visiting guests and carry it along to potluck shindigs. Apparently, I got pretty good at making it, since my friend Regina confided in me, “Yours is the only guacamole I’ll eat.” Apparently, she’d had the same ‘get-that-green-go-outta-here’ feelings that I’d had for years, and I had made her a convert.

So, this one is not just for you other would-be converts, it’s for Regina. And for the potluck party that she’s having this weekend that I won’t be able to attend, but my guacamole will be.

How to Make Chunky Guacamole

For me, the perfect guacamole starts with pico de gallo – a mixture of tomato, onion, cilantro, and lime juice that forms the base of the ‘avocado salad’.

how to make chunky guacamole or avocado salad
how to make chunky guacamole or avocado salad

Some tips to make sure your chunky guacamole comes out perfectly:

  • If you don’t yet have the technique down, figure out how to properly cut an avocado. It’ll help cut down on prep time and just make your guac look prettier in the bowl.
  • Avoid using a metal bowl or spoon – metal can cause the avocados to turn brown.
  • If you’re making the guac ahead of time, squeeze a little extra lime juice over the top of the completed salad (acid acts as a mild preservative), and cover with plastic wrap touching the top of the salad. This will limit the air contact that causes the avocados to oxidize and turn brown.
  • Add in extra flavor to the pico as you desire – diced jalapenos, fresh(!) minced garlic, ground cumin, diced mango, finely chopped cooked shrimp. These add-ins will transform your standard guac into something even more impressive.
  • Don’t stir too much once the avocado is added. This is especially important if your avocados are very ripe. The more you stir, the mushier they’ll become.

I hope you try this recipe for chunky guacamole at home, and I hope you can make some converts out of your friends who may think they don’t like guac.

Are you a lover or a hater of guacamole? Would you give this recipe a try?

how to make jollof rice

“Who taught you how to do the shopping for Jollof rice?” I’d shown up to my Ghanaian friends’ house with a bag of groceries, my thanks for them having fed me home-cooked meals multiple times since I’d been living in Malaga (and my ‘bribe’ to get them to cook again that day). Had I done the shopping for Jollof rice? Not intentionally. But that day, I learned how to put this handful of very common ingredients together to create a classic West African rice dish that many say is the precursor to Southern / Creole jambalaya.

jollof rice ingredients

Like many iconic cultural dishes, Jollof rice has as many variations as there are cooks that prepare it. Seasonings, meats, and garnishes change according to individual tastes, the preparer's country of origin or family traditions, but one thing remains consistent: it's a boldy flavored dish that can feed a few or a crowd without breaking the bank. Despite the many stylistic differences, the steps to making Jollof rice are essentially the same in every recipe:

how to cook jollof rice   Yet, there is one other thing though that - for me - sets Jollof rice apart from other one-pot rice dishes... the crispy bottom.   If you have never experienced the culinary and textural joy that is crispy-bottomed rice... my friend, I dare say, you have not yet lived. While West Africans aren't the only ones who finish off rice cookery by intentionally and lightly scalding the layer of rice at the bottom of the cooking vessel so it turns a crispy, golden brown (the Spaniards do it too with paella), I think they may have perfected it. Plus, the rich flavors of this dish, when combined with that crunchy layer of rice, is just... delightful.  

If you fancy trying to make Jollof rice in your own kitchen, here are three recipes for inspiration:  

How to Make Jollof Rice

The best way to learn to make any dish is to watch someone else make it. In this video recipe from My African Food Map, Ghanaian Tuleka Prah takes us into her aunt's kitchen to learn the Ghanaian way to make Jollof rice - note the addition of extra veggies like carrots and green beans.

source: My African Food Map

 

Another West African home cook, Sisi Jemimah, swears by the addition of butter and white pepper to get an authentic Jollof rice taste. She also shares her secret for getting that characteristic reddish color that Jollof rice is known for. She finishes her version by stirring in fresh tomato and sliced onion at the end of cooking - a touch that will add a little brightness to a dish that's heavy on rich, savory flavor.

how to make jollof rice

 

This recipe from NigerianFoodTv gives specific instructions on how to get that coveted crispy bottom layer on the rice. It suggests parboiling the rice to help the process along, but I've gotten good results without parboiling, instead just rinsing the rice to remove the excess starch before cooking.

Have you tried Jollof rice before? What are your tips for getting the right balance of flavor, color and texture? If you haven't tried to make this dish before - give it a go... you won't be disappointed.

how to make jollof rice

how to do the impossible
how to do the impossible
how to do the impossible

“It always seems impossible until it’s done." ~ Nelson Mandela

When a group of friends comes to you and says that they’ve found a great deal on a 2-hour private Mediterranean boat cruise and want to know if you’re in, you say yes. You don’t think about the fact that you swim like a rock and are therefore mildly terrified of deep water without a pool’s edge or lifeguard in sight to cling to. You simply say yes. Because it’s summer. It’s southern Spain. And it’s what you do.

So when you subsequently find yourself scared shitless on a sailboat off the coast of Malaga on a blazing hot summer day with half of that group of friends taking turns diving from the boat into the water and playfully splashing about, and the other half shouting for you to jump in and join them, you’ve got a choice to make. Do you:

  1. Disregard the mind-numbing fear that’s gripping you, your bowels that keep threatening to loosen on you, and your lack of strong swimming skills, and take the plunge? Or,
  2. Act like a sensible person and say, “No thanks, guys, just gonna stay on board and make sure the chips don’t get soggy,” and miss the opportunity to add ‘swam in the Mediterranean’ to your list of ‘have you evers’?

If there’s anything I loathe more than the fear of ending up in a watery grave, it’s the fear of missing out on a chance to make an amazing memory. So, after watching my friends enjoy themselves for a few moments longer, I walked to the edge of the boat and stood there peering down into the water, hoping I’d be able to will myself into doing the impossible.

How to Do the Impossible

Find your motivation (aka, ‘the push’)

What is the one thing that makes you feel like you can’t not do this? The one thing that makes the impossible task looming in front of you seem like something you must attempt, even if you don’t prove to be successful at it? This is the thing that will give you that initial push that you need to get started with an impossible task, and will keep fueling your fire to see it through to the end. In almost every situation, that push will come from one of the following:

Naysayers

Years earlier, I was faced with a similarly impossible moment. I was at the famed Rick’s Café in Jamaica, nervously waiting my turn to jump off of one of the surrounding cliffs into the cool blue waters below (I know, I know. For someone who can’t swim well, I jump into deep water an awful lot). I wasn’t even sure if was actually going to jump. I waved 2 or 3 others ahead of me, while I continued to work up the nerve. Just as I was starting to talk myself out of it, one of the guys who’d seen me around the resort that I was staying at, sauntered up and took a seat on a rock off to the side of the diving ‘platform’. He took one look at my terror-stricken face and started playfully chiding me, telling me that I wasn’t going to jump, that I was too scared, that I should just walk back down and join my friends at the bar. It turns out that someone telling me that I couldn’t, was all the motivation I needed to realize that I could. When my detractor was right in the middle of one of his wisecracks, I ran to the edge of the cliff and jumped. Geronimo, ho.

how to overcome fear and do the impossible despite naysayers
how to overcome fear and do the impossible despite naysayers

Necessity

You’ve heard the stories of people who’ve rushed into a burning building or displayed superhuman strength to save someone they love in a moment of disaster. What makes those miraculous feats possible is a certain type of necessity. A necessity brought about by the fear of an outcome that is worse than or would cause more suffering than the impossible thing to be done. The avoidance of pain or suffering is a powerful motivator, and can make you completely suspend the notion that you can’t do a thing. After my Rick’s Café cliff jump, I hit the water so hard that my watch – which I’d forgotten to remove – came off and began to float away from me as I sank beneath the surface. The watch was a treasured gift from a dear friend, and I was damned if I was going to let the Caribbean claim it. In that moment, I completely forgot to remember that I couldn’t swim well. My panic at being in a big body of water was replaced by the panic of potentially losing my watch, and before I could think, I’d swum my way up to retrieve it and over to the bottom of the cliff where I extracted my beloved watch and my beloved self from the water.

Tragedy

Sometimes a personal life tragedy and the long, slow pressure cooker of time is what you need to accomplish a seemingly impossible feat – like this guy who went from Homer Simpson to hotbody in one year after a breakup with his girlfriend. Tragedy and adversity often gives us a reason to fight and a willingness to win – or at least, persevere – despite impossible odds.

Cheerleaders / Role Models

Things don’t seem nearly as impossible when you’ve got a friend or few by your side cheering you on, believing in you, and pledging to be there for you if and when things get dicey. Sometimes a support group and a gentle nudge is what you need to get started on an impossible task. While I was standing on the edge of that sailboat in the middle of the Mediterranean, still debating if I could jump, I heard my friends cheering me on and smiling from the water. “C’mon, Kisha! You can do it! Jump!” Surely these smiling, strong-swimming people wouldn’t let me drown, I thought to myself. They weren’t even pointing and laughing at how obviously scared I was. Maybe they’re right. Maybe I can do this.

Fully commit (aka, ‘Sh*t or get off the pot’)

So you’ve found your motivation, but you’re still a little bit scared, you may even still be hemming and hawing about going through with this impossible feat. Nothing unusual about that. Fear doesn’t necessarily fade away simply because you’ve found a reason to face it. But if you’re still hesitating and reconsidering once you’ve started down the path toward the impossible, there’s a huge chance that you’re going to hurt yourself in the process. While motivation gives you the power to start an impossible thing, commitment is the thing within that says there is no stopping, no turning back, no giving in once you’ve started. Or, if you’ve decided to ‘get off the pot’, commitment prevents you from regretting that decision and continuing to beat yourself up about it.

how to do the impossible
how to do the impossible

Visualize the Desired Outcome

What’s the worst that could happen? Instead of letting that be just a rhetorical question, allow yourself to imagine the worst possible outcome – failure, embarrassment, physical pain, financial loss. Sit with that image for a while, try to feel the emotions attached to that outcome. Now, imagine the most desirable result. How would that feel? What would that look like? Spend more time filling out that image in your mind. See yourself swimming and playing with your friends in the water. See yourself not drowning, making it back to the boat and enjoying soggy chips with your friends as you sail off into the sunset, still laughing. Imagine yourself 1, 5, 10 years from now telling your kids the story of that one time when you swam in the Mediterranean despite the fact that you were scared to death. Then tell yourself that all the positive things you’ve just imagined can be real. All you have to do is….

Once It’s Done, Do It Again

You already know how my story ended, right? Of course you do. I eventually jumped off of the sailboat into the water on that sunny summer day in southern Spain. It was much, much colder and a lot less scary than I thought it would be. I splashed about in the sea, dodged several jellyfish undulating by, floated on my back (yay, saltwater!) and admired the cloudless sky above, and, when our little swimming pit stop was over, I climbed back onto the boat, proud of myself for having conquered my fear. We pulled up anchor, sailed off and headed back towards the shore. But just a few minutes later, my friends pleaded with the captain to stop the boat once more so we could take one final dip before heading back in. Once again, my intrepid friends dove fearlessly into the water. And, once again, I was struck with fear at the prospect of following them. Even though I had already jumped, here I was, moments later, just as scared as I was the first time. Even I was surprised at my lingering fear. Why was I still afraid? Hadn’t I already slayed this dragon? Doing the impossible once doesn’t necessarily make it any easier or less frightening to do the next time. My fear was still present and it was clouding my brain with irrational, but very convincing thoughts. What if I just got lucky the first time? What if it was just a fluke? What if I was about to let a false sense of confidence get me into trouble? Fear is not a rational thing. Which is why the only way to conquer it is to do what it says you can’t, and do it again and again and again. The fear may never fully disappear, but you will eventually learn to tune it out when it starts whispering its senseless nothings to you.

That day, I ignored my fear, and jumped. Twice. And once my friends and I were safely back on the shore and enjoying a few celebratory beers at the nearby beach, I confessed to one of them how scared I’d been because of my weak swimming ability.

“Whoa, that’s pretty awesome! I didn’t even know you couldn’t swim that well!” exclaimed my friend, before giving me an enthusiastic high-five. And at that moment, I realized a simple truth. Even if your attempt at the impossible is awkward, fumbled, ugly, causes you to shit your pants, lose money, lose friends, or get laughed at, going ahead and doing it anyway is infinitely better than the feeling of ‘what if’ or what might have been.

In short, doing the impossible – not necessarily being flawless at doing it – is the reward.

how-to-overcome-fear-do-the-impossible-jay-z
how-to-overcome-fear-do-the-impossible-jay-z

How have you overcome impossible feats in the past? Are there any big, impossible things you're afraid of that you need to go ahead and do anyway?

q&a with atlanta artist michael jones

Atlanta artist Michael Jones at his Moving Targets: Full Clip exhibit at Eyedrum Atlanta-based artist Michael Jones is a man of many faces – he’s a visual artist, a budding musician, an accidental comedian, a social commentator. He also happens to be my neighbor. A fact that made it easy for me to reach out to him to discuss his latest exhibition, Moving Targets: Full Clip.

The exhibition – a collection of 25 pieces displayed in 3 separate, but conjoined spaces – is a visual representation of the artist’s commentary on the themes of guns and targets in American society. After attending the opening of the exhibit, I invited Michael to a casual one-on-one interview to share his thoughts about his work, his influences, and his take on the role of guns in modern society.

 

What was the inspiration for the show’s topic? Why did you decide to broach this subject in the manner that you did?

The first time I shot a gun was 4 or 5 years ago. I got invited to go to a gun range for someone’s birthday party. That first firing range experience was exciting, but unsettling – the devil on my left shoulder and the angel on my right shoulder both pissed their pants – it was sensory overload! The sound, the smell, the sight of the fire coming out of the barrel.

The second time I went, there was a group of black ladies at the range too. This was just after Trayvon. I overhead the ladies imagining that it was George Zimmerman they were shooting. That’s when I realized that the target is more important than the firearm.

 

Moving Targets: Full Clip 'Backpackin''

You’re a Texas native right? How were you influenced by gun culture growing up or living there? Were you at all?

I’m originally from Dallas, Texas. My dad was in the military, he served in the Army in Vietnam. He always had guns when I was growing up. But I never owned a gun. My dad came to visit me one time and when he was going back to Dallas, we were at the airport, and the security guy asked if he had anything on him. And my dad goes, “Yeah,” and pulls out his gun – he had it in a Crown Royal bag. I’m like, “You can’t take that on the plane!” So that’s when he gave the gun to me.

 

Why do you think Americans are so obsessed with guns? What do you think guns symbolize to the people of this country? Do you think that obsession will ever change?

Because we manufacture them. So it’s only natural that we have our citizens support it. We are the number one manufacturer of weapons and firearms, across the board. I think it’s too late for stringent gun laws. Even if we restricted citizens from owning, criminals would still have guns.

Also – there was a time when African-Americans were prohibited from having guns. I think that’s part of the problem – because we aren’t educated gun owners. Also, a lot of us aren’t responsible enough to have guns.

 

You’ve said this exhibit is less about firearms, but more about targets – explain what you mean by that.

The media uses the audience as a target – with different media you can do that. Take the Catholic Church for instance. The Catholic Church’s images of Jesus are different because they are targeting a different audience, wanting to give you a bigger guilt trip. I try to utilize those tools as well in this series. This is the first time I’m dealing with social commentary – the reason is that it’s bigger than me. I’m just the vessel. I’m the bottle that’s holding the beer.

 

The artist, the writer, the target

I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask about how you feel about the increased media coverage of black Americans – men, women, and children – as targets, by both armed police forces and by gun-toting private citizens. There was even a news story in Jan of this year about a police force using mug shots of black men to conduct target practice. As a black person in America, have you ever felt like a target? How do you personally manage those feelings of being targeted?

It ain’t nothing new, it’s just crazy that it’s getting exposed now. They can fix the shit without even showing it on TV. It all goes back to the overseers, the slaves and the master. The masters are the elite. The masters aren’t all white, but that’s what gets people riled up. It also happens to Latinos, poor white people, even some rich people.

I have a friend who’s a cop. But I’m glad he’s a cop, because I know he’s a standup dude. The cops are also a target. My friend had a similar situation happen, and the media jumped all over him – and his victim was white. When all of these mass shootings were going on – where were the people who were supposed to be the good guys? That’s why cops should be honored.

I’ve always felt like a target – but that’s just because of who I am. I grew up in a lower middle class black neighborhood. Growing up being the weird artist kid I was a target in my own community. The other day I was driving thru the ‘hood and hit a stop sign. There was a dude in the middle of the street, saying something. I don’t know what he said to me, but I said, “Naw, man, I’m cool.” And as I drove off, he raised up his shirt and showed me his gun, right by his nuts. And I thought to myself, that’s a bad ass motherf----. ‘Cause if you carrying there? (laughs)

 

Tell me a little about your background as an artist. How you got started? Who influenced you? When did you first say to yourself, ‘I am an artist’?

My mom and dad got divorced, but they were together the majority of my childhood. I lived with both of them at different times. My dad was the person who pushed me to get into art, but my mom was the artist of the family.

I’ve always been doing artwork, but it’s funny because the title was bestowed on me… by the community. Everybody always referred to me as Michael, the artist. In 3rd or 4th grade I used to draw G.I. Joe men and sell ‘em to my friends, until I got busted for tracing. One of my friends busted me and said he wasn’t gonna pay me until I drew it right there on the spot. So, I did. I thought it was bad, but the dude paid me for it. I used to draw funny pictures of my teachers too, and all the kids would laugh.

Comedy and art has always been something that goes together for me. That’s why I’m a smart ass artist, it’s why I call my art ‘signified’ – it’s a layer cake. It’s satire, it’s comedy, but it’s also truth.

When I got older, my dad was the one who forced me to go to art school – a local arts high school. I fell in love with the school ‘cause girls was running around in leotards, there were kids playing sax in the stairwells after class... it introduced me to art life. I got blown out of my mind – there were artists there that were way better. But they were pushing me to be better, yet also respecting where I was coming from. So that was when I first started painting. And people would come and talk to me, ‘cause my studio was in the school hallway – so people were always passing by, and the principal would walk by with visiting guests and ask me questions.

When I was a senior, I got to go to Chicago on a contest I won – an NAACP ACT-SO award. It was my first time on a plane, so I was nervous. My best friend was like, “Why you nervous? Your artwork will be able to take you anywhere you wanna go.” He was always like that old coach on Rocky – getting me amped up. I remember this one guy came up and asked me, “Are you an artist?” And I said, “Yeah I’m trying to be.” He was like, “What you mean, ‘trying to be’? You either are, or you aren’t.” But I still was kinda bitch about that shit.

About 6 years ago, I went home to my grandma’s funeral, and everybody who came up to me was like, “You’re Paulette’s son, the artist.” At that time, I was getting ready to figure out something else to do. But going back and having everybody already refer to me as that kinda did it for me.

 

You have an alter-ego persona named Iceworm. Who is Iceworm? Why the need for this persona? What does Iceworm do that Michael Jones can’t?

(Laughs) Yeah… Iceworm Jones, aka, Ratfoot. He’s a very clever individual – he’s been baptized. That’s his baptismal name.

Iceworm likes to explore and push the elements of music – from a person who never took any music classes, but still plays and makes music. That’s what Iceworm brings to Michael Jones. I’m a baby at all of this music stuff, but all of it starts with ambition. Learning how to work with tools and making a rhythm. A rhythm is something that everybody has – I have a heartbeat, or when I tap on something that’s me expressing my rhythm. That’s why I think music is a higher art than visual.

 

Moving Targets: Full Clip 'Target Practice'

You work with a variety of techniques and media – sculpture, paint, performance art – all of which are represented in this exhibition. How do you decide which medium to use for a piece? Are there any techniques that you feel more comfortable with? Are there any you’re still learning or wanting to learn?

It’s kinda like a pimple or a volcano – it builds up – it don’t come outta nowhere. I’m more comfortable with painting. Less comfortable with spoken word, poetry. But the art that you’re scared of is the shit you need to be doin’. That’s when I said, ‘Imma release an album’.

 

Speaking of which, what other projects are you currently working on or have planned?

I’m collaborating with a couple of other artists to work on a play. I just finished the mural, Letter Blue in our neighborhood, Westview.

There’s The Pavement Series – my collection of abstract cityscapes. The Trinity Series is a non-objective abstract collection. I’m also getting ready to go back in the studio.

 

Tell me a little more about the Westview mural you just completed – what’s the subject of the mural?

It’s funny ‘cause I like to layer things. When I went to the first community meeting about the mural and listened to things people were saying, what I got out of it was: some people want the new and change; some people fear it. The piece represents the tug between the two – where you have an old school neighborhood and the downtown influences that could be coming, not necessarily taking over – but sometimes they could be doing that, too.

michael jones letter blue mural westview atlanta

What’s one of the greatest obstacles you’ve encountered as an artist? How did you overcome it? What advice would you give to other new and budding artists?

Getting people to give you the chance to showcase your art. And being a hustler – hustling.

The people I do know that are in the game – they are good hustlers. Hustling is something that they all do well.

I would pass this on from 2 or 3 people who’ve said this to me; and I just recently started to apply it. Be a part of a community or some kind of family, and be loyal to your word. Artists give artists a bad name. I hate artists. Artists suck.

 

Why?

Because we need to think a lot bigger than ourselves; we need to stop being selfish. Artists are assholes. Artists are divas.

 

Are you a diva?

No, I’m a smartass.

One thing artists can do is volunteering. Dedicate some free time to do something that’s not just on you; that doesn’t have shit to do with you or the career that you’re trying to be in. It’s a way to get connections, but also to learn and grow.

 

What can people expect from the show, the venue – Eyedrum – the 3 different spaces? Why should people want to be there?

The space is perfect for me – it allowed me to display and showcase some of the work in different mediums. The space was able to allow for the opposing themes of the show – which I like. The gallery space holds framed artwork; next door allowed me to create an interactive scene, to recreate the shooting galleries that used to be at the back of arcades or state fairs. Then, on the rooftop – the space with the videos – those are like the teasers, the previews you see when you’re getting your popcorn at the theater.

The curators at Eyedrum definitely push artists to be out of their comfort zone. They gave me that opportunity, and I wanted to jump on it.

 

What is art to you?

I figured it out when I went to Chicago to visit my best friend one time. I was driving through Chicago and I saw that someone had made a penis out of the snow on someone’s windshield. Then, later on, I was outside smoking a cigarette, and I started stomping these patterns on the snow.

That’s when I realized that art is when u purposely put something here. And there and there. Martial arts is when you intentionally put a kick or a punch in a certain place. It’s about coordination, practice, repetition, rhythm, vibrations. That’s what f—kin’ art is.

--------

Moving Targets: Full Clip is showing at Eyedrum Art & Music Gallery in downtown Atlanta until December 5. Michael Jones will host an artist talk at the gallery on Sunday, November 15 from 1-4 p.m.

michael jones eyedrum gallery atlanta

 

what to do with sh*tty wine

One of the best things about hosting a BYOB party at your house is all the great bottles of wine and liquor left over after the party is finished. Well... usually.

After the last BYOB shindig I hosted, I found myself left with 3 bottles of not-so-great wine that I knew I'd never drink. They sat collecting dust on the bar in the dining room for weeks and weeks. Every so often my gaze would fall on them, and I'd think, "Now what in the hell am I going to do with this wine?" Then: "And who in the hell brought this to my party anyway?" I considered re-gifting the bottles, but didn't want the recipient to get the wrong idea about my wine taste. With my luck, they'd end up thinking these undrinkable wines were my favorites and making that my next birthday present.

No thanks.

To make matters worse, the unwanted wines weren't your standard reds or whites - which I might normally work into a favorite recipe. No sir, the three I had to contend with were: a moscato, a pink moscato, and a sparkling rose with the word 'sweet' in the name. Halp.

Determined not to let even wine that I didn't want to drink go to waste, I turned to the Internets for ideas on how to transform these leftover wines into something delicious.

what to do with leftover ine
what to do with leftover ine

What To Do With Leftover Moscato

Moscato Poached Pears - This recipe is super simple and uses a full bottle of moscato (perfect for my needs!) along with a touch of honey to soften and flavor delicious ripe pears. The poached pears can even be sliced and saved for serving later over ice cream or yogurt.

Apples Baked in Moscato - Slow-baked apples and prunes in a wine bath flavored with vanilla, cinnamon and brown sugar? Not only is this a great way to use up some leftover moscato, it's the perfect healthy dessert for Fall.

What To Do With Leftover Rose'

Homemade Wine Jelly - While the original recipe uses red wine, I think it would work just as well with a rose' like the pink moscato I've got on hand. The original poster recommends pairing the final product with cheese and crackers, but I could see using this jelly on everything from biscuits to burgers.

Gummy Wine Fruit Snacks - This recipe also calls for red - but are you telling me you wouldn't want to tear into these sweet and boozy gummy treats if they were made with rose' instead? I didn't think so. Package some of these easy to make adult treats up and share with your friends!

What to do With Leftover Champagne

Strawberry and Champagne Pancakes - When you think champagne and breakfast, you usually think mimosas. But this recipe infuses champagne into homemade pancake batter to make them even lighter and fluffier, then tops the flapjacks with a fresh strawberry and champagne sauce.

Homemade Champagne Vinegar - The thought of making my own vinegar from wine kinda freaks me out, especially since the process involves fermentation. But since that bottle of sparkling sweet wine is going to just sit there collecting dust anyway, might as well give it a shot. Some recipes for making champagne vinegar, like this one from The Kitchn, opt for natural fermentation (i.e., just sitting the open wine in a dark place for a few weeks), while others, like this one on the Williams-Sonoma blog recommend the use of a bacterial vinegar starter or 'mother'.

More Uses for Leftover Wine

They say you shouldn't cook with wine you wouldn't want to drink. But they didn't say anything about baking with it or using it around the house. These 27 uses for leftover wine from Greatist are range from savory to sweet and even  household uses

coconut curry quinoa + 5 ways to cook quinoa
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Weeknight mealtimes have been sort of iffy lately. Most times,  I manage to plan ahead for my evening meal.  Sometimes, I just wing it with what's in the fridge and pantry. Since quinoa is something I always have on hand, it makes frequent appearances alongside or underneath whatever else I've cooked. Occasionally though, I like to give the little grain some more attention. You know, zhoozh it up a bit so it doesn't always fade into the background. Here's one of my favorite ways:

Coconut-Curry Quinoa

makes about 4 servings

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups quinoa (I like to use a combo of regular and black quinoa)
  • small onion, chopped
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
  • roma tomato, chopped (optional)
  • 1/2 - 1 Tbsp of curry powder (vary amount according to your tastes)
  • small can of coconut milk
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
In a pot, heat olive oil. Saute onions and red bell pepper for a few minutes until onions are tender. Add tomato and curry powder and stir to combine. Add the quinoa and stir well.  Add coconut milk and 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil, then cover and lower heat to simmer. Simmer for 15-20 minutes or until all liquid is absorbed.
Here, I served coconut-curry quinoa with some Thai-flavored roasted 'shrooms and lemony roasted Brussels sprouts for a Meatless Monday meal:
Since I do use quinoa a lot, sometimes I'll cook up a big batch at the beginning of the week, and use it throughout the week in different ways. Here are some simple suggestions for using cooked quinoa creatively:

5 Ways to Use Cooked Quinoa:

  1. Quinoa mac-and-cheese - A more protein-packed version of the classic dish. I use the quinoa mac-and-cheese recipe from Moni's Meals as a guideline.
  2. Quinoa stir fry - Stir fry peas, diced carrots, diced green onions, and any other veggies you like with crushed garlic and ginger. Toss in cooked quinoa, soy sauce, and sesame oil.
  3. Quinoa salad - Toss cooked quinoa with diced cucumber, tomatoes, fresh basil, feta cheese, and a vinaigrette. Add more veggies and salad fixings as you like.
  4. Quinoa cakes - Mix cooked quinoa with beaten egg, minced shallots, and grated parmesan cheese. Shape into small cakes and pan-fry. Serve as a snack or appetizer.
  5. Quinoa burgers - Mix cooked quinoa with ground beef or turkey, egg, and seasonings. Shape into burger-sized patties and cook as you would cook burgers. It's a nice way to add a little whole grain to your meal.

 

cheers,

k

top photo: Quinoa with Chickpeas, Curry, and Lime

what i wish i could tell you about natural hair
what-i-wish-i-could-say.jpg

what i wish i could say

Having been natural for ~15 years, I often find myself being treated as something of a nappy hair ambassador by my fellow brown girls who’ve decided to embrace their kinks, coils, and curls.  While I love sharing my experiences on damned near anything to damned near anyone who’ll listen, some of the questions and stories I get from ladies who are either considering transitioning to natural or who’ve recently made the transition often leave me scratching my head (yes, pun intended). Usually, I downplay my befuddlement, and try to provide as much meaningful info as I can in as supportive a manner as possible, but I often I wish I could tell them what’s really going on underneath my naps.

 

What I Wish I Could Tell You… But Can’t.

Your boyfriend/husband/significant other/potential suitors won’t be turned off by it.

My telling you that would require me to presume that you’re not the type who picks douchebag guys to begin with. Since I can’t assume that, I can’t assure you that some douchebag guy isn’t gonna try to  make you feel like you’re less attractive or desirable without a chemical relaxer, straightening comb or weave. Yes, guys have preferences on skin color, hair styles, and body parts just like women do. And most of the times, the person that we guys and girls end up loving isn’t the person who meets all of our physical ideals – it’s the person who is worth investing time and energy into because they bring a wealth of positive, non-physical qualities to the relationship. So, if changing your hairstyle or texture is enough to send your beau into the arms of another, or to have him stop showing you affection or giving you compliments, then your relationship probably wasn’t as solid as you imagined it was anyway. Simply put, real love is hairstyle-independent.

 

cat digs nappy hair

 

What products will work for your hair.

I can tell you the products I like, or the products that work for my hair. But, that doesn’t mean you’ll love them too. Same goes for relaxers or hair extensions or hair products for any other hair type. The brand that someone else swears by may not be the brand you think is best. It’s a matter of trial-and-error, experience, and personal preference based on your styling habits and grooming routines. Before going natural, I used a variety of styling products based on my evolving hair needs/wants over the years, and that concept hasn’t changed for me since going natural.

(incidentally, a little shea butter, coconut oil and a really good conditioner are enough for me about 90% of the time)

 

How you can get your hair to look like mine.

Half the time, I never know what I’m going to do with my hair until it’s done. I try different techniques and methods, and work with it until I feel like I like what I see in the mirror. Sometimes people I pass look bemused by my style du jour, and sometimes, I get something along the lines of:

See, now… I like your natural. How do you get it to do that?

Or,

I wish I could get my hair to look like that.

I never really know how to respond to that. It actually makes me feel squirmily uncomfortable when women say that to me. It wasn’t until a couple of weeks ago that I realized why. I was in a conversation with 2 other natural-haired ladies, and one of them asked that question. The other smartly replied to the effect of… ‘the reason you go natural is because you want to wear YOUR natural hair, not someone else’s’. Wise advice, I thought. I think it’s nice to be inspired by other people’s hairstyles, but you have to make them your own. Wearing a natural hairstyle sort of implies that you’re ok with embracing your natural self, not trying to completely copy someone else’s natural self.

 

How you can be more comfortable with the decision to go natural.

This one baffles me. If you’re not comfortable with it, why the hell are you even considering it!? There’s no law requiring every black woman on Earth to wear her hair natural. There’s no shame in wearing your hair straight or long or any other way you want to wear it. So why are you trying so hard to convince yourself that you should do this? If the thought of wearing your hair a certain way makes you feel skittish, or scared, or irritated, or weepy, here’s an idea: stop thinking about it. Oh, I see. You can’t. Cuz being natural is what’s hot in the streets right now? Carry on, then.

difficult decision

 

What I CAN Tell You:

 

Hair typing is for suckas.

Of all the natural hair hype out there today, hair typing is the one that pisses me off most. In case you haven’t heard of it, hair typing is a number- and letter- based system of classifying hair curl patterns. What irks me about it is that it really serves no purpose other than to force women to try and put their hair into neat little boxes or categories, or to make them wish they had hair type 1A instead of 9F (or whatever the hell). Hair typing really doesn’t even do much good in helping you decide which hair products you can use (as this article explains, there are so many other factors that come into play). And to further confuse things, there’s so much disagreement and debate about whose hair is what type that it’s often the subject of heated debates. To me, the whole hair typing neurosis smacks of the antiquated idea of good/bad hair. And yet, all over the interwebs I still see women touting their ‘hair type’ like some type of kinky ID card. Ridiculous. In my opinion, there are really only 2 hair types – the type of hair that ‘stands up’ even when it’s wet, and the type of hair that ‘lays down’ even when it’s dry. Marinate on that for a minute.

hair typing hype

 

It’s not for everyone. Nor is it for ever.

natural hair mafiaI’m not one of these natural hair Nazis that thinks that if you don’t wear your hair natural, you’re a sell-out or self-loathing (unless you ARE a sell-out or self-loathing). Hair is a matter of self-expression. If that’s not how you want to express yourself, so be it. If you want to express yourself that way now, but decide on a different form of self-expression later, go right on ‘head. I like to mix it up myself, and for that reason I have 2-3 wigs that I put into service for special occasions, or whenever I feel like totally changing my look for a day or two with very minimal effort.

 

It’s a relationship.

Natural hair is the kinda thing you’ll probably be into if you’re into that kinda thing. There will be good days, there will be bad days. There will headwrap days and ‘hot damn I’m smokin’’ days. You will have to learn what you can and can’t do with your hair based on the weather, your skills, or your time constraints. Your hair will let you know if you aren’t treating it or yourself right. And as a result, you’ll develop a relationship with your hair. No, that doesn’t mean you’ll go out on dates with it or make out in the corner with it, but… you may find yourself stroking it quite often and getting a great deal of pleasure out of it. :)

cheers,

k

photo: Nappy Hair by shekouvillage, on Flickr

photo:IMG_1362 by Sasquatch I, on Flick

photo: Hair Type Hype, courtesy of sisterswithbeauty.com

photo: Nappy Mafia, courtesy of Zedhair.com

summer travel: 3 travel junkies share their travel philosophies
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I’m starting to get that itch again. The travel itch. I find myself perusing travel sites multiple times a day to see what specials or discounts are being offered. I stare enviously at other folks’ online photos of their recent trips. I refresh my mental inventory of friends across the globe… “Who do I know that lives in (insert faraway city here)? Wonder if they’ll let me crash in their spare bedroom?”

I know I’m no exception. It seems most everyone I know is stricken with travel fever during summer. But some folks have that fever all year long. They are travel junkies, so to speak.

Since my budget and current work schedule are severely limiting my ability to scratch my travel itch, I thought I’d live vicariously through 3 travel junkies whose unique travel styles seem to reflect their attitudes toward life in general.

 

Travel Junkie # 1: Rue Mapp

Rue is the founder and Chief Outdoor Enthusiast of Outdoor Afro – a nationwide community of Black nature lovers. Growing up between urban Oakland and a northern California ranch, she developed an early love for outdoor activities like hiking, camping, fishing and hunting. Through Outdoor Afro, she fosters local communities of Black outdoor adventure seekers, and creates events that encourages them to reconnect with nature.

How would you describe your travel personality?

I am a nature historian. I connect with land not only because of its beauty and potential, but also by relating to connected people, culture, and ecology.

 

What is your favorite summer vacation spot?   

Any place near a lake! I particularly enjoy going to Buck's Lake in Northern California each year as part of our annual family camping trip.

 

What are your favorite online tools for traveling / travel planning (e.g., couchsurfing, AirB&B, Kayak, etc.)?

I prefer to just put the word out in my personal network, or via Outdoor Afro, which I founded and manage. I trust people to share with me based on something they already know about me and what I care about.

 

How many countries have you visited?

Just 3 - although I am quite the Americanist!

outdoor-afro-logo

Any other thoughts on travel?

One goal I have is to go to Brazil with my three children before they are grown - so any leads/tips to make this happen would be appreciated!

Visit the Outdoor Afro website

Follow Outdoor Afro on Facebook

 

Travel Junkie # 2: Walter Allen

Walter is a good friend of mine who really knows how to blend business with pleasure. His job takes him out of town and out of the country quite often, and he takes advantage of the opportunity to do and see more, either by extending work trips to do some personal sightseeing, or by using all that mileage he’s racked up to chart his own course to adventure. We joked recently that he’ll probably spend a good portion of his summer checking in at Hartsfield-Jackson airport here in Atlanta.

How would you describe your travel personality?

I am the laid back, do what you want to, when you want to type of traveler.  I am one for new cultures and adventures as well.  I take the "try it once" approach to traveling!

 

What is your favorite summer vacation spot?

With me having a "try it once" approach to traveling, I can't say that I have a favorite summer spot.  I will say that when I am traveling during the summer, I tend to look for a beach location. The beaches/locations I have enjoyed the most have been: Haulover Beach in North Miami, Canary Islands, Cayman Islands, and Santos, Brazil.

 

What are your favorite online tools for traveling / travel planning (e.g., couchsurfing, AirB&B, Kayak, etc.)?

Delta.com, Hotels.com, Expedia.com, Orbitz.com, islandhideaways.com

 

How many countries have you visited?

12+

 

Travel Junkie # 3: Greg Gross

Greg is not only a travel junkie, he’s also a travel evangelist. His mission? “To encourage all Americans, especially Americans of color, to see more of the world.” He spreads his gospel via his personal blog, I’m Black and I Travel!, which is a blend of Greg’s personal travel accounts and his insightful commentary on destinations and experiences of interest to travelers of color. Both his travel and writing styles are intriguing, as evidenced by his winning the title of ‘Best Travel Blog’ in the 2011 Black Weblog Awards.

How would you describe your travel personality?

My travel personality is eclectic. I'm equally comfortable in a 5-star hotel, a cruise ship, an all-inclusive resort or a sleeping bag in a tube tent strung between two trees. Lively metropolis or peaceful forest. Group tours or independent travel. I'm fine with all of it.

 

What is your favorite summer vacation spot?   

Only one?  In that case, I'll say San Francisco, followed VERY closely by Vancouver.

 

What are your favorite online tools for traveling / travel planning (e.g., couchsurfing, AirB&B, Kayak, etc.)?

I've learned not to have favorites when it comes to online travel planning. The field changes constantly. I use what works best for me on a given day. Over the years, I've had success with Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz, Hotwire, Priceline, Kayak, CheapoAir, Momondo and Dohop.

 

How many countries have you visited?

20

Any other thoughts on travel?

These days, my travel is no longer confined to summers. I may go anywhere at any time. But for me, the ideal summer travel is one that gives me everything I'm looking for in a destination, but with a minimum of crowds. Not easy to find! But then, what's life without a challenge, right?

Visit Greg’s blog: I’m Black and I Travel!

Follow I’m Black and I Travel! on Facebook

 

cheers,

k

photo: "Where I've Never Been"- graphic illustration available for purchase from 3LambsIllustration on Etsy

the summer fling - how to find one and work it like a pro
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Nothing says summer like a hot, steamy, and ultimately temporary romantic escapade. As youngsters, it was relatively easy to find a summer fling. Your parents would ship you off to summer camp or a multi-week stay with distant relatives, and before you knew it, you'd hooked up with a cute guy or gal who you clung to with all the intensity of someone who knew they had a limited-time offer on their hands. But, that was then. Now that you're all growed-up, it can be downright difficult to find a casual companion to spend the sweltering summer months with. Never fear, Dear Reader. These tips should help.

 

Show Some Skin.

This doesn't imply that you should go for the plungiest neckline or the shortest shorts you own. Skin-showing is an art that, if done poorly, can be more offensive than it is attractive. Some smart ways to show skin? Put your hair into a easy updo to show off the nape of your neck. If you're a jeans-everyday kinda guy or gal, work in some shoulder- or ankle-revealing sundresses or seersucker pants. And, if you've got a beach-ready body, by all means, break out your bikini and hit the pool or sand to soak up some rays (and Bobs, and Davids, and Erics...)!

If you want to practice your skin-showing (or viewing) skills, might I suggest:

Elevate - the weekly summer pool party at the W Atlanta Downtown, hosted by DJ Mike Zarin. Starts June 24.

 

Ditch Your Pals (Occasionally).

If you're always surrounded by people you know, you'll be less likely  to encounter someone you don't know. Leave the pack behind occasionally and go solo for a spell.  Great places for solo outings? Coffee shops. Meetups. Conferences / conventions. Wine / beer tastings. Dog parks (but only if you have a dog, otherwise it's just... weird.) And even the bar/lounge of your favorite restaurant or hotel. If you're bold enough, try a solo vacation (the growed-up equivalent of summer camp). Or if you're the shy type, volunteer events offer a great, low-pressure way to meet people while not being totally self-serving. 

Might I suggest: United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta's Day of Action - June 21

 

Go With a Group

Only stalkers and serial killers are solo 100% of the time. There are definite times /places that are ideal for being with a group of friends, and also being accessible to meeting a special new friend. These include:  festivals, backyard BBQs, and club meetings.

Might I Suggest: Life’s a Fish and Then You Fry - the ultimate summer fish fry complete with fireworks, waterslide and live music. I believe there will also be fish. :) - July 7

 

Work the Right Props.

With all the skin-showing, sweating, and crowds, how ever will you catch the eye of a potential fling? With the right summer 'prop', you can make yourself stand out and catch the eye of someone who's eye is worth catching. Some simple summer props include: a popsicle, an ice cream cone, a saucy summer hat, a cube of ice. My personal favorite summer prop, however, is the hand fan. It's not only eye-catching, it's quite practical

Might I Suggest:

FancyHand Fans on Etsy

Olele - handcrafted Spanish hand fans

 

Get Back to Nature.

Even with the right props, there can still be a lot of competition that makes snagging a summer cutie that much more difficult. One way to solve the over-crowding issue? Get away from the singles scene and answer the call of the wild.

Might I Suggest: Raft. Hike. Camp. - a weekend excursion including whitewater rafting, hiking, and camping near the GA/TN border - July 14-15.

 

Cast Your Line.

Yes! So you finally got that cutie to look your way and engage in some flirty banter with you. So, how do you seal the deal? Perhaps the best way is to say something along the lines of: 'I typically do (totally interesting thing I like doing) alone, but it would be really nice to have an activity partner. Could I call you the next time I'm doing (totally interesting thing I like doing)?' Or, if that doesn't suit your style, maybe one of these 'best pickup lines' from Jezebel would work.

 

A Final Word of Advice.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember when scouting a summer fling is to be absolutely clear and upfront about your intentions. Don't go into a fling by pretending that you're looking for something long term. And don't avoid the topic of relationships altogether. By addressing your true intentions early on, you can avoid future misunderstandings and missteps that might spoil an otherwise fabulous experience.

Once you've got your summer fling, play it cool and casual. Don't get all relationshippy. Its a fling, remember? Be adventurous, flirt like crazy, have fun, and don't completely neglect your other friends or social circles. When fall approaches, make sure you and your summer bunny start cooling things off. See him/her less. Find other things to occupy your time. But if you'd like to keep the romance going into the next season, you might simply say: 'I've really enjoyed our time this summer, got any plans for football season?'

 

cheers,

k

photo: Summer Love by Geekr, on Flickr