Friday, October 24, 2014

A Miracle At Starbucks

Happy Friday, LilyOnTheLam.Com Readers!

I am so ridiculously happy that the weekend is almost here, I could do a Happy Snoopy Dance from Tampa, Florida to Quebec, Canada.  

I work primarily from home and as such, I live the life of Wagyu beef or veal.  Large animal in small pen with minimal movement.  I basically walk from my desk to the bathroom or to the kitchen.  I wear a Fitbit activity tracker, so I know that on a typical workday I barely move.  You would think seeing only a few hundred or maybe 1000 steps would motivate me to be super active as soon as work is over.  But I'm lazy.  

I have a big round chair from Z Gallerie.  It's called "The Cuddler" (see it here).  The chair spins.  It can hold me and all of my 827 cats and we watch a scary amount of television and movies from the aforementioned chair. 

So about fifty days ago, I decided to challenge myself with one of these "Hundred Day" things that people on social media seem to be doing everywhere.  Hundred Days of Happiness.  Hundred Days of Gratitude.  Hundred Instagram Pictures of My Cat (um or is that just me doing that one?)  Well I like being happy.  I like to show gratitude.  And who doesn't love one hundred pictures of my cats?  But I decided to put my own spin on it.  I wanted to walk one million steps.  

One million to me sounds like a lot, but basically it's 10,000 steps each day for 100 days.  Although there's no hard science behind it, the common mythology is that each person should walk 10,000 steps a day.  (Which by the way, after I started this journey I read an article saying 7,000 - 8,000 steps is good enough.  There's also an article saying walking 10,000 steps a day won't make you thin.  The joy and pain of the internet is you can find "an article" backing up anything and everything.)

Anyway, when faced with my current "veal-like" existence I figured my one million steps in one hundred day challenge is better for me than what I am doing now (which is a whole lot of sitting on my butt).  So I embarked on the million steps in one hundred days journey.  

Lucky for me, trips to New York City and Budapest where I walked 8-14 miles a day helped keep my step count high.  But now that I am back from my travels, I have wanted to lay on the couch and stare at the TV.  Back to a Wagyu-like existence.    

Fortunately for me, my friend Ms. Wisconsin also has a Fitbit and we are linked as "Friends" on our Fitbit dashboard so she could see when my step count started taking a nose dive.  Wednesday and Thursday, she helped get me off the couch and raising my step count again.  And for that I am very grateful.  

On Thursday, I did two walks.  The first one while listening to Cary Elwes' "As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From The Making Of The Princess Bride" on audiobook.  Call me schmaltzy, but I just love the movie "The Princess Bride."  I was very interested in reading the book but then when I found out many of the actors involved with the movie narrated the audiobook, I chose to buy that instead.  I believe it is seven hours long - which equates to seven hours of walking for me. Win-win!  I am determined to get my million steps in one hundred days in!

My Thursday was off to a good start.  I hit 10,000 steps before 1 p.m.  Which for me is pretty darn amazing.  I had a lot of conference calls and as usual, I didn't have a break in my schedule for lunch.  I have a global job and so the team members from various time zones book up every single minute in my calendar.  Lunch generally consists of inhaling something fast while on mute and hoping no one on the conference call asks me a question mid-chew.

I started craving Chinese take-out food.  I looked at my calendar - nope, booked solid until 4:30 p.m.  My 1 p.m. call was with two of my team members.  I sighed and wished that the meeting would cancel so I could walk down the street and get some take out Chinese.  One second after I wished this, I received an instant message.  My team members needed to reschedule our call.

I did a little "yay, now I can get Chinese food" dance in triumph!  

Wish granted!  

But then after I called in my order for "House Special Fried Rice" and sautéed vegetables, I thought "Uh oh, what if this was my ONE WISH in the world?"  I could have wished for world peace or a billion dollars ... but no, instead I wished for a break in my schedule to get Chinese take-out!  OH NO!  My life suddenly seemed like The Simpsons' episode where Homer buys the cursed Monkey's Paw! 

I will say that the House Special Fried Rice was pretty darn tasty.  It's not world peace or all the riches in the world, but in the pantheon of low cost Chinese take-out food it was pretty high up there.  Thank you, Plum Tree!  

However I did expect my fortune cookie fortune to say something like "You wasted your one wish, SUCKER!"  Never have I held my breath before opening a fortune cookie before today!

Now a side note before I continue with this story "A Miracle At Starbucks."  Back in early Spring, I was in Las Vegas.  I have  a rule of thumb where I believe that new slot machines based on recent movies/TV shows never pay out.  Even with this theory, I still stuck a $5 bill into "The Walking Dead" slot machine at The Bellagio.  

And I won.  

Over $350 dollars.  

So much for my rule of thumb!

When I giddily took my cash voucher to the redemption machine, out came three crisp hundred dollar bills.  And on one of them was stamped a tiny Hello Kitty.

I'm not sure who "LMC" is and why he/she is rolling around stamping hundred dollar bills with Hello Kitty, but I have already determined that this person is "super awesome amazing cool."

If you are a regular reader of LilyOnTheLam, you may know that I am 952 years old and I am obsessed with Sanrio's Hello Kitty.  I proudly own this dysfunction.  I am single, geriatric and have 847 cats.  I am a walking cliche.

So needless to say a hundred dollar bill with a stamp of Hello Kitty on it was like my version of seeing Jesus' face in my grilled cheese sandwich.  

I vowed that I would not spend the "Kitty Benjamin" hundred dollar bill.  I took it with me to New York, Budapest and Raleigh-Durham ... and each time, I chose not to use it.

When I returned from Raleigh, I was scared I would accidentally give the one hundred dollar bill to someone thinking it was a $10 or even worse a $1.  I am not a high roller and if I have a bill as big as a $20 in my wallet, it's a good day.  I am also absent-minded, so handing out a $100 instead of a $1 is sadly highly plausible in my universe.  Because of my real fear, I pulled the $100 out of my wallet and left it in my car before shopping one day - and kept forgetting to take it out of the car.

OK now back to my main story ... 

My last conference call of the day was with two Executives and it was warm-fuzzy-wonderfulness.  Lots of kudos for me and great motivational discussion.  I was very happy. 

After the work day was done, I set out for Walk #2 of the day with Ms. Wisconsin.  I was determined to make up for several days of laziness and get my step count nice and high for the day.  We had a good walk with good conversation and by the time we said goodbye, I had over 11 miles on my Fitbit for the day.  Not too shabby!

I decided to reward myself with a Trenta (i.e. huge huge huge 31 ounce cup) unsweetened Passion iced tea from Starbucks.  I pulled into the drive thru and placed my order, then I drove forward.  The drive thru has cement curbs on either side - kind of like bowling bumpers, but taller ... and I guess in this scenario, I am the bowling ball.  

Well as I navigated between the bumpers, I came to a stomach-dropping realization.  I didn't bring my wallet with me!  I just had my cell phone, keys and ear buds in my wristlet for my walk with Ms. Wisconsin.  I hadn't brought any money!  OH NO!

My mind raced - I had pretty much cleared out all my quarters I had in the car weeks before.  There were cement bumpers so I couldn't drive off with a "Ha ha, sorry Starbucks!"  What the heck was I going to do to pay for my monster-sized iced tea?

Then I remembered the Hello Kitty Hundred.  I winced.  NOOOO!  I have held on to this hundred dollar bill for seven months!  I couldn't blow it on a $3 iced tea!  Argh!  I turned on the light in my car and started ransacking for change.  I had a handful of coins from my center console.  I started picking through them.  "God, WHY SO MANY PENNIES?"  I was fishing out dimes and carefully counting them ... argh, I had like $2.30 max.  Why did I order the Trenta like some high roller?  Was I too good for the Venti or the Grande?  Damn me and my champagne tastes!

I looked at the SUV in front of me.  The guy was paying with the Starbucks mobile app.  WHY, WHY DON'T I HAVE THE STARBUCKS MOBILE APP?  I can tell you why - because if I had a loaded Starbucks card on my phone, I would be stopping at Starbucks every day.  And seriously, I don't want to be the crazy old cat lady who says "I can't go on my sailing vacation because I paid $6 for coffee every day for the past year."  That stuff adds up quick!  

But frankly in a moment like this where I'm about to lose my beloved Hello Kitty stamped one hundred dollar bill, I really wish I had the Starbucks app with a loaded payment card.  I grabbed a few more pennies and drove up to the drive thru payment window with a wincing sheepish look on my face.  "Ummm, how much is it for my iced tea?"  I asked like a big loser.

The incredibly cheerful Starbucks lady said "The guy in the car ahead of you paid for your drink order!"

My jaw dropped open and hit the pavement.

"WHAT?  You're kidding me - is this a joke?"  I asked, my hands still cupping all the coins.

"Nope, he paid for your drink."

I broke into the biggest smile ever.  The Hello Kitty hundred was safe!  I took a big sip of my free iced tea and drove home.  

Free iced tea from a stranger tastes really good.

I have heard of people paying for other people before, but I don't think I have ever been a recipient of this type of stranger kindness.  And frankly, I really don't deserve it.  Yes, I was scrounging for coins to buy my iced tea and I was in grubby workout clothes.  But I was also driving in a BMW.  I wasn't projecting "Homeless, please help me!"  However the timing was crazy fortuitous - so to the kind man in the SUV who drove off before I knew he paid for my drink, I have to extend a BIG THANK YOU!  You really made my day.

And now of course, I need to pay it forward.  Maybe I'll go downtown and feed quarters into parking meters for people who have run out of time.  I volunteered twice last weekend and I will be volunteering twice this weekend, so maybe I'll run into someone who really needs $3.  

Of course with guilt and Monkey's Paw thinking, I also thought "Argh, another wish wasted!  Chinese take-out and a free iced tea - I should have wished for billions ... oh and an end to all wars too!"     

But I do believe that sometimes the best things are the little unexpected things ... a break in the day when you could really use it.  The kindness of a stranger to save a Hello Kitty hundred dollar bill.  

Ms. Wisconsin had texted me to make sure I got home OK - I called her and said "You'll never believe what happened after our walk."

My fortune cookie fortune did not call me a sucker who wasted my magical Monkey Paw (Hello Kitty Cat Paw?) wishes.  Instead it said "The secret of happiness is not in doing what one likes, but in liking what one does."  Which is similar to one of my favorite adages: "Happiness is not having what you want, but wanting what you have."  

On Thursday, I had time to actually have a lunch break with some pretty tasty Chinese take-out.  I had a good day at work, a friend who helped me out of my veal-like existence and a free iced tea from a stranger.  

It may not be glamorous or cool, but all in all I think it was a pretty awesome Thursday.  But best of all, it reminded me that there are good people all around me - even people I don't know who want to make sure I have a great day.  That's a really great world to live in.    

Now it's time to pay that forward.

Have an amazing, awesome, terrific weekend, LilyOnTheLam Readers!  I hope the universe you inhabit is filled with free iced tea from strangers and people who pull you off the couch to inspire you to do better.  

And as always ... thank you for reading!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Challenge Extended ...

Happy Wednesday, LilyOnTheLam.Com Readers!

I am in a GROUCHY mood today.  I need more sleep and more exercise.  With my new job I usually start work by 5:45 a.m. or 6:45 a.m. if it's a "late" day.  My body clock would rather start work around 10 a.m. and finish up say by 2 p.m.  Unfortunately for me, I also like receiving a steady, fat paycheck ... so I wake up early and I am grouchy.

I can only assume at my core that I am a masochist, because I know that I function better and feel better if I get enough sleep, water, exercise and healthy food ... and yet here I am wishing I was eating THIS for breakfast ...

It is the Coconut Cream Pie from Capital Grille restaurant.  Now normally I am a banana cream pie girl, but this is by far my favorite coconut cream pie.  There is no comparison with how good this darn pie is ... and it comes with a cookie!  Seriously if I were Empress of Lily Land (formerly known as the US of A), I would require that all pie slices come with a cookie and all cake slices come with a donut.  And everyone gets their own pony.  Or unicorn.  Or rainbow.  There's a lot of rules in Lily Land. 

I haven't had this particular Coconut Cream Pie in at least two years because it is pure decadence in a tartlet shell ... but if you're looking for super rich, super good coconut cream pie- get yourself over to a Capital Grille restaurant.

I try a lot of products "for the sake of my blog" (ohhh I am such a martyr!)  But I can't try every product out there, so I am going to extend a Product Review Challenge ... have you tried any of the following products?  If yes, tell me what you thought of them in the comments section ...  It is INTERACTIVE LilyOnTheLam, people!

Product #1:  Milkis - from what I can tell it is some sort of carbonated "milk soda" that I found at my local Asian store.  Since I have a milk soda-phobia, I have not tried this.  Have you?

Product #2:  Cosmic Blue Twinkies - Twinkies with Blue Raspberry Creme.  When I saw these, my first thought was "Oh God NO!"  Seriously I already think "tons of artificialness" when I look at a Twinkie, do we need a bright blue filling too?  Am I wrong?  Is this the next best taste sensation?

Product #3:  Not to be the world's biggest hypocrite, BUT ... after I was slamming the Blue Raspberry Creme Twinkies I next saw THESE and thought "Hmmm, those look tasty."  BAD LILY!  Chocolate covered Twinkies!  Have you tried these?  What did you think?

Product #4:  How many decades before someone said "Hey a square marshmallow would make s'mores making easier?" This is why I am proud to be an American - square-shaped marshmallows ... excuse me "s'moresmallows."  If ever there was a reason to stop what you're doing and make some s'mores - this, my friends, is all the reason in the world.

Product #5:  SRIRACHA POPCORN!  I was traveling and didn't have any room in my suitcase.  Which I feel weak even admitting ... I mean seriously, isn't there always room for sriracha popcorn??  I have never seen this product since my initial spotting in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  I am only left with my longing and regret ... have you tried it?  What did you  think?

Product #6:  I have a love-hate relationship with flavored Oreos.  Ever since I tried the Candy Corn Oreo and cried and cried and cried, I have been gun shy about flavored Oreos.  I think Chips Ahoy also makes a root beer float flavored chocolate chip cookie.  As Miss Toledo says - WHY?  Why keep making things that taste like other things?  Although I watched a BuzzFeed video that said that Oreos originally came in the chocolate with creme version and a LEMON MERINGUE version that was discontinued in the 1920's.  What the what?  Bring that cookie back and let me try it!  But until then ... have you tried the root beer flavored Oreos?  What did you think?

Are there any products you have wanted to try but are too afraid/shy/broke to try?  Let me know in the comments section!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

And Now For The Contestant From Brazil!

Hello LilyOnTheLam.Com Readers:

If you are a regular reader, you may remember my post on the chocolate banana candy bar from Croatia which I found in a Polish deli in Largo, Florida and then my subsequent discovery in Budapest, Hungary of an Austrian chocolate banana candy bar.  Although I usually do my "new product reviews" on Wednesdays, I just had to post this a day early!

On Monday, I opened my front door and there was a box with three weeks of mail waiting for me.  Since I have been traveling the world, the good people at the USPS have been holding my mail for me.  

Note to self: pre-election time is a terrible time to have your mail held.  I swear half of my accumulated three weeks worth of mail was election flyers.  What a waste of paper, ink and money.  I'm glad the USPS has the business but every political campaign propaganda material went straight into the recycling bin without me reading a word.

A much brighter item in my mail hold box was my monthly subscription box from Love with Food - the snack box subscription service that donates meals to children for each snack box purchased.  

Now I must add a P.S. that for the past ten years, I have donated money (and every now and again my volunteer time) to local Florida charity Metropolitan Ministries.  I do believe that giving directly to the charity makes a greater impact than purchasing a snack box who then in turns buys a meal for a hungry child.  BUT if you're going to have a subscription to a snack box service, why not have one that has really amazing snacks AND helps feed hungry children?  

Love with Food and Nature Box are my two favorite snack box subscription services.  (With OishiiBox and Skoshbox being my favorite Asian candy monthly subscription services.)   

Another side note, I blame my new box of the month subscription addiction on my friend The First Lady of Lynchburg.  I went to visit her for Memorial Day weekend and she had all these different fun box of the month subscription boxes waiting for her.  For a new product lover like me, it was like materialistic nirvana!

I eagerly opened my Love with Food subscription box and then I gasped.  What is this?  A BRAZILIAN BANANA BAR!  Had my chocolate banana candy bar competition jumped to a new continent?  I scanned the package and then opened it.  Ahhh no, not a candy bar and not chocolate.  It was a cinnamon and sugar banana bar.  Sort of like a Lara bar but much better.  It's bananas, cinnamon and sugar blended into a soft delicious bar.  Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you the Cinnamon and Sugar Banana Bananinha Bar from Nutryvitta ... 

While the Bananinha bar does not have chocolate in it, I would take it over the Austrian and Croatian banana chocolate bars I reviewed earlier because it tasted so good.  This is a gluten free fruit bar that doesn't taste overly processed or artificial.

If you're looking for a portable, gluten free snack bar with a real taste of banana; I would recommend you check out this fancy little Brazilian import.  You can buy them through the Love with Food website.  (Side note:  I receive no compensation in goods, services or money for writing about Love with Food and their box products.  But I'll gladly take any freebies if they want to send me some!)

Sorry Austria and Croatia, so far in the battle of the banana bars - Brazil/Brasil has beaten you!

P.S. One side effect of the Bananinha bar is that for some reason the name "Bananinha" reminds me of the Muppets doing the Mahna Mahna song ... and so now after eating the banana bar, I keep hearing this in my head ...

Monday, October 20, 2014

Hoop It Up! Soup It Up!

Hello LilyOnTheLam.Com Readers!

In the past five weeks, I have been in Houston, Texas; New York City, NY; Budapest, Hungary; Paris, France; Tampa, Florida and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina.  It has been a lot of fun, but also incredibly tiring.  I have hundreds of pictures and stories, which hopefully will make it to my blog!  Oh procrastination!  

On Friday, I was groggily "awake" at 4:30 a.m. to get ready to be at the airport rental car drop off by 5:30 a.m. to catch a 7 a.m. flight back home to Tampa.  My freezer was filled with a lot of duty free chocolate and some kick ass dried pomelo from the Budapest Great Market Hall ... but my refrigerator was bare.  

I went to the grocery store and bought the ingredients for my lower fat, lower calorie version of a sausage, potato and kale Italian soup (made with a splash of evaporated skim milk instead of 2 cups of heavy cream).  It's a dish I make in the fall and winter.  Also this weekend I made a chicken tortilla soup and my (not to brag, but...) incredibly amazing homemade guacamole.

As I stood over a simmering vat of my sausage, kale and potato soup, I realized that I must be spiritually and physically drained because this is definitely one of my "soothing" comfort food recipes.  I feel like homemade soup in general is a type of medicinal comfort.  I also felt like I was reconnecting myself to my home.  After weeks of waking up in hotel rooms, not remembering what city or even what country I was in - I was looking forward to sleeping in my own bed.

In some perverse, masochistic turn of events, I had scheduled two days of volunteering for my first two full days back home.  WHY?  WHY?  I should have scheduled two days of laying on the couch catching up with my beloved friend, Mr. DVR and all my wonderful television shows.  But nooooo ... for some sick reason I decided to help others!  Ugh.  I seriously have a problem!

So this past Saturday, I spent eleven hours at the Healing in the Harbor event in Safety Harbor.  Lots of holistic wellness, acupuncture, massage, organic products, incense, big drums, crystals and all other sorts of "happy" products for sale.  Evolve at the Ashram of Clearwater ( handed out these free Buddhas.

I know it may sound juvenile, but I had to have one!  One little girl who was maybe four years old, held up her Buddha and said "How do you like my baby?"  I replied: "Your baby is very spiritual" and then I showed her how to sit and hold her fingers like her "baby" Buddha.

I was helping my friend at her booth selling her home and body organic products and at the booth next to us was the mother-daughter and 5 month old son team selling "Healthy Hoops" - hula hoops in chakra colors.

Do you know what happens when you spend eleven hours in the hot Florida sun next to a Hula Hoop booth?  You become the proud owner of your very own Healthy Hoop.  Yes, I am 975 years old, single, have a household full of cats, a stuffed Buddha, vats of homemade soup... and now I am also a novice hula hooper.  

I don't know what else I can do to become more desirable to the public.  I'm pretty much beyond fabulous in every imaginable way.  

My hula hoop is cheetah print and purple - I am not sure which chakra color "cheetah print" is, but the hoop is huge, weighs three pounds and is all MINE.  

Evidently (or so I am told) the heavier the hula hoop, the easier it is for the beginner.  Three pounds is the heaviest hula hoop, Healthy Hoops sells.  Maybe I can find some "hula weights" to help weigh this puppy down because I am as about as novice as a novice can be!

So in the middle of the night when you wake up and think "What is Lily doing?"  (And I know you do that ALL THE TIME!)  Rest assured that I am in my living room, hula hooping while my cats watch and then I am eating soup.  

It is indeed the rockstar life here in Tampa, Florida!

The Healing in the Harbor event in Safety Harbor, Florida definitely had me thinking about the universe.  I had just finished a leadership seminar in Raleigh-Durham.  One of the activities was drawing an empathy map to put yourself in someone else's shoes.  

I thought this exercise had coincidental timing in my life, because I had recently written a blog post called "On Communication and Ego ..."  In it, I wrote about how people can minimize or devalue another person's feelings in a conversation.  

Well after I published the "On Communication and Ego" post about devaluing/minimizing a person's feelings, I received an email from someone who apologized for invalidating my feelings - but then went on to characterize the event that had caused major emotional pain as "a slight" and "a transgression."  

SERIOUSLY?  It's like saying "I'm sorry I invalidated your car accident injuries; oh by the way, how is your little boo boo doing?"

Maybe the person meant for the "apology" email to be sarcastic or passive-aggressive.  If so then BRAVO - mission accomplished, because using the word "invalidate" and then using minimizing words to describe what happened would then make sense if you were trying to be snide and shitty.   

A couple years ago, I had written a blog post about "pseudo apologies" - in this particular post, a guy who had dumped me in a horrifically shameful way and then gave me a crappy non-apology had karmically had explosive diarrhea food poisoning right afterward.  This post was called "Food Poisoning or Karma? The Suckitude of Pseudo Apologies."

A pseudo apology to me is like when someone says "I am sorry that you feel hurt" versus "I am sorry I hurt your feelings."  On the surface it sounds like an apology, but if you look closely there is no ownership or personal responsibility.  I wanted to take the email I received, circle the words "invalidate," "slight" and "transgression" and write: THIS IS A PERFECT EXAMPLE OF WHAT I HAVE BEEN TALKING ABOUT! 

But I didn't do that because frankly that horse has been beaten to death.  If you have to explain seventeen times why something hurts you and the person still doesn't get it; there's no reason to talk more about it.  Sometimes you just have to let go.  No need to prolong the drama, emotions or frustration.  I'd rather focus my energies on things and people who build me up.    

Sometimes it's just better to hula hoop and eat soup.  And I didn't intend for that to rhyme, but it's pretty darn cool that it did!

Happy Monday to you all!