Archive for September, 2013

Twenty-something life: Time for a review

Dear Twenty-somethings,

It’s time for your annual performance review. I know it hasn’t been a full year, but I’d like to get your paperwork done as soon as possible, especially with your fourthcoming raise. Please evaluate your performance over the past year in the following categories …”

… Apologies, everyone – I interrupt this mock performance review with a serious question – In our twenties, how do we review ourselves? What areas of our lives do we analyze to determine if we’re succeeding, struggling or sinking; if we’re happy with our lives or if we need to step it up, make a change?

If we had to fill out a performance review of our lives, instead of just our work duties, what would the categories be? And more importantly, how would we rank our current performance?

As is typical with performance reviews, I’ll give you a week to think about it. Gather your thoughts and write them out if you want. Then we’ll compare notes and give ourselves a score.

Here’s hoping it’s a good one.

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In the ABCs of Twenty-something life, F is for Food

You know what’s an adventure, a challenge, a necessity, a hassle, a comfort, a mess, a responsibility, a chemistry experiment and a cultural experience all in one?

Stumped? Most people use it at least three times a day.

It also could be called healthy, greasy, delicious, bland, creamy, spicy or saucy.

OK, enough already. It’s food.

No matter our age, food takes on many roles. It’s something we eat to fuel our busy days. For most of us, the time we spend with food is a pleasurable part of our lives – something to look forward to. It’s a challenge for many of us not to eat too much … or not to eat too much pizza/ice cream/French fries/donuts/junk.

But our twenties is when food becomes a responsibility, and sometimes a hassle.

We’re in charge of providing for ourselves now more than ever. The stakes seem higher than in college. This is the beginning of the rest of our lives – not a four-year phase in which eating out most days from the selection of fast food places on one campustown street, or indulging in frequent fourth-meals of cheapo pizza or Chipotle burritos, seems normal.

This is the big time, and food is one of our main responsibilities. We know this. And that’s why food can also be a hassle.

Just think of all the steps involved in making a real meal.

First you need to know what to make. Whether that involves family recipes handwritten on note cards, Googling whatever you have a craving for, or relying on creativity and knowledge of your own tastes and distastes, deciding what to make isn’t always easy.

Then there’s the obvious need for ingredients, which requires money and time and a trip to the grocery store. Some lack the money, others the time, and still others the presence of a nearby grocery store. But if you’ve got all three, ignore the temptation to buy that frozen pizza, pass up that fresh-baked cornbread and you’ll be on your way. (If only that wasn’t so much easier said than done …)

Ingredients in tow, now you need time to cook – and food preparation is where the aspect of adventure comes in. There are flames involved – for those of us cooking with gas stoves – and sometimes scary-looking knives.

You’ve got to manage time wisely, accomplish complicated tasks under pressure and work in small spaces. And no, this isn’t just for those of us cooking on TV competitions. These are the real-life challenges of cooking on a twenty-something schedule, budget and culinary experience level. When all you want is something ready immediately when you walk in after another long day, these steps all seem like hassles, and sometimes they’re too insurmountable to ignore.

Luckily for those of us bogged down by the struggles of buying and preparing our own meals, food’s other fun roles remain.

Free food? Always awesome. Guilty pleasure food? Just as sinful and satisfying. All varieties of food – from holiday, birthday and comfort to trendy, ethnic and fast – will be there for the majority of us when we need them. And that’s something our frantic minds – and rumbling stomachs – can count as a blessing.

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Churros, pizza, pastries and busting budgets

For all the careful budgeting a lot of us have to do in our twenties, I find we run into just as many budget-busters.

Jeans on sale at Gap. Concert tickets that are a better bargain when you buy the three-day pass. New running shoes. The latest iPhone. Even small things like that overpriced shampoo that makes your hair shiny and manageable instead of frizzy and unpredictable. All those things can, and sometimes do, add up to too many expenses.

But the worst, for me at least, is food from restaurants.

I know I shouldn’t spend too much on restaurant food, be it the Panera or Starbuck’s on-the-go kind of restaurant food, or the sit-down, bar food or late-night food varieties. But I also know food is a necessity, not necessarily the best line item in my budget to skimp on.

And then I walk down the main street closest to my apartment and restaurant temptation abounds.

Two Mexican places beckon. I wonder if their churros are anywhere near as magical as the ones for sale at the annual Fiestas Patrias celebration of Mexican independence in Aurora, coming up this weekend. I crave churros. I estimate the amount of time until the festival comes around again, and even when it’s something like four months instead of a mere four days, I keep walking.

Two coffee shops, one with its own diner-like café and a tempting spread of scones, donuts, muffins and even gelato, compete for my attention and offer an inviting atmosphere to sit, think and write. I love those kind of places, but my wallet doesn’t.

I usually can deny myself those delicacies, especially if it’s the end of the month and I’ve already topped my restaurant spending “limit.”

But that one pizza place just around the corner is soooo good. They use malt in their crust – yeah, malt, like that stuff in old-fashioned milkshakes. I’ve eaten this pizza a few too many times for how long I’ve lived here, but I’ve loved every bite of it.

I won’t deny myself that pizza when the time is right – like I’ve got a friend in town to introduce to its deliciousness, or my parents are visiting and will pay for it, or maybe if I’ve just had an awful day at work and I need comfort food.

But I also won’t deny that spending too much money on food from restaurants is a bad habit.

If this habit’s got you, too, here’s my only advice: pick one favorite, or maybe two, and don’t try too hard to limit yourself there. But say “no” to a restaurant temptation when you can and it’ll make your favorite indulgences even sweeter.

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GRANDparents: All treats and no peas

Dear Grandparents,

There’s a celebration of a day for you, and it’s coming up on Sunday. Grandparents’ Day seems half Hallmark holiday and half National Day of Fill-In-The-Blank. But this year, we thought we’d make it more real.

We’re taking this Grandparents’ Day to explain how much you mean to us and how special you’ve always made us feel. In short, we figured it’s high time we let you feel some of the love you’ve always shown us.

Grandparents, your houses are magical. When we were younger, your basements contained the best toys, even if they were actually boxes of our uncle’s junk or 30-year-old GI Joes or simple sticks of Play-Doh. You would let us bounce a basketball in the basement, so it was just as good as the playground. Your back yards offered the best hiding spots and places to play catch. And in your kitchens, there was always something sweet or delicious. Cookies, homemade bread, family-recipe brisket or veggie spaghetti, even those little dark chocolate Hershey’s kisses you like to pretend are healthy – if it’s in your kitchen, it’s always made our stomachs happy.

Your gifts always have been the greatest, too, Grandparents. Almost as magically as Santa Claus, you always seemed to know exactly what we wanted. As we got older, the gifts transitioned from Lego sets, pink pajama outfits and the year’s hottest toys, to checks or cash to use for something of our choosing. Our thank-you notes may have been a bit uninspired, but we’ve truly enjoyed your gifts, even when we stopped believing in Santa. You’ve always remembered our birthdays, too, and marked the passage of time in our lives with something fitting and thoughtful.

In cards, phone calls, thank-you notes of your own, and visits to our school plays and family reunions, you have always made us feel your presence in our lives. We probably haven’t told you this, but you’re like a better version of a parent in some ways. You’re just as loving, caring and supportive, but you’re not around as much to get in the way, thwart adventures or force us to eat our peas. They don’t call you GRANDparents for nothing!

In our twenties, we don’t see you as much as we’d like. We’re sorry about this. It’s just, well, many of us have moved out of our childhood homes, so the Sunday night family dinners are no longer convenient. Others of us have moved out of state or out of the country, and don’t see anyone in our family very often. We wish we did, but twenty-something life sometimes scatters us away from the relatives and friends we love, and we have to learn to adjust.

We might not see you as much as we did when we were small, but we carry your favorite sayings, words of wisdom, card game tricks and TV viewing habits with us wherever we go. Maybe that “memory book” you gave us in sixth grade has sparked a lifelong habit of journaling that helped spawn a career interest and a coping mechanism for the stresses of everyday life. Or maybe that coin bank collection you started for us has given everyone else easy gift ideas we’re sure to like. We know to take the ice cream out of the freezer a few minutes before we want to scoop it, take our vitamins every day, read, listen and always use our highest and best skills.

Your influence instilled this in us, and much, much more. No matter where you’re living, or even where you’ve found your final resting place, you’re still our wise, thoughtful, generous, loving, kind and especially GRANDparents.

And on this day, all we can say is thank you. Thank you for caring, even if from afar, and for playing an important role in making us who we are.

Happy Grandparents Day.

Love always,

Twenty-something Times

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