Lessons Learned Living Abroad

My latest TNGG post, as originally posted here.

Over 80,000 American college co-eds study abroad each academic year, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Each year, more and more college students are participating in study abroad programs at their college or university — some study abroad for a semester, or even a year, and others have internships overseas. Below are some important life lessons that can be learned while living outside the good ol’ U. S. of A.

Lesson #1 — not all of Europe drives on the “wrong” side of the road
During a study abroad pre-departure meeting at Bentley College, the study abroad advisor asked 10 eager students excited to head to Ireland “which way to look before crossing the road?” Confused, they asked “left, then right, then left again?” or “both ways?” While this question sounded silly at first, the advisor was trying to make a point — even though traffic may drive on the opposite side of the road in Dublin, you still need to look both ways before crossing the street. Being well aware of this difference in Ireland, which like the UK, Japan, Australia, India, Southeast Asia, parts of Africa and other areas, drive on the left side of the road, it still came as a shock to be on a bus in Italy driving down the right side of the road. (And don’t forget, if they do drive on the left, it means the passenger door is where the driver’s door is in America). Seriously though, you learn more important things than this, but you need to remember to keep using your common sense, assuming you have it to begin with.

Lesson #2 — not everyone likes Americans
A business professor at University College Dublin asked her students to break into groups to work on a semester long project, the only requirement was that each member of the group be from a different country, with an exception that you could have two Irish students in the group if needed. Her logic behind this was that in the past she had seen Americans be broken into their own groups, partially of their own doing, but also because no one else wanted to work with them — they saw the Americans as lazy. Erasmus students tend to take a semester abroad somewhat more seriously than American college students. Erasumus students, while in a foreign country, are usually from somewhere within Europe and are more well-travelled then their American counterparts. American’s see studying abroad as more of a travel vacation and adventure than a time to be studying seriously. (Myself included — according to Facebook, I studied drinking pints and sightseeing while at UCD.) Not only are American’s seen as lazy, but we are also seen as arrogant and a whole list of other terms we tend to cringe at.

Lesson #3 — Take a breath, and slow down
There’s a reason a “New York minute” is not called a “Sydney minute”. American’s are driven and pushed to accomplish things quickly and now. Many other cultures are more laid back and people take time to enjoy what is around them. Obviously, you try to pack in as much as you can into your trip abroad, but don’t jam things in just to say you did them; allow yourself to truly experience everything around you. Experience the culture around you. Go to a local bar and listen to some live traditional music instead of hitting up the discotech or local bar with American music. And don’t forget to take pictures and videos to remember these amazing moments.

Lesson # 4 — English is not a worldwide language
While many people around the world speak English, not everyone speaks it, even in countries which have large English speaking populations. Getting lost in the alleys of Venice with no known Italian is not the best situation to be in if you are lost late at night. Even if others do speak English, it does not mean they will let you in on that tidbit when you are looking for directions. If you are going to another country for a semester, study their native language before you head over. Even if you are only going for a weekend adventure, at least try to learn some key words (perhaps “help”, “water”, “bathroom” and “do you speak English?” for starters). While it might not be mandatory to study a foreign language in your school, learning another language can also benefit you later in life.

Lesson #5 –Be open and allow yourself to change
Sticking with the norm is easy, you know it, it’s comfortable. Going abroad automatically changes your norm, so why not change it all? Don’t go abroad and pretend to be someone else, but be open to become who you really are. You will inevitably make new friends (who could become some of your closest confidants when you go home and keep going on in life), allow these friends to know the real you, not the you you think you should be. Don’t be scared to try new things. Try the local culture, experience it all — you might learn that you like these things as much, or more, than your old hobbies (I learned that I love art during my semester abroad, and I used to think museums were boring).

Lesson #6 — Don’t stay home wondering “what if?”
The most important lesson I learned — life at home will go on. Thanks to the internet and cell phones, we can be in contact with our loved ones back home as often (or as little) as we’d like. Let go of your fears and go “balls to the wall”. As I have always believed, it’s better to do something than regret not doing it.

Don’t forget to take the lessons learned abroad and bring them back into your American life when you land at the airport to be reunited with friends and family. What lessons did you learn studying or living abroad?

Photo by SLU Madrid Campus

5 Gift Ideas for Interns

Are you still in need of ideas for a gift for that ever so hard person to shop for? Well, you’re in luck! TNGG has created a whole bunch of idea lists for all sorts of people, and you should check it out here. Plus, you really should check out the list for ideas for your intern (which was originally posted here) since your favorite me wrote it!

Before buying a holiday present for your intern, (it should go without say, but…) it is first important to find out whether or not your intern believes in dear ol’ Santa, spins the dreidal or neither of the above. A bad present couldn’t be as bad as buying your intern a present for a holiday they most definitely do not celebrate. If you don’t know (and are too chicken to ask), then get them an end of the year present, don’t assume they are one or the other (because when you assume, you make an @$$ out of u and me). In the office, interns can be just as hard to buy a present for as yourboss. You don’t want to overthink it, you don’t want to offend anyone and you most definitely don’t want to spend loads of money. Whether it’s your intern, or anyone else, the best gift to buy is one that they will use and suits their lifestyle — one that shows you pay them enough attention to pick up on some of the small things.

For the coffee addict

Does your intern show up with a cup o’ Joe in his hand every morning without fail? Does he come back from lunch with another cup in hand? There’s nothing wrong with getting your intern something you know they will use no matter where they go next semester. Grab a gift card to Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks (or that little coffee shop on the corner that you know they frequent). Want to snaz up the gift card? Present it in a coffee mug (because no coffee addict can have too many mugs). You can pick the mug up in the store when you get the card, or better yet, give them a company mug from your office so they never forget you.

For the bookworm

Did your intern keep their nose deep in a good book every day during lunch? Did they fill their commute with a new novel every other day? Or even if they are just headed back to college to take classes next semester, get them a Barnes & Noble gift card. This allows them to continue reading the latest best sellers even after the paychecks (if they’re even getting paid) keep coming. And even if it’s just for classes, more than 600 university bookstores are run by Barnes & Noble and they can put the money towards books for class, because we all know that books are becoming all too expensive these days.

For the fashionista

Gift card to their favorite store, or at least one that suits their look. There’s no need to buy the preppy kid a gift card to Quiksilver or to buy the hipster a gift card to Eddie Bauer. Even with stringent dress codes at work, your intern has probably shown a flare of their real dress (especially if you are their Facebook friend or if you have casual Fridays). Everyone needs clothes, and if your intern spends every lunch break shopping in the nearby stores for new threads, why not help put some money towards it.

For the music lover

What music lover doesn’t like live music? If your intern is a music lover, then grab aTicketmaster gift card. Or tickets to their favorite band who just happens to be playing in the new club next week. If tickets are too pricey for your budget, get an iTunes gift card for them. Every music lover (especially those who cannot live without their iPhones) loves free music off iTunes, maybe not free for you, but it’s free for them.

For the one you don’t know what to buy

There is always that intern who keeps to themselves, is quiet and doesn’t let anyone in. Whether they are a natural introvert, or they just don’t seem to have many friends in the office, they still deserve something. If you are out of ideas, you can always get them a nice bottle of wine. (Keep in mind, the legal drinking age in the US is 21, so this only applies to the older interns.) Plenty of us are guilty of giving alcohol as our “fallback” gift when we are lacking ideas, or time to get a better present. Plus who knows, maybe your intern is really a wine coinsurer outside the office.

Don’t forget if their internship is coming to an end as the holidays draw near and the semester closes, you want to leave a lasting impression with your interns. Some sort of company memorabilia could always be thrown in with your holiday gift.

What was the best gift you ever gave to your intern? And what was the best gift you got as in intern?

DIY Halloween Costume Ideas!

My latest for TNGG, as originally posted here.

Halloween is almost here and costume parties have already begun (some are coming just bit TOO early this year…). When we were little, it was always exciting to dress up and go trick-or-treating, but now as we grow up, sometimes Halloween begins to seem more like a chore.

Dressing up for the holiday in a unique way seems to become more and more difficult every year. Whether you are strapped for cash, have no time to go shopping for a costume or simply forgot to get a costume for that party that’s tonight, here are some ideas for costumes you are likely to find in your closet:

80’s Costume:

What you’ll need if you’re a chick:

  • Leggings
  • Leg warmers (or knee highs that you scrunch instead of extending all the way up your thighs)
  • Headband
  • Scrunchie (for your side pony tail)
  • White sneakers
  • Bright colored sports bra
  • Sweatshirt with an extra wide neck line
  • Blueish eye shadow

What you’ll need if you’re a dude:

  • Wig with long hair/mullet
  • Tight pants
  • Fitted tank top in a bright color
  • Lipstick
  • Eyeliner

Bat boy/girl or Baseball Player Costume:

What you’ll need whether you’re a chick or a dude:

  • Team jersey
  • Baseball pants
  • Team hat
  • Knee high socks
  • Cleats or sneakers

Additional accessories to put you over the top:

  • Baseball and glove
  • Batting helmet
  • Cather equipment (if you’re dressing up as a catcher)
  • Baseball bat *IMPORTANT NOTE: check that if you are going to a bar/public place, some of these things will not be allowed in as they could be construed as a weapon

College/University Superfan Costume:

What you’ll need whether you’re a chick or a dude:

  • T-shirt from your college
  • Foam finger
  • School hat
  • Jeans (or any bottoms you have with your school’s name on them — this could be a perfect reason to have sweats on at the party…)

Additional accessories to put you over the top:

  • Face paint
  • Temporary tattoos
  • Ribbons in your hair
  • Anything else you have that matches and shows your school pride

Lifeguard Costume:

What you’ll need if you’re a chick:

  • Red, navy or royal blue bathing suit (can be a one piece or bikini, but no drawstrings allowed — bonus points if it’s an actual lifeguard suit)
  • Lifeguard t-shirt
  • Red or navy shorts
  • Flip flops
  • Whistle

What you’ll need if you’re a dude:

  • Red, navy or royal blue bathing suit (bonus points if it’s an actual lifeguard suit)
  • Lifeguard t-shirt (optional if you are going somewhere that does not require shirts as part of the dress code)
  • Flip flops
  • Whistle

Additional accessories to put you over the top:

  • Rescue tube
  • Funny looking sun hat
  • Sunglasses (remember, b@d@$$e$ wear sunglasses at night)
  • Zinc on your nose (any color will do)

Referee Costume:

What you’ll need whether you’re a chick or a dude:

  • Black shorts or pants (if you want to be a basketball ref) OR white shorts or pants (if you want to be a football ref)
  • Black and white vertically stripped shirt
  • Whistle (should be black if you want to be official)
  • Sneakers (should also be black if you want to be official)

Additional accessories to put you over the top:

  • White or black baseball hat (football only)
  • Red and yellow cards if you are a basketball ref
  • Yellow flag if you’re a football ref
  • Black Under Armor (for layering purposes if you fear being cold)

*Note that all above costumes ideas can be adjusted to your level of sluttiness, if you so desire, though I may recommend you think against that.

If you don’t have any of the above costumes, don’t forget you can always pull out an old costume from a couple years ago that you still have lying around, an old uniform from work (nothing wrong going as a Stop & Shop bagger or cashier) or an outfit from any themed parties (luau, 90’s, etc..) you have been too lately.

A Crucial Catch: Breast Cancer and the NFL

My latest for TNGG — as originally posted here.

Breast Cancer Cupcakes

Whether it is your mom, grandmother, aunt, niece, neighbor, friend, daughter, spouse, or yourself, almost every person knows someone who has been diagnosed with breast cancer. This is not surprising, as statistics tell us that every three minutes a woman is diagnosed and every 13 minutes a woman dies of breast cancer in this country. These alarming rates have caused an increased call for breast cancer awareness — hence slogans like “I Heart Boobies” and “save the ta-tas” popping up all over. The latest catch phrase to inundate us is “A Crucial Catch” — NFL’s slogan for the month.

The month of October is officially National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM) and the NFL is currently in its third season of a partnership with the American Cancer Society. The NFL, teams and players are spreading the word and trying to focus on getting women to know the importance of getting a yearly screening, especially those if you are over 40. Fields have pink ribbons stenciled on them, game balls and coins are turning pink and you can even find pink cleats, towels, gloves and more on the players to spread the message. Not only are they wearing and painting things pink, but all the pink you see is being auctioned off and the proceeds are going to charity.

While the league has been doing this for three years now, some teams, like the Giants, have been supporting the cause for much longer. And they’re not the only ones. Many players in the NFL have been affected by breast cancer and the support comes pouring out from more than just the league. The Redskins’s tight end, Chris Cooley, whose mother is a survivor, works with the team’s community relation department to host the Chris Cooley All-Star Survivors Celebration, an afternoon to give to and support survivors.

But there are still some out there who only see this as a marketing ploy. Our friends over at the Good Men Project think this is purely a way to get more female fans — last year they pointed out that more fans are affected by heart disease than breast cancer. Some females even think this is just a way to show us that we matter. With these skepticisms, I have yet to see an official reason from the NFL to say why they’re doing it. But does it really matter why? They’re doing something great for women (and men) and they are showing us that they haven’t forgotten us. Plus it’s a lot more than we see the NBA, NHL or MLB doing.

What do you think? Whether it’s a marketing ploy or not, does it really matter? Or is the NFL supporting the cause enough that the reason behind it doesn’t matter much?

An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away: Recipes for Fall

My first time putting my hand into the editing world on TNGG….as originally posted here.

Prime apple picking season is upon us. While the Northeast may be facing a pumpkin shortage(yes, I know, sad but true) for the upcoming Halloween season, apples seem plentiful now that they are ready for picking. There’s nothing better than picking an apple from the orchard, cleaning it off on the sleeve of your hoodie, and biting into the crispy, juicy fruit — well, except for family favorite apple recipes.

Our love of apples and apple dishes began as tykes, eating apple sauce and drinking apple juice. Apples are one of the most common fruits seen inside a school cafeteria. Now that we are on our own, we have learned the joys, and frustrations, of baking and cooking. Some of us here at TNGG have gathered our favorite recipes to share to better kitchens around the world with our tasty apple dishes.

Don’t forget when cooking anything with apples, it is important to use apples which are considered baking apples (anything that keeps it shape while baking) — Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Gala, etc. There are also ways to adapt all recipes to be healthier. You could also swap vegetable oil with olive oil — you’ll be surprised at how moist olive oil cakes are. Or, if you want to skip all that sugar and butter for crumble toppings, just top the cake with chopped walnuts or pecans.

Apple Coffee Cake (submitted by Yue Huang)

This recipe yields a sweet, tart, and moist cake, perfect to pair with some dark roast coffee or afternoon tea.

What you’ll need:

  • ¼ cup unsalted butter (for the batter)
  • 2 tbsp of butter (for the crumble)
  • ¼ cup vegetable oil
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • ½ tsp of lemon zest (optional)
  • 1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ¼ tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • ½ cup plain low-fat yogurt (I used Greek yogurt; you can use any type so long as it’s not sweetened)
  • 1 heaping cup of baking apples (I chopped two medium-sized Cortland apples)
  • lemon juice (for splashing on the apple to prevent browning)
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 6 tbsp of light brown sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350° F.

2. Chop apples and splash some lemon juice on top to prevent browning.

3. In a large bowl, cream ¼ cup butter and vegetable oil with the granulated sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, vanilla and lemon zest.

4. In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Stir into wet mixture. Add yogurt and mix; gently stir in apples. Pour the cake batter into a greased and floured 9-inch round baking pan. (You could also use parchment paper or foil for no mess.)

5. In a small bowl, stir together the brown sugar and cinnamon. Mix with 2 tablespoons of butter. Sprinkle over the top of the batter (don’t worry if it’s not perfectly spread out).

6. Bake for 45 minutes (until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean).

7. Cool for 20 minutes. Cut into portions and enjoy the perfect slice of fall.

Cook’s note: You may want to chop extra apples in case you are like me who, well, likes to “taste” my ingredients while I cook. Also, I chopped them quite small so they don’t fall to the bottom of the batter.

Apple Crisp (submitted by me)

This recipe creates a dish that is great for breakfast or a snack. Best served warm (and extra goodness, when served with a heaping scoop of ice cream).

What you’ll need:

  • 5 or 6 medium apples
  • ½ cup all-purpose flour
  • 2/3 to ¾ cup brown sugar
  • ¾ cup oatmeal oats (old fashioned style)
  • ¾ tsp ground cinnamon
  • ¾ tsp ground nutmeg
  • ½ cup softened butter

1. Preheat oven to 375° F.

2. Peel and core apples. Cut into bite size slices and fill an 8”x8”x2” pan with the slices.

3. In a large mixing bowl, mix together all ingredients to form your topping.

4. Spread topping over apples (somewhat evenly).

5. Sprinkle extra nutmeg and cinnamon to your liking over the top.

6. Bake for 40-45 minutes (until topping is golden brown).

7. Cool for 20 minutes.

Cook’s note: This is a perfect recipe to exaggerate the ingredients, especially if you’re like my boyfriend and want lots of extra topping. To make the topping thicker, add flour, brown sugar and oatmeal as you please. Be sure to use plenty of butter too in order for the topping to somewhat stick together so it isn’t a floury mess.

Baked Cider Donuts (submitted by Melanie Yarbrough)

This recipe will make about nine donuts and about twenty donut holes.

What you’ll need:

  • ½ cup apple cider
  • 2 tbsp softened butter
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1 egg
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 1 cup diced apples
  • 2 tbsp butter (for toppings)
  • 1 cup powdered sugar (for toppings)
  • ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract (for toppings)
  • ½ cup sugar (for toppings)
  • 1 tbsp cinnamon(for toppings)

1. Preheat your oven to 425° F.

2. Bring apple cider to a boil until reduced by half.

3. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Set aside.

4. In a separate mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar together. Mix in the egg, cider and milk.

5. Mix half of the dry ingredients into the butter and sugar mixture. Fold in the diced apples, then mix in the remaining dry ingredients.

6. Place the dough on a floured surface and add flour to the top of the dough. Press the dough into a ½” disk. Chill for 15 minutes, or until the dough is firm.

7. Cut out your donuts using a cookie cutter (or a pint glass rim). Cut out the donut holes using a shot glass. Use leftover dough to form more donut holes.

8. Transfer donuts and donut holes to a greased baking sheet or parchment paper. Bake for 10 minutes.

9. While the donuts are baking, mix together butter, powdered sugar and vanilla in one bowl. In another bowl, combine ½ cup sugar and 1 tablespoon cinnamon.

Cook’s note: If you want crispier donuts, flash fry them after baking in a ¼ cup of oil until browned. Immediately dust with cinnamon and sugar, or drizzle glaze over the donuts before allowing to cool. Or eat immediately with a cup of leftover cider.

In case our recipes don’t fulfill your appetite, here’s another 50 mouthwatering recipes that I hope can do the trick.

Does your family have a secret apple recipe you love? Have you made any of our above dishes? What’s your favorite apple recipe?

Task Rabbit Hops into Homes

My latest for TNGG, as originally published here, and subsequently on boston.com too!

With websites such as Craigslist andStubHub, we are able to find just about anything we need online. We’ve come up with websites to share our text messages, tell the world about our embarassing moments or just tosay we’re average, so why not a website to get our errands done? That’s just what Leah Busque did.

Three years ago, Busque was headed to dinner with her hubby when she realized that she needed to buy food for her dog, Kobe. Thinking about poor Kobe being hungry, a lightbulb went off in her head and she had a plan. With her every trusty iPhone, Busque registered the domain name RunMyErrand.com. The business model concocted in her head in the back seat of a cab has evolved into a full time job and the next great American start-up as TaskRabbit.com.

Millennials have been using the site to get their errands done in LA, San Francisco, Orange County, Boston and New York City (many more cities are soon to come). It’s not surprising that average users are the 25-35-year-old set, because in three easy and free steps, anyone is able to post an errand and find someone to get it done — and yes, there’s an app for that!

Step One — Post a Task
Since we’re not all mind readers, describe the task, specifying where the “TaskRabbit” will need to go, what they will be doing, if they need to spend any money while doing it (which you will reimburse them for later), and most importantly, how much you are willing to pay someone else to get it done.

Step Two — Mission Complete

A TaskRabbit gets assigned to your task and works with you to get it done. After you post a task, TaskRabbits put in offers to complete your task and state how much they want to be paid, kind of like bidding. TaskRabbit then assigns a Rabbit to your task to get it done for a price that pleases everyone.

Step Three — Time to Pony Up

Once your task is done, you need to pay your TaskRabbit. Instead of paying the person who completed your errand, you pay the company by credit card and then the TaskRabbit gets paid by the site. (And it’s the same way you reimburse them for any expenses during the task.) In addition to paying the person who did your task, TaskRabbit charges a service fee (usually 15% of what you are paying the runner) for their administrative costs.

When I first heard about the site, I was skeptical. Why would I pay a stranger to do my errands for me? I mean, I usually ask my parents to do my errands for me if I can’t get them done while I’m at work (I know, I know…). Plus, the Craigslist rapist popped into mind. But TaskRabbit wants to be sure all of their TaskPosters are safe, so they do a background check (via SSN, name and address) to make sure they have a clean record, plus TaskRabbits need to go through a rigorous application process before they can have any tasks assigned to them.

So far reviews for the site are mixed. Shanza B. of San Fran says that “TaskRabbit is pretty much the best” while Jimmy D. wasn’t thrilled with the whole process and thought it was too confusing. TaskRabbit’s reviews in Boston are equally as mixed; some like having their unwanted jobs done for them, while others seem to have tasks that have gone undone. Reviews aside, even with background checks and all, I’m still creeped out by a stranger doing my errands for me.

What about you? Would you use TaskRabbit? Or have you? Tell us in the comments!

5 Classic Low-Cal Cocktails

My contribution for TNGG’s Party Week, as originally published here.

Now that summer is coming to an end and wefinally have those six-packs abs we worked so hard to get (read: the six-pack abs we dreamedof getting), we want to keep that bathing suit bod year-round. At least we want to make things easier on us for next summer’s bikini season.

So what’s one thing we can do to stay fit and healthy? Keep our calorie intake down when drinking cocktails!

According to WebMD, one way to keep the calories down in your cocktail is to use an alcohol with less alcohol content. OK, but let’s be real, are you really going to ask the bartender to use less alcohol in your $10-15 drink? There’s always the Skinny Girl Margarita, though I don’t know any guys who will be ordering a ‘skinny girl’ anything at the bar.. (but I could be wrong – dudes weigh in below).

So here are five cocktails that both genders can enjoy that will help keep you in line with your low-cal diet. Enjoy.

Bloody Mary (123 cal) — A great drink to start off Sunday Fundays or for brunch with the parents after a long night out with the team. Plus you get some of those vegetables you are supposed to have daily (or wait, is a tomato a fruit?) And if you’re not a tomato fan, a Bellini will work as well.
1.5 oz of your favorite vodka (recommended: Grey Goose)
.25 oz lemon juice
2 drops Worcestershire sauce
2 drops Tabasco sauce
Add salt & pepper to your liking
Fill with Tomato Juice
Usually garnished with celery

Gin & Diet Tonic (131 cal)– The perfect drink to have in hand when you’re wearing white- it won’t stain your favorite outfit if someone spills your drink on you (why does it always spill on YOU instead of the person who stumbled into you?) Plus using diet tonic instead of regular saves you about 100 calories per cocktail.
2 oz. of your favorite gin (recommended: Tanqueray)
4 oz. diet tonic
Splash of lime juice

Garnish with 1 lime wedge

Mudslide (155 cal) — No, not the frozen drink made with ice cream, or the one made withT.G.I. Friday’s mix – a straight up mudslide. (Also 102 calories less than the similar White Russian)

.5 oz your favorite coffee liquor (recommended: Kahlua)

.5 oz your favorite Irish cream (recommended: Baileys)

.5 oz your favorite vodka (recommended:Smirnoff)

1 oz milk (warning: use of whole milk will raise the calorie count)

Whiskey Sour (158 cal) — For other whiskey drinkers like me, here’s a classic which can be made with artificial sweetener instead of sugar to keep the calories down.

2 oz. your favorite whiskey (recommended: Jameson)

2/3 oz. lemon juice

1 tsp Splenda

Believe it or not, this classic comes in diet form!

Pina Colada Cooler (165 cal) — Another frozen drink favorite variation, and a fun way to stay cool when Mother Nature keeps the heat pumping into the days of October.

1.5 oz your favorite coconut-falvored rum

3 oz. pineapple juice

4 oz. sparkling water

1 tbsp Coco Lopez Cream of Coconut Lite (check the drink mixer section of your local supermarket)

What’s your favorite low-cal cocktail?

Photos by The Culinary Geek, DeaPeaJay, & Urban Bohemian.

Cockblock: The Male Birth Control Pill, Coming Soon

Sorry it’s been a while. I have been MIA from everything lately due to work commitments. That said, I am back and better than ever. I have been writing a bunch for the TNGG site and below is my most recent post (which was originally posted here).

Jump back! Could it be real? A male oral contraceptive? A pill for dudes?! According to a recent New York Times article, the little pill we’ve all been waiting for could be right around the corner.

Of all the options for birth control, there are currently four for men, compared to over a dozen for women: a vasectomy, condoms, spermicide and the so-called withdrawal method (which really shouldn’t be included anymore). But thanks to modern science, it seems likely that we will soon also have the male birth control pill.

Similar to the female birth control pill, scientists are using a combination of hormones (testosterone and progestin) to make men stop producing sperm all together and “other ways of interrupting sperm production, maturation or mobility.” There’s been even talk of a biceps implant, which would work similarly to the female implant.

For too long, contraception and reproduction have been viewed as something only women are supposed to worry about. But I’m pretty sure the cliche holds true for a reason, and it takes two to tango.

Feminists and females alike see men taking “the pill” as one small step for man, one giant step for womankind. But why has it taken so long to get off the ground?

Dr. John Amory told CNN that “while women make one egg a month, men produce about 1,000 sperm every second.” Adding that “it proves more difficult to shut down that level of production.” The delay is logical; the pill forces women’s bodies to do something it already naturally does, not ovulate, as opposed to not producing sperm, which is not normal for men’s bodies.

Even with delays in male contraception, there is a “greater interest in this technology than there ever was in the past and there is now more funding available worldwide than ever before,” according to an interview Dr. Christina Wang gave to MSNBC.

Wang’s outlook was confirmed by a survey graduate student Alexa Hassaram conducted at Bentley University. The 22-year-old surveyed 98 co-eds on campus (86% of which were sexually active) and found that 59% of the respondents would either willingly use, or encourage their partner to use, a male birth control pill. Also, 13% of those surveyed would use it if their partner wanted them to, compared to only 11% who would not consider it at all.

Rob Morton, 25, of NYC, is more skeptical, and sees this advancement as “just another excuse to not wrap it up, and spread disease. Also, I could see people saying one thing and doing another.”

Morton pointed out that just like the pill so many ladies swallow every day, a male contraceptive will not protect against the spread of STIs. For that, it doesn’t look like condoms are going anywhere anytime soon. Unfortunately, Hassaram’s survey confirms Morton’s fear: she found that while 56% females on the pill still believe in using a condom concurrently, only 28% of the males would use a male pill and condoms concurrently.

As for Morton’s second thought, men could lie about being on the pill, but then again, so could women (and it happens) — all it really boils down to is trust of your partner.

Just like most innovations, there are mixed reviews. Some men want it. Some women wouldn’t trust their male partner to take the pill. Catholics and pro-life supporters don’t support contraception as a whole. Feminists think it’s about time for men to step up to the plate. Pro-choice supporters think this could be great for men who don’t want to father a baby now.

But now it’s your turn: What do you think? Tell us in the comments.

Photos by Marquette La, Stacy Lyn Baum and n.Stauffer.

Bike for a Cause: How an Adventure sparked a Movement

I present my latest piece for TNGG.

“The biggest thing to fear in life is settling and not chasing your dreams,” says Fred Piumelli, 25, of New York City. “Because life is too good not to make things happen.

It all started with six men with six things in common. They’re all recent college grads, they’ve got time on their hands, a sense of adventure, good hearts, a love of biking and they’re all looking for a little more out of life.

The group, consisting of high school classmates and Bentley University swimmers, graduated college in 2008, and decided to take on an adventure most people wouldn’t dream of. They biked across America, partnered with ACCION International, to spread the word about how valuable microfinance is to fighting poverty.

For the non-business minded folk, you are probably asking yourself, what is microfinance? It is a way to give the poor an opportunity to help themselves and promote human rights and human dignity.

As Keith Kolakowski, 25, of Orlando, FL describes it, microfinance is “a fantastic means of progress” for the developing world. “The cool thing is that microfinance isn’t the only sustainable means of helping the poor.” Kolakowski thinks the model is translatable to other forms of generosity and charity. It values empowerment and accountability and personal story, which ascribes worth to people; it acknowledges the universal dignity of being human.

While most of the developing world does not have access to a banking system as we know it, it still have entrepreneurs. These entrepreneurs are trying to make money to support their families and communities, but don’t necessarily have the startup capital to do so.

In today’s economy, anyone studying economics or the effects of micro finance can understand just how valuable the concept can be. When the boys graduated from college in May, 2008, they didn’t realize just how soon it would become a necessity to help keep the global economy alive.

After college graduations wrapped up, Mike Belorenzo, Tyler Heishamn, Keith Kolakowski, Fred Piumelli, Bryan Stinchfield and James Watson departed Darien, CT, headed for San Francisco, CA. As they prepared to bike, they raised $34,000 for an ACCION project in Ghana. Their journey lasted only 63 days.

All six knew they shared the same passion to help bring an end to poverty. What they didn’t know was how this ride would change their outlook on life. (And as any good Millennial would do, they blogged their experience along the way.)

As the guys planned their nine -week adventure across the good ol’ U.S. of A., Heishman, 25, recalled that “it seemed selfish to not connect our plans to a broader goal.” They brainstormed ideas and decided on “searching for a charitable cause that we could relate to and thought would have the greatest potential.” Enter microfinance. “The fact that it was fairly unheard of motivated us to become advocates for the cause,” he said.

A group of six guys biking across the country with just the packs on their backs and not even a help van seems, well, “ludicrous,” as Kolakowski puts it. While he was looking for a ludicrous adventure, Kolakowski also wanted “to do it for the very poor of the earth, who deserve a dignified helping hand.”

While Kolakowski set out peddling for an adventure, he got an experience that taught him so much more. “We received an amazing experiential education in American culture, American hospitality, and American spirit of people when we would tell them what we were doing, and they instantly wanted to be part of it.”

Kolakowski isn’t as active with the cause today, but he’s excited that microfinance is gaining in popularity in the mainstream.

It’s becoming such a mainstream thing that Bryan Stinchfield, 25, has recently left the states, and his job, to join the Peace Corps in Madagascar as a Small Enterprise Development Volunteer. Stinchfield now works “with small groups of fisherman, weavers and farmers trying to educate them on money management and entrepreneurship while encouraging the use of [micro-finance] if, and only if, they understand the terms of the agreement upfront.”

Looking back, Stinchfield sees the trip as “a chance to reflect on our lives, when up to that point the only thing we had been accustomed to doing was being a sponge within the great educational system of America. We finally had an opportunity to give back in term of begin a teacher instead of a student on the journey.”

The bikers’ journey didn’t end in San Francisco. Not only has Stinchfield taken to keeping the cause alive, but so has MicroBike USA. Today, just as the original crew put together their ride, anyone can take on a ride of their choice of length to ride for the cause.

These guys wanted an adventure. They began a movement.

What have you done to make an impact on today’s society?

Photos by MicroBikeUSA, Michael Kuhn.

Millennials & Charity Work

As you probably know, I write for a site TNGG. This article was originally written for them, but instead became the inspiration for my new themed articles that will be coming out about once a month on Millennials and charity work.

“It’s not how much money you make or whether you’re able to gain the approval of your peers. Inspiring hope by aiding those lacking the very essentials we take for granted every day is something that actually makes a constructive impact not only to yourself but to those impacted by your generosity. Only through helping those less fortunate than yourself can a person truly gain perspective on how lucky they really are.” — Mary June Olson

Mary, 25, volunteers with Denver’s Habitat for Humanity because she believes that “far too often members of our generation lack perspective on what really matters in life at the end of the day,” and she wants to make a difference. Olson is not the only millennial working with charities and helping raise money to make our world, and the world our children will live in one day, a better place.

Millennials are stepping up and volunteering in many ways to give back to the community as a whole. The number of volunteers for the Peace Corps and Teach for America has increased since the economy took a turn for the worse, but even millennials in college and the working world are volunteering daily around the world. A very common cause that millennials, and everyone, supports is cancer, but there are other smaller charities and causes that we support as well.

If we’re talking smaller, let’s talk micro — micro finance that is. As many business people, and anyone who studies the effects micro finance can have on the economy, know, this is a spectacular cause, especially these days. Little did a group of 2008 grads realize just how important micro finance would become as they graduated college in May 2008 and embarked on a 9-week trek to travel across the US by bicycle.

The group partnered with ACCION International to spread the word about how valuable micro finance was to fight poverty. When asked why they decided to undertake this challenge, Tyler Heishman, one of the creators of the plan says “the fact that it was fairly unheard of motivated us to become advocates for the cause, and we really liked the sustainable model that many organizations were striving for.”

Tyler and his friends aren’t the only crazy millennials biking the country to raise money and awareness. Every year since 2002, 25 college students bike from Baltimore to San Fransisco for the Hopkins 4K. Biking 4,000 miles may seem daunting to most, but the experience to help support such a great cause has left some wanting to bike 4,000 miles twice! The summer of 2007 Greg Gotimer “did not know what to expect from the trip and only hoped that (he) would be able to make a difference in the life of someone who was battling cancer. What (he) was not expecting was the magnitude of support we would get throughout the country for (the) ride.” That support left him wanting more — another 4,000 miles the following summer as well.

Not all of us have the time it takes to dedicate to training and biking across the US, but we’re going out to support good causes on our feet as well. More and more people are running marathons to support causes. Tim Loher ran the Boston Marathon in 2010 for two reasons. One, because he “wanted to achieve something that (he) never thought (he) would be able to do. Having never run more than 4 or 5 miles at a time, 26.2 seemed unfathomable.” And two, because he ran for the Boston Fund for Parks & Recreation to raise money for a program to help keep Boston teens off the streets by giving them “a source of income and the pride and self-respect that comes from holding a job.” Running the marathon and raising money for a cause left Tim with one of his greatest memories from his life.

The support that Greg felt biking across the States and the sense of accomplishment that Tim felt crossing the finish line are similar to what so many others feel when they are doing something for a good cause. Millennials have found other ways to reach out and give back as well. Specifically through mentoring and working with the younger generations. Organizations like Big Brother/Big Sister, Mentoring USA and the Mentoring Partnership of New York provide great places for millennials to get hands-on with the younger generations and help give back. Kristina Sorfozo mentors with Prime Time Through Urban Impact in Connecticut as a way to use her talents to “to love on these kids, break racial barriers and to teach them that love and correct conflict resolution wins outs in the end.” While these ideals seem simple enough to pass along to the younger generations, it’s a goal many of us have seem fit to take on ourselves.

How have you gone out to make a difference for tomorrow?