Thursday, December 29, 2011

New Year's Trivia and Fun Facts

Okay, we did holiday trivia last week, so let's ring in the New Year with some more fun!
  • The celebration of the new year is the oldest of all holidays. It was first observed in ancient Babylon about 4000 years ago.
  • According to the National Insurance Crime Bureau, more vehicles are stolen on New Year's Day than on any other holiday throughout the year.
  • It is thought that the first visitors you see after ringing in the New Year would bring you good or bad luck, depending on who you keep as friends and enemies. Keep your friends close and your enemies far away!
  • Many cultures believe that anything in the shape of a ring is good luck, because it symbolizes "coming full circle," completing a year's cycle. For that reason, the Dutch believe that eating donuts on New Year's Day will bring good fortune.
  • Celebrating New Year on January 1 is purely arbitrary, as neither it has agricultural significance nor astronomical. Many countries still celebrate it in spring, the season of rebirth of new crops.
  • The Time Square New Year's Eve Ball came about as a result of a ban on fireworks. The first ball, in 1907, was an illuminated 700-pound iron and wood ball adorned with one hundred 25-watt light bulbs.  Today, the round ball designed by Waterford Crystal, weighs 11,875-pounds, is 12 feet in diameter and is bedazzled with 2,668 Waterford crystals.
  • January has been named after God Janus (Latin word for door), in the Roman calendar. Janus is the God with two faces, one looking backwards and one forward, at the same time and marks the ‘spirit of the opening’
  • Due to wartime restrictions, the New Year's Eve ball was not lowered in 1942 and 1943.
  • Throughout the year, visitors to Times Square in New York City write their New Year's wishes on pieces of official Times Square New Year's Eve confetti. At the end of the year, the wishes are collected and added to the one ton of confetti that showers the crowd gathered in Times Square in celebration of the New Year.
  • The top three destinations in the United States to ring in the New Year are Las Vegas, Disney World and New York City.
  • Eating black-eyed peas, ham or cabbage are thought to bring prosperity. However, stay away from bad luck foods like lobsters, because they move backwards, and chicken, because they scratch in reverse. It is believed that eating these on New Year's day might cause a reversal of fortune.
  • In Colombia, Cuba and Puerto Rico families stuff a life-size male doll called Mr. Old Year with memories of the outgoing year and dress him in old clothes from each family member. At midnight he is set on fire - thus burning away the bad memories of the year. 
  • The tradition of making New Year resolution dates back to the early Babylonians.
  • According to statistics 40 to 45 percent of American adults make one or more resolutions each year. The top New Year's resolutions include weight loss, exercise, quitting smoking and better money management. By the second week of January, 25 percent of people have abandoned their resolutions.
  • In Italy and Mexico, people wear red underwear on New Year's Day as a symbol of good luck for the upcoming year.
  • The Spanish ritual on New Year's eve is to eat twelve grapes at midnight. The tradition is meant to secure twelve happy months in the coming year.
  • Noisemaking and fireworks on New Year's Eve is believed to have originated in ancient times, when noise and fire were thought to dispel evil spirits and bring good luck.
  • According to the Mayan calendar, the end of the world will occur on on December 21, 2012 at 11:11(UTC) or 6:11 AM (EST). I guess Prince got it wrong. We shouldn't have partied like it was 1999. We should party like it's 2012! 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Best of 2011

It seems like ages ago, we were gearing up for Thanksgiving. Now, we've made it through Thanksgiving and Christmas. If you celebrate Hanukkah, you've got a few more days. And, well, if you celebrate Kwanzaa, you're just getting started. However, New Year's Day represents the end of the holiday season. It's less than a week away, so its safe to say that we are in the Holiday Home Stretch.

The stress of the holidays should be winding down, so take some time to take a couple of deep breathes. The hard part is over. Since this is the vacation season, take some time to enjoy yourself. See a movie. Get a massage. Play with some of your new toys.

This is also the time, that we have all of the year in review lists. The Best of 2011. The Worst of 2011. The Biggest Stories or Scandals of 2011. The Biggest Names/Celebrities of 2011. It can be fun to look back. So take some time to make your own personal lists. What were your best moments of 2011? What were your biggest accomplishment.

People's first instinct is to say, "Oh, I don't have any." However, I'm going to call you on that. You do have some victories, successes. Granted, it's not every year that you get married, graduate from school or move into a house, but that doesn't mean you haven't had any accomplishments.

Think about what went well. What made you feel good? When I look back at 2011, here are a few things I look back on.

1. I took an amazing vacation to Edisto Island.
2. I accomplished several major projects at work.
3. I made a significant dent in paying off my debts.
4. I published two Get It Together Girl workbooks and have started on the next one.
5. I had my stylist cut some layers into my hair and I love them!
6. I decided to take Latin dance lessons and I start in January.
7. I stuck to my resolution and I will have read the entire Bible by December 31!
8. I reconnected with a good friend.

I don't really need to do a Worst of 2011 list because, like most people, I am painfully familiar with what didn't go well. If I was going to do this list, it wouldn't focus on mistakes and unpleasant experiences, instead I'd probably list the Top 3 (or 5) Lessons Learned instead. Rehashing the past is no good, the only thing we can do is learn from it.

The important thing here is to focus on your successes because we almost never do that. Let's prepare to go into 2012 positive and ready for an incredible New Year!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday Triva Fun!

I am a huge trivia buff! So in my last post before Christmas, I wanted to leave you with some fun Christmas facts.  Yet, I can’t forget that Hanukah is underway and Kwanzaa begins on Monday. So I’ve included trivia and fun facts for all three celebrations! Feel free to share them over dinner with the family!

Christmas Facts

  • The word Christmas is Old English, a contraction of Christ's Mass.

  • Gold-wrapped chocolate coins commemorate St Nicholas who gave bags of gold coins to the poor.

  • Germany made the first artificial Christmas trees. They were made of goose feathers and dyed green.

  • Electric lights for trees were first used in 1895.

  • "It's a Wonderful Life" appears on TV more often than any other holiday movie.

  • Rudolph was actually created by Montgomery Ward in the late 1930's for a holiday promotion. The rest is history.

  • The Nutcracker" is the most famous Christmas ballet.

  • Jingle Bells" was first written for Thanksgiving and then became one of the most popular Christmas songs.

  • If you received all of the gifts in the song "The Twelve Days of Christmas," you would receive 364 gifts.

  • The poinsettia plant was brought into the United States from Mexico by Joel Poinsett in the early 1800's.

  • Poinsettias are very poisonous to dogs!

  • Popular belief holds that 3 wise men visited Bethlehem from the east bearing gifts. However there is no mention in the bible about the number of wise men who visited. The number might come from the fact that three gifts were brought - gold, frankincense and myrrh

  • The twelve days of Christmas are the days between Christmas Day and Epiphany (6th of January). According to tradition, the days represent the length of time it took for the wise men from the East to visit the manger of Jesus after his birth.

  • In 1843, "A Christmas Carol" was written by Charles Dickens in just six weeks. “Bah Humbug” was originally “Bah Christmas!”

  • Christmas became a national holiday in America on June, 26, 1870.

  • Black Friday is not the busiest shopping day of the year. Although it varies, it usually lands sometime in December, in the days immediately preceding Christmas.

  • In Greek, X means Christ. That is where the word "X-Mas" comes from. Not because someone took the "Christ" out of Christmas.

  • Traditionally, Christmas trees are taken down after Epiphany (January 6).

  • More diamonds are sold around Christmas than any other time of the year.

  • In Mexico, wearing red underwear on New Year's Eve is said to bring new love in the upcoming year.

  • At Christmas, it is traditional to exchange kisses beneath the mistletoe tree. In ancient Scandinavia, mistletoe was associated with peace and friendship. That may account for the custom of "kissing beneath the mistletoe".

  • History of the Candy Cane. It was created in a small Indiana town to symbolize the birth, ministry, and death of Jesus Christ. He began with a stick of pure white, hard candy to symbolize the Virgin Birth. The candymaker formed the stick into a “J” to represent the name of Jesus. It can also represent the staff of the “Good Shepherd.” He thought the candy was too plain so he stained it with a red stripe to symbolize the blood shed by Christ on the cross.

  • Hannakah Facts

  • Chanukah can fall anytime between the middle of November and beginning of January. The exact dates are decided according to the Jewish calendar, which is Lunar-based. The 8-day holiday starts on 25th day of the Jewish month of Kislev.

  • The candles used for lighting Hanukah Menorah are supposed to burn for at least half an hour after the stars come out.

  • Placing the menorah in a window, to share the miracle and the celebration with passers bys, is considered to be a very important tradition of the festival.

  • The festival of Hanukkah has become more commercial with the giving of gifts, due to its proximity to Christmas. Earlier giving gifts was not a part of its tradition.

  • The nine-branched candelabrum used on a Chanukah is a misnomer; it is actually called a chanukiah. The menorah is actually a seven-branched candelabrum.

  • Chanukah begins four days before the new moon, which is the darkest night of the Kislev month. The month is close to the winter solstice, which is the longest and darkest month of the year. Like many other faiths, the Jewish holiday of Chanukah brings light in the darkest time of the year.

  • For most of its history, Hanukkah was a minor holiday. It gained popularity in the late 1800s, eventually becoming one of the most celebrated Jewish holidays in the calendar.

  • It takes 44 candles all together to observe all the eight nights of the Chanukah festival.

  • Kwanzaa Facts

  • Kwanzaa is celebrated daily from December 26 to January 1.

  • Kwanzaa (Swahili for "fresh fruits") is based on an African harvest festival.

  • The Karamu, or feast, is held on December 31 and one of the high points of Kwanzaa.

  • Kwanzaa was created by Maulana Karenga, a professor of black studies at California State University at Long Beach, in 1966. It is a nonreligious celebration of family and social values for African American families.

  • Gifts are given mainly to children, but must always include a book and a heritage symbol. The book is to emphasize the African value and tradition of learning stressed since ancient Egypt, and the heritage symbol to reaffirm and reinforce the African commitment to tradition and history.

  • The colors of Kwanzaa are black, red and green as noted above and can be utilized in decorations for Kwanzaa. Also decorations should include traditional African items, i.e., African baskets, cloth patterns, art objects, harvest symbols, etc.

  • The seven principles of Kwanzaa are: Umoja (Unity),  Kujichagulia (Self-Determination), Ujima (Collective Work and Responsibility), Ujamaa (Cooperative Economics), Nia (Purpose), Kuumba (Creativity), Imani (Faith).
  • Monday, December 19, 2011

    A Final Holiday Plea

    We are in the home stretch. A week from now Christmas will be over. The gifts will have been opened. The meal will have been eaten. And we'll have approximately 10 months before we start this whole process again! So while you make your final purchases, pack your bags as you get ready to travel to spend time with family or begin preparing for that holiday meal, do one thing for me ... show some goodwill by doing something charitable. Remember the reason for the season and do something kind or generous for someone else.

    Call a great aunt or uncle. People say that Christmas is for the children but it can also be a very lonely time for the elderly. While we might remember grandma and grandpa, reach out to other elderly family members that might get overlooked; maybe their kids live in another city, maybe they never had any kids, maybe they are in a hospital or home and don't have a chance to get out. It would make their day if you called, stopped by or even bought them a gift.

    Shop for a cause. Take your children out to buy a few toys for kids that are less fortunate and then let the kids go with you as you donate to Toys for Tots, your church toy drive or another charity. Kids are born with a giving nature, give them a chance to nurture it and do something good for another child in the process. Likewise, you can donate some food to a food drive so others can have a yummy Christmas dinner.

    Make room for the new by getting rid of the old. Go through your closets and make a pile of clothes you can donate. Do the same for your kids. Donate them to Goodwill, Salvation Army, or other charity.

    Start a new tradition. We've got the shopping and gifting down pat. How about starting a new tradition that focuses more on the interpersonal or spiritual aspects of the holidays. You could start attending Christmas Eve service or donating your time at a food bank or other charity. Maybe you want to start a neighborhood Christmas caroling group. You could have a tradition of only discussing positive things at the Christmas table. Maybe you want a Christmas Eve or Christmas Night Game Night where you can all get together and have some family fun.

    In the holiday hustle and bustle, remember, the reason for the season.

    Thursday, December 15, 2011

    Is Just Enough Good Enough?

    I was having a conversation with a good friend of mine. She described me as a Type A personality. I disagreed. Yet, as we continued to talk, I realized that we had different definitions of Type A. According to my friend, someone with determination and drive is a Type A. In my mind, a Type A person is someone who is very competitive, unyielding and who has a difficulty being flexible. So I guess using her definition I would be a Type A.

    As we continued to talk, she said that I was one of those people who'd always be striving because nothing for me would ever be 'good enough'. I disagreed with that assessment, wholeheartedly ... but it did get me to start thinking about it.

    We live in a society that pushes us to do, achieve and have more. Why have a Mazda, if you could have a Mercedes? Sure, you enjoy your job but wouldn't you rather be a manager? Yes, the 27" flat screen is nice but wouldn't you rather have the 40" or even a 60"?

    I was late getting into the smartphone craze and my first smartphone was an old bulky Blackberry. When I ran into a problem and took it into T-Mobile, the salesman exclaimed loudly that I was on an 'old' phone. Several other patrons turned and looked at me.

    I explained that I had a problem, and I wanted my problem fixed. What I did not want (or need) was a new phone. I wasn't phased. I wasn't embarrassed. I wasn't going to let this kid make me feel bad about my phone!

    For me, I'm perfectly fine driving my Mazda and not owning an iPad, iPhone, iPod or iAnything Else. I like my house, I don't need a bigger one. For me, these things are good enough and I don't need, miss or crave anything more.

    Yet, there are areas where just enough is not good enough. I want to write more books. I want to sell more books. I want to grow my business. I want to get married. I think there is a lot of room for growth in my career and in my personal life. In these areas, I want more and what I have now is not enough.

    So what am I saying?

    I'm saying that we need to determine when just enough is good enough and when it's not. And, it goes further than that. If we determine that what we have and where we are is not good enough, then we need to be prepared to roll up our sleeves and work harder, smarter and differently.

    I think the disconnect for a lot of us comes when we want more but we aren't willing to do more. In those cases, I think it's important to have a serious conversation with yourself. Basically, you need to decide if what you say you want really is what you want. If it is, you need to find a way to motivate and push yourself to move forward. If you really don't want to put in the work, that's fine too, just accept that truth and learn to be content where you are. There isn't anything wrong with that if you are being true to yourself.

    Monday, December 12, 2011

    Karyn Cooks: Red Velvet Cheeecake

    I'm a huge fan of Red Velvet Cake. I'm also a huge fan of cheesecake. So when I volunteered to bring a dessert to the office potluck, I set out to find a recipe that would combine my two favorites. The result was positively yummy!

    Most of the time, I post quick, easy and healthy recipes here. This one is relatively easy, not quick and definitely not healthy. What the heck, though. It is the holiday season. Besides, the end result is worth it. Plus at Christmas time the red, Red Velvet and the white cream cheese topping make this look absolutely festive!


    • 1 1/2 cups chocolate graham cracker crumbs
    • 1/4 cup butter, melted
    • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
    • 3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
    • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
    • 4 large eggs, lightly beaten
    • 3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
    • 1 cup sour cream
    • 1/2 cup whole buttermilk
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    • 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar
    • 2 (1-ounce) bottles red food coloring
    • 1 (3-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
    • 1/4 cup butter, softened
    • 2 cups powdered sugar
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • Garnish: fresh mint sprigs


    Stir together graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, and 1 tablespoon granulated sugar; press mixture into bottom of a 9-inch springform pan.

    Beat 3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese and 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar at medium-low speed with an electric mixer 1 minute. Add eggs and next 6 ingredients, mixing on low speed just until fully combined. Pour batter into prepared crust.

    Bake at 325° for 10 minutes; reduce heat to 300°, and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until center is firm. Run knife along outer edge of cheesecake. Turn oven off. Let cheesecake stand in oven 30 minutes. Remove cheesecake from oven; cool in pan on a wire rack 30 minutes. Cover and chill 8 hours.

    Beat 1 (3-ounce) package cream cheese and 1/4 cup butter at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth; gradually add powdered sugar and vanilla, beating until smooth. Spread evenly over top of cheesecake. Remove sides of springform pan. Garnish, if desired.

    Recipe courtesy of

    Thursday, December 8, 2011

    Resolve ... You've Got It!

    Did you know that less than 50% of Americans set New Year's Resolutions? It's true. For me the word itself is toxic. A resolution to me implies 'wishful thinking'. A resolution is something you make because you think you should and that most people have no real intention of keeping. This is why you can't get into a gym or a Weight Watchers meeting in January or February but by the end of March ... there are no lines at either place!

    Personally, I like New Year's. Within the holidays that make up The Holidays, it's my favorite. I love the idea of a new year and a fresh start. I have have some goals that I have managed to accomplish. This year, I eliminated all credit card debt and by December 31, I would have read the entire Bible cover to cover! Of course, some goals have been more difficult (losing weight).

    Notice, I called my targets goals and not resolutions. For me, there is a big difference and as a writer and trained journalist, words do matter. A resolution has failure built in. It's a notion, wishful-thinking, a good idea. For me a goal means action. It comes with a plan, milestones and deadlines. A goal means rolling up your sleeves and getting to work.

    A few years ago, I developed a goal-setting workshop. During a two-hour session, I guided participants through a process that helped them establish goals that were meaningful to each person. Goals they wanted to achieve and not goals they thought they should achieve (no one accomplishes those!).

    We started by looking at the past 12-24 month and pinpointing the highs and lows and what lessons could be extracted from both. Then we took a pass at creating a few (no more than 3 goals). Finally, we created plans for achieving those goals that included a Plan B, milestones and rewards.

    If you are interested, you can get a free two-page goal planning worksheet here.

    However, I've taken that goal-planning session and transformed it into the third Get It Together Girl book - Get It Together Girl!: Getting to Goal - Your Dreams, Your Desires, Your Way. It's available on Kindle ($1.99), on Nook and paperback ($6.99). If you want to create some compelling goals that you are actually excited to achieve, check them out. You won't regret it.

    Monday, December 5, 2011

    Hooray for the Holidays!

    We've survived Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Now, during the first full week of December, the Holidays are in full swing. Depending on your faith, we've got Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa and New Year's to make it through!

    The past couple have years have been lean ones for me but I've tried not to let a lack of funds hinder my enjoyment of the holidays. I've tried to remind myself that it isn't about the gifts, it's about family and friends. As a Christian, I try to remember the reason for the season has nothing to do with decorated trees, festive lights and how many gifts I get or give.

    Yet, although I'm going into this season a little more financially sound, I'm also going to try to use some of the lessons I've learned through several years of belt-tightening, to remain financially grounded.

    Here are a few of my lessons learned:

    The Little List: I scaled back on the gift-giving and do you know what? No one that was left off of my revised list was offended or upset. In fact, when I brought up the idea of passing on the gift exchange most of them were relieved. A dreaded sense of obligation is definitely a downer when it comes to spreading holiday cheer.

    Fabulous Friends: A dinner out with friends or better yet a day of shopping together for our families is a great way to spend time, create memories and not break the bank.

    Calling Cards: In the evenings on my way home from work, I started calling distant friends and families and wishing them Happy Holidays. We got to laugh and joke and catch up. A personal call beats a generic holiday letter any day. If I send cards, then I do a few every evening and make sure each one contains a personalized message from me to the person I'm sending it to.

    Cash is King: This one is easy for me because I don't have kids. If I can't pay for it in cash, I don't get it. This goes for gifts I give to others and gifts I give to myself. If I was going to use credit, I would only use it after I had exhausted all of my cash and I would try not to spend more than I could pay off in two months. If you can't have an all-cash Christmas this year, work towards it for next year. Starting in January, open a Christmas account and start squirreling away a little bit every month so next year Cash can be King, and credit cards can be banished.

    Give Back: Try at some point this holiday season to do something good for someone else. I go through my house and I get rid of old clothes, unused kitchen appliances and anything else I can find that is in good shape and I take it over to Crisis Assistance Ministry. Here in Charlotte, they have a free store where people in need can get clothing and basic household supplies.

    Donating gently used toys is also wonderful at the holidays ... no child should have to go without a toy on Christmas!

    Thursday, December 1, 2011

    Failure IS an Option

    Failure isn't just an option, if you are going after something major, failure is inevitable. I recently came across an issue of the Harvard Business Review that came out on the spring. It's dedicated to failure. Yes, I said failure. We talk often about success but failure is never discussed. It's the other F word, and like the obscene F word, we don't want to use it in polite company. Yet, failure is the flip side of success - two sides of the very same coin. With a coin, you can't have heads without tails and you can't have success without failure.

    The issue focuses on some of businesses biggest CEOs and their philosophies and stories of failure. One succinctly said, "The only failure in failure is when we fail to learn from it." An very compelling argument can be made that we learn more from failure than success. Also failing prior to succeeding makes our success, when we get it, that much sweeter. We appreciate it that much more.

    It scares me when I see how many parents shield their kids from failure, in an effort to improve their self-esteem. The problem with that is that it doesn't work. Winning all of the time, being rewarded for just showing up and being coddled and told you are wonderful 24 hours a day doesn't build self-esteem as much as it creates a dangerous level of narcissism. Learning that you are okay even when you fail and learning how to bounce back and be resilient are much better teachers of self-esteem.

    I remember once, as a child, I was so bored that I actually did my chores. I did them without being chided, yelled at or reminded incessantly. I thought I was hot stuff. I went to my mom and proudly announced, "I did all of my chores today." She looked at me with a blank expression and said, "And? That's nice but I'm not going to reward you for doing what you are supposed to do."

    On another occasion, I auditioned for a play and did not get the lead role. I was crestfallen. After consoling me, my mother gave me my plan of action. "So you didn't get the lead role," she said. "You did get a nice sized role though and that's great. Now you make sure you play that role to the best of your ability and maybe next year, you'll get the lead."

    She didn't go to school and argue with the teacher that made the decision. She didn't argue with the mom of the girl who did. She explained that even when we don't get what we want, we have to do the best that we can with it. Failure, in my parents' eyes should make us work that much harder. What did that other girl have that I didn't? What can I do to be better? How can I improve so that next year, I have a fighting change.

    After several rehearsals I realized she was a darn good actress. She also had a much better voice than I did and this was a musical. I wasn't the lead but I understood why. Still, I took Mom's advice, but I made an impact in every scene I had (I even stole a few). I never got the lead in a musical, but a few years later, I did get a leading role.

    There were other times when I probably should have gotten a role or something else I worked for. When I would complain about the unfairness of it all or why I deserved what I didn't get, my Dad would agree. "You are right," he'd say - immediately making me feel better. "It isn't fair and you probably did deserve it but life isn't fair and you don't get everything you want or everything you work for. Keep it moving and eventually something will work out, but not if you just sit here and whine about it."

    The moral of the story is that I grew up knowing that failure happens. Good self-esteem is born of successes and failures. You don't get everything you want all of the time. You don't get every job you apply for. Every guy or girl you like doesn't like you back. You don’t get every role you audition for.

    Failure is nothing to fear. It's part of life and it doesn't define you. Failing a few times is a good thing, it means you are in the game. You'll never win if you sit on the sidelines and wait for the perfect opportunity. It certainly doesn't mean you're not good enough, smart enough or pretty enough. True elf-esteem comes from within and the belief that you are good enough when you win and when you lose.