Closing a chapter

The last weekend of summer is upon us. On September 1, Boston will make the “great migration.” Homes will appear to have regurgitated their furniture onto the streets as inhabitants play musical chairs and move to new apartments in the city. At the same time, all the students will come pouring back and clog the city’s arteries with their moving trucks and unnecessary amounts of dorm “necessities.”

This is the first September of my life that I will not return to school. I graduated last December, and still cannot believe that chapter of my life is over. Watching all the students come come marching (or grumbling) back to academic obligations makes me realize how much I miss school.

Photo of the Baldwin School

Let’s be real, I knew I’d miss school the minute my final class period ended. Being handed my diploma was like sticking a knife through my day planner. I’ve always loved school, from beginning to end and everything in between.

Since I went to a Catholic grade school, “back to school” never entailed shopping for clothes, but it did mean decorating and wrapping my textbooks in brown paper bags, and, of course, purchasing a new set of Gel pens. High school meant pouring over my reading lists for the upcoming year, and reading half of them before the term even began. My high school years were filled with dance parties in the hallway, dress up days, scavenger hunts, ugly blazers, Slip ‘n Slides on the soccer field, ringing gongs, and a plethora of other fun and bizarre traditions that can only be understood if you attended an all girls high school.

Baldwin Gates decorated

At the same time, high school was serious business –sleepless nights, endless term papers, day-long exam periods, and so many “well-rounded” extra-curriculars that we all graduated as perfect spheres. I was a well-oiled machine by the time I reached college, arriving early to every class, perched on the edge of my seat during lectures, fueling my excitement with cup after cup of coffee.

As much as I loved school, and continue to miss it now, graduating has given me the opportunity to do all sorts of things I wasn’t able to do before. For one, this blog. Two, starting to make a significant dent in my bucket list. A few successes from this summer include:

Writing 

I’ve been published!

Global Business Hub

Reading

I set out to read ten books this summer. Although this is a slight diversion from my original list, I will have completed a total of ten by the end of this weekend.

Girl With a Pearl Earring

We Live in WaterTinkersAnd the Mountains Echoes

TransAtlantic

AmericanahThis Is How You Lose HerThe Thing Around Your Neck

The Virgins

Hygiene and the Assassin

Discovering

Photo of kayaking on Charles RiverPhoto of NantucketPhoto of NYCPhoto Philly "LOVE"Photo of railroad tracks

And simply enjoying

Photo of hammockPoolsidePhoto cherry tomatoesMiacomet Beach

It’s been a beautiful summer, and I’m planning on making Labor Day the best weekend of summer yet. But each season brings new opportunities and possibilities. School or not, I’m ready to fall in love with my favorite season all over again.

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Living the #Sweetlife

Living in a city, it’s impossible to keep track of all the new restaurants and business –opening, closing, renovating, or changing locations. It’s like if you don’t walk down a certain street for a few weeks, or even walk on the wrong side of the street, you can completely miss all the gems staring you right in the face.

Photo Sweetgreen Boston

When I finally noticed the new Sweetgreen on Boylston (after it had been open for two months) it hit me like a punch in the face. How did I not know about this place? I wandered in on a Thursday afternoon and have been smitten ever since (as in, I went back again the next day).

Photo Sweetgreen interior

Sweetgreen is an upscale, fast-casual eatery offering organic, farm-to-table salads, wraps, and yogurt. While you have the option to “create your own” their menu features eight pre-designed salads  and one signature salad each month, boasting all the best flavors of the season.

 The August Salad

Photo of August salad

Mixed greens, local peaches, basil, toasted almonds, ginger goat cheese, balsamic vinaigrette.

Their featured drink for August is a wonderfully refreshing Blueberry Basil lemonade. They also have a Fro-Yo flavor for the month, Dark Chocolate. (Which I haven’t tried. I’m more of an ice cream kind of girl). Other salad options include the Earth Bowl with warm grains, the Misoba salad with soba noodles and sriracha, the Kale Caesar, and an omega-3 power punch, the Guacamole Greens (my day-after selection).

Guacamole Greens

Photo guacamole greens

Mixed greens, roasted chicken, avocado, cherry tomatoes, and red onion, cilantro jalapeno vinaigrette.

Behind the counter, a board proudly displays the locations of all their locally sourced products –so you know exactly what you’re getting.

Sweetgreen's list of locally sourced products

At the core of the Sweetgreen mission is sustainability. Besides offering an all-organic menu, their interior is furnished with reclaimed hickory, barn board pine, and bowling alley tables. Additionally, their packaging is 100% plant-based. So if the patio is too full for you to enjoy your lunch there, you can take it with you to go –and know that you are leaving a gentle mark on the environment.

Sweetgreen 100% compostable packaging

Sweetgreen doesn’t even waste energy or resources on paper. With their pay-by-phone app, you can have receipts emailed to you. This feature allows you to purchase a quick and healthy lunch without your wallet, and unlock rewards. For every $100 you spend, you’ll earn $10 in credit.

Photo Sweetgreen Rewards

The Boylston Street location is the chain’s first in Boston, with other locations in Philadelphia, New York, and D.C. It is perhaps not the cheapest of lunch options, but eating clean and eating local is worth the cost. Paired with friendly and efficient service, Sweetgreen is my new favorite lunch spot in Boston. I absolutely plan on overdosing on the August Salad for the rest of the month.

Check out this video to learn more about the Sweetgreen story, and how you can live the #Sweetlife.

Getting a grip on vacation

Photo swimming poolThe first thing I read on Monday morning, back on the job after a weeklong vacation: An article on why Americans need to get serious about vacations. According to this article, the average, private sector US worker receives 16 paid vacation days and holidays, but only takes about 12. USA Today reports that the US is the only developed country in the world without a single legally required paid vacation day or holiday.

Chart paid vacations by country

Courtesy of CEPR.net

Workers in France, Spain, and Germany, however, are guaranteed 25 – 30 paid vacation days per year, and report taking all the time they’re given. These countries have higher unemployment rates than the US, but continue to offer generous paid-vacation time, combined with paid-national holidays, despite struggling economies.

According to the TLNT article, I upheld the all-American vacation stereotype: I took one-week. And I was stressed.

Vacation Deprivation by Country

Chart vacation deprivation by country

Courtesy of Expedia

Not the whole time. Not even half the time. But I woke up each day with a compulsive need check my messages, to tie up loose ends, to send just one measly little tweet.

I completed a few tasks that would have done if I were working. I sent a few emails that felt pertinent at the time, but probably could have should have waited until I got back. Even my boss told me, on my day-five attempt to stay in the loop:

 Why don’t you just hold this for a week and do everything next week. You’re on vacation after all.

Why did I feel an overwhelming need to work, while on vacation? Why did I feel guilty for even being on vacation? I don’t feel especially pressured by my job, nor are my bosses particularly demanding. This was all me, convincing myself that I’d dropped the ball on something, without ever actually letting go.

This is not to say that I didn’t thoroughly enjoy my vacation. I had a jam-packed week of catching up with family and friends, eating my favorite foods, seeing my favorite places.

Photo Citizen's Bank Park

Photo Philadelphia skylinePhoto Philly "LOVE"But I think this is a moment where I, and the rest of the country’s working population, need to be honest with ourselves: Is it better to have the appearance of an overachiever, or to actually achieve something? The US is the second-most productive country in the world, but only marginally better than Germany and France –who also offer the most vacation time. If productivity isn’t suffering as a result of more vacation time, it sounds to me like we could all benefit from a little break.

Either way, it’s great to be back in Boston, falling into routine once again. Even if we Americans aren’t awarded the maximum amount of time off, it’s important to maintain a work-life balance. Keep your schedule filled with weekend plans, dinner dates, and time for relaxation. Whether we’re working, on vacation, stressing, or relaxing, we only have so much time. Take a moment to enjoy it all.

Ladies night at L’Espalier

Photo blue crab appetizerPhoto cheese platePhoto dessert

Tomatoes: A taste of home

Photo of vegetable garden

I’m so glad to be visiting home again. Besides getting to spend time with family and friends, I get to enjoy the bounty of my parent’s garden.  My attempt to grow my own indoor garden this summer was less than successful…

Before

Photo basil plant

After

Photo basil plant -now

Now that I’m home, I look forward to going outside every morning to pick tomatoes for my breakfast. And lunch. And dinner.

Photo vegetable garden

My options include Sweet Million cherry tomatoes, Brandywines, Scarlet Reds, and Roma Plums –all equally delicious. I have to stop myself from eating them right off the bush.

Photo cherry tomatoesPhoto cherry tomatoesPhoto roma plum tomato

I usually grab a handful of basil as well.

Photo basil plant

I’ve added tomatoes to my eggs in the morning, and on salads for lunch.

Photo tomato salad

Juicy tomatoes are an essential ingredient to guacamole (recipe from a California-native below).

Photo guacamole

Or I eat them plain, perfect just as they are.

Photo cherry tomatoes

Becca’s Best Guacamole:

Please note, this will be the most popular item at your party. All ingredients are to excess, but some flexible guidelines below:

  • Avocados (as many ripe ones as you can find at the store)
  • Tomatoes (as many as you can pick from the garden)
  • Fresh-chopped garlic (approximately 2 cloves)
  • Lemon juice (squeezed from one lemon)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

My take: Best of Boston 2013

Photo of August 2013 cover

Courtesy of Boston magazine

I’m always excited when Boston magazine releases its annual “Best of Boston” list. This year, the guide celebrates its 40th Anniversary, and I’ve never been so thrilled to review and discover all the new winners. Although I’ve lived in this city for almost four years, there are always new shops, restaurants, and sites to see. This compilation continues to do three things for me:

  • Reaffirms the greatness of places I already know
  • Unearths new locations to check out
  • Reminds me to GO to that awesome spot everyone’s been talking about already!

From the 2013 list, I concur:

Best Bookstore: Brookline Booksmith

Photo of antique postcard

Courtesy of the “Find of the Week” archive

I work conveniently, dangerously close to this gem of a bookshop. I could get lost for hours between the shelves, boasting their rare titles and colorful spines. Don’t even get me started on the charming kid’s corner tucked in the back, the handmade and locally designed greeting cards, the gorgeous stationary… And the extensive used book selection in the basement, where book signings, author events, and workshops are regularly held. The friendly staff makes a point to connect with their patrons and the Brookline community. Check out the  Find of the Week archive on their website, where they post pictures of items found between the pages of their used books –everything from antique postcards, to long lost letters, to notes scribbled in the margins.

Best New Restaurant (Nantucket): Cru

Photo of Nantucket waterfront

I’m no Nantucket expert, but I had the pleasure of enjoying a breezy, sunny lunch at this beautiful spot right on the water. Really, the location makes it perfect for any occasion, whether it is a quick lunch, lazy, mid-afternoon cocktails, or a decadent dinner. Seated in comfy, yellow striped armchairs next to the window, with a front row view of the docks, I devoured the single best crab appetizer I’ve ever had: Blue Crab Cocktail in a Horseradish Crème. If you’re on the island, just do it.

Best Spanish: Toro

Photo of Toro Restaurant

Courtesy of Just Meat It

Toro is for the adventurous. If you’ve been gastronomically deprived for much of your life, you won’t know what you’re eating. If you’re picky, you won’t want to know. But you’ll love it nonetheless. Tucked in between other, virtually abandoned establishments, this tiny place will be bursting on the coldest of winter nights. Soak in the rustic atmosphere, the exposed brick and wide-plank wooden floors, while soaking up a glass of spicy Rioja. If you’re hesitant to completely blow your palate away, ease yourself in and start with the more approachable Datiles con Jamon (Medjool dates filled with marcona almonds and blue cheese, wrapped in serrano ham) and the Queso Mahon (marinated cow’s milk cheese). Then take the plunge, and follow with the Asado de Huesos (bone marrow with radish citrus salad and oxtail marmalade), and the Corazon (smoked beef heart with romesco).

New to check out:

Best Chocolate: Evelyn & Angel’s 

Courtesy of Mandarina Studio

Courtesy of Mandarina Studio

There are few things I love in this world more than chocolate, which is why I must ask: Why haven’t I even heard of this place? How long have they been there? Why has no one told me? I’ve been a longtime fan of Beacon Hill Chocolates on Charles Street, but if this new competitor is “Boston’s Best” then a trip out to Porter Square is absolutely necessary.

Best New Restaurant: Asta

Photo of Asta

Courtesy of Boston Grub Street

This would certainly be a splurge, but I’ve heard great things about this new hot spot: a high-end concept in a casual setting. Asta offers a playful approach to a purely prix fixe menu, with three-, five-, and eight-course tasting options available.  Constantly rotating and seasonal dishes keep the menu fresh and unpredictable, like a seaweed pasta topped with a mussel foam and a whole squid with black chickpeas.

Best Al Fresco Restaurant: Hamersley’s Bistro

Photo of Hamersley's Bistro  patio

Courtesy of Boston Magazine

Hamersley’s Bistro in the South End is neither new to Boston or the dining masses, but it’s been on my list for awhile.  During my junior year of college, I walked past its elegant “secret garden” patio everyday on the way to my South End internship. This beautiful weather won’t last and, in my opinion, al fresco is the best way to dine. I hope to get on that patio for brunch, dinner, drinks, anything before summer is over.

Why haven’t I been there yet?!

Best Deli: Michael’s Deli

Photo of Michael's Deli

Courtesy of Trip Advisor

I walk past this hole in the wall, and acknowledge the front window plastered with awards and reviews, every day on my way to work. I’m always looking for a good sandwich. I work in Coolidge. I have no excuse.

Best Restaurant, General Excellence: Hungry Mother

Photo of Hungry Mother Restaurant

Courtesy of Gastronomy blog

I generally wouldn’t put “Southern Comfort” at the top of my dining list, but I’ve heard too many good things, from too many people who are near and dear to my heart. I feel like I’m being shielded from a badly kept secret, or missing the punch line of a really obvious joke. Someone, please, enlighten me –let’s go to Hungry Mother!

Best Wine Bar: Belly Wine Bar

Courtesy of Swallow Daily

Courtesy of Swallow Daily

I have been dying to try this place since it opened in Kendall Square last September. They boast an eclectic and unpretentious wine list (check out their current, Grease-inspired Summer Lovin’ list) and an extensive charcuterie and raw bar selection. Another beautiful, brick-laden patio is just the cherry on top. This spot looks right up my alley.

On setting goals

Lists

Photo of lists

I live by lists. To do, to read, to cook, to buy, to pay, to try, to learn, to visit, to revisit … I have lists on my phone, my computer, my calendar, my notebook, my blog; Post-It’d up on the wall, scribbled on spare scraps of paper, and inked onto the back of my hand. You would think that such a commitment to time management would make me hyper-organized, but really I’m just out of breath. I’m constantly wrapped up in lists, planning for something, but often feel like I’m racing to catch up to my own schedule.

These lists as a whole translate into cyclical checkpoints: small, near-reaching goals that are “ticked” as quickly as they are written. Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about goals as the big picture: Long-term, short-term, personal, professional… The privilege of being young and having so many options is liberating. The burden, however, is being young and completely disillusioned by time.

I want to believe that I have all the time in the world, to go and grow and fail and fix. How is it possible to have so much time and so little to waste? It’s a constant ebb and flow of abundance and thirst. The more I have, the more I want. But it doesn’t work that way.

Setting Goals

The Internet is lush with information on setting goals. Blog posts reveal the facts and figures, while Pinterest boards inspire users to pin their way to organized perfection. I found tips on setting goals for health and fitness, for financial planning, for professional development, and for 20-somethings specifically.

I’m definitely an advocate for setting goals, and believe they are something that should be reevaluated more than once a year. But I was relieved when I came across this article on the Huffington Post claiming that setting goals can do more harm that good. Stephanie Zamora writes that you should only have 2-3 priorities in your life at a time, or else you’ll end up feeling overwhelmed by exhaustion and disappointment.

At first I thought, “Great, now I need another list for priorities…” But the lesson here is to step back and decide what is truly important, and focus your time and energy doing those things. I had some trouble choosing only three, but I think these most accurately reflect the things that I want and love, in this moment. In no particular order:

Writing

Photo of notebook

This has recently become a joy for me. Although I majored in writing in college, I always approached it from the business standpoint: marketing, publicity, sales… I never thought that I would pursue writing in the creative sense, and actually enjoy doing it. This is a goal where I would like to focus more attention.

Objectives: Get better at curating material and develop a more concrete editorial calendar for this blog.

Travel

Photo Vally of Phocis

This, on the other hand, has been a lifetime love affair. There are few things I enjoy more than packing a bag and hitting the road, whether it is to discover a new place or return to my roots. It is thrilling to meet new people and indulge in new experiences, as it is a distinct pleasure to reconnect with familiar faces and places. Travel is an opportunity I hope to take advantage of for the rest of my life.

Objectives: Just keep going.

Health

Photo of yoga mat

How can any of us do anything without our health? My health is necessary to fulfill the aforementioned and any future goals in my life, and should be a priority. Also, there is something so fulfilling about being able to open a really tough jar. Early on, my lack of hand-eye coordination seriously hampered the development of any actual athletic ability. But I do enjoy a variety of physical activities, like running and yoga.

Objectives: Pay equal attention to mental health; Take the time to relax and unwind.

To live life by time’s watch is constricting; what is truly liberating is the ability fall into step with life as it comes. I don’t think that I’ll be able to relinquish my dependence on lists completely (I mean, I still need a list of top ten places to travel, right?). But I’m glad I’ve whittled away enough to put a few not-so-important objectives on the back burner. I’ll make a note to reevaluate in six months, but I’ll be okay if I lose it somewhere between the lines.

Summer school

Photo of BPL Courtyard

In my review of my bucket list earlier this week, I’ve come to the conclusion that one of my items (taking a class) isn’t realistic for me this summer. It’s been seven months since I completed my last college class, and I’m desperate for some sort of academic stimulation. So I’ve decided to jump on the DIY bandwagon and create my own summertime curriculum. I’m going to do my own research on topics that catch my attention: current events, changes in my industry, things I’ve never heard of before… Really, anything that piques my interest.

Part of (most of) my job involves marketing and publicity through traditional methods and digital platforms. My sources for information come primarily from business publications like Entrepreneur, Inc., Forbes, and the Harvard Business Review.

InboundvOutbound

Photo via Photo Pin

The New Age of Marketing (originally posted on exploreB2B)

Recently, there’s been a lot of buzz about companies catching on to new marketing methods. Businesses are asking: How do we connect with our audience? What is the best way to enhance engagement, build loyalty, and increase retention? Which tools are the best to use to achieve all of these goals and more? I decided to learn a little bit more about new, innovative marketing strategies: What works, what used to work, and how marketing and PR professionals can effectively implement these changes.

Inbound vs. Outbound

The new and old marketing strategies are distinguished by “inbound” and “outbound” marketing. Inbound marketing involves attracting customers to you with all the colors of a blooming peacock –rather than bombarding them with junk mail. Advances in technology (spam filters alone) make the rude interruption that is outbound marketing obsolete and ineffective in terms of cost and conversion rates. If you want to turn leads into loyal customers, focus inbound marketing efforts on the following three areas:

  • Blogging: Create and share useful, relevant, and interactive content that aligns with your customers’ needs and interests.
  • SEO: Optimize your pages with relevant keywords to make your content readily but organically available for buyers when they search.
  • Social media: Engage with customers and encourage feedback using these real-time customer service tools.

In all, don’t market at a person, but incite a conversation. Draw customers to you with creative and quality content. Supplement with stories, jokes, and interactive media. Ask and respond to questions, and address your customers’ needs to keep them coming back for more.

Additional resources:

  • HubspotInbound Marketing Methodology
  • IncThe New Rules for Marketing, Geoffrey James
  • MashableInbound Marketing vs. Outbound Marketing 
  • OptifyInbound vs. Outbound Marketing, Scott Fasser
  • Social Media TodayInbound or Outbound Marketing? Monica Jade Romeri