Sunshine in the Storm

It was a gloomy day, one that promised to be the hardest of my friend’s life so far. This I knew all too well.

As I got in my car to make the drive from the Heights to Friendswood this past Thursday, I reminded myself not to set the cruise control since it was raining. Then I kind of chucked to myself, thinking how remarkable it would be if I even reached a cruise control-worthy speed at all on this drive. It was, after all, rush hour in Houston.

I was on my way to the memorial service for the father of my friend of more than 20 years. He was a wonderful person, and I am grateful I got to know him. As I drove, my mind took me back to the day of my own mother’s memorial service. My sweet friend was right there by my side, and now it was my turn to comfort her as much as I could with my presence during this difficult time.

By now, you’re probably wondering why I’m writing about such a melancholy topic on a blog dedicated to finding joy in our most mundane, day-to-day tasks.

I’ve come to believe that, on even our darkest days, there are bright spots that shine through — fleeting as they may be — if we learn to recognize them. So, I thought I’d take a minute to share some of the things I witnessed at this great man’s funeral, which I hope with all my heart brought my friend and her family some comfort and a glimmer of hope.

Stories and memories that will live forever

Vivid tales of deer camp adventures and Christmas mornings made even more special because of family were a constant theme as Mr. P’s best friend and grandchildren captured our hearts with their words. I felt as if I had been there experiencing it with them.

Laughter amid the tears

Isn’t it amazing how a little humor can put our grief on pause for a split second? Oh, how good it feels to get even a few seconds of relief from the sadness when that happens. The minister made me chuckle when he mentioned how Mr. P’s long career as an airline mechanic put him in a whole other class of “tinkerers” than he himself would ever achieve. And hearing Mr. P’s oldest grandson talk about stolen moments swimming with his grandpa in the creek at the deer camp had me smiling big, too.

Symbols of a life well-lived

From the American flag that draped the casket, to the collection of ball caps and miniature model Continental Airlines plane that sat on the entryway table, everywhere you looked there were symbols of everything this incredible human being stood for.

Mr. P served his country in the Navy, where he became an expert “tinkerer” on an aircraft carrier (which ultimately prepared him for a successful career in commercial aviation). And those baseball caps were such a beautiful hodgepodge of what mattered most to him, representing everything from his son’s college alma mater to his grandkids’ adoration of him (Best Grandpa Ever).

The greatest gift of all

Little details like the ones described above become monumental when we’re faced with the loss of someone we love so much that their absence leaves a gaping hole in our heart. You know the feeling if you’ve ever experienced loss on that level — the elephant sitting on your chest that makes it hard to even breathe sometimes.

As somebody who has walked the lonely road of losing a parent myself, I’d be remiss if I didn’t call out the most meaningful thing you can do for those you love when they lose someone special: just being there.

When you make the time to be at the memorial service or funeral, you show the bereaved that they matter — that their loved one matters. (Yes, I used present tense here; I refuse to use past tense when talking about the dearly departed, because love never dies, and they’ll live forever in our hearts.)

Sometimes, attending the service just isn’t possible. Life happens, and sending flowers or a sympathy card will have to suffice when circumstances prevent your presence.

But, if there’s any way at all you can be there, go. You don’t even have to say anything. Seriously, just show up and give them a hug. That says it all.

Because, at the end of the day, we should never miss an opportunity to be someone else’s sunshine in the storm.

This blog post is lovingly dedicated to my friend Penny and her family, in memory of her sweetheart of a dad. May he forever tinker in that big repair shop in the sky.

MLK-inspired Reflections

It almost seems, in this time of political divisiveness and yellow journalism, that we’re making things more complicated than they need to be.

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My Social Media Sabbatical: 30 Days with No Posting, Liking or Tagging

For the first time since I started using social media almost 10 years ago, I decided to take a break from it. My plan was to disconnect from the virtual world in order to reconnect with the real world. So, for the entire month of November, I parted ways with Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. I didn't include LinkedIn in the sabbatical because I still had a business to run.

Since several people have asked me about the experience, I'm sharing some of my key takeaways.

1. Mindful mornings: Like most people these days, my smartphone has become my command center for everyday life. My alarm clock, my social media and email accounts, a gazillion handy apps that promise to make life a little easier -- they're all conveniently just a touchscreen away at any given moment. So, I had gotten into the habit of scrolling and trolling before my feet ever hit the ground after waking up each morning. Now, I put the phone back down once I shut off the alarm, and I spend the first 15-20 minutes of my day reflecting, reading or meditating. The benefit: I set the tone for a positive, productive and peaceful day. I can't control what's going on around me, but I can control how it affects me.

2. Connectedness over connectivity: I realized that I had become more involved with sharing my experiences than actually living them. I can't count the number of times I have missed out on the moment because I'm so busy trying to capture it on camera. Don't get me wrong -- I love going back and looking at photos of special memories. But does everybody need or want to see a pic of my latest smoothie creation or the Gucci purse I found at a resale shop for $5? Probably not. The benefit: I'm more tuned in to my surroundings, both people and nature. I have become a better, more patient listener and will work to continue improving.

3. Alignment of priorities, time and tasks: Five minutes on Facebook was hardly ever just five minutes. Sound familiar? It's not like I spent hours checking out what my former neighbor's ex-husband's new girlfriend wore to the office holiday party. Who has time for that? But somehow, though innocently enough, I would often find myself hanging out on the newsfeed a little longer than necessary. It doesn't take that long to get an at-a-glance feel for what my peeps are up to. So, I've resolved to limit my activity to a couple of minutes and then move on to more productive endeavors. The benefit: I've adopted a less-is-more philosophy and approach to time-management. My efforts and energy are now guided by what's truly important to me. If it's not a priority in some area of my life, I shouldn't be spending a lot of time on it.

4. Finely tuned focus: Technology is awesome, but it can become a distraction when it's in your face 24/7. With so many things vying for our attention, it's easy to lose sight of our goals and the action steps needed to accomplish them. For years, I've bought into the myth of multitasking, when the reality is that we can really only do one thing at a time if we want to do it well. I'll choose doing something well over just getting it done any day of the week. The benefit: After 30 days without social media, I have reclaimed my focus. I have greater clarity and direction, and it feels pretty amazing.

5. Social media strategy: Yesterday, I logged back in to my social media accounts with a whole new perspective. As a career marketing professional, I will always recognize the value of social media. Used strategically, It's a powerful tool for networking, fostering business and personal relationships, and -- yes -- even socializing. But when used with reckless abandon, it can become a vice or an addiction that robs us of the face-to-face interaction that defines the human experience and makes it worth living. 

Bottom line: My 30-day sabbatical proved to be a worthwhile experience for many reasons. I believe social media should complement a balanced, well-rounded existence that includes as much (or more) time offline as online. Communicating via a handheld device will never take the place of actually holding someone's hand -- at least not for me.

Dana Zambon is the owner and head word wizard of Zambon Creative



I was more present during our Thanksgiving festivities this year, thanks to the personal growth I experienced during my social media sabbatical.

I was more present during our Thanksgiving festivities this year, thanks to the personal growth I experienced during my social media sabbatical.

I or me, which will it be?

Grammar is an interesting thing, really. For those of us who make a living from our knowledge of the written word, it becomes apparent that there is a time and a place for proper, by-the-book grammar, and an equally valid time and place for bending the rules to connect with your audience. That being said, I think it's important to know what's correct and what isn't. I mean, I may choose to use the word ain't for emphasis in the right context, but I should at least know it isn't going to fly at a business meeting.

So, I want to share with you today a grammatical error I hear all the time, and one I think the majority of people don't even realize is wrong. It has to do with the pronouns I and me -- and when it's best to use each one. Let's look at an example:

Wrong: My friend gave the tickets to James and I.

Right: My friend gave the tickets to James and me.

The difference comes down to who's doing the action (subject) versus who's receiving it (object). In this case, the pronoun is an object, so it should be me. A good rule of thumb is to use your thumb and cover up the names and conjunction that come before the pronoun and see if it makes sense. In other words, you wouldn't say "My friend gave the tickets to I" -- you'd say "My friend gave the tickets to me." Easy, right?

Below is an example of when the pronoun is the doer, or the subject. In this case, I is the correct pronoun. Use that thumb again to cover up "James and" -- you wouldn't say "Me went to the store." You'd say "I went to the store."

And there you have it, an easy way to remember when to use I and when to use me. Most of the time, even difficult grammatical concepts can be made simple. You just have to know the tricks, or hire a professional. 

Zambon Creative is here for all your copywriting, editing, proofreading and strategic marketing needs.

Beyond the Steeple: Church is Everywhere

Religion is a manmade doctrine that, when practiced blindly as a cult without mindfulness, constricts its followers within the parameters of a life with limitations. By contrast, spirituality is an all-encompassing understanding that we are all connected through a higher power. Hence, the prevalence of the term "one love" in Rastafarian and other less conventional, bohemian-esque belief systems that promote peace and harmony.

As mere mortals, we have a tendency to become defensive any time we think our beliefs are being challenged or even questioned. That's not a good thing. It keeps us from growing as people -- and on a larger scale may even stagnate the evolution of the soul. Yeah, I know. That's some deep shiggidy. But it's the truth, and sometimes the truth hurts.

The problem I have with religion (versus spirituality) comes down to imposition. It was the driving force behind the founding of the United States of America, and it's the root cause even in modern times behind radical Muslims blowing up entire city blocks in the name of Allah. Radical Christianity isn't exactly devoid of bloodshed to advance its cause, either. Religious extremism includes any act of imposing your beliefs on others, in my humble opinion. If this offends you, good. That means you're thinking.

Don't get me wrong. Faith and devotion are wonderful qualities. But when they're attached to an expectation that others must believe and do exactly as we do -- or else they're wrong -- there's a problem. If church for you is a certain set of walls every Sunday morning, wonderful! Go forth and worship as you've chosen. And if church for you is quiet contemplation and prayer by a gurgling brook in the forest, more power to you, too.

God is everywhere, and whether you refer to Him by the name Jehovah, Allah, El Shaddai, Abba, or anything in between, I truly believe there is one Creator, one God. It doesn't matter what we call Him or where we interact with Him. What matters is what's in our hearts, and how we positively impact the lives of others. That, for me, is church.

Clean, Cost-Effective Culinary Creations

Don't you love a well alliterated title to kick off a conversation? All kidding aside, today's blog post is about getting creative in the kitchen. Eating clean doesn't have to clean out your bank account. In fact, today for lunch, I whipped up a delicious, nutritious meal for two -- for a whopping $5.15. 

It was a recipe I modified based on what I had on hand. We'll call it stir-fry wraps for now. If and when I publish a cookbook, I reserve the right to give it a fancier name. Here's the breakdown of ingredients, along with an approximate cost for each:

1 can organic garbanzo beans: $1

3 stalks celery: 50 cents

2 cups sugar snap peas: 75 cents

1/4 small onion: 25 cents

2 cups kale: 50 cents

3 cloves garlic: 35 cents

3 tablespoons olive oil: 25 cents

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice: 15 cents

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar: 20 cents

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar: 20 cents

10 whole leaves romaine lettuce: $1

The organic garbanzo beans and vinegars came from Trader Joe's; the olive oil from Costco; and the produce from Canino's farmers' market a few blocks from my house. I estimated prices for each ingredient using a rough calculation of the unit price divided into fractional servings. In other words, I dusted off my fourth-grade math skills. Mrs. Sinner would be proud of me.

Last I checked, the fast-food drive-through lines were charging that much or more for one super-sized serving of heart disease and diabetes. By comparison, for just over $5, my husband and I both had plenty to eat. The macros balanced out nicely (protein-carb-fat ratio), and it was yummy to boot. Score one for clean eating on a budget!

I'm going to wrap up this blog post about my stir-fry wraps without going into the details of the recipe itself, as the point to this particular musing was how to eat clean on a dime. But don't fret -- if you want the recipe, feel free to comment on my blog and let me know. 


Live Like You Give a F*ck

A good friend recently gifted us with two of my now-favorite cookbooks for our wedding. Both are filled with culinary delights I can't wait to bring to life in my own kitchen. But the one that really speaks to me like no other cookbook ever has, is New York Times Bestseller Thug Kitchen: The Official Cookbook: Eat Like You Give a F*ck.

As its title suggests, it's not for the faint of heart. This is where the term food porn crosses the threshold from figurative to literal. The language is as colorful as the photography that pops off the pages in 3D-like fashion. Nonetheless, if you can get past a few -- okay, A LOT of -- expletives, you're in for a treat. The book presents clean eating in a real, uncomplicated way that's refreshing and makes you look beyond its raw words and conversational tone. Eat like you give a f*ck. Ponder that for just a second. And then apply it to the rest of your life.

We've become a society of robots, moving mindlessly from one sensory-overloaded activity to another. We're on autopilot, caught up in superficial smokescreens that detract from the joys of a more simple, mundane existence. Convenience has taken priority over conscience, and it's come at a steep price: our health, both physical and emotional.

The drive-through line is nothing more than a poorly disguised fast track to illness. Would you rather spend a few bucks more on organic, whole foods now -- or tens of thousands more on chemotherapy and insulin a few years from now? Nutrition may not guarantee you won’t face disease at some point, but it’s health insurance I’d bank on any day over what Big Pharma and Medicare have to offer. And let's not forget the beauty of preparing a healthy meal at home to be enjoyed together with those we love.

Bottom line: It's time to get back to basics and not only eat like we give a f*ck, but LIVE like we do as well.


Zambon Creative is Born

Thirty-two years. That's how long I calculated I had been working with no breaks (other than the standard couple of weeks' vacation each year). It was a defining moment, as I sat in my cubicle tallying it all up. Had I realized at 15 that I would have the rest of my life to work, I might not have been in such a hurry to enter the workforce. But then again, my solid work ethic is a big part of who I am, and I wouldn't take anything for all I've learned on every job -- good and bad.

Fast-forward to now. In the six weeks since my defining moment, I gave three weeks' notice and resigned from my job, started my own creative services company, and I got married -- not necessarily in order of importance. Now, I'm embracing a new chapter in my life, one where I get up each day excited about what's in store. I am a creative. I've been a square peg trying to fit into the round hole of corporate and agency life for far too long. It's time I afforded myself the opportunity to work in the schedule and environment that are the best fit for me. Translation: I can work in my PJs and fuzzy slippers from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. if I want.

The American work culture is unfortunately so focused on butts in chairs and hours on the clock, we've lost sight of what's truly important: quality. When you're empowered to do your best work without being micromanaged, something really cool happens: you DO your best work. It ain't rocket science, but for some reason, it eludes most of today's upper-level management. But, I digress.

So, all that being said, I'm happy to announce the birth of my latest baby: Zambon Creative. I'm here, ready to create. Put me to work.