Living, Loving, and Giving Thanks.

Like many others, I was thinking tonight about all I am thankful for. There is much – very very much. More than ever before, I reckon. There are a number of reasons why this is so, from being more aware, to being more open, to giving more of myself – to name a few of the biggies. However, when I think about what I’m most thankful for, one thing comes to mind – and it may come as a surprise to many people. But if it were not for this, I would not be who I am today.

I am thankful for having my heart broken.

Since this fateful event a year and 8 months ago, I believe I have learned more about myself than I had in the 35 years leading up to that day. I learned that being alone is not the same as being lonely. In fact, the opposite is true – it took being thrust unexpectedly into being alone to finally free me of feeling lonely. It allowed me to let people in – really let them in – which was something I could never do before. Sure, I had lots of friends, and some of them I even considered close – but I often felt that they never really knew me. Thanks to my broken heart, I finally was able to share the “real” me with others. And it has made all the difference.

I made a conscious decision to never let my heart close again – to keep sharing, and growing, giving (and forgiving), learning, and most importantly, loving.

I’m thankful everyday for the pure joy of being alive; and for all the friends and loved ones I have the honor of sharing this with. You’re all in my life for a reason, and for that I’m eternally grateful and unquestionably lucky.

And even though in my old age I’ve become more of a Buddhist than a Catholic, I would like close this post with my favorite quote from the Bible – something that’s gotten me through many tough days, and maybe will do the same for some of you – good old Psalm 23: The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.

Happy Thanksgiving, Everyone. My world is a better place because of you. 🙂

Ramblings of an Astraphobic.

she came in through the kitchen window.

I live right outside of Philadelphia, and we are right now in the midst of Hurricane Sandy, the biggest storm to hit this area in my lifetime (that I can recall). Not only is this the biggest storm to ever hit this area, but it has come at a time in my life where there has been much change and growth. A storm of sorts hit my personal life about a year and a half ago – also the worst storm in my lifetime that I can recall. It knocked me on ass, so to speak. Everything I thought I knew – everything I believed in – all the walls I had carefully constructed over many, many years were gone, in one fell swoop. I woke up one day and realized I had no idea what the heck I was doing.

At the time, I was lost. I couldn’t believe this was happening. I asked “why me?” and “why do I have to work so much harder than everyone else?” Of course, I was wallowing, which is what we do when we don’t know what else to do. Thankfully, that phase didn’t last and I began to realize that now was the perfect time to do whatever I wanted to do. The walls were gone – the life I knew was gone. I was given a chance to rebuild, and I could do it however I wanted. I started taking yoga; I read some truly inspiring books; I found myself a mentor (or shoud I say, he found me); I started paying attention to the world around me. I realized that I had been surrounded by amazing people all along, if I had only opened my heart up enough to let them inside. So I finally did. Instead of tightly sewing it back up after it had been broken, I allowed it to stay open.; and it has made all the difference.

None of this was easy. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through in my life. But I would not trade it for anything. And I would even go as far as saying that I hope everyone can experience such a life-changing event. Having closed eyes and a closed heart is no way to go through life, son. Waking up isn’t always easy – but it’s worth it.

The reason I’m writing all this now, a year and a half later? Well, I’ve finally reached a good place. I’m awake. I’m alive. I love the world around me in a natural sense. I love the people in it. I am truly grateful for them, and the love in which they shower me with, unconditionally. You Get What You Give.

The storm is going to do what the storm is going to do. You will be ok. You are more than this. You will come out stronger. And so will I; as we all are part of each other.

So tell that person you haven’t talked to in a while that you miss them. Call that old friend you’ve lost touch with. Stop waiting and tell someone how you really feel about them.

“Things don’t go wrong and break your heart so you can become bitter and give up. They happen to break you down and build you up so you can be all that you were intended to be.” ~ Samuel Johnson

Stay safe, my friends. See ya on the other side – stronger and wiser.

For the Love of Baking.

I was in the midst of making a cake today, and I was just about finishing up, and upon looking at my near-completed work, I started to smile. I couldn’t wait to present the finished product to the intended recipient. I then asked myself, “why do you love baking?” And I came up with a list of answers, from practical, to chemical, to emotional. I’ve shrunk it down to 5 main reasons and of course now I’m going to share the list with you.

The Top 5 Reasons I Love Baking (in no particular order):

1. Chemistry.

I have a little obsession with chemistry. I love experimenting, and seeing how things interact with other things. A little known fact about me – my original college major was, in fact, Chemistry. Eventually, the arts won out, but I never lost that love for all things chemical. And baking, in it’s most basic form, is pure chemistry.

you gotta have the right chemistry..

2. Art.

As I mentioned above, the arts eventually won me over and swayed me from becoming a full-blown chemist. Well, guess what, folks? Baking is equal parts chemistry AND art! I love creating, and the possibilities for crafting an artistic masterpiece are endless in the baking world – from an artisan bread to a fondant birthday cake.

the next Mona Lisa.

3. Fun.

Baking is fun. Kids love it. I mean, I remember begging my mom to help her bake cakes when I was a kid! Maybe it reminds us of our youth; maybe it’s all the sugar and sweetness; but whatever the reason, baking is not considered work for most people. It’s something you do in your leisure time. And something I do in the majority of that time. I crank up the stereo, and dance around the kitchen, mixing, folding, stirring…and even catching myself using my whisk as a faux microphone. (Did somebody say “youtube”?).

some fun now.

4. Delicious.

Baked goods taste good. A sugary sweet buttercream…a warm sourdough loaf…a simple pound cake…whatever it is, I want to eat it, and just writing this is making my mouth water.

resistance is futile.

5. Love.

There’s nothing better than seeing the look on someone’s face when you give them something you’ve hand-crafted in the kitchen yourself – whether it’s a surprise birthday cake, something someone specifically ordered, or something you just felt like making. Baking creates joy – for both the baker and the bake-ee. And that’s really what this life is all about. 🙂

you get what you give.

What is Survive?

I heard a little boy ask his dad that very question this morning while running the LIVESTRONG Philly 10k race. The father was explaining to his son that they were running in honor of a friend of his, who had cancer. “He didn’t survive, ” the father said, to which the little boy responded, “What is Survive?”

I didn’t hear what the father answered, as I had already gone into my head, asking myself that very question. As I ran the rest of the race, I came up with a few answers:

1. It’s waking up for days in a row, feeling like you don’t want to get out bed, but doing it anyway, until the day you finally want to get up again.

2. It’s watching someone close to you suffer, knowing there’s nothing you can do about it, but be there for them, and allow them to inspire you to be better.

3. It’s being better.

4. It’s the voice that says “keep going” when you think you can’t take another step. You can.

5. It’s forgiving AND forgetting.

6. It’s enjoying, appreciating, and being grateful for the little miracles that are all around us and happen every day.

7. It’s constantly broadening your scope – you’re never too old to learn something entirely new.

8. It’s laughing, loving, and being with friends and family.

9. It’s taking full responsibility for yourself and your actions.

10. It’s living with your eyes open, being awake, aware, and alive.

11. It’s having fun while you’re at it. 🙂

A year ago today, I woke up and headed out to my first ever “official” race – The LIVESTRONG Philadelphia Challenge. It was a 10k, and I was anxious about running that distance. I was nervous, sad, and alone, and I cried on the way there. This morning, I headed out to that very same race, and again cried on the way- this time out of joy and amazement in the difference one year and 9 races can make in a person. Live strong and prosper, everyone. You’re worth it.

The Wind Beneath My Wings.

I just wanted to give thanks to two fabulous organizations for their ongoing love and support – the Association of Independent Authors and BookBaby. Without the help and services that these two groups have offered, I would not be the self-published cook book author you see today.

that’s totally me in a chef’s hat holding the book.

The Association of Independent Authors  is a membership organization representing, advancing, supporting and encouraging self-published (independent) authors. Their membership spans five continents, with directors based in the USA, Asia, Australia, and South Africa.

They truly go above and beyond to support and promote their members, and made me feel welcome from the second I joined, by reaching out with a personal email! To top it all off, they have featured me as the member of the month for August! I just wanted to personally thank them, and spread the word to other indie authors – definitely visit their website and take advantage of all they have to offer!!.

Without BookBaby, there would be no book. BookBaby offers both ebook and book printing services, and I took advantage of both, and couldn’t be happier! Thanks to BookBaby, my book is available for sale as an ebook  worldwide through all the major online retailers including Apple, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble, and in print as well (order your copy here!). Am I biased? Maybe a little. But the work they do is top-notch, and the support they’ve offered has been extraordinary, including a recent feature on their blog – check it out here!!

Of course there are so many other people/groups/companies/cats that have been more than amazing as far as offering their time, love, and support (you know who you are).  But let me just express my gratitude one more time to  the AiA and BookBaby – you guys rock. I don’t know what I’d do without you. Fo’ realz. 🙂

Heaven is a Place on Earth called Framlingham.

Framlingham, aka “A friendly place to linger,” is a small town in Suffolk, England, which I stumbled across serendipitously. I was doing some last-minute research for my upcoming trip to England and France – up to this point, I had neglected to do any research on anything in England and been focusing only on Paris and the pastry shop tour I was planning out (and of which I’ll be posting about in full detail in the very near future so stayed tuned!). I realized the day before I was originally supposed to leave (but did not – you can read all about that series of unfortunate events here)  that I hadn’t come up with anything to do in England. I was visiting my brother for that portion of the trip (I’m actually sitting in his living room in Bury St. Edmunds typing this!) so I really was just looking forward to spending time with him, no matter what we wound up doing. However, he was not able to take off work for the entire duration of my trip, so I was going to have some time to myself, which is not a problem for me – particularly in an unfamiliar place, as I love exploring the unknown. I decided I’d venture out on my own. Enter Framlingham.

A friendly place to linger.

I wanted to see castles. I wanted to photograph them with my new camera. So I started googling “castles in suffolk” and seeing what was near my brother’s crib, that I could easily take a train to. Framlingham was not only the closest, but also appeared to be the coolest. It was on.

the castle of my dreams.

I wound up not having to go alone – because I lost a day on my trip, things got shuffled around, and my brother decided the castle sounded pretty cool too, and he’d join me on my journey. So we went exploring together, which made it all the more worthwhile. The town itself was quaint, warm, and welcoming – my kinda place. As we strolled up the path to castle, we also passed an old church, which was incredibly beautiful and monumental in itself – The Church of St. Michael, it had been dubbed.

A friendly place to worship.

The Church was surrounded by old gravestones – so old, that we couldn’t make out what was written on any of them – except one. And although they were old, they were not the least bit creepy. Go figure.

A friendly place to rest in peace.

We continued on up to the castle, and as we crossed the field toward the castle entrance, reaching the top of the hill on which the castle was perched, I could not believe my eyes – I had never in my life seen anything more beautiful. Framlingham was more than just a friendly place to linger – it was stunning.


Now I don’t know if it was the weather, or that I was with my brother, but I as I looked out over the landscape surrounding the castle, I felt as if I were dreaming up this place, one frame after another. We wandered around the entire castle, soaking it all in, chatting, laughing, listening to many owls hooting, and taking as many pictures as I possibly could – I didn’t want to ever forget any of these moments.

one moment in time.

Of course, we had to leave eventually. But we left content – knowing we’d just experienced something truly monumental – both literally and figuratively.

Everyone has a place that changes them – one they feel connected to. Mine just so happens to be Framlingham. I’ll be back.

Yesterday’s got nothin’ for me.

Last night was ridiculous – like 90’s sitcom ridiculous.  But things are never as bad as they seem. Which is why I’ve decided to insert gratuitous pictures of lovely flora (all photographed by yours truly) throughout this post as a reminder that there is still a lot of good in the world.

Yesterday, there was so many things I was never told…

I have travelled a lot in my life – I’d say more than the average person. I’ve experienced delays, and even cancelled flights before. But last night takes the cake (see, I’ve managed to incorporate baking into this post too). I was supposed to catch a flight with a connection and wind up in London this morning, at 10am. I was leaving from a smaller airport, with my connection at a signficantly larger one. I arrived with plenty of time, only to discover that 20 minutes before I got there, my first flight was cancelled. I drove over an hour to get to this airport, mind you.

…Now that I’m startin’ to learn I feel I’m growing old.

Without getting into too much detail, I eventually was able to cry and demand my way into a re-booking that solved the problem, and was even better than my original itinerary. Things were looking up, it appeared.

‘Cause yesterday’s got nothin’ for me…

As I’m waiting at the gate for my new flight, a fellow passenger walks up and informs us that this flight is delayed at least an hour, so if you have a connection, you’re pretty much screwed. I did, and I was. Back to the phone to for another re-booking. This time, the only flight was at another airport, about an hour and 20 minutes away. It would be cutting it close, but it was worth a try. So out to the car I ran, and put the pedal to metal (which, anyone who knows me, knows how adept I am at driving under time constraints).

…Old pictures that I’ll always see.

I knew it was going to be close, and I was actually pretty sure that even the fastest driving in the world wouldn’t make it, but the woman on the phone (who was the most helpful person so far) told me to just try, and if I don’t they can re-book me there. Well, for the first time ever, I missed the turn for the parking lot at the airport – an airport I’ve been to and parked in 100 times. Any chance of making this flight at this point were now long gone.

Time just fades the pages in my book of memories.

I arrive finally, park, get into the terminal, and it’s completely empty – like Stephen King movie empty. A not very nice man appears, and tells me no one can help me, and then proceeds to ignore me. I stand there, and just lose it, no knowing what to do now. A very nice man then appears out of nowhere, and finds me help, via three extremely sweet ladies. Thank you very nice man and sweet ladies, karma is on your side.

Prayers in my pocket, and no hand in destiny…

Finally, I’m rebooked on a flight, but not until 24 hours later, but at this point, I just want to get home, relax, and put this all behind me. Not so fast, though. When I turn to leave, I realize I’m on the wrong side of the airport, and can’t catch the shuttle back to my car. Thankfully, a man actually went out of his way, and walked me to the other side. I have to say, there really are some good people in this world. I hope I can return all these favors.

I’ll keep on movin’ along with no time to plant my feet.

Luckily, this airport was actually the closer one to my house, so it was only about a 15 minute drive. However, I was bawling my eyes out the entire way, and it must have affected my driving, because, lo and behold, I see the flashing lights behind me, and I hear “pull into that parking lot” booming from the patrol car. I feel bad – I don’t want to seem like the girl who cries to get out of tickets – but I couldn’t help it. I was already sobbing before this happened. He was very nice. Again, my faith in humanity was being restored even more.

‘Cause yesterday’s got nothin’ for me.

So, even though my vacation has been delayed by a day, there are some valuable things I’ve learned from all this:

1. the cheapest flight is not always the best

2. there are some really good people out there, willing to help even a stranger

3. I am so lucky to have such wonderful friends and family in my life, who are always there to offer me support, listen to me vent, and cheer me up.

Thank you friends, family and strangers – you have all made at least one person’s life a hell of a lot better. Here’s to tomorrow. 🙂

The Heat is On.

I am a summer girl. I’ve always loved summer and defended it and all its glory to anyone who dared to say otherwise. That was before I became a baker and runner.

Over the past two years, I’ve been steadily increasing my skills in both. But during the last fall/winter/spring, I really put the pedal to the metal – graduating pastry school last December

my pastry school “final”

…and running a half marathon in April.

13.1, baby.

So when this summer started, I was rolling steadily along, baking and running almost every day. Well, as the temperatures crept up (and boy, did they creep), I realized that the summer was having a negative effect on these very things that had become such an integral part of my existence.

Sure, I can work out inside, and yes, my kitchen is air-conditioned. But even so, unless the AC is pointing directly at my butt or buttercream, things start melting. So, as much as it pains me to write these words, Summer, it’s over. It’s not you, it’s me. Seasons change, people change – and you no longer fulfill my needs. I’ll always love you, and I’ll always think you’re hot.  And there will always be a part of me that misses you throughout the rest of the long, cold year. But alas, I’ve gotta do what’s best for me. I hope we can be friends.

thanks for the memories.

I know you’re upset, but you didn’t have to go and melt the ice cream I left in the kitchen just now. Jerk.

The Power of the Flower.

I am terrible at identifying flowers.I mean, I know what a rose looks like. Every girl does, right?  But why? Why is the rose the flower that symbolizes love? The one flower to rule them all. It’s not rare, or incredibly interesting to look at, or only available a certain time of year. But when a fella wants to woo his lady, he gives her roses.

Frankly, I’m not impressed.

Now if this fella were growing his own roses and cut them from his own garden, that’d be a different story. But any guy can go out and buy a girl a red rose practically anywhere, at any time, and for not that much money.

With so many absolutely gorgeous flowers out there, many more beautiful than the rose, and many that would require a bit more effort to locate (and by locate, i don’t mean cost more), why are we all so inclined to settle for that same red rose every time?

interesting AND beautiful.

I have received roses, and I’m not ungrateful for them. I am grateful for every gift I receive, even if it’s one I already have (that just means the person really knows me!). No, I’m not trying to play down the act of giving – I’m merely observing that with so many options, we always return to the same one. Is it out of fear of something new? It is because we don’t feel like (or have the time to spend) thinking about it? Or is it just human nature to repeat the same patterns?

break the mold.

I have a garden, and just this year it’s really taken off. It was planted two years ago, and last year, basically nothing happened. But suddenly, this year, it exploded. Sadly, I can’t identify a single flower in it. However, each is beautiful. And any of them would make a unique and lovely gift.

my personal favorite.

Screw human nature. Try a new flower. Stop and look around once in a while – you’ll be glad you did.

*All the flowers in this post are from my own garden.

Still Life with Chocolate Chips.

After attending the Blogher Food Conference in Seattle earlier this month, I returned to the east coast with a new perspective on many things, and with a list of goals, both professional and personal. At the very top of this list was a goal that was quickly becoming an obsession: upgrade my point-and-shoot digital camera to a DSLR. I spent some significant time the following afternoon googling, researching, reading reviews, and polling facebook friends about all things DSLR, and had, by the end of that day, narrowed it down to two models: the Canon T3i and the Nikon D3100. I started then looking on craig’s list, amazon, ebay and various other electronics sites for the best deal. But I didn’t have to look too long. As they saying goes, “everything you want also wants you,” and lo and behold, I got a message from a friend saying he was selling a new and never used Nikon D3100. Game on.

the universe provides.

Anyway, I couldn’t wait to get started! At the same time, I felt a bit daunted by all the buttons, settings, and rather thick manual. So, it sat for a few more days, in the box, while I periodically glanced at it with raised eyebrow, thinking I should just dive in. finally, I did. My very first photo was of my all time favorite subject, Gandalf the Gray.

ready for his close-up.

After getting that first photo under my belt, there was no stopping me. I actually baked something for the sole purpose of photographing it. So, without further ado, i present to you my first DSLR baking photos,  which I’ve appropriately titled “Still Life with Chocolate Chips.”

Photo #1 of 4.

early life.

Photo #2 of 4.

baked and ready.

Photo #3 of 4.

closing in.

Photo #4 of 4.

stay focused.

And if all this wasn’t enough to make you a believer, the day I got the camera, I also got a groupon email for a local photography class at a seriously reduced rate. Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs. You just have to notice them. 🙂