Wednesday, March 31, 2010

How Do You Capture Happiness In Words?

I have labored over how to write a new post about my 30th birthday weekend since getting back to New York. I haven't been able to come up with anything because I have no idea how to capture in words how incredible my time at home was. I suppose the easiest thing to do is to just write a basic re-cap of the weekend because I can't possibly fit in all the wonderful details if I tried. 

I started the trip out by visiting with Erica and baby Gia:
I got to see them on my actual birthday on Thursday which was such a gift to me. I'll never stop saying how sad I am to be away from them and how much I wish I had that time together more often. Regardless, that was such a treat to spend the day together! That evening, mom and dad took me to the greatest local Cajun restaurant for dinner. We had such a terrific time tasting new beers and stuffing ourselves on shrimp and grits and bread pudding. It was a good thing I ran that morning:
Come Friday, Michael and Allison arrived in the morning and I went for another run while dad went to get them. We visited for a while before it was time to get ready for my party weekend to begin, wooo! Mom wanted to do something special for all my friends and family since I was honored enough to have three friends and my sister, Stacy, from New York fly in. I swear, it was like a wedding weekend with all the coordinating and 'out of towners', hehehe. Anyway, she wanted to cater BBQ and have a party at the house so my New York and Georgia worlds could come together. I can't even explain how awesome that was for me. It was honestly overwhelming in the best way. All of these people who are so dear to me, friends AND family, were there together at once to celebrate ME:
I mean, how flattering! It was so perfect. I also had my first (peach!) birthday cake in about 15 years thanks to Mom and Allison. I'll drool for a long time thinking about it:
On Saturday, I was thrown a second party downtown which was just as awesome. All the same people and more came out for that as well and I swear, I held back tears a dozen times. I'm very sensitive when it comes to relationships and they are dear to me. I put a great deal of my heart into the people in my life and to feel just as loved in return is so powerful to me. I wish I could post all the photos but here are a couple of my favorites:
Just when I thought the weekend couldn't get better, Allison told me on Sunday that she had a surprise gift coming to me at the house. I had NO idea what in the world it could be. It turned out that she had been in touch back and forth with my dear friend, Claire, about commissioning her to do a painting of Brando for me. It brought me to tears:
To receive a gift like that from my sister, painted by such a beautiful friend, is just priceless. Claire is so talented and pours her heart into her work. Please visit her website here and check out her pieces. She is terrific! 

I honestly lead such a blessed life and I'm surrounded by salt of the earth people. (Matt, if you're reading this, you and Brittany shot up to the top of that list. I'm so glad I got to spend time with you!) I know in life that it's so hard at times to focus on the things that matter. We get caught up in pain, heartache, anger, frustration, what is "fair" and not; we simply lose sight of what is grounded, real, and lasting. We're human and we make mistakes but I'm at a place in life where I'm committed to keeping perspective. I may not have things that others do but you know what? They may not have what I have, either. To me, my life is deeply rich and I know that god has blessed me abundantly. My biggest prayer for people is that they would just open their eyes and see the goodness all around. I pray that I always do as well and that I will never take for granted any moment I've been given.    

Thank you so very much to the people who made my birthday (and make my life!) so extremely special. I love you so much and I am so grateful for who you are. I can't wait to celebrate together in another 30 years...and I love that I can say that and know the same people will be around. :) What a joy!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Oh, How I Love Farmers Markets!

After finally coming down off my Jewels and Jill high, I got my first taste over the weekend of the awesome local farmers that are making their way to outdoor booths in the city. The arrival of Spring in New York isn't just about flip flops and cute skirts; it's about strawberries and carrots and mangos, oh my! Saturday was amazing here. It was in the 70's and sunny, just incredible weather for browsing all kinds of markets and shops.

A quite important detail to note first though was how my weekend started off with "Oyster Challenge 2010" on Friday night. Over ten years ago, I had my first raw oyster down in Jacksonville with my boyfriend at the time. Well, it was a bad one and I was terribly sick for nearly a week. I've been terrified of oysters ever since but I've always had this inner jealousy of the people who seem to love them. They're always presented so beautifully with different sauces and I always want to be part of the oyster lovers crowd. Several months ago, I was watching football with friends and I told them that one of my resolutions for the new year was to make 2010 the "year of adventure". Somehow, oysters came up and I committed to tackling my fear and facing an oyster challenge after the new year. This past Friday, our awesome friend, Jon, made reservations at Jack's Luxury Oyster Bar down in the East Village and I officially branched out as evidenced below:
I tried both east and west coast oysters and let me tell you, friends...I enjoyed it! :-o I was shocked and a little sad that it's taken me so long to try them. Actually, no. I make no apologies for waiting so long to try them when I remember just how violently ill I was so nevermind. :P Anyway, it was a blast. Go-karting and oysters in consecutive weekends, yes!

Ok, back to the farmers markets. Saturday, after my volunteering orientation, I soaked up every bit of the sun-filled afternoon. I went down to the farmers market in Union Square and I just fell in love. Since this was our first real "Spring" weekend, there wasn't much selection out like there will be in a month or so but there was still plenty to see and smell. I was shocked at how many apples (literally five or six kinds I've never even heard of!) were out because they're in season in fall but they were so fragrant and vibrant! My favorites were these little mini ones called 'lady apples':
Also, I about died seeing the size of these carrots:
They were HUGE and so bright. I think one of them might have equaled half a package! I also got excited at the different potatoes and the fresh purple top turnips:
I'm telling you, some girls like diamonds and shoes. Me? I like turnips and rutabaga. I honestly had a ball roaming around and absolutely can't wait for the warmer weather and more selection.

The rest of the weekend was spent outside, as well. I tried a new church service down at Gallery, had a terrible 4 mile run (booo!), then made up for it by joining a friend for ice cold beers after. It was a terrific weekend that was the right amount of activity and laziness. I just love that combo. ;) Now, off to enjoy the last week of my 20's...

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Orchid Show

I mentioned in my last post that it was very rainy over the weekend. Sunday was no exception. For a month or so, my girlfriends and I have had tickets to The Orchid Show at The Botanical Garden. I've never been there before so I was quite excited to finally check it out. Sadly, traveling into the Bronx in the pouring rain isn't the most fun. We got pretty wet but, when we finally got there, it was so worth it. Some of the flowers at this exhibit were amongst the most stunning (and strange!) I have ever seen. I was totally mesmerized as we walked through. I had to post a few examples that I fell in love with:

There were also a few that were just plain weird:

Weird but totally fascinating, all the same. My mom has a passion for flowers and gardening and spending the day there made me wish so much that she was with me. Us ladies had a lovely time together though and it was yet another perfect way to spend a rainy day. :)

Snow Tubing Turned Go-Karting

This past Saturday, my friends and I were supposed to go on a neat little snow tubing and beer tasting adventure through the awesome company, Urban Escapes. Unfortunately, due to the warm weather and rain we had last week, the tubing venue just couldn't keep proper snow around and they had to cancel. Being the kick ass company that UE is, they put together last minute go-karting for us instead at Grand Prix New York. Let me just tell was a freaking blast. It was pouring rain on Saturday morning when we left to catch the bus. All of us were still excited to get out of the city and make use of the crappy day since the racetrack was indoors. We caught the bus at 9am and were greeted by the UE guides, Bram and Brittany, who were the absolute coolest and most fun people I've met in a while. I must add that Bram was SO cute and had us gals all silly over him, hehe. I mean, he did pay the most attention to us which of course I'm not surprised about. :P

Anyway, we got to GPNY around 10:30am and had an hour and a half of solid racing which was so awesome. We're not talking about little go-karts puttering around, either. These were over 40mph go-karts on a serious track. We were suited up and everything! We could not stop laughing at each other once we were all in our gear:

It was hysterical. Once we all really started driving, it was the biggest adrenaline rush and we seriously were like real racecar drivers, hahaha. I giggle just thinking about it. Afterward, we had lunch and made our way to Cricket Hill Brewery in Fairfield, NJ. We all fell in love with the owner, Rick, who was so passionate and a total believer in locally grown/made products. As a cook, I appreciate that sentiment totally and it was really cool to see his little microbrewery and to taste all that he offers. He also proudly states that he brews the "finest beer on planet earth" and I might have to agree! I ended up buying a six pack of his IPA which I normally wouldn't choose but his blend was absolutely terrific. We stayed at the brewery for a while and then made our way back into the city by 6pm.

It was such a fun day spent with really great people. It was the perfect way to spend the rainy day and I cannot wait to go on another UE excursion, soon! Apparently, they have river tubing and wine tasting this summer which we're all totally doing. Personally, I think we need to go back to Cricket Hill for an entire afternoon. I'm just sayin'.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Spring Is Coming

For as much as I love Spring, it just kills me with allergies. I never had allergies in Georgia, even with all the nasty pollen, but here I just get hit so hard each year. I also battle bronchitis around this time every year and I'm definitely feeling like I might be headed that way. I'm exhausted, it feels like an elephant is sitting on my chest, and my throat is tender to the touch. Waaaaah! I'm trying to see the silver lining though in terms of this meaning that Spring is arriving.

I had my first New York volunteer experience last night and it was awesome. I went to organize mailing stuff for the AIDS Walk and I met some really sweet people. One woman has been living with HIV for 16 years and has volunteered her time to the AIDS Walk for all of them! There was an incredibly diverse group of people there last night and the way they do it is just so neat. It's this warehouse type space on 24th and 6th and everyone gathers at tables to do the work. They provided pizza and soft drinks and it's just a time to sort of fellowship with people from all walks of life. Our table was lively and talkative and we knocked out lots of work; enough so that they emailed today and said tonight's volunteering session is cancelled due to them being super caught up. I thought that was great! I have orientation next weekend for New York Cares and, after last night, I'm really really pumped to go.

I tell you what, nothing makes the heart feel quite as full as when you help people. I assumed I'd feel pretty great afterwards and I was right. :) I can't wait to get more involved in other projects!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Beautiful Visit to Baltimore

I spent this last weekend celebrating my dear friend, Amanda, in Baltimore for her 30th birthday. Her awesome husband, Jay, decided he wanted to surprise her by bringing in her four closest friends for a surprise celebration and it was wonderful. Two of us came in from New York, one from Denver, and one from San Diego. Amanda was totally and completely surprised by all of our arrivals and I couldn't have asked for a better reaction. :) I met Amanda back in Atlanta in 2003 and I was maid of honor in her wedding in 2007. She is one of my favorite people in the world and I never get enough time with her:
We had the most gorgeous weather and us girls took major advantage of sitting in the sun, sipping champagne, and laughing so hard at just about everything. We ate lots of terrible-for-you food, drank plenty of Natty Boh, and did the obligatory oyster shots:

It was a very "Baltimorian" weekend. :) I got some alone time with Amanda while we waited on my bus Sunday evening and we just talked about how amazing it is to evolve in relationships over time. When we met each other, we were just insane with going out all the time and being crazy. We had the most fun you could ever imagine but we also went through incredible hardship, too. I actually saw her through a breakup with Jay for nearly a year which was a very painful time for her. Over the years, we have changed drastically with each year that's gone by yet our friendship has just continued to grow. We are sort of "doing life" together as we change, grow, and mature into the amazing women we continue to be today. Turning 30 is a milestone and being there together for it was just such a gift. Sometimes I think about my wedding day and I smile from the inside out because the girls who will stand by me are each a link in the chain of my lifeline. Our relationships are all seasoned with incredibly special qualities and it's a joy to me. Amanda is someone who has been an inspiration to me with her ambition, drive, and determination. She is so strong, motivated, and very focused which I have looked up to her for since I met her. My favorite thing about our relationship is that it is just so rooted in truth and I wouldn't be who I am today without Amanda in my life.

I feel sad for the people out there who are such "live in the moment" kind of people because they miss out on the beauty that comes from cultivating a relationship over time. They miss the joy that stems from years of experiences, laughter, tears...LIFE...all to be in this minute to minute kind of happiness. All I know is I cannot wait to be 85, sipping champagne in the sun with Amanda, reflecting on how we have shared life together. What a blessing and gift. Now I'm next in line to turn 30, ooo...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Taking Steps Forward

I had a lot of fun this past weekend as I had my first "photo shoot" which is something I've never done before. A portrait photographer friend of mine came to my apartment with his fancy lighting equipment to take some shots of me cooking which was just so awesome. Since this is the first time I/we have ever done anything like this, it didn't go totally as I'd hoped in terms of certain shots. There are a lot of ideas I have that I want to try again so we're going to schedule a second shoot in the very near future.

This shoot for me was sort of like a place to begin with some reinforcement in the confidence area of cooking. I don't mean to say I'm not confident in my abilities - I very much am - but it was neat for me to see some shots of myself while preparing dinner from start to finish. I surely don't ever get to see that unless I were to take video of myself which is just plain weird. :P Looking at myself through the eyes of how someone else views what I'm doing is just so cool and totally reinforces how I feel about this passion of mine. I'm waiting on him to finish editing and I'm hoping that some shots came out really well. If not this time around, then it was good practice and I can't wait for the next time we set something up.

In addition, my friend out in Washington state put me in touch with his sister who works for She works with a ton of culinary experts and she's passed along a guy's info who used to be a personal chef. I was so thrilled that she gave me his info and I wrote him yesterday. It will be so exciting to hear firsthand how he began and what his journey has been like, good and bad. I have very few resources in the culinary world so I want to learn things and educate myself to become a more well rounded "chef". :)

PS - On a completely unrelated note, I saw 'Shutter Island' over the weekend too and loved it. You'd have to be a Scorsese fan to really understand some of what he was doing but it was smart, so well made, and so 'him'. Who can deny that Leonardo DiCaprio is just freakin' good, either? See it.