Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Oh, To Be Young Again...

This post is completely dedicated to my beautiful niece, Elizabeth. Over the weekend, Allison and I were lucky enough to head upstate and be a part of her high school graduation party. She also just turned 18 so it was wonderful sorta celebrating both. My sister and brother-in-law had it catered and the weather held out for a nearly perfect afternoon!

I loved being a part of this special time for Ellie because graduation is really one of the only times in life, based on your circumstances, where you "officially" enter adulthood. It's like you're standing at the edge of an entirely new world and it's full of endless possibility. Of course these moments can happen at any age in life, but something about turning 18 and finishing high school is unmatched. I think at that age you really begin to grasp what true pride feels like and what it means to accomplish something great. Ellie is extremely smart, strong, and motivated. I've been so proud to watch her grow up and to see the woman she's becoming. I enjoyed meeting her friends over the weekend and seeing even more into her life, even if it made me feel OLD. Ha! Isn't she just beautiful (as is the whole family!):
Ellie will head off to SUNY Purchase in the fall and I'm incredibly excited for her. The whole world is at her fingertips and I know she'll accomplish anything in this world that she desires. I love her dearly and I'm one lucky aunt. :)   

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


As I was out running Monday night, I was listening to my ipod on shuffle vs. my running playlist. I don't usually do that because I've got so much old music on there and it's annoying to skip through. I've got such a crazy mix of bands on it too and I forget sometimes who all is on there, Lifehouse being one of them. (FYI, I really dig the lead singer's voice and have no shame in saying I enjoy them, pop band and all. :P)

Often, I use running as a time for prayer which probably sounds odd. There's just something about that time for me that's really personal. It's a time for me to be alone with my own thoughts and to be in a state of reflection, if you will. The other night, Lifehouse's 'Everything' came on and, though I've heard it a thousand times, something about the lyrics really struck me in that moment. It's safe to assume it's meant to be a love song, but I was so impacted by how deeply these lyrics could be used as a praise song. It was pretty great and I kept re-playing it, kind of as my own personal time of worship. I thought I'd share the lyrics:

Find me here
Speak to me
I want to feel you
I need to hear you
You are the light
That's leading me
To a place
Where I find peace, again

You are the strength, that keeps me walking
You are the hope, that keeps me trusting
You are the life, to my soul
You are my purpose
You're everything

And how can I stand here with you and not be moved by you
Would you tell me, how could it be any better than this

You calm the storms, and you give me rest
You hold me in your hands, you won't let me fall
You still my heart, and you take my breath away
Would you take me in
Take me deeper now

And how can I stand here with you and not be moved by you
Would you tell me how could it be any better than this

Cause you're all I want
You're all I need
You're everything, everything


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Quick Trip To DC

I decided to head to DC over the weekend for a very brief but nice visit. It was SO hot but I kind of enjoyed it because I really felt like summer has arrived. :) I could have done without being stuck in traffic both ways on the bus but I enjoyed myself regardless.

Ironically, my friend, Charla, from San Francisco was in DC for work so it was really cool being able to meet up with her and her friends. They were super nice and we all spent the day together at Madhatter:
After saying goodbye to Charla, we were pretty pressed for time. We got ready quickly and then it was time to meet up with more friends which was just awesome. I absolutely loved seeing Chris and I was completely blessed to see Giselle after far too long. I felt very special that I got to spend time with both of them:
I met some of Joel's friends as well that were wonderful so I really enjoyed my night out in DC. It was cool for me to see different areas of town too like U Street which I loved. I kinda regret not going to Ben's Chili Bowl before going home. :-o Anyway, on Sunday, Joel and I walked around Eastern Market, had breakfast, went to the Botanical Garden and then sat outside for the day talking and drinking iced tea. The weekend passed so quickly but it was really nice to get out of the city.

Now, summer is officially here and I'm really excited for some upcoming fun I have planned! I can't believe how 2010 is already flying by...

Monday, June 21, 2010

JP Morgan Corporate Challenge

It's Monday again?!? I swear Monday was just here. I must be missing something...

Anyway, last Thursday, our company participated in the annual JP Morgan Corporate Challenge which is a 3.5 mile race benefiting non-profits and charities. There were about 13 of us who did it and our admin team organized a little fiesta celebration at the office afterward. We have gorgeous terrace space at work that looks out on Central Park yet it's rarely ever used. So, we decided to take advantage of it and plan our little after party for everyone to enjoy being outside. Yes, even our mariachi friends joined in:
I honestly about peed my pants when Leighann busted out those "posters" (she got moustaches too!). We had no shame hanging them either. We did a little decorating before heading out to run and we thought everything looked cute and festive:
Our team was 'Blue Lightning' and yep, we were proud:
It was honestly really nice to come back to some cold beers and mexican food afterward. We got so lucky with a gorgeous night and loved being out on the terrace:
A good time was had by all and we're already wanting to plan another get-together for the office soon. That said, I leave you with this which pretty much sums up the night:

Thursday, June 17, 2010

James Taylor and Carole King

Last night, I had the pleasure of seeing two iconic singers perform together at Madison Square Garden. Holy crapola, what a show! In all my years of going to shows, I'm not sure I ever felt such love in a performance. The two of them were just awesome and so full of life and memories of their years singing and writing together. You could tell that the conviction in their performance was so true and deep. That's one of my very favorite parts of seeing live music because the heart in that kind of soul that comes out is like this special shared gift between the audience and artist. These days, I've found it tough to find that connection with new artists but that surely wasn't a problem with James Taylor and Carole King. It also didn't hurt that we had incredible seats, thanks to a contact of Allison's. :) For some reason, my camera doesn't like taking good photos with zoom, but I got a couple that I really liked, including this adorable one of James on the harmonica:
The stage slowly spun around the whole show so everyone was able to get a nice clear shot of them several times.
They played a ton of the obvious favorites but the encore was by far my favorite. So moving and beautiful. They did 'You Can Close Your Eyes' and I'm not sure there was a dry eye in the house. I love this part of the lyrics so much:

It won't be long before another day
We're gonna have a good time
And no one's gonna take that time away
You can stay as long as you like

So close your eyes
You can close your eyes, it's all right
I don't know no love songs
And I can't sing the blues anymore
But I can sing this song
And you can sing this song when I'm gone

It's such a beautiful song already but watching them perform it together was incredibly moving. Its simplicity makes you have an oddly powerful reverence for love and the power of it. It was a joy to watch them sing this and I'm so very glad I got to experience it. I'm telling you, I'll forever appreciate and value the effect that music has on the heart and soul. What a good night!

Monday, June 14, 2010

Solo Bike Rides and Coffee with Seniors

Before I even begin, I realize what I'm about to mention might sound silly or stupid to most people. Mostly, it's just something people wouldn't understand and that's perfectly ok; it's my own personal "victory" and that's what matters.

For months now, I've been completely fearful of going out on my bike alone. Knowing nothing about changing flats or fixing a dropped chain, etc, has only added to my main insecurities of the clipless pedals and it's prevented me from getting out there since last summer. I've sat and stared at my beautiful bike countless times and thought about how badly I want to conquer my fear of those darn pedals. But...fear can be paralyzing and that is just what it's been for me. Earlier last week, I committed myself to doing a ride with NY Cycle Club for the first time and I was equally excited and nervous. However, much to my dismay, the gal I emailed got back to me and told me Saturday's ride was for members only. I was actually sad but then I realized how much I was relying on other people, yet again, to help me do something I want to do alone. I used to be this way with running ages ago, too. It's that whole I could never do that! mentality that I've had to work terribly hard to break out of. I actually laugh now when I think of how I used to say that about running! Anyway, come Saturday morning, I decided once and for all that enough is enough - I was getting out on that bike if it killed me. I got dressed in my bike gear, loaded up my lovely chrome bag, strapped on the helmet and headed up to Central Park. I was totally nervous but, once I entered the park, I blocked out all of that crap once and for all. I clipped in and off I went. Guess what? I kicked ass. It took me about two miles before I realized how ridiculous I'd been for so long about getting on my bike! Yes, I'm still shaky with stopping in the clipless pedals but what's the worst that could happen? I fall over? Um, been there done that. So, really it's just been ME, yet again, convincing myself that I can't do something. I did a short 15 miles to get adjusted and I am hooked. I loved every second of being on the bike and my fear is totally and completely gone. As I was coming down one of the hills, I got choked up and thanked god for his provision and promise to deliver us from anything we ask, including fear. It was an awesome moment of realization for me that I absolutely CAN do whatever it is I put my mind to; I'm done telling myself I "can't". It's been a stronghold in my life that's hindered me for so long and I'm breaking free from it, once and for all. It surely gives Philippians 4:13 a whole new meaning. ;) I cannot wait to get back out there and I'm super excited to ride with NY Cycle Club the next free Saturday I have! Shouldn't life always be about the small victories? I think so.

On Sunday after church, I had another "first" when I headed up to Washington Heights to do my first NY Cares volunteer project. They have a partnership with the organization, Selfhelp, which is a wonderful program for seniors that incorporates helping them live on their own with socializing events that keep them "active". Sunday's project was a "coffeehouse" which is a time for a group of 60 or so seniors to come out in the afternoon, hear some music, and fellowship over cookies and coffee. It's a way for them to get out of the house and spend time with each other and volunteers like me. The twist is that this particular project is for seniors that are survivors of Nazi Germany in some form. Some were in concentration camps, others had family members killed...just many stories of pain that a lot of these people still feel presently. As volunteers, we were there to help set up and clean up but also to mingle and talk with the folks who were willing. I sat with the most wonderful German woman, Trudy, who was spared her life yet kicked out of Germany during the 40's. She actually got tears in her eyes talking about it, even today. I absolutely loved talking to her and hearing her tell me of travels to Switzerland and how she loved the mountains and snow there...I mean, she moved me, honestly. It was definitely an interesting experience because a lot of the people were cold, but I would definitely do this project again, even just to see sweet Trudy.

So, the weekend was really great overall and it was capped off by a delicious surprise dinner from Allison. Yep, the baker cooked for the chef and it was excellent! I have a truly wonderful sister and it was a terrific way to round out a very blessed weekend. :) 

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Trials Of Patience

I might be the most impatient person on earth. Ask my mom, she'll agree. Most of my quiet time is spent having pretty frank conversations with god about my path, my future, my "destiny" - all of which are followed by prayers asking for patience as his plan is revealed to me. Lately, I've been so anxious and frustrated as I look around at all the people who seem to have their path and lives figured out. Don't misunderstand, though - I feel incredibly blessed to be right where I am right now - it's just that I don't understand sometimes how to simply "be". I feel a deep stirring in my soul about certain passions and talents I have and I know that god is preparing my life for something great. I just want to KNOW what it is!

I think when your heart is truly in line with the things you believe in, that's when life really begins to unfold. I think that god "speaks" and works in so many ways in our lives if we'd only be open enough to witness it. For me, I often feel like god reaches me in very circumstantial ways. So often, I'll have something happen or read a passage in a devotion or have an encounter with a stranger that makes me stop and do a double take. It's almost as though god is right in front of me in those moments, teaching me and saying trust me, Valerie! but then I get too much inside of my own head to really believe. I'm currently reading the incredible Beth Moore book that Cori gave me and I honestly believe that god is dealing with me head on in the areas of patience and trust. She writes about how you can't just believe in the lord but you must believe him, period. She says, "Believe he can do what he says he can do. Believe you can do what he says you can do. Believe he is who he says he is and believe you are who he says you are". To believe is the essence of faith and it is one of the hardest things we'll ever do, as humans. Believing in something is like being a kid again and operating with a certain sense of naivety and blind trust. You just believe, not because someone tells you to, but because you just inherently do. It is that belief that sparks a life of hope, joy, and peace which are the very things I am striving to achieve day to day.

This is a trial for me. Having patience and believing that god will deliver the amazing promises he speaks of is a very big trial and something that sharpens me daily. Beth Moore also says, "Why does god allow us to spend so much of life in the heat of battle? Because he never meant for us to sip his spirit like a proper cup of tea. He meant for us to hold our sweating heads over the fountain and lap up his life with unquenchable thirst". What a vision and image that gives me goosebumps when I think of it. THAT is how I want to blaze through life because that is the very passion I believe we're meant to live out. My biggest prayer is that I will continue to sharpen my life daily in ways that affect and change people so that I will become more and more equipped to receive and accept the goodness and blessing I know god wants for me. These "trials of patience" that I face are what is refining me. I am growing and I am living which is priceless. Sometimes, I just need to remind myself of this as I'm doing here. But, you know what? I think god appreciates that, too.

Monday, June 7, 2010

I Wanna Be Back On Vacation

It's never an easy thing to come back from vacation, even if you aren't away long. I had a sensational trip to San Francisco and it was too tough to sort through all the photos and choose which ones to post! Instead, I'll just say that spending time with Kyra in such an amazing city was absolutely terrific. It was also awesome being there with Allison as she saw the city for the first time, especially the steep hills. ;) We got quite a workout over the weekend walking up and down, that's for sure!

Another big highlight for me was getting to see my great friend, Patrick. He lives in San Diego but was taking his two year old daughter, Bella, up the coast to go camping with his brothers. Luckily, they were going just a couple of hours outside San Francisco so he planned it to drive through and meet us. We spent the day together and I was thrilled to finally meet Bella!

The whole weekend was spent trying amazing new retaurants, like Flour + Water and Tipsy Pig, where I had some of the best food I've tried in so long. Flour + Water had this homemade pasta filled with the most divine lemon-ricotta mixture and I have no idea how they made it. I can usually pinpoint an idea of what's in a dish but this had me floored. At Tipsy Pig, they did a drink with cucumber vodka, basil, and club soda that was so good I wanted to bathe in it. Of course we finally got Allison some clam chowder in a bread bowl, too. A San Francisco must! I was psyched to go to a show at The Independent too which is so up my alley in terms of music venues; super small and intimate. We saw Band of Horses whom I've heard of but never actually checked out before. They were really great so that was pretty cool to be able to see them there!

The absolute highlights of the trip for me though were the market down at the ferry building and our day in Napa. The ferry building always has their merchants selling stuff inside but, on the weekends, they do the outside market where local farmers and people sell their food and crafts. I went nuts. I bought coffee, flavored salts, olive oil...I mean, I could have bought out the whole place. My favorite was the "jam" or conserve as it's called. Jam is made with 50% sugar and these gals only use 20% sugar so they can't actually call it jam; thus, it is conserve. When I tell you that this stuff was like heaven, I'm dead serious. I tried just about everything they make, bought some, then went back later and bought more! I got meyer lemon marmalade, plum-blueberry conserve, nectarine-cherry conserve, asian pear chutney...I seriously could have gone to work for the farmer if I didn't have to come back to New York. I can't wait to be like a little Parisienne girl and take my conserve, brie, and fresh bread to the park for a picnic soon. :)

Napa was simply stunning. We could only afford a day trip but it was still perfect. We went to four wineries: Artesa, Domaine-Carneros, Mumm and Rutherford. Domaine-Carneros blew my mind and I actually felt almost guilty for being able to sip champagne at such a gorgeous place. I will say no more and simply just show you:
The beautiful rolling hills and gorgeous weather honestly exceeded my idea of what I thought Napa would be like. Let me just say that I'm so blessed to have the means to be able to go somewhere like that. I cannot wait to save up for a true full Napa/Sonoma vacation one day.

Needless to say, it was a near perfect trip away from the city and one that will be special to me for a long time. I miss my dear friend, Kyra, so much and it was a real joy to spend such quality time with her. I'm ready to move out west now...