Thursday, May 30, 2013

Change Is Freeing

Do you ever go through a transition or change and think how am I ever gonna get through this? It may be a move or a breakup or a new job; any number of things. Life will never cease to throw curveballs, surprise you and bring to light things you never planned for or thought of. Normally, that how am I ever gonna get through this question plays over and over in your mind until one day, well, you just get through it.

Recently, I've gone through all three of those things I just mentioned. That nagging question has tugged at my mind and heart everyday for a while now and I've been working on pressing forward, one step at a time. I moved to Denver back in October after saying a painful farewell to NYC and all the people there that I love. While I knew in my heart I was ready to leave NYC, that's like a breakup in and of itself. If you've ever lived in NYC for an extended period of time, you know that it's a place that consumes your life and requires an actual "ending of the relationship". I've been watching a lot of 'Sex and The City' recently for some brain candy and it's way more fun watching it now having lived in NYC for 7 years. That show hits the nail on the head when it comes to that city! Anyway, leaving it behind was a really hard decision, even if the right one.

I got to Denver, got a job within two weeks and hit the ground running. Those who know me know that I'm very driven and I don't let a lot of things stop me. I love this about myself but sometimes, I really don't know how or when to slow down and it's not good for me. Returning from Italy after five months with only a week and a half in between moving across the country simply wasn't enough time to decompress. After arriving in Denver, I should've at least given myself more time then but nope, instead I jumped right into managing Frasca Caffe in Boulder. NOT a job for the weary, I'll just say that. On top of that, I commuted nearly 90 miles everyday leaving little to no time to actually build a real, true life in Denver. I recently changed jobs to something far more "me" (in Denver!) and, two months into the new gig, I feel like a new person.

Heartache is the only factor is this equation that feels impossible to face, at times. It's a pain that you feel almost down to your soul and, for me, being alone in a new city to face it leaves me with two choices: live or die. Throughout most of my life, I've been dealt cards that have spanned the spectrum of awesome and awful. I've had to grow into myself, learn to view the world differently and become an adult. Getting older has been wonderful for me in this regard as I've moved through seasons of life that have pushed me farther into who I want to be and helped me see and understand the mistakes I've made along the way. I've become better, stronger and more self-aware which is one of the things I struggled with most in my twenties. However, when heartache hits, none of that seems to matter anymore and the only thing you can see is sadness.

My friend recently sent me a great post on the "art of starting over" that he'd just read in relation to things going on in his own life at the moment. I appreciated it so much, particularly this:

Be patient with yourself, be patient with others, be patient with the process. We don't get over the worst of it, we get through it. Sometimes the worst of it takes longer than we want it to. Sometimes it is harder to imagine that there is something out there that could be better than what we had planned.

She goes on to say that starting over is the most freedom you will ever have and I hope so much that I can choose to view my life right now through those eyes.

As I enter into this new season of having to press on, I'm reminded that life is one big series of choices. I have to choose to get out of bed everyday, breathe and know that whatever pain I must face in this time will continue making me better. I have to see pain as refining and heartache as learning. Learning to see who I am, who I want to be, mistakes I don't want to make in the future and how to be at peace in solitude. For those who feel like it, send a prayer or two up for me if you would. As I put one foot in front of the other and take one step at a time, I hope that I can come out on the other side healthier, smarter and more of the whole, complete woman I desire to be.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

I'm a graduate!

I didn't go to college traditionally. In fact, I railed against college, thought I was way better than school and moved to New York for the first time when I was 19 years old. It took me about a year after to realize that maybe I shouldn't be so stubborn and I should try it out. I swear, it had nooooothing to do with the fact that I worked at a prestigious talent agency at the time that wanted to promote me but only if I had a 4 year degree... I decided to move back to Georgia and try school out mainly to prove myself right, that school was for suckers and I needed no part of it. Well, it took me 5 years but I eventually got my Associates degree and decided that I was right and felt no need to go back to school traditionally again.

Deciding to go to culinary school a year ago was a huge thing for me. I had an amazing job, an apartment perfect for me and a life in New York City that I spent 7 years building. To leave all of that behind in pursuit of a dream seemed a) insane and b) impossible. With the undying support of my friends and family, I took off on a journey that has forever totally changed my life. I am without words when I think of the adventure.

I finished my program in October last year complete with a graduation at ALMA amongst my schoolmates, parents and sister. It was a joyous, memorable evening and I will never forget it:
To add to this remarkable journey, it turns out that my alma mater, ICC, decided to hold its first ever formal New York City graduation for our program at Carnegie Hall! After wrapping things up in Italy back in October, I definitely didn't think we'd have something else like this to look forward to. When I got the initial email announcing graduation, I kept thinking there's just no way I can afford yet another trip back to NYC right now after having gone back twice already in less than 6 months of living in Denver. For goodness sake, I can't seem to move on with my life in Denver when I keep returning to where my heart is in NYC! After about two seconds of thinking this nonsense that I couldn't go back, I snapped out of it and booked a ticket immediately. 

What a special weekend. It was a very fast trip, fast enough where I didn't even make plans with anyone but Allison, but I relished in every moment. Allison and I spent all of Saturday together talking, laughing, sharing...spending much needed quality time together and it was awesome. For those who don't know, Allison is kicking ass in wine school right now studying to take her first two exams for the prestigious Court of Master Sommeliers. I got to hear all about it and she even did a personal tasting with me and sure did teach me a thing or two. She's gonna be a wine badass, y'all. 

Come Sunday, I met Trisha, Mo and Dalila for coffee before we had to be at Carnegie Hall and it was so very good to see them. Although I was missing Gavin and John, it was just awesome seeing those three. What's funny is that all four of us were in the exact same spot in feeling incredibly nostalgic for Italy recently. We reminisced and talked about our journeys and it blanketed me in warm, sweet feelings. It's hard to put into words. 

When it was time to head into the waiting area at Carnegie Hall, we proudly donned our chef whites and got ready for the ceremony:
I was honored to have Allison, Stacy, Colleen and Shameer be there to share in my special day. Four people who mean the world to me. Four people who have a part of my heart and who bring an uncontrollable smile to my face when I think of them. Especially Allison. My culinary journey started as a thought, then a dream, then a possibility, then a reality. All with Allison by my side, cheering me on, picking me up when I fell, encouraging me when I burned my practical exam dishes in school...she has been my rock, my confidant, my supporter, my friend and my biggest cheerleader. I was so very happy to close this journey out with her where she'd been all along, by my side.

The ceremony was lovely. It was inspiring and moving, just like my entire culinary journey had been. How lucky am I to have had the ever so talented Colleen Putman capture my moment on stage:
Yep, she kicks ass. After the ceremony, she got this shot of me and the famed Cesare Casella, dean of my program and personal friend of mine:
SO awesome.

Sisters in the city, equally as awesome:
We all went for some snacks and drinks afterward and then Colleen decided she wanted to snap some photos in the park of us and I cannot tell you how grateful I am to her for putting the finishing touches on the day and my entire culinary adventure:
I adore you, Shameezle:
Colleen, you're just so damn talented. You capture the moments that matter and I get to have these memories forever. Thank you for that.

So, that was my weekend. Doesn't it look awesome? It was. It really was.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Asher The Angel

Ok, I know what I'm about to say is so cliche and totally subjective but I'm gonna say it anyway. I have the most adorable niece in the entire world. This is a fact. Although I'd heard said fact from my entire family already, I had yet to meet sweet Asher myself until last weekend.

I had a busy couple of weekends with heading back to NYC for my formal culinary graduation (post on that coming soon!) and then following that with going to LA. Since Asher was born, my life has been all over the place so I was psyched to finally carve out time for a visit, especially given the fact that Michael and Wynn have been equally as busy.

The weekend definitely started off in style when I landed at LAX and was escorted out to my limo, courtesy of Michael. People, limos will never, ever go out of style in my book. Yes, I felt like I was in an 80's movie and yes, there's an element of cheesiness involved, but it's just awesome. I only wish I could've hung out the sunroof like Tom Hanks in 'Big' but, alas, there was no sunroof. Shouldn't every limo have one? I think so. When I pulled up to Michael and Wynn's, I just died over how lovely their place is. Even at night, I felt an immediate coziness before I even went inside. It was pretty late so, sadly, Asher was already asleep but that gave Michael, Wynn and I some quality time to catch up. They'd made a terrific spread with cheese, snacks and wine and we talked for a couple of hours before heading to bed.

When we got up on Saturday morning, Asher decided she wanted to sleep in! Didn't she realize I was chomping at the bit to meet her?! When Michael went to get her, I nearly fell off the couch when he walked in with her. 1) Michael is a DAD. 2) Asher is like sunshine, truly. I nearly bawled my eyes out seeing Michael with her and then just seeing them as a family. I think you can tell I'm pretty happy to meet that little lamb finally:
There aren't words for how precious this child is. I'm in love, head over heels. I got to watch Michael do his morning routine of "opening the house" with her where they walk around and open all the shades and windows and say good morning to the trees, the birds, the sun...I mean, it took everything in me not to lose it watching how sweet and precious these moments are. Michael said she smiles just as big every single morning when they do this! I just died, truly:
After that, Asher showed me her books and toys and guess what her favorite toys are? Yep, spatulas:
She's gonna be a chef like me, I just know it. ;) I could've watched Michael and Wynn with her forever. They are the sweetest family:
After a while, we decided to get a move on and head into Larchmont Village, the cute little town just a walk away from the house. We decided on breakfast at Larchmont Bungalow where we drank great coffee, shared a lovely strawberry muffin and my breakfast panini was bigger than me:

Afterward, we walked around for a while enjoying the pretty morning before heading back to put Asher down for a nap:
I can't tell you how precious this time with the three of them was. Just roaming around, talking, laughing, celebrating the joy of was so special. It was only just morning still but I was already feeling sad about leaving! 

When Asher woke up from her nap, we spent the rest of the day outside in Michael and Wynn's darling little garden. Wynn takes Asher out there nearly everyday and was telling me how fun it is to watch her feel the grass, dig up dirt and explore their garden. I absolutely loved being out there with them:
My favorite part of the day (and weekend, honestly!) was feeding Asher lunch! Michael and Wynn have been cooking and pureeing only fresh veggies from the farmer's market with olive oil and herbs from their garden and it makes my heart swell knowing the goodness they're feeding her. Not only that, she loves it all! I so loved being able to experience this time with her. It was just so fun to watch her decide if she liked things:
It's like hmmm, what is this?:
Yuck, I'm totally not into it:
 Wellllll, maybe it's not so bad after all:
I mean, how do you not want to squeeze those cheeks?

As evening approached, we decided on dinner at Le Petit Greek. We sat outside where Asher joined us at the table like the polite little lady she is:
The food was great, the wine was perfect and the company goes without saying. ;)

Sunday, we got up super early and headed to the farmer's market for fresh scones and coffee:
If there's one thing anyone should know about me, it's that I LOVE farmer's markets. Being surrounded by such goodness from the earth connects with my soul and I totally love it so that was a perfect way to start the morning. We picked up a bunch of bright, vibrant veggies and, after sitting outside with our coffee for a bit, we went back home and got to work making food for Asher for the week. We did zucchini with fresh mint from the garden, rosemary potatoes, lemon brussels sprouts, oats with cinnamon and plain broccoli since she hadn't tried it before. We all shared a terrific lunch of quiche and salad while we fed Asher her amazing treats for lunch. Far too soon, it was time for me to leave for the airport and my heart sank. I just did not want to leave this precious family. 

The weekend spent with them was one of the best I've had in so long. The joy, happiness, positivity, love...I could go on and on...that you feel in their household and simply being around them is priceless. I felt uplifted in my spirit and I thought about how happy I was the whole flight home. 

Often in life, we lose perspective so quickly as to what really matters and what's really important. One of my biggest goals right now is to treasure and relish in the life I have and the blessings surrounding me. I've been fortunate enough to live a life full of richness that many others may never experience. It's so easy for any of us to sink into the mundane bogs of life sometimes without recognizing just how blessed we are. I'd already been working on changing that and, after spending the weekend surrounded by such wonder and love, I know for certain how truly incredible it is to choose to live like that. As Michael says, it's all about being intentional about your life and your path. Out of all the things in life that we can't control, we certainly can choose to view the world through eyes like Asher, full of wonder, amazement, excitement and joy. I want that in my daily life and you know what? It's right in front of me...of us...if we so choose to embrace it.

Thank you for a beautiful weekend, Michael and Wynn. I love and miss the three of you more than words!