a great cause

Do you remember my cousin Trisha? She’s the amazing young woman who sent me an email last year when I was still at my desk job telling me that she’d landed a job at Kansas State University that was a dream come true for her. She wrote “I took the leap, I left a job where I was miserable, I made a change and took a big risk…I am happy.” Yes! Love her.

Well, over a year later she’s now flourishing at that same dream job. Last December she got to go to Kenya as part of her work with the university’s partnership with the CYEC, “a developing nonprofit that does some incredible work,” she told me recently in an email. And she’s going back to Kenya again this year!

She’s been working with this Kenyan youth organization “on social entrepreneurship, education, volunteer training, sustainable agriculture, fund raising and more!”

And now the CYEC is competing in an international competition through a program called Global Giving. They’ve already raised over $5,000 from over 70 donors, but they still have over $14K left to go!

I know spare money is hard to come by for a lot of people right now, but if you’re looking for a great organization to donate to, consider giving to the CYEC through Global Giving. Click this link to help “educate and empower street children in Kenya.”

🙂

a few last vacation photos

This is my cousin Trisha’s dog, Claire, who traveled with us (and without her mom!) to my grandparents house for Christmas. She’s adorable, snuggly, and afraid of everything. She’s a lover.

Two grown men who love their girlfriends very much have been joining my family for Christmas for the last few years. And they’re troopers about it. They wear their holiday headbands with confidence. They also did almost all the shoveling.

Kevin’s new hat is arguably his favorite addition to his wardrobe in recent months.

The natural light in my mother’s house is tremendous. Our apartment doesn’t have a lot of natural light so I felt spoiled to wake up in it several days in a row.

january 1, 2010

Happy New Year, all!

You may have noticed that I took a little vacation from the blog. Truth be told, I took a vacation from everything. And I’m still riding it out. I return to “work” on Monday, January 4, like much of the rest of the world will. The last two weeks have been many things, but they’ve mostly been blissful.

First, I have to mention that this blog turns 1 year old on Tuesday, January 5. That fact has been on my mind, along with the memory that this time last year found me finally making some concrete decisions about what the next 12 months would bring into my life, and deciding to write a blog about it. It’s amazing what can happen in a year.

That bit aside, there are so many things I want to tell you guys about my journeys over the last two weeks, but I’ll save them for upcoming posts. I got lotsa great pics I’m excited to share too.

I will tell you that Kevin and I left our apartment to head to the airport at 5am on Saturday 12/19. We hadn’t slept a wink when we got in the cab to make our 7am flight. A snowstorm was about to hit the East Coast and our Saturday afternoon flight had been canceled. So we spent all Friday night and early early Saturday morning cleaning the house and preparing to leave on an earlier flight that might beat the storm. It was a most appropriate end to the insane two weeks (er…two months?) that had just graced our lives. In retrospect, it was almost ridiculous to have assumed that anything other than a crazy late night of rushing around and never sleeping would have occurred.

Still, we arrived in Crystal Lake, Illinois, my hometown, around 9am Saturday morning and in one piece. I was so grateful for the huge, warm bed my mom made up for us, the delicious breakfast she prepared for us, and the amazing nap we took all afternoon. When we woke up we were finally – FINALLY – on vacation. And I didn’t look back.

Flash forward to last night, New Year’s Eve, when Kev and I arrived back in New York late at night and barely made it to our apartment in time to grab some late night take-out and catch the ball dropping on TV. I crashed into bed shortly after that, and woke up today eager to greet the new year, and excited to celebrate Kevin and my three-year anniversary.

Now that we’re home, I’m planning to ease back into my normal life. Although traveling isn’t always stress-free, I ate up every moment of this two week break. I haven’t been out of the city for that long in over seven years.

Today, January 1, 2010, was a wonderful day in my life. I told Kevin last night that I’d noticed a yoga place in Park Slope was holding a detox flow class at 12:30pm on New Year’s Day, and that I was going to go to it.  Luckily, he didn’t mind, which was very good of him considering it was our anniversary. After my yoga class we met up for a movie and a nice, long dinner. We saw Sherlock Holmes, which we both loved, and then went to dinner at a popular and critically acclaimed Brooklyn pizza place called Franny’s. We’d gotten a generous gift certificate for Franny’s, a place we’d been dying to try, from our landladies for Christmas and we figured this was the perfect night to use it. The food was incredible. We literally oohed and aahed over each dish. And I can’t wait to tell you about the whole experience. Soon!

We’re now tucked onto the couch watching Lord of the Rings and doing computer stuff. And I could not have asked for a more perfect day. Also, I love this guy. He’s my best friend.

The yoga class I took today was wonderful. It was exactly what I needed to mentally and physically feel like I’d made a good choice on this first day of the year. On my way there, I remembered the first ever yoga class I took at Bend & Bloom, the simple little studio a few subway stops from our apartment. It was almost a year ago that I timidly walked to their studio, unsure what to expect. I hadn’t been practicing yoga for very long and I certainly hadn’t been to many (if any) formal classes beyond the ones my gym offered. My friend Jen was going to be teaching the class and I was also eager to ask her some questions afterward about her experience as a yoga teacher. I had just begun my search for What Would Come Next in my life, and being a yoga teacher was near the top of the list of things I wanted to explore.

That day a year ago, I snapped a photo of the classic Brooklyn street I walked down on my way to the class and I wrote this short blog entry afterward. And today, almost a year later, I took a photo from a similar perspective.

I knew the streets themselves, just a year apart, probably wouldn’t look very different. But my perspective has changed. I remember walking to that class a year ago feeling a sense of sadness and uncertainty. I was sad to have returned to work after the holiday break, I was facing the gloom of January as best I could and failing, and I just felt like discovering a new direction was going to be tough.

Today when I took a photo of the street I walked down on my way to class, I felt peaceful and content. My life isn’t perfect, but as 2010 begins, as the first day of the year draws to a close, I’m happy, healthy and looking forward to what this year will bring. What more could I need?

I hope you all had a nice holiday season and are gearing back up to return to real life, if you haven’t had to already. Enjoy these last few days of relaxation, if you can. One of my resolutions for 2010 is to take loving care of myself and my body whenever possible (and it’s always possible). I hope you will spend some time doing the same. It’s important to make yourself your first priority.

vacation earned

The Fanny & Jane end-0f-year madness is finally coming to a self-imposed end. I think I’d be in traction right now if I hadn’t put some boundaries on the work load. But we got it done. Kevin, James, Katie, David, Blue, Marina, Faryn, Meg, Tim, Clayton, Rebecca, Billy, Jessica, Matt, Steve and Daniel. We all worked tirelessly and got it done. I have an amazing group of friends.

Kevin made over 3000 cake bites, ran dozens and dozens of errands all over Manhattan and Brooklyn, shipped countless packages, made business decisions, designed packaging, directed troops and never faltered. Katie baked hundreds of cookies, made pounds of batter and offered to come back to do more again and again. David made SIXTEEN pans of brownies in less than eight hours. Marina did any job I put in front of her with ease and grace, including baking over 1000 cookies in less than three hours. Meg packaged sweets and assembled boxes like a pro. James saved my life on numerous occasions and was a sounding board, a work horse, and a wealth of knowledge. He also quietly rolled hundreds of cake bites in one afternoon without my even asking him to do so. Faryn made heavy batches of cookies and ran errands in the pouring rain. Tim made countless batches of cookies, packaged brownies, wrapped cake bites and filled boxes nonstop. Blue made so many red velvet cakes that I lost count, and kept Kevin and I laughing and cheerful the whole time she was here. Steve and Daniel both worked diligently with our boxes and tissue paper, and both schlepped out to Brooklyn when they probably didn’t want to. Billy carefully  sliced ten pans of brownies into little bite-sized pieces, which might not seem like a big job, but is actually one of the most awful parts of the process. It took him five hours and he did not stop once. (If I had done it instead, it would have taken me eight hours plus, no doubt….Hmm…I think I might need a new brownie slicing method, come to think of it.) Jessica and Matt, who’d both generously helped out with baking earlier in the week, were here the morning of one of the big shipments and were part of the most intense little assembly line this apartment has ever seen. The understanding postman basically waited at the door as we wordlessly taped and labeled too many boxes to count and got it done in a flash.

This is a messenger taking away one of the two big corporate orders we shipped. This was the smaller of the two orders, but it still filled three massive boxes.

Those huge boxes are filled with baked goods! And that was the smaller order?!

I am eternally grateful for my supportive, generous friends. And let me tell you – you really learn who your true friends are when you’re up against the wall in a situation like this. I cannot say thank you enough times to the people who saved my butt. They’re probably sick of hearing me say it – but THANK YOU, ALL OF YOU. You are wonderful friends and I hope for an opportunity to someday return the invaluable favor.

Yesterday marked exactly two months since my last day at the desk job. It feels like a lifetime. So much has changed in such a short period of time, and more interestingly, I have adapted so quickly to this new way of life. I barely remember what it was like to commute an hour to work every morning, to sit behind a desk answering phones for 9 hours a day, to leave the office when it was dark and wake up the next day and do it again.

I am a lucky young lady.

Kevin and I leave Brooklyn for Chicago this afternoon in fifteen minutes! (our afternoon flight was canceled!) and as I’ve said several times in the last couple weeks, I’m really looking forward to it. All the bakery madness meant I didn’t get out to soak up quite enough Christmas spirit this December (and Kevin vetoed the overplaying of Christmas music in the apartment…What a scrooge!), so I’ll have a lot to make up for during this next week at home. I’m excited to see my fabulous family, to spend time catching up with my cousins who are some of my best friends in the world, and to relax, eat, sleep, exercise, see movies, shop, chat, see old friends, give big hugs and be surrounded by warmth, love and home.

Happy Holidays, everyone!

christmas traditions

So I really want a tree for my apartment this year, just like I always really want a tree. I’m a Christmas Kid through and through, thanks in no small part to my festive Grandmother who, every year, makes Christmas into a delightful, magical, snowland of holiday surprises and delights.

The story goes that my grandparents bought the house they’ve now lived in for almost 50 years because of the giant bay window in the front room, a.k.a. “The Christmas Tree Room” and its ability to showcase the biggest tree around.

Practically speaking, there’s just no good reason to get a tree for my Brooklyn apartment this year. We had one last year, pictured above. We took great care lugging it home. (I might have bribed Kevin for this.)

And I was ridiculously happy to have her.

And I decorated her with love, while Christmas music played in the background.

One of my favorite things about having a tree during the weeks leading up to Christmas is turning off all the lights in the house, leaving just the tree and other decorative lights on, and sitting in the living room all snuggled up, enjoying the festive feelings and the pine smell.

BUT. This year. We’re busy. Really, really busy. And we’re leaving town less than two weeks from today. And we’ll be gone for 11 days. So it doesn’t make sense, now that it’s already December 7th, to get a tree this year. It’s just not practical or worth the expense. Boo. It’s okay, I know I’ll go home to Crystal Lake / Quincy (my home town and my grandparents’ home town) to an abundance of trees and decorations. And I’ve still got my own little Christmas mantle. Which is totally not the same as having a tree. But it will do. THIS year.

Christmas is big in my family. Each year, we gather at my grandparents’ big ol’ house in Quincy, Illinois, (a town five hours south of Chicago). And we eat big dinners together and have lunch at our favorite local places and try to squeeze in some exercise. We watch a lot of TV and we take trips to the mall for last minute items and tease each other about who’s finished wrapping their stuff and who isn’t. And the Christmas music is playing nonstop and the house is abuzz. Oh and some people have to sleep in the attic which is consistently 20 degrees colder than the rest of the house. And some people have to sleep on terrifically uncomfortable beds on the floor. But it’s all part of it.

And the best part? Ohhh this is the very best part. You will think it’s weird, I’m sure, but it’s the greatest. Santa Claus brings our Christmas Tree. Which means it doesn’t go up until Christmas Eve, after all the little kids have gone to bed. So that when they wake up on Christmas morning, there’s a tree there that wasn’t there before. The rest of the house is already fully decorated with holiday landscapes and lights and wreaths and nutcrackers. But the tree itself doesn’t make its debut until Santa pulls it through the chimney.

The adults stay up late on Christmas Eve eating snacks, drinking wine and bickering about tree related tasks. My grandmother tests strands of lights at the nearest outlet, replacing burnt out bulbs with new ones, while the members of my generation risk their lives on a huge, rickety ladder, stringing the tested lights onto the massive tree. By the time it’s all done we’re exhausted and ready for bed, but we still have to put (the millions of) presents under the tree so that when the kids wake up in the morning, and my grandfather slides back the huge wooden parlor door that separates the Christmas Tree Room from the rest of the house, and the tree is revealed in all its glory for the very first time, the kids will squeal and sprint into the room, diving headfirst into a pile of gifts.

The gift extravaganza is a wild display of over-purchasing, in my opinion. And everyone vows to “buy less this year.” Every year. But still, it’s fun to watch the little kids experience the kind of Christmas that we all had when we were their age. I speak from experience when I say that staring up at that massive tree as a six-year-old, for instance, is one of the most thrilling things ever. And the moment the big wooden door opens is still, without a doubt, one of my favorite moments of each year. With the exception of one year, I have experienced Christmas in this same room every year of my entire life.

My grandparents always tell us stories about when it was just the two of them preparing Christmas for their kids. Once everyone went to bed on Christmas Eve, it was Tom and Rose, all alone, putting up the tree, assembling presents, preparing stockings. They’d stay up until three and four in the morning some years, just to be woken up 90 minutes later by eager kids who probably hadn’t slept a wink anyway.

It’s an invaluable gift my grandparents have given us by creating such a special, unique, and mystical experience surrounding this holiday. It’s not about the presents. It’s about the family time, the traditions, the shared experience. And it’s about believing in magic.

feelin’ festive

I love this time of year.

I spent the day finishing up odds and ends that need to be taken care of before we go out of town tomorrow. Oh and I also took a nap. Mmmm..

I had some last minute Fanny & Jane shipments and deliveries to make this evening, along with a quick trip to the grocery store to get the ingredients for our contributions to the Thanksgiving weekend (garlic mashed potatoes from scratch, a big salad, and apples, cheese and crackers as an appetizer) and now I’m home for good until we leave tomorrow evening to drive upstate. I can’t wait!

The city has a magical feeling about it right now. The holidays are in full swing. Everyone’s out and about buying gifts and flowers and food and wine. People are already traveling, lugging suitcases on the subway and hailing cabs to the airport. I just love the idea that so many people are working at once toward the same event, the same big meal, the same indulgent afternoon that they will share with family, friends or even strangers.

Of course there are many people who won’t get to have that this year, who never get to have it. And that makes me incredibly grateful for this blessed life I’m living.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, everyone! I’ll be back next week!

p.s. Faryn and I are gearing up for Fanny & Jane Holiday Craze. I’m excited, nervous, terrified and thrilled to embark on this holiday season as a baker and sweets purveyor. Last year right around this time, I came up with the idea of baking sweets for my friends and family instead of buying gifts for people for the holidays. I just wanted to get a little creative with my gifts, save money, and stop the pattern of buying people a bunch of crap they don’t need or want. Even so, it blows my mind to realize that now, just a year later, I co-own my own little sweets company, I’m a small business owner. And the first spark of that idea happened last year when I was baking and gifting sweets for my friends. I would not have believed for a second, 12 months ago, that I’d be in this position now. But here I am.

Again. I’m really lucky.

daily dessert

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On my way to the grocery store yesterday, I saw this sign. As you may have gathered by the insane amount of pumpkin cookies I’ve made so far this season (I’m making pumpkin brownies today!), I’m really into pumpkin right now. Being that I’m a human adult, I’ve been craving a pumpkin spice latte from Starbucks lately, but I haven’t gotten one yet. Mostly because I always end up spending my dessert calories on something else.

So when I saw this sign yesterday, I was thrilled. I love Red Mango, as I’ve discussed before, and I love pumpkin. Perfect.

Then I waffled back and forth about it – do I go buy one? I just had something else sweet before I got on the subway to come here. Do I really need it? Am I that hungry? OH JUST GO, I thought. I really didn’t want to spend the money, but I was obviously stressing myself over it. So I went.

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And lo and behold, just as I was walking in, one of the Red Mango employees was walking out WITH a tray of samples! He literally met me at the door and said, “Would you like to try the new pumpkin spice flavor?”

Um, YES!

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I was so pleased that I didn’t have to spend upwards of $5 on a small cup of fancy frozen yogurt (it’s the little things when you’re unemployed). And the pumpkin spice, although tasty and interesting, wasn’t amazing. I obviously would have eaten the whole serving if I’d gotten it, but I’m glad I got to taste it first because now I know not to go buy a big container. It just wasn’t good enough.

My real dessert treat yesterday, though, was something gifted to me by my dear friend Marina. She gave me the last piece of a date and brown butter tart she’d made earlier this month as a congratulations present for quitting my job! It was a very sweet gesture.

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I ate the bottom portion of this piece yesterday after lunch, and saved the top piece for another time. You guys, this was delicious. So so good. And you can find the recipe here.

This was honestly one of the best sweet treats I’ve had in ages. And the most interesting thing about it is that it’s not even that sweet.  Marina described it to me as being similar to olive oil cake, which led me to believe that it was more flavorful than it was sugary, and she was right. The dates add the perfect amount of sweetness and the tart itself, well it’s just incredibly good. I sat on my couch eating it so slowly and deliberately, mm-ing and ahh-ing the whole way.

Thanks, Marina!

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daily dessert

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I’ve eaten several of these mini cupcakes in the last couple days – they’ve been my daily dessert every day since Friday. I made them for the Susan Woo Fashion Week presentation – Fanny & Jane sponsored the sweets for the event – and they turned out really well, if I do say so myself.

These are Carrot Coconut Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Frosting and they are moist, rich and flavorful. I spent the whole day on Friday baking them, then I carefully carried them all to the presentation early Saturday morning. It was a stressful experience to drag them to the event via public transportation – it was rainy, there was a shuttle bus involved because the trains weren’t running normally, and a giant cake box filled with delicate cupcakes is, needless to say, awkward to maneuver onto a packed train. But I lived.

The event was held at the Hudson Hotel. I’d never been there before – it’s gorgeous!! I cannot wait to go back and get a ($15) drink at the bar, just to enjoy the ambiance again. I’ll write a bit more about the Susan Woo event in a later post. In the meantime, these cupcakes were a hit – they have all the right comfort spices and flavors for fall. Eating them reminded me of fallen leaves, crisp walks and snuggly evenings. I’m glad I have leftovers. They’re healthy, right?! Carrots!

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this has been some vacation

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I took a break from blogging this weekend. I missed writing, but it was nice to be unplugged for a few days. I had a great vacation weekend – I think I really needed it, and it felt fantastic.

I left the office for the week on Friday around 3:30pm. That was the last of our “summer Fridays.” I’ve quit just in time! My last day as an employee there will be September 29.

I’ve been feeling particularly more social and relaxed since I quit my job. Working at the law firm has had me feeling spread too thin, stressed out, over-obligated and like I didn’t have control over the way I spent my time.

Since I quit I’ve been wanting to hang out with my friends and enjoy myself so much more often because I just feel more relaxed already. Tomorrow, it will be a week since I told her I was leaving and it’s been a great week.

A bunch of us went out on Friday for happy hour, which led into regular hour. We all got pretty drunk and had a great time talking and laughing on the warm, busy streets of the West Village.

On Saturday, Kevin and I went for a run and then I went to a fun and easy Harvard Sailing Team rehearsal. Kev and I hung out with Billy and Daniel in Queens that night. Another fun, easy time. We ate junk food, played games and watched Burning Man on a live webstream.

On  Sunday, Kev and I decided at the last minute to join a bunch of our friends who were going up to Connecticut to spend Labor Day at our friend Tim’s house.

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Good GOOD decision. We all met up early Sunday morning and trained to Fairfield where our friends picked us up and took us back to an absolutely beautiful Connecticut home complete with huge, deep pool, hot tub, bonfire pit and giant backyard for our lounging pleasure.

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We had a blast. The beer flowed all day long, the food was delicious and plentiful and we swam, dove, played hide and seek, bocce, croquet, told scary stories by the fire late at night and slept like rocks when the day was done. We woke up this morning, Labor Day, and did it again. More swimming, eating, drinking, lounge-lizarding. We had water contests (Marina won a bunch of them!), cannon-ball jumped from the hot tub into the pool and ran back to the hot tub to do it again. Dozens of times. It was just excellent. I was in heaven.

Time spent like this – indulging in the simple but incredible pleasures of life – is so rejuvenating. Now back home in Brooklyn, having just eaten take out for dinner and stared at the TV for an hour, I feel like I treated myself to an expensive spa day. I’m relaxed, sun-kissed and I’m going to crash into bed tonight.

I would have easily been able to enjoy this weekend even if I weren’t about to work my last day at my desk job, but knowing that I just gave myself the fantastic gift of pursuing my own happiness made all the other gifts I received this weekend that much more delightful.

Our friend Tim’s parents are incredibly sweet, kind people. We are going to send them a thank you gift for all they did for us this weekend. I think we ate them out of house and home, aside from taking over their lives for two days straight.

Thanks for the vacation from blogging. I’m sorry I don’t have any desserts to share from my trip. We had some delicious ice cream with brownies last night but I didn’t take any pictures, so you’ll have to imagine it. It was good.

I’m going into work a little bit late tomorrow because Harvard Sailing Team is performing at Freshman Orientation for NYU Tisch’s Drama Department. Eight of the nine people in HST studied acting together at Tisch, so it will be wild to perform for these Freshman on their first day of School. I was in their shoes 11 years ago. Whoa.

Hope you all had a nice long weekend.

Oh and by the way…Blue is a few days into her month without survival work and she’s already learning a lot. It seems like she’s also enjoyed some simple pleasures in the last few days. I’m so proud of her.