gratitude

Do you know who you are?

I mean, really for real, deep in your gut, know yourself?

Do any of us?

Aren’t we all a work in progress, an exercise in trying and failing and trying again?

On Monday an old co-worker called.  I think of him more as a pseudo brother ~ we had one of those relationships that ebbed and flowed and sometimes there were tears (mine, not his.  And quite a long time ago).  And a lot of time there was laughter.  We enthused over Eminem years after his Marshall Mathers LP dominated my life.  We were the blind leading the blind for many years, learning as we went, always being on call.  He let me be me, and I think I did the same. We had an unspoken understanding of ‘how things were’ and we both worked hard to make everything perfect.  We both got tired.

I’ve been spending this year trying to figure out who I am, what I want — what direction to go.  Every few weeks I panic and send out a million resumes to jobs I don’t want (haha!  They usually don’t want me, either!).  I would get so tired I’d spend an entire day trying to make it to bedtime … only to get up every two hours throughout the night.  I got frustrated, discouraged, afraid.  And I was always exhausted.  A little forlorn.

My conversation on Monday began to change all that.  I remembered my passion for things, my determination.  I remembered what I have to offer.

And for that, for that feeling of re-ignition, I am profoundly grateful.  November is always the month when we post daily gratitudes (an exercise that I find invades all aspects of life, and somehow spreads sunshine on the darkest of days).  But to feel that spark again, that motivation to act, to clear the cobwebs and once again move with purpose — there are no proper words of thankfulness.

There is only the warm glow of knowledge — of friendships forged in trenches, of industries full of passion and wonder, of unbridled love for food, and beverage and hospitality.  Feelings that I thought died long, long ago.  I am so grateful for new beginnings, for true friends, for second chances and for untapped opportunities.

a few days of magic

We checked the weather pretty consistently leading up to our trip to Iceland.  The forecast was gloomily unwavering ~ 53 degree high with 70% chance of rain every day we were there.  I wasn’t too concerned.  I don’t like hot weather and rain doesn’t especially bother me (it more so bothers my naturally curly hair, but ce la vie when in Iceland, yes?).

So it was a super surprise that our last few days were filled with sunshine.  The golden glow of the sun makes Iceland even more magical than it is in the grayness.

We arrived at six a.m. last Friday morning, and after getting our rental car (a cute little VW Polo with heated seats!) we made our way down route 41 from Keflavik to Reykjavik.  It felt oddly surreal.  To begin, our flight had been somewhat painful ~ neither of us had ever done a transatlantic discount flight, and let me tell you, Wow Airlines is discount. So we were tired.  There had been several delays for various, increasingly absurd reasons, and then no pillows, no water or snacks … and a fellow passenger who insisted on keeping her window open, allowing bright sunlight to stream into the cabin the whole flight.

The thing about Iceland is that it reveals itself slowly.  The mist and Scottish rain were in full force as we searched for our car in the parking lot.  The country felt vast, as though emptiness stretched out in every direction.  When we were finally ensconced in the car and we’d duly read the driving instructions (road signs for four-wheel drive only roads, how to navigate blind corners, flooded roadways, being mindful of the strong wind, etc) we set off, finding out that our GPS didn’t work, and doing it the old-fashioned way (y’know, with road signs and paper maps).  The country-side was fascinating~ volcanic rock covered in vibrant green moss interspersed with clusters of bright purple flowers.  Puffs of sulfuric smoke billowing from the ground ~ a different cloudy white than the mist.

We made it safely to Reykjavik, sprawling along the shores of the ocean.  It didn’t feel like a city, but a country town filled with quaint buildings and shops.  Our apartment was close to a main thoroughfare and after checking in at the office, we headed down for breakfast at a cafe recommended by a friend.  It was surprisingly good ~ avocado on rye toast topped with arugula and bright, sunny side up eggs.  After eating, I felt a little more like a human so we wandered into stores and explored the area, waiting to hear that the apartment was ready for our occupancy.  Reykjavik is amazing ~ clean and filled with well dressed people, flowers blooming in overflowing pots on every lamppost, cobblestone streets, musicians on the corners and street art lining the narrow roadways.  Our first day was filled with tiny discoveries of the country ~ clues as to the Icelandic culture and people.  We did an early dinner at a small restaurant called “Old Iceland” (it was the best meal we had our whole trip, and we had some great meals).  Cured salmon, plump sea scallops, and our first taste of Icelandic Fish Soup.  We ventured up to the church at Reykjavik’s center after dinner.  Following that, I was dead on my feet and looking forward (very much!) to sleep.

On Saturday, we did the Golden Circle.  Iceland has a road that traverses the whole island called the Ring Road, and the Golden Circle is a small piece of that route.  It includes Thingvellir National Park (the rift between tectonic plates), Geyser and Gulfoss. We spent the whole day on the Golden Circle.  Everything was more beautiful than the last thing, and when you finally walk across the windswept moor and see the Gulfoss waterfall at the pinnacle of the trip ~ it takes the breath right out of your lungs.  We walked right up to the side, rain coats zipped up and hoods on.  It felt like true, pure, unadulterated magic.

For John’s birthday on Sunday, we booked time at the Blue Lagoon and the LAVA restaurant there.  We arrived in the mist and rain of the morning ~ by far the coldest and rainiest day we were there.  After navigating the gauntlet of the changing rooms, I met John on the other side, and the lagoon spread out before us, fading into dark cliffs and mist.  We waded in, water warm as a perfect bath, and slowly floated out, stopping to get glasses of champagne at the lagoon bar.  It was amazing, how blue the water was in the dark grayness and rain of the day.  The juxtaposition of the water’s warmth and the rain’s slick coolness remains indescribably perfect.  The water was opaque, so you couldn’t see your hands even an inch beneath the surface, and no matter how much time passed and how many more people arrived and drifted in, it never felt crowded or loud.  It just felt blissfully peaceful.  People covering their faces and arms with silica masks, floating into caves and underneath the man-made waterfall.  We found perches in shallow water and just sat, talked and drank champagne.  The epitome of decadence.  Lunch was yummy, too.  We did fish soup again (it is exquisite) and I had lamb, since Iceland is very proud of its lamb.  It was tender and perfectly seasoned, served with buttery baby potatos and perfectly cooked vegetables.  The restaurant did a special dessert for John’s birthday which was both beautiful and delicious.

We’d left Monday open, because we didn’t want to overbook ourselves (MS has taught us that).  So when we finally pulled ourselves out of bed, we decided to drive south, toward waterfalls and black sand beaches.  On a small quest to see the Iceland we’d come to know from “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”  The Iceland we saw was better.  Full of blinking sunlight and intermittent rain.  Craggy cliffs drifting into the clouds, waterfalls dotting the mountainside.  Volcanic rock softened by moss.  It was the perfect last day, which ended with a walk behind a waterfall and sandwiches from a food truck.  As we wound our way back into Reykjavik at nine p.m. the city had begun its celebration of the big Euro Cup win over England.  Fireworks set off in the midnight sun, car horns intermittently beeping.  The kindest and safest sports celebration I have ever witnessed in my life.

Tuesday morning was full of sunshine, not a cloud in the sky.  The blueness was vibrant.  We made our way back to Keflavik and enjoyed our last fish soup at the airport with Sauvignon Blanc and cured salmon over sliced hard-boiled eggs and arugula.  It was the perfect end to a perfect trip.

Iceland gets into your consciousness, filling it with optimism, with peace and gentleness.  I felt changed as we flew home across Greenland the wide Atlantic Ocean. I hope, as life reverts to the routine, I remember to hold the stillness, and peacefulness of Iceland in my heart and mind always.  And I very much hope that our next visit isn’t too far in the future.

anniversaries

On Wednesday, John and I celebrated our third wedding anniversary, and the eighth anniversary of our first date.  And Thursday marked the fifth anniversary of this blog ~ begun as a cooking blog, as I figured out my way around a kitchen, and then becoming something else entirely.  Later this month, we’ll celebrate John’s birthday, which also serves as the year mark of my little brother meeting his lady-love, Joanna.  And in September, Joanna will move to Austin and they will begin a joint life.  Everyone, hold your breath ;).

I’m a big birthday and anniversary person.  I believe in celebrating people, not only for who they are, but for what they’ve been dedicated to.  Today serves as the last day of work for a man who pre-dates me at our company.  I think ~ besides my boss ~ he’s the only one left who ranks above me for longevity.  Over six and a half years, and now he’s moving on, to do something different.  To learn from someone  new.  My heart broke a little when I hugged him goodbye ~ sweaty and hot from moving offices (again.  for the seventh time).  I wasn’t prepared to say goodbye.  I was sad that we weren’t doing something more to thank him for the years he’s worked with us.  But my boss (the owner) doesn’t really believe in anniversaries, or acknowledging people’s time with the company.  I hit year after year in January, and he’s never once given any indication of knowing that it’s my anniversary.

I think it’s important to celebrate people.  To say thank you for your time.  Thank you for your existence.  Thank you for your dedication, your loyalty.  I think it encourages people, makes them feel appreciated.  I love celebrating things with my hubs because I like knowing that after all this time, after all these shared memories and our joint lives, we still laugh together, our eyes still sparkle when they meet, we still turn to each other when things get tough.  We know each other better, we understand each other’s ebbs and flows.  It’s a good thing ~ that one day we will have shared more time than spent it apart.

It’s already hard to get through the day, to keep your head up when one thing after another comes crashing in after you.  Saying thank you, for your time, for your spirit, for your thoughts and contributions ~ it’s a big deal.

I’m sad that Haronn is leaving us.  I’m sad that he won’t be opening dough or garnishing pizzas the next time I rush through the restaurant. He won’t be there to harass me about something or give me a message for my husband about football.

I wish him all the luck in the world.  And a small part of my heart is deflated, knowing that soon, other people will know that he loves the Green Bay Packers and Brett Favre; that he doesn’t allow his children to believe in Santa because he works hard and they should know that he got them their gifts, not some bearded man in a red suit.

I’m sad that life is moving on, and changing, and no one asked if I was okay with it.

what I do, who I am

The man and I decided to lounge by our fire tonight.  It was a long, gray, wet day with the prospect of another long, gray, wet day on the horizon.  So Lucy and I curled up on the couch, with John in a lounge chair, with the music filling the house with the sounds of Melody Gardot, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra and fire gently crackling in the background.

I began to think, as the day wound down and the tension began to ease from my shoulder blades, about how long I’ve really been in the hospitality industry.  I remember working the concession stand for my brother’s little league team — selling all sorts of colorful candy treats to parents and friends there to watch the games.  And helping out at my aunt’s campground in my teens — learning very quickly that the British and Americans spoke two different versions of the same language.  Beginning my first high school job bussing tables and running food at an exceptional eatery and learning the elegance of casual fine dining first hand — the knowledge needed to properly ensure a diner’s enjoyment.  Three years hawking burgers and loaded potato skins at a huge corporate operation (and in multiple locations to boot!) that taught me nothing if not systems and their effectiveness.  I thought about my ex-Uncle and all the things he taught me about steps of service, how to clear a table, properly pour a bottle of wine, to appreciate the artistry of a chef.

It isn’t surprising at all that I’ve found myself fully immersed in the industry in my mid-thirties — even if I spent a lot more of my time waiting tables bemoaning it and wishing myself anywhere else than appreciating the knowledge base I was growing.  I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with restaurants.  It’s hard, back-breaking work with very little lasting financial reward and it’s every day, all day and night.   On national holidays, restaurants have additional staff.  Not less, and they certainly aren’t enjoying the day like everyone else.

But somehow, i can’t imagine doing anything else.  I live it and I breathe it.  It’s an integral part of who I am.  If I know nothing, I at least know restaurants.  The culture, the ebb and flow, the politics.  It brutalizes you, pulling you back when you most want to leave.  It’s an addiction, a constant fight for perfection that will never occur.  I’m so indescribably proud of my little restaurant and all it has provided a foundation for: new locations, new concepts, more brilliant restauranteurs and chefs.  And yet it absolutely breaks me on a daily basis, pushing my patience and capabilities to their absolute limit.  It makes me want to quit, it often makes me cry.  But it also lifts me up at unexpected moments, and brings such unadulterated joy for flashes of time.

It doesn’t surprise me at all, when I think back and look at the path I’ve walked, that I am the director of a restaurant company.  But it also takes me completely by surprise that this is where I’ve gotten to, because despite all the experience and all the time in the trenches, I still feel as though I know nothing at all.

thanksgiving

Over a month ago, I spent some time at a great retreat in Austin Texas.  Along with teaching me that (basically) I don’t eat the way I should at all, the retreat also focused on mental and spiritual health.  And I found those sessions and that information so incredibly enriching.

To save this blog from being REALLY long, let me just say that OHI really focused on the power of gratitude.  And having just completed a seven day gratitude ‘challenge’ on Facebook prior to arriving, I was completely on that bandwagon.  Thinking about the things we are grateful for on a daily basis — and articulating those things –is incredibly uplifting and powerful.

So in honor of the things I enumerated on Facebook back in September — here’s a re-posting.  Wishing everyone a beautiful Thanksgiving surrounded by those you love.

Sept 20, 2014

Nominated by my wonderful friend Angie — — thank you for thinking of me!  Three things I am grateful for today (and then the following six!)

1 — Most obviously I am grateful for my husband.  He got more than he  bargained for when he married me but his is my strength, my laughter and my best friend.

2 — I am grateful for my Lucy.  To have an animal look at you with the love that fills her big brown eyes — takes your breath away.  It is truly a gift….

3-  I am grateful for my family.  The last two years of MS and cancer (not both me!) have shown the true strength and integrity of my parents, my wonderful second mother (my mum’s twin) and my insanely amazing brother.

When you’ve had the journey I’ve had recently — you definitely see with crystal clarity the things for which you are grateful.  Thanks for the nom Ange!

September 21, 2014

1 — I am grateful for ceiling fans.  They just make everything better — especially sleep!

2 — I am grateful for football.  I just love it, and I’m not going to use this as a place for anything other than positive stuff right now. (Editorial note: Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson were dominating NFL news at the time).  I have been so lucky to have so many great memories throughout my life that have to do with football — PSU, Steelers, PR Rams & Fedko, Womissing Saturday day games & away games on Friday nights — the Flemington Falcons — football has always been a big part of my life.  And Sunday is the best day for a shout out.

3– I am grateful for Starbucks.  And on that subject, I am grateful for Ted — for introducing me to the soy chai latte in college — it has been my drink for over 10 years & I love it.  I am grateful to all my baristas who know me, my hubs, my drinks and my football teams.  They always brighten my day.  I love Starbucks.

September 22, 2014

Day Tre —

I am grateful for —

1 — All the failed relationships and friendships I have had to this point in my life.  Those failures taught me about myself, my strengths and weaknesses and the kinds of people I know to be true friends and in the case of my husband, my partner.

2 — On that subject, here’s to ALL the mistakes I have learned from throughout the years — as my dad once said, if there was hard way in which to learn something, I found it.  Maybe I just liked knowing how everything worked from the inside out — needless to say, those mistakes have helped me figure myself out, and I’m grateful for that.

3 — I am grateful for Aman and Les, the guys who work the floor I park on in my garage.  They make every day better with their smiles, the knowledge that my car is safe and protected and the friendly way in which they handle even the most stressful of parking garage situations.  Five years in, and i couldn’t imagine parking anywhere else.  No matter how bad my day might have been — they are there, smiling, asking about Lucy & John and just generally being good humans.

September 23, 2014

Fourth Day of Gratefulness — the Work Edition

1 — I am grateful for my boss.  He took a chance on me and believed in me and supported me & what I was doing when other people might have been telling him that it was crazy to give me the responsibility he gave me.  And when my whole world changed he gave me flexibility to pursue my health, the time to do it, and many other resources on which a price can never be put.

2 — I am grateful for my co-workers, and especially my two ‘partners.’  It is a great feeling to get to work in an industry you love, with people who are fun to be around — honest, decent people who care as much as you do about the success of what is being done.  People you survived the trenches with — who have your back and you have theirs.

3 — I am grateful for my Aunt & Uncle — it was through them I learned about the art of hospitality, the love of food and the great industry that I have found a home in.  Sitting beside an indoor pool at one of my uncle’s hotels in the UK at the tender age of 8 or 9, he told me with a laugh that I had rich taste (as I sat noshing on delectably buttery smoked salmon & caviar) and should marry a rich man.  Well, Uncle T, I did you one better.  I’m doin’ it myself — and I learned my fundamentals from you.

September 24, 2014

Cinco!

I am grateful —

1 — for the small moments in life — being half awake in the grayness of the morning and hearing my puppy’s snuffles and cuddling up with my hubs … the cool autumn breeze blowing leaves in the late afternoon sunlight … the woman in the elevator who likes my dress … the crackling of a good fire pit … things that create the depth of life.

2 — for my time in Wyomissing.  We moved so much throughout my youth, that I went to two elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools.  But just being at Wyo for 2 years has impacted my life in such a positive way, even sixteen years later.  I’m grateful so much for that.  Makes me feel like I did actually come from somewhere.

3 — for contact lenses.  I can’t imagine what it must have feel like for people with vision like mine prior to glasses, but contacts were a huge improvement for me.  Maybe lasik one day ….

September 25, 2014

Grateful Day #6

1 — I am grateful for diversity.  Yeah, sometimes people who are vastly different from ourselves can prove to be infuriating.  But minus the idiots from Philly (editorial note: this was written at the time when some real geniuses thought it would be fun to beat up a gay couple … basically in center city) and others who commit just unspeakable crimes — doesn’t being different add to the spice of life?  Doesn’t it sometimes help us see things from an entirely new viewpoint? I like to think so.

2 — I am grateful for my faith.  It’s mine, and it’s personal and when things feel dark and when things feel light, I always feel as though there is a reassuring hand on my shoulder keeping me steady.

3 — I am sincerely grateful for sleep.  I know it’s a necessity of life — but I relish it.  I love slipping into cool clean sheets and snuggling under soft blankets, close to the ones I love. It’s a haven of peacefulness that comes every night, and I am supremely grateful for that.

September 26, 2014

I want to preface this by saying thank you to Angie again, because sometimes, the things we are grateful for become the things we take for granted.  And this exercise has reminded me that even in the tough times, life is a phenomenal adventure filled to the brim with wonder.

On this final day of FB status updates, I am grateful for …

1 — Yoga.  It has helped me climb from a place of physical desperation to a place of acceptance. Maybe I’ll never teach yoga, or be anything close to physically proficient.  But it has reminded me, through this new part of my journey, that even though some things have been taken away — and I often mourn those things more than I should — some things have not.

2 — Humility and self-awareness.  I am a perfectly imperfect human being.  I’ve made a load of mistakes, I’ve inadvertently (and not-so-inadvertently) hurt people.  But I’d also like to believe I’ve lifted some people up, passed along the gifts that have been given to me throughout my life.  I’ve learned that being humble is a vastly preferable alternative to being bombastically egocentric.  Both personally, and in those I spend my time with.

3 — Passion.  I spent the early years of my life pursing a passion, and I may not have found a career in it, but nothing will ever lift up my soul quite the way belting out a good song does.  Transcendent, if I’m being passionate about it.