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.

losing faith

I had an interesting conversation recently.  In it, the idea was posed that some people ‘push through’ and others give up.  I was taken aback by the statement, confused by its context and intent.  But after thinking about it — far too much, I might add — I realized this.

Sometimes it’s about whether you believe, or you have lost faith.

It’s very hard to ‘push through’ when you don’t believe anymore.  And sometimes, when your faith has been pushed to its very limits, and you lose the thread of the narrative, it’s hard to care anymore.

Once upon a time, I was handed a business in a banker’s box.  And over the course of seven years, I learned many things the hard way.  The stress was, at times, unbearable.  But I was proud of what I helped to build, and that made it possible to keep going.  I believed in it fundamentally.  It made the hard times worth the pain, and the great times even sweeter.  But when I began to lose my faith, when I started to not recognize what I thought I’d been part of, it made it challenging to keep going.

It’s hard to walk away from something that used to mean so much.  But I also believe that you have to take care of yourself.  And the best of life has yet to come — the best things are in the future, they are just around the next bend in the road.  It took me a minute to get my brain around my new reality.  I had to forgive myself, and also commend myself for making the best choice for my future.  Life isn’t easy.  But it can be so beautiful if you let it.


And ps.  Hubs and I are seeing ‘Hamilton’ in two days.  I cannot wait!

snow daze

Twice this winter we have had dire forecasts that amounted to nothing.

Wildly disappointing.

I was looking forward to snow — mounds of snow, the air thick with snow — so much fluffy whiteness and quiet that it drowned out life for a moment.  I was massively let down.

I’ve been in an interesting mindset for the past few weeks.  Not quite sure where I’m going, not quite sure where I’ve come from.  When you spend a significant amount of time in any situation, you lose perspective.  You forget all the compromises you made along the way to get through the day.  Coming to terms with that can be both difficult and humbling. It can make you see yourself in a different light.

I spent many years of my life in abusive relationships.  I kept my head down.  I believed if I loved enough, if I gave enough, then any obstacle could be overcome.  I was wrong.

My husband is a great man.  A kind man, a thoughtful man, a caring man.  I walked through the fires of hell to get to him.  I don’t know what changed in the universe, what realigned karmically that allowed us to meet and make things work.  The timing was terrible.  I mean, it couldn’t have been worse.  We were painfully poor, I was unemployed.  Between us we had debt that could drown better men.  And somehow, we kept our heads down, we held onto each other and we — against all odds — became an unbreakable team.

We both did things along the way that broke us a little.  Things to pay the bills, things to get by.  We compromised our morals, we smiled in the face of ignorance and pettiness.  We held onto each other in the darkest moments, and then we held onto Lucy.  And we believed, unwaveringly, that we would get through to the other side.

A few years ago, after our backyard wedding and living in an 800 square foot apartment for six years, we somehow found ourselves on the other side.  We paid off debt.  We bought a house.  We bought silly cars.  We traveled to Italy, and then Iceland and then to Jackson Hole …. just because we could.

And after all of that, after all the struggle and the smiles and the massive compromises, I broke on the inside.  I lost my drive.  My direction.  I wondered what I was doing with my life.  Why I kept doing it.  I justified it all.  I came up with reasons.  They were good, too.  And they weren’t wrong.  I’d done what I’d done to get to where I stood.

But once I was there, once I had the things I’d worked so tirelessly for, I couldn’t imagine continuing.  I couldn’t imagine keeping up the smiles when I was so desperately, deeply unhappy.

So one would have thought that leaving that situation, walking away from all the burdens that had weighed on my shoulders for years — would make me feel infinitely better.  Strangely and sadly and with much disappointment and bewilderment, it did not.

I find myself, at thirty-seven, wondering who I am, what I stand for.  I don’t have children to help define me, to give me purpose.  And I don’t have the career that I held onto with a vice-like grip, to help me justify the choices I’ve made across the years.

It’s these moments, this struggle for self-discovery that separates the weak from the strong.  How do we rebuild ourselves following ‘the end’?

Life lessons learned riding Septa

It was a long ride home last week.

I am at the very end of my current employment, and the train ride from our home into Center City is brutally long.  It’s long when the train is an express, usually clocking in around an hour and ten minutes.  But when it’s a local, it’s closer to an hour and forty minutes.  And that’s just the time I spend on the train.  Not waiting for it, not walking or driving to and from.  Just me, sitting in a pleather seat, watching South Eastern Pennsylvania slip by, day after day.

I began thinking, as I watched all the other passengers riding with me on the Paoli/Thorndale line, about all the lessons I’ve learned.  About myself, but also about life.  While commuting on Regional Rail for the past year and a half.

First, timeliness is everything.

Y’know that saying, early is on time, on time is late, and late is fired?  It applies to Septa.  And it should apply to all aspects of life.  I used to be habitually late.  I mean, you could set clocks knowing that I would be fifteen minutes late … at the very least.  But I learned really fast: that didn’t fly with Septa.

Think about it this way.  If your train is at 6.50am (which mine is) and you arrive at 6.50am, the train is gliding away from the station.  You’re late.  I mean, technically, you’re on time.  But you’re actually late.  If you get there after 6.50a you are just plain out of luck.  In order to be on the train, making your way laboriously into the city, you have to be early for your 6.50a train.  It’s not negotiable.

Now, Septa can be late.  And without fail, they are.

But YOU can’t be late.  And knowing that, living your life by that, helps give structure, and teaches you to appreciate timeliness.  In all aspects.

On that subject, when I made the adjustment from driving to commuting via train, I began to prioritize my life.  When you drive, time is loose.  Maybe you stop for a coffee en route.  Maybe you sleep in one morning.  Maybe you leave the office at 5pm.  Maybe you don’t.  You have a lot more freedom, but with that freedom (let’s say it together now) comes responsibility.

When I started to have a set time for work, I began to be more efficient with my tasks, prioritizing things that needed to be completed in the morning, things that could wait until the afternoon, and projects that could be spread across a few days.  I began to know exactly what needed to be done when, and how to do all of the things I needed to do within the time allotted.

I began getting home at a reasonable time every night.  Eating dinner with my husband.  Taking my dog for a walk.  Knowing that I did the best work I could during the hours of the day that had been ear-marked for work.  And that my evenings were my own.  (Sort of.  I work in the restaurant industry, so really, no time is truly your own.  It’s all the restaurant’s time).

All because Septa only goes to Thorndale once an hour — even during peak hours.  If I missed a train, I had to wait an entire hour, and get home even later.  That stopped being okay in the first two months.  It was exhausting, and I had no quality of life.  At all.

Something else about Septa.

Everyone is equal.  There isn’t a first class.  There are no special seats.  We all shuffle in, grab a seat, and hope that our seat mate showered that morning.  When the train is overly packed, the conductor speaks to the car like everyone is an adult with a brain.  He tells us that he’s not coming through to check our tickets.  To please show him when getting off the train.  He thanks everyone for their cooperation.


Not just me, the thirty-something white woman.  But the Indian and Hispanic people, the black men and women.  The Asians and the Arabs.  The women wearing hijabs.  The mother with three children.  The man with the seeing eye dog.

All of us.  As equals.

Every person riding Septa has a story.  Mine is pretty basic.  I live in the countryside of Chester County, but I work in Center City.  I commute during peak hours.  Sometimes later, when I stay to have dinner with my girlfriends.  Sometimes earlier, when I have to be at Penn for medication.  There are other people like me.  But there are other stories, as well.  Students riding in for classes at Drexel, Penn or Temple.  Men and women traveling to see a relative or loved one.  Someone commuting to the airport.  Someone who just got divorced.  Someone who just lost someone.  Someone suffering through IVF.  Someone with cancer.

Septa is the great equalizer.

We all show up on time.  Or we miss our train.  We all share seats.  We all smile when someone sits down, or gets up.  There are some exceptions (Septa isn’t utopia, people) but there are common courtesies that are observed on Septa.  Every night, the conductor wishes me a pleasant evening.  When people are lost, or confused, he helps them.  He maintains order in the microcosm of Septa.

I bet I’ve sat next to many a Trump supporter on the train.

I shudder thinking about it.  But I also think about how we are all just people on Septa.  Just people making our way through life.  I’ve had so many people help me on Septa.  When I was new, and completely terrified, people pointed me in the right direction.  When I jumped on a train, people let me know where it was going.  When I haven’t been able to lift a bag, someone has helped me.

And even when trains are delayed, or schedules are modified, or trains are pulled off the tracks or strikes affect travel…  People band together on Septa.  People watch out for each other.  It’s sort of heart-warming.

Anyway.  I am eternally grateful to Septa for making the past year and a half bearable.  I am grateful that instead of gripping my steering wheel in utter frustration, I could lean my head back and close my eyes.  I am grateful for learning timeliness.  And the greatness of people.

Thank you, Septa Regional Rail Paoli/Thorndale line.




bettis year

Last December, as I was celebrating my 36th birthday, my husband dubbed it my “Bettis Year Yet.”  I probably had some thoughts about being on the down side of 35 but he was having none of it.  He smiled at me.  He said “Babe, this time last year you were using a cane to walk.  We still lived in a one-bedroom rental.  This is going to be your Bettis Year yet.  I promise.”

He wasn’t wrong.  It was a Bettis year.  With incredible highs — Italy, Iceland, a return to Jackson Hole, my company growing exponentially, getting in much better shape and losing 15 lbs — but also devastating lows.  With the expansion of my company came the inevitable growing pains — the changing of an institution.  My favorite co-worker, the person I’d bled in the trenches with for years — left.  The infrastructure changed.  I felt lost, confused and unbelievably sad.  I gave my notice four days before my Carnell Lake birthday this year.

But with all that came really beautiful clarity.  And that is something I want to take with me into 2017, into my Carnell Lake year.

Here are some things I know about myself, deep down in the depths of my soul, in the marrow of my bones.

I see the world in black and white.  It doesn’t make things easier for me.  I think — often times — it makes it harder.  The world itself isn’t black and white.  It’s a myriad of gray.  I don’t exist like that.  It makes people resent me because I don’t fit in – it makes them uncomfortable.  It makes me the outsider.

I’ve always been an outsider.  Since birth, probably.  I wasn’t totally American, I am not British.  Because of that, I never fit in anywhere.  I was always a little off, a little different.  I used to fight it, trying so hard to squeeze my square peg into a round hole.  I spent so much time searching for a place to call my own.  I didn’t know that I had to make it myself.

I no longer care if people like me or hate me.  I don’t care if they think I am weird, or a stiff, or un-fun.  I am the only person whose opinion of me matters.  Whether my jeans look good, my shoes are in fashion, my values and morals make sense.  I have to look myself in the mirror and be okay with the decisions I’ve made, the words I’ve said, the direction I’ve chosen.  I have to be able to sleep at night.  I am okay being me.  And I like the real me, the Steelers-loving, Hamilton-listening, Gilmore Girls-watching me.  I like being manic about my skin care, and tracking my water in-take.  I like coming home and snuggling with my husband and dog. I am a-okay with my bed time of 8.30pm.  I like my life.

Life is a short journey.  I know we all feel as though we are rich with time.  But we aren’t.  My heart aches with the thought of leaving my job, leaving the restaurants that feel like my children, the employees, the culture, the love.  But at the end, I was sick with misery.  I was drowning in the blackest depression.  And even if I had no idea what my future held, I knew I had to go.  Because I’m on the clock.  My disease doesn’t care about anything or anyone.  And I might have it corralled for now – meds, and diet and exercise and sleep.  But M.S. can break anything, it has broken me before.  I am not willing to sacrifice myself on any alter but my own.

I hope that this year is filled with laughter and memories.  Sunshine and lazy mornings.  Long walks with my pup and my husband. Family. Chai tea lattes from Starbucks.

I hope I am able to learn things I don’t know, expand my horizons, meet people who challenge my brain.  Learn Spanish, or French, or how to play the damn piano.  I hope I read books and learn to understand the stock market and economics.  I hope I remember to always breath, and find myself on my bicycle.

I hope 2017 proves that maybe 36 was my Bettis year, but it wasn’t my Best.  My best is always the future, the surprises waiting around the corner.  The smell of freshly baked bread, or Stargazer lilies.  The way my husband feels when he holds me close to him.  The soft snuffle of Lucy sleeping on the couch.

Here’s to my Carnell Lake (#37) year and all that it holds.  Happy New Year.



My brain is all over the place.

I read an article in EW recently — a top 50 of things that made people (mostly staff members) happy.  The list varied greatly, but it made me happy just reading what made other people smile.  I thought — what a cool exercise and blog post.

And then at the end of last week my head pretty much exploded with anger because of circumstances at work.  And I sort of blogged about it on Friday, but after forty-eight more hours of thinking and lost sleep, I felt I had other things to say.

Last but not least, I feel as though my face care journey deserves a follow-up.  My last post was sort of ambiguous about how I really felt.  And while know my thoughts about it all after over sixty days, I figured it might be fair to share it with anyone who actually cares and doesn’t know.

I have a very deep — and inexplicable — love for any Fast & Furious movie with Paul Walker.  The seventh installment was weird — sort of surreal — but the tribute at the end was worth it. My favorite movie of the bunch is “Fast Five” which is the beginning of what my husband and I refer to as the “Ocean’s 11” theme.  And at the very end of the movie, after Vin Diesel and Paul Walker drive off, leaving Dwayne Johnson to check out the battered safe — a piece of music begins.  It’s called “Danza Kuduro”.  I didn’t know that for a long time.  But I love that song, and no matter what, a huge smile takes over my face when I hear it.  That was the first thing I thought about when reading the EW article about happiness.

Something else I love — the softness of my face when I’m done using the cleansing scrub from R+F.  There is something so satisfying about nice, clean skin.  I will confess that I have become a fan.  I like their products.  Not only because they seem to work really well, but they don’t irritate my skin.  And that’s a huge plus.  Additionally, my skin is much less dry — in fact, not really dry at all.  Partially, I’m sure, because I am not washing my face with a foaming face wash anymore, but also because their moisturizers are just amazing.

And finally, in anticipation of a girl’s night out this upcoming Friday, and the hideous-ness of work this past Friday, what I found in my brain flurry and frustration, was a calm constant.  I feel beyond blessed that I do not need to look to external triggers to justify who I am.  Every part of my life is because I made purposeful choices.  And sometimes those choices make things difficult, but I made them because I wanted to live an authentic life.  I wanted to sleep at night, and be content in who I am.  Friday angered me, on a very base level.  But — and this is much harder to remember than to know — most people’s actions are about themselves, and not about the object of their words/actions at all.  I was internalizing something that didn’t need to be given the attention and power that I gave it.  I know who I am, I know my values.  I know who my friends are, and I know I can trust those people.  I feel confident and comfortable in that knowledge.  The strength of the choices I’ve made, and the life I choose to live.  I’ve earned what I have, because I do good, smart work.

And actions always speak louder than words.

wonder woman

There are a few things my husband will tell you about me if you ask him.

The first is that he loves me and I love him.

The second is that I love musical theatre and have been driving him crazy with “Hamilton” since April.

Third, he’d tell you I have a really cool job in the restaurant industry.  (He thinks much more highly of it than I do at times).

And then he’d tell you that under the surface of my benign agreeability, I’m a rampant feminist.  Not like — we don’t shave our under-arms or we spell the word wiomyn with a “y” to avoid the word men. No, no. Not THAT extreme.

But the truth is, I have memories from a young age of my mother surrounded by women from the Berk’s Women’s Network collating newsletters and being very vocal and strong about women’s rights, equality and all that goes along with what I like to call “smart women’s feminism.”

I’ll vote for Hillary because it’s taken until 2016 for a woman to even be considered as a candidate to run our country.  And while she might have some skeletons, she’s smart and she takes a boat load of shit that would never be said to men.

I deal with the undercurrent of sexism on the daily.  Sometimes it rankles me, and other times I just let it slide.  I fight too many battles to work myself into a frenzy every time someone is condescending to me, or treats me as though my brain is somehow on a  lower level than one attached to a penis.

But I will tell you that there are few things that get under my skin more than women who use sex and feigned ignorance and naiveté to achieve things that the rest of us work tirelessly for because we have integrity and self-worth.  And it really angers me when it happens to me repeatedly.

Ladies, let me say this — and I will say it repeatedly and loudly.

Save yourself.  Have enough dignity to look yourself in the mirror and love yourself, flaws and all.  Have enough decency to ask the world to see what you have to offer beyond your pretty face and adolescent boy body.

Not only do you do damage to yourself, but you do damage to every other woman out there, fighting tooth and nail for equality and respect.

Something else my husband might tell you. It takes a while to get to the breaking point. But once I get there, there’s really no coming back.  I’ve worked very hard for everything I have and for everything I do.  I was not given hand outs, or favors.   And I can be just as venomous as I can be kind.  So there’s that.




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.


So, as one may have surmised, this week has been heavy on the stress.

And now, despite a ton of water, taking out my contacts, washing my face, and popping some Excedrin, my head is still pounding like a champion behind my left eye.

Sometimes the intense nature of my job catches up with me.  Don’t get me wrong — I actually love what I do.  I feel like it’s the perfect combination of restaurant and business and I think I’m (usually) pretty good at it.  I certainly stumble (as we all do) and I am always learning.   The company is growing, and that means there are more things to consider, but it also means more options.

It also means there are more people interested in how and why we do what we do.  And that microscope is on me, since I run the daily business operations.  It can be slightly overwhelming and exhausting.  Especially since I already have the nifty handicap of having MS (which restricts how many hours a day I can work — because I need my rest, otherwise sh*t hits the fan).

All of that, plus a house in boxes, and the excited anticipation of buying our first home — well, it’s a lot for this little girl.  And now, this migraine is making me stop and take a break.