Running from one falling star until another until I drop

What label/story/box/belief clipped your wings this year?
How can you flip the script in 2012? What’s your new story?

High strung/type A/control freak/over achiever

Fact: I am these things. Kind of. But only about very specific things and mostly in reference to myself. And there are plenty of things that it turns out I'm a million less times high strung about then other people. I work myself into a frenzy and get down on myself for trying to do it all, for getting so stressed, for CARING.

Y'know what? I'm tired of apologizing for caring.

I care about my job. I care about how I present myself to the world. I care about how my food choices effect the environment and the economy. I care about politics because the personal is political. I care about plans because if I made plans with you, I care about you and I hope you care about me.

So, no I'm not sorry for so often fitting into that neat little over achiever box because I like to always be working towards the best version of myself and I get depressed when I start to feel stuck in a rut.

Not high strung.

Successful, motivated, organized and caring.

See also: intentional

The things that get me through the day

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What was the quote or saying that most resonated with you this past year?

I love words, so I love quotes. I love reading a sentence and having it knock me off my feet. I chose to answer the prompt about what I read this year primarily using the quotes the I rolled around in my head after reading. Of course, I have a Pinterest inspiration board because I'm pretty sure they kick you out of the female blogger club if you don't. And then I took all that "let's make everything chalkboard" stuff on Pinterest and combined it with things on my inspiration board and now my room looks like Pinterest and Etsy and IKEA vomited all over it and I kind of think it's AWESOME.

Looking back however, I definitely had three main mantras this year.

1. If this isn't nice, I don't know what is

The full quote is "I urge you to please notice when you are happy and exclaim or murmur or think at some point 'If this isn't nice, I don't know what is'". It's Kurt Vonnegut who is absolutely the master of stating things simply and perfectly. I had a lot of moments this year where I thought this, said this or tweeted this. I don't know when or how I trained myself to actually do this, but I highly recommend doing it. For me the moments come when lying in the sun, when the kitchen is quiet and I am focused entirely on my work, when I look out over Central Park from the windows of the Natural History Museum or when I climb up on to my roof and see the Manhattan skyline. They've come when snuggled up in bed with a nice boy, dancing and laughing with friends or sitting watching puppies be silly at the dog park.

It's very possible this will end up tattooed on my body at some point. I could always use a reminder to pause and recognize the good moments.

2. The Serenity Prayer

"God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference". I usually leave the "God" part out because that's not really my style. Mostly I guess I'm just asking the universe, or actually, mostly, I'm asking myself. I like fixing things. I like being in control. Sometimes I can do those things, sometimes I can't. Over analysis is kind of my thing. I find when I'm thinking too much, when I'm too up in my head space, even just a couple of repetitions of "the wisdom to know the difference" helps me clear out the clutter of my mind and regroup. It's been helping me a lot with picking and choosing my battles this year and a lot with letting go.

3. Do Justice. Love Mercy. Walk Humbly.

This is me paraphrasing the bible. Full quote "He hath showed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God?" Micah 6:8. Again, I'm a godless Unitarian hanging out in the compassionate humanist camp, so, y'know, I changed that shit. But you don't have to believe in god to admit that the bible has its moments. I don't think god requires this of me, but I KNOW that I require this of me. Justice, mercy and humility are the lenses I want to live my life through, every day, the best I can. And the next day, better. That's it.

Food Glorious Food


Food: What did you eat this year that stayed with you? Did you experiment with a new meal? Try a new restaurant? Reflect on your good (or less desirable) eats with detail and explain why it stayed with you!

Food. Oh my goodness, food. This year my world went back to revolving around it. My life is centered around the kitchen and it's an intense love/hate relationship.

The love is recipe development. The hours of brainstorming. The days where my brain just doesn't stop. Floods of flavor combinations that I have to write down because there are too many to keep track of. "Painting with flavor," my uncle calls it. I've always thought of it more as composing. But either way the idea is the same.

Pots out, ingredients cover the counter. Taste, adjust, taste again. Start a new batch because it's baking and some things cant be changed once you start the process. Decide on another flavor entirely, a different texture, put the flavors in a cake instead of gelato. I can do this for hours. I do do this for hours, days even, with occasional breaks for the regular production that needs to get done.

I am happiest then. That is what the kitchen is about for me- creating, sharing my creations. Hoping people love them as much as I put love into them.

It's never really been about wanting my own place or the rush of service or anything else. I just want to create and share and teach. I'd be content doing recipe development and writing cookbooks and never stepping foot in a professional kitchen with a store front again.

But being a pastry chef is my version of being a starving artist, and like most starving artists, I have to find some way to pay my rent at the end of the month.

So there's the hate side. The side where I'm supposed to be thankful I only work 9.5-10.5 hours a day because that's not that much for a sous chef in this city. The side where I don't always just get to make what I want, where I have to work service at the restaurant, where I spend a couple of hours each day making breadsticks. There's the side where even though I have a fancy title and get to manage people and am at a relatively good place in my career, I don't get vacation time or sick days or medical benefits and that's pretty much the norm in the industry. The side where the hours make it impossible for the kitchen not to be my whole life. Where finding new friends and having a social life in a new city has been made even more difficult because of my all consuming career. The side where I give people a blank stare when they ask me what i do when i'm not at work before answering "sleep" or "laundry".

I am, finally, starting to learn how to leave work at work at least.

I have a feeling this will be my last job working in a restaurant or bakery kitchen. I'm not saying I'm planning on leaving soon but when I do I either want to move into a test or teaching kitchen or go back to working with troubled kids.

What made you laugh?

This is such a tricky question. It's easy to remember what made you cry or yell but the specifics of what made me laugh? I'm not so sure.

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Laughing with Sarah in Boston at the ridiculous skills she learned in Waldorf school. Like how to sign "butterfly" when she still wasn't allowed to learn how to read.

I remember laughing when I met Erin, Stephanie, Kelly and Jon IRL at my 2nd AMNH tweetup as we were standing and looking at a blown up picture of a bug penis. And I remember laughing for most of that night, primarily at "Obama sleeves" and convincing Jon to drunkenly explain the Matrix to me like I'd never seen it. I think there may've also been something about Stephanie saying that cheese fries were better than cuddling and me telling her that she must be doing cuddling wrong. I don't know. There were a lot of funny things. I think. Also, alcohol.

Then I had to work in a slip the next day because I had to be there at 4am, didn't have time to go home and wasn't going to bake in the white eyelet dress I was wearing. My coworker laughed a lot at me. It was one of those situations that was so ridiculous you just had to.

I laughed a lot when Lara and I went to see "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," which was fantastic. I laughed when we spent the evening with our friends Elise and Dick and their friend Tom who conveniently came to New York at the same time as Lara. I think we laughed hardest when we realized the picture they had taken of us on our way to the top of The Empire State Building somehow managed to be taken at just the right moment so that it looked like Tom was grabbing Dick's crotch.

Clearly, I've laughed at some very mature things this year.

I laughed the night before Michelle's wedding when she had us watch "Big Easy Brides" which is easily the most hilarious terrible wedding show I have seen. I laughed as we stayed up trying to come up with a playlist because all the songs people had suggested on their invitations were terrible.

I laughed on Tuesday when Tracy and I went to "The Daily Show," both during the show and while we were waiting in line and the older foursome behind us kept complaining about how terrible SNL is now. Except when that Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were on it. They also kept saying things like "It's Tuesday, so of course it's raining". I don't know what that means, but blaming Tuesday for things is my new favorite activity and I think it's hilarious.

Almost as hilarious as Obama sleeves.

Two hours and twenty five things later...

One of the problems with there being so many reverb prompt lists is that it's easy to choose the prompts that are easier to answer instead of the prompts that challenge, which is kind of the whole point. So I'm choosing this prompt because I tried to start answering and then gave up and maybe that means it's full of things I actually need to examine.

What are 5 things you have done for yourself in 2011?
1. Uhh, moved across country, bitches! Moving to New York was an entirely selfish act. I knew that if I didn't do it, I would regret it and that's really all there was to it.
2. I just spent a ridiculous amount of money at IKEA so that I could have a room that would feel like home and like mine. I'm still putting it all together but I'm pretty into it.
3. Stockpiled groupon deals for massages. Good decision.
4. I just had a bunch of pictures of my family and friends back home printed to put in actual frames. Again with the making my room more mine and home-y.
5. Relearned that it's ok to say no. Kind of. I'm always relearning that one.

What are 5 things you have done for others in 2011?
1. Petsat like crazy.
2. Picked up cold medicine for a sick friend.
3. Listened and supported.
4. Tried to be a good mentor/manager/teacher at work.
5. Worked crazy hours and covered shifts at jobs where I wasn't working at the time.

What are 5 things that held you back from doing things for others?
1. Being afraid of being let down if gestures aren't returned.
2. Getting into the downward spiral of feeling guilty for not calling/writing/supporting enough and then thinking that people probably don't want to hear from me at this point anyway.
3. Working so much and being so tired.
4. All my other answers are variations on the first. Fear of letting people in, fear of seeming too eager, too familiar.

What are 5 things that you want to do for yourself in 2012?
1. Go on vacation somewhere that is not California or New York.
2. Get a massage every month.
3. Go to Bloggers in Sin City
4. Buy a museum membership. (probably AMNH)
5. Try at least one new restaurant a month.

What are 5 things you want to do for others in 2012?
1. Cook for another person (that isn't paying me to do it) twice or more a month.
2. Volunteer with Big Brother/Big Sister or CASA
3. Be better at checking in with my friends and family
4. Sponsor a Project Night Night package every month
5. Bring homemade soup to sick friends.

Fear: If you could take a pill to *cure* just one of your fears from 2011, which one would you choose + why?

Fear of being alone/left behind. It's hard to make friends in a new city and even though I'm the one who left, sometimes it's hard to see all the awesome times everyone at home is having.

Thanks Internet for not letting me pretend all my friends are miserable and crying in a corner without me.

Being somebody whose skittishness often appears as aloofness to others, I'm pretty much perpetually petrified that either a) people won't like me or b) as soon as I stop being skittish, people will let me down.

Hi new friends! Totes not just waiting for you to disappoint me. Nothing to see here, move along. Love you!

This is one of those things I've been working on for a few years now. Working on being a little softer, a little less brusque. Working on remembering that my family and friends are loving and numerous and it's me that doesn't ask them to be there more, not them being unwilling to do it.

“The shelf was filled with books that were hard to read, that could devastate and remake one's soul, and that, when they were finished, had a kick like a mule.”

Reverb prompt 3: What books did you read?

Winter's Tale, Mark Helprin

(Favorite this year, hands down, just fucking gorgeous beyond words. Also where the title quote comes from.)

“The many lights that shone through the misty summer air also seemed to be fires, and everything below her appeared to be alight. And yet the city was not strangled in its own smoke. It was alive, and she wanted to know it, even if it meant the risk of losing herself within it”

"No one ever said that you would live to see the repercussions of everything you do, or that you have guarantees, or that you are not obliged to wander in the dark, or that everything will be proved to you and neatly verified like something in science. Nothing is: at least nothing that is worthwhile."

"Small scenes can be so beautiful that they change a man forever."

"Manhattan, A high narrow kingdom as hopeful as any that ever was, burst upon him full force, a great and imperfect steel tressed palace of a hundred million chambers, many-tiered gardens, pools, passages, and ramparts above its rivers. Built upon an island from which bridges stretched to other islands and to the mainland, the palace of a thousand tall towers was undefended. It took in nearly all who wished to enter, being so much larger than anything else that it could not ever be conquered but only visited by force. Newcomers, invaders, and the inhabitants themselves were so confused by its multiplicity, variety, vanity, size, brutality, and grace, that they lost sight of what it was. It was, for sure, one simple structure, busily divided, lovely and pleasing, and extraordinary hive of the imagination, the greatest house ever built."

The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy

(I just finished rereading this book for the first time since I was 18. Second favorite I've read this year, again, because the prose is just so stunning.)

“...the secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again.

“And the air was full of Thoughts and Things to Say. But at times like these, only the Small Things are ever said. Big Things lurk unsaid inside.”

“Perhaps it's true that things can change in a day. That a few dozen hours can affect the outcome of whole lifetimes. And that when they do, those few dozen hours, like the salvaged remains of a burned house---the charred clock, the singed photograph, the scorched furniture---must be resurrected from the ruins and examined. Preserved. Accounted for. Little events, ordinary things, smashed and reconstitutred. Imbued with new meaning. Suddenly they become the bleached bones of a story.”

Garlic & Saphires, Ruth Reichl

(Obviously, love her, love her books)

"While cooking demands your entire attention, it also rewards you with endlessly sensual pleasures. The sound of water skittering across leaves of lettuce. The thump of a knife against watermelon, and the cool summer scent the fruit releases as it falls open to reveal its deep red heart. The seductive softness of chocolate beginning to melt from solid to liquid. The tug of sauce against the spoon when it thickens in the pan, and the lovely lightness of Parmesan drifting from the grater in gossamer flakes. Time slows down in the kitchen, offering up an entire universe of small satisfactions."

The Kitchen Daughter, Jael McHenry

(Food and grief, sweet and sorrowful and for anyone that finds comfort in cooking)

Just a small rip. At first it looks accidental, but everyone on a bench has a ribbon, and a tear in it. It can’t all be accident… It seems such the right expression of grief. I am sad, so in whatever small way I can, I will tear myself apart."

“I want them to bite into a cookie, and think of me, and smile. Food is love. Food has a power."

 "The rich, wet texture of melting chocolate. The way good aged goat cheese coats your tongue. The silky feel of pasta dough when it's been pressed and rested just enough. How the scent of onions changes, over an hour, from raw to mellow, sharp to sweet, and all that even without tasting. The simplest magic: how heat transforms.”

Little Bee, Chris Cleave

(heartbreaking and lovely)

“Life is extremely short and you cannot dance to current affairs.”

“I could not stop talking because now I had started my story, it wanted to be finished. We cannot choose where to start and stop. Our stories are the tellers of us.”

More books I read:

As Always, Julia: The Letters of Julia Child and Avis Devoto, Joan Reardon

Highly, highly recommend. Julia Child was a pretty fantastic woman and these letters show all the work and struggle that went into changing the landscape of American cooking as well as showing the development of an amazing friendship.

A Dance with Dragons, George R. R. Martin

Obviously.

Summer Sisters, Judy Bloom

Written for adults but in the same language and style of the Judy Bloom of my childhood. Love and loss and growing older.

Wildwood, Colin Meloy

Fun young adult book from the lead singer of the Decemberists. Very much in the vein of "A Series of Unfortunate Events". I'm looking forward to the rest of the series.

The Help, Kathryn Stockett

This is maybe another "obviously" but I didn't actually see the movie. I meant to and just didn't get around to it. It's actually a really great book. Not going to lie, I cried at times.

I am small but I am strong

Quick practical note: This December I'm participating in #reverb11. Last year I only managed about half the month before the questions all started to seem like they were asking the same things in different ways. This year there are so many lists of prompts that I'm hoping I'll stay inspired through the entire month. I'm doing it because making time to write daily is something I really wished I did on a more regular basis and obviously it's easier when you have a whole internet community supporting you. Basically #reverb11 is like my work out buddy for writing. Also, it's that New Year's-y, birthday coming up soonish time of year so I'm probably going to be spending a lot of time all up in my head over analyzing the last year and making decisions about the new one anyway, and some of that stuff needs to get out of my head so I don't go insane. The posts won't always be eloquent or long, but they will always be true.

So...

Reverb11 Prompt 2: Who are you? Describe yourself.

Alana Margaret. Baker. Pastry Sous Chef in the most competitive food city in the world. But in my head, just a baker, creator, recipe writer.

Quiet, shy, sensitive, bookish but if I have my way you'll never know it. I never outgrew those things, but I got better at pretending, which I guess, is a lot of what growing up is about. A sometimes broken, bitter, midnight crier and sometimes the one who has weathered much and come out more whole than anyone had any right to expect.

I cling to schedules, routines, normalcy the way those of us with hectic childhoods do, trying to keep control, always. Hating when I'm not in control, always. Life has a way of not letting you be in control. It's tricksy like that.

Blunt, harsh and honest. To a fault. But once you're in, once you make it under the layers, there is nothing I wouldn't do for you, nothing I wouldn't give. Happiest as a care taker, food maker, present giver.

Small but curvy. Dark haired and light eyed. Fair Irish skin. Thankful for Eastern European cheek bones adding definition to a round, dimpled face. Rosy cheeked and dark lashed. Arms and hands covered in burn scars and knife nicks.

Not so secret lover of all things living and adorable. Small children (not babies, they still mostly look like aliens), puppies and kittens especially, though if I thought a baby polar bear or tiny penguin wanted to cuddle me and I lived in the right climate, they'd be right up there on that list.

I find equal comfort in the quietness of museums and the way words string together. Sentences over stories. Phrases get stuck in my brain the way songs get stuck in other's. Flavor combinations too. Repeating until I find a space to let them out.

Alana Margaret, almost twenty-six. New York City born. California raised. New York City returned. Baker pretending to be a Pastry Sous Chef. Reader pretending to be a writer. Unabashed liberal. Rule follower and authority hater. Goody two shoes with a foul mouth. A pile of contradictions, just like you, and at the same time, not at all.

Not even a little bit.

Start spreading the news

Where did 2011 begin?

THIS is where 2011 begins in my mind.

It began with stepping through the doors at JFK to snowbanks and sunrise. My heart singing, "home, home, home" as it always does when I return to New York City. Especially in the winter. New York in the winter is my New York. The New York I miss. The New York of my childhood.

It began with me looking for excuses to leave a relationship that was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

It began with opportunity. An offer. The offer. The one that let me pack it all up, leave it all behind. The one that let me move to the city that I can still say is the only place I've never wanted to leave.

Hopes, dreams and parachuting blindly into a new, but much smaller, safety net.

That's where it began.

It had a lot to live up to.