This past Friday I returned to my alma mater for a student/alumni networking social. This was the third or fourth time I’ve participated in the event, which is designed to give current students a chance to ask alumni questions about their career path and how it is (or isn’t) related to what they studied in college. As a student who wandered through a number of majors and graduated with no particular plans, I feel like I’m a walking testament to the fact that you really will be alright, whether you have it all figured out or not, it’s okay – just enjoy the journey.

If I could tell the students only one other thing, it would be to try to hold on to that fearless sense of new-ness and adventure that you feel leading up to and just after graduation. Each time I return to the little college town I called home for four years, I am struck by the memory of driving out of it the day of graduation. Green Day’s Time of Your Life was on the radio, followed by Tom Petty’s Free Falling. This juxtaposition of songs was the perfect soundtrack to how it felt to round that corner out of campus knowing that I had just finished something big, something that would shape the direction of my life and yet feeling some indescribable mix of excitement and anxiety and thrill about what was yet to come.

I spent the summer after graduation working in California. When I returned, I moved to the suburbs of Washington DC with a friend. No job. Not even the slightest offer for one. Just hope and a resume. About three years later I moved to Richmond. No job. Not even the slightest offer for one. Just hope, a (better) resume, and love. I didn’t have it all figured out. I was alright.

Reflecting on this as a thirtysomething, I realize that I put a lot of stock in my ability to leap and land on my feet. I also realize that I have lost some of that youthful fearlessness and faith and I am not particularly happy about that. So when that next great opportunity peeks around the corner at me, I want to remember my 21-year-old self, conjure up her courage, stop over-thinking and simply leap.

I encourage all of you (students or not) to do the same.

Little Windows

On my morning scroll through Twitter I ran across this post from Ben Folds:

And my first thought was “Wow, his daughter has really grown up.”  As if I knew Ben or his daughter personally. 
But that’s the thing when you write a lot (be it songs or poems or short stories or novels or blogs) and when you write honestly –  a little bit of you can’t help but be in there somewhere.  Like a window into your world cracked open just a little.  And I, for one, love these little glimpses.
*Just in case you’re not familiar with it, this is how I “know”  Ben Fold’s daughter:

A Little Bit of Wednesday Web Love

In light of yesterday’s holiday, I thought I would share a few of my favorite things around the web these days.

  • Amy Tan.  I’ve been an avid reader of her blog for some time now.  I can’t even remember how I initially stumbled on it, but I can say with certainty that most anything cool I know about design or tech tools has come from her tips (i.e. the photo block at the top of my New York post, my awesome mini moo business cards, the fun Pocketbooth app for my phone).  She’s also incredibly positive and an awesome example of a life lived fully and creatively, so time here always feels well spent. Love.
  • Kristin Nelson’s Pub Rants.  This is another favorite I’ve followed for quite some time.  If you are a writer planning on querying literary agents, you cannot afford not to go here.  It’s all good stuff, but one of the best features is the actual letters from some of her clients with her commentary on why they worked (scroll down to find links on right hand side of the page). Love.
  • Learning that Allison Winn Scotch was/is a huge fan of the TV show FelicityTime of My Life was already one of my favorite novels, this article just made me love it (and the author) more.  Plus now when I make a random reference to the show or one of its actors and my husband rolls his eyes I can say, “Whatever, New York Times bestselling author Allison Winn Scotch would totally understand!” Love.

Happy post-Valentine’s day Wednesday to all!

Photo Credit: design by Starbucks, photo by me

Brew Day Just Got a Little Sweeter

Yesterday was a Brew Day at our house.  Today there’s a batch of Bourbon Barrel Porter happily fermenting in corner of my living room.  There are also several dozen beer cookies resting happily in my kitchen.  I’ve been aware of the concept of baking with the leftover grain from the brew process (called spent grain*) for some time now, but this was my first attempt at it.  The cookies are soft and have sort of a nutty oatmeal taste about them.  Definitely not your traditional chocolate chip cookies; they remind me more of a breakfast/energy bar.  A delicious breakfast/energy bar, that is.  Find the recipe here.

Over the course of the next several months I have decided to try a different recipe for each batch of beer brewed.  Next up . . . Beer Granola!

*Must know more about this mysterious spent grain thing?  Here’s a nice succinct explanation, and another with a little more detail

These Vagabond Shoes . . .

As referenced in my previous post, I just spent a long weekend in New York.  I planned the trip as a celebration of my husband’s 40th birthday.  While the trip alone was a great celebration; even better was the fact that three other friends travelled from Richmond, and two additional from New Jersey to celebrate with us!

On Thursday, in addition to using my train time to blog, I also read TrustNeely’s Guide to Brooklyn, since one of the few definite stops on our birthday itinerary was Brooklyn Brewery.  The author’s descriptions and beautiful photography made me instantly even more excited for all the goodness that just a subway ride away from our hotel.  So much so, that after checking in, we headed straight for Chavela’s where the house made tortillas and creamy guacamole were just as good as promised.  From there we headed to the TKTS booth in downtown Brooklyn were there was no line.  For those of you familiar with the Times Square TKTS experience I’ll repeat that:  no line.  That night we watched Jerry Lee Lewis kick piano benches across the stage from our up close and personal half-price seats at Million Dollar Quartet.

Then we returned to our hotel (Ink 48 ) to find a brown paper package, tied up in string (well, orange ribbon) in our room.  Seems that tiny note I made on our reservation was truly heeded, as the next night we returned to a bottle of wine.  This attention to the detail about our birthday celebration was the icing on a cake made of fabulously appointed rooms, impressive city views (see am/pm skylines above), complimentary wine happy hours, and great deals for those willing to book early.  I already sought Kimpton hotels out – but now I may never stay anywhere else.

Friday highlights included danish and turnovers at the Hungarian Pastry Shop in Morningside Heights; followed by a stop for coffee which we sipped while walking the grounds of Columbia University.  Then it was off to the Museum of Art & Design, where there seemed to be fabulous things tucked into every corner (see above: glassware  on a side stairwell and happy foam people lining the wall above the main stairs).  Two of our Richmond friends had arrived in town by happy hour and we met at The Pony Bar, where we scored the kind of real estate at the bar that can only be cornered by those on vacation (or not bound to a 5:oo end of the workday).  We finished the evening at Birreria, where I enjoyed a beer brewed with thyme and this amazing concoction of cheese, grilled mushrooms and brussel sprouts.

Saturday was . . . drumroll please . . . . the BIRTHDAY!  We started off with a hearty breakfast, which we instinctually knew was the right thing to do before embarking on Brooklyn Brewery.  We arrived near 1:00 and by 2:00 the tasting room was packed.  We were now a party of 8 — complete with the New Jersey friends, the Richmond friends, and one Richmonder’s sister, who lives in Brooklyn.  The birthday boy and a few others took a brewery tour, while the rest of us held down the table, which was being eyed longingly by several other large parties.  Post-tour, we headed next door to the thrice  recommended Brooklyn Bowl (the aforementioned Neely, our hotel staff and the Brooklyn sister all endorsed it).  There’s really no way to put the experience into words other than to say – go.  See it for yourself.  And order the fried chicken.

Next up, at the Brooklyn sister’s recommendation, was a nearby restaurant that served fabulous Italian food and then my favorite kind of cozy bar with great music (the kind that only a local can recommend). Between the beer, the excited conversation among friends, and my utter confidence in the recommendations, I somehow failed to adequately take in the name of these two places.   I remember the tang of the tomato sauce, the fact that the pasta seemed perfectly imperfect in the way fresh pasta should.  I remember the dim light in the bar, the chatter, the laughter.  These are the details that my fiction writer’s mind remembers.  I’m pretty sure that means I would make a lousy travel writer.

But it also means that it was a birthday well celebrated!

Train Blogging

So I’m trying my hand at blogging on the go today, from a train headed north to Penn Station. The last time I took the train to New York I was frantically writing a paper on the train so that I could enjoy my long weekend without it hanging over me. How nice to be writing for fun today!

Of all the ways to get places, the train is near the top of my list. I’m not a driver (obviously, since I happily gave up my car). The open road holds no thrill for me. Sure a car trip with the right person can be full of awesome conversation; but I can’t get up and stretch my legs by going for a coffee in the cafe car or prop my laptop/iPad up on the little table and write papers and blogs. Flying has lost all it’s appeal (outside of speed to destination) thanks to the shoes off, toiletries in a baggie strip search that has become security. Not to mention the crowded and oft cancelled flights that seem more the norm than the exception.

But the train has leg room, power outlets, little tray tables and wi-fi. You can play cards in the cafe. Stretch your feet out and sleep. Bring your own food from home (even *gasp* liquids). In theory you could even bring that giant bottle of your favorite shampoo – though those of us who travel regularly have probably long expunged that from our repertoire.

So let’s all raise our tea from the cafe car, or that coffee you brought with you from your local shop, maybe even that cup of homemade soup to travel made pleasant. To feeling less like herded animals. To keeping our shoes on. To the train!