Monday, January 31, 2011

Coffee, Tea, or Me...

It has been established that my love for coffee is exceptionally great. Currently I’ve established that the love I have for a particular barista is even greater.
I saw this great man of coffee one chilly January morning a little over a year ago before the sun came up as I sleepily stumbled into Intelligentsia as per usual on a day off. My heart skipped a beat for the first time in a goodly while upon the sight of this human. His perfect body, striking dark hair and warm brown eyes melted every ounce of my being and for a brief second I forgot where I was.
When I caught my breath I ordered a large Americano from the sweet girl at the register. The entire time I was there, writing, (or ahem, something resembling writing…) I was glancing up, hoping to sneak peeks of him while he worked, interacted with other customers and his co-workers. I wanted to touch his hair, his perfect collarbone, and feel his hand in mine.
I then climbed down off the ledge I was about to jump off of. I’m always in a hurry, imagining my life intertwining with a perfect stranger’s. For all I know, he’s happily committed to a lovely girl and I can officially take my head out of clouds.
Shortly after my Americano is consumed, I’m out the door and getting on with my day, mentally planning a trip back on Saturday, my next day off in hopes of glimpsing this creature again. Girlfriend or not, I will admire him from afar.
Saturday came and went without any sightings of the man of coffee. I saw him one more time before…

…he got a haircut and I developed enough nerve to tell him I liked it. We were standing at the register. It was February first, his co-worker ringing me up when he thanked me and I asked where he got it done. This opened all sorts of dialogue about how the experience was for him, and lead me to tell him about my job.
“I’m Jeff.” he later tells me, offering his hand when I’m retrieving Americano number two.
“Melissa.” I shake his hand
One thing led to another and we were having breakfast on his break, then dinner later that night. Three nights later he kissed me on the street at a busy intersection before saying goodbye for the evening and I knew I was in a world of trouble. I was going to fall in love again. It wasn’t the kind of falling where it’s hard and fast like being on an airplane before it lands, or dramatic like a rollercoaster or where you’re trying to fall in love, but it’s not really happening, nope. It was more of a drifting, floating like a feather being carried by a gentle breeze. It was something unlike anything I’ve ever experienced.

It has not been without it’s challenges. I am still working through what it means to continue grieving the loss of Rob while experiencing what it’s like once again to be in a relationship, to accept love, and give it back. I’m learning what it feels like to talk, share, and be myself while allowing him to do the same. I was on this path with Rob but somehow stumbled when he died. Jeff has done a spectacular job at teaching me more patience and accpetance than I have ever known or deserved. I certainly can’t know what it’s like for him to be on the receiving end of my saddness.
We’ve been together a year today*. I used to say that I lost the love of my life in a car accident but just the other day, when I was constructing this entry in my head I found myself “writing” with my mind’s hand that Jeff is the love of my life. The thought caught me off guard and made me smile. I think I sometimes forget that I’m still on this planet, having experiences and yes…falling in love again. A year is the most amount of time I’ve spent with anyone in… years. Our relationship has happened one day at a time despite my overactive girl-brain. I have come to appreciate Jeff in a way I never knew I was capable of appreciating anyone. I have never trusted someone so much in my life. I’ve told him things I’ve never said aloud before, and he heard me, expressed my redheaded temper and he stayed, cried, and he let me. He makes me laugh, he fills me up, and gives the best hugs I’ve ever experienced. He lets me talk and says he loves to listen to me. His smooth voice though, is something I never tire of. I am completely calm under his touch and the sight of him still has me melting like butter on the best pancakes I’ve ever had in my life. I “knew” on some level that I would fall in love again after the loss of Rob but I never imagined it would be this big. I never expected to love someone so completely as I do now. Happy Anniversary honey. I love you! :*

* our actual anniversary is tomorrow but due to my work schedule, I wanted to post this today. :)

Needle and Thread...

My mom gave me a sewing kit when I was about twelve years old. Before then, at some point she taught me to cross stitch and needlepoint. Once I figured out how to thread a needle I was off and running, cutting out scraps of fabric in the shapes of shirts and dresses, sewing them together to make garments for my Barbie dolls.
I feel I’m going to start many of these stories with sentences like “When I was little… or “My mom/dad/friend taught me this or that…” I’m understanding that is the point in a way of doing this “Artist’s Way” course. We’re to get in touch with that little person residing in all of us, leaving behind our “adult” selves and lives that are ridden with responsibility, obligations, work and bills to enter into a world that only our child’s mind can see. For me, it’s a world full of bright colors, imagination, possibility, exploration, and all things sparkly. In that world, I am balanced. I’m a bestselling author, an Academy Award winning screenplay writer, world renowned pianist, an excellent pastry chef, jewelry designer and in my “free time” I still love more than anything to run my fingers through someone’s hair, to feel the blade of my shears close on went strands, and hear the stories people tell me.
The majority of my adult life, for as long as I can remember actually has been nothing but work, and responsibility. Yes I have my writing, running, and my social life which are all fun things but there is this other part, this tiny little piece that desperately wants to be heard. I am most terrified of her. I run from her, I put food in her mouth and distract myself from her voice. She, I feel, is trying to pull me into her world and then what? It’s unknown. I can’t see an outcome of any sort. She’s wanting to tell me her definition of fun. I believe this will change my dim idea of what the word means and God forbid I allow any change to take place.
I am deeply embarrassed that I cannot identify what is “fun” to me. I want to know though. I want to find out. It’s part of why I’m taking this course. I have the help and support of other people to help me along the way. I’ve finally admitted that this isn’t something I can do on my own.
A week has gone by and it’s time for my second artist date! A few weeks ago, I drew a picture of a messenger bag I wanted to sew. On the bag I drew a ladybug. That idea morphed into thinking about what I already had in my possession that I could use to create something on a smaller scale. I thought that if I truly wanted to sew again, I would start small, see if I still liked it then maybe think about taking a class to learn more. No lie, the very next day I received a Groupon in my inbox offering a half priced sewing class at a fabric store up the street from my house. I knew then that my artist date would be to sew.
I needed thread, a needle and some scissors that would cut fabric. On Wed, after writing, I decided to stop procrastinating and get my tail outside to the bus to go to the craft store. I felt a little resistant to going. I felt that it was going to take forever to go up there, get what I needed and come back. Plus I was hungry and wanted to stop by a favorite restaurant, the Chicago Diner.
What else was I going to do instead? This is a day off and I deserve to spend time with myself. While standing at the bus stop, listening to all the crap in my head about not having time, about it being cold and about this plan being worthless because I haven’t touched a needle and thread since I was in middle school I stopped that worthless chatter and replaced it with “I am worth this time. I deserve this time and I’m going to take it.” All negativity stopped there.
At the Diner, I enjoyed my lunch and walked to Michael’s craft store. I’ve never been to this one before and upon entering I lost my mind. I got sucked into walking up and down nearly every aisle in the store, mesmerized by all the glitter, markers, crayons, paint, paper, scrap booking materials, books, yarn, thread, and stickers that I could ever want. I bought a pack of heart stickers, some blank cards cut out in the shape of ladybugs, on top of the scissors, thread and needles I came in for. I so enjoyed picking out the colors of thread. I remember doing this when mom needed to go to the fabric store. I used to make friendship bracelets with this kind of thread. (I think it’s for embroidery.) I chose a magenta, green, purple and blue bundles of thread. I was giddy when I left and caught the train to North and Clybourn where I stopped by Whole Foods for grapes and vegetables to have later.
Once home thoughts of laundry began to enter my mind. Dishes need to be put away, and this is how it starts. My endless distractions begin to crowd my mind and infect my plan of sitting still and sewing. I remind myself that my “chores” will be there when I’m ready to deal with them but for now, I’m sewing.
I pull out a giant bag of clothes that I was about to give away and decide to use them for this project. I found a tan, corduroy messenger bag that a former roommate left behind and made a plan to cut out shapes out of different garments to make the ladybug. I’d sew the pieces together then sew them on to the bag.
I pulled clothes out into my hallway, into the living room, and eventually I was sitting in a pile of them on my couch. Bits of garments were now chopped, examined, and arranged for evaluation on the bag. I added and subtracted circles over and over again on the “body” of the bug. This worked, but that didn’t. I liked this color but not with that color. Move this over here, then over there, and add this one, get rid of that one then damn… I think I got it.
Now for the thread. I figure out what color will go with each “dot” and begin. I pull apart the thread to make it “skinnier” and push it through the eye of the needle. I tie a knot at the other end of the thread so it stays put when I make my first stitch and get to work. I have no idea how, when or where I learned this. I don’t remember if I taught myself this part or if mom did. Anyway, it’s damn near amazing to me that I sank right back into it.
I sit among the pile of cloth I so haphazardly tore apart and push the needle through the fabric, hearing it’s satisfying “click” as it came through on the other side. I carefully pull the thread until it locks into place and bring the needle back down again making a stitch a little smaller than a half inch. Over and over again I repeat this process until each “dot” is sewn into place. I take my time with this. I’m slightly unnerved that I’m sitting in a mess I will have to eventually clean up but ultimately I’m perfectly content, immersed in my project, and quite pleased with the results.
When I finish the parts, I sew the bug onto the bag. Once it’s complete I hold it out in front me utterly pleased with myself…

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

For the Love of Pancakes...

When I was little my dad made pancakes every Saturday morning. Usually they were blueberry but every now and then he’d concoct some off the wall kind made of cereal or with another kind of fruit. Looking back now, I wonder if my love for changing recipes started with him and his adaptations to various dishes or did I already have that embedded in my DNA. (I have two very creative parents.) I didn’t appreciate his obscure recipes then, but as an adult, I see myself doing the exact same thing and it makes me smile. I substitute one thing for another all the time in everything I’m cooking or baking. If I do make something exactly as I’m “supposed” to I will be mentally changing it as I’m consuming it.
I recently discovered veganism and gluten-free ways of cooking. I’ve noticed that the skin on my face clears up when I don’t eat eggs and dairy. I also have a mean case of dermatitis on my hands that flares up when I ingest too much sugar and wheat. (these among many other things cause these flare ups) Do I follow these guidelines precisely? Hell no. I still love me some sushi, cheese pizza and baked goodies with butter, eggs, cream cheese, the works, but that’s only every now and then. When I cook at home I prefer to make everything vegan and as close to gluten free as I can get.
A little before my twenty fifth birthday I stumbled upon chocolate chip pancakes at Atlanta’s Dakota Blue restaurant in Grant Park. It was love at first bite and since then, I’ve tried making my own but nothing compares. (Prolly ‘cause my home ones are veganJ) Anyway, when doing a search for these I found a blog that soon became a favorite called Ashley and her husband Stephen write all about their running, fitness and…the delicious food they make. I’ve followed many of their recipes and have enjoyed every single bite.
It’s time to do my “artist date” this week I realized as a day off was fast approaching. I have been day dreaming about combining two of my favorite edibles…pancakes and s’mores, but have yet to actually attempt accomplishing this feat. I’m actually excited about it, like I’m giving myself permission for once to try something, maybe suck at it, maybe be successful at it, but try it none the less. I unfortunately have a very perfectionist way about me that inhibits me from doing or trying much unless I can see there is a good chance I’ll be fantastic at it. My head is always swimming with things I’d like to learn or try but putting myself out there to experience it feels terrifying and is something I would like to change.
Enter the Artist Date. This is a time to spend with myself being creative, or experiencing something I normally wouldn’t do. My inner youngin’ is to come out and play for a bit. I am to allow it, let her move as she pleases, let her hands get messy and relax for once. She is to become immersed in something that allows her to express herself while I stand back and let her.
This is certainly no easy feat. I do love to maintain control at all times. Doing something fun means a loss of control to me and that makes me nervous. I am embarrassed to say that I am not always sure I can define what is fun for me. I have a lot of creative outlets but sometimes, I get so militant about doing them that the fun part that brought me to them in the first place gets lost. I’m not sure yet what I’m working so hard for. Maybe to escape myself, to not think about things I don’t want to look at, or maybe because I seen to crave structure of some sort. I hope to find the answer as I continue along this path.
After having coffee at Lovely, and writing for a bit I head home, turn on my laptop and immediately put Pandora radio on. I then log on to to get my “base” recipe so I can have something to follow when it comes to measurements. My thought process for these pancakes was wanting to take a basic pancake and make it full of chocolatey, graham crackery, marshmallowy goodness.

So here is what I did after gathering together…

1/3 cup quinoa flour
¼ cup flax meal
¼ cup applesauce
1 cup chocolate almond milk (or any milk you want)
¼ cup graham cracker crumbs (I only had the actual crackers so I annihilated them in my fancy new food processor)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp honey
¼ cup marshmallow “cream”
½ cup oats

Combine all ingredients except the oats in a large bowl, using an electric hand mixer. Fold in the oats after everything is totally mixed together. Oil a pan (canola, or coconut is fine) and set on medium heat. I measured out ¼ cups of batter and let cook a short minute before flipping. Repeat until done.

I totally enjoyed the texture of these guys. They weren’t too dense or too fluffy. Sadly, I couldn’t taste much of the graham crackers or marshmallows and quickly learned that I don’t like the flavor of quinoa flour. To remedy the marshmallow and graham crackeryness, I placed some of each between my pancakes and topped one with a piece of chocolate. While making them, I happily sang along to Pandora, danced around my kitchen, made a giant mess, letting my fingers become a sticky with marshmallow while giggling and delighting in the fact that I just accomplished something. I’m now dreaming up something similar…maybe a pancake that is cinnamony and a little crisper then having the marshmallow stuff, chocolate sauce (or something like icing) and graham cracker crumbs on the side for dipping. The options are endless. What about you? Tell me about your favorite pancake extravaganza…

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Mmm Coffee...

Coffee became a staple in my life at the tender age of nineteen. I was working at my first salon job after finishing school as an assistant to our salon director. Each morning he would come in, hand me a few bills instructing me to get a Starbucks latte for him and I was to order whatever I wanted. I declined many times, unsure of what exactly to get. I had never ordered coffee before. I had no idea what anything was or what I would like. One day, out of the blue, I decided to order a caramel macchiato. All it took was one sip of the sugary sweet goodness and I was hooked. Not only did I ride an enormous daily sugar high, but with caffeine, I could conquer the world. My brain buzzed, I moved faster than my already high energy self moves, and with my new “friend” I could easy “check-out” of the demands being placed on me to run around with super human strength and a thousand-watt smile. No exceptions.
When assisting ended and being a stylist began, coffee still fueled my life. I moved from the sugary goodness of the macchiato to lattes, to Americanos to black coffee, back to americanos. I went from always drinking Starbucks to the more independent shops in Atlanta. I had fallen truly, madly, deeply in love. My favorites consisted of San Francisco Coffee in the Virginia Highlands (all three locations), Octane in west midtown when I had the time to drive out there, and Inman Perk. I began each and every morning at one of these places, inhaling the sweet bread smell of San Fran, watching the sun rise through the massive windows of Inman Perk, or lean against an exposed brick wall at Octane. I visited other places but these were my usual spots. I wrote for hours. In my journal, in tiny notebooks, on my laptop, for my blog, you name it. The day didn’t feel right if I didn’t spend some time with myself in the company of caffeine, pen and paper before starting whatever task I needed to do for the day be it work, errands, a long run, or plans with friends.
Shortly after moving to Chicago I found Alliance Bakery and was introduced to Intelligentsia coffee. My roommate at the time Kaci, raved about Intelligentsia. (She first had it in southern CA where she’s from.) I became an instant fan myself. Being at Alliance was a really emotional time for me. I didn’t feel homesick, and was pleased with my choice to trade Atlanta’s excruciating summers for Chicago’s brutal winters but being away from what I grew up surrounded by, being and feeling open, and vulnerable to a new place, new experiences and new people left me feeling like I could purge some stuff I had squashed down to make room for these new things. I didn’t expect any of this and…went with it. I believe I cried every single day at Alliance. I stared out the window, watching the snow fall during my first few months here mesmerized by it’s silent beauty. Sundays were the best days. I generally didn’t work (I went back to being an assistant when I moved here.) and got to take that day strictly for myself. There was no rush for anything, just a large Americano, a seat in the window, and my journal or laptop. I allowed my mind to wander, sometimes barely writing and sometimes writing so much my hands couldn’t keep up with my head.
Then… Lovely was discovered. Again, Kaci informed me of it’s existence. It was closer to our place than Alliance and also served Intelligentsia coffee. Upon walking in the door, it was love at first sight. All those wooden tables, mismatched chairs, cute mugs hanging on the wall, pastry shelves filled with muffins, tarts, cupcakes, and jars of cookies, not to mention the delicious coffee…this place was like being enveloped in a warm hug by a favorite person. It has always felt like a “home” to me. I’ve gotten to know the people that work there, they know I always order an Americano and a Pellegrino. I usually sit in the back now as opposed to a middle table I loved when I first discovered Lovely. I find it cathartic to stare out of the huge window when my brain needs to wander a bit from my writing. I love watching the cars and bikes coast by, the rain or snow fall or see how the sunshine makes the leaves on the trees extra green in the warmer months.
I spend each morning of my days off there but when working nothing compares to the Unicorn café in Evanston. When assisting ended in Chicago and I went back to being a stylist, I was placed at our Evanston location. I am up before the sun on most days, on a train up north to have a quiet hour or so before the madness of work with yet another Americano and my journal.
I lose my mind when I can’t write before work. I feel it’s the only time I energy for myself before I need to give it away being a service provider and all. At the end of my day I’m usually too spent to string words together into sentences. There is something so delightful about writing in the morning…yourself? What routines must you accomplish before heading out into the world? Maybe you have an evening or afternoon routine you can’t be without. Tell me ‘bout it…

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Open Water...

“I write to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” was quoted by Joan Didion and something I hold very dear to my heart. I’ve been writing in a journal for as long as I can remember. My first “diary” was given to me when I was about eight years old. My second grader handwriting graced just a few pages in sporadic entries. I have unfortunately lost this precious artifact but the act of writing has followed me throughout my life. I wrote (but never finished) articles I wanted to submit to Seventeen magazine when I was in high school. I never shied away from writing projects as a student. I seldom wrote in a journal while in school for some reason. I have only recounted a few events. I started keeping a journal on a very regular basis after turning twenty one and beginning my career as a hairdresser after attending a technical college and beginning employment as an assistant first. I later completed a book of short stories about my clients and have since dreamed of tightening up those stories to create a novel that tells a more fluid story of my life behind the chair, intertwined with the world beyond it.
I currently have another blog( that began nearly three years ago when I lost a love in a car accident. I never thought I’d keep a blog. My writing has always been a very sacred thing I keep strictly to myself. What I felt though, when I met and lost Rob was something so intense, so extreme I still have trouble grasping it that I didn’t know what else to do but write. Constantly having to answer the dreaded “how are you?” question from well meaning friends, family member, clients, co-workers, innocent bystanders etc…after he died was so excruciating at times that I felt the only thing I could do was write and pass along the directions to my little space out here on the web to both share and distance myself at the same time (if that’s really truly possible…) during a time where I’ve never been so shaken before in my life. I didn’t want to push anyone away, I just didn’t know how to “be”. The emotions I felt were so complex and ever-changing that it was most uncomfortable.
That being said, I believe the time has come to move on to something else. I will not abandon my ladybug blog, I just want to adjust, refocus and move into another stage of life. I’m looking for a life that lets me expand creatively, without my usual judgment, excuses, and procrastination. This is a tall order. I am a master procrastinator and an eloquent excuse maker and the harshest judge my little artist self has ever experienced. I’m shy when it comes to my art as well as my writing. I’m looking for and needing a place to come to and share these vulnerable parts of myself.
A client of mine told me about “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. It is a twelve week program that is intended to carve out a “spiritual path to higher creativity.“ I eventually bought the book and for the past eleven weeks have been diligently writing, completing the tasks for each week and contemplating the required weekly “artist date.” The two requirements for this program are number one…the “morning pages.” They are three pages written every morning in a “stream of consciousness” style of writing. The idea is to keep the pen moving no matter what. It doesn’t matter if all that is written for three pages is “I don’t know what to write.”, as long as the writing is happening. These can’t be typed either. Handwriting taps into a different kind of process that is needed for accessing this spirituality that is crucial to recovering from the not so nice things we tell ourselves, dreams we’ve squashed with addictions, work, excuses and the like. Number two, the “artist date” is something that is done weekly. This is an outing that you do with your “inner artist” self which is a childlike self that in many of us desperately wants to escape it’s adult world to play.
Morning pages aren’t a problem for me. I write every single morning without fail. Being that this is supposed to be about whatever I want, whatever comes to mind, I feel no pressure to write about something I feel I’m “supposed” to write about or something I “should” write about. It’s freely done, sometimes fragmented, or written sloppily. It’s open, it’s honest, it’s what I truly feel at that moment. It’s sometimes energetic, sometimes lethargic. It’s sometimes angry and cussing some fool out, or apathetic. It is usually positive and excites me but can also bore me to tears. It’s repetitive and not always grammatically correct, and I never ever ever indent my paragraphs. Simply put, it’s delightful.
Now the artist date has been a tremendous challenge. I’ve done a few things here and there. I’ve written a long list of things that I want to see, do and experience, but…don’t make time for them. I let other life parts get in the way. I tell myself that meandering through a toy store, coloring, drawing, maybe taking a piano lesson, or walking around outside on a bright clear day to take pictures of whatever I find interesting is a waste of time. I’ve got it stuck in my head that if I’m not being “productive” at all times, I’m a failure at life. There are miles to run, hair to cut, errands to race to, people to see, procrastinating to do, a face book page that needs checking, laundry that can be started and dishes to clean. You get the idea. I am afraid of the intimate connection I know I will make with myself when I give myself the opportunity to grow by taking the time needed to get outside my head and into the world as I see it. I crave this connection in so many ways but avoid it altogether. It feels scary to get to know a part of myself that I don’t entirely know and that may show me something surprising, possibly disappointing or so utterly lovely that I can’t believe it’s actually me. Entering into the unknown isn’t something I usually do with gusto. I currently feel I’m treading water in a vast, open body of water looking for a piece of land to get to. I admit though, my curiosity is taking over and I want to find out what is on the other side of the many walls I put up between the person I think I’m supposed to be and the person I actually am plus the walls I put up between myself and other people.
Enter “The Artist’s Way” course at the Bodhi Center near Fullerton ave. here in the lovely city of Chicago. Two clients told me about the center and the course and when I mentioned it to a co-worker, and we looked it up one afternoon online the details couldn’t have fallen into place more perfectly. The course takes place every Monday evening which is perfect being Monday is a day off for both of us. We signed up, we’re in and here we go…
Tonight was the first night. There was a lot of logistic information being given, meeting and greeting of our facilitators and each other, a little bit of reading and a few writing tasks. One task was to write about five different lives you would like to live. For me, if I weren’t a hairdresser, I would like to be…
1. An (published) author
2. A pianist
3. An energy healer
4. A singer
5. An illustrator.
Yourself? What lives would you live if you weren’t immersed in your current one? I could add ten more things to this list but for now, these five got my imagination stretched just a little bit beyond where it normally goes, placing myself in each position, trying it on, seeing how it feels before writing the next one.
I’d like to share my time through this course and beyond with you chronicling all the adventures it promises. Thank you as always for reading.