Cake Magic

I had a really long, tough day at work today. I got home feeling like a zombie, run over and killed and then run over again for good measure. I got home ready to collapse into a grumpy mess. But a really sweet gesture from a really wonderful friend turned my night around in an instant.

I present to you my friend Monique Pham’s blog, a testament to her culinary poweress and a great place for amazing recipes! 

In my head, she is the Baking Queen, a sweet sister and an extremely thoughtful friend. Today, when I was ready for my horrible day to stretch into a horrible night, she did something incredibly sweet – she brought me a cake she had baked earlier today. And it wasn’t just any cake either. I give you the Spring Cake, as beautiful as it is delicious!

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Gorgeous spring cake, complete with chocolate,flowers and edible herbs! Noms!!!

This gorgeous creation is one in a long line of many innovative, delicious, aesthetically outstanding culinary achievements.

She has made many cakes, tarts, truffles and macaroons in the years I have had the pleasure of her company but occasionally she out does herself as evidenced below by the few I have stopped to take a picture of before diving headfirst into the bliss that is her baking.

I simply don’t enjoy anyone else’s cake as much anymore. I have good reason not to. Look at all these goodies in this screenshot from her Instagram @momobakescake. Please do show her some love if you love what you see as much as I do!

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Monique, I know this blog wasn’t written with your knowledge but I just had to tell the world how amazing you are. Thank you dear friend, you and your love of food have really brought so much light into my life. Your love and caring really makes our lives so much brighter. Thank you!

For all you foodies, order a cake or two from her. She bakes a large variety of other desserts too. I promise you won’t be disappointed!

A Second Cup, A Second Chance

Of second chances and coffee, and the different sides of human nature.

Many Houstonians may be unaware of this but Houston, and Texas in general, is the largest center for human trafficking in the States. Why am I bringing this up today? I suppose it might be because I know what it is like to be thought of as property and an investment rather than a person and a human being. 

Thankfully, I do not carry the scars of the molested and the raped and enslaved. But I know people who do. As a woman and as a human, the thought that somewhere near me at this very moment many people are being treated like cattle for sale, as though they carry no thoughts of their own, as though their lives and their stories do not matter and they exist only to please their sick masters…it makes my blood boil.

I imagine myself or my loved ones helpless, held captive, taken somewhere strange, used and abused by my jailors and their customers. I imagine the loss of hope and the embrace of the dark despair that resides in every soul as it holds tight and refuses to let mrgo, much like the horrible excuses for human beings subjecting me to that torture. I imagine being a pet, or less than a pet, kept barely alive and unaware of where I am, eventually forgetting everything from Before and forcing myself into believing I was willingly involved in this just to keep my sanity. I imagine being grateful for any morsel thrown my way. I imagine wanting death over life. I imagine giving up. 

I imagine all this and am grateful that I am not in that position. To all of you who have been through this inhumane ordeal, I do not know the scars you carry but I do know that if you were strong enough to survive it all, someday you will be strong enough not only to survive but to thrive. There are many people out there who can and do exploit others for their greed, their malice, their petty pride. On the other end of the spectrum,however, are people who cannot understand why anyone would be so horrible to another human being. They simply want to help heal. Some of them have been through what you went through or are going through. I know that it isn’t easy to accept help or trust in the words of a stranger, but the other side of humanity does exist. Some day, you will come to know that. Until then, there are places for you to go and find solace. I visited one of these locations recently and received comfort of my own.

Unimpressive from the outside, “A Second Cup” is a cafe run by volunteers who do everything from make coffee and food to clean, trying to help survivors of human trafficking with all the proceeds from sales. In addition, they help spread the word that help is out there; an entire wall is dedicated to groups that help everyone from young children to adults.

Comfort is evident in the many colors, both bright and mute, the couches and tables placed meticulously in a spacious room. Even the bathroom door has words of encouragement. Another feature that isn’t common in other cafes is that they have a fully functional shower. For those feeling threatened or those who haven recently been  rescued, this is a huge source of comfort. Knowing there is somewhere you can go and just relax after the constant hostility of survival in a brutal environment is the greatest feeling of all. 

Some of the volunteers at the cafe are survivors themselves who have gathered enough courage to help others. To top it all off, they make great coffee as evidenced in the picture below. May I say that it was delicious enough that I am still thinking about it more than a week later…

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Hazelnut Latte, yummy!

A Second Cup is tangible evidence that second chances do come around and that you can and should take advantage of them. 

Not only was the experience refreshing, it left a lasting impression on me. If any of you are ever in the Houston area, be sure and stop by Second Cup. Maybe someday, somewhere, someone else will help you with your second chance too!

Born Again…

My language is no longer the language of dreams. It is the language of love. I speak no more the language of sorrow. I speak only the language of life. I no longer long for abstract ideals. I strive only to achieve my goals. My heart no longer seeks to find someone to complete me. It knows now that I complete myself. I am the one writing the story of my life.

My language is no longer the language of despair. My heart brims with the confidence of experience. This too shall pass, it tells me. This too is a lesson learned, it reminds me. My love is no longer an ocean of unpredictability. It has become a fire that warms and feeds the soul but would burn anyone that approaches with ill intent whole. My dreams no longer teach me the path to go down because I ran out of dreams to dream. None of them were worth trying again and again after failing once or twice. Nothing compelled me to keep trying. Nothing inspired me to keep going. Now, I walk down all the paths before me, picking with care, yet picking with ease all the choices placed before me.

The choices I face no longer cause me heart ache, no longer make me uneasy. I have faith in my fate, whatever it may be. The Universe speaks to me for me no more, but my purpose is as of now unfulfilled. I have learned my greatest reason for existing is to be the catalyst for others to fulfill their dreams. Whether I am yhe villain that causes them to change or the friend that shows them what they were unable or unwilling to see, for the ones my life touches, a catalyst is all I will ever be. I am not meant to be the main character in the story, just the necessary supporting role without which their stories would not go where they are meant to.

I have had many lives before and lived them thoroughly. This one last chance I have been given will allow me to push people into places they never dreamed they would go and be the ladder they climb to greater hieghts. I was born again to be a tool both of destruction and of healing. I was born to enable greatness in others and destroy the evil I come across. I wasn’t born to greatness myself.

Accepting that has been the greatest struggle for my soul. I have always yearned for greatness of some kind in myself. It is just not to be. Hence, I no longer speak the language of pointless ambition. Instead, I have begun to learn the language of love anew. Loving the happiness of others and being prouder of their accomplishments than they are, trying my best to be the strength they need even as I burn them with my acidic tongue, I am striving to be as humble as I can for it is not my role to shine in this world any longer.

As I learn this new language, I am learning to love this amazing world full of contradiction and chaos all over again. The beauty I could not see is evident in my eyes once more. The peace I could not feel sometimes pays me a visit. The pain I thought myself numb to rears its ugly head occasionally but it doesn’t drown me in sorrow very often. Through it all, I continue to live, to breathe, to survive and to seek the next person for whom I may become a catalyst for greatness. Walking down this monotonous and often lonely road is not the only choice left to me but I think it is the right one. The right choices are usually the more difficult ones but they are worth every second of pain. Until I outlive my usefulness, I will continue down this path that has chosen me despite my many failings.

I am endeavoring to learn anew the wonders of the world, to travel to new places and meet new people, to broaden my horizons and learn new languages, to become more than I am. I am learning to love myself. It is like being born again and carries with it all the fear and anxieties of birth, along with the endless possibilities. I must become the Phoenix that rises from the flames of burned bridges and build new roads for me and those that will cross my path. Slowly, I must be born again.

Thank you for joining me on my road to self discovery!

First Saturday Arts Market

A couple of weekends ago, I had the good fortune of having a day off on a beautiful spring day. As everyone who has ever lived in Houston will tell you, days like that are few and far between. Deciding to take advantage of the day, I had the pleasure of visiting the First Saturday Arts Market located in our Heights area. The outdoor market hosts different vendors each month, though many are repeat offenders and have become as familiar to us as we have to them with our frequent visits.

I have been a lover of the arts for a very long time and visit art related events whenever time and my budget allow me to. This visit was one of the most rewarding ones I have ever had.

On that beautiful day, I enjoyed a wonderful and unique flavor of shaved ice (I had the pomegranate and Blackberrys, with actual Blackberry chunks visible!) It was delicious, it was in an attractive cup, and it was a great conversation starter and attention grabber for myself and my companion. Many of the vendors wanted to know where we had gotten the shaved ice, how it tasted, what flavors we got, and if we would be holding on to the flower shaped plastic cups, and what we would make out of these cups…the conversation was lively and long and thoroughly enjoyable!

We browsed through several shoes, admiring their work and I was even able to take pictures of several of the pieces (with permission from the artists of course). While I couldn’t bring most of them home with me, I would like to promote their work in my own small way here, so here are a few of my loves from that day! 

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The red abstract was titled “Birds of Paradise” by LeeAnne Domangue and completely took my breath away! I really wish I could have brought that one home with me

The work with raised medium of flower on blue background was done by Joella Guaraglia Wheeler as was the painting of the flower in four tiles. I loved chatting with her and finding out about the different mediums she has been working with. Incredible person and an incredible artist!

The elephant was titled “Layered Beauty” and was done by the same artist that made the painting of the Wolf, Christina Todaro. Every artwork by her was exquisite both in detail and in imagery. She had journals covered in this beautiful art as well as several prints. For anyone who likes this art, I definitely recommend her.

I also had the chance to admire and eventually purchase some lovely pottery that day. I bought a gift for a friend and brought the rest home for the family. These beautiful pieces are all handmade and look great on my kitchen table! Thank you Delafield Pottery!

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The crowning achievement of the day’s adventure to the market came after all this uplifting beauty. I became the proud owner of an absolutely inspiring painting titled the “Uphill Climb” by  C.S. Ellington.

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The story behind this painting is quite intriguing. I first saw the painting back in November, loved it and couldn’t afford it. The artist told me how someone had approached her for that painting asking her what it meant shortly after that but she hadon’t been able to reply simply because she didn’t yet know. After contemplating for a few weeks and taking the painting with her to several markets she realized what it meant to her: choosing the hard path because it is the correct one even when a different path would have been easier. 

In her own words, “It is about choosing the more difficult things in life and how that is often the right thing (to do).” 

Now, I had agreed to purchase the painting long before she explained any of its history to me. When she did tell me all the history and meaning behind it, I fell even more in love with the painting that seemed to portray everything that had come to pass and the crossroads I was at at that point in time. I just knew then that the painting had been mine all long. It was just waiting for me to reach out and take ownership of it. The connection was real.

It inspired me so much that I ended up writing a post on it on a different blog titled Uphill Climb. If you are interested, please do take a look at the story of my Uphill Climb.

We didn’t end the day there but the rest is a story for another day and another blog post. Needless to say, it was quite the invigorating and refreshing experience. For all of you out there that love art, please explore the local art culture in your community. I guarantee it will infuse you with the most creative and intense of thoughts. For those of you who are new to the world of art appreciation or are still on the fence about whether or not looking at these works is worth your time, just give it a try. I did and I have never looked back.

Though I am not an artist in any way, shape or form, the art world continues to be one of the most rewarding experiences life has to offer. Inspiration is everywhere. Art displays often become my muses.

Here is to art, to outdoor markets and to amazing memories! Cheers!

Fresh Start

This post is a fresh start for me. Welcome to my life!

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It has been a long time since I updated this blog simply because I did the one thing a person should never do – I gave up on myself and my dreams. I gave up on ever being published, on ever being recognized, on ever having people Want to read the stories I write. It was a cruel spiritual death. Slowly but surely, I just stopped writing.

I recently came to a realization that should have been obvious from the start – no one can enjoy me or my expression of myself if I never put anything in front of others to see. After going through quite a lot of major changes within the past year, I decided to try once more.

Throughout history, a few things have become apparent about the human condition in general. There will always be war, famine, disease, pain, injustice, evil. There will also always be hope. There will always be music, art, poetry, fiction and non-fiction writing, innovation, progress for the good of others, progress for our next generation. None of those things are possible without effort.

Being the extremely private person that I am, baring my soul publicly and expressing my reality is incredibly difficult for me. However, I have opinions, I have ideas, I have something that no one else will ever have – my Self. My inner voice longs to be Heard. My method of expression has always been words. Even as a child, I started writing stories almost as soon as I learned to read. It was inevitable that I would become a writer in spirit and practice begin the avid reader and lover of stories that I am.

It is only through several trials by fire that I have come to accept who I am. In fact, I have even come to like myself. As someone struggling with self-hate and depression for the entirety of my life, this is a major change. Ironically, being repeatedly abandoned and hurt by the ones I loved and trusted most has forged me into a more complete and brave person. I am finally the person I always wanted to be – complete in myself, needing no one else to tell me who I am or should be.

Rejection hurts. Betrayal hurts more. Disliking oneself hurts more than all of that. Ironically, because others could not love and appreciate me, I have come to love and appreciate myself more than ever. I feel more complete and secure in myself than I have in my entire life. I feel ready to take on anything that comes my way.

I am still very lost as far as my future is concerned. I am still searching for my own path in life. Now, though, I don’t panic at the thought of having to start anew and failure isn’t a foreign concept or the most fearsome of fears. Failure has just become a setback and a learning experience to me at this point.

Hence, I decided to try to write here again. I deleted all the previous posts on this blog because I no longer identify with the person who wrote those posts. I have changed. Life and time and experience have changed me. I am ready to introduce who I am Now to the world. Learning from Living will be a collection of my experiences and musings. I hope to amuse you all with my anecdotes and to pique your interest with my life views.

To those who once read my blog, thank you for returning to read once more! To those who see my posts for the first time, welcome to my world!

Here is to Learning from Living!