That Old Black Magic

It all started with a burger. Or really, a cold, almost lifeless (but still delicious) sliver of a Shake Shack burger that I had saved for my brother. Maybe I should back up 🙂

Happy New Year, everyone! I’m still reeling that it’s 2016, and probably will be until it’s 2017. Truly I tell you I only got adjusted to 2015 in August. No joke. And all that stuff that people say about life moving faster as you age – all true too. Scary true, actually. So holy crap, it’s 2016!

And as times marches on, so do major life events. My baby brother, the one that I so generously saved the slice of burger for, is expecting a baby boy this summer with his lovely wife, Holly. They couldn’t be more thrilled, and I pretty ecstatic too. You know how much I love spoiling my nephew Jackson and I’m SO looking forward to having another one to dote on!

In the light of all this wonderful news, I decided that Kyle and Holly needed a final hurrah in NYC before life changes forever. I convinced them to come down with me when I drove back down after Christmas and help me ring in the new year. Now, Kyle and Holly had been down to visit me before, but this was all pre-Single Girl. I had so many things to show them, places to take them and people for them to meet.

We managed to cram an insane amount of stuff into the few days they were here, including the usual holiday city stuff and New Year’s Eve celebrating. If I’m being honest, it’s a little bit of a blur. If I’m being super duper honest, there may have been some adult beverages involved in the weekend 😉

Amongst all the fun, last Saturday was a stand out day. Kyle, who is a volunteer fireman, got to witness not one, but TWO firehouse cookie drops and see some pretty big rigs and old FDNY houses. He had requested a few things for the weekend, one of them being that, another to get drinks at Jack’s Fire Dept in Sunnyside (a great local’s spot) and the third being to have a real New York slice. We’re talking pizza, people, and I have to say I was a little nervous about that request. I can satisfy and serve up the other two, no problem. You want to see some firehouses? I know some guys. You want to go drinking at a firemen themed bar? I’m your girl. You want me to take to you to the best pizza in NYC? I got nothing.

My go to pizza of 5/6 years ago was a tiny place on 1st Ave by Theater for the New City called South Brooklyn Pizza. I was introduced to this place while doing a show at TFTNC by some of the cats I was performing with. It was great! Brick oven, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, garlic mash to spread on top. A few years go by and I head down there for a slice and find it has closed. Now I’m really out of ideas.

Like everybody everywhere, I had heard of Grimaldi’s pizza in Brooklyn. And because I’m not an idiot, I know well enough to be wary of something that has been made into a nationwide chain and has become a tourist spot in NYC. I don’t really know much about the pizza game here, other than a whole community and hierarchy exists where you could lose friendships over your choice of pizza. Like a thick crust? You’re not a real New Yorker. Fold your pizza? You might be a terrorist.

I wasn’t about to disappoint my brother, so I set us off on a course to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge and see what we can google when we get to the other side. In the back of my brain, I remember reading something about a different pizza place, a “real” Grimaldi’s. A quick google search pointed us directly to Juliana’s.

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We pull up to the building, small, white, and somehow ‘clean’, with big picture windows and a red winter door. Written gracefully over the door is ‘Juliana’s’ in simple and feminine script. And as expected (hoped for, even) there is a long line snaking around the front.

We’re greeted by a gentleman checking us in and says it’s about a 45 minute wait. Well, we had just walked all around the city, hadn’t eaten in 7 hours, and I was a little punchy and ready to walk away. Thank goodness cooler heads prevailed and we started our chilly wait.

We got antsy pretty quickly and started taking turns going to the deli next door for water and restroom breaks. I guzzled my bottle of water and as I went to throw away my bottle down the street, I saw that three doors down there was a Shake Shack! It was like the heavens opened up and I heard angels sing. In a flash of brilliance, I ordered a burger and fries for the three of us to share as an appetizer in line.

By the time I got back, Kyle was gone and Holly and I were next. Holly and I dove into the bag and decided to be nice and save Kyle a couple bites for when he got back. We ended up being seated before he came back, and I stashed the bag under the table with a few fries and a couple bites of burger.
Once we were settled at our table, I took a look around. The same white, inviting exterior was echoed inside. It was warm, cozy, and bright, decorated with pictures of Ol’ Blue Eyes. We decided on a large Margherita pizza with pepperoni and a nice bottle of Tempranillo.

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I don’t think any of us were actually expecting what came to the table. OH, THE PIZZA.  Black blistered crust, fresh mozzarella, fresh basil, flavorful rounds of pepperoni, and the sauce, oh the sauce! The perfect balance of everything you look for in a pizza sauce, in both flavor and ratio. Hey, I may not eat pizza often, but I’m pretty picky about it when I do.

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We all took turns ‘oh my god’-ing and moaning over the flavor explosions that we happening in our mouths and happily finished the whole thing. We paid our check, thanked Michael for the excellent service, and headed out.

Even though we had just eaten an entire pizza, I hadn’t forgotten about that sliver of Shake Shack burger we saved for my brother. I know it sounds gross, but dude – even cold, that stuff is amazing. As Kyle was polishing that off, we chatted with that gentlemen that greeted us when we came, whose name is John. He mentioned he just moved here from the west coast and hadn’t had Shake Shack yet. Say what???? But it’s right next door! I said, “Wait here, I’ll be back in ten!”

Sometimes I get struck with an idea and go with it. This was one of those times. I came back a few minutes later with a burger and fries. I introduced myself, handed over the bag and a card, and said enjoy it, and pass on the kindness, and have a good night!

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The look on John’s face was absolute surprise. “Seriously?”, he said. “I haven’t eaten since breakfast.” As we walked away, Kyle said kinda quietly, “You know, I kinda wanna start doing this at home.” Now it was my turn to be surprised. Not that he would do something like that, my brother is a great guy. Surprised and, well, proud. Inspiring others to do their own acts of kindness is why I do this. Seeing in action brings me a joy that’s indescribable.

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Which is how I found myself on an A train last night, heading to Juliana’s with a plate of cookies on my lap.  My experience that Saturday was such a positive one – the ambiance, the people, the service, THE PIZZA – that I wanted to return the favor and say ‘thanks’ with a plate of my signature cookies.  My second experience was similar to to the first, but even better.  Throughout the night, I got to meet and chat with the individuals that keep the place running.  There’s Janavia, the cashier with a bright smile who popped up behind me to thank me and tell me how delicious the cookies were. Or the pizza runner who deposited my pie and with a shy smile looked at me and quietly said, “Thank you for the cookies.”  I got to hear about John’s transition from 25 years in sports television to managing an extremely busy and popular restaurant. I even made an Astoria connection with Dave, a server there who lives in the ‘hood!  I haven’t met the man himself yet, but from what I gather, this ‘welcoming in’ and sense of family is just par for the course.  And those are my kind of folks.  After 7 years of being a resident of New York City, and more specifically, an Astoria resident, I’ve finally found a reason to travel to Brooklyn.  I can guarantee you, it has been worth the wait.

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I Believe

Every once and a while I do a cookie drop and have an experience that leaves an imprint on my heart.  It’s like it’s almost painful to keep it in and not share its profound impact on me with the world.

I did a cookie drop at Runway Tire the other day.  You probably haven’t heard of it; it’s all the way up on 19th Ave and 42nd Street, practically as close to the water as you can get in Astoria.  I met some hardworking gentlemen there, including the owner, Anthony Germano.  I had meant to go pick up my plate the Monday before Thanksgiving, but got swept away with holiday travel preparations and didn’t make it there until the Tuesday after Thanksgiving.

I always feel a little sheepish when I don’t return for a plate when I say I am going to.  That’s one of the many things I’m resolving to do better in 2016.  So, as I walked in, I carried a touch of embarrassment for not having been in sooner.  Anthony recognized me and said, “We’ve been waiting for you!” and went to grab a bag on top of a vending machine in the back of the front room.  He told me he took the cookies home to his family and his kids and wife had loved them, looked me up online and that he wife loves joyful, happy things like my project and so they wanted to do something nice for me.  And here was my plate, wrapped in cellophane with a small gift bag and a card with my name written in cheerful bold purple block letters.  I was pretty surprised and very appreciative of the gesture.  We chatted a little bit about the history of Runway Tires, I learned that he took over the business from his father and started working there when he was 17 after his dad went in for open heart surgery, I thanked him for the gift and headed back home.

I tried to take pictures of the beautiful package when I got home, but my phone is so woefully full that it wouldn’t take.  In retrospect, I’m a little glad I didn’t document the hell out of this.  I savored unwrapping the ribbon holding it the cellophane together, reading the card and its heartfelt words, gingerly taking out the tissue paper from the gift bag.  In the bottom was a small Alex & Ani box.  The irony in that is that I had just told my family what I wanted for Christmas just a few days before – an Alex & Ani bracelet.  Inside the box was a Kindred Cord; a small charm that says “Journey Blessing Grace” on a delicate black cord with a blessing of Godspeed.  I have been shown incredible kindness and generosity in my day, but something about this struck me differently.  Sure, I give every week.  I bake cookies and a share goodness with those around me.  But the Germano family went to the store with me in their minds and hearts, and picked out something for me specifically.  With intention.

I left my apartment shorty after that to head into school to teach some lessons feeling humbled and uplifted and touched beyond words.  For the rest of the evening, I kept looking at that black cord on my wrist, knowing only I knew the story behind it, and feeling touched I had been thought of, and by people I didn’t even know.  I woke up the next day, still wearing it, feeling the same way.  My secret badge of honor; that I did something good for someone.  Somehow wearing it felt life armor against anything bad life might throw at me.

I taught differently that day.  I love my job and rarely have a bad day.  I’m blessed with great students, and I feel I’m doing good work with each one of them.  As I saw student after student, I was truly glad to see everyone of them, and connected.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m always happy to be at Turtle Bay and making music, but something felt different.  Something inside me had shifted.  I could see it in the way my students responded to me and our work.

Then my 12 o’clock came in.  This woman, let’s call her M, is a delight.  She is always game for a new Italian art song or aria, loves Pavarotti, and often gives me a rundown and review on the latest performance she’s seen at Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center.  She’s made great strides since we started working together, but refuses to believe me.  She told me a few weeks ago, “I know I’ll never be a professional musician, but music for me is hope.”

M came in and I greeted her warmly, asked how she was doing, as the last time I had seen her, she was battling that wicked fall cold that everyone seemed to get.  She was settling in and setting her stuff down and said as good as could be expected.  She then turned, straightened, and told me that her mother had died on Saturday.

She told me it was everything you could hope for, a good thing for her mother, and shared some intimate details of their last conversation.  I told her if she wanted to not sing today we can reschedule, and please, take care of yourself first.  With pleading eyes, she asked me if we could spend the lesson vocalizing for a bit and then she could go home.  That this had been something she wanted to do and was looking forward to.  45 minutes of singing with me.

She sang beautifully that day and I cried when she left.

The cornerstone of Single Girl Cookies is kindness, kindness with intent, and kindness because you never know what someone is going through.  You can never know your impact on someone, so be kind to all, always.  I didn’t realize what our lessons meant to my student, and the Germano family has no idea how special that simple black corded bracelet is to me.  In my mind, these two events are linked, and the two parties aren’t even aware of the others’ existence.

In the midst of San Bernardino, and Planned Parenthood, and Paris, and too many other tragedies to mention, it’s so easy to lose sight of the good in people.  But I still believe we are all good on the inside.  Kindness and light will prevail, but it has to start somewhere.  It has to start with you.  We can’t let our humanity slip away in a river of violence or anger or disappointment.  You have to believe that there is good left in us.  That there is hope in the darkness.  That kindness does make a difference.  It’s there in the little everyday gestures that may be meaningless to you, but may mean the world to someone else.

That difference has to start with you.  That difference is you.

I believe.  Do you?

 

Apple Pie Bars

It’s the most wonderful tiiiiiiiiiiime of the yeeeeaaaaarr!!!  No, not Christmas, although I do love the holiday season (and can’t seem to escape the preemptive Christmas decorations EVERYWHERE) but I’m talking about fall!  You know it’s my absolute favorite time of the year, and this year has been no different.  Say what you want about New York weather being fickle, but I’ve enjoyed having a mix of warm days and chill, crisp air days.  Even the warmer days have allowed for my baking to go crazy because I’m no longer sweating it out in my apartment!

I posted about my bacon fat gingersnaps earlier this fall, also about my vanilla cupcakes that are so popular and delicious, and now it’s time to post about my amazing apple pie bars.  Apple pie bars, you say?  Does that mean like, an apple pie in bar form?  That I can hold in my hand and deliver directly to my mouth??  YES.  That is exactly what I mean.

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I developed this recipe as I was fiddling around with ice cream sandwich ideas for my featured dessert spot at The Queens Kickshaw.  I tried a few ice cream pairings that I didn’t love until I put together one made from my almond sugar cookies and apple pie ice cream that I made by blending apple pie filling and vanilla ice cream together.  My mother had made a similar apple pie dessert in non-pie form that day, which got me thinking about how to get an apple pie that you can hold in your hand that doesn’t come from McDonald’s or 7-11.  The ice cream sandwich was killing it at being delicious, but I wanted to be able to pick up a piece of pie.  The almond sugar cookie mixed well with the apple pie flavor, so I thought I’d go in that direction instead of a traditional pie crust.  I settled on a shortbread bottom and crumb topping with all that cinnamony goodness in the middle and have never looked back!

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I’ve now made these three times in less than 14 days and every person I have shared them with has declared them amazing.  When you get 36 little squares out of every batch, that’s a lot of people!  I guarantee these will wow your guests or hosts at the next party you attend this holiday season, and will quickly become your favorite go-to dessert.

Apple Pie Bars

Ingredients for Filling:
5 pounds of apples   *I like using honeycrisp
1 cup of sugar
2 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cornstarch
2 to 3 tbsp water of apple cider
squeeze of lemon

Extras: Dashes of ginger/nutmeg/cloves/all spice.  If you’ve got’em, throw’em in, if that’s what you like.  Or if you have a recipe for filling that you like for your apple pies, use that.

Peel, core and chop apples into small chunks. Combine all ingredients in a pot and simmer for about 45 minutes, or until apples are soft and cooked.  I like super small chunks in my apple pie bars so I go through and use a dough cutter to help break them up even further.  I also like doing this step the night before.  It makes putting it all together tomorrow really easy and then I get to multitask and smell that delicious apple pie smell in my house while I’m working!

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Ingredients for Shortbread:
3/4 cup butter (1 1/2 sticks)
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/3 cups flour

Ingredients for Crumb Topping:
1/4 cup butter (1/2 stick)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup flour

First preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Put all the ingredients for your shortbread crust in a medium sized bowl.  Use your dough cutter to mix and blend the ingredients.

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Once you start seeing pea sized chunks of butter, I get right in there and mix with my hands to make sure everything is truly blended.

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Press your dough into the bottom of a 9×9 pan.

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No need to grease; there is plenty of butter in the shortbread already.  Take out your pre-made apple pie filling and pour that evenly over the shortbread.

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Using the same bowl you used for the dough (I like to save on dishes), mix the ingredients for the crumb topping with your dough cutter, but stop while you still have sizeable chunks of butter left.  Evenly sprinkle that on top of the filling.

Bake for 45 minutes at 350.  The filling should be bubbling around the edges when you do. Let cool completely before cutting, and better yet, let it sit in the refrigerator for a few hours before cutting.  It slices cleaner and sets up better.  Cut into 9 squares to remove it from the pan, then I cut each square into quarters.  You may think they look small, but these babies pack quite a punch.  Those bite sized squares are the perfect size to pick up, and go a long way at a party.  And you can then have two or three of them.  Or three or four.  Or six.  I’m not here to judge. 🙂

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Everyone has loved these so much that I’m looking to get them in a few places around the neighborhood, so if you aren’t a baker or just don’t feel like making them, you can still get a taste of the season!  And as always, I love seeing photos and hearing stories of how your baking adventures went.  Tag me on Twitter, Insta or Facebook of your pics!  Happy baking!!

My Favorite Vanilla Cupcakes Recipe

When I was growing up, my mother would bake all the time. I mean, all the time.  That’s how our Famous Heitmann Cookies got to be so famous.  They went everywhere with us, to every function.  And if they didn’t, well…there was some hell raised, or at least a half-joking-but-not-really comment like, “What, no cookies this time??  Come to find out, my mother bakes as a form of stress relief.  That is how she unwinds after a long and stressful day.  Is it a coincidence that I recall a big spike in cookie making around my adolescent years?  I think not.

For me, baking has always been a fun thing to do, although not necessarily a stress reliever.  The dishes, the clean up, the having to have self control to not eat everything… you know how it goes.  But yesterday, I finally got how my mother feels about baking being stress relief.  I had just come from the post office in an attempt to retrieve some packages that I’d been waiting on.  I’d elaborate, but I’m sure I need to say no more – you’ve all been to the post office before.  When I got back home, the only thought in my head was “MAKE VANILLA CUPCAKES”.  So like any Single Girl that has her priorities straight, I made myself a nice ice cream sandwich, ate that, then got down to business. 🙂

A week or so ago, I posted a many-tweets-long recipe for vanilla cupcakes which is my go to recipe.  Along with that tweet, I promised to publish a blog post with the recipe in a concise format, not spread throughout 6 or 7 tweets, haha.  I love a good, rich vanilla anything – ice cream, cupcake, pastry, etc.  Vanilla often gets a bad rap for being bland, but before that, we had practically nothing!  Vanilla was an exotic spice at one time, and was used not only for food consumption, but also as a beauty product.  Women used to dab a bit of vanilla behind their ears when perfume was too expensive.

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I found the base to this recipe on allrecipes.com and like I do with everything, I tweaked it a bit.  This recipe is the one I go to for making my cakes.  It s perfect on its own, does well with fun additions like fruit, sprinkles, or whatever else comes to mind.  It’s also SO super easy, and just as easy as making a box cake, yet a thousand times better.  Enjoy, happy baking!

Single Girl’s Go-To Vanilla Cake Recipe

1/2 cup butter (one stick)

1 cup sugar

2 large eggs

2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups flour

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 cup whole milk/half and half/heavy cream

Mix the first four ingredients together, adding one at a time.  Because I’m a time saver (read: lazy and don’t want to wash extra dishes; but then again, I am saving water by not adding more dishes, so I’m also a doing good things for the planet!  Go me!) I don’t bother with mixing my dry ingredients in a separate bowl, especially when there are only two.  For this I put both of them on top of what’s already in the bowl, then I make sure I mix really well.  Now, for the last ingredient, I like to se whatever is richest on hand.  Today it was half a half.  I’ve used heavy cream (my favorite) and whole milk (also very good).  Mix that in, pour into 12 cupcake liners and bake at 325 for 15-20 minutes.  You can also use a 9 inch round pan and bake at 325 for about 25 minutes.  Ovens are so tricky, so it’s best to keep an eye on it and test when you think it may be done.  Your tester or knife should come out mostly clean when checking in the middle.

Let them cool and frost!  I like to use my buttercream on these, and the recipe is below.  This is a good thing to whip up while the cupcakes are cooling after you’ve done all your dishes.

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Vanilla Buttercream

Half stick of butter (softened)

1 lb bag of confectioners sugar

3 or 4 teaspoons of vanilla (to taste)  I like mine strong

Sometimes I add a little bit of water to get things going when mixing.  Mix ingredients together and hope you don’t make too big of a mess!

And of course the last step is to share with friends and enjoy!  So easy, right?  Shoot me a message one any one of my social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) – I’d love to see photos of your finished creations and hear how your baking experiences went!

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Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

We are in the throes of lazy summer. You feel it, I know you do.  It’s that odd blend of New York feels at this point – it’s August and we’re all hot as hell, but starting to feel that bite in the air telling us that fall is right around the corner.  We say things like, “There’s still almost a month until Labor Day!” and rush around to try to cram as much summer in as we can.  But on those days off, I feel like just being lazy in my air conditioned apartment instead of being ambitious and going to the beach.  And because it’s August, most days I literally do not know what day it is.  Given a moment of thought, I can usually come up with the day, but date?  Forget about it.

What I can tell you is I’ve had a few really awesome days that my brain lumps together as one moment in time experience, starting with my cookie drop on Thursday.  I finally, FINALLY made it to Advanced Radiological Imaging on Astoria Blvd and 30th Street.  I thought they closed at 5, but when I got there at 4:55, there was a waiting room full of people, one person at the window, me, then another woman walked in with her (assumed) son right after me to check in.  So I’m waiting there for the person n front of me to finish up and just as she does and I get to the window, something inside me compels me to say “Uh, you know what?  I”m going to let this woman behind me go first.  She’s clearly a patient and I’m going to take a moment, so…” and let this other woman and her son (let’s just assume it’s her son and go with that) step up to the window.

Have you ever been in a situation where as it’s happening, you are a little incredulous and think, how this would’ve been different if I didn’t just make that choice?  Sure, we’ve all been there.  Well, i watched this and thought, “Good thing I let her go first.  This poor guy’s gonna need a cookie after she gets done.” This woman proceeded to step up to the window and give this guy the biggest Attitude, and I mean attitude with a capital ‘A’.  First off, she assumed the little information she gave him was enough to find her.  He asked for the proper paperwork and she balked.  He finally found her in their system and she said, “See, you had it there, you just had to look for it.”  Strike one.  Really strike two because she approached him with an attitude.

So the kind gentleman at the window proceeds to type at his keyboard and try to get her and her son registered when he asks, “Do you speak Spanish?”  Now, to be fair to him, this woman had an discernible accent and could have been from a number of backgrounds.  It was also in a part of the neighborhood that I know has a high Hispanic population, and maybe based on her name?  I don’t know, but given that there is a high percentage of New Yorkers that speak Spanish as their first language, or are fluent in both Spanish and English, I thought it was a fair question.  And having been on the customer service on of things before, I would bet my life his question was asked in an attempt to make her experience easier and more pleasant.  She clearly did not think so.

Upon hearing those ‘oh-so-foul’ words, she recoiled and said, “What is it your business is I speak Spanish??  I don’t speak Spanish!!  It’s none of your business!  What does it matter!  I don’t speak Spanish!!  That’s none of your business!”  As my eyes darted around the room, I could tell I was not the only one there that thought, 1. This reaction was a bit much, and 2. Whoa.  Crazy Lady.

Strike Three.

She and her son step away to fill out whatever paperwork in needed and I step up to the window, cookies in hand, big smile on my face, and eyes wide from what I’ve just seen.  “Hi!” I said, “I think I’ve come at just the right time.  I’m here to deliver these cookies to you!”  And so I began making a connection.

Being that it is a medical office afterall, I didn’t want to take too much of anyone’s time, but didn’t want to drop and dash.  I found out the kind man’s name is Eddie and we had a novel’s length conversation with just our eyes about what just went down.  I gave him my spiel, the other ladies behind the window seemed pretty excited about the cookies, and I left feeling like some actual good had been done.

As I made my way to the N train, the full weight of what just happened hit me.  I had just witnessed karma in all her glory work right in front of my eyes, and instantaneously.  What had prompted me to let that nasty woman go ahead of me?  And I’m pretty sure I truly made Eddie’s day because I was there with a plate of cookies after he was berated, restoring his faith in the kindness of fellow human beings.  He had done the right thing, was kind to her, and did his job well, and was, in a way, rewarded with cookies.  And as quickly as I had that previous thought, I thought, “Holy shit.  Karma can just as easily go the other way.”  I think I experience a lot of goodness in my life because I do good.  Not to say that bad things don’t still happen, and believe me, they do.  But I truly believe good things happen to good people.

I have to tell you, the rest of my interactions with people in the customer service side of things that day were stellar.  I mean, above and beyond amazing.  I think people can read and feel my positive energy and react positively to it.  You may think I’m nuts, but try it for a day.  i dare you.  You will be rewarded in ways you never imagined.

Does anybody really know what time it is?  Does it really matter?  As long as you are doing the right thing, making the good choices, and living your life as best you can, I don’t think it does.  For now, I’m continuing to move forward, taking it one day at a time, and in my immediate future, that means finding out where Advanced Radiological Imaging will send me.  Stay tuned…

Come Together

If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen me give my roommate a shoutout or two.  She pretty great as a person, as a friend, and as a roommate.  With the exception of one, I’ve been extremely fortunate in the roommate department in my lifetime, and in NYC, that stuff matters.  Chances are, you share a smaller-than-the-average-American living space, kitchen, bathroom, and sometimes (thank GOD this is not me) even a bedroom.  You can escape the world (or your roommate) by closing your bedroom door, but who really wants to live within four walls?

I’m one of the lucky ones that doesn’t have to do that. My roommate and I talk, actually miss each other when one or the other goes out of town, and she has been an extraordinary supporter and helper of the Single Girl Cookies cause.  I love this girl!

We were talking the other day and as conversations do, one thing led to another, and she had the brilliant idea of doing a cookie  of the month club! (credit where credit is due)  The more we talked about it, the more excited I got at thinking of how awesome something like this could be.  It’d be a great way to further connect everyone in the community, we could all meet up once a month at a local coffee shop like Astoria Coffee, have some coffee, try something new and take home some cookies!  Wanna join the Single Girl Cookies Cookie of the Month Club?  Here’s how! (and some more details :))

Every first Sunday of the month, come and meet me (and my cookies) at the pre-designated coffee spot.  For $10 a month, you get a half dozen cookies on a real plate that you can add to your collection, or bring back next month for a refill.  Each month I’ll bake a different kind of cookie, and you only pay if you’re participating that month.  That way, if I announce I’ll be making oatmeal raisin next month and you hate that kind, come on down for the community, but pass on the cookies 🙂  Hopefully, I’ll be making something you like the next month, and you can come back and join us on the confectionery journey!

In order to have your plate ready for pick up that Sunday, I need an email request to singlegirlcookies@gmail.com by 9pm the Friday night before, and how many (half dozen/full dozen).  The first Sunday of the Single Girl Cookies Cookie of the Month Club will be this February 1st at 3pm.  I know what you must be thinking “That’s Superbowl Sunday!”, and indeed it is!  As a grand kick off, I will be holding a Superbowl/Single Girl Cookies Special of a dozen of my signature chocolate chip cookies for $15.  You can spend $15 on a crappy 6 pack and chips, or you can be the hero of your Superbowl party and bring delicious, homemade chocolate chip cookies.  Be the hero, spread the kindness of cookies 🙂

That’s about it!  I look forward to checking my inbox and I’m super excited to start meeting all of you face to face!

Bella Notte

Pizza. It’s such a “New York” thing, am I right? Not that pizza belongs to New York; it’s clearly everywhere you go. Even when I was visiting Brazil some years ago, the pizza there was incredible. Maybe the real root of all of this is that I love pizza. There, I said it. I LOVE PIZZA. I would eat it every time I wanted it if I didn’t also love being a functioning human being. Because if I ate pizza every time I wanted to, let me tell you what would happen: I would gain 50 pounds, never leave my couch (except to grab a few slices) and become a fixture in my living room instead of a functioning human being. Nobody wants that, least of all me.

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You can imagine my excitement when I learned that I was to visit Milkflower as next on my chain of kindness.  I’d heard such good things about these guys and was really excited to try them out.  I swung by one Thursday on my way to rehearsal and met Steven, a gentlemanly ginger who greeted me as I gave him the lowdown.  He seemed genuinely surprised and thankful for what I’m sure was an unexpected treat of a plateful of cookies.  I told him I’d be back for the plate in a few days and went on my merry way.

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I came back, practically salivating and ready to try their pizza.  I’d had recommendations from friends of which pizza to try (the one with Brussels sprouts), but I had a craving with a more classic flavor, so I went with the spicy sopressata with tomato sauce, fresh mozz, fresh basil and honey drizzle.

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OH.   MY.  GOD.

This pizza is easily in the top 5 of all pizzas I’ve had, including the ridiculously good pizza I had in Brazil (they seem to take what we do and make everything better – try the X Tudo at Pao de Queijo).  This pie came as a 6 slice, 14 (?) inch pie that should’ve been shared.  It was so good that I ate three slices while physically there, then ate the remaining three that I took home with me later that night.  Yep, that day, I ate A WHOLE PIZZA.   (it was worth it.)

Beyond the pizza, my experience with the gentlemen of Milkflower was a memorable one, as they are open, friendly, and charming men.  I chatted with Peter, one of the two owners, about the road that led he and his brother Danny, one of the other owners, to owning a pizza shop on Astoria.

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Both born and raised in NJ, Danny has been making pizzas in his uncle’s pizza shop since he was a teen, while Peter had a career in finance before opening up Milkflower.  Both of them had talked about one day opening up a pizza place, then saw that this space opened up.  It wasn’t something either of them were planning on when it happened, but they took the moment and ran with it.

And I’m glad they did! I’ve thought about that pizza many a time and finally went back to get another.  My only issue with going there or getting take out is that I know, without a doubt, that I will eat the whole pizza, by myself, in 6 hours tops.  It’s that good.  I just need to prepare myself and know going in that I’m going to eat an entire pizza, and not feel guilty when I actually do 🙂

We’re on Each Other’s Team

So last night at the Vespa Queens Grand Opening Party, I was having a chat with the lovely Matt of Snowdonia, Vespa Queens, and all around Astoria. He asked me if I had posted my Snowdonia post yet and he had missed it or what, bringing to light how much I have not blogged in the last month.  I sheepishly said, “No, you didn’t miss it, I haven’t posted it yet.  I know, I know, I’m way behind.”, to which he replied (like the polite gentleman he is) “Oh, no, no pressure, just wasn’t sure if I missed it or not!”.  I told him not to feel bad, I needed that pressure to get started on this Mt. Rushmore sized task.  Like when your laundry piles up and the only thing that motivates you to do it is when you run out of underwear, or when you finally get around to writing that paper because you realize that if you don’t, you’ll fail  that very important class.  In this case, nobody’s failing anything, and we’re all good in the underwear situation, so that’s a start 🙂

I believe when we left off, I was going to tell you about my excellent trip to Crescent Grill for my plate, and a special delivery of more cookies.  When I first came in, Ryan had told me about a duck confit and pappardelle dish that I just had to try, so on my return trip, I saddled up to the bar, ordered a drink, and prepared myself to be wowed.  I was not disappointed.

I forget exactly what I had to drink, but I believe it was a cocktail from their cocktail menu, a house drink, I think.  I do remember it being delicious.

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My entree came, and was also delicious to match.

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Ryan came over and offered me some bread, which ended up being this basket of amazing biscuits accompanied by butter drizzled with honey.  I had a friend (or a guy that I think I was dating at the time?  I can’t be sure.  Oh, labels!) that was meeting me at Crescent Grill for a drink, but by the time he got there, I had had a few conversational exchanges with my fellow bar companion, Jerry.

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Over the course of the next hour, my drinks date and I got to know Jerry quite well!  We learned that he was in a managerial position at Tom Cat Bakery, lives in New Jersey, loves his wife, comes into town every few weeks to oversee some things, and was staying around the area and had happened upon Crescent Grill.  I told him about SGC, he ate a cookie, and seemed to like it!  I told him some stories about all the crazy people I’ve met along this journey so far, and the conversation was flowing so much at one point that he interrupted a convo I was having with Drinks Date to make a jokey reference about a story I had told!  I loved it.

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My entire experience at Crescent Grill was one I can’t wait to repeat again and again.  The food was delicious, the service was excellent, and the people were warm and welcoming.  Also, I can’t leave out how beautiful the space is as well.

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I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned that it’s also an art gallery of sorts, and the pieces I’ve seen hanging there are pretty great.

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All and all, this was definitely an A++ drop spot.

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I asked Ryan at Crescent Grill for my recommendation and he told me to go to Baroness Bar just down the street.  That’s that new(ish) wine bar where they open bottles of champagne with sabers.  Yes, you read that right.  🙂  My drop and pick up there were pretty uneventful; I got a chance to briefly meet Melinda, one of the owners, while dropping off and she seemed friendly.  I didn’t have a chance to sit down and enjoy a glass of wine while picking up, that was a pretty crazy week for me, but hopefully one day soon!  Maybe I’ll even spring for a special bottle of champagne.  I did learn that I was to visit neighborhood hot spot, Snowdonia, next.

Now, I’m no stranger to Snowdonia.  I first stopped by to check it out with an impromptu meeting of my friend Alex of Cocktail Crate as he was having dinner with a long lost friend of mine from college, Emily, who founded the Astoria Whiskey Society. I hadn’t seen her since college, and didn’t even know she lived in Astoria until I checked out the AWS website as an interested party (I really like dark liquors) and saw her familiar face, as well as others!  Turns out Westminster Choir College has quite a representation in our great neighborhood.  Adam, another college acquaintance and friend of Emily’s, is the artistic director of the Astoria Symphonic Choir, which I’d like to sing with one day if I ever get the time!

I’m also friends with Dennis and Liz of Astoria Coffee, the coffee that Snowdonia serves with brunch (good stuff, can’t wait for their shop to open!!) and had brunch there some months ago with those two and Dennis from DHAP before our podcast.  While we were there, I put out a plate of cookies with a sign that said “free”, and happened to run into Bradley Hawkes, who then wrote a really great article of me that was in BORO!  Neither of those last two things are related to each other, just giving context 🙂

Needless to say, I was excited to drop off some cookies to the good folks of Snowdonia and was greeted with a “Hey, it’s the cookie lady!”  when I walked in.  I love it when that happens.  I got to meet the aforementioned Matt, who is the final nudge in making this happen, another owner, and a gentleman whose name I have no idea how to spell, so I’m not going to try, but it starts with a J.  Let’s call him J!  Anyway, they were all very receptive of me and my cookies when I came in, and  couldn’t wait to come back for their Game of Thrones live viewing night for my plate pick up and a GoT Ommegang beer.

I wasn’t able to enjoy either of those things when I went to pick up because I had a two day migraine and didn’t think drinking or being around loud GoT noises was a good idea.  I’d never had a migraine until my concussion from the car accident, but I guess I’ve got’em now!  Not my happiest moment, and I’m still itching to get back there; it’s been too long since my last visit.  Maybe I’ll make to their Monday brunch, which, btdubs, is the best idea EVER.  On Monday they do a service industry brunch so those that sling of our food and drinks all weekend have a chance to relax and enjoy being on the other side of the table for once.  As a former server at the worst place ever, I can tell you how much I appreciate this idea.  Plus, my weekends are spent singing and teaching voice lessons, so, it’s my brunch too!

And as if all that awesomeness weren’t enough, the people at Snowdonia are just great as well.  The thing I love most about the whole process of Single Girl is, hands down, the recommendation process.  I now know that Matt is both part of Snowdonia, Vespa Queens, and some other Astoria entities.  Tom, owner at Snowdonia, is also a involved with Vespa Queens.  Yesterday at the VQ‘s Grand Opening Party (check their FB for a pic of me on a Vespa and the goodies I brought!), I started chatting with a gentleman who turned out to be Damian of VQ’s roommate.  Then he introduced me to “Willie and John”, who, unbeknownst to me at the time, are the heart and soul of Mundo!  I actually ran into them again today at the brand new Astoria Flea and Food, hugged them and thanked them for bringing Mundo back.  Do you see where this is going?  This crazy red thread that connects us all really does connect us all.  Not only that, but it retraces and intertwines in ways I’d never dreamed.

Jane Goodall is quoted as saying “You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you.  What you do make a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.”  The truth in those words is undeniable.  Most of us think about “making a difference” to mean some grand gesture that betters the world.  I think that’s pretty daunting.  If that’s what I thought making a difference was, I wouldn’t get out of bed in the morning.  But the truth is, each of our actions puts something in motion in the environment around of.  Even the tiniest one. Now, I don’t know about a butterfly causing a tsunami, but I’ll tell ya, when I smile and say ‘hello’ to someone, I feel good.  I’m guessing they do too, and that’s a start.

Life is a Highway

If I had to make a gross generalization, I’d say that 65% of the posts in my Facebook newsfeed in the last few weeks have been about the weather.  And over the last two days, I’d say that number shot to 113%, mainly because many of my friends reside in Upstate NY, Jersey, or Pennsylvania – all the places that got a dusting of snow this weekend.  Most of them were pictures of someone’s back or front yard with a caption like, “Wtf, Mother Nature!” or “Uhh….what??  It’s supposed to be spring!”.  I, thankfully, did not wake up to any snow this weekend where I was, but I feel your pain.  I’m going to have to say it – who else is tired of this bullshit winter weather??  I think it’s made many of us a touch crankier than we usually might be, and a little less willing to give an inch, let alone a mile.

I think that’s how I came to be at Vespa Queens for a cookie drop, at least that’s the story I tell myself so I can believe that there aren’t truly nasty people that are like that just for the sake of being nasty.  Some weeks back, I was supposed to make a drop at Grand Bazaar, a lovely Turkish shop on Steinway that I have been to a number of times and really enjoyed the things there.  You can imagine how excited I was to “patronize the business” – one of the other things I do at drops.  I find it helps me open up to trying and buying new things, helps keep money in the local community and feeds small business, and let’s face it, I love an excuse to shop.  So one day, I came jaunting in with my cookies, like I do, and without getting into too many details, both of us (me and my cookies) were rudely refused.  After I got over my shock (nobody in the year I’d been doing has flat out refused my cookies), my next thought was “Uh………how am I going to know where to go next week??!?”

You know I don’t choose any of the places I visit, the current, weekly business/place that got cookies that week does.  But without a “current business”, what’s a Single Girl to do?  Even with that rule in place, it doesn’t stop people from giving me hundreds of recommendations of places they think would appreciate some cookies.  And while I’d love to visit ever place that y’all think are great and deliver some homemade kindness to them, that would be totally insane.  I would be busy making so many cookies that I couldn’t go to work, and without a job, I wouldn’t have any money to pay rent, and without money to pay rent, I’d be homeless, and if I’m homeless, I couldn’t make any more cookies!  You don’t want that to happen, right?  Hint: you don’t, because I’d be your newest couch guest 🙂

In true generational form, I decided to take to the World Wide Web to make my decision for me.   I figured, you guys have been telling me for a year where you think I should go, here’s your chance.  I polled Twitter and Facebook and the Astoria place with the most votes would be where I started this new thread of recommendations.  Honorable mentioned go to Astoria Bookshop and Petals and Roots, but the ultimate winner was Vespa Queens.

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After all the tweeting that was done to find the winner, the folks at Vespa Queens knew I was coming in with the goods, and I was greeted with a warm, “The cookie lady is here!” when I walked into the showroom.  Which is gorgeous, btdubs.  It’s a longish room, painted a nice calming gray, beautiful, vivid photos line the walls above the Vespas, also lined up along each side.  There are also some vintage-y poster type pictures that hang on one wall that depict a blonde on one of these sleek machines.  I’d buy a bike in a heartbeat if I could.

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Turns out the woman that greeted me was Stella, a very friendly, nice, warm and awesome staff member.  Damian, the owner, came in from the service side when he heard I was here.  I felt like we all already kinda knew each other, both because of all the tweeting that had been done, but they both were so open and just awesome people.  They totally get/got what I’m doing, which always makes things a little easier on my end.  As we were chatting, I noticed a small room at the back that had a bunch of helmets and whatnot, so I poked my head in to see what other kind of accoutrement there was.  I saw some logo sweatshirts and thought. “Yay!  I can’t buy a Vespa, but I can certainly buy a sweatshirt, that’ll be my way to patronize the business!”  I happened to say, “Oh, I love logo apparel”, because I do, and Damian hopped right in front of me and handed me one and said, “Here ya go!  Take it!  It’s the least we could do!” I tried to refuse, but Stella helped me sort through the piles to find a good color and size.  Which is kinda funny because there were only size L and up 🙂 I took home a very comfy large, gray zip up that has become a favorite of mine in the few weeks I’ve had it.

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My return visit to pick up my plate was no different.  I got the opportunity to chat with both Damian and Stella a bit more and found out just what Vespa Queens is all about.  Turns out Damian is actually a fashion photographer, and quite a good one. (I googled him, you should too)  to my way of thinking, being a photographer and Vespa shop owner are two very different things, so I asked him how did he get into being the new owner of Vespa Queens.  He said he had a bike, loved it, and had been financially successful as a photographer and was looking for an investment opportunity.  It now makes sense as to how aesthetically pleasing the showroom is.  Stella is equally as awesome, having worked there before Damian was there, and originally from Portland.  She’s super knowledgeable about the product, and ready to answer any questions you may have.

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I know they’ve got plans to put in a small coffee bar in the back area where people will be able to come and relax, or have an espresso while they wait for their bike to be serviced, but for now, it’s worth swinging by to take a look and meet some really cool people.

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I asked for their official recommendation (even though they already told me when I first dropped off the cookies) and as you know, they sent me to Crescent Grill just down the street, where they got the art that graces their walls.  I’ll tell you about THAT later this week 🙂 For now, enjoy the warming weather.  It might not be on a long, open stretch of road on a beautiful Vespa, but at least crack the windows a bit.  And I’ll look forward to tell you more about how awesome they are after their grand opening party in May.  I think I see some Vespa shaped cookies in their future….

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As an unrelated thought, I wanted to share this with you.  Best life advice I’ve heard lately came from a babysitting charge that I spent yesterday evening with.  He is 6 years old, and his dad is an artist.  We were both drawing (I am a terrible artist) and I said “I find drawing a little scary.  He asked me why, and I told him it was because I was never sure what to draw, and once you started, if you don’t like it, you can’t always fix it, but have to erase it and start again but that you’d still be able to see the lines and it just wouldn’t be any good.  And he replied with the assuredness and certainty that can only come from a 6 year old, “That’s ok, if you don’t like it, you can always paint over it.”  And that struck me.  Isn’t that just a great metaphor for living life?  There are options if you don’t like something, or are less than satisfied – you can start over, paint over it, but ultimately you are the creator and you are the master.  Nothing is set in stone unless you make it so.

So what are you waiting for?  Get creating.

New York, New York

“If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere!!!” As you may know, I’ve started a Single Girl Cookies Manhattan Edition! It’s an idea I’d been toying with for months and tried to start a few times but got derailed by life circumstances. I was able to finally make my first, official delivery a few weeks ago to the incredible folks at Turtle Bay Music School (where I teach private voice lessons) and have been to a few more places I’d like to tell you about!

Much like the start of Single Girl, I was pretty excited to make my first Manhattan drop, even if nobody else knew about it 🙂 The Turtles (as they are called) are pretty used to me bringing in random goodies at any point in the year; mini pink cakes for Valentine’s Day, pumpkin cupcakes in the fall, even my very first vegan cookie! So when I came in with my vanilla lavender topped cupcakes, nobody thought anything of it. Perfect for a confectionary ambush.

I came in the office and happened upon Julie, Executive Director, and Katie, Director of Community Development, having a meeting/chat. I said, “Hey guys! I’ve got some goodies for you! This is my first official Manhattan drop!” and they said, “Wait – what? We’re like, a Single Girl Cookies drop??” Yay! Just the reaction I had hoped for. You see, these kind, nurturing and caring folks (I will never stop dropping positive adjectives about this place or these people. Get used to it.) have seen the entire journey of Single Girl Cookies, and in a very real sense, the entire journey of the person I am today. Let me explain.

One day in the summer of 2011, I was walking around the Turtle Bay area where I had spent almost every day for that last year. At that point in my NYC journey, I was walking dogs and most of the clients’ homes were along 2nd Avenue, from 87th to 42nd. The pay wasn’t great, I worked rain or shine (including those 115 degree days that summer saw) but my schedule had flexibility and I was getting a lot of exercise by walking up to 5 miles a day (and still going to the gym). And I love dogs sometimes more than some people I meet 🙂 This one day, I had a break in my schedule and was enjoying walking up and down the blocks I hadn’t seen before. I turned onto 52nd Street and saw TBMS’s green sign that to me, looked like a beacon of hope. After walking dogs for a year and seriously struggling, I wasn’t sure I could take much more. I walked into the an open and airy waiting room and asked the young man if they were perhaps hiring voice teachers that summer. He came back with a serene, soft spoken young woman who asked if I was looking only for the summer or interested for the fall as well, and did I have a resume? I lied and said I was running errands (I was too embarrassed to admit my sweaty mug was due to catering to dogs with allowances bigger than my monthly intake) and didn’t have one on me, but that I would email her one as soon as I got home. That was a Tuesday. By Friday I had an interview for that next Monday and was offered the job the next day to start in the fall. One week. In one week, my life had a completely new direction. Soon there after, I landed my church job as a soprano section leader for Christ Church in Manhasset, also to start in the fall.

The fall of 2012 rolled in and swept the summer out – and my relationship went with it, leaving me to find a new apartment to accompany my new jobs. So when I say I had a completely new life, I wasn’t kidding! Through this entire process, Turtle Bay was a refuge for me, a place where I was known only as myself, and not as somebody’s girlfriend. I was judged on my merits, and the teacher and artist I was, and am. And every time I went there, I left feeling renewed and blanketed with good vibes. Those good vibes got me through some rough months following the break up as I settled into my new life. So, when I decided to start a Manhattan edition of Single Girl Cookies, they were an easy choice for where to start.

The lovely folks at TBMS have tasted almost every baked good treat I’ve made over the last two years. If I wanted to experiment or create something, they were my inevitable guinea pigs – not that they minded 🙂 Instead of my signature Heitmann cookies, I brought them giant vanilla cupcakes to herald in this new start.

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When the day came for my to get my recommendation, I poked my head in Julie’s office and asked her. She paused and said, “Do you think we could have a few more days? We want to make sure it goes to the right place.” And that is probably the best compliment I could get. They know the scope of this project, and the importance to me so much that they want to be certain.

When they were, they sent me to Visions at Selis Manor, Services for the Blind and Visually Impaired on 23rd Street. Turtle Bay partners with a few places to aid in community growth and outreach, and Visions is one of them. I’ve kinda chosen Tuesdays to be my Manhattan day, so one Tuesday last month, I made the trip down to 23rd Street.

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The sidewalk outside was very busy with lots of people coming and going, being helped in and out of the building, in and out of service buses, there seemed to be people everywhere. There were people milling about in the entrance way as well. I made my way down to the office to look for Ann Deshazo, Director of Visions, to drop off my cookies. As I waited, I couldn’t help but notice that the bustle didn’t stop at the sidewalk, or on the hallways. Ann came in, looking slightly confused as to why I’d be looking for her, but I mentioned that in addition to what the cookie thing is, I teach at TBMS. She seemed to “get it”, and I was on my way.

When I came back to get my plate, it was the same story. Busy, bustle, slight chaos. I asked for Ann again for my plate and the recommendation. A gentleman helped me by finding my plate and thought that was all I had come for. Now, this is where I start to feel bad when I revisit places. Many people and business are busy and I hate being in the way, or a bother. But, it is part of the process (yes, I know, one that I created) and everyone so far has humored me in recommending another place! Ann said I should next visit SAGE, an LGBT senior center, and told me that they do a lot of great work and are very deserving. I’ll tell you more about that in my next post, and I’ll tell you she was right.

Back at school, I was chatting with Julie and Katie again and mentioned that Visions sent me to SAGE, and how great they were there. Julie exclaimed, “Oh! We’re newly partnered with them too!” I said they’ll love working with them too. Then Julie asked me how the drop at Visions went, she’d been meaning to find out. I said, “You know, they were very nice, but I got the feeling that they were a really busy place and I kinda felt like I was in the way. I would never want to interrupt their operation or anything but I did feel a little awkward, like I was bothering them.” Julie then tells me that the day I came to drop off cookies, they had a fire in the building! What??? If I were Ann, I’d surely be feeling a little frantic too! Just another reinforcement to treat others with kindness and give people the benefit of the doubt. You never know if they’ve just had a fire in their workplace!

So far, my journey in Manhattan has been an exciting one. Every time I’ve tried to do this, I seem to have been derailed by life and when I official started this and was able to make a drop in Manhattan, I questioned if it was the right move; if life keep putting up road blocks, is it the path I should be going down? Ultimately, I feel that if I can reach one or two more people, then it’s the right thing and I need to be doing it. And I do mean ‘need’. At this point in Single Girl Cookies’ development (and my own), I find it keeps me on the path of kindness and being the best person I can be. And you know what? The goodness keeps coming back to me. It’s like that lyric from John Mayer’s song Wheel:

I believe
that my life’s gonna see
the love I give, return to me.

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