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?

 

Advertisements

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.

DSC_0854

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.

DSC_0858

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.

DSC_0859

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.

DSC_0861

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.

DSC_0775

My entree came, and was also delicious to match.

DSC_0774

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.

DSC_0778

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.

DSC_0776

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.

DSC_0782

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.

DSC_0780

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

DSC_0779

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.

IMG_6345

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.

IMG_6346

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.

IMG_6288

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.

IMG_6344

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.

IMG_6347

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….

IMG_6301

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.

Shiny Happy People

It’s official – I’m crowning January as The Tightest Month.  My pants are tight, money’s tight – even my apartment feels tight.  That last one is something that happens after I spend a lot of time at home.  In a real house.  With real amounts of space.  Like the rest of American that doesn’t live in a crowded city like NYC.  I didn’t even bring back tons of stuff like I usually do!  I swear….

And speaking of Christmas presents, one of the wonderful gifts I received was a plane ticket to Nashville!  So in a few weeks, I will be boarding a plane and headed down to hang in Music City!  I’ve wanted to visit Nashville for years now; thought I was going to make it last year, but life happened and then the trip didn’t.  I’ll be down there for a whole week, which means I’ll be doing a cookie drop (or two) while I’m there – and I need your help!  Remember how I did Single Girl Cookies: Hometown Edition when I was in Penn Yan for August and I took a poll asking where I should go for my first drop?  I’ll need your help with this one too!   I Facebooked and tweeted about it and got back a few responses.  Right now Ryman Auditorium has the most votes, including one stipulation where I’m to make a recording while I’m there 🙂  I’ve looked into that and think I will do that anyway!  I’ve actually always wanted to sing Jeff Buckley’s Lilac Wine…maybe this is my chance?  If you know of a place in Nashville that deserves cookies, let me know!  I’m also taking recommendations of places I should visit and things I should see – help plan my trip!

While I’m looking forward to my trip, I’ve still got business to do here in Astoria!  Last week I made my first cookie drop of 2014 at Designer Optical on Steinway. For those of you familiar with the neighborhood, this is the eyeglasses store on the northern part of the Steinway block between 31st and 30th with the Blues Brothers in the window. Now you know which store I’m talking about.

photo (34)

I came in with my plate of cookies and was greeted by a woman named Tatiana.  As I stood there giving her my speech, I noticed that everyone that came in was greeted by name by the other woman working there, Melissa.  I thought, “This is a place I can get behind!” if they know everyone that comes in here.  I left with a feeling of friendly neighborhoodliness (yep, my first official made up word of the year) and went about my week.

IMG_5579

I came back on Monday (they aren’t open on Sundays) and met the same two ladies.  They said my cookies were ‘really delicious’ and gave me back my plate.  You may recall I was in a motor vehicle accident last month, and as a result, I’ve been experiencing some vision problems in my right eye.  I figured while I was in there, and had waited for other real customers to be finished, I may as well try on some glasses if I had the need for some in the near future!  Spoiler alert: the blurriness I’m experiencing is NOT correctable with lenses, I will NOT get to get cute new glasses, and we STILL have no diagnoses on why my eye sucks.  That didn’t diminish the fun I had trying on lots of frames!

IMG_5582

They have a huge selection and Tatiana really knows what she’s doing.  She picked out the perfect pair of beautiful Fendi frames that would look so good if I really ever need glasses, and they will be the first place I go.  And this week, tomorrow, really, I will be heading to Rosana’s Salon on Steinway between 30th and 28th Aves.  Perhaps a manicure will lift and loosen my spirits 🙂

I realize I might not be the only one experiencing this slump, be it from a holiday high, or feeling the affect of the winter weather.  When I feel this way, I have a couple of songs that lift my spirits no matter what kind of mood I’m in.  Try this one on for size.  It makes me smile to myself on the subway, grin like a fool as I walk down the street and put that spring in my step that I’ve been missing.  Welcome to 2014 everyone, we’ve got a great year ahead.