The exotic journey of the heart

These first golden weeks of the new year always uplift my spirit. I hope they’ve done the same for you. There’s nothing quite like the promise of a new year to tune into dreams and passions.

It’s been over a year and a half since I sold most of my stuff, stored the rest and went out into the world to discover the Lord’s will for my life. And I have a decision to make. End my walk in the world, or keep going?

This is one of the most unique and intimate moments in all of my travels.

It happened early one morning in September on the day I was going to return to São Paulo. So there was a specialness about it. A knowing. This was my last time to feel the energy of the cataratas (waterfalls). Oddly, I got the feeling that this wouldn’t be my last visit.

When I stepped out for my early morning walk to the cataratas, I had no idea I’d be the only one on the path.

The park wouldn’t be open to the public for another hour. I was fortunate enough to be staying at a hotel within the park, just across the street from the waterfalls. This granted hotel guests special access. Access I didn’t take advantage of until the last day. Still, there was no other hotel guest around in this moment and that surprised me.

 

Dad went home to be with the Lord a few months before, and since that time I’d felt God with me more closely than ever. This was one of those moments. The hotel would be one of the first places I’d work remotely in order to conduct and write an interview for a new online magazine. Iguaçu Falls blessed me in so many ways.

I walked deep into the gorge and took a minute to survey the stunning view of the largest waterfall system in the world––so large it spans the watery borders of Brazil and Argentina. A happy accident led me there––my friend planned the trip. A total surprise.

When I arrived at Iguaçu, I recognized the falls from a photo Dad had taken and mounted on his study wall most of my life. I hadn’t planed to see this wonder. God did.

I remembered the eulogy I gave at Dad’s memorial service about how Dad chased waterfalls all over the world as a hydroelectric engineer. Harnessing their power. Speaking the international language of energy.

And in this, the last moments of saying goodbye to the waterfall, a massive rainbow arched over the entire sight. 

“Hi, Dad,” I said, hitting my knees after snapping the photo, in the shadow of such beauty.

The Lord whispered, “This is just the beginning.”

In the hundreds of people whose lives I’ve been blessed to be a part of this year, I have noticed the need for people to have courage, including myself. But what does that look like? It’s a little bit different for each of us. Sometime courage looks like––

the bravery to forgive, 

to not believe lies society or other people are wanting us to believe, 

overcoming a bully, 

or heartache, 

to find the power to forgive ourselves, 

to walk in grace,

to believe that God is good even in the midst of tragedy, 

to heal, 

to make that decision, 

to show others how to treat you, 

to fight for justice, 

to hand your heart to a friend to hold to because your heart is too heavy to remember your hopes and dreams,

to laugh 

All along the way, it has been no coincidence that my obstacles have been dis-couragement. It begins with little or big disappointments that can turn into discouragement if I am not careful, mindful. Please be careful with disappointment. Don’t let it derail you or your dreams.

Please.

The journey of the heart is perhaps the most exotic. It says in the Bible to guard our hearts. This, I believe is one of our most important tasks.

I have made so many mistakes along the way. Learning much about how I fall short and how not to let fear rule the day.

When discouragement knocks I remember the rainbow over Iguaçu. I remember what the Lord whispered.

And I believe. 

Most of what I’ve learned this year has to do with the brevity of life. Too brief to be discouraged.

Each day is a new day. My prayer for you is that you wake up each day and face it honestly, with an open, courageous heart.

I hope you enjoy this story I wrote about my friend and I at Iguaçu Falls, Brazil called Brazillian Bikinis and Mango Shrimp 

My Love Letter To Paris | Une lettre d’amour à Paris

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Dear Paris,

I dreamed of falling in love in your arms, among your rues and cafés.

In your cotton-candy sunsets the sky above The Seine blazed. A violet-blue blanket descended and your famous lights filled my soul––the flickering Eiffel Tower, Moulin Rouge’s flirty reds and the sacred aura of Sacre Coeur. But your lesser-known twinkles captivated me most.

Smiles of café owners and complete strangers who helped me find my way home very late one night. The kind words of Jacqué, the patisserie owner, who taught me new words in French every day––names of his delicacies. Electric blue eyes of Elisabeth, the sculptress, who encouraged my art and the idea of “why not,” bringing to life the trickiest form of sculpture––a woman, walking. And the soft surprise in a lady’s eyes when I took the time to ask her name. “Wisdom,” she said, before letting me know with a smile that it would be impossible to have my laundry done before the following week on Tuesday. I’d never met a woman named Wisdom before and instantly wondered why. Wisdom is always referred to as a woman in the Bible.

Up until living in the 18th Arrondissement, I had always imagined life among your great backdrop. I will never forget the day of your magnetic, electric, mysterious call. You had something to say. Something to show me. A point of view to share.

I came with a thirst to absorb your great art. I thought I’d understood you to say that you’d wanted me to write about it. But like all great loves you wished so much more for me than I could possibly understand. I began to open up to you completely.

I was vulnerable to being at home with you. And so you gave me one, then arranged for family and friends to visit. You showed me things I’d never seen before. You had patience with me, because you love me.

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“I am lying on the sofa after a simple dinner––some honey and oranges and wine and this feels incredible.”

This little piece I knew of you was the closest I’d had to home in a long time. I brought you flowers and put them in the window box. Instead of tossing the mostly dead geranium, I plucked her dead leaves and fed her water from my Finsterra shot glass. This made me incredibly happy.

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The flowers in the window box reminded me of the great works of art I’d seen at Museé de Orsay, works of Renoir and Jan Van Huysum. In the strokes of their petals I learned that every great artist has had doubts but great tenacity, vision, and ceaseless work always overcame them. Their passion-fueled spirt has given me courage.

Your spirit whispered to me that my readers want to discover and follow their dreams. You’ve embraced my failings and filled me with the desire to inspire and bring joy and hope to a world in pain. You encouraged me to learn to sculpt words and paint stories.

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You wrapped me in the love of my daughter. We filled the city with laughter. She called my journey ‘a great adventure.’ Your gentle reminder of what life is. My love, how many times will it take for me to truly believe? Forgive me.

“I lay in the home you made for me–so incredibly tired and overwhelmed. Tears roll. Doubts scream and all the while you tender-heartedly let them come and whisper, ‘onward, upward.’ I tell you I want to go home and you gently say I already am. There suddenly is an urgency to all that I want to create.”

Thank you for the holy dinner my daughter and I shared and our visit to crepe alley. For the sweet embrace you gave us both as we grieved together. Just when the overwhelm is too great you remind me to go big.

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On a Tuesday afternoon going big means walking into Elizabeth’s studio and saying “oui” when she asked if I’d like to start sculpting that day.

Trusting that I knew what to create in the clay, you opened a world I’d never known before. Showed me I could do with my hands what I hoped to do with my words. In Elisabeth’s studio, to the songs on French Radio we became lost in the pleasure of the clay––its coolness and smoothness. Knowing and not knowing what would materialize or how to massage emotion into the clay. Molding, forming and stretching, we transformed.

Did I ask too much of you, my love?

Some loves are magic. Their face lights up and their voice wraps a big bow around me and I am more in the world than I was before knowing them. You wrapped a bow around me. A cordon rouge. Thank you for teaching me what love is and what it should never be.

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When they visited from Begium, my host daughter’s boyfriend said he needed to descend the stairs of The Arc de Triumph ahead of us. Christophe wanted to break our fall if needs be.

My love, thank you for breaking my fall.

For showing me that in my favorite drink, Champagne, joy overcame pain. Champagne’s soil has absorbed countless bodies of slain warriors. Its geography required its people to battle every hoarding brood. Yet a solitary monk named Dom Perignon rose to create the most celebratory drink in the world. How is it that a region that has known so much pain is known all over the world for the joy it brings?

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I learn the heartbreaking history of Champagne in Reims, the home of the church of the smiling angel. Why are sculpted smiling angels so rare?

My love you connected me to myself and to a world that didn’t end. A world I had to find for myself. Where I learned to love in another language. You have taken the time to see me. Perhaps the only one in the world who really has. And for that I have fallen for you. My love, your pain is my pain and your joy is my joy.

I will always be here for you.

Ultimate Dream Dinner — Phuket, Thailand

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The most important ingredient in my ultimate dining experience? Dreams.

The kind people at smartling.com asked if I could have or make dinner anywhere in the world, where would it be and what would I eat?

My dream dinner abroad finds me cooking in an open-air kitchen on the shores of the Andaman Sea in Phuket, Thailand.

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For me, dreams and dinners-of-a-lifetime are made up of exotic surprises. It was a surprise to meet my younger daughter in Phuket. Since we only had a few days together we met between Vietnam–where she’d traveled for work–and Nepal–where I’d volunteered for dental relief. An early Mother’s Day present, our day of cooking at The Phuket Thai Cookery School started at the local market with a charming guide who showed us how they make the freshest coconut milk and how to pick ingredients for our dinner.

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Back at the school, after a few demos by the hilarious staff, we were let loose in their open-air kitchens to recreate the traditional Thai recipes they’d demonstrated. Our cooking areas had a view of the sea with all of our ingredients measured out for us–a cook’s dream. The best cooking tip I received there has become a tradition in my own cooking ever since. When squeezing the juice out of a lime (or lemon) squeeze it around the blade of a knife and the juice flows down the blade beautifully.

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On the menu:

Tom Kha Kai (Chicken in Coconut Milk Soup)

Kaeng Kiew Wan Kai (Green Curry with Chicken)

Phad Thai (Thai Fried Noodles with Prawns)

Som Tam (Papaya Salad)

Khao Niew Mamuang (Mango with Sticky Rice)

The food seemed to flavor our passions and had all the best ingredients: Thailand, a reunion with my daughter and the intoxicating aromas found only among mixtures of kaffir limes, lemongrass, curries, the freshest of seafood, and mangoes. Cooking in the open air kitchen and eating the five-course meal seaside in conversation with new friends blessed me with fulfilling a dream.

Once upon a time, cooking was a big part of my life. We’d have the family over for Easter. I’d cook a rack of lamb for a few dozen people. Housewarmings featured Indonesian rijsttafel (rice table)–a family tradition. But when life as I knew it took a turn I didn’t expect, I lost the joy of cooking which left me unable to even enter a grocery store. My daughter knew this. Wise beyond her years, she sent me back into the kitchen. Lovingly. For Mother’s Day. In Thailand. My daughter and I set a few of our dreams in motion over Tom Kha Kai, our favorite course. I raised my chopsticks full of Phad Thai and looked to the Andaman sea, giving thanks for this time together, an exotic, delicious surprise.

Goliath’s Skinny Latte battles David’s Jamaican-Me-Crazy: a tale of coffee, wine and survival

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Last night I went out and drank wine with old friends, and made some new ones along the way. Two of my favorite things to do.

A lot has changed since I’ve lived in this part of LA. Happily there are many more places to hang out with friends and drink wine and microbrews 🙂 What does this have to do with a local coffee house, you ask? Well, survival.

One of the best parts about where I live now is that my church, a great little bakery, a coffee house, a spa and a cheap little, very bustling breakfast place are all within walking distance. There are some great hiking trails too. I told Sue, the owner of my local coffee house, that if it wasn’t for her croissants and tuna salad sandwiches, I wouldn’t be alive today. She smiled and said she really appreciated the compliment. Her place is as charming as she is. The people on the sun-drenched patio all engage in the news of the day. But there was trouble brewing. You see, even though Starbucks has a store a mall over, they felt the need to place an additional drive-through satellite Starbucks about thirty yards away from Sue’s place. Petitions were circulated, but by the time I’d come to town construction was just about complete.

So, what did Sue do? She decided to turn her place into a wine bar at night. Last night was the soft opening of her “after dark” business. I had a wonderful Pinot Noir from Oregon which I enjoy, called Acrobat. The place was packed . My friends and I had parted ways earlier that night, so I was just stopping by to show my support on my way home. The small plates she served looked great. Next time I’ll have to try one.

Two days ago the Starbucks drive-thru opened. I’d gotten a coffee earlier in the day yesterday, my favorite Jamaican-Me-Crazy, and watched the cars pull up to the drive-thru one after the other, there was quite a line of cars. The people around me were all very friendly. It was as if we were all answering the silent question, why? One lady said, well it’s easier for moms with small children to get drive-thru coffee. True. One lady just shrugged and threw up her hands. Sue has expanded her business and now works double time to survive. If you are in the area and want to get out of your car to meet one charming business woman, with an almost biblical sense of grace under pressure, check out Sue’s place.

Monday Muse : the girl on the rock

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Hubby, Oso and I went to a great BBQ potluck on the 4th. We love the mountains and hubby’s family has been going up there for generations. So, there were a lot of new and old friends at the BBQ. Not only did we celebrate the country’s birthday, but a few actual birthdays too 😀 Anyway, during most of the party there was this girl in purple pants sitting  far away from everyone on her rock. She went and got her food (oh, man was there some AMAZING food!) and went back on her rock to eat by herself. When her brother came and sat beside her, she didn’t really get mad, but she didn’t want anyone to sit with her on her rock either. I loved her tenacity and wondered what set her up on that rock. Sometimes we all need a little time on our own rocks, I guess, don’t we.

Hope you had a wonderful 4th of July. Any good potluck recipes you shared/ate this weekend? Here’s the recipe for the salad I brought, it’s one of my favorites 😀

Tasty Thursday: Los Angeles, food & romance

For those of you who don’t know, champagne is my favorite drink. And this seems brilliant! I’ve never tried making champagne ice cubes, but I will have to very soon 🙂

Valentine’s Day is around the corner and what screams Love like a wonderful, romantic meal? I hope you all get a chance to sit down with the one you love this Valentine’s Day. Spoil yourself. Splurge a little. Do something out of the box.

I’m on my way to Los Angeles. It’s where I lived as a newlywed. There are so many friends I’m excited to see & lots of food to eat too 🙂 Here’s a couple places on my list : El Chavo’s (best margaritas on the planet & awesome posters of Dolly Parton too!) & the Tiki Ti (yes, I’d like one electric lemonade please). If you’re in LA these are a MUST! I’m going to be writing with a bunch of friends this week. Hoping to make lots of progress on Moon Killers, book 3 in the Shadow Series. An excerpt from Moon Killers is going to be featured at Indie Author Month this Monday with a cover reveal later this month! Click here to get all the details! On a side note, I’m very excited to be a best-selling author this week. Winnemucca, a small-town fairy tale hit #1 in three different Amazon categories this week. #squeeeeee. Time to pop the champagne 🙂

Got any Valentine’s Day/romantic dinner recipes? I’d love to know what they are?

Tasty Thursday: food & books

With the big game coming up (GO NINERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) my mind is on food! Well, my mind is always on food. But today I’m thinking about it especially.

Why, you say? Well, I’m reading Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks. It’s my first Nicholas Sparks novel *facepalm* did I just admit that to the world? Hmmm. Well, anyway, I’m reading Safe Haven as part of the 52 book in 52 week challenge and I’m a bit…er….behind. But I’m loving the reading list. Click here to check it out. There’s a scene in Safe Haven where Katie, a girl who just moved to a small town in North Carolina is getting dinner ready for Alex, a recent widower. I’m really enjoying the story. Nicholas Sparks has a very cinematic way of bringing me into a story which I totally love. His description of Katie making dinner is wonderful and it actually made me hungry. I made a note of each of the dishes and want to make a Safe Haven dinner one night soon. I actually stopped reading to make a note of the menu.

Safe Haven Dinner

Bacon-wrapped brie topped with raspberry sauce (RIGHT? um….YUM!)

Steak marinade : red wine, orange juice, grapefruit juice, salt & pepper (I’ll add some garlic)

Potatoes cut up and seasoned with parsley, salt, pepper & garlic

Corn bread

shrimp stuffed with crabmeat cooked in a scampi sauce (although how you stuff shrimp with crabmeat, I’ll never know, but it sounds good)

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Doesn’t this sound fabulous? I love scenes where food is front & center. The scene is amazing. Having said that, I realized in my own writing that I don’t write about food a whole lot. I’ve written a scene in Transfer Student that features Icees (laced with vodka) and popcorn. But you knew I’d write about popcorn, didn’t you? It is my favorite food on the planet. Although, I just found out that I’m a VATA, and VATAs have to stay away from light, dry foods. What, you don’t know what a VATA is? That’s a whole other post…

What’s your favorite food scene? Read any good ones lately? Who do you want to win the Super Bowl?

Here’s a little foodie scene from Winnemucca, a small-town fairy tale:

I was in the middle of filling ketchup jars when some seven-foot guy walked up to the bar and leaned over in Dolly’s direction. He said, “Dolly! Why didn’t you marry me?”

Dolly leaned into him all playful and half-whispered, “Musta been outta my right mind.” It was the first time I’d seen her smile. 

“Who have we here?” Sasquatch asked.

“Now, you go on and have a seat. Ginger here will take your order. You having dinner?” Dolly handed me a pen and an ordering pad.

“Now, you know what I want,” Sasquatch smiled big in Dolly’s direction. “A slice of that apricot heaven you bake. I’ll have the usual for dinner.” He winked at Dolly, and turned toward me and said, “You know it’s like they say. If life finds you a little short of where you want to be at the end of the day, have an apricot pie to keep the crazy away. Isn’t that right, Ginger?”

I smiled. Dolly was what he really wanted. He probably had for years. Decades.

“We go by the book here, Missy. No minor ain’t serving no liquor in my Pit,” Dolly said holding the beer that was his dinner.

I swallowed hard wondering what job in what book an underage murderer got to do.

“You’ll stick to serving the sodas, pies and the fresh fried foods we have so much of,” Dolly said.

“Yes, Ma’am.”

“Polite little thing, isn’t she?” Sasquatch smiled my way. The clear whiter-than whites of his eyes struck me, sitting in the middle of such a life-worn, suntanned face. He sat in a seat at the window like he was in his living room. So at ease I assumed he sat there every time he came in.

I’d finished filling the ketchup jars so I moved on to coffee duty. But the grounds I scooped into the coffee filter smelled so vile I was certain it had gone bad. I didn’t think coffee could, but rancid’s what it smelled like. It turns out Dolly wasn’t as well known for her Cup o’ Joe as she was for her sugary confections. The money was in the booze, not the Joe.

When I scooped the last of the grounds into the machine, a gal strutted through the saloon doors. Her short, black spiky hair topped a ghostly, thinner-than-thin body. Her noble walk’s what grabbed my attention. If fortune had smiled more favorably upon her, she’d be dressed in ball gowns with her pick of princes. Comfortable with the big lives those smart girls lead. She was the most comfortable person in her own skin I’d ever met. Stood right next to me and leaned over the bar and didn’t say hi to me. I didn’t say hi to her either.

To celebrate the Big Game & Valentine’s Day, I put Winnemucca, a small-town fairy tale on sale for a limited time for 99 cents 🙂 Winnemucca is a literary romance with a dash of magical realism. I hope you enjoy Ginny’s story. Buy it here or here or here.