Saturday, May 28, 2016

Far away Friendships

Hi all,

Long time, no post. I've been without internet at home for THREE weeks now. Awful. I'm writing this post on my tablet from a Starbucks cafe. Desperate measures... ;-)

So. Far away friendships. Maintaining close connections over a distance. Most of us have been placed in this predicament at some point in our lives by now. Whether because we moved ourselves or a friend moved away.

Upon biding one another farewell, promises are made. We'll email every week, Skype, visit each other, stays I'm close touch. A small subset of us make good on those promises. Yet, a vast majority of us, even with the best of intentions, do not.

Sometimes the friendship or whatever type of connection it is (distant family, cool work buddy), isn't close enough. Naturally distance adds challenge to any relationship, so if its not a truly solid one to begin with, distance will add....well, distance.

But for the relationships that are important to you. The ones you truly want to maintain, hopefully for years to come. The rare ones you know are worth the effort. Here are some thoughts I've come up with on how to do just that:

1. Stay in touch frequently via a variety of methods. Whatsapp, Viber, Skype, email, Gchat. There are SO many ways to remain connected and up to date on one anothers lives, experiences and emotions. All of which are important things to be privy to in those whom you wish to be closest. Utilize these tools to make it happen and stay in close touch. Don't let too much time laspse between really connecting either via phone, Skype or a visit. This is how distance can begin to creep in. Texting alone is not enough. Merely one tool among many.

2. This may be the most important one. This one can be really tough for some people, but if you want to remain emotionally close to those you consider your best, you must continue the practice of confiding in one another and being open with each other about your latest experiences and especially your innermost feelings. Many people struggle with this in general. Truly opening up to others and revealing themselves. Out of fear of vulnerability... Rejection...etc. But its the building block to genuine, real connection with others. I can tell you, assuming you choose the right people to open up to but when you do and upon doing so, realize you are absolutely still loved and accepted by those people, its an immensely moving and life changing thing.
This is especially important for maintaining deep connections over a distance.
If you keep things purely surfacey and don't open up, closeness will receed and the connection will become distant and more superficial. This might be the #1 most important key for staying close to those you wish to be close with who are far away. (Though of course, its also how to be close with those close by whom you wish to be close to as well ;-)). (Good listening is the other key to real closeness. Its not all talking about yourself and opening up. If you aren't EQUALLY interested in the other person and who they are too, things will be one sided and thus, never truly deep).

3. This ties #1 and #2 together, but keep each other up to date on the details of each others lives. Not only big stuff, but little details too. If you wish to be close with someone, you should know a fair amount about not only their recent feelings of their life but also their experiences, the main people they spend time with, and their day to day life.
Of course, being at a distance, there will be many details about your far-away friends life it'll be tougher to know and keep up with as a result of being further apart. But try your best to know as many details as you can.

4. Send small tokens to them here and there. A postcard to say I'm thinking of you. A small gift. A card, just because. Remember and acknowledge birthdays. Tell your friend what they mean to you. These seemingly small tokens are not small. They will awash your friends in joy, fill their hearts and just generally make them feel wonderful. All awesome things for maintaining and even adding to, a friendship.

5. Decide in your heart that the friendship is worthy of maintaining (and thus, worth the effort), and truly believe it will last. Adapting these mindsets will influence your behavior to add towards helping make the friendship be maintained and thus, last.

6. Effort. This is as important as #2 on the list. I know. I can hear some of you sigh a bit when you hear that. Others will comment, my real friends will remain my friends, regardless. The truth is, close relationships don't remain so with little to zero effort. You make it so. If you don't put in some time and effort to maintaining closeness with someone, no matter how much you may care for that person, some of the closeness between you will fade. Like romantic relationships, plants, cars... ;-) friendships too require some upkeep, maintanence and investing in. And yes, sometimes this will entail sacrifice and inconvenience. But that's part of the deal. The things in life that are most rewarding often don't come with zero effort.

For me (and I know for many, many others), friendship is one of the most rewarding, fulfilling, joy inducing and important aspects of their lives. My close friends are one of the most awesome and favorite aspects of my life. They are absolutely without question, worth investing in.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Summer Travel Adventures!!

Hi All,

I am super psyched to report there are two big upcoming adventures I will be embarking on this summer.  Both are places I have never been to before!!!  And both will be AMAZING!

My first amazing adventure will be...

Edinburgh, Scotland!!!  

Joining me on this exciting exploration will be one of my closest friends, Judith.  This makes the trip that much sweeter.  Tickets are booked, we depart to Edinburgh on Friday evening, August 5 and return to Frankfurt on Wednesday, August 10.

Where J.K. Rowling used to sit daily, writing the first and second Harry Potter books, as it was cheaper for her to pay for a cup of coffee then her heating bill.  And look at her now ;-) incredible.

Grayfriars Kirkyard...where Tom Riddle from Harry Potter resides, and where Harry faced down Voldemort.

And the second trip on my summer adventure itinerary is....

Stockholm, Sweden!!!

This will be my thrilling and awe-inspiring solo adventure for the summer.  I elected to go on my own, as I LOVE to travel solo just as much as I revel in traveling with a close friend or other loved one.  The ticket is also booked for this one.  I will depart for Sweden on Saturday, August 13 and return to Frankfurt one week later on Saturday the 20th!

Stay tuned for further details as the trips draw closer... ;-p

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Summer Reading...The Best

Hi All,

As anyone who knows me is aware, I will look for any excuse available to read.  Its sunny outside, awesome, I will go read under the tree in a park, or lounging by poolside, or sitting at a cute little cafe in the sun.  Its cold out?  No problem.  Cranking the heat in my room and curling up under the covers with a great book is the ultimate in coziness.  Long train rides?  A book lovers dream.  A rainy day?  A gift to readers.  If I can find any opportunity to read, I will.  Even when at the gym, I have my requisite book under my arm when looking for an elliptical machine.  Without it, I cannot fathom how I will get through my workout, the time seeming to stretch out endlessly in front of me.  With the book, I could stay there for an hour or two.

In short, books are just the bomb.  I think books teach us about how to be human.  How to navigate the challenges, trials and emotional dilemmas of being a human.  I read a quote once that has particularly resonated with me: "fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth."  Meaning of course that calling any story fiction isnt entirely true (aside from maybe science fiction or fantasy), because most fictional books are based on forms of truth that parallel things all of us go through ourselves.  This is why we love fictional stories so much.  We can find ourselves in them.

And just as valuable in nonfiction, we can find hundreds of lessons, insights and ideas in these books that can assist us in navigating the courses of our own lives.  Nonfiction can open up your world to new possibilities just as fiction can.  In some ways, even more so.

With all of that said, as always, I have a no-end-in-sight reading list.  However, I have put together a more manageable, shorter reading list for the definitive time period of this summer.  Within the next four months, I am hoping to be able to read all of these.

Without further ado, my spring/summer reading list (book synopsis I have copied from

This book is all about and structured around the seven languages of fascination which Hogshead (the author) has studied and developed—power, passion, innovation, alarm, mystique, prestige, and alert—Fascinate explores how anyone can use these triggers to make products, messages to others, and services more fascinating—and more successful.

Do you know what makes you happy? Daniel Gilbert would bet that you think you do, but you are most likely wrong. In his witty and engaging new book, Harvard professor Gilbert reveals his take on how our minds work, and how the limitations of our imaginations may be getting in the way of our ability to know what happiness is. Sound quirky and interesting? It is!

• Why are lovers quicker to forgive their partners for infidelity than for leaving dirty dishes in the sink?• Why will sighted people pay more to avoid going blind than blind people will pay to regain their sight? • Why do dining companions insist on ordering different meals instead of getting what they really want? • Why do pigeons seem to have such excellent aim; why can’t we remember one song while listening to another; and why does the line at the grocery store always slow down the moment we join it?In this brilliant, witty, and accessible book, renowned Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert describes the foibles of imagination and illusions of foresight that cause each of us to misconceive our tomorrows and misestimate our satisfactions. Vividly bringing to life the latest scientific research in psychology, cognitive neuroscience, philosophy, and behavioral economics, Gilbert reveals what scientists have discovered about the uniquely human ability to imagine the future, and about our capacity to predict how much we will like it when we get there. 

David Brooks has written an absolutely fascinating book about how we form our emotions and character. Standing at the intersection of brain science and sociology, and writing with the wry wit of a James Thurber, he explores the unconscious mind and how it shapes the way we eat, love, live, vacation, and relate to other people. In The Social Animal, he makes the recent revolution in neuroscience understandable, and he applies it to those things we have the most trouble knowing how to teach: What is the best way to build true relationships? How do we instill imaginative thinking? How do we develop our moral intuitions and wisdom and character? Brooks has always been a keen observer of the way we live. Now he takes us one layer down, to why we live that way.

Ekhart Tolle's message is simple: living in the now is the truest path to happiness and enlightenment. And while this message may not seem stunningly original or fresh, Tolle's clear writing, supportive voice, and enthusiasm make this an excellent manual for anyone who's ever wondered what exactly "living in the now" means. Foremost, Tolle is a world-class teacher, able to explain complicated concepts in concrete language. More importantly, within a chapter of reading this book, readers are already holding the world in a different container--more conscious of how thoughts and emotions get in the way of their ability to live in genuine peace and happiness.

(Sidenote: Ive actually already started reading this reading it as we speak.  Fascinating.  Really, really good read on health, just in general.  Well written and potentially life-changing).

In The Paleo Manifesto: Ancient Wisdom for Lifelong Health, John Durant argues for an evolutionary – and revolutionary – approach to health. All animals, human or otherwise, thrive when they mimic key elements of life in their natural habitat. From diet to movement to sleep, this evolutionary perspective sheds light on some of our most pressing health concerns. What is causing the rise of chronic conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, and depression? Is eating red meat going to kill you? Is avoiding the sun actually the best way to avoid skin cancer?

Durant takes readers on a thrilling ride to the Paleolithic and beyond, unlocking the health secrets of our ancient ancestors. What do obese gorillas teach us about weight loss? How can Paleolithic skulls contain beautiful sets of teeth? Why is the Bible so obsessed with hygiene? What do NASA astronauts teach us about getting a good night’s sleep? And how are Silicon Valley techies hacking the human body?

Blending science and culture, anthropology and philosophy, John Durant distills the lessons from his adventures and shows how to apply them to day-to-day life, teaching people how to construct their own personal “habitat” that will enable them to thrive. The book doesn’t just address what we eat, but why we eat it; not just how to exercise, but the purpose of functional movement; not just being healthy, but leading a purposeful life.

What if you were married to a wonderful husband for twenty-eight years but in love with another man? What if you were in love with them both?

Annabelle McKay knows she shouldn’t have any complaints. She’s been in a stable marriage that’s lasted almost three decades and has provided her with two wonderful children, thousands of family dinners around a sturdy oak table, and a husband so devoted that he schedules lovemaking into his calendar every Wednesday morning. Other wives envy the fact that Grant is not the type of man who would ever cheat on her or leave her for a younger woman. The trouble is Annabelle isn’t sure she wants to be married to Grant anymore. The trouble is she’s still in love with someone else.

In the early tumultuous years of her marriage, Annabelle carried on a clandestine affair with the one person whose betrayal would hurt her husband the most. When it ended, she and Grant found their way back together and made a pact that they would never speak of that time again. But now years later, with her children grown and gone, and an ominous distance opening between them, she can’t help but remember those glorious, passionate days and wonder if she chose the right man.

Then, when called to New York City to help care for her pregnant daughter, Annabelle bumps into her old lover. Offered a second chance at an unforgettable love, she must decide between the man who possesses her heart and the husband who has stood squarely by her side. A journey into the what-ifs that haunt us all, The Stuff That Never Happened is an intricate, heartfelt examination of modern marriage that brims with truths about the nature of romantic

The Eighth Story. Nineteen Years Later.

Based on an original new story by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, a new play by Jack Thorne, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child is the eighth story in the Harry Potter series and the first official Harry Potter story to be presented on stage. The play will receive its world premiere in London’s West End on July 30, 2016.

It was always difficult being Harry Potter and it isn’t much easier now that he is an overworked employee of the Ministry of Magic, a husband and father of three school-age children.

While Harry grapples with a past that refuses to stay where it belongs, his youngest son Albus must struggle with the weight of a family legacy he never wanted. As past and present fuse ominously, both father and son learn the uncomfortable truth: sometimes, darkness comes from unexpected places.

Instagram. Whisper. Yik Yak. Vine. YouTube. Kik. Tinder. The dominant force in the lives of girls coming of age in America today is social media. What it is doing to an entire generation of young women is the subject of award-winning Vanity Fair writer Nancy Jo Sales’s riveting and explosive American Girls.

With extraordinary intimacy and precision, Sales captures what it feels like to be a girl in America today. From Montclair to Manhattan and Los Angeles, from Florida and Arizona to Texas and Kentucky, Sales crisscrossed the country, speaking to more than two hundred girls, ages thirteen to nineteen, and documenting a massive change in the way girls are growing up, a phenomenon that transcends race, geography, and household income. American Girls provides a disturbing portrait of the end of childhood as we know it and of the inexorable and ubiquitous experience of a new kind of adolescence—one dominated by new social and sexual norms, where a girl’s first crushes and experiences of longing and romance occur in an accelerated electronic environment; where issues of identity and self-esteem are magnified and transformed by social platforms that provide instantaneous judgment. What does it mean to be a girl in America in 2016? It means coming of age online in a hypersexualized culture that has normalized extreme behavior, from pornography to the casual exchange of nude photographs; a culture rife with a virulent new strain of sexism and a sometimes self-undermining notion of feminist empowerment; a culture in which teenagers are spending so much time on technology and social media that they are not developing basic communication skills. From beauty gurus to slut-shaming to a disconcerting trend of exhibitionism, Nancy Jo Sales provides a shocking window into the troubling world of today’s teenage girls.

Provocative and urgent, American Girls is destined to ignite a much-needed conversation about how we can help our daughters and sons negotiate unprecedented new challenges.

The second book in the Game of Thrones series.  The first one, I read in a whirlwind two weeks.  Enough said :-D

Summer =

Monday, May 16, 2016

Outstanding Summer Recipe in Just 5 Minutes!

Hi All!

I stumbled upon this recipe via the genius of Pinterest.  Its easy, takes less than 5 minutes to make and tastes awesome.  I literally tastes as though I am eating tapioca pudding for breakfast.  I am not sure it can get much better than that.  Except this recipe is actually super healthy!!  The recipe is made with chia seeds which boost a number of awesome health benefits.

Here is a link giving you a full list of those said benefits.

All you need is coconut milk, chia seeds and honey.  That is it.  If you wish to top with fresh berries (which I highly recommend), go for it and grab a few of those too.  You can enjoy this as a snack, as a dessert or as a breakfast.  Whatever floats your boat.  You choose!

Pour about 1 cup of coconut milk into a bowl.  Spoon 3-4 large spoonfuls of chia seeds into the coconut milk.  Use the spoon to make sure you dunk all the seeds into the liquid.  All should have been immersed at least once, via you stirring the mixture well.  Squirt a couple of tablespoons of honey into the soon-to-be liquid.  Again, stir well.  Cover the bowl with aluminum foil or cling wrap and put into the fridge for at least 3 hours.  And viola, your chia seed pudding is ready to eat.  Stir well and top with berries.  Enjoy!  (Add more honey to taste, if you need it).

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Weekly Wanderings in Germany

Love this author.

Free libraries on the street in Frankfurt!!!  Take a book...leave a book...whichever :-D  Absolutely awesome concept.

Little gardens people pay to rent here in Germany.  You get a cute little shack and a plot of land to grow and garden on. Super quaint and lovely.

More of the rent-able gardens...

Frankfurt from far away ;-)
Cookie brought to me back from Italy by a wonderful friend while he was on vacation there!!  Isnt the packaging gorgeous??

Thursday, May 12, 2016

AWESOME Amsterdam Part Two.

Friday afternoon, once we arrived back in Amsterdam after having been at Keukenhof (the astoundingly jaw-dropping tulip gardens), Travis and I parted ways for the afternoon.  He so kindly offered to park the car at the lot our hotel had recommended to us, and since I didnt have phone service while in the Netherlands (too expensive), we decided it would be easiest if we did our own thing for the afternoon.  Then we would meet up that evening at Jackson Dubois, the location I had suggested for meeting one of my friends, who happened to be in Amsterdam at the same time!  So cool!

The following photos are taken during my explorations of Amsterdam for those 4.5 ish hours that I tooled around on my own.  I LOVED this.  Amsterdam is a city begging to be explored, either on foot or by bike.  And if you are someone who likes to solo travel, its an awesome place for that.  I stopped to snap loads of photos, as you can see.  I sat at a cute little cafe for some gluten-free carrot cake (shockingly delicious), a tea and to read my book while watching people pass by.  I walked along the canals.  I ducked in and out of cozy little boutique shops.  I just meandered, totally at peace, happy, like a cat lounging in the warm sun.

This is the canal Travis and I sat alongside at dusk, just to hang, chat and watch the Scene.

Of course, totally in step with what would be the usual response from those who know me (which would be something like "oh jeez, typical Brooke"), I made my way to the restaurant we were planning to meet at for 7pm using the small map I had been given by our hotel.  I had asked the owner of a small shop I ducked into (during my solo travels of the city) where the restaurant for that evening was located, showing him the address I had scrawled down on a scrap of paper.  He waved me towards the very end of the street we were already on.  "Its a long one," he warned, "but the restaurant will be at the very end.  Number ten."

So onward I walked, following his direction.  Twenty minutes later, I reached the end of the street, the restaurant where I was meeting my friends nowhere to be seen.  Number ten was an abandoned forlorn looking shop of some sort, now closed.  Awesome.  I ducked into a swanky looking hotel and asked the ultra-cute "information" boy, a head of longish dark wavy hair and sparkling blue eyes, if he knew where I was supposed to go and might be able to help me?  He was happy to assist.  He handed me over a new and improved map of the city, circling where I needed to go and explaining how to get there in detail.  I left the hotel feeling confident once again (instead of frazzled and anxious about being lost) and strolled back down the exact same way I had already walked.

Yes, I ultimately walked the exact same street, the entire length of it once again but back to the other end.  I had essentially began where I needed to be in the first place.

Anyway, long story short, I made it to the restaurant in one piece and shockingly, still on time! 

Here are a few more photos I took from my afternoon of solo wandering....

The evening with my friend, Amira and her boyfriend Alex (and Travis too of course), was great.  I loved it.  Amira has been my friend for about 1.5 year now.  We met at my previous job, she worked in my classroom as an assistant.  We hit it off right away.  She and I have an easy connection, we can talk about all sorts of things as the hours fall away.  We are both avid readers, world adventurers, hopeless romantics, free spirits.  We are similar in a number of ways, which is a huge part of what I would chalk up to the reason for our instant connection.  I admire her intelligence, her poise, her fashion sense and her confidence.  I always love spending time with Amira.  It was also a huge pleasure to meet her boyfriend, Alex, whom I have heard loads about but had yet to finally meet.  He was warm, easy to talk to, soft spoken, friendly and intelligent.  I liked him very much.  It was obvious that he is smitten with Amira, which was very sweet to see.

Our conversation over the few hours the four of us spent together was great.  Engaging, lots of fun and much laughter.

The food was excellent.  The concept of the restaurant (Jackson Dubois) is street food from around the world, served in small dishes, to share among a group.  We ordered a smattering of small platters.  beetroot croquet, a white Pizza, hummus and falafel, and some kind of what I think was a middle eastern inspired wrap.  For dessert I selected the "American Trio" which was a donut, a small champagne flavored ice cream bar and a roasted marshmallow topped with cookie crumbles.  Surprisingly, I cannot typically stand marshmallows but that was my favorite item on the small eye-catching dessert platter, closely followed by the champagne ice cream bar, delicious, lightly sweet, I loved the thin chocolate outer coating.  Amira and Alex split a Tiramisu, which the restaurant highly recommended as their tastiest dessert (while mine had the visual "wow factor" they said). 

After our fabulous dinner, snapping a few photos with Amira :-D

Jackson Dubois, the restaurant we had our fabulous dinner at (though we sat outside since the weather was so great).

Travis and I discovered a charming little cafe that had PHENOMENAL gluten free, dairy free, refined sugar free brownies in our weekend travels.  I know, sounds disgusting on first mention, right?  It was literally one of the best brownies I have ever eaten in my life.  Fudgy, melt-in-your-mouth, rich, chocolaty, just incredibly delicious.  If I lived here, I would make a point to go to the cafe semi-regularly to get these.  They were THAT GOOD.  In fact, I am still dreaming about them.  

Amsterdam, such a photogenic city.  Some of the notes I etched down quickly in my notebook.  "Fairy tale and storied architecture, arching bridges, gingerbread cookie townhouses standing upright along serenely snaking canals their surface like silk ruffling in the breeze.  The rusty green water shimmered with sun-flecked light.  Red bricked, ornate buildings.  Cobbled walkways.  Cafes dotting the length of every street.  Couples meandered hand in hand, women pushing strollers along the hilly pathways, revelers lounging outside and taking in the breeze and sunshine.  The air punctuated with pockets of conversation or the tinkling of bicycle bells, alerting awe-inspired tourists to quickly move out of their path, lest they be mowed down.  A sweet floral scent tickling the air.  Boats of varying shape and size chug past.  Amsterdam is a city of liberals, romantics, free spirits.  Greenery and flowers abundant along the canals, adding to the already enchanting atmosphere."    

Delft Blue is the world famous earthenware, produced since the 17th century in the city of Delft. Between 1600 and 1800 this stoneware was popular among wealthy families who mutually were demonstrating their collections of delft ware. Although the Delftware potters who preferred to call their earthenware "porcelain", it was just a cheaper version of the genuine Chinese porcelain. Delft goods were not made of the typical clay for porcelain, but of clay, which was coated with a tin glaze after firing. Nevertheless gained Delft goods inimitable popularity; temporarily there were 33 factories in Delft. Of all these factories is the only one available today, "Royal Delft".

Also, this is kind of a fun article.  Its about the 9 traditional icons of Holland which include tulips, clog shoes, canals, Delftware, bicycling, cheese and more.

Cinnamon ice cream.  Super yummy.

Travis and I went to a restaurant called Bocas for dinner one evening.  I had read about them online.  Another supposedly excellent place to eat in Amsterdam.  The concept is similar to Jackson Dubois in regards to the sharing lots of small platters.  We split nachos, which we both agreed were excellent, lasagna rolls and I decided to be daring and try the watermelon salad, of which I was weary.  Watermelon with feta, walnuts and balsamic dressing.  I had heard about this being a trendy dish but imagined it being pretty gross in reality.  I just could not picture those flavors melding well.  I was shocked upon tasting it to find that it was DELICIOUS.  The strong cheese paired really well with the super-lightly sweet watermelon.  The walnuts added an awesome flavor and variance in texture with their crunch.  Man oh man, I would totally make this at home.  Highly recommend it.  

For our last day in Amsterdam, Travis and I split for part of the afternoon again to wander and do our own thing for a bit (for me, that was reading and writing in the most picture perfect setting right alongside a canal...wandering in and out of charming little boutique shops...lounging on a bench along the edge of a canal and reading my book in the sun...snapping photos...sampling some cinnamon ice cream). 

We met up that evening for dinner (at Bocas, as mentioned above) and then just walked around exploring on foot.  We stopped for tea/coffee and dessert at a cute little hippy-grunge vegan style cafe.  We sat outside chatting and watching people pass by on foot and by bike.  Then we just wandered the city as day seagued into night, the sky turning shades of dusty rose, gold and deep orange, until finally the sun set.  We sat along the side of a canal, our feet hanging over the edge, watching boats pass, staring upwards at the utterly lovely canal houses, talking and laughing.  I loved walking along the bridges as we made our way back through the city, their archways glowing with light by night.

LOVED these apartments with the gigantic red shutters.  The glimpses inside offered an apartment layout that looked super cool.  Exposed brick walls painted white, sprawling layouts, the windows huge and airy, like a way cool loft.

The building on the left, the huge, towering gray one...I dont know why but it totally made me think of Gringotts from Harry Potter.