Sunday, December 24, 2017

Holiday Blessings: What are yours?

Happy Holidays, all!

I imagine many kitchens are filling with delicious smells at this point in the day...the trees all decked out and aglow in living rooms, maybe fires roaring in hearths.  Games being broken out among friends and/or families.  People boarding planes or driving to their holiday destination.  Turkeys (or ham, or salmon, you name it) cooking in the oven, cookies frosted in all manner of colors or sprinkled in a glittering of sugar, cups of hot drink clutched thankfully in hand.  Music pulsing from the stereo.  Evening mass at church, candles aglow reflecting on each face broken out in song.  To me, just a few of the scene of Christmas.  Though there are of course, countless more.

Loved ones, laughing and chatting.  Rifts, being bridged or put aside in light of the warmth and joy ushered in with the holiday.  People falling in love.  Happy couples cuddling close.  Babies experiencing their first Christmas.  Friends who live far apart, thinking about one another, wondering what their dear friend is doing right now.  Missing each other.  Yearning to visit in person once again.

And yes, with all the excitement and joy, there are people who, equally, may be going through a hard time or phase in their life this holiday season.  Maybe having experienced a recent loss, struggling through a time of hardship, or dealing with emotional difficulty within themselves.  Maybe some people have particularly tragic family stories, of which the holidays remind them.  Or, they are brought face to face with certain painful things from their life during this season.  Whatever the reason may be, I am under no illusion, nor am I here to wax on about how romantic, wonderful and perpetually happy the holidays should be or are for everyone and each year.  I know that for just as many people, that isn't the case.  That for whatever reason, maybe Christmas is actually a difficult time of year for them.  Either temporarily at the moment, or because its a challenging time of year for them annually.      

However, whether this is a positive, magical, joyous time in your life, or whether it might be a period that is more challenging/difficult, if each person looks close enough at the nuances of their life, there are unquestionably aspects of each life for which to be thankful.  Things in each persons life that are good.  Aspects that are noteworthy, for which one is blessed.  Yes, at some points in each of our lives, we may have more of these than others.  As life goes through phases of growth, rebirth, as well as losses and death.  Regardless though, I feel confident that nearly everyone, if they look hard enough, can find at least a couple things in their lives of which there is to be full of wonder about.

So.  What are yours?

Having returned almost 5 months ago from living in Germany over the prior four years, there have been challenges within the last handful of months of readjustment, and equally, there have been awesome surprises.  Among the challenges have included (shockingly, as this was one of the things I didn't even question would go smoothly) securing a full time job.  Despite sinking upwards of one hundred hours into the search for such, this has been an upward emotional and literal battle.  Watching the bank account dwindling bit by bit, stomach turning and heart sinking along with it.  Awaiting with bated breath when this will take a turn in the direction I've been waiting for.  (Which I know will happen at some point in the near future.  Its merely a matter of when).

The slowing of my life has been an additional interesting adjustment from life back in Europe.  In Frankfurt, things were ever lively and bustling.  Working every day, seeing a different friend almost every night (for walking in the city, tea and cake, dinner, browsing the bookstore, brunch on weekends, watching Friday Night Lights, you name it), then often hitting the gym. 

Weekends a whirlwind of banging out 4-5 recipes for Sweet. Raw. Free.  Then rushing into the city and spending afternoons and evenings with friends, in between punctuated with blog writing, gym and library visits on my own. 

Now, life in New Hampshire is quite a bit slower, both socially and activity wise.  And while this is ok, as I have always been someone easily contented with my own company and rarely bored, it has been an adjustment emotionally.  Finding my heart yearning for the close friends I left in Frankfurt, and a bit more liveliness in my day to day life in general.

Living with my mom has been something of an sweet surprise, to say the least.  Having gone into such with reservations and mixed emotions.  Feeling somewhat tentative and anxious, based on our history which has been something of a rocky, emotion laden trajectory, to say the least.  As a whole though, the experience of living with her, much to my awe and shock, has been one of the high points of having moved back.  In the past, throughout much of my life, there wasn't room for me in her home.  Much to my heart rending surprise and joy, for the first time in my life, there finally is.  She has welcomed me into such with warmth, love, support and open arms.

We have baked and cooked together, gone dancing together several times, laughed uproariously over Stephen Colbert and SNL skits side by side on the couch, gone on bike rides along the lake, exercised at the gym together (all the while, giggling and whispering about a few people in particular with regards to whom, my mom and I have developed pretty fun inside jokes).

Reconnections made with a couple specific friends have been a surprising delight.  To name the ones whom I have especially felt such with, Sarah and Derek.  Though I have reconnected with other close friends too :-), for which I am equally excited and thankful.  These two though, I have been delighted to find our connections have re-forged, close and quickly.  That has been an awesome aspect to returning.

This photo taken?  10 years ago :-D of Sarah and me in college, when we first became friends.

Sarah and me, present day <3
With Derek :-)

Another incredibly awesome short and sweet surprise, seeing my childhood best friend, Lindsay Emery, again after nearly a decade of not having met in person.  Whoa, was this absolutely awesome :-D.  If I hadn't moved back here this past August...this reuniting visit wouldn't have happened when it did.

Equally, I have remained quite close with a handful of my Europe friends, which I hope (and at least from my end, intend) to endure.  I talk with a few of them weekly, and a couple others once every few weeks.  But I don't feel any less close with them emotionally.  Whenever we do talk, I feel just as close as we were when I lived there.  And sure, while having returned from Europe just a few months ago makes this more likely (as opposed to if I had been here for say, a year or two, that's when it gets harder staying as emotionally connected), but I know its very possible.  I know this because I maintained close emotional connections with a handful of my friends back here in the US over the four years I was in Europe.

And, the last mention in my musing on blessings and sweet surprises, a man I met some months ago.  One I certainly didn't see coming, feeling certain (and totally cool with such) that I wouldn't date seriously until having returned and gotten situated with an apartment, ideally in Boston, as well as with a full time job under my belt.  Then, I thought, maybe I will date.  Some 7, 8, 9 months after returning, who knows.  I wasn't especially interested, nor looking with intent or in any rush to find a relationship.  Queue this guy entering my life, exactly one month after I moved back.

I have to admit, upon on first date, and even our second, I was leaning more towards no.  Where he is introverted...quiet...shy...reserved, I tend towards being more outgoing...talkative...animated and, truth be told, some might even say occasionally zany.  Where he is rational, logical, his wildly impressive intelligence especially mathematical/science based, I tend towards being idealistic romantic (aka not always very realistic ;-)), finding myself more partial to writing/reading/emotional and social type of intelligence as more my forte (science and math?  Don't even ask.  Unquestionably my weaker points, for sure).  (Though we are both actually introverts, which has thus far been a really nice complimenting).

So, as I sat across from him and we chatted on that first date, my initial thoughts were going something along the lines of, nope.  This isn't going to work.  We are way too different.  He isn't my type, and frankly, I'm probably not his either.  Ill have a nice time, be friendly, enjoy his company and we just wont go out again, I decided. 

By the end of that first date though, I was very surprised to find myself hoping that instead, he would ask me for a second date.  He did.

Having found myself something akin to awed by how much I misjudged the potential between us on that first and second date.  I feel myself drawn toward, inspired by, and surprised to find myself falling for this man, both, in light of our differences, the ones I was so sure were why we wouldn't move forward into anything more, and within all the special qualities I am observing in him, the more and more time we spend together.  He has been one of the most out-of-left-field surprises of my return thus far.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Love is the Answer: Different Ways of Loving

An interesting paradox with regards to human beings and romantic relationships is the fact that, while not naturally sexually monogamous, we do pair bond.  What this essentially means is that while we will experience sexual interest, desire and curiosity toward people other than our mates (some people struggling with/experiencing this more than others), at the very same time, we long toward and revel in growing emotionally close to and bonding with, usually a main mate, over the long term

(*at least, most people.  Of course, not everyone is inclined towards romances and partnerships, and this is totally natural and all good too.  In general though, it seems the majority of people do desire such a bond).

To segue off that slightly, I more want to focus on different types of loving.  For instance, why do we fall for one person and not another?  And even further, why do we love someone more than someone else?  What are the nuances of factors that make these things so?

There is significant evidence scientifically that people tend towards falling in love with those from similar socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds.  That people usually gravitate romantically towards those of similar levels of intelligence and physical attractiveness.  With comparable levels of education and humor even.

But then, one could walk into a room of 50 people, all with similar levels of each of these factors (closely matched socioeconomic backgrounds, intelligence levels, physical attractiveness, education and humor) and not fall in love, nor feel that telltale "spark," with any of them. 

So clearly, its about much more than all of these neatly-laid-out-on-paper factors.  There is a subconscious chemistry and draw involved to a not insignificant degree, one that even scientists who study these topics for a living haven't figured out.  In fact, its something we have barely scratched the surface of.

"The road to love is narrow," wrote Kabir, a 15th century poet from India.  "There is only room for one."

So how do we form such preference?  What determines with whom we fall in love?

I believe its a complex collection of puzzle pieces that, when placed together in one huge, complete picture, contain a multitude of aspects that make up determinants all influencing toward for whom we fall.  One of which is called a "love map."  This is something that's been under construction within each of us since childhood and continues being built through the course of your life. 

A "love map" being the billions of pieces from your childhood, teen years and adulthood that have all come together, culminating in the makeup of your subconscious preference for a mate.  This can and does include nuances such as: your moms passion for cooking-so you subconsciously search for a mate with a similar enthusiasm, the gap between the two front teeth of your first crush, a certain type of smell you've grown to love in the opposite gender, your fathers anger issues- so you are ever on alert for those with this issue and thus, avoid such at all costs. 

Maybe preferring black hair because your handful of childhood crushes all had black hair, or being drawn towards those who love reading because you also love such.  The list goes on.  A love map is your personal collection of the millions of nuances, preferences and criteria that's been amassed throughout the course of your life.  Most of which is actually subconscious and of which you are unaware.  And one that continues being added to, revised, and updated with incoming new life experiences, phases and loves.

Other determinants or influencers over who we end up falling for can include: timing.  Sometimes we meet someone and, because of the timing of our lives, we notice and fall for them more than we otherwise might have, as opposed to had it been a different timing in our life.  Timing is a huge determinant in whom we fall for. 

Biology is another one.  Unconscious nuances like someone's smell, the way they move or talk, the way we feel emotionally or even physically when standing close to them, etc.  For instance, ever found someone very attractive and even felt desire toward them but upon actually kissing or touching them, decided, absolutely not.  There's that.  So, both factors have to be there.  Not only feeling the chemistry bubbling between but additionally, still being drawn to and into them when the action gets underway.  Believe it or not, these are actually separate things.

Then there are of course, many more determinants.  Such as, how are we feeling emotionally when we meet someone?  What life phase are we in?  Lonely, depressed or desperate?  Then we might be more likely towards throwing ourselves at certain someone's that we may not have otherwise.  Or, are we currently in a relationship and feeling deprived or resentful within said long-term relationship?  Then we might be more prone to projecting attraction onto someone else during that time, then we would have been if otherwise infatuated or happy with our current partner. 

Or, if one is especially happy, fulfilled and satisfied with their life, as well as emotionally available, this invites the attracting of other types of people from those I just described.  So you see, factors like mood can very much affect whom we fall for. 

Also, fun fact: people tend to feel heightened senses of attraction to people when placed in intense situations, such as after riding a rollercoaster, post crossing a rickety bridge, or, in the face of obstacles and in the sense of what's forbidden (hence, why affairs are thrilling to many and why many people, once the affair ends and they leave their current partner for the one they had an affair with, realize a mistake may have been made.  That it was more about the excitement than the actual person). 

All of these factors, the rollercoaster, the wobbly bridge, or even the affair, can be a trickster in convincing us that we have feelings for someone when actually, its based on more of a cocktail mixture of adrenaline, intense situation and someone who is physically attractive but just in the right place at the right time.

Now, onto different types of love.  Supposedly there are something like 6, 7 or 8 different types of love, all of which have been compartmentalized and labeled into neat, easy little boxes.  While I think this can be helpful and informative to a small degree, it of course doesn't come even close to encompassing all the possibility of the variance of human emotions and relationships.  In fact, it doesn't even scratch the surface of all that's possible emotionally between people.  Not really.  That aside, here are a few of the (supposed) different types of love:

Eros (or, erotic), which is sexual/passionate love.  The type most akin to our modern day interpretation and experience of romantic love.

Philia (or, affectionate) is friendship based love.  This is a love based on trust, companionability and dependability.  Really great romantic relationships are often a combination of both Eros and Philia.

Storge is familial love (also called familiar love).  Most often, the love felt between a parent and child.  But it can also be found between siblings or other family members.

Agape is a universal love.  It does not depend on actually knowing someone.  Instead, its an unselfish concern for the welfare of others.

Ludus is playful, uncommitted love.  It can involve activities such as teasing, playfulness, flirting, dancing and seducing.  This is a no-strings-attached, fun, sometimes conquest type of love.

Pragma (or, enduring love) is a practical love founded on duty, reason, or ones longer term interests.  Often things like sexual attraction taking a back seat to aspects such as shared goals, compatibilities, and making it work.  This is also said to be the steadfast, deeper type of love.

Mania, or obsessive love, often means jealous or possessive love.  Those who feel as though they desperately "need" their partner.

However, with those easy labels thrown out for different types of "love" we can experience and feel (and yes, you can feel more than one for the same person), I want to briefly touch on and explore the topic of why we love some people more intensely or strongly than others.  And not just romantically, but platonically as well. 
A real human experience and phenomenon that there is little explanation for.  Because really, how can one possible vocalize all the nuances and kaleidoscope of varying shades and shapes of the human heart?  We cant.

For instance...

-Ever had the experience of having one friend whom you knew you loved, while another whom you may have been friends with for just as much time and might be quite close to as well, but for whatever reason, while you care for them deeply, you don't feel such strength of emotional for them as love?  And there isn't any particular reason for this that you can understand nor vocalize as to why.  It

-Maybe you would never actually admit such out loud, but within your innermost heart, you know that you love one of your immediate family members more than another.  Again, there isn't a particular reason for it (or, maybe there is).  You  For one of them, you just feel an infinitely stronger attachment or more intense affection.

-Ever had a romantic relationship that was shorter in duration than another one from your life, but actually, your feelings for the person you had/have the shorter relationship with are more intense, stronger, deeper, than what you felt in the longer relationship (and you have no clue as to why)?  Its not something you can pinpoint nor vocalize or likely even fully understand.  Just that sometimes, we are more strongly affected or moved by certain people than others.

-Or, how about those people who meet someone and they "just know."  I've met a few people personally within the last several months who, when I learned the beginning story of their current long-term romantic relationship, they say "I just knew.  On the first date/soon thereafter when we first met, I knew this person was a big one.  I cant explain it, but I did."  Now, they are either married to that person or have been together happily for years.
And often, this is an almost impossible thing to comprehend for those who haven't felt or experienced something like this themselves.

-Have you ever loved someone whom you "weren't supposed to"?  Such as, a teacher, mentor, counselor, someone within this professional type of boundaried relationship.  And not just a crush or strong affection and liking for them, but actual love.

-And of course, love changes as well.  Haven't we all had the experience of thinking we loved someone immensely only to realize much later on that actually, part of us was disillusioned all along?  That actually, it wasn't a love as deep as we thought it was while enmeshed within.  Instead, more of a delusional, hopeful infatuation.  Or maybe a love not fully based on reality (meaning, once we really got to know the person well and saw their true colors, realizing that we don't love them so much after all)?

Many of the examples I gave above are things our society conditions us as being taboo topics, or "not nice" things to feel and certainly not to admit nor speak about.  However these are emotional experiences that we cannot often help.  They just...are.  There, within our hearts.  A few of the contradictions and paradoxes of human experience, close relationships and love.  To me, that doesn't make them "wrong" or "right."  It makes them part of authentic human emotion and life.  Maybe you have experienced one or more of these personally, or, if not, its likely that you know others who have (whether they talk about such openly to you or not).

So you see, love is, very often, (in fact, more often than not) inexplicable.  Its infinitely complex and layered.  Impossible to quantify.  Wild, fluid, ever changing and shifting, unpredictable.  Its such a fascinating, wide reaching, endlessly nuanced part of human experience and life.  The facets of attraction, the nuances of love and emotion, different types of loving, varying emotional experiences for the people in our lives.  And isn't this part of what makes life and relationships so magical, awe inspiring, intriguing, and incredible?

Best Boston Spots for a Sweet Tooth

Hi all!  Happy Holidays :-D

Having something of a sweet tooth myself (understatement of the year ;-)), putting together a list such as this was an easy one.  Especially with the recent blowing in of such bone chilling temperatures, coupled with Christmas being just around the corner.  While one can always find ample excuses for eating sweets (at least this girl can), the sub zero temps and specific season certainly add further fuel for enthusiasm toward consuming sweet treats.

Below, a list of some of the best places in Boston to satisfy that hankering for something saccharine:

The Danish Pastry House.  I may be slightly biased in that I worked here for some time.  But prior to that is when my love affair with DPH began, living just a few blocks away from this spot for several years.  Being a hop, skip and a jump away making it an easy place to access and thus, fall head over heels for.  This cozy, authentic European bakery bursting at the seams with tasty treats.  Their lemon raspberry cake, to die for.  The fist-size cream puff, a sinfully indulgent treat.  The Danish chocolate cake, while simple in appearance, so moist and chocolatey.  The icing snail, deceptively appearing as something of a dry cinnamon roll but not even close- instead, a marzipan laced, chewy, sweet swirled confection of awesomeness.
(The photos below, my own from prior visits to the DPH :-))

Freak Frappes at Boston Burger Co.  Not only does this place have bangin burgers.  All towering, mouthwatering, topped with a nearly endless variety of condiments and mish mashes of ingredients- one of my favorite burger places in Boston to date.  (So, come here for one of those sometime, regardless).  But these Freak Frappes? While I've never taken the plunge and consumed one myself (as I would rather not gain 3lbs nor go into diabetic shock in one sitting), they are pretty impressive, to say the least.  Certainly not for the faint of heart, but such jaw dropping fun to look at.

L.A. Burdick.  An upscale, romantic, cozy little sweet shop and café.  Offering a wide selection of gourmet chocolates on hand, with an extensive sweet menu available for sitting and enjoying in house.  Each confection a work of art, in and of itself.  This place is legendary for their hot chocolate, supposedly some of the best in the city.  I personally love the atmosphere.  Charming cafes aren't found in abundance around here unfortunately.  Sure, great café is easily accessible through Boston, but coupled with great atmosphere?  A bit harder.  This place is pretty dang good in that regard.  Inviting and exuding a lit-from-within warmth inside.  Even to come and sit with a tea would be a lovely afternoon spot.

Georgetown Cupcake.  Most of the cupcakes here are mouthwatering and totally tasty.  A few on occasion are a tad too dense or not quite moist enough.  However the frosting?  Always a hit.  A rich, sugary, thick swirling atop each tiny cake.  I could eat this stuff on its own, sans cake, just as easily.  Amazing.  They also tend towards having a wide ranging of flavors available for ones tasting pleasure.  Worth a trip here for sure.

Blackbird Donuts.  This artisanal donut shop offers up flavors in both the sweet and savory veins, many of which are rather unique combinations.  Some examples of actual flavors include: coconut marshmallow, guava glazed, chocolate pretzel, cinnamon sugar stack, citrus old fashioned, and mint chocolate chip.  The flavors change and rotate often.  While the shop itself is small and generally take-out only, the treats here are more than worth the trip.  Delicious.

Tatte offers fine, European style baked goods, as well as gourmet sandwiches and salads.  They bake their pastries and bread daily, as well as have an extensive hot drink menu and weekend brunch menu available.  The atmosphere in many of the Tattes around Boston is also pretty inviting and cozy.  A not-very-common aspect to many of the cafes around the city, which, after coming back from years living in Europe, leaves something to be desired for sure.  This place more than fits the bill, in both food and ambiance.

Flour BakeryThis place is top notch.  With all sorts of goodies enticing one for eating.  A delectable blueberry cheesecake, including other cheesecake flavors as well as traditional cakes.  Scones, cookies, pecan rolls, breakfast pastries, croissants, as well as savory items on offering (sandwiches, soups, etc).  Yum, yum.  You can come and sit for a leisurely meal, or just grab a sweet treat, whichever suits your fancy.

Mikes Pastry.  Personally, I think this place is slightly overrated, though its still pretty dang good. For sure, one of the best pastry shops in the North End of Boston.  Shelves and shelves of Italian cookies, pastries, numerous slices of cake, several variants of cannoli, and more on offering.  A line almost perpetually out the door.  And affordable prices to boot.  You can snag a box of several items for $10 pretty easily.

Kanes Donuts.  The original opened back in 1955 in Saugus, MA.  They've become something of a Boston icon, their gigantic artisanal donuts prepared daily, and absolutely delicious.  Their cinnamon rolls having become something of a legend, clocking in at roughly the size of ones head.

Lyndells Bakery is a storied, baked goods, sweet shop dating back to 1887!!  They have a sampling of what seems like everything on offering, from black and white cookies to cupcakes, Italian pastries, pies, breads, and more.

Marias Pastry Shop.  Supposedly some of the best cannoli in Boston.  As well as, rumored to be a phenomenal Italian bakery in general.  An extensive offering available of all sorts of Italian sweet treats.  Located just at the end of the North End, easy to find and very worthy of pausing to pop into.

Oakleaf Cakes Bake Shop. Run by a couple and, as the name implies, their specialty is cakes.  The frosting thick and sweet (my type of frosting.  Mmmmm) but also on offering including cookies, muffins, brownies and homemade poptarts.

Omni Parker House Hotel.  Come here only for their Boston Cream Pie.  Its supposed to be legendary, and supposedly the best in the city.  Rumors abound that the dessert even originated here.

Crema Cafe, a charming little spot in Harvard Square.  While they don't cater primarily to the sweet stuff, the desserts they do have on hand are delish.  Cupcakes in a fun combination of flavorings, (Mexican hot chocolate, lavender and honey, basil and raspberry), bar cookies, brownies, scones, and small cakes, plus their grilled sandwiches are to die for.  This is the perfect place to hole up with a warm beverage and a great book for the afternoon.  What became something of a weekly tradition between myself and a great friend for about a year (back several years ago)- loved this.