Wednesday, January 7, 2015

The World Is Your Oyster

Hello LilyOnTheLam.Com Readers:

Well I am planning my next big international adventure, so check back in a few weeks to see where I end up next. 

The other day I posted a very short blurb referencing an old post I wrote about "Thoughts having power."  I didn't have time to write more on this theme (hence the reference back to an older blog post.)  What I should have written about was that both positive and negative things running through my head have suddenly materialized into reality after I had the thought.  Not to sound too witchy or crazy, but at times in my life I have thought about someone or something and they just appear within 24 hours of the thought being thrown out in the universe.  I guess it's like The Secret or Law of Attraction ... I guess, I've never read anything on either.

Now I will say that this phenomenon usually is really a Murphy's Law jinx.  I will think of someone who is horrible and then BAM! the next day I will run into them.  I'd prefer if my thoughts could make winning lottery numbers and not arseholes appear in my life.  

BUT with the bad always comes some good and as I said above, recently both positive thoughts as well as negative thoughts have been manifesting themselves.

Since I didn't have time/energy to write about this fully in my previous blog post, the universe threw me another curve ball as a reminder that I should have written the post in the first place.

(Side note:  I live near a playground with the world's noisiest children.  As I type this I can hear what I assume is a small girl but maybe a bratty adult with a super high voice, screeching "ENTERTAIN US!  ENTERTAIN US!"  I don't think she's quoting a Nirvana song.  I live in a world where there are too many Veruca Salts and not enough Mother Teresas.  Although if I am to be brutally honest, I myself am the patron saint of the Veruca Salt camp.)

About a week or two ago, I was in a gift shop (a.k.a. "stuff I don't need but really want" shop).  One of the items in the shop was the cute book "I Could Pee On This ... and Other Poems By Cats."



If you are a frequent LilyOnTheLam.com reader, you will know that I am 900 years old and have 47,324 cats.  And no, I don't see this as a problem.  I also have an obsession with all things Hello Kitty and plan to create a church around the blessed teachings of Sanrio.com.  You might as well start calling me "Your Holiness" right now.  (Side Note: I was on the phone with British Airlines today and the very nice gentleman representative kept calling me "Mum" which I think he was just saying "Ma'am" versus calling me his Mommy.  However either way I was tickled and had to stifle a laugh.)

Being a 900 year old crazy cat lady, I will not admit how many times I have looked at "I Could Pee On This" in stores and almost bought it.  It's practically a medical necessity for someone like me.  But up until now, I have avoided using my precious cat food money to buy this adorable book of kitty wonderfulness.

So yesterday I find a small box from Amazon.com in my mailbox.  I open the box and there is "I Could Pee On This."  My heart dropped to my stomach.  What the heck?  Did I get drunk and go crazy with the "one click" button (the devil) on Amazon.com?  I would like to say I have never drunken shopped online before but I would be a big fat liar if I did.  But I generally have some memory of the shopping experience.  Standing with the book in my hand, I had absolutely no memory of ordering it.  Oh great, now I am not only a compulsive shopper but a blackout drunk too!  So many new "healthy" items to add to my resume!    

Then I saw in the box was a gift message from my father.  The book was a gift!  I let out a giant cheer (scaring several neighbors) that I was not a blackout drunk shopaholic (... well at least not yet)!  And then I had to chuckle that a week or so ago I was standing in front of this very book wishing to buy it myself and then voila it magically shows up in my mailbox.  It was like my blog post "A Miracle At Starbucks" - the universe provides!  Or in this case, my father and his generosity provides!

Of course, my gut reaction when these types of wishes come true is always "I should have wished for something BIGGER!"  I'm not only a crazy cat lady but a demanding one at that!  

I have been extremely blessed in my life and I try not to take anything for granted.  We are having a lot of changes at my work and it would be easy to be a Chicken Little running around declaring the end of the world, but why?  Life is good.  Sometimes it sucks, but overall it's pretty darn awesome.  

I am so excited for my next upcoming trip.  I'll be spending a very short time in a place I have always wanted to visit (tacking the trip on to the end of a work trip).  Whenever I accomplish a goal or satisfy a bucket list item, I get a Cheshire Cat high.  Or perhaps a Mad Hatter high!

Seize the day, LilyOnTheLam.com readers!  The world is your oyster and if you're lucky enough, someone awesome may just give you a book of cat poetry.  And THAT is something truly special!    

Monday, January 5, 2015

Thoughts Have Power, Part Two

Happy New Year, LilyOnTheLam.Com Readers!

At the beginning of this New Year 2015, I am reminded once again that thoughts have power - and if we think poorly we manifest poor events and if we think strong, healthy and mighty - good things come our way!  

Here is an oldie but a goodie from the LilyOnTheLam vault on Thoughts Having Power.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

His Eye Is On The Sparrow

Hello LilyOnTheLam.Com Readers:

Well, 2014 is almost over and 2015 is practically on our doorsteps.  I work for a company that had a long range vision plan for the year 2015, so for years everything was punctuated with a "In 2015" intense whisper.  

The seriousness behind how much we were supposed to accomplish and change "by 2015" was like a heavy weight bearing on our backs.  It was like we expected to have houses on Mars by then and God help the person who wasn't onboard to make the mission happen.  It was very much a "success OR ELSE" feeling to me.  And it gave "In 2015" this very weird, otherworldly aura.  

And now it's almost 2015, will a dreaded doomsday event occur?  Who knows?  I'm just happy to not have to hear the "terroristic inspiration" of how much we have to achieve by 2015.  Ladies and Gentlemen, 2015 is here.  Now let's live in it!  

I was recently in San Francisco, California - where I had briefly lived a million lifetimes ago.  If you read my previous post:  "A San Francisco State of Mind" you may recall on my last visit I was doing some walking down memory lane and inadvertent second hand smoking marijuana as I strolled down the Haight.  I was already in a mood of deep contemplation and examination as I had deja vu recalling the first time I had ever been to Haight-Ashbury a million lifetimes ago.

Not only was I thinking about life lessons from my youth, but l was also hungry.  (Story of my life.)  I walked past a restaurant called Sparrow Bar and Kitchen.  The song "His Eye Is On The Sparrow" started up in my head.  

The lyrics from the song "His Eye Is On The Sparrow": "I sing because I'm happy.  I sing because I'm free, for His eye is on the sparrow, and I know He watches me" always moves me very deeply.  I felt like this was some sort of sign.  

I was receiving a lot of spiritual nourishment (and second hand pot smoke) on my meditative walk along The Haight.  Now this restaurant seemed like it was tailor-made for a more basic nourishment.

The restaurant is adorable with a wall of reading material that has both David Chang's Lucky Peach magazine as well as a "Little Miss Trouble" kids' book.  (I have the "Little Miss Bossy" t-shirt, so even though I am 900 years old I still cater to my child self.)

The Sparrow Bar and Kitchen has soju cocktails.  Their "Blood Orange and Thyme Paloma" screamed "drink me!"  I am a sucker for herbs in my drink.  Give me a fresh squeezed grapefruit juice and vodka with a salted rim and a big old piece of fresh rosemary and I am in heaven!

I don't want to be cheesy and say "You could really taste the thyme!" in this blood orange and thyme paloma.  BUT YOU COULD REALLY TASTE THE THYME!  It was delicious and I had to physically restrain myself from ordering another.



Also can I just take a moment to give a big cheer to the San Francisco attitude?  Like Portland, Oregon, there seems to be a generally relaxed air in the citizens.  Which I am not sure why because the traffic and continued need to drive cars up steep hills always stresses me out, but the locals seem to be mellow.  (Although maybe that aforementioned pot smoke may be the reason ...)  

When I entered The Sparrow Bar and Kitchen, I asked the hostess if she had a table near an outlet.  I know this isn't Starbucks, it's a lovely restaurant.  BUT my phone was dead and I needed to summon an Uber to take me to the airport.  (I heart Uber!)  The hostess didn't even blink and instead said very nicely "I have one right over here for you."  In most any other city, I would have received a heavy sigh, an eye roll and a haughty look of disdain.  God bless you, San Francisco.

I found all of the service at The Sparrow Bar and Kitchen to be top notch.  So thank you not only to the hostess but the bartender and my server as well!

I had finished an intense meeting earlier in the day.  It was spiritually uplifting but still emotionally taxing.  And not to use food as a drug, but this really felt like a time for ... BACON.

The Sparrow Bar and Kitchen serves bacon-wrapped Scotch eggs on a bed of frisee with a sauce Cheron (which is basically Hollandaise with more lemon, some tomato paste and thyme.)  I love a good Scotch egg and I love anything wrapped in bacon, so I had to order it.



Now most Scotch eggs are horrifically overcooked.  A traditional Scotch egg is a hard boiled egg, wrapped in sausage then dredged in bread crumbs and deep-fried.  But The Sparrow Bar and Kitchen's Scotch egg was perfectly cooked.  Look at the gorgeous deep yellow center.  It was lovely.  The sauce Cheron had a nice piquant flavor although frankly the egg was so good on its own; it didn't need a sauce.

To continue with my bacon theme, I saw a "Dirty BLT" on the menu:  candied bacon, goat cheese, peppercorn-spiced remoulade and romaine lettuce on Ciabatta served with hand cut Kennebec fries.

Candied bacon?

Goat cheese?

Ciabatta?

Kennebec fries?

It's like The Sparrow had his eye on my stomach and created this sandwich just for me.



The Ciabatta roll was the best ciabatta bread I have ever had in my life.  I could have put my shoe between the Ciabatta roll and loved every bite.  

To be fair the candied bacon just tasted like regular bacon to me, but with the goat cheese and the remoulade the sandwich has this custardy, velvety, smoky awesomeness that made me a very happy camper.

The sandwich was very hearty.  After the bacon-wrapped Scotch egg, I could only eat 1/2 the sandwich.  The other half I devoured several hours later on a plane back to Tampa Bay.  It held up well!  (Thank you, world's best Ciabatta!)

The Kennebec fries were delicious, but I couldn't eat all of them.  I need a San Francisco Kennebec fries buddy!  I wonder if they have a section for "Seeking Pal to Eat Part of my Potatoes" on Craigslist?

The Sparrow Bar and Kitchen were top notch in my book.  The decor is lovely.  The atmosphere is hip but laid-back.  The service is incredibly friendly, fast and responsive.  The cocktails and food were amazing.  Win - win - win.  A great lunch in the Haight-Ashbury area.  If you are in San Francisco, I highly recommend you check it out.

Eating at The Sparrow Bar and Kitchen made me feel the same way I do when I hear Jennifer Holliday singing "His Eye Is On the Sparrow" - happy and uplifted!



As your 2014 comes to a close, I hope you are at peace and filled with joy ... and maybe filled with some bacon too!  Thanks for reading!


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Watching Top Chef in Slovakia

Hello LilyOnTheLam.Com Readers:

I thought I had written my last post for 2014, but I guess I had another post in me!

For better or for worse, I try not to stop to think whether something scares me - I just do it.  Because if you allow yourself a moment to let self-doubt and fear into your heart, you may never do what you know you need to do.  I credit my Mother for this.  Growing up poor, you don't have the luxury of kindly demurring when things get rough.  You just have to jump in and hope for the best.

When I was nineteen, I backpacked around Western Europe on a shoestring budget with the woman who is now known as Mrs. BKJ of Minnesota.  To save money on youth hostels, we would occasionally travel by night and sleep on trains.  This made for such adventures as: (1) waking up to find a swarthy pickpocket trying to steal our luggage as the train made a late night stop in Avignon, France; (2) watching a man urinate in the middle of the Rome train station and (3) having "gentleman" after "gentleman" try to con us out of our money or virtue.  But two girls from Minnesota are FARM STRONG! and we made it through the experience unscathed.  

(Fact Checker Alert:  OK OK neither Mrs. BKJ or I lived on a  farm, but my Great-Aunt did have a farm - check out my post as The Strawberry Queen "Pink Was The Color of My Itchy Discontent" here.)

So when I was in Budapest, Hungary for work; I decided to hop a train to Slovakia to check out Bratislava.  Why?  WHY NOT!  

Do I know where Slovakia is on a map?  Nope.  
Do I speak Slovak?  No.  
Do I speak Czech?  No.  
Do I speak Hungarian?  No.  
Do I speak German?  No.  
Have I ever been on a train in Hungary or Slovakia?  No.  
Do I know what currency they use in Slovakia?  Nope.  
Do I know anything about Slovakia?  No.  

These are questions a normal, rational person might ask themselves before starting a train trip between Hungary and Slovakia.  But if you are a regular reader of LilyOnTheLam - you may be aware that I am not a normal, rational person!

My preparation for a trip to Slovakia was 1) checking the train times, 2) checking a map to see where the Budapest train station was, 3) checking to see what currency they use in Slovakia (the Euro!), 4) checking a map to see where the Bratislava train station was and where the "Old Town" area was located and 5) double-checking that US citizens did not need visas to enter Slovakia.  (That last one is kind of important!)

I did look for a Bratislava city guide - but fat chance, neither the internet, online bookstores or Budapest bookstores had anything on Bratislava.  I wondered if Bratislava was a mythical city that did not exist.

I shrugged my shoulders and said a very famous Lily line "I'll figure it out when I get there."

Seriously, if I had stopped to really think about hopping a train and just showing up in a country where I had absolutely no familiarity with the language and except for a short stay in Prague (now Czech Republic) a million years ago, had no clue about Slovak history ... I would have never seen this ...

The interior of the Bratislava Train Station

Don't get me wrong - I'm a big believer in rational thinking, looking before you leap and not dying on a train to a country you have never been to before.  BUT I also strongly subscribe to the James Russell Lowell quote: "FATE LOVES THE FEARLESS."  Sometimes you just have to hop on that train and see where life takes you.  This line of (somewhat warped) thinking has served me well in my life and as I think about my 2015 goals, I know I need to embrace this even more!  

So on a Saturday in November, I loaded up on a highly caloric buffet breakfast at the Sofitel Chain Bridge Hotel in Budapest, Hungary.  Each month, the hotel has a special pastry and this particular month it was "Strudels of the Monarchy" - an array of different flavored fruit strudels at the breakfast buffet.  It will also be the name of my future all-girl, one-cat punk band.  Watch for our album in 2016.  

Judging by a Budapest city map it looked like I could take a long walk and get to the train station, but I am not the finest of cartographers so I took a taxi.  The ride was quick and yet surprisingly expensive.  (I walked home from the train station when I returned, proving that it indeed was walkable in the right shoes.)  

I entered the Budapest train station looking for a ticket booth - but none was to be found.  I was stumped!  I have been on trains all over Europe, parts of Asia and America - where are they hiding the ticket booths??  

Finally against a wall I saw these mini travel agency offices.  One marked domestic and one marked international.  There was a ginormous long line at the domestic travel agency office.  I stood in this line for about three minutes until I realized that Slovakia is not a domestic part of Hungary.  (Not the smartest girl in the world!)  I tried to subtly step out of line without drawing any attention to myself before sprinting over to the international office.

I sat in a chair in front of a glass encased booth inside another glass encased office.  In America, so much is fast-serve, self-serve, automated - you stand in line to get everything.  I must admit I felt very weird getting a train ticket by sitting down in front of the travel agent.  She quickly sold me a 2nd class round-trip ticket for Bratislava good for one month.  

I hopped out of the office with my very old school, slightly Soviet looking, 3 attached pieces of paper ticket and went to find my train!

The 2nd class train compartments had individual compartments with 6 seats each.  The seats were faded and threadbare in spots, but comfortable.

I found an empty compartment, kicked back and pulled out my iPad.  I had two episodes of Bravo TV's "Top Chef: Boston" that were just begging to be watched.





It was a gray cold day, but the scenery between Budapest and Bratislava (about a 2 1/2 hour train ride) was still lovely.





I had an uneventful trip, caught up on my American TV and before I knew it I had arrived in Slovakia.


Bratislava's Hlavna Train Station
I hopped off the train - no apprehension, no self-doubt, no raging fear of Slovaks ... just excitement (and gratitude that it wasn't raining).  I was ready for my Slovakian adventure to begin!

The purpose of writing this blog post was not so much to talk about the trip between Hungary and Slovakia but to talk about the spirit in which the trip was taken.  As we say "goodbye" to the remainder of 2014, I hope everyone who reads this is living their lives to their full potential, hopping trains (literal or metaphorical) to new lands and have hearts full of excitement and gratitude!

P.S.  Long story short - walked 13 miles around Bratislava, had a great day, saw lovely sights in the Old Town of Bratislava, had some bad pierogi, had a good beer, some awesome cake, delicious coffee, found a tiny pamphlet on Bratislava history, bought some souvenirs and then went back to Budapest.  It was an excellent day!  It was definitely a nothing ventured, nothing gained adventure!