Bumpy roads may be inevitable, but misery is optional.
Two nights ago I discovered my fifteen-year-old in the kitchen at 3 a.m., whipping up pasta and shrimp in a garlic-and-lemon cream sauce. Blinking, I asked, “What are you doing?”
Kacie shrugged. “I couldn’t sleep. I kept dreaming of recipes.”
No surprise there. Kacie’s gotten the whole family hooked on the Food Network. In fact, the kid has fallen in love not only with cooking but with Italian cuisine in general and with one teenaged Italian bakery delivery boy in particular.
It all began when we started watching Cake Boss, a reality show recorded at a century-old bakery founded and run by a boisterous Italian family in New Jersey. One of the many relatives who works at Carlo’s Bakery is seventeen-year-old Robert Faugno, nephew of Buddy Valastro, the master baker. Kacie is so taken with Cake Boss, the summer after she turns eighteen, she wants us to take a family trip to New Jersey so she can visit the bakery and meet Robert (a.k.a. her future husband). Kacie’s plan is to marry Robert and complete a brief pastry internship at the family bakery before the happy couple opens a Tuscan restaurant and starts giving birth to their own brood of boisterous future employees and reality TV stars.
Granted, Robert has yet to be informed of his pending engagement. But that’s nothing more than a small glitch in the grand scheme of things. We tried to jump-start the relationship by looking for him on Facebook, but we couldn’t find him. So if you happen to know Robert Faugno, would you please have him call Kacie?
I love that Kacie started watching the Food Network, fell in love with Cake Boss, and now sees her future life unfolding. I mean, what’s not to like? You’ve got a big gregarious family. You’ve got festive events like weddings and bar mitzvahs. You’ve got chocolate.
Unfortunately, when I watch the Food Network, the programs that seem to best represent my life are part of a series called Chopped. In every episode up-and-coming chefs compete for ten thousand dollars by whipping up extravagant dishes in thirty minutes or less. The timer starts as each chef is given a basket containing three or four ingredients that must be included in the dish.
I’m not talking about flour, sugar, and eggs. These chefs have to create dishes using zany combinations such as oranges, grapefruit, and bacon! Or apples, shrimp, and peanut butter. My favorite episode is the one where the chefs are asked to create an appetizer with chocolate and sardines.
A tasty chocolate-and-fish appetizer. You should see the looks on their faces.
And then the timer starts.
Now that’s real life. After all, you and I are given a limited amount of time on earth. (Sure, it’s longer than thirty minutes, although we’re never sure how much longer. Thirty years? Sixty? Ninety?) Then we’re given a variety of zany ingredients with which to make something of our lives. Inevitably, some of the ingredients are things we don’t want and may not even know how to handle.
Just yesterday a woman was telling me about her pending divorce. Through tears she said, “It’s not what I thought I’d have to deal with in my life.” I’ve had that same feeling. My guess is that you have too.
As we stare into the kitchens of our lives, we see all sorts of ingredients we didn’t ask for. There are ingredients that don’t play well with others and some that are downright unpleasant. We see signs of our
Q: What’s your secret to a sweeter journey on the rocky road of life?
A: I try to find others who need encouragement. So often my crisis becomes less of a crisis when I take my eyes off myself and look at the needs of those around me. You get to wallow in your crisis and have a pity party for yourself during the tough times, sure. But after that, you have to reach out to those who are in their own crises. That’s when you realize that giving is the greater medicine.
—Cindi Chase Joseph, California
hard labor and great effort—scattered flour and dirty pans and potato peelings on the floor—but not always the results we long for. When this happens it’s easy to become discouraged. We can even become convinced that we’ve been given such bitter ingredients that nothing can ever make our lives sweet again. (After all, it’s hard to imagine even a skillful chef making something palatable out of a childhood hurt, a mistake from long ago, baggage from a difficult marriage, or lingering disappointment!)
But this philosophy suggests that the ingredients are more important than the life they produce. Don’t believe it!
After all, Food Network chefs are routinely handed bizarre ingredients (such as sardines and chocolate) and manage to rise above their dismay to create the most amazing dishes despite haphazard combinations of flavors.
You might be thinking, Well, of course they do. It’s television! Even if it is a reality show, it’s still entertainment. And yet you and I know real people who exhibit the same talent, don’t we? People who have been handed some really distasteful things yet have managed to fold them into the batter of their lives in such a way that the end results are not just appetizing, they’re also amazing! These are people we love to be around, because their lives aren’t characterized by bitterness despite the hardships they have experienced. Instead, they’ve extracted both the good and the bad from their pasts and blended it all to create lives that are rich and satisfying.
If you’ve never met anyone like this before, be patient, because in this book you will. Even better, these amazing folks are going to share their secrets for embracing a sweeter journey in spite of the rocky roads of life.
Some of the ingredients in our baskets are tasty. Others are bitter, and if they aren’t handled well, they have the potential to overpower the entire recipe. And yet if we know the secrets, the bitter flavors can not only be tamed, sometimes they also end up being the very thing that transforms our efforts from ordinary to truly remarkable.
Not Exactly What I Had in Mind
I don’t know a single person who hasn’t traversed rocky roads (and only a few who aren’t rattling over a few bumps even now). So why are you and I so surprised (or dismayed, or afraid, or even overwhelmed) when it happens to us?
We resist the bumpiness of life because it seems so unfair and it’s always unwanted. But the truth is, rocky roads are inevitable. That’s the bad news.
The good news is that even though hard times are unavoidable, the rockiest roads are veined with the greatest treasure, meant to be experienced fully and even mined for their riches.
A few months ago I tried to communicate this idea to one of my children. When Kacie complained that we were short on money, I assured her we were going to be fine, then went on to inform her that having too much month at the end of the checkbook was one of life’s rocky challenges that I wanted her to experience!
Truth be told, I want each of my daughters to know what it feels like to
• have ten bucks in your account until payday and have to figure out how to manage until then.
• fight with someone you love, then experience the joy of discovering how to forgive each other, resolve things, and move forward.
• become frustrated with a messy house, then enjoy the satisfying feeling of bringing order back into your world.
• be stressed and figure out how to reclaim peace.
• experience the mountain peaks of love and the deep valleys of loss, and discover how to find beauty in every landscape and terrain of the soul.
We can’t escape it. Life brings these challenges many times over, and I want my daughters to have the moxie to know how to handle them as they arise. I also want my daughters to be women of depth and wisdom, traits that are rarely picked up along the broad, smooth, easy highway of life.
Depth and wisdom are most often discovered as we stumble along dim and twisting back roads, trying to find our way back home. As much as we wish these treasures could be gleaned from comfort and success, the truth is that the bumpier roads offer the richer rewards.
Some days I understand all of this. That’s when I say things to my kids like, “Rocky roads are chock-full of treasure. Grab a spoon and dig in!” On other days, however, I lose my bearings, and the last thing I want to do is celebrate the mettle-producing benefits of difficult terrain.
On those days, I may be reeling because my own rocky roads have taken sharp, unexpected turns. I feel lost and overwhelmed, my journey suddenly turning dark and disenchanting. For that moment I’m no longer a member of the search and rescue team, but the one huddled under a tree, waiting for someone with a working compass to show up and encourage me toward home.
And yet this is what makes the adventure so very, very grand: we need one another! Whether we’re high on living the sweet life or trudging fatigued on the ol’ rocky road, we’re not in this alone. Best yet, as we whisper to one another the encouraging secrets we’ve learned along the way, our journeys will be so much richer.
A few weeks ago I had dinner with a couple of my girlfriends. We were in Debbie’s dining room, enjoying a wonderful meal of bread and hummus and fruit. I’d just asked these women about their rocky roads. I wanted to know what they did to cope—no, wait, not just cope, but actually thrive—when life got hard.
Ronlyn knew about rocky roads. So did Debbie. So did I, for that matter. Among the three of us, we pretty much had all the bases covered, including single-parenting challenges, financial stress, career mishaps, depression, childhood trauma, health problems, and broken hearts.
“As you know,” Ronlyn shared, “I went through a really tough time last year. But I think I began to cope—and really heal—in the Starbucks drive-through lane.” (Now this is my kind of coping strategy! I waited eagerly for her to continue.)
“I’d been depressed,” she reminded us, “really struggling with a lot of stuff going on in my life. One morning it dawned on me that if I didn’t find a way to take my thoughts off my problems, I was going to drive myself crazy!”
An hour later, on her way to work, Ronlyn pulled into a Starbucks drive-through lane. Waiting in line, she had a crazy idea. When it was her turn to pay, she handed her debit card to the clerk taking orders at the window and, on a whim, announced: “I want to pay for the car behind me too.”
And so Ronlyn’s addiction began.
It started innocently enough with two or three random acts of Starbucks-drive-through kindness a week. Then she started looking for thrills in other places, like McDonald’s and even Taco Bell. One afternoon she paid for the person in the car behind her while her kids were with her. And just like that, they were hooked. Before long, her entire family couldn’t get enough of the giddy rush of good deeds at drive-through lanes.
Not that there weren’t sacrifices. Ronlyn, a single mom, never knew (until the deed was done, of course) if the driver behind her had ordered a cup of coffee or venti cappuccinos for the entire office. Sometimes the bill was a few bucks. Once it was nearly thirty.
This was not a cheap habit.
But maybe that was all right. It was cheaper than therapy. Plus, it gave Ronlyn a renewed sense of hope. Even though she was still living in her private quarters of stress and hurt, she had discovered a window to a happier world. And the more she created happiness for others, the more she found the courage to believe that happiness could exist in her
Ronlyn couldn’t stop smiling at the thought of how her newfound vice was impacting her innocent victims. As they drove away with their complimentary cup of joe or sausage biscuit, were they smiling? shaking their heads in grateful disbelief? Did they feel luckier or happier or even a little less invisible than when they’d rolled out of bed that morning? How were Ronlyn’s random acts of drive-through kindness making a difference? She would never know.
Or would she? One morning on her way to work, Ronlyn pulled up to the Starbucks window and reached for her debit card. The clerk grinned and said, “There’s no charge. The car in front just paid for your coffee.”
I guess it’s possible that nobody knows the troubles you’ve seen. But it’s more likely that others have not only traveled the road you’re on, they’ve also discovered a few secrets for making the journey a little sweeter. I believe your journey can be sweeter too.
You and I love our chocolate, don’t we? Not the bitter stuff; we like our chocolate smooth and sweet. We want our lives smooth and sweet as well. Unfortunately, you may have learned, as I have, that it’s a whole lot easier to control your choice of chocolate than your life.
And yet the next time life hands you a bitter ingredient, don’t despair.
After all, if sardines—with enough chocolate—have the makings of something truly amazing, think what hope there is for you and me!
Food for Thought
Which reality TV show best portrays your life, and why?
What are some unpleasant ingredients that you have had to fold into the batter of your life?
Are you in danger of letting the bitterness of certain experiences overpower and define your life?
If so, what are your other options?
Has a friend ever shared something she learned from traveling her own rocky road that helped you get through a rough stretch?
What did she share, and how did it help?
Have you ever had that kind of impact on someone else?
How did Ronlyn make her rocky journey a little sweeter?
If you tried something similar, how might it help make your journey sweeter?
Because Real Women Don’t Need a Cookbook
Crazy for Coconut
Recently I had a craving for something sweet, so I starting ransacking the kitchen. I found about a quarter cup of lonely coconut left in its package, so I dumped it into a bowl. I poured plenty of chocolate syrup over the coconut and added a couple of almonds on top. Wow! It tasted just like an Almond Joy, my childhood favorite.
—Beth Lueders, Colorado Springs, Colorado
To find more chocolate recipes, or to post your own, go to www.thechocolatediariesonline.com.
Excerpted from The Chocolate Diaries by Karen Scalf Linamen Copyright © 2011 by Karen Scalf Linamen. Excerpted by permission of WaterBrook Press, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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