Monday, January 30, 2012

Music To My Ears

When I was young, I had all kinds of lofty aspirations in life. Most important of all was the desire to be considered truly accomplished at something. I will never forget being ten years old at a friend’s house hearing about her sister, the champion equestrian. I had a little moment of panic thinking, will I ever be good at something? I can clearly recall telling myself that it was okay, ten years old was still young enough—if only just—to pick up a hobby or sport and become a savant at it.

Interestingly enough, I had an odd combination of overconfidence, competitiveness, and fear of failure that resulted in me having absolute faith that I could be great at something…so much so, that I didn’t need to test the theory to believe it. So, I had no need to run a mile or swim to the other side of the pool and back—I already knew I would be the best at it. Rather convenient way of looking at things, no?

But that logic was starting to wear a little thin, and I was starting to feel like I was losing my window to ‘start young’ so that I could become an expert at something. Grand thoughts of mortality for a 10 year old, right? But regardless, I needed to chose something and go with it. The time was now. If I wanted to be in the Olympics or hold an audience’s rapt attention, I had to get cracking.

To that end, I decided that I had it in me to be a concert pianist. And before you ask – no, I have no idea where that particular decision came from. I mean, no one in my family even owned an instrument, let alone played one. But there was something about watching a pianist on TV, or even the music teachers at school, that somehow just convinced me I could do it. And we’re not just talking learning to play; I wanted to master it.

To this day, I have no idea how I successfully convinced my parents go along with this new life plan, but somehow I did, and not only did they book lessons for me with a quintessential (I’m going to pause here to say that I spelled that word right the first try- what?!) white haired old lady who taught out of her home, but they actually bought a piano. Incredible! It was a sturdy old upright, not the least bit in tune and covered in layers and layers of paint, the last of which was a dingy white that flaked away every time you played it, walked by it, or even looked at it.

With little choice on where the thing should go, it took the place of honor right in the very center of the house, against the wall of the living room. Perfect – no matter where someone was in the house, they could not escape the discordant sound of ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’, “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star,” and the ever-popular repetitive practice scales.

The very best part was that I suddenly had a parent-sanctioned way to annoy the tar out of my older brother. I would lie in wait until he went to turn on the TV for his favorite show. The very moment the theme music started, I would dart from the hallway, mount the bench, and go to town on the keys. He’d get so mad, calling out to Mom or Dad to shut me up. But it didn’t matter – I totally had immunity. I was practicing, and they were paying good money to send me to those lessons and buy that piano. Nurturing the fledgling musical talent growing within me like a baby bird (ugly, blind, and completely unrecognizable) had become an investment in my future, after all.

This went on many an afternoon, and I can remember subjecting my brother to the smug, satisfied expression I had developed with the sole goal of driving him crazy. It worked every time. He hated me, and by extension that piano, so much that fire would shoot from his ears at the first tinkling note.

It. Was. Awesome.

Unfortunately, all the fun I had annoying my brother didn’t quite make up for the tedium of the actual practice. I would painstakingly pick out the notes, frustrated with the fact that I wasn’t magically able to play Beethoven within the first two months. What the heck – I was supposed to be a savant! A natural! In my mind, I would set my fingers to the keys and beautiful music would waft to the heavens like musical angel wings. I could almost hear the notes in my head – why wouldn’t my fingers cooperate?

So yeah, I totally gave up. Just like soccer, horse-riding (hey – I was totally traumatized when that horse almost ran me down in the corridor!), French horn, the French language, the Russian language, and absolutely anything sports related. I had no patience for the long and steady practice that becoming good at something requires. And, sadly, I passed through my childhood, teens, and even early twenties without mastering a single thing (with the possible excepion of annoying my siblings, which was indeed a bit of an art form in itself). I thought that my time had well and truly passed . . . until the day I tried my very first batch of homemade icing :)

Eventually, I did find that special something that I could do well :) I’m by no means a savant, but I have a passion for baking that for the first time in my life means I’m willing to do all the practice it takes to do it well. I’m pleased that I have an affinity for it, and alas, I didn’t need to start when I was ten ;)

But do you want to know the true twist to this story? Years later, my brother sat down at the piano and found his true love. Little did we know that all that time, the talent lay deep within him—not me. For all of his fussing and hollering at how much he hated the piano, it would ultimately become a siren for him, calling him back again and again until he successfully taught himself to play as beautifully as anyone I’ve ever heard. I hear his amazing work these days and smile, amazed at how things turned out.

Just as I labor in the kitchen, creating the perfect recipe to suit my mood and taste with nothing but a handful of ingredients found in every pantry, my brother creates in his music room the most heavenly of compositions, all made by the simple touch of warm fingers to cold keys of black and white. He is a true artist, with a creative spirit I can’t help but envy, and all I have to say is that I am glad he discovered his talent later in life, as I would surely have covered my ears in dismay as a child, and then wouldn’t I have missed out ;)

There is a reason why have been thinking about this story, my dear Cake Readers.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. For the first time in our lives, Andy and I are collaborating on a project that I am so proud of, I can hardly stand it. Soon, all will be revealed, but in the meantime, below are some of my favorites of brother’s pieces with which to whet your appetite :)

Now tell me - what are you good at? Have you ever played an instrument or learned to speak a foreign language? Did you find your calling later in life?

(That’s my dad flying for the video, by the way!)

You can also find out more about him at

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Just for Giggles :)

I'm gonna be honest, my dear cake readers. Between my fast approaching deadline, my recent presentation, and preparing for the lovely Catherine Gayle's visit, I totally neglected my blogging duties. So today, I decided to just show you a few videos that made me laugh out loud. After all, who doesn't love (or need!) to laugh?

Just a word of warning: don't watch at work - you'll give yourself away with giggles ;)

(This would totally be me with Darcy, lol)

Have a great week everyone!!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Ye Ole Bucket List

Hello Dear Cake Readers!

Today I am at LadyScribes blog, talking about my newly written bucket list. I hope you'll drop by and tell me what's on your list, or help me come up with something new that is fabulous to add to mine :)

Click Here

Have a great week, and I'll see you here next week (when, I should mention, I will be a year older ;) )

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

All That Glitters

Most of you know that I have a part-time day job, to which I go about once or twice a week and look at sparkly things all day, er, I mean—sell jewelry. I picked it up last Christmas to earn a little extra cash during the slow time in the writing industry. Up until that point, I had worked day in and day out from home, completely alone save for the pups curled at my feet. Living so far from civilization as we do, I rarely left the house, and my poor husband became my portal to the real world.

When he came home after a long day at the office, I would immediately accost him. “How are you? How was your day? What did you do? Who did you talk to? Anything new in anyone’s life? PLEASE TALK TO ME!!

Poor Kirk. A talker he is not (see how perfect we are for each other?), but he struggled to answer my questions with something other than fine, fine, not much, not really, and not that I know of. He’s a trooper, but even so, I started picturing myself at an old school typewriter, typing the same line over and over again: All work an no play makes Erin a dull girl.

So yeah, I got a job. It was actually a big leap for me—I had never worked in retail before. I was at least choosing something I loved—jewelry—but it wasn’t as though I was any sort of expert on the subject. Still, it was fairly close (if 40 minutes is close), I was familiar with the store after being a customer for almost 5 years, and, best of all, they offered to hire me (bird in the hand, and all that).

And you know what? I loved it! It was actually great to get out of the house for a real purpose, to put on makeup and wear nice clothes, and to bring home a semi-regular paycheck. But most of all, it was wonderful just to have the opportunity and reason to talk to people. I was happy to see each person who walked in the door, plus my coworkers were great. They devoured anything I brought to share (doesn’t that make a baker feel good?) and indulged my need to engage in conversation.

At the day job, as I came to call it, I had eight guilt-free hours to NOT think about writing, my characters, plot points, and keeping up with industry news. It was wonderful to use an entirely different skill set, allowing myself to simply be personable, to pick out pretty things, and to help people find that perfect something for the loved ones in their lives.

And, happily, I found that I was good at it. That was especially nice back before I had a contract or even an agent. For a struggling writer who felt as though I had spent the preceding year and a half in a vacuum of uncertainty, it was a confidence booster to have something I could point to and definitively say that I was successful at it. And it was fun! People almost always buy jewelry for a happy occasion: weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations. Chatting about what made a purchase special for that person makes me happy. And for the not-so-happy times, it was almost always something poignant that gave me a watery smile. A locket to house a picture of a lost love one, sizing of a ring passed down as an inheritance, a breast cancer awareness charm to show solidarity.

At this job, I discovered a different side of myself. I didn’t know I’d be a good salesperson, or that customers would remember me a full year later when they came back in for Christmas. I learned I wanted the *right* sale much more than the *priciest* sale. I learned that I am satisfied with a job well done whether it is a well-written story, a yummy cupcake, or a happy customer.

When I started at the jewelry store, I would be quick to tell people that it wasn’t my ‘real’ job, that I was a writer by trade and only worked there for fun. I was a college grad, after all, and this job was just a hobby. What an idiot. Just because it’s retail doesn’t mean it is any less meaningful, any less fulfilling than any other job out there. Now, I take pride in my day job. A job well done is a job well done, no matter what that job is.

And, guess what? After a year working at my jewelry store, I recently learned that I am being promoted to diamond sales! Helping people pick out engagement rings? What could be more romantic than that! It was wonderful news for me, something I didn’t expect it at all since I work so little. But the true joy of the promotion was knowing that my work there was appreciated, and that they really want me to be there. That, my dears, is a very nice feeling indeed.

Perhaps I’ll buy a piece of jewelry to celebrate ;)

How else am I going to celebrate? With crepes!! Seriously, we bought a crepe pan and everything. Tonight the experiment begins using Alton Brown's recipe - stay tuned for recipe success (I hope)!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Art of Setting Attainable Resolutions, Part Two

So last year, I wrote a blog called The Art of Setting Attainable Resolutions, which was a fun, overdramatic telling of all the things I wished for in the coming year. If you haven’t read it, you really should. Talk about shooting for the stars! It started with a bang with my hopes of getting a top-pick agent, catching the eye of multiple publishers, and finally going to auction. Hehehe, isn’t it funny how over-the-top those goals were? Ridiculous, I know. Although . . . Wait a second! Perhaps it wasn’t so crazy after all! I seem to recall a certain Publisher’s Marketplace Announcement:

Golden Heart finalist Erin Knightley's MORE THAN A STRANGER, pitched as a Regency-style YOU'VE GOT MAIL, in which the heroine falls for an enigmatic stranger, unaware he is her brother's oldest friend and the same man she shared a childhood correspondence with before he broke her heart, to Kerry Donovan at NAL, at auction, by Deidre Knight at The Knight Agency (World English).

(And yes, it still makes me giggly to read this!) I still can hardly believe how things unfolded this year with my writing—I'm such a blessed and lucky lady! Anyway, from there, I went on to wax poetic about my dreams of being stopped by Julia Quinn at conference…

O. M. G. That really did happen? It felt like just a dream! The only thing that would have made this year better is if I had actually managed to meet Colin Firth as hoped for in my resolutions list…


Holy prophetic resolutions, Batman!! With the exception of moving to a summer home in Italy and shedding pounds, my ‘resolutions’ produced uncannily awesome results! All kidding aside, this past year has been beyond extraordinary for me. The amazing things that happened to me were a combination of luck, hard work, stick-to-it-iveness, and perhaps a little something more.

Did writing out my wildest dreams contribute to the success of this year? You know what, I actually think it did! There is so much to be said for the power of positive thinking, for putting your hopes and dreams on paper, and for aiming crazy high when shooting for our dreams. It certainly can’t hurt, and as last year’s resolutions seem to indicate, it may actually help.

So, what are my resolutions this year?

1) For my first two books to be a success (are you listening, Mr. New York Times Bestseller List maker?)

2) To learn to write a great novel in three months or less (stop snickering – it could happen!)

3) To have Hugh Jackman teach me to surf (hey, if mentioning Colin Firth worked, there is no way I'd pass up the chance to meet a wet, shirtless Hugh Jackman!)

4) To make enough money so that my husband can quit his day job and take up the two duties we agreed he would be responsible for if I ever became a sugar mama: to learn Italian and to maintain six-pack abs (admit it; you wish you’d thought of this one)

5) To develop a sugar-free, fat-free, calorie-free cupcake that is both satisfying and delicious, and actually helps you lose weight just by eating it (I promise to give the recipe away for free if I do, generous soul that I am)

6) To bring about world peace (I might as well use my magical resolution power for good, right?)

So there you have it, Erin’s New Year Resolutions, 2012. Now, tell me yours! What was your favorite success of last year, and what do you hope to accomplish this year?

To start the year out right, here is an absurdly delicious, absolutely nutritious recipe for Borscht, a hearty Russian soup. I made it today, and I have to say it was crazy good! As we all know, you can’t get anything done on an empty stomach, so make some soup, write your resolutions list, and get cracking!

I am more a baker than a chef, so when a recipe works perfectly as written, I don’t mess with it (too much, lol). Here is the link to Food and Wine Magazine’s Chunky Borscht: Click Here. Enjoy!