Early Mornings

15 03 2015

Four weeks after the wedding, and I think my endorphin levels, heart rate, blood pressure, etc. have finally fallen to normal levels. I really wasn’t expecting this biological reaction to the long-awaited anticipation of the wedding or the emotional/psychological/physical stress of the event. But as this is real life and not some fairy tale, there is no rest, and we begin our next project together – landscaping the yard. Before we tackle it today, I’m enjoying a quiet Saturday morning to myself – a homemade cappuccino and my new favorite granola bar recipe.

Img5Another gift from our registry – our very own coffee grinder and espresso machine! Thank you friends for all the love!

Date & Nut Bars
Source: Minimalist Baker
This recipe from Minimalist Baker is amazing – simple to put together, adaptable, satisfying, and so much better for you than the pre-packaged things you can buy at the store. You can swap out the dates for any other dried fruit (apricot works really well), and the nut and nut butters can be substituted as well.

Ingredients
1 c of medjool dates, pitted (about 10-12 dates, packed into a cup)
1/4 c honey
1/4 c creamy almond butter
1 c slivered almonds, toasted until golden brown
1 c rolled oats, toasted until golden brown
1/2 c shredded coconut

Directions
After removing the pits from the dates, whiz the dates in a food processor until the fruit comes together like a sticky ball. In a small saucepan on low heat (alternatively, you can microwave in a bowl), melt the honey and almond butter until combined. To the bowl, add the almonds, rolled oats, and coconut, stirring to distribute.

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Add the dates, working to break up the dates to evenly distribute the dates throughout the mixture. The dates and the honey will act as your glue to hold the granola bar together, so it’s best if these “glues” are evenly spread.

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Line a small brownie pan (8″ x 8″) with parchment or plastic wrap, and spread the granola mixture into the pan, pressing down until flatted. The tighter you are able to compact the granola, the better the bars will adhere. Cover the pan with plastic wrap, and let cool in the fridge until set, about an hour or so. Once set, remove the entire parchment/plastic wrap from the pan, and use a large knife to cut into bars. Store in an airtight container at room temperature. I find that it’s better to cut into bars, then individually plastic wrap or zip-lock (the smallest ziplock bags work great!) each bar for freshness. This also allows me to take it with me for the road. This is the perfect snack or on-the-go breakfast. The only challenge is if you don’t pack the granola in tight enough, the bar can be a bit crumbly – which is perfect for topping Greek yogurt, but not so good for eating on-the-go. Either way, it’s delicious – enjoy!

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Our backyard project covers about 5,000+ square feet, includes a chicken coop with 2 new chickens, a new raised herb bed, a new flower bed, and about a half dozen fruit trees. We are still in the process of laying a lawn, paving a few stone paths, constructing a stone fire pit – phew. This doesn’t even include the other work we need to do for the house. Just thinking about it makes me tired. Better get to work then!

Thanks for reading,
AnhD

PS. I am in the process of migrating my photos to Flickr
PPS. I just started shooting with a real DSLR and a new macro lens – bear with me!





Valentine

24 02 2015

Love, it’s a special day
We should celebrate and appreciate
That you and me found something pretty neat
And I know some say this day is arbitrary

But, it’s a good excuse
That I love to use baby
I know what to do baby
I, I will love you
I’ll love you
Kina Grannis [and performed by my sister on our wedding day]

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So after much anticipation (this, this, and this), we finally got married. And it was beautiful. It exceeded my expectations in every single way – and if it wasn’t so expensive, I would do it again in a heartbeat. It was THAT much fun. Me, my best friend David, and my 400 closest friends and family. I couldn’t have asked for a more spectacular event. Even now that it’s been almost 2 weeks, I still replay and savor the events in my head. Here are some snapshots submitted by our guests:

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We’ve received a ton of positive feedback from our friends and families, as well as a ton of questions from newly engaged couples. We did all our planning ourselves, and as a management consultant, wedding planning was pretty intuitive. We created Gantt charts, RACI matrix, slide decks for all components of the wedding so that none of it would fall to us on the big day. All our decorations were catalogued in a detailed inventory list and labeled with sticky post-its, so that our designated decorators would know where to place everything. We did our due diligence with each and every vendor, in some cases, interviewing 3 or 4 different vendors for the same position. We qualitatively and quantitatively evaluated each vendor before making a selection. All the detailed planning paid off – and it was a beautiful day. Here I would like to share my top 5 tips for wedding planning – more or less the same as my tips for any kind of good project management.

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1. Stay organized
My Gantt charts, RACI matrix, item inventory, daily scrums (yes – David and I had daily scrum meetings), all paid off. They may seem excessive, but at the same time, it made the day itself stress-free, and I was able to engage in the day rather than worry about the granular details. David and I also programmed an MS Excel index array lookup sheet for out seating chart of over 400 guests, so that guest check-in would be effortless and efficient. I highly encourage using Google’s free suite of organization and collaboration products to keep you on top of everything. I used Google Sheets to track budget and timelines; I used Google Keep to manage my day-to-day tasks; I tracked all my vendor meetings in Google sheets; I used Google Presentation to create my setup maps. This way, you have a single source of truth for everything and aren’t having version control and miscommunication issues.

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2. Be decisive
Having worked in the wedding industry, I’ve noticed that brides can be incredibly waffley – as in, flipfloppy; as in, indecisive. When I interned with the girls at Vo Floral, we would have brides change color schemes or types of flowers last minute, and would demand refunds for not having their orders meet their new standards. This is not OK. Be decisive early and stick to your decisions. Better yet, record those decisions (in text and also supplemented with images) in a Google Sheet or Google Presentation, so that all your vendors can also view them. This keeps the communication transparent across all the vendors – and your vendors are perfectly clear on what the decisions are and what the final look is.

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3. Trust your vendors
Having managed million dollar projects, I’ve learned that you need to have a good working relationship with all your vendors. You hired a vendor because you trust him/her, so please trust the expert to carry out your vision. In most cases, a nice bride will get everything she asked for and then some. Good vendors are happy knowing their brides + grooms are happy. Also, don’t micromanage your vendors – again, if you’ve done your job to communicate your vision, color scheme, etc., then leave it to the experts. You don’t have the time to look through all 200 silver linen options (taffeta or crushed silk or lace overlay etc) or determine the exact layout and placement of the dessert table, trust me.

 

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4. Don’t bargain too much
This is in the same vein as #3, but you get what you pay for. Of course, find a vendor that meets your budget and who understands your vision, but do not push him/her too much. They are on your side but need to earn a living too.

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5. Have realistic expectations
I think Disney, StyleMePretty, TheKnot, Pinterest, etc. may have ruined us. We have these grandiose visions of what our weddings should look like, and often times, we do not have the budget or time to support such visions. So, be realistic about your expectations – you’ll have a much better time if you aren’t disappointed that the flowers aren’t like this, or if your groom isn’t wearing this, or if your ballroom doesn’t look like that. Also, don’t expect your wedding day (or night) to be a transformative experience. If anything, it’s just another party with your closest friends and family – so have fun, lighten up, and assuming you’ve done the proper planning and hand-off to your vendors, it’s going to be great regardless.

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Do you have other bits of feedback? Please share in the comments section! I’ll be sharing my 5 tips for surviving the wedding day itself and another 5 tips on infusing personality into your wedding, so stay tuned.

Good luck future brides & grooms!
AnhD





Material World

16 01 2015

In the last few years, I have become increasingly more materialistic. I am consumed by this desire for things- expensive things, pretty things, shiny things, whimsical things, nice-smelling things, mechanical things, fast things, ephemeral things. I want it all. And yet, had you asked me at a younger age, let’s say high school, if I would ever buy these things – I would have been completely disinterested and utterly blissful in my disinterest. What would I do with an expensive designer handbag comparable to a month or two of mortgage? Or red soled heels that eventually get beat up by the sidewalk? Or the endless tubes of makeup and the numerous strands of jewelry; or the stacks of laptops and tablet devices; the racks upon racks of clothing; the red wine goblets AND the white wine goblets; an assortment of vases – galvanized, glass, ceramic, clear, opaque, mercury. How did I get here? When did living simply go out of fashion? I reflect on this today after a series of unfortunate events this weekend that made me re-evaluate the true value of these material things. I sat amidst a pile of my things this weekend, holding up each item, trying really hard to assign value or meaning to justify the purchase. I was at a loss. Many of these things held very little value beyond the intrinsic value of the raw goods used to make them. I also couldn’t seem to associate a memory or emotion to these things. I had accumulated so much stuff, most of which I did not need. We know there is very little positive correlation between consumerism and happiness, and yet, we/I’ve been trapped into this never-ending cycle of spending and accumulating.

Plated

Salmon Croquettes
Loosely based off Barefoot Contessa

Ingredients
1/2 pound raw salmon
salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 small onion, diced
3-4 cloves of garlic, finely minced
2-3 stalks celery, diced
3-4 sprigs of dill, roughly chopped
1 tbs capers, drained
small bunch of flat-leaf parsley, minced
2-3 stalks of green onion, thinly sliced
1-2 tsp juice of fresh squeezed lemon (or to taste)
2-3 tbs Dijon mustard (or to taste)
1-2 tbs of mayonnaise
generous dose of hot sauce as needed
2 eggs, beaten
2 cups of panko bread crumbs

Directions
Preheat the oven to 350*F. Place the salmon on a sheet pan, drizzle with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper on both sides. Bake for 15-20 minutes, just barely until cooked. Remove from oven, cover with foil (to keep moisture in the fish), and allow to rest to room temperature.

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Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients except the eggs and panko. Once the fish is cool enough to handle / at room temp, flake the fish and add to the bowl. Season again and as needed with additional salt and pepper. Add ONE beaten egg and combine until the mixture begins to stick together. Shape patties with the fish mixture. Dip the patties in a bit of beaten egg-wash, then dip into the panko, shaking off any excess. Alternatively, you can just form the patties and pan-fry as is, but I think the extra panko crust just makes the patty so much better by adding another layer of crunch and texture. See for yourself which version you prefer.

Outside

Deep fry until each patty is golden brown. Remove, drain the oil and serve hot. If you need to fry in batches, simply place the drained patties on a cooling rack, place the rack over a baking sheet, then place in oven at around 175*F, just to keep the patties warm. The cooling rack will help keep the cooked patties crisp while you finish frying the remaining patties. For the dipping sauce, I doctored a bit of mayonnaise by adding a bit more EVOO, minced garlic, a splash of lemon juice and zest, minced dill, a bit of salt and pepper.

Cooked

These lovely salmon cakes are great as an appetizer, or on a bed of greens and a nice tangy vinaigrette (as seen in the first image there). I love that the capers and lemon add a nice zing to cut through the fatty salmon; the dill also packs some great freshness and flavor; and that panko crust is to die for. Enjoy.

Over the years, I will likely continue to collect things. It’s hard not to, living in a reinforcing cycle of consumerism. But perhaps if I had a new year’s resolution, it would be to buy fewer things, and only to do so mindfully.

AnhD





The Homestretch

23 12 2014

So my wedding website tells me that I’ve got 53 days to go. It went from 2 years to just under 2 months in a blink of an eye. And Christmas! It’s only 2 days away! But because of the wedding (and the crazy wedding budget), our Christmas is pretty straightforward and no frills this year. We’ve resurrected my old college Christmas tree – a spartan little thing, missing several artificial branches – and topped it with just a dozen bronze ornaments or so. The empty spaces are filled in with Christmas cards from our friends and families. There are definitely no gifts under this tree. The only other Christmas decor is the potted poinsettia that adorns our dining table. And yet amidst it all – it feels perfect. Our first Christmas in our first home. While low in Christmas decor, it is high in Christmas spirit. And that’s really what the season is all about.

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So tonight as we snuggle on the couch and watch the twinkling of the Christmas lights, we’ll slurp on these slippery, garlicky, tangy noodles – an easy ending to a busy day. Hope you enjoy.

Pan

Pasta & Shrimp Scampi
Source: Adapted from the always perfect Ina Garten

Ingredients
2 tbs kosher salt
3/4 pound linguine or spaghetti pasta
3 tbs unsalted butter
2 1/2 tbs good olive oil
3-4 tbs butter
4-5 cloves minced garlic (more if you like garlic)
2 shallots, small diced
1/2 small onion, small diced
1/2 c dry white wine (I used a pinot – great for drinking with the pasta)
15-20 large shrimp (about 1 lb), peeled & deveined
freshly ground black pepper
1/3 c chopped parsley leaves
1 sprig of rosemary (optional but it imparts such great flavor!)
1/2 lemon, zest grated
Juice from 1 freshly squeezed lemons
Big pinch of hot red pepper flakes (or to your liking)

Directions
Cook the pasta noodles according to the packaging.
Meanwhile, in a large saucepan or skillet, melt the butter and olive oil on medium heat. Add the garlic, shallots and small onion, and saute for a couple of minutes until it all softens and sweats. Turn the heat to medium-high and add the white wine, allowing it to cook off the alcohol and reduce a bit. Add the rosemary and let the herbs infuse into the liquid. Toss in the large shrimp, a bit of kosher salt, and pepper. Saute until the shrimp just turn pink, about 5 minutes. Stir frequently to prevent burning and to heat the shrimp evenly. Turn off the heat and leave the pan on the stove, add the parsley, lemon zest and juice, and red pepper flakes. Toss in the cooked pasta noodles. Twirl and serve.

Plated

This dish is super quick – it comes together in under 30 minutes. And since it’s winter, shrimp has been abundant and delicious. Big and succulent with a nice crunch. If you don’t mind the garlic, this is a great date night dish – with a bit of wine left over to wash down the meal. I like to amp up the red pepper flakes and garlic for bolder flavors – don’t be afraid to adjust the seasonings to your liking.

With such a short amount of time left, we are in a frenzy wrapping up the last details and tying all the loose ends as the year winds down and as we get closer to the wedding. I’m not entirely sure what my presence on the blog will be in the coming weeks, but wish me luck either way!

Hand-sprayed these to create a faux mercury glass look.
Candle Holders

Thanks so much for reading!
AnhD





Blank Spaces

22 11 2014

Blank SpacesGot a long list of ex-lovers
They’ll tell you I’m insane
But I got a blank space baby
And I’ll write your name
(Blank Spaces)

Top view

Pumpkin Crème brûlée
Source: Williams-Sonoma

Ingredients
1 1/2 c heavy cream (or half-and-half, though it’s less rich)
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground allspice
1/2 tsp freshly grated ginger (ground ginger is fine)
3/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg (ground nutmeg is fine)
pinch of ground clove
5 egg yolks
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of salt
6 tbs pumpkin puree
1/3 c granulated sugar
1 tbs firmly packed light brown sugar
3-4 tsp raw sugar (aka turbinado sugar)

Directions
Preheat an oven to 300°F. Have a pot or kettle of boiling water ready.

Pour the cream into a small saucepan and whisk in all the spices. Simmer on medium-low heat until bubbles form around the edges of the pan and steam begins to rise from the surface. Remove from heat and let stand for a few minutes.

In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, vanilla, salt, pumpkin, 1/3 c granulated sugar and brown sugar until combined. Ladle in a small amount of still-warm (but not too hot! or else the eggs will cook) cream into the egg mixture and stir until blended. Gradually add the remaining cream, constantly whisking to avoid lumps and to combine. Pour the mixture through a sieve and divide the strained mixture among ramekins. Place the ramekins in a large baking pan and full the pan with hot water, half-way up the side of the ramekins.

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Loosely cover the pan and ramekins with foil and bake until the custards are just set, about 30-35 minutes. They should still wobble slightly when jiggled. Transfer the ramekins out of the water bath and allow to cool to room temp. Cover with plastic and refrigerate overnight before serving. Just before serving, top with the remaining granulated sugar, and using a kitchen torch (or broil in the oven at the highest setting – this doesn’t work as well, as you can see) to melt the sugar until it browns lightly. Work quickly as you don’t want the custard to warm up – just the top layer of sugar. Once the sugar forms a thin sheet across the top of the custard, use a spoon to crack the sugar and enjoy immediately.

Cracked

With the holidays coming, this is a really great make-ahead dessert for friends and family (or yourself). It’s really simple and tastes like pure festivus. I prefer a really bold spice blend, but feel free to tone it down as needed. I didn’t have my blow torch handy, and used the broiler setting of my oven. This isn’t as good (as you can see from the pictures), as the heat isn’t as direct. I highly recommend using raw sugar, as it coats more evenly and browns quicker than granulated sugar. This will also yield the most satisfying crackle once you dig into the custard. Enjoy!

I’m obsessed with this Taylor Swift song – it’s like she knows about this and can see into every woman’s soul.

Love,
AnhD





Boy Meets World

11 11 2014

Do you remember that one episode of Boy Meets World where Cory pushes his friends down the elevator shaft? He shoves Shawn, Jack, and Rachel – Eric follows, then Angela. Lastly, this girl shows up and she represents everything Cory is giving up by marrying Topanga. She too falls down the elevator shaft – the last remnants of what could have been. Topanga appears in a wedding dress and Cory awakens from his dream. I am 3 months out from my own wedding, and I have a similar dream. Except my eyes are wide open and everything happens in real-time.

“When I walk downtown pass the corner restaurant, I think about you and that first lychee martini you ordered for me. When I stroll through the weekend farmer’s market and smile at the cannoli woman, I think about the cannoli we shared and how the powdered sugar covered your nose. When I reach for my favorite imported chocolate bar, I think about you and the care package you hand delivered when I was sick – complete with my chocolate, a box of tissues, and a chick flick on DVD. When I make tomato soup, I think about the time I dropped your camera into a simmering pot of tomatoes, while trying to take a photo. And when I drive down the El Camino pass that fateful cafe and told you that we couldn’t be friends – I think about you too. But when I see you in the flesh, I hardly recognize you – you are a stranger, a will-o-the-wisp, just another face in the crowd. Time has changed you. Marriage has changed you. Med school changed you. Wall Street changed you. Even you wouldn’t recognize yourself anymore.”

Filling

Chicken Pot Pie
My friend N calls this the husband dish – as in, she will only make this for a boyfriend if he is potential husband material. What I find funny is – after eating this, you’d be dumb not to want to be her husband!
Source: loosely adapted from my favorite and the lovely Ina Garten

Ingredients
1 lb cooked chicken meat, cubed [I prefer dark meat, but breast meat is fine]
3 c chicken stock, hot
1/2 stick of butter
1 onion, small diced
4-5 cloves of garlic, minced
3-4 stalks of celery, diced
2-3 carrots, diced
1 c small broccoli and/or cauliflower florets [or any other vegetable you like]
1/3 c all purpose flour
3-4 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves removed
1 bay leaf
handful of parsley, roughly chopped
2-3 tbs heavy cream [half and half or full fat milk for a less creamy sauce is an OK sub]
salt and pepper to taste
1 sheet of puff pastry, thawed and lightly rolled out

Directions
In a large pot or pan with tall sides, melt butter on medium-high heat with a splash of olive oil to prevent the butter from burning. Add onion and garlic and allow to sweat. Add the remaining veggies and essentially stir-fry for just a few minutes until the veggies are bright in color and warmed through, but not quite tender. This will continue to cook. Add the fresh thyme and bay leaf (or any other herb – oregano is great here too). Sprinkle in the flour, and let the flour absorb the liquid in the pot and begin to brown slightly. Once the flour has crusted a bit, add the hot chicken stock and simmer until the pie filling has thickened. Add the cooked chicken meat and stir in the heavy cream. Season the sauce with salt and pepper as needed. As a cheat, I also like to add a few splashes of fish sauce for some added umami. Remove the pot from the stove, and add the fresh parsley.

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Spoon the pie filling into individual ramekins or into a pie tin. Drape the puff pastry over the ramekins or pie tin, and cut off the excess. Brush a light eggwash over the pastry dough. Bake in oven at 400*F (or follow the puff pastry package instructions) until the puff pastry lid has puffed up and is golden brown. Serve right out of the oven (and try not to burn your tongue!) and enjoy!

Close Up

I frequently think about the what-ifs and could-have-beens. These flashbacks occur really abruptly, and are triggered by the most inconsequential and mundane things. I don’t necessarily mind the mental inconvenience – to a certain extent, they serve as good reminders. They make me think about the things I passed to get to where I am now. And what’s hopeful here is that I don’t feel like I am giving up anything. Instead, I feel that all these experiences and memories have very acutely shaped me, and I do not regret a single one. I also do not regret letting them all go – to pave way for more new and better experiences and adventures.

Here’s a slightly more cooked/browned version – look at that puff pastry!
Plated

Adventure awaits!
<3 anhd





Lost Connections

29 10 2014

When I was a teenager, still young and oh-so impressionable, I was introduced to this older woman who I deeply admired. We volunteered together and frequently met up for meals and coffee and chat sessions. She had a successful career and disposable income, took care of her younger siblings, spoke her mind, had nice hair, snowboarded on weekends, dressed well – all these traits I picked up on when I was younger. I really looked up to her and saw her as a great older sister/ role model that I never had. To a certain extent, I hoped that I could be as poised and put together and sure of my place in the world as she was by the time I was her age. Over the years, I went off to college then left for NYC, and had nominal interactions with her, as such things happen given time and distance. We were still friendly and I continued to have fond memories of her.

Sliced

Kale, Sausage and Potato Frittata

Ingredients
1 bunch of kale (Dino is great here), cleaned, de-stemmed, rough chop
1 small yellow onion, diced
2-3 cloves of garlic, rough mince
2-3 large Russett potatoes, peeled, small diced and cooked (boiled or otherwise)
3 breakfast sausage links, casing removed and rough chop
8 eggs
1/2 cup of grated Parmigiano Reggiano (or to taste)
a few dashes of red pepper flakes, to taste [cayenne works too]
salt & pepper to taste

Directions
Preheat oven to the Broil setting at 450*F.
In a large bowl, whisk all the eggs and half of the grated Parm and generously season with salt + pepper + pepper flakes (all to taste). In a large skillet on medium-high heat, add the sausage meat and use a spatula or wooden spoon to break up the meat as it cooks. The sausage meat is pretty fatty, so no additional cooking oil will be needed. Once the sausage meat has browned up, add the diced onion and garlic, cooking until fragrant and the onions are soft. Add the potatoes and give it a few minutes to warm up. Throw in the kale, giving it a quick turn. Pour in the whisked eggs and stir to combine the wet and dry ingredients. Let the frittata set for another minute or two on the stove. Top the frittata with the remaining grated Parm and bake until the eggs are fully set, maybe 6-8 minutes / when the top is golden. Once cooked through, the frittata is best served a bit cooler, giving the eggs a chance to set and congeal a bit. If you are impatient like I was, the eggs will still be a bit wet and your frittata will fall apart once you’ve sliced it into pieces. Doesn’t matter – it’s still delish.

PreBake

The beautiful thing is that the crust is crisp thanks to the Parmigiano AND the browned kale – it’s like you get a frittata and free cheesy kale chips too! Win-win. It’s a quick Sunday brunch meal but also something you could serve up in a sandwich (like this) or with a salad. There are infinite permutations possible – all more satisfying than the next. Try it out for yourself and let me know how it goes!

SideView

Recently, I got wind of her from another friend – she’s married now and has a lovely baby on the way, but my fond memories were savagely destroyed. What I had thought was amiability was actually a deep annoyance and dislike for me. I couldn’t tell you the root cause, as she never once told me anything or hinted that she was annoyed or disliked me. It continues to eat at me that she never gave me the opportunity to understand why or at least give me an option to remedy things – and instead I find out from a third party. For someone I sooo admired, this behavior seemed a bit petty and passive aggressive – not a very mature way of handling things. As an adult, I already find it difficult to make new good friends. It’s hard when you learn, that you’re losing the same ones you thought you had. Though I am saddened by this, I guess my lesson here is that there are some things completely outside of your control. I could yearn and wish for that relationship and a deep connection with someone, but if it’s not mutual – it would never happen or be as fulfilling or sustainable as I craved. I mourn this lost connection, but now value (more than ever) those I still have.

Thanks for reading,
AnhD








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