Let them eat cake!

First of all, I have to apologize in advance that this post is NOT about how to bake an amazingly delicious cake. But in the event that you clicked on my link looking for just that – here’s a recipe that will satisfy any sweet tooth. Aaaand cue drool-inducing photo:

beth-uniced-cake

Amazing, right? Now that I have your attention (or maybe not if you’re still salivating over the oozing goodness above), on to the real premise of this post.

Who out there has ever wanted to send out an email newsletter, but didn’t want to pay a monthly fee for a distribution service? As I was drafting my fundraising plan for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society’s Team in Training triathlon I am embarking on this Labor Day, I found myself wanting to deliver more to my audience than a simple text email. We’ve all gotten those – it starts with a simple introduction then dives into 4 or 5 paragraphs on why you should donate, blah blah. While I do agree that email is the fastest and most affordable way to reach a donation audience, I have to admit that those emails make my eyes cross. I find myself skipping over all the jargon and just looking for the link to donate – even then I may simply delete it if it doesn’t grab my attention in the first 10 seconds.

So to spare my friends and family from the tired and over-used text base emails, I was on a mission to find a free email template. Google to the rescue! After a few quick searches I stumbled on CakeMail – a (relatively) free email campaign manager. If you have a small audience – 100 recipients or less – CakeMail allows you to send up to 600 email campaigns FO FREE. The website is really easy to navigate and has over 50 completely customizable templates that are super easy to use. Goodbye messing with PowerPoint or Publisher, hello easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy. You can schedule the delivery and track the performance of your campaigns by viewing open rate, clicks and even a heat map that shows what your readers paid most attention to. Cool huh?

Should you need to reach a broader audience or send emails more frequently, their pricing structure is really competitive and affordable. I seriously love this thing. Give it a shot and see for yourself.

Of course this post wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t share my first fundraising newsletter with you. Take a look and let me know what you think!

What’s your scorecard?

Last week before venturing out to the OTC floor (that’s short for Offshore Technology Conference for those of you who aren’t versed in oil and gas lingo), I went to what I thought would be a seemingly humdrum luncheon – you know, one of those events where you show up and you’re literally the only female there. You B.S. for a few minutes and then endure a tedious presentation about some overdone industry topic.

But to my surprise the speaker at this particular event was pretty inspirational. He’s the CEO of Crosstex Energy and his presentation focused on what we as professionals should do to embrace our accomplishments. I thought the way he approached this was really unique – he started by describing how athletes celebrate after a big win. He pointed out that, when you really stop to think about it, they aren’t specifically celebrating the win or victory. Instead, they’re celebrating how they got there and what forces allowed them to succeed.

He begged the audience to answer the question: What is your scorecard? When you get that long-awaited promotion or land a client in the New York Times, do you sit there and revel in the success itself or are you taking the time to rejoice in how you got there? To me this is a pretty big distinction. This type of proactive thinking allows you to concentrate on the effort that went into that big win and even reflect on the challenges you faced along the way.

For those of you who are just tuning in, I started this blog in 2011 to dare myself (and my readers) to look at life in a much different way. If you couldn’t tell, I’m in a pretty transitional stage in my life these days. I’m exploring who I am and challenging my own thinking. That’s why this particular lunch topic really resonated with me. Everything we encounter in this life is a learning experience – be it good, bad or indifferent. And I think a lot of us neglect to learn from these experiences in the way we ought to, including myself.

So, how do you celebrate your achievements? Do you take a lesson from every accomplishment and think about how you got there? Are taking an active role in becoming a part of something greater than yourself?

What’s your scorecard? I’m still working on defining this for myself and would love your feedback.

Take.it.easy.

Take it easy. Three simple words that carry so much meaning.

I was catching up with a good friend last night and woke up this morning feeling inspired. In a few words, they gave me some great advice that I am going to hold myself to moving forward: Take it easy, give yourself a break.

Simple, right? But for someone like me who is (admittedly) an extremely anxious hypochondriac, this is easier said than done. After talking to my friend last night it dawned on me that, since I can remember, life has thrown me curveballs left and right. Some have been slow underhand tosses, but a few have been 90 mph fastballs that knocked me on my ass.

I turn 26 tomorrow. So naturally I’ve been introspective, trying to figure out why I act the way I do or why I react to situations in certain ways. Upon reflection, a lot of it makes sense. My mind has been conditioned to deal with a steady state of turmoil, constantly solving issues and moving past obstacles. Maybe this is why I haven’t really been able to “give myself a break” as my friend so benignly put it.

One of my mom’s all-time favorite bands was The Eagles and as I write this post I can’t help but sing “Take it easy”. The lyrics are actually quite powerful when you think about it:

Take it easy, take it easy.

Don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy.

Lighten up while you still can, don’t even try to understand.

Just find a place to take your stand, and take it easy.

Don’t get me wrong here, this isn’t going to be a sob story. Despite the hardships I’ve faced throughout my life, I’ve also had an amazing amount of successes and triumphs. I’ve worked hard for everything I have accomplished and have gotten to where I am today because of my own resilience and determination. So as I sit here on my last day as a 25-year-old, I am vowing to make a change. Vowing to look at life differently and learn to appreciate the little things. Vowing to love myself and to accept others for who they are. I am vowing to be a better friend, a better family member, a better coworker, and most importantly…a better person.

With that, I’d like to share a list of some of my new favorite things. The last year has had its ups and downs but I’ve come across a few things that really make me smile. I think that’s as good a place to start as any :)

Favorite quote: Beneath the makeup and behind the smile, I am just a girl who wishes for the world – Marilyn Monroe.

Oh, Marilyn. She will forever be one of my favorite icons. Not only was she stunningly beautiful, and a REAL woman, but she wasn’t afraid to be true to herself even if it meant that not everyone liked her. I really admire her outspoken personality and courage to be herself.

Favorite new style: red lipstick and skinny jeans.

I have to admit, up until a few months ago I was terrified of dawning either of these. But they’ve both grown on me and now I just can’t get enough. I think it has something to do with me being more comfortable and confident in my own skin – which is always a good thing. Today, I own several shades of red and countless skinny jean colors – thank you Target!

Favorite song: Radioactive – Imagine Dragons

Seriously, awesome. This is really hard for me considering I have a ton of new songs I’m obsessed with these days, like Skindred’s The Fear, but Imagine Dragons really know how to put a smile on my face.

Favorite way to wake up: birds chirping outside my window

As the warmer weather approaches, a little family of birds in the tree outside my window has decided that they will be my new alarm clock. Oddly enough, the more I wake up to them the more pleasant their songs become. There’s something very soothing about listening the first chirps of the morning and the harmony growing as the minutes pass. Now, don’t get me wrong, these little songs are not my favorite tune on Saturday and Sunday mornings. But for the other 5 days of the week, I’ve actually found myself laying in bed just to listen…and its quite peaceful.

Favorite Pandora station: The Gorillaz

For those of you who know me well, you know that music is one of my greatest passions. Without fail I will jam out in my car, the shower, even at my desk at work. Some of the most transient music I’ve come across has been on my new Gorillaz Pandora station. If you’re a fan, you would definitely check it out.

Favorite getaway: Beachtown

OK – some of you might be thinking, “Really, Galveston? Why would this be anyone’s idea of a great getaway?” But to be honest, its become one of my favorite vacation spots. Not only is it just a short 45 minute drive, but the East end of the island is home to a cool new neighborhood called Beachtown. It’s the only part of the island where the beach is actually getting wider vs. smaller. Its clean, clandestine and stunningly beautiful. The houses are absolutely gorgeous and its proximity to the Strand is a must (especially since they got rid of open-container laws). If you get a chance to drive around it on your next trip to the Coast, you definitely should.

Favorite new bar: Captain Foxheart’s Bad News Bar & Spirit Lounge

Rarely will you ever find me roaming downtown, but a friend introduced me to this great new bar and I just love it. Its super hidden and really hard to find, which I personally think is one of its most appealing qualities. You walk up a dark, sketchy stairwell with the music being the only indicator of where the front door is. Once you get inside, don’t bother asking the bartender for a menu because they don’t have one. Just tell him what you like and he’ll concoct something original that will tantalize your taste buds. Definitely worth a visit!

So with that, my friends, I hope I have given you some fun new things to check out. Just writing this post has been extremely therapeutic and refreshing. I think I’m on the right track here.

Dare to dream – revisited

What is it that truly makes someone happy? Is it the amount of money they have or the close relationships they foster? Is it the ability to love one’s job and have a balanced personal life? Is it simply…being alive?

While there are many definitions, happiness is unique to its owner and I believe that you only get out of life what you put into it. A friend sent me a great article today, entitled “21 Habits of Happy People”I’m so glad I had a chance to stumble across this little gem – particularly at the (somewhat) start of a new year. I regret that I did not write more in 2012, but one of my resolutions for this year is to focus on improving myself and my own future – with that, blogging and challenging my own thinking is of the utmost importance.

When I originally started this blog, I dared myself to dream. To think outside the box, to ask tough questions, to wonder why and why not, with the end goal being my discovery of a stronger and more defined sense of self. Well, I had a really good chance to define that self last year when I was faced with the toughest challenge of my life since my mother’s passing – a failed engagement.

I made the decision to end a 2.5 relationship with my then best friend just under one year ago, but the scars will live with me forever. Despite the overwhelming support from my friends and the praise I received for being so brave and strong, I couldn’t help but feel utterly helpless and alone. For months I struggled with the word alone – what would I do alone? Could I really be single? Is this really happening? The endless days without phone calls or texts can really wear on you – you begin to wonder if you will ever regain your sanity, if you will ever love again, if you will ever be OK. But I knew I had to embrace being alone, this was my time to reflect and learn from the experience and find myself. I had to deal with the hurt. Not to mention seeing the person I once loved get into a relationship just two months after our broken engagement – that was probably the hardest part of at all. Those 7 months leading to the end of the year were the most dismal yet fulfilling months I have ever experienced. While I can’t help but feel a sense a remorse for what was lost, I am more proud of myself than ever for standing up for what I believed in and taking charge of MY future – for better or worse.

September 29, 2012: my intended wedding day. I had anticipated this being one of the hardest days I would ever have to live through. Fortunately for me, I have amazing friends and was able to spend some quality time with two of my best girlfriends to not only take my mind off “what could have been” but to celebrate my strength. After waking up on the 30th alive and well, I knew it was time to rejuvenate myself. To find what I had been looking for all along, my own identity. I decided to live in the moment and connect with myself – figure out what I like and what I don’t, learn how to stand up for myself and be OK without a relationship. Almost 9 months later, I can truly say I found that person – and she is a happy one.

Reading the article mentioned above reminded me of the torment that was 2012, but also reminded me that we generate our own happiness. We cannot rely on others to make changes in our lives and create happiness. We must do it for ourselves. Today, I am proud to say that I have let go of regret. I have forgiven myself, I have forgiven Bryan. I have let go of animosity and grudges and have accepted my circumstances for what they are. I have learned to continue loving despite failure, to love myself and to truly enjoy life.

So here’s to a great 2013 – hopefully a year that is filled with professional and personal successes, blessings, new friendships and new experiences. Here’s to 2013: a new beginning. I will continue daring to dream.

Answers

“Every day is a new day to make new decisions.”

A good friend sent me this quote today and it compelled me to write.

I regret that is has been almost 3 months since my last blog post but it seems like the last few weeks have been a black hole of time. There have been lots of changes in my life, good and bad, and my attention has hardly been focused. I started off the new year with an overwhelming amount of dreams and aspirations for 2012 – too many in fact. Sadly, none of these so called “resolutions” are materializing at this point. It is frustrating to say the least, but I’m working on getting my spirits back up.

Change isn’t easy, no matter who you are.  While I remain extremely excited about this new chapter in my life, I can’t help but feel somewhat disconnected. Leaving Austin was one of the hardest things I have ever done and I feel the pain of that loss growing every day. Although Bryan and I visit frequently, the day-to-day thrill of seeing my girlfriends or exploring a charming city have faded. Despite knowing my friends would pick up my call at any moment, I feel so far away. Houston is a wonderful town and I am lucky to have such a great job in a thriving business environment. Yet, I am unfulfilled.

I have always tried to embrace the ebb and flows of life with poise and grace – everything from the passing of my mother to completing my first triathlon, I have opted to remain resilient. But too many of those ups and downs can wear on a person and make them feel almost…lifeless. At times it feels as if my world is passing by right before my eyes and I can’t seem to find the strength to grab it and make it my own. I need a breath of fresh air.

Just like the quote above says, every day is a new day to make decisions and take control of your own life. For the past few months I have failed to embody this concept. But I am determined to change that. It’s so easy to get lazy and caught up in the idea that life will just, happen. But the reality is life will happen but if you don’t take a chance and create the life you want to live, it will be over before you know it. I have some pretty big decisions to make here soon…I just hope I make the right ones.

I apologize for the vagueness of this post, but it’s difficult for me to describe the way I am feeling on my own, much less to others. I’m searching for an answer. Searching for the strength to be my own person, discover my identity and make the most of this life. I need to find my inner peace and rediscover my passions. The entire impetus for starting this blog was to find those very things and I will stick with that desire as long as it takes to find what I am looking for. Despite my moments of worry or insecurity, I know I will find that answer. I just need to know where to start looking… although I’m pretty sure that place is within my own heart.

Wish me luck.

2011: I came, I saw, I conquered.

As I prepare for what promises to be one of the most amazing chapters in my life to date, my brain is flooded with hopes and aspirations for 2012. Despite my overwhelming excitement, however, I can’t help but look back at 2011 and wonder where the time went. I literally blinked and it was time to start taking down our Christmas decorations and preparing for the new year.

But I can’t really complain about time moving at warp speed – after all, 2011 was pretty damn exciting. There were countless moments that took my breath away mixed with major life changes and personal milestones. Before I can really commit to the laundry list of resolutions I have put forth for myself, I believe a little reflection is in order. So, here’s to the most memorable moments I had in 2011 (in no particular order, except the obvious). I hope you enjoy reliving them with me!

  • Got engaged to my best friend
  • Went skydiving for the first time
  • Completed my first triathlon
  • Cut 12 inches off my hair
  • Took a trip to California and really learned what it means to let go
  • Started a blog, where I dared to be honest with myself and my readers
  • Went to the Master’s
  • Got a promotion and subsequently a new job (twice!)
  • Celebrated 2 wonderful years together with Bryan
  • Threw my first surprise party
  • Threw my first New Year’s party
  • Tried on my first wedding dress – and found the perfect one :)
  • Made some great new friendships that will last a lifetime
  • Got hit by a bus…and kept riding despite being injured
  • Cooked live lobster
  • Hit a raccoon and almost totaled my car
  • Fell in love with Boxers (the dogs)
  • Ran in my first 5K race
  • Saw some amazing live shows: Flogging Molly, Coldplay, Chevelle, Stevie Wonder, The Dirty Heads…just to name a few
  • Completed my first batch of freelance jobs and continued building my professional portfolio
  • Dedicated my Sunday’s to brunch with friends
  • Discovered an inherent passion for social media
  • Created a travel scrapbook for Bryan, documenting all of our adventures from Day 1
  • Went on a riverboat tour
  • Fell in love with Goorin Brothers
  • Ran the Turkey Trot in Austin for the first time
  • Had a snow day in Austin
  • Turned 24
  • Hired a personal trainer for 6 weeks
  • Put out a house fire – literally
  • Drove a Mustang convertible
  • Tried an abundance of new recipes (and documented a few of them)
  • Went to my first bachelorette party, dressed in 80′s from head to toe
  • Was asked to be a bridesmaid for the first time
  • Tasted the #1 wine ranked on Wine Spectator
  • Dressed up as something SCARY for Halloween
  • Threw an engagement party for my best friends
  • Had 2 surprise get-togethers thrown for me
  • Attended more softball games then I can count on my fingers (and probably toes)
  • Moved to Houston
  • Said “I love you” at least once a day to someone
  • Lived with my eyes wide open and had no regrets…

2011 was undoubtedly the best year of my life to date, filled with excitement, an abundance of love, physical and emotional challenges, career milestones and more. With all of that carrying me into the new year, I’m both anxious and excited to see what 2012 will bring. No matter what comes my way, good, bad or indifferent, I know the inner strength I discovered by pushing my limits and conquering my fears in 2011 will only help me dive head first into the next 12 months.

Thank you, 2011, for being memorable, romantic and utterly breathtaking. While I know I will never forget you, it’s time to move on and set my sights on the future. Now on to my resolutions…

Beyond thankful

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, I feel it is time to summarize what has taken place over the past month and a half to help clarify not only why I have failed to post anything, but more importantly to illustrate how incredibly thankful I am for everything that I have…

Life has been a whirlwind over the past few months, from the engagement to the triathlon…and now a big move to Houston. Yep, you read right, I have accepted a great job in Houston and we are leaving in a few short days. I know what you might be thinking, “Moving to Houston?? Why would you ever want to leave Austin?” Truth be told, making the decision to leave Austin was one of the hardest things Bryan and I have done. Despite the overwhelming fear of leaving a ton of friends and the beloved city where we met behind, we truly believe that this is the right move for us and are excited to see what the future holds.

Change is scary. And I am the first one to admit that I don’t usually deal with it very well. But thanks to the support of our friends and family we are ready to dive into our adventure head first. Over the past few months I have felt beyond blessed to have so many amazing people in my life and I owe all of my confidence in this move to them. Not only did all of my closest friends know about Bryan’s surprise proposal, but they kept it a secret and were more than willing to show up and celebrate our special day. I also had an amazing cheering section at my triathlon who gave me the strength I needed to sprint to the finish line and finish in a blaze of glory.

Now, as we face one of the biggest changes in our life to date, our friends and family are once again there to keep us strong. I knew not everyone would react positively to our move…after all, we are no longer going to be living in the same city with the people who matter most to us. That can be a hard pill to swallow. Despite the sadness that this news brought, everyone has told us how happy they are for our opportunity and how excited they are to visit us in Houston. If that doesn’t tell you we have true friends, I don’t know what does. They could have easily been upset and tried to convince us not to leave, but instead they put their emotions aside and supported us – like they always do.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, and this year I want to reflect on the amazing people we have in our lives. Without them, we would be empty and estranged. I now know that, no matter where we are in the world, whether in a different city, state or country, we will always be able to count on our friends and family for love and encouragement.

Of course, I am incredibly thankful for Bryan, my fiance and my best friend. He has been nothing short of amazing since day 1 and I wouldn’t have been able to make this decision without his unwavering support. We are a team, a family, and he has shown me what it means to be loved unconditionally. Thank you, darling, for always having my back and for helping me see the positive side of everything. I can’t wait to take off on our new adventure, knowing that as long as I have you, life will be exactly as it needs to be.

And to every one of our friends and family members who may be reading this, THANK YOU. Thank you for always being there, for being unbiased and for telling it like it is. For dropping any plans you may have had just to spend time with us, and for making us feel like the most special couple in the entire world. We love each and every one of you so much it hurts. Thank you for being you :)

Code Name Superwoman

Wow – where have the last 2 months gone?

After returning to Earth from my rocket-launch of excitement with my engagement to my best friend, things have been moving at lightning speed. One would think that having a year to plan a wedding would be enough time, but I’m already feeling the heat. Thus, I have resolved to tackle the biggest obstacles of my wedding planning head on. I am happy to report that I have about 50% of my wedding planned and it is only October 26th :)

My first challenge was picking a venue and securing the date. After leisurely researching and calling a few places, I was shocked to find that Fall dates in 2012 were already booked at the beginning of September 2011. Apparently some brides-to-be book their venues up to 2 years in advance – or even before they are engaged! I was clearly behind the curve. So, only a week after the engagement, I drug poor Bryan on 10 tours in a last-ditch effort to find the perfect venue. Although the process was exhausting, I knew I had found the one when I walked through the doors of Villa St. Clair. The venue is a gorgeous tuscan-style house, surrounded by trees and stucco walls. The courtyard is layered with stone and the ballroom is classy and exudes romance. Everyone says wedding planning should be about your gut, so I listened. St. Clair was the only place we had visited that literally gave me the chills and made my heart beat fast. I could literally imagine us getting married there…and so we booked it! Along with our date which will forever be my most favorite date of all time – 9/29/12.

Without giving too much away...

Two tasks down, and about one million to go.

Next on the agenda? A wedding dress apparently! While I had planned on having to search for my dream dress for the next few months, imagine my surprise when I found it! Several weeks ago, I ventured out on my first dress-trying adventure and visited a few places in Houston. After several hours, I think I had tried on about 25 dresses – all gorgeous, of course, but none of which was “the one”. Tired and exhausted, I wondered if this process would be as draining each time. And then, only two days ago, I had an appointment with my bestie Livie (and future bridesmaid) at the David’s Bridal where she works. Once again, my dressing room was flooded with amazingly beautiful garments, about 15 in total. Time and time again I said, “Yea I like this, but it’s not it.” And then…I found it. It took a while for the sentiment to kick in, but as I tried on my dress for the first time I knew that this was going to be the #1 contender for the night. Again with the gut thing…I had an image of myself walking down the aisle to Bryan and even envisioned us cutting the cake, all while wearing this dress. To give the other dresses a fair chance I tried on a few more, but the image of my #1 was still ringing in my brain. We narrowed down the choices to about 3, and the decision was easy. As soon as I walked up and down the store a few times, I broke out and tears and that’s when I knew my decision had been made! Obviously I can’t share an image on here, but I can say that the dress is an Oleg Cassini and is now discontinued. Lucky me! I got to order it new but feel sure not many people will have the opportunity to buy the dress in a few months, something that makes it even more special in my opinion.

Phew, what’s next?

The photographer – a very crucial piece to any wedding. I always knew that I didn’t want to skirt around this element of my planning. I needed to find someone who is talented, professional, has an amazing personality and delivers flawless shots. And I found him! After hours of research and asking questions, I booked our date and engagement session with Doberenz Photography. Bryan and I met with him yesterday and, after a few minutes of light conversation, I knew he was perfect. He laughed at all of Bryan’s sarcastic jokes, had great ideas and presented some amazing albums. His colors are absolutely gorgeous and the way he captures pure emotion is incredible. Done and done! Stay tuned for engagement photos :)

Some people might say I’m moving too fast considering we only got engaged 2 months ago. I like to say I’m being smart and tackling the big obstacles right away so that I don’t stress out in a few months. Wedding planning is easy to put off when you have work and um, LIFE getting in the way. But, as with everything else in my life, I decided to take this head on and get the big things out of the way while I had the time. Fortunately for me, I have a dad and stepmom that are beyond supportive and willing to fuel my fast-paced planning. We haven’t even officially decided on a budget, but they understand that when I have found what I want it’s best to book it and avoid overthinking (which I tend to do, more often than not). I can’t begin to express my gratitude for their patience and generosity. Now I can safely relax and breathe for the next few months. Bryan and I have a lot of good changes coming our way and I want to make sure we can dedicate time to those events – not stress about a wedding. It is, after all, the most important day of our life. And while I know that it requires a lot of careful thought and planning, all I really want to do is marry my best friend and soul mate.

At the end of the day, our love and commitment to spending our lives together is REALLY what’s important, everything else is just icing on the cake – yes, pun intended.

I HAD to share this

For those of you who don’t already know, I am o-b-s-e-s-s-e-d with sweets. Anything that has sugar has my attention and I could live off of ice cream if I had to. A part of me thinks this is due to the fact that my mom ate something sweet every night before bed when she was pregnant with me – coincidence? I think not…

Chocolate, above all, is my favorite kind of sugary indulgence. Put it in cookies, cakes or even by itself and I’m happy. In addition to chocolate, wine (red or white – I’m not biased) can always put a smile on my face. So I was working on some Twitter posts for one of my clients (@NortonGrapeWine) and came across what appears to be one of the most amazing recipes ever created – using red wine instead of dye to make red velvet cake.

A combination of red wine and chocolate to make one of my most favorite desserts?? Be still my heart…

Here’s what you need:

12 ounces all purpose flour (about 2¾ cups if by volume)
2 ounces natural cocoa (½ cup if by volume)
16 ounces unsalted butter, room temperature
2 ounces safflower oil or other neutral flavored oil
18 ounces brown sugar (3 cups, moderately packed, if by volume)
1 teaspoon salt
2¼ teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon, preferably freshly ground
scrapings from two vanilla bean pods or 1 tsp vanilla bean paste
6 eggs, room temperature
12 ounces red wine (Zinfandels work especially well)
1½ ounces vanilla extract
1 batch cream cheese German buttercream (See above)

To finish:
5 ounces white chocolate, preferably in a block or bar
½ ounce cocoa nibs

Here’s what you do:

  • Preheat the oven to 350° F and line three 8” by 2” cake pans with parchment rounds. Grease lightly with nonstick spray.
  • Sift together the flour and cocoa, set aside.
  • In a large bowl, combine the butter, oil, brown sugar, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and vanilla bean seeds. Use a hand or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment to cream the ingredients for 10 minutes on medium speed. Periodically, stop mixing to scrape the bowl down with a rubber spatula.
  • Turn the mixer to medium low and add the eggs, one at a time. Continue mixing after each addition until the egg has fully incorporated before adding the next.
  • Reduce mixer speed to low. Add the flour/cocoa mixture alternately with the red wine in about three additions. Add the vanilla at the end. Shut off the mixer and give the batter a few turns with a rubber spatula to ensure a homogenous mix.
  • Divide the batter evenly between the three prepared cake pans (25 ounces each).
  • Bake for 30 to 35 minutes. The oil in the batter makes the cakes slightly more forgiving of over-baking, but try not to let it come to that. Bake until the cakes have puffed but will still retain a slight impression if touched gently with a fingertip. A toothpick inserted into the center should have a few moist crumbs still attached.
  • Cool the cakes on a wire rack. At first, they will have pronounced domes and a slightly gray-brown color, but as they cool the domes will settle down somewhat and the color will deepen. When they have cooled, run a knife around the sides of the pan and invert onto a parchment lined tray or cooling rack. Continue cooling until no trace of warmth remains.
  • Before frosting, use a serrated knife to level the cakes. If you have found this step difficult in the past, refrigerate the cakes for 30 minutes beforehand, making them easier to handle and cut.
  • Assemble the cake on a platter or cake stand, topping each layer with a generous amount of buttercream. Crumb coat by spreading a thin, smooth layer of buttercream over the tops and sides of the cake; this will prevent stray crumbs from flecking the finished layer. Refrigerate the crumb-coated cake for 30 minutes before applying the final coating of buttercream to the top and sides

There’s also a great recipe for the buttercream icing that you can find in the same article: http://www.gilttaste.com/stories/2292-the-original-red-wine-velvet-cake-recipe

Another fun fact about me: Bryan and I started a cooking blog when we first moved in together. We called it “Culinary Conquest” and attempted to try one new recipe a week. Unfortunately, that got pretty expensive and time-consuming so that hobby all but fizzled out. Luckily, I have a new blog that allows me to write about my passions, one of which is cooking, that I can supplement with some great recipes :)

Needless to say I am going to be making this ASAP – even if I have to eat it all by myself!

Bon Appétit!

You can call me “Emily the triathlete”

I DID IT!!!!! After 3 months of training in the intense heat, getting hit by a bus and having a few minor panic attacks, I completed my first triathlon on Saturday, October 1st.

Sorry, let me rephrase – I didn’t just complete my triathlon, I kicked its ASS! I’m not sure if it was the adrenaline pumping through my veins or the fact that the temperature was about 30 degrees cooler than what I was used to training in, but something propelled me that day and I surpassed my goals farther than I ever thought possible.

The night before was restless, as was to be expected. I woke up about every hour worrying that perhaps I had set my alarm to PM instead of AM – I was wrong every time. But I managed to get a good amount of sleep and felt surprisingly refreshed as I walked out of my hotel room at 6 AM. The knots in my stomach made it difficult to eat a hearty breakfast but I was able to get some oatmeal and a piece of toast down. Luckily my dad and Bryan were up early too so I didn’t have to eat alone – it was so nice to get one last hug of encouragement before making my way to the swim start.

It was about 65 degrees that morning and my tri suit was far from equipped to keep me warm. So I wrapped myself in the towel I would use during my bike transition and headed out to get marked with my race number. After taking a few pictures and laying out my items for the transition, it was 5 minutes until we had to be down at the starting line. As I heard the announcer, my stomach completely dropped. Bryan had been with me up until this point but had to go meet my brother and dad back at the hotel – suddenly, I was all alone. Instead of letting my anxiety overcome me, I decided to use the cool air to get my blood flowing. I fidgeted, walked and jumped around, and then began the walk to the swim start. After a few minutes I saw my brother, my dad and Bryan and was immediately reassured. Watching the first wave of swimmers was motivation enough for me – if they could do it, so could I.

Before I knew it, it was time to get in the water and await the start. About 35 of us were treading water in extremely close proximity – and then the gun went off. Almost immediately I was being kicked and pulled in every direction by the girls who wanted to get to the head of the pack. I tried not to let this bother me, although my nerves were running wild. I decided to start off slowly, swimming breast stroke to the first buoy until I had enough room. After turning the corner, it was time to speed up and swim freestyle. Before I knew it, the end of the swim was in my sights! In just over 13 minutes, I climbed out of the water and began the long walk up a steep hill to the bike transition.

Everything after that transition is a blur – I dried off, put on my gear, opened up a gel pack and walked my bike to the mounting area. All the while, my wonderful spectators were cheering me on and taking pictures. After hopping on my bike, a sense of tranquility overcame me. The air was crisp, the sun was coming up and I had a burst of energy. The bike course itself was absolutely gorgeous – a nice alternative to the routes I took in Austin over and over. We rode over valleys and water and even through some side streets. The course was flatter than I had anticipated and for that I was grateful. Throughout the ride, I was passed by a few and managed to pass some people myself. Despite this, I kept telling myself , “This is about you, no one else”. I started to lose some steam around mile 11 but managed to keep a steady pace throughout the ride, averaging 17 MPH. After all, I was going to finish the ride in under an hour – something I never thought I would do. As I finished my last lap and turned into downtown Kerrville, I saw Bryan, my dad and brother Will cheering me on once again – god it felt good to see them!

The transition to the run was exhausting to say the least. As I changed my socks and put on my shoes, my legs were shaking and fatigued. I set out on the run, gave my dad a high-five and then I was alone again. To my surprise, I kept a steady pace through the run even though the terrain was less than desirable. After about 3/4 of a mile on a road, the course took us into a wooded area where we had to run through some thick grass, dodge rocks and hop over tree roots. Before I knew it I was at the turnaround point – only 1.5 miles to go. By far the best part about the run was the little kids who were handing out Gatorade and water. They were so excited and full of life. As I got closer to the turnaround, a group of girls kept cheering “G-O Let’s GO!” I was so inspired by their enthusiasm and decided to make that my mantra for the remainder of the run. Pretty soon I was back on the road and was on the home stretch to the finish line! I took my final turn and saw exactly what I needed to see – my friends Donnie and Laura, their son Hayden, Mike, Bryan, my dad and brother. Seeing their faces light up as they saw me gave me the last bit of energy I needed to literally sprint to the finish line. As I picked up speed, I heard the announcer say “And that’s how you do it, Emily! This is Emily Bernard finishing strong”. Talk about a rush!!

And then, it was over. I had completed my first triathlon, gotten my medal and was being rushed by my family and friends. As Bryan picked me up in celebration, I began to cry. I was so overwhelmed with emotion and felt the most intense sense of accomplishment I had ever felt – it was by far one of the most amazing moments of my life.

Me with my amazing trainer, fiance and best friend. I LOVE YOU!

When all was said and done, I finished the triathlon in 1 hour, 54 minutes and managed to place second in my age group! Luckily Donnie and Laura stuck around to hear the awards – we were already back at the hotel! They were able to get my trophy for me, for which I am so thankful. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would place in the triathlon, much less second in my age group. It was breathtaking to hear those words.

While I attribute a lot of my success to my dedication and training, I couldn’t have done it without everyone’s support. Not only did I have an amazing cheering section the day of, but all the comments and words of praise I got on Facebook and in person leading up the event fueled my passion to succeed. So thank you, to everyone who helped keep me going even when I wanted to give up. I couldn’t have done it without you!  And special thanks to Bryan for training me, pushing me when I needed it and for putting up with my attitude on the way to Kerrville as the stress began to set in – you do so much for me babe and I fall more and more in love with you every day!

Now the only question remaining is – when is the next one??

I love you Dad and Will!