Randi and Sara…My Life is Now Complete

Dear Dad:

Don’t get me wrong, I have had a complete life for some time. But there are two friends/people/colleagues that have come into my world and rocked it…in a good way. Randi Weinstein and Sara Donahue are a dangerous duo. They came into my world about the same time and I hope they remain in it forever.

If you are not aware of who they are and what they mean to me, let me elaborate a little:

Randi and Sara are what I call my right hand and left hand team (my thunder and lighting). I have others that fit the role as well, but they are a machine and have been working with me the longest. They are two of the most powerful players involved in the Festival and work harder than most people I ever meet. They are also total opposites but then one and the same.

Randi, who most everyone in Charleston knows, is amazing. She is hard-working, dedicated, caring and a get it done kind of person. She started working at the Festival the second year pretty much as a volunteer/staff member and whipped it into shape. Unfortunately for her, year two was the most challenging one to date, but she stayed with it and kept on me until I finally hired her full-time. I wish I had found her earlier in life, but I was glad when she finally came on full force. I love Randi’s directness and honesty and I love that on most occasions we are on the same wavelength. We just get each other. She has been a mentor and friend to me and really has helped me through some rough times. She takes care of me when I need it and makes sure I keep it straight…thank God for that.

Sara is what I call a secret weapon. She is one of the smartest, creative and cleaver people around. She is mature way beyond her years and really blows me away each and every day. When asked by people what she does, she should reply “what don’t I do”. There is never a task she cannot conquer or a person she cannot manage. She is smooth and calm and really someone I admire and respect greatly. She is someone I can hang with and look forward to many more adventures together.

So now you know when I am congratulated on the success of the Festival and I say “it’s not me” some of the reasons why that is. There are others on the team that are equally amazing (Austin, Zach and Ashley and I will share about them later) but as these two and I head out on another food tour (10 days at that), I wanted to reflect on why I am so lucky to have them around.

AP

p.s. Thought of the day, If lost, please keep for 24 hours.

New York, New York

Dear Dad:

As I head to what has become a yearly trip to The Big Apple I thought I would reflect on this amazing city and what it has meant to me. I have to say New York is probably my favorite place to be outside of Charleston. I have had so many great times there and have visited more times than I can remember. I always wanted to live there and sometimes regret that I didn’t do it for a year after college. That has no merit now and I am just fortunate to have the life I do that allows me to come on an annual basis. So here are some of the highlights of times I have had in the city and some of my favorite moments:

1. My first trip was in middle school, part of a school trip. It was a fun crew as I recall with a lot of my girls and “the boys” (Travis, Jimmy, Jose, Dubose, etc). We did every imaginable tourist thing we could including visiting Times Square, going by Rockefeller Plaza and screaming for the Today Show audience, climbing the top of the Statue of Liberty (something they no longer allow you to do), and going to the top of the World Trade Center and Empire State Building. The other real memory of that trip was having a bird poop on my head. As a teenager it was mortifying but I remember someone saying it was good luck. And I have had some of that.

2. I really wanted to work for Glamour magazine back in the day. So much so that I applied for an internship twice and got rejected both times. I was determined and decided to write a letter to the editor which actually got published! It was the first time I had ever had anything in a national pub and was beyond myself! Even though I did not get to work for the magazine or even live in the city, I learned a lot about never giving up on a dream.

3. Of course some of my greatest times in New York involve (or should I say revolve) around food. One of my first food focused trips was with Ken Vedrinski. His restaurant Sienna had been selected one of the Best Restaurant by Esquire (and John Mariani) so we went to celebrate. And did we do that. I learned quickly that a trip to New York with a chef did not require one 15 course menu in a day but more like 5 or 6 of them. Seriously we were at a place eating another table full of food and it was 2am. Just when I thought I was really full, came another chef offering food and sorry you cannot turn it down especially when it is from someone like Wylie Dufresne.

4. The James Beard Foundation has also had a big part of my trips. I have helped orchestrate several dinners in the quaint home and antiquated kitchen. One of my favorite dinners was with chefs Michael Kramer, Ken Vedrinski, Frank Lee and Mike Lata to promote the Festival’s launch. The meal was delicious but the best memories were what happened around the trip. Crazy would not appropriately describe it. And if this blog wasn’t so PC I could share more. “what happens in taxi cabs, stays in taxi cabs.”

5. I cannot talk about New York without mentioning shopping. And lots of it. Why there is not an H&M in Charleston baffles me. I would keep them in business for sure. But thank goodness there is not and that is why trips to the big city keep me from getting rich. I spend a load on stuff I cannot get anywhere else and I have a full closet to thank the city for.

6. Lots of trips have now been with my crew at the Festival. One trip to the New York Food + Wine Festival proved to be a great research trip. We picked up some good ideas but most of all we learned that going to events we don’t organize is great networking. We met some amazing chefs that year including Daniel Boulud (God), Andrew Carmellini (Jesus) and Michael White (all the saints combined) to name a few.

7. I am not a celebrity driven person but man when I meet one of the peeps I dig, get the f@%#k out! I have seen lots of them during trips but the best sighting was more than a walk by. After a big night out, I just go happened to “stumble upon” Puff Daddy (his name at the time) as he was taping a video in the middle of Times Square. No I did not have a cameo in it, but I did get a high five. I was pretty stoked and have not washed that hand since.

8. Staff trophies, enough said.

9. Since I plan events for a living, I will share my favorite event of the city. Not just because I love and admire Danny Meyer for all that he touches, but the Big Apple BBQ is pretty off the charts fun. I love the location in the park, the pit masters are smokin and the whole scene is just right. I have been several times and have really dreamed of having it part of our event. If you are in town in early June mark it down to go and eat some good grub.

10. Going to see the Jets drunk was not a good idea. First I cheered for the Jaguars the entire time (even though they were not playing them), almost got beat up by some male fans, and then passed out before the second half. Not my best sports moment. And pretty sure I am banned from the stadium.

Again as I head to the city, I am sure there will be another place I go, shop or dine at that will be worthy of a plug but for now here’s to my second favorite city!

AP

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Here’s to My Boys!

Dear Dad:

I guess since I am about to leave my “boys” for 15+ days it might be appropriate to write about them. Yes, I will be writing about them again I am sure. They are my “pride and joy” (in a Cousin Eddie kind of way) but thought I could start this one on where we are today (in no particular order):

  • Leroy: what an amazing, amazing dog. So super sweet and caring. All he wants to do is sniff, sleep and stare. He loves, loves me and the family and would do anything to lie down and protect. He was brought to us nine years under a different name (Zebulon) and so glad he is part of the team. I smile just seeing his face each and every day. In a weird sort of way, he makes me want to be a better person!
  • Chase: some boys love their mama, and then there is Chase. Don’t get me wrong, he loves his dad, but he loves, loves him some mom. Which is why these trips will be especially hard. He wants to do nothing but cuddle, snuggle and love on me. It is amazingly special but there are times when a break is nice. Maybe because I am a space needing kind of person but I do love a good snuggle. Chase has taught me the importance of being cute, and just having a good time while out it (well maybe he just gets that from me). He is also my exercise king. I think he will be our sport star, who dabbles in a good party and might be part of a band. Now saying that, he is me! He will be 100% rock star no matter what. He also has a lot of Arnold in him. Lots of chilling, lots of charming and lots of loving.
  • Puga: I could just say “enough said” with a name like that but I need to give Puga more glory. Puga is no normal dog, or pug at that. He is a pug through and through–fat, food eating and an opinionated little snorter. He sleeps more than there is time to sleep and he lives to eat. He has the life. But then he is my little protector. He lives and breaths for me and is the ultimate guard dog. You mess with something on my side of the bed and he is on it. He barks, sniffs and stakes it out until it is all figured out. Or until I or the kids fill his belly with something he should not be eating that puts him out for a few hours (until the fridge opens once again). He is a cool mother fo and we montel williams it up @hseanbrock!
  • Riley: my mini me. He is me. God help this kid because he is intense, determined, stubborn and relentless. He is amazingly smart and loves details. He gets on something and does not stop until it happens, or until it goes his way. I hope he picks up more from Arnold and gets a little laid back and learns to chill more but something tells me he might be screwed. He chews his nails, has to always be doing something, is addicted to tv and loves learning. Thankfully like Arnold, he is such a lover and has such much to give! Watch out world, he will make his mark.
  • Arnold: he just deserves a prize for surviving it all. What an amazing person, father, friend, husband. Yes he is taking care of things while I am away so I need to suck up, but in all seriousness, he is such an amazing person. Talk about passion, he has intense passion for his passions. Thank goodness his family is one of them. He is so interesting, so adventurous, so patient. He was the first “boy” in this mix and manages to do all the stuff boys need to do. Since I was raised with all girl sisters and am such a girl, it helps to have a senior boy around. As we prepare to celebrate 9 years of marriage this year, I especially thank him for all the boys he has brought in my life. What amazing job he does each and every day.

So here is to the beginning of many tributes to my boys. They will give me lots to write about for sure!

AP

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My Friend and Mentor Laura Hewitt

Dear Dad:

It is about time I write about a female in my blog that has influenced and impacted my life. It is not like I don’t have any. The scary thing is, I have too many to know where to start.

But I do know where to start. I have been fortunate to have a lot of motherly figures in my life, including my own mom. But someone who has had such a huge, huge loving impact on me is Laura Hewitt. For those who really know Laura, she is the most motherly person there is. She was created to be a mom, not only to her kids but to their kids, which makes up a small army at this point. She would do anything for them, travels anywhere to help care for them and really cares about their well beings. She wants the very, very best for her family.

How I got adopted in her life, I am not fully sure but have to thank the Festival and specifically Nathalie Dupree (another impactful person to me) and God. I believe everything happens for a reason and Laura became part of my world right when I needed her.

First she was (and is) a huge reason the Festival is so successful today. She is an original Board member and our only Chair Emeritus member. She has given and raised thousands and thousands for the organization, helped get us out of the red financially and helped create a thriving, well run machine. She works tirelessly for the Festival and for Charleston with the only motive to make it a better place to live, work and raise a family. She has no other reasons for what she has done for us and for several other non-profits except that she is that great of a person. Her and her husband Bill are some of the most charitable and hard-working community leaders I have ever met. We are so lucky to have them a part of the community.

But for me, she is much more than that. She is my angel. She helped lift me up and grow me professional in the early days of the Festival when I wanted to do nothing but give up. Egos were starting to wear on me and politics were getting the best of me. She would not let me give up and only encourage me to grow from it and become stronger from it.

She also did everything she could to see me have a healthy and thriving family. When I first announced my pregnancy, she was probably the first to get me a present. She helped me learn how to feed, care and love my baby boys. She encouraged me to take more time off to spend with them and made sure I got plenty of rest during my pregnancy. She really was a mother helping me get through the tough times.

Even though we see less of each other now, I still think of Laura daily. She is someone who will always have a profound impact on me and I can attribute so much goodness because of her. I can only hope I will be as cool, honest, smart, charming, sophisticated, fun-loving, free-spirited as her when I have grandkids.

AP

All I want to do is dance, dance, dance…

Dear Dad:

As I prepare for this week’s dance performance, I thought It would be appropriate to talk about my love for dance and what it has meant to my life.

It sounds pretty funny that an activity like dance can really mean that much to me, but it does. I only hope everyone has something in their life that can bring the joy and fulfillment that dance does for me.

I guess it started when I was a little girl. Being in a somewhat dysfunctional household, it seemed like one of the only activities I did on most weeks that really made me happy. I loved learning how to tap dance, how to master jazz and how to look like a professional ballerina. What girl at 7 wouldn’t want that?

I have to say it was devastating when I had to stop dancing. I am not sure why that happened and it doesn’t matter now. Those memories of my dance recitals at Gaillard Auditorium will be imprinted in my memory forever and I will always dream of being that bumble bee or ladybug, or whatever I was back in those days. I felt then that I could do anything if I practiced and worked hard at it.

So when I dreamed of what I wanted to do for a living it was not a surprise that my first inclination was to dance professionally. I was serious. I could study it at college and then go and work in New York as a dancer. Janet Jackson was my hero at the time and I was convinced that she would hire me as a dancer, maybe even a choreographer.

Then I realized that dance was not really a viable option for me professionally (without years of training it would have been hard to master the skills I needed, plus you did not really want to pay for college if I was studying dance. I get it). I am glad that I still took several dance elective classes, even one year taking 3 hours of dance a few times a week. I instantly remembered why I loved it so much.

Dance allows you to get lost in it. You can be anything and anybody you want without people judging. You can be passionate and express things in ways that words do not allow. You can be free, fun and freaky all at once. You can just be.

The early years of getting back into it, I was too worried about if I was doing it right. I always let my weaknesses overshadow my successes. It became harder to dance without being frustrated and defeated. But I never gave up. If anything it made me try harder and I tried things I never imagined. Like trying out for the Orlando Magic and trying out to be one of Disney’s characters. I did not get either part, but I tried. And I am really proud of that.

So when I moved back to Charleston, one of the first things I did was find a dance studio. It had been a few years but I wanted that feeling, that love for something again. It was fun but being the oldest in the classes was not something that worked well for me. When my dance partners would talk about going to prom, I knew it was not a perfect fit for me in my mid twenties! I was then determined to open my own studio on King Street that would appeal to older, more professional women. I even had a business plan started. I was serious. But then the best thing happened for me. A studio opened that was everything I wanted and more. DanceFx was that place and owner Jenny Broe Price has been that perfect teacher.

Thanks to Jenny, I dance better than I ever have. She taught me to love the dancer I was, not what I wanted to be. She helped me build confidence and really just taught me to love each move regardless of if it was right or wrong.

I really live to dance. When I have to skip a week, I am bummed. I would dance daily if time allowed. It gives me focus, clarity and reminds me of who I am. Being a dancer allows me to just do it, and to give everything I can to me. I love those two hours of not focusing on life, stress, issues or to-dos. It is such a release and my body has never felt better.

So as I get closer to my 39th birthday, I am more excited about taking my dance to the next level and taking on challenges that I have never imagined.

Here’s to a great recital!

AP

I am blessed.

Dear Dad:

I think nothing would be more appropriate on this Easter Sunday than to tell you how blessed I am. You wouldn’t know it necessarily unless you really got to know me, but I am a very proud Catholic woman. And would have to say over anyone in this world, including you, God has had the most impact on my life.

I am grateful that you raised us in a church. I probably didn’t always go willingly, but once I got their I always enjoyed the lessons they taught in Sunday school. Holy Cross was a wonderful church and I had a lot of great memories there. Of course going with grandma and grandpa was always fun and I loved a lot of the old school parishioners, most of which I cannot remember their names. We met so many of our friends there and spent so many of the important holidays there doing some sort of play or another. I was always an “angel” at Christmas time.

As I got older and got to decide whether or not to practice any religion, I still stuck with it. Maybe not every week, but I always found a time and place to pray and always went to God first to get me through life’s biggest trials and tribulations.

Then came the year I got “saved”. I know it was a lot on all of the family, but I really needed it. I was in a dark, lonely place and needed to really focus on better things, which meant lots of prayer and reflection. It was a little to intense for me and for everyone, which is why I finally decided to step back. Thank God for that, right. Everything in moderation.

Over the years, I was always drawn to Catholicism. It was a religion similar to Episcopalian which is what you raised me on. Most of the guys I dated were Catholic and I loved seeing their love of their faith. I really loved learning and connecting to the saints, I loved the special traditions and prayers and most of all I loved Father Roth. He was by far the greatest priest I have ever had the pleasure of spending any time with. I am so glad he was the one who presided over me becoming Catholic, was the one that counseled Arnold and I for our pre-wedding counseling and was the one who baptized Riley. I only wish he had not moved so he could have been there for Chase’s baptism.

Even though I do not wear it on my sleeve, I am still a very blessed Christian. But let’s not kid, I sin daily, maybe even hourly. I have so many faults and so many things I will never be able to get rid of, but I know regardless of it all, I am still loved and protected by God. And I am truly thankful for that.

So on this Easter Sunday, I find it appropriate to give thanks to God for all that he has done and will do for me and my family. I appreciate his love, guidance and support! And I thank him for this very important blessing in my life (and one Father Roth said at the end of every service):

May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind always be at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face,
and rains fall soft upon your fields.
And until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.

Peace be with you,

AP

Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr…Enough Said

Dear Dad:

Well actually enough has probably not been said.

I probably don’t need to tell you anything about Mayor Joseph P. Riley, Jr. I know he had a major impact on you in so many ways. He was someone who encouraged you to take over the baseball team, was the person who encouraged you to get into politics and was the person who probably inspired you to be the public servant you became.

But his impact on me was pretty significant and still is today. He is a hero to me, someone I only wish to emulate.

Why? For starters, he has completely transformed Charleston. I remember as a kid never wanting to come downtown. If it were not for a few department stores, we probably never would have even make the trek. Dining downtown was for only major special occasions, which were few and far between.

Then came Hurricane Hugo. Like an idiot, I camped out with a group of friends in Mt. Pleasant, not knowing what was about to happen. I remember the night of the storm and the subsequent days being so scared, not knowing if I had a house, had my family or friends or had a community to live in. But I remember quickly seeing the Mayor in the news, on the TV assuring every one of the care he would take in rebuilding the city.

And that he did. After the storm, came the place! Charleston became the great city it is today. It was thoughtfully rebuilt and became the place that you (and everyone else) wanted to come and live.

Of course this was when I moved away. For college, I wanted to get away and make a name for myself. At that time Charleston was too small of a place for me and I was tired of everyone knowing me and my business. It was a great decision, but I always dreamed of coming back.

While in college and in my early career days, I still always kept up with Charleston, especially with what the Mayor was doing. And what was he not doing? He continued to rebuild Charleston, building a solid tourism base, driving cool developments like the Aquarium, re-branding and building a new baseball team and stadium, refurbishing amazing public spaces like Waterfront Park, Hampton Park, Marion Square, and on and on. He was the force behind developing a master vision for the city, one that would have a balance of charm, sophistication, history and hospitality. Every single thing great about this city, the Mayor has had a hand in. This includes the Festival.

When I moved back, the first thing I did was ask him to shadow him for a day. Unfortunately it was a challenging day for him due to some pet issues (his long time dog was very ill that day and I believe died) but he still allowed me to spend a working day with him. I then saw his magic and it was something that was imprinted in me forever.

I can sum it up in just one word–passion. The man has so much love and passion for this city, for the people, for the causes, for the challenges, for the issues…it is remarkable. He is so giving and would do anything to make this city a better place than it already is. There is no ego, no motives, no objectives other than to make Charleston the greatest city in the world.

And it is.

I consider the Mayor a friend, a mentor, a supporter and a hero. I only wish I could be half the person he is. And, I really hope that the next Mayor we have has taken the time to observe, to learn and to admire what he has done and will still do in his last few years in office.

Thanks Joe for being such an incredible person and influence in my life. You will never know how much it has meant to me.

My boy Ken.

Dear Dad:

I know it is pretty ballsy to start writing about chefs my second post into this blog, but I think anyone who reads this and who knows me and knows him, will understand. One of the most influential people in my career has been “my boy” Ken Vedrinski. I am not sure why I think of him as “mine”, but I do. We have had a very intense connection and he is someone I consider a very close friend.

If it were not for Ken, I would not being doing the work I do today. Which means, the Festival would not exist as it is (might still be happening but probably under someone else’s leadership) and it would have taken longer for the Aquarium to start their Sustainable Seafood program. I also believe Charleston’s culinary scene would not be where it is today if it were not for Ken moving into the city.

Ken is one of the most incredibly talented chefs I have ever met. He is hands down one of the best in Charleston, in the South and in the country. Why he has not received a James Beard award, let alone a nomination baffles me (and a lot of others). The great thing is, it has not stopped him or discouraged him in any way. He is still busting out amazing food at his restaurant and works harder today than he did 10 years ago when we first met. His love for ingredients and showcasing them in new and creative ways, should be commended. It has inspired other chefs and I know he is a mentor to many others.

Before I met Ken, I knew very little about food. Being raised by someone who preferred Bowen’s Island, SeeWee and Wild Wings over a nice meal downtown, I did not get to experience higher end culinary dining. Ken taught me a ton in a quick amount of time and allowed me to get a taste of so many amazing meals.

And, I don’t think I own Ken in any way when I say he is mine. That’s a good thing because a lot of others think of him as theirs as well. Most people in town will say he is one of their favorite chefs, unless he has pissed them off for some reason other than his cooking. Most chefs–both locals and national well-respected chefs–will tell you how talented and amazing his food is. His place is filled almost every night!

Ken is mine because he means so much to me. We have been through so much together. As his publicist, I got to experience so many highs and so many frustrating moments. Believe me, he was that chef who showed up 10 minutes before an event started with half of the food he needed to last throughout the night. But he some how managed to pull it off and be the hit of the party. It is one of the reasons why I love him, but can get so frustrated with him too. We traveled a bunch together and have had some crazy fun times in places like New York City with other chef friends. I have learned to plan to eat for days on any food trip and stay out all night drinking and talking about life’s greatest moments and times.

And for some one you love to gossip with, he is someone I can intimately trust. I could tell him anything knowing he is there to love and protect me. He is just that kind of person.

I could go on and on about him, and I know I will have many more moments to share about him. It is great to know I have a friend (and chef) like Ken in my life!

AP

p.s. Really craving the soft shell crabs I had last week. Hope to be back to see you soon.

This is it.

I really should call this blog “dear dad” but someone else already stole that URL so I am using my name for this blog now. But the concept behind this blog is a book concept I have been thinking about for years. I actually started the book a few years ago (a.k.a. before kids) and have not done much with it since. I wanted to write a series of letters to my dad about the most influential and most memorable experiences of my life. They were directed to my dad, because he is the most influential person I have ever met and will ever meet. He is my everything.

So here I am, blog one and I think the only appropriate thing is write a letter to about my dad. I actually started one when I started on the book, but cannot find it now. That was several computers ago and probably on a floppy disk that is not even readable. Figures. But that’s fine, I can start from scratch. I think I know what I want to say.

Dear Dad:

I wish I could call you every day and thank you. Thank you for every single thing you have ever done for me. For the things I know of and the things I will never know about. I first want to thank you for raising me. To be a 20 something male back in the 70s and be a single dad, must have been tough. But you dealt with it and took responsibility for your kids. Was it always perfect, absolutely not. But you did the best you could. And it was really amazing looking back. Some key moments/memories for me were:

  1. Living with grandma and grandpa while you were figuring your life out. They were absolutely amazing (and there will be a letter for them for sure in the future). They were fun, redneck, lovers, fighters, thrifters, fried food loving, bingo addicted fools. The number of Price is Right shows I watched that year (at the rip age of 4 or 5) still are forever in my head.
  2. Having no restrictions or curfews. In hindsight that probably was not a great idea. But it worked for us and it was a great perk.
  3. Helping you put together the music for the baseball games. It made me the DJ I am today. And I know if my current career ever failed, I have a back-up plan.
  4. The Royals and Rainbows games and making me in charge of “player relations” in my middle school years. I fell in love with several dozen baseball players in my life and still dream of those nachos and sips of beer in the basement lounge.
  5. Our genuine love of college football including fight songs. Only you and I will ever appreciate it as we do and one day we need to rent an RV and go to all the SEC games we can in a year.
  6. Making me go door to door, work campaign events, deal with the media (telling them to @#$% off at 6AM), and meet all the people I did. Your love of public service is and was amazing and it made a HUGE impact in the person I am today.
  7. Your work ethic. Yes you worked too much and needed to shut down more but you had so much passion for every project and that is so important for success and life.
  8. Our wine induced drunk sessions. There are too many to write about and thank god “What happens at 1107, stays at 1107”. The spoons, the bad YOU TUBE videos, the telemundo New Years, they all have been amazing times.
  9. Admitting your faults openly and apologetically. You did the best you could and that was a lot.
  10. Being Bob Smith, enough said.

I will stop there for now. I could go on to a list of 100 but I think you get the gist. So thanks for being my inspiration, my best friend, my confidant, my counselor, my dance partner, my reminder of so many things. You are such an incredible person and I hope to write more and more of these letters to you in the future.

Yours forever,

AP