Sisters & Cupcakes – A Sweet & Salty Tale

Image Big and little sis: Avonlea & Marilla, 2014

Over the past year, my daughter Avonlea and I developed a love (a.k.a. an obsession) for the cupcake world of Georgetown Cupcakes.  It all began with the TLC reality show DC Cupcakes which Avonlea discovered while browsing through Netflix listings.

The show features sisters/business partners Sophie Kallinis LaMontagne and Katherine Kallinis Berman running their Georgetown Cupcake shop in Washington, D.C.  A more fitting name for the cupcakery could be “Dysfunction Cupcake Junction”, as there are baking and staffing hijinks galore.

DC Cupcakes became a hit for TLC; it was renewed for two more seasons and the sisters’ business grew from one store to six.  As their success grew, the Kallinis sisters appeared on the the Martha Stewart Show, Today, and the holy mecca of shows, Oprah.  They’ve had two books published, The Cupcake Diaries and Sweet Celebrations, and Avonlea owns both of them.  She has thumbed through them so many times that many of the pages are coming out.

Avonlea reveres these two sisters, and she has gotten a big kick out of analyzing their contentious and loving interactions on the show.  Avonlea has one sister, and sometimes they play together beautifully and sometimes, oh boy, they do not.  When the lovely moments between the girls happen, I gaze at them feeling that all is right in the world.  But when they travel to the dark side together with their yelling matches resulting in time-outs, I want to pull out my hair and scream right along with them.  Although the Kallinis sisters are several decades older than my girls, they have similar sisterly dynamics.

To some extent, “DC Cupcakes” has been surprisingly educational for both me and Avonlea.  We’ve learned the value of baking precision, decorating techniques, and we’ve been entertained along the way by the colorful Georgetown Cupcake staff members.  (My favorite one is Andres, the lead baker – he always makes me laugh.) The often ridiculous dilemmas dreamed up by the TLC production company are fun to watch and the sisters often bake projects that benefit worthy charities.

To add icing to the cupcake, the Kallinis sisters have their mother, who everyone in the store calls “Mommy”, come work for them.  I’ll just say that Mommy is lovable, but more-than-a-bit spacey and sometimes annoying. She has a loving, respectful relationship with her two daughters, and I think it’s healthy for Avonlea to watch the depiction of a (mostly) positive mother-daughter relationship.  (But no one walks on water in this show!  Otherwise it would be a snooze-fest.)

Ever since Avonlea was given the Kallinis sisters’ cupcake books, she has gotten into the habit of reading them before bedtime and sleeping with them under her pillow.  This nightly tradition has moved me deeply.  I love that my daughter, the child of two writers, insists not only on bedtime reading but putting both books under the pillow as a talisman.  No tattered teddy bears, or baby blankets for her – she has full-size, hardback books.

Marilla is now asking to read one of the cupcake books before bedtime, and it’s touching for me to see how one sister influences the other.  While I don’t harbor dreams of my daughters opening a business together unless they choose too, I hope that they have a close relationship in the years to come.  Craig and I will do everything that we can to foster such a bond.

God forbid, if either of our girls inherit a genetic predisposition for bipolar, I want them to be there for one another in a big, big way.  (As much as is possible without either of them becoming too codependent, that is.) I’m still hoping that a bipolar disorder cure happens in their lifetime.  They’ve already been through enough bipolar-related agony as it is with me.

When they are older, I want to teach them that if anything ever happens to either of them mental-health-wise, the only choice to make is to show up for one’s sibling while protecting one’s own mental wellness as much as possible.

This tale started out sweet, and then it became salty when I brought up bipolar disorder.  (I couldn’t help it!) But I want to end on a more optimistic note…

It’s amazing to watch two smart, sweet-toothed young girls who I (with the help of my husband) brought into this world.  Now that I’m stable, I can bear witness to their growing up, while before when I was stuck in a hopeless, insidious bipolar-depression, I couldn’t make much sense of anything, or stand up for very long.

I’m thankful that I can notice my girls’ ever-changing behavior.  I love being a fly on the wall when I listen to their interactions with one another – even their  furious “You twits!” and “I hate you’s!” and the “I wish you weren’t my sisters!”  (They always apologize to one another after uttering such atrocious words – they don’t have a choice!)  I’m grateful I can spend time in the kitchen with Avonlea making caramel (OMG: who knew how good mixing cream, sugar, vanilla, butter on a stove would taste?)  and baking cupcakes.  After being depressed in the past for so long, unable to function, baking cupcakes with my daughter is as sweet as it gets.




Look – soooooo delectably tasty and only two million calories!


Our Home’s Holy Grails



For more information about DC Cupcakes

“Bipolared” Out & What Restores Me

imgres-1imgresI’ve been obsessing for a while about all things bipolar.  I know it, and those close to me know it, and if you’re a regular reader of “Birth of a New Brain”, you know it too!  I have always believed in the adage “moderation in all things”, but I haven’t been able to incorporate that wisdom into my own life lately.  Case in point?  My nine-year-old daughter’s perspective.

Avi cuddled with me at bedtime last night.  She read her favorite book The Cupcake Diaries: Recipes and Memories by the Sisters of Georgetown Cupcake by Katherine Kallinis Berman and Sophie Kallinis Lamontagne.  I snuggled beside her and read one of my many bipolar books on my Kindle.  She looked at the Kindle screen and said with a rather intimidating tone of authority, “Mom, you’re reading too much about bipolar.  That’s all you read.  You need to read about something else!”  I knew in my heart she had a good point. 517EJZ5L8dL._SL160_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-dp,TopRight,12,-18_SH30_OU01_AA160_ Why am I this way?  Well, the fact that I’m working on my book about bipolar has something to do with it.  I like to case out my competition by checking out new publications on Amazon.  I’m also always on the search for bipolar-themed books that will inspire me and help my recovery process, which is a lifelong job.

I’ll be honest – there are a lot of bizarre books about bipolar being published nowadays.  I’m entertained by seeing the endless array of themes that come up.  Some book covers have been particularly eye-catching, such as one that features an S&M-style photograph which has nothing to do with bipolar disorder as far as I can tell.  I’ll leave it at that, since I try to keep this a PG-rated blog.

In a previous post I wrote about “B.D.” which is my term for before diagnosis.  B.D. consists of days when I didn’t read a single tome about bipolar.  B.D., for me, was when the word “bipolar” was practically unheard of and manic depression, my preferred term, was used instead.  I read tons of books as a teen and I became a literature major at U.C. Santa Cruz, but I didn’t pick up one book about mental illness during my four years of school.   I took an eclectic mix of classes at the university, and unofficially minored in film production.

As a teenager in Los Angeles I loved going to the movies in Westwood, and losing myself in another world.  I daydreamed about a film production career and I interned for the American Film Institute’s Directing Workshop for Women.  During that internship, I participated in an itsy-bitsy, amateur film shoot which was anything but glamorous.  I felt I would have been a great film director or casting agent, but I never pursued my dream to work in film.

Over the years since I graduated from college I’ve had phases when I’ve gone to many movies during my non-depressed times.  I’ve also enjoyed a fair amount of couch surfing while glued to various television series.  Nowadays both feature films and T.V. series, when well done, really take me out of my bipolar obsession and that’s no small feat.  These visual mediums give me a break from what one of my closest friends and I refer to as “looping” about bipolar.  I find that if I take a complete break from bipolar-related material, I can return to reading about it or writing about it in a more refreshed and circumspect way.

Recently there have been three television series that I’ve been captivated by, and I want to share them here with you.  I don’t know your personal tastes, but chances are good that one of these three series will appeal to you!  I have a medical drama, a thriller, and a historical drama. (Sorry no comedy today, although “Californication” was a big  favorite that I’ll save for another post.)

In the medical drama category there is “Nurse Jackie” starring Edie Falco – it is so well done, I don’t know where to start, exactly.  It has a top-notch premise, cast, direction, pretty much everything.  Edie Falco plays Jackie Peyton, a highly respected, longtime nurse who becomes addicted to drugs.  I don’t want to give out any spoilers here (I hate spoilers!) but I’ve been riveted by the five seasons I’ve seen so far.  I highly recommend that you watch the first episode and take it from there.  (For the record, I never watched “ER”, but I did get hooked on “Private Practice” and I was known to watch a few seasons of “Grey’s Anatomy”.) 250px-NurseJackieAnd now on to the thriller.  I noticed lots of buzz about the Jane Campion-created miniseries “Top of the Lake”, but its plot involving an abused twelve-year-old girl really freaked me out. (I’m the mother of two young girls…)  However, one day on impulse I ordered the disc from Netflix and I decided to give it a try.  Those of you who’ve read my earlier blog posts know I have a love for all things New Zealand, and that I hung out on the very beach where Campion filmed her acclaimed movie “The Piano”.   I haven’t watched all of Campion’s work, but I was curious about “Top of the Lake”.  Apart from the plot, I knew it starred Elizabeth Moss (“Mad Men”) and Holly Hunter (“The Piano”), two actresses I respect from “Mad Men” and “The Piano” respectively. 250px-Top_of_the_Lake_title_card This is a realllllly disturbing miniseries!  It won all sorts of awards and I can see why.  I watched all seven episodes in one weekend.  Filmed and set in New Zealand, the drama follows a detective (Moss) investigating the disappearance of a pregnant 12-year-old girl.  It contains WAY graphic violence and rape themes, plus vivid sexual scenes, so please do not watch this show if you are sensitive to such topics.  I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to watch it, but I did view it without having nightmares afterwards.   I found the series fascinating, especially Scottish actor Peter Mullan’s spine-tingling performance. The luminous, unforgettable New Zealand landscape plays its own unique and powerful role.  Best of all, the “b” word (bipolar) didn’t come up once, although more than a few of the characters obviously suffer with assorted mental illnesses. 250px-Call_the_Midwife_titlecard Then there’s the BBC period drama series “Call the Midwife” which takes place in late 1950’s London and is based on the memoirs of midwife Jennifer Worth.  It stars a bunch of talented British actors I’ve never heard of,  and the first episode is narrated by Vanessa Redgrave.  The series has gotten rave reviews.   One of many raves is from the Washington Post: “the cast is marvelous, the gritty, post-war set pieces are meticulously recreated”.  This show is also graphic, especially when women in labor are shown, but since I’ve had two children I was interested in how the 1950’s midwives handled their cases.  I’ve only watched the first episode, but I am hooked and luckily there are three seasons in store for me.  Again, the “b” word is missing from the story lines so far, and I hope it stays that way.  (Thanks to my friend S. for the recommendation!)

What do you do that keeps you from fixating on bipolar and “takes you away”?  

I’m always looking for inspiration!

As always, big thanks for reading,

Dyane 🙂