How to Celebrate a Life: TEDx Talk & Buttermilk Spice Cake

There is no better way to step outside one’s comfort zone than to give a TED talk. This is public speaking, “ideas worth spreading”, on steroids as there is no podium, a time constraint and using notes is not recommended. It takes courage and a village of support to get it done. As thankful and as proud as I can possibly be for successfully completing a TEDx talk at Furman University, I’m still going to lament the fact that I failed to convey one critical thought even though no one knew what I forgot to say. It’s about that CHOPPED competition. I really want you all to know this:

“What’s most remarkable about my CHOPPED experience is not that I won $10,000.00, but that the victory is the result of the pure love energy of my son.”

Happy birthday William. It’s your day tomorrow. I can’t think of a better gift to give you than this video. I am ever so proud to be your mom. 

If you watch the video I suggest enlarging the screen, so you can get a better look at the power point photos. I think seeing the photos as you listen is critical to better understanding the story.

A grateful shout-out to all those who read my blog, but especially today to Patrice, Betty, Krista and Marcie who inspire me to remain positive. And to the student team of Furman University led by Jacob Lollis there are no words, but love for all your hard work in coordinating such an extraordinary event. Thank you for your gracious hospitality and celebrating William’s life with me.

It would not be a celebration without cake. This Buttermilk Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Buttercream comes from Jana Roerick’s book, The Little Island Bake Shop. The warm spices only get more intense as the cake sits, so make it a day or two in advance. I baked mine in 2 8-inch round pans and then deliberately sliced them horizontally in an uneven fashion because I was feeling off kilter. Imperfect is not considered professional, but I think it is so much more interesting. I also added 4 ounces of softened cream cheese at the end of the mixing of the buttercream. The tang of the cream cheese balances out the sweetness of the frosting. I also prefer my cakes naked around the sides. And here is a neat trick. Enjoy a slice or two before your guests arrive and then embellish the inside. No one will know! It gives a whole new meaning to have your cake and eat it, too.

Chopped Champion Whoosh Moments

my new t-shirt

my new t-shirt

CHOPPED is the #1 Food Network Show. It is the scariest food game on the planet and I got to play! How did I ever get to be a CHOPPED CHAMPION? It started with a resolution to follow in William’s light. To have courage and commit to something so outside the comfort zone that the fight or flight impulse takes over. Luckily the parachute opens and I skillfully float through 3 rounds of the most exciting cook-off of my life all the while celebrating those I love most.

Will & Cait

Will & Cait

Taking this risk feels like I am jumping out of a plane, but I have my Caitlin’s support all the way. Her confidence in me makes my heart swell. She brings me practice Chopped baskets and encourages me to watch YouTube videos on how to filet a fish and clean a soft-shell crab. She agrees to film with me, which by the way is waaaaay outside her comfort zone. More then ever I am determined to make her proud.

that's me in the blue

that’s me in the blue

Doing the show is a life-changing event not because I win (although that is pretty bad-ass if I do say so myself), but because it makes me a believer in a spiritual world that will always keep William and I connected. It is a moment in my grief that allows me to take a giant leap forward. It’s amazing, it is unimaginable, and it is priceless. It’s all about the WHOOSH.

Sweet William's Fancy Chocolate Chip Cookie

Sweet William’s Fancy Chocolate Chip Cookie

The first WHOOSH moment happens during my Skype casting interview. As I am showing off my Sweet William’s Spirited Chocolate Chip Cookies and explaining how William comes to me in the shape of a heart, the two interviewers suddenly stop me in mid-sentence and say, “You are not going to believe this, but the way we see you through the computer–right now– there is a reflection off the window over your head in the shape of a heart”. My response—“Oh, that is just William cheering me on!”

Goose Bumps!!!


Appearing on CHOPPED is an adrenaline rush; my version of extreme sports. Ted Allen is about to say, “Open Your Baskets”. My heart is racing and I feel like I want to throw up, but as the saying goes…”never let them see you sweat”. The competition begins and in an instant a calm comes over me. I am cooking…. just cooking…Zen mode. My therapy! A pressure cooker of fun.

Fast forward to the final round. As I am looking at my dessert WHOOSH moment #2 occurs. Suddenly, I feel a loving bear hug as if someone from behind has wrapped his or her arms around me. I want to cry because I know he is here. I am hugging him back and there is no doubt in my mind that William is with me cheering me on. I am also thinking OMG is this really real? Needless to say I “Willed it” and I CHOPPED it. I feel so very proud of myself.

As I enter the sequester room, there is a young woman seated in the corner who has been “our mom” through out the duration of the competition. She has tended to our every need. Earlier in the day I asked her about the beautiful tattoos on her forearms. I don’t ever see her shoulders until now—as I enter the room as the CHOPPED CHAMPION…she rolls up her sleeve to scratch her shoulder and there it is…the most beautiful tattooed HEART I have ever seen. WHOOSH #3—goose bumps x 100. William is proud of me, too.

Yes, I believe! And for every mom out there who has ever lost a child I hope you believe, too. Find your path. Celebrate all your children. Love them like there is no tomorrow. Happy Mother’s Day.

Courage & CHOPPED

Courage. Both my kids have it. I can assure you that they did not get it from me. For most of my life I was pretty much protected by a strict Sicilian father and 4 brothers. Since there was never anything to fear, there was no need to develop the coping skill of courage. Life was easy and sweet and I thought it would continue that way, but life doesn’t always turn out as planned.


The first test of strength came in the form of cancer. The outlook was quite grim for my husband. Caitlin was 13 and William  was 10. A two year battle of experimental chemo, radiation, disfiguring surgery…….persisting against the odds, Bill is one of those miracles that gives all cancer victims hope. And through it all the kids persevered overcoming fears and developing a greatness in their hearts. Courage.

Still afraid of my own shadow I watched and marveled at my children as time and time again they chose to step out of the comfort zone accepting risk and going bold. They had a healthy sense of fear and a mental and moral strength that defied anything that I had ever known. They scared the daylights out of me on a regular basis.

And just when life is getting really good…BAM…a mom’s worse fear…losing one of her children. Where’s the courage now and how does one get it? One can’t survive this harsh reality without it. Help me William! Help me step up and be brave like you.


Identifying with William is a healthy way to keep him alive in my life.  It took me a long time to figure it out, but if I am to truly honor William and his memory I must step out of my comfort zone. Following in Will’s light means taking the road less travelled; going bold and being brave. Writing this blog is certainly an example of my new found courage, but it would have never happened without a bit of encouragement.

Encouraged by Caitlin & Sam and supported by Bill I am pleased to announce that I took on the challenge of CHOPPED. A scary TV opportunity to say the least.

Here is the promo announcement.

Premiering Tuesday, May 6th at 10pm – “Mother’s Day”
In this episode, four moms battle it out for the title of Chopped Champion! Mothers who usually rule their home kitchens attempt to stay composed as they cook in a much larger arena. In the first round, the moms are given chicken noodle soup and salsa, along with other mystery ingredients for their appetizers. Then in the entrée round, the moms must contend with a sugary ingredient that kids tend to love, but parents often ban from breakfast. The final two moms find lady fingers in the mystery basket that they must work into their desserts.

At this time I can’t say much more about the show, but I hope you will watch it and let me know what you think. This is a tough week. Thanks to all of you who have supported me throughout. You know who you are. I love you and I know you are grieving, too. Have courage and walk in William’s light.