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Blog Closed, For Now…

After giving this a lot of thought, I’ve decided that keeping up two separate blogs is a bit too much for me right now.  Since my main focus (and much of my free time) is spent thinking about and practicing weight loss, Bella on the Beach is going to be the blog that I concentrate on.

As many of you can tell, I’ve been writing less and less frequently on this blog, and writing on an almost daily basis on the other one.  So, for now (until I’ve completed my weight loss journey, I guess) I’m only going to keep that one going. I’ll still leave this up so that new visitors can read the archives, and I’m sure someday I’ll be back.

This was the blog that started it all, and it will always be close to my heart.  This is my 327th post, and I’ve poured a lot of my heart out onto these pages.  I’ve also made some great blogging buddies, and I appreciate everyone who’s commented.

I wish you all the best, and look forward to seeing you on Bella on the Beach.

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This was the first Thanksgiving that I’ve ever traveled, and what a whirlwind trip it was.  My uncle recently purchased a house in Niles, Michigan, and we wanted to go out and visit him before the weather turned too cold for us wimpy Californians.

His house is so cool, especially the 2-acre grounds.  I imagined huge garden parties in the summer, my nieces running with wild abandon in the backyard, and sipping cocktails in lounge chairs.  At least, that’s what I’d do with the place if I had it.  Not sure if my uncle has those same plans, but maybe I can convince him.

The city of Niles, Michigan is very quaint, especially the downtown area, which is peppered with funky stores, antique “malls,” and old-time businesses.  They city is so much smaller than the one we’re from, so it was very interesting.  My uncle seems to be making some friends which is good.  The main thing that I noticed is that the people are much more conservative there than they are in the Bay Area.  Then again, I think most small towns in middle America are much more conservative than the Bay Area.  😉  The one example I have is that we went to a converted mansion in South Bend, IN for Thanksgiving dinner.  When we arrived in the dining room we ordered two bottles of wine – one white and one red – for the table of four of us.  You should have seen the stares!  The woman at the table next to us nudged her husband and sat there agape, as if we were slugging back wine by the gallon.  I looked around and saw that every other table in the room had either iced tea or water – no alcohol of any kind. So weird!

After a day and a half in Niles, we left for Chicago.  I had seen pictures, heard stories, but nothing compares to actually being there.  Chicago is a stunning, immaculate, architecturally gorgeous city!  I still think San Francisco is more beautiful, but I do love Chicago.  I wish we had more than two days in this fun, lively city.  I’ll definitely be back.

I could fill many more paragraphs with all of our adventures in the two day trip, but for now, I think I’ll let my 200+ photos speak for themselves.  I tried to get some artsy shots, so I hope you enjoy them.

Thanksgiving 2009 – Michigan & Chicago

Has it really been 20 years?

I know 1989 was 20 years ago, but from the constant hugs, huge smiles, and squeals of delight at seeing each other, you’d have never known it.  My 20th high school reunion was last night, and what a fun time it was.

Last year, when I first thought about going to my 20th reunion, I was quite anxious.  I hadn’t gone to any of the previous reunions, mostly because I didn’t think enough had happened in my life to warrant it.  I mean, at 5 years I was still in my credential program, so how much had changed?  At 10 years I was too busy working at Yahoo, and feeling a bit down about life because I didn’t have a boyfriend/husband to bring.  But I knew that I had to go to my 20th, because it would be so great to see everyone, despite feeling like I wasn’t looking my best.

Sure, it would’ve been amazing to have lost 140 pounds and look skinny.  But that wasn’t the case, and I didn’t want to let my weight stop me from attending what was sure to be a great night.  So, I joined the reunion planning committee, dealt with the “mean girl” syndrome that seems to have followed a few people into their adult lives, and made sure that we were going to have the best reunion possible.

As much as I had hoped to lose at least 20 pounds and feel even better about myself, it didn’t happen.  But none of that mattered as soon as I started getting ready.  I had a great dress that looked nice and was comfortable.  A fabulous necklace that added a funky flair, and shoes that put that much-needed splash of color into the outfit.  I’d gone to have my hair colored earlier in the afternoon, so my wild curls were blown out into a nicely coiffed ‘do.

As soon as I arrived, I knew it was going to be a wonderful time.  Everyone greeted me so warmly, gave huge hugs, and thanked me for helping to plan it.  The compliments flowed about everything – my makeup, my hair, my necklace, my dress – these girls had me feeling like I was a superstar.  I felt so confident and so happy, which was so nice.  It was really as if the 20 years hadn’t gone by and we were all back in high school just hanging out on a Saturday night.

Most of the girls (I went to an all-girls school) left their husbands and boyfriends at home, which made it feel even more like a night back in high school.  The few husbands that were there seemed to enjoy the hilarity of it all.  The old personalities soon emerged, and I’m sure it was wildly entertaining to see their wives the way they looked back in high school.

The best part of the evening was the slideshow of old photos from when were were in high school.  Other than a few inches in the waistline and a few cans of hairspray holding together our ‘dos, most people looked the same.  I was shocked to see that throughout my senior year as I was growing out a short 80s haircut, I seemed to be sporting a ‘fro.  Well, that’s what happens with curly hair, I guess.  Seeing all of us in our old plaid uniforms and penny loafers definitely brought back so many memories.

Outside on the pool deck as we sipped cocktails and enjoyed old stories, you could truly see that our sense of community hadn’t changed at all.  One of the husbands commented about how confident each of us looked back in high school, something that he never found in the girls who went to his co-ed school.  And it’s true; going to an all-girls school did instill in each of us a sense that we could do anything, be anyone, and accomplish whatever we wanted.  Nothing was off limits or too far out of reach.  And it showed in the great things that each of us has done with our lives.  We’re all still hugely confident women today, and we can thank our old alma mater for that.

The night passed by in a blur.  I think all greatly-anticipated evenings do, though, don’t they?  I wish I would’ve been able to talk to more people, caught up on more lives, and made my way through more of the groupings, but there just wasn’t time.  It was a fantastic reunion, and I’m so glad I went.

Here are a few photos from the night.  I wish I would’ve taken more, but I was enjoying myself too much.  Still, it’ll give you an idea.

My 20th High School Reunion

Lending Loser

012503_real_home_loan-1Ok, so the title of this post isn’t exactly positive.  Actually, my last few posts on here haven’t been positive, which is not normal for me.  I’m usually a really upbeat person, and even though life isn’t always sunshine and roses, I try to see the best in each situation.  And, well, I guess if you read through the posts, you will see that even on a bad date, I find ways to make it funny.  Or, when dealing with bad neighbors, I try to see the silver lining in starting the home buying process.  So that’s a good thing – turning a bad situation into something positive is still in keeping with the way I try to live my life.

Last Monday I had an appointment with a lender that a colleague of mine is using.  He absolutely loves this woman, and couldn’t speak more highly of her.  The list of documents that I needed to bring with me to the meeting was daunting, to say the least:

  • teaching credential
  • employment contract
  • 3 months of paystubs
  • 3 months of bank statements
  • 3 years of tax statements
  • 3 years of W-2 forms
  • rental agreement
  • social security card
  • passport

Whew!  I had to bring the teaching info because I was trying to get one of the special loans that my city offers to teachers.  I found an accordion divider that held everything perfectly, and was proud of how organized I was.  There was a slight moment (or hour) of panic when I couldn’t find my 2008 tax forms, until I realized that I e-filed last year, and had it all on the computer.  I tore my files and drawers apart looking for it, but hey, at least those are totally organized now.  LOL.

So I walked into the office very confidently on Monday, knowing that my credit score was good(ish) and that I had all of the necessary documentation with me. The office isn’t too far from school, and although they kept me waiting 15 minutes, I still felt good about the meeting.  CM greeted me and apologized for the delay, explaining that she had been out of the office a couple of days the week before, and was trying to catch up with everything.  Not a problem.

We headed to her office and began the process of filling out the loan application, reviewing my documents, and seeing what type of loan I could qualify for.  All of a sudden CM says, “girl, you make too much money!”  WTF?!  I have NEVER, EVER heard that phrase uttered regarding my income.  I’m a teacher, for God’s sake.  Is she nuts?  When I asked what she was talking about she said that I make too much money to qualify for the teacher home buyer loans.  How the heck is that possible?  Yes, I finally earn a decent salary, but I’m not making the top of the payscale yet.  Something seemed strange.  Then she mentioned that I also made too much to qualify for my city’s new home owner loans, as well.  ???  I had never heard that those programs were tied to money.  You’re either a first-time home buyer or you’re not, right?  What does money have to do with it?  Does  this mean that doctors and lawyers wouldn’t qualify either?  Because I can guarantee you that they make more than I do in the first few years of the profession.  Again, this info made me doubt her.

She did say that I could qualify for one type of loan offered through the teachers’ retirement system in California.  Ok, good.  They could give $55K, but it required that I had at least $3K of my own money.  Why?  I had already told her that my parent said they’d give me $10K if I really needed it.  When I asked if the money had to be my own, or if it could come from my parents, she said, “no, it has to be yours.”  When I asked her what difference it made, she said, “well, they’ll know if it came from your account or someone else’s.”  Really?  If it’s in my account, I think it’s mine, right?

Then we came to the part of the application where they were asking ethnicity. Her computer was set up in such a way that she had a screen that she could look at, but she had a 2nd screen that was facing me.  She began to check “Hispanic,” and I immediately corrected her saying, “I’m not Hispanic, I’m Italian.”  And she said, “well, maybe we should keep it as Hispanic, because you might get more money that way.”  I was FLABBERGASTED.  I told her that I wanted her to mark Caucasian, because that’s what I was.  I mean, here is the same woman who not 5 minutes before told me “they” would know if the money was mine or my parents’ yet she was now asking me to falsify my ethnicity to get more money?  Wouldn’t “they” also find out about that?  While we’re at it, why don’t we just put down “Native American,” since there’s probably even MORE money for them.  It’s ludicrous.

At that point she’d lost me.

She ran my credit, and the score was a lot lower than the one that I had run on myself.  I guess my car loan finally showed up, and at the beginning of any loan, it lowers your credit, until you establish a good payment record.  She said, “boy, I wish you’d talked to me before you bought that car because I would’ve stopped you.”  I told her that even if I had talked to her, I would’ve bought the car anyway, because my lease was up and I needed a new one. At that point I just wanted to see what the numbers said.

She  told me that I’d have to come with $20K of my own money and that I qualified for a $325K loan.  Now that may be a lot where you live, but in the Bay Area, that’s nothing.  Seriously, I can’t get a nice condo for that amount in any part of the city that I’d want to live in.  And I don’t want to downgrade where I live and find myself in an unsafe situation.  There are problems with where I live now, but at least it’s safe.  And I don’t own it, so there’s no long term commitment.  Plus, the mortgage payment would be $2100 (including $300 in HOA fees), which is a lot.  If I’m going to pay that much on a mortgage, I want to live in a really beautiful place.  After she told me this terrible news, she also said that because of my credit, I’d need to buy $13K in points to cover the closing costs.  Ok, so I have to come up with $33K of my own money on a $325K loan?  That’s 10%.  These days, people are putting 3% down.  Where are those loans?

I left her office telling her that I wanted to wait. That I didn’t have the kind of money she was talking about, and I needed to discuss all of this with my parents.  But really I just wanted to get out of her office.  She seemed so shady and I really wanted nothing more to do with her.  At all.

So here’s where I am: I’m going to stay here for the next several months and pretend that I’m paying $800 more in rent than I am.  I’m going to put that $800 in my savings account and save up some money.  Plus, it will mimic what my mortgage payment would be like, minus the HOA fees.  It will be good for me to see what my lifestyle will be like with that sort of mortgage payment.  I’ll be able to realistically see if I can really afford to buy something.  I know that by not buying this year I’m losing out on $8K in tax credits, but that’s the way it goes.  Maybe there will be a tax incentive next year, too.  And if not, so be it.  This is not the type of decision that I want to rush into.

By waiting for a while I’ll also be able to build up the credit a bit more, which will help with the amount a bank is willing to loan me.  I also want to consult a few other lenders/mortgage brokers to see if what this woman was telling me is accurate, or if she was out of her mind.  I want to make sure that I go to someone who is trustworthy and who has integrity, neither of which I felt in this woman.

They say that everything happens for a reason, and I think it’s better for me to wait right now.  I don’t want to move around the holidays.  Also, I just found out that I can’t get out of my 1-year lease, so I am stuck here until next October, unless I break the lease.  Which I’m totally willing to do, but I think I’d rather not have that added stress during the holidays either.

So, for now I’m still a renter.  Still dealing with noisy neighbors, but things have calmed down next door a bit, so I think I’ll be able to live with it, for now at least.

Bad Neighbors, Good for Me?

Music2Loud Ok, so let me say first of all that I don’t consider myself an old curmudgeon in any way.  I’m a fairly tolerant, open-minded person, but I do like to have a sense of orderliness and peace around my home.

Recently FavNeighbor and her hubby moved out because they bought a condo.  I was so thrilled for them, but so sad for me, because they were amazing neighbors.  We had similar schedules, similar expectations, and similar lifestyles.  We liked to keep our duplex neat and orderly and we were friends with each other.  We got along so well, and I guess I sort of forgot that it’s not always that way with neighbors.

The place was vacant for a few weeks, and I spent that time wondering who was going to move in next door.  It is important to like and trust the neighbors that you share a common wall with.  Not to mention the fact that our backyard is a common space, as is our basement.

Very few people had come by to see the place, and I was worried that the management company might start to get desperate to rent it out.  My fears were warranted, as it turned out. I should mention that the management company was anxious for me to sign the new lease to my house.  I was glad to do it, especially because I found out they weren’t going to increase my rent.  I was really dumb not to wait to see who was moving in next door, especially because my lease wasn’t officially up until September 30th.

Tuesday I arrived home after a “koffee klatch” with Ish, to discover a bunch of plants, a medium-sized dog, and a bunch of backpacking equipment in the house next door.  No people.  I wondered what was going on, since I hadn’t been told that anyone was moving in.

Later in the evening, two people arrived.  One guy in his mid 20’s and his father, who I found out was 45.  Both men had long hair and a bit of a hippie vibe, but I wasn’t judging them by their appearances.  They seemed like nice people, and I found out that the son was an artist from Santa Cruz who moved here because this city has more of an artists community than Santa Cruz does.  (I knew we had some great galleries in this city, but I didn’t know it was such a hub of artistic talent).

Anyway, the father then proceeded to tell me that he used to do drugs (as evidenced from his lack of teeth – he has maybe 7 in his whole mouth) and had spent some time in jail.  Again, I believe that everyone makes mistakes and everyone deserves the benefit of the doubt.  I also learned that they were going to leave at midnight to pick up the younger guy’s girlfriend and her dog.

So, just in case you aren’t following this, that makes 3 adults and 2 dogs living next door in a 1-bedroom unit.  Definitely a sign of trouble.

The first couple of nights went fine.  They were quiet, friendly, and I thought that things might work out.  Thursday night painted a whole different picture.

Thursday night they decided to start drinking, playing the music incredibly loud (I had all my doors closed and could hear it clearly), and were hooting and hollering.  They were hanging out on the front steps, and the vibe was just really low class and trashy.  I know that makes me sound snobby, but so be it.  I work too hard for what I have and care too much about my home to live next to something like this.

So, I wrote a letter to the management company explaining what was going on, how unhappy I was, and why I wanted to change my lease from 1-year to month-to-month.  Lots of my co-workers are in the process of buying condos or smaller houses since the real estate market is down right now, and I started thinking, “maybe I can afford to buy something, too.”

I got an email the next day (Friday) from the management company explaining that they had talked the the neighbors and assuring me that they would cease and desist with the noise.  The thing is, the noise was only a small symptom of a greater problem.  The main thing is that these new neighbors simply don’t know any different – they’re used to living like this and I’m sure they see nothing wrong with the way they live or the noise they make.  The fact that so many of them are crammed into a 1-bedroom unit should be an indication.  Plus the fact that the son is the only one with a job.  Now, I know that the economy is tough right now, but they don’t strike me as the hard-working sort.

The neighbors obviously realized that I spoke to the management, and that fact was confirmed when I heard the father say, “wow, she pretended to be so sweet, but she’s actually a fucking bitch.”  Nice.  It’s going to be just wonderful living next door to this, right?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I’m at the place in my life where I want to live in an area where everyone cares about their home as much as I do.  My area isn’t like that.  My area is full of traffic, homeless people, and down-and-out sorts.  I’ve made huge improvements to this place, and I love my duplex, but if I’m honest, I don’t live in the best neighborhood.  By any means.  So maybe it’s time for me to move on to something better, somewhere nicer.

My mom always says that everything happens for a reason, and maybe the reason these people moved in was to show me that it’s time for me to look into buying a condo.  It would be a stretch, but I could probably afford something small.  I don’t have any money for a down payment, but there are new home buyer and teacher programs in my city that may make buying a place more affordable.  Plus, this is the time to buy because prices are down.

I pulled my credit score on Thursday and was happily surprised to discover that it’s gone from “poor” to “good” in the course of 3 months.  My Experian rating is 706, which isn’t stellar, but isn’t terrible, either.  I’m starting to get a bit hopeful that maybe I can join the ranks of homeowner.  So, I’ve contacted a real estate agent, and I’m waiting for his call.  I’m excited to see what might happen.

Things might be a bit uncomfortable for me at my current home, but with the idea that I may be moving onward and upward, I’m feeling positive.

I’m not sure if I mentioned it on this blog or not, but a couple of weeks ago, I signed up for eHarmony (again!).  Third time’s the charm, right?  I paid for a 6-month subscription because I figured that I should give it a good shot this time around.

This first dating update is actually about a date I went on with someone an acquaintance of mine set me up with, so he wasn’t someone I met through eHarmony.  Our mutual acquaintance thought that S and I had a lot in common, similar backgrounds, etc. and thought we’d really get along.  She asked us both if we were interested in meeting, and we connected through Facebook.

That was back in April.  S and I exchanged a couple of emails, but he never asked me out, even for coffee.  I wasn’t overly thrilled with the idea of going out with him because he wasn’t attractive to me, based on the pictures he had of himself on his profile.  Also, he and I have different political philosophies, which is a pretty important thing for me when looking for a serious relationship. At this point I should mention that the acquaintance thought we’d have lots in common because we both went to the same Catholic grammar school, were both Italian, and both had weight issues.  The stuff great romances are made of, right?  I seriously don’t know if I should be insulted or not, because this guy is definitely not what anyone would consider remotely good looking.  Which  may be completely superficial of me, but while I have a ton of weight to lose, I know that I’m a pretty girl, and I’m not as desperate as this acquaintance seems to think I am.

But, regardless of the misgivings I had, a couple of weeks ago, right after I signed up for eHarmony, actually, I decided to contact S one last time just to see if there was anything there.  I sent him a quick and very direct message on FB asking him if he was still interested in seeing whether or not our acquaintance was right in thinking that we’d have a lot in common.  He responded fairly quickly to say that he would love to, and suggested that we meet for lunch or coffee sometime.

We met on Tuesday at a Starbucks that was close to each of our houses, because Starbucks is such a safe first meeting place.  A cup of coffee can’t last that long, right?  Tuesday just so happened to be my first day of school, so I thought that I’d have a few funny stories to tell in case there was a lull in the conversation.  Little did I know that there was no need for me to worry about adding to the conversation.

No, it’s not what you might be thinking – that we had such great rapport that we didn’t have any lulls to worry about.  It was that S talked and talked and TALKED the entire time.  I’m talking literally for 1 hour straight!  And not about something that was interesting, but complaining about family politics, bragging about how much money they had, how he’d had weight loss surgery (but still needed to lose about 75 pounds), and then saying that he was glad he’d never finished his undergraduate degree because he didn’t even need it.  Um, hello?  I’m a teacher. Do you think I might put a value on education?  Instead of impressing me, he was a complete turnoff.  The entire time he was ranting and raving about himself and his family, I just kept wondering how long I’d have to keep this up. I didn’t really say anything the entire time we were having coffee, which is incredible if you know me, because I can talk to anyone about anything, but he simply never stopped talking long enough to give me a chance to share a thing.

Then, just when we were going to leave, he said, “say, do you want to grab a bite to eat at that restaurant right there?”  At this point I think that something took over my mind and body because I actually said, “sure, that would be great.”  WTF?  Why the hell did I just agree to spend more time with this self-involved bore?  What the heck was I thinking?  I’m convinced it was penance for some past indiscretion I’ve committed.

We made it through dinner (which was way more calories than I should have eaten, and is probably the reason the scale showed a 2-pound gain this week), but not before he started bragging about his mafia connections.  For some reason he thought it would be impressive to say, “you know, in a snap of a finger, I could ‘get rid of someone’ if I needed to.  I know who to call to get it taken care of and I know just where to put the body so that it would never be found.”  Way to smooze the ladies, S.  Puleeze.  The thing is, my family actually had some organized crime connections, although we don’t really discuss that too often, so it was hilarious to me that this guy was such a poser.  I can almost guarantee you that he didn’t know any local mafiosos, mostly because my family knows who they all are.  In any case, there was absolutely no point to him saying any of that, whatsoever!  Was I supposed to feel safe that he could have someone “taken care of?”  I’m still not sure what his point was.

Now, beyond his looks, it was truly his attitude that left me wishing I could click my heels 3 times and teleport myself out of the restaurant.  He was smug, fake, a braggart, and one of those people who make themselves feel better by putting other people down.  Such a sign of insecurity.

So, the date finally ended with a quick hug.  I told him to have a good night and he mentioned that he hoped to see me at an Italian festival that was happening this weekend.  Ugh.  So he was obviously hoping we’d see each other again. And why wouldn’t he?  I was a great listener!  LOL.

When he called on Saturday to see if I wanted to meet him at the festival, I let it go to voicemail and didn’t call him back.  Rude, I know.  I felt a bit guilty this morning, so I sent him an email through FB letting him know that I was really busy yesterday and didn’t have a chance to call him back or go to the festival.  Then I told him that while I thought we had a ton in common, I didn’t feel the chemistry was there.  He responded saying that he agreed about the chemistry (right, man, that’s why you invited me to go out with you again), but that he hoped we could be friends.  I haven’t replied.

It was definitely one of the worst first dates I’ve ever gone on, and I’m hoping that the next date (whenever that happens) will be much better now that I’ve gotten a bad one out of the way.  There’s only one way to go from here, right? 😉

amc0568l

Yesterday I had a fantastic Saturday:

  • Zumba in the morning
  • Headed to Los Gatos to pick up our latest wine club offering at Flemming Jenkins with Ish.  We stayed for a free tasting, just because.
  • Lunch at Willow Street Pizza to have their amazing summer salad special – skirt steak with peaches and goat cheese on mixed greens with a balsamic vinaigrette.  Yum!!!
  • A quick trip to Benefit to buy some new lipsticks.
  • A trip to Walmart to look for workout clothes – more about this on Bella on the Beach.

I was gone from 1:20pm to 6pm.  I was so tired when I got home, but as soon as I drove into the driveway, I noticed that my back door was open.  Not just unlocked, but OPEN!

At first I thought someone had broken in, so I quickly went through the duplex and saw that nothing was out of place.  (Well nothing that I hadn’t left out of place to begin with).

Which means that I left for hours without locking my door!!!  Stupid!!!!

I know exactly what happened, thinking back.  I was running late to meet Ish and I was trying to put the windguard up in the back of the convertible so that I could have the top down on the freeway without ruining my hair.  I couldn’t get the darn thing up (gotta read the manual) and I finally said, “F-it, I’m so late as it is, I need to go NOW.”  I remember putting the windguard in my little pantry area, and I thought I closed the door, but I definitely don’t remember locking the deadbolt.  One of the “tricks” with my back door is that it doesn’t close unless you really pull it.  I must’ve thought that I did, but I obviously didn’t.  When I looked at it, the bottom lock was “locked,” but that doesn’t really work unless the door is closed.

The thing is, I always lock my doors.  Always.  Always have.  Growing up, we lived in a really affluent area of the city with a very small crime rate, but we always locked the doors as soon as we came in the house.  Even in the middle of the day when we were all home.  I continue that habit at my own house, and always have.  Better safe than sorry.

Now what’s heart-warming about what happened yesterday is that even though my house was wide open and asking for someone to come in and steal the many valuable and expensive things I own, no one took a thing.  I live in a neighborhood that has a ton of foot traffic, much of it by homeless types who look like they’ve just gotten out of some sort of halfway house.  Some of them look crazy (literally), but they’re generally harmless.  Still, I make sure to keep things locked up, because you never know. It was such a relief to know that no one came in and took anything.  People respected the house.

I’ve always felt safe at home, and now I know that I truly am. That said, I still plan on locking the doors, just to be sure.

!!!

I’ve noticed recently that when I make comments on Facebook, other people’s blog posts, etc. I am using a ton of exclamation points.  It’s sort of worrisome, because exclamation points are not something that should be overused, and as an English teacher, I should know better.

On the other hand, maybe my use of many exclamation points just shows how energetic and passionate I am? When I use them, it’s usually after writing something supportive, encouraging, or congratulatory.  Or, to show how much I enjoyed something I’ve been doing.  I don’t use them a lot in my “normal” writing (emails and letters), but I do use them quite a bit on the blogs.

I know this isn’t hard-hitting stuff I’m writing about today, but I’ve been noticing it, and thought I’d write about it.

What’s your take?  Do you use a lot of exclamation points when you write?  Do you think they’re overused?

Today I should have cleaned the house, gone through cookbooks looking for new recipes, and done some laundry.  Instead I decided that since this was my first Saturday owning the new VW Beetle Convertible, I was going to take her for a spin.

My first stop was Michael’s, because what kind of Beetle owner would I be if I didn’t fill that bud vase right away?  I new I wanted a gerbera daisy, and I was hoping for a hot pink one, but they didn’t have much of a selection.  I settled on this one, and I really like it:

n502485425_2821887_7422427 It’s the must-have accessory that I needed to make the car feel like my own.

My next stop was Radio Shack, to buy an MP3 cord so I could listen to my iPod songs while driving.  I have tons of songs loaded on my iPhone, just waiting for a long car ride.

I’d decided on driving to Half Moon Bay, which is one of my favorite spots.  What better place for a convertible than the beach, right?  Half Moon Bay is a lot easier to get to (even though it’s farther) than Santa Cruz, because on a hot Saturday, everyone in my city heads over the hill to go to Santa Cruz to escape the heat.

I thought I’d take a “short cut” that my parents’ friend had told them about – taking Hwy 84 through Woodside to avoid the traffic on 92.  Well, the road was beautiful and lined with redwoods on both sides, but it was a scary, winding path that had my heart in my mouth a few times.  Come to find out, it was no short cut at all because it took twice as long and brought me right to 92 where all of the traffic begins.  Still, it was nice to drive along a beautiful road with “Swoon” from the Silversun Pickups blairing on the stereo.  It was along this road that I though of the Beetle’s name – Bettie!  Bettie the Beetle Convertible! Don’t you love it?!

The ride to Half Moon Bay was so beautiful that I just couldn’t resist snapping a few photos on the iPhone’s camera.  I know it probably breaks tons of traffic laws, but there wasn’t much traffic, and we weren’t driving too fast, so I took the risk, and I’m so glad I did.  The pictures are fantastic.  A bit blurry in some cases, but so gorgeous.

Once I got to Half Moon Bay, I headed directly to Granada Beach, which is my favorite spot.  It is the spot I used to go all the time to just get away from my life and clear my head.  I used to write in my journal while sitting on a boulder along the ocean’s edge.  So peaceful and tranquil.  It also happens to be the spot where the love of my life propsed to me many years ago.  (We split up over 12 years ago, but I still think of him and wonder “what if.”).  The spot holds so many great memories that I love going there.

Afterward, I headed into downtown Half Moon Bay to get something to eat.  There’s a little cafe that I like to go to because it’s very quaint and easy going.  The food is good and the prices aren’t too high.  I ordered a BLT, and it was delcious.  I didn’t realize how famished I was (it was 2:30pm) until I started eating.  I guess I was so taken by my beautiful surroundings that I wasn’t paying attention to my grumbling stomach.

I left shortly thereafter because I wanted to beat the traffic out.  As I was driving I just kept thinking about how lucky I am to live this life.  I have my health, my wonderful friends and family, and now I have this new, dream car.  Sure, I would’ve loved to have a cute guy sitting in my passenger seat today, but that’s not where my life is right now, and that’s OK.   I feel so blessed, and I don’t usually talk that way, but that’s really the only way I can describe it.  I’ve worked so hard for so long and struggled quite a bit to get where I am, but now I feel like I’m leading a charmed life and I’m so grateful that I’m able to enjoy it.

To see pictures of Bettie’s first trip to Half Moon Bay, click here.

BTW, as I was eating lunch I decided that I’m going to make “Adventures with Bettie” a regular feature on this blog.  I’m not sure how often I’ll post new road trips with Bettie, but I’d like to shoot for at least once a month.  There are so many fabulous places within an hour or two from my house that I really do want to take advantage of it.  Plus, getting out in the car and driving is so much fun and so calming to me.

My new little blueberry!

I finally got it!  A new, blue, VW Beetle Convertible!!!  I’ve wanted this car FOREVER and now I own it.  So excited.

The buying process was really smooth, although it took soooooo long.  I’m really not sure why it always takes HOURS to buy a car, but no matter what dealership you go to, it seems like it’s always a whole lotta waiting, right?

It was worth it, though.  My new car is a 2008, but it’s new,  because I’m the first owner.  It only has 128 miles on it, and it’s so nice.  I love that I got a great deal on it because it’s a little bit old, but that I’m the first one to drive it.  It is such a smooth ride, and I think it’s just such a fun car. Not only that, but the payments are quite a bit less than I was paying for the CR-V that I was leasing.  And I’m not leasing this one, I’m financing it, so in 60 months, it’ll be mine all MINE!  Gotta love that!

The thing I’m happiest about is that I did this all on my own.  This is the first time I haven’t had a co-signer, and I’m so proud of myself.  My credit history hasn’t been very good in the past, but I’ve slowly and painstakingly rebuilt it, and now it’s inching its way up.  It feels so good to have done this by myself, without anyone else’s help.  This car really does feel like a symbol of how much I’ve changed my life; in every aspect.

To see a cute picture of me with the car, you can click here.

One other awesome thing about this new car?  Owning a convertible is item #4 on my Life List, and now I can check that one off!  So exciting!!!

I love wine, and one of my favorite things in life is discovering new wines and sharing them with family and friends.  Usually my wine discoveries take place at a local wine shop or at Trader Joe’s or World Market.  But yesterday I was lucky enough to get to spend the day in Napa with my parents.

As part of my birthday gift, we decided to take a day trip up to Napa to experience the wine country on a weekday.  As much as I love wine, I’ve only been to Napa two other times, which seems unreal to me, since it’s only about an hour and a half (2 hours with traffic) from where I live. My parents are experts on the Napa Valley, so I thought it would be fun to go with them.

We headed out and took the scenic route up to Napa, traveling along the Great Highway, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, and then heading into Yontville.  It was a leisurely, beautiful drive that took us almost two hours, because we did hit some traffic along the way.  But it was worth it.  We had a great time talking, joking, and laughing.  The weather was gorgeous, and sometimes it’s the unexpected moments in a car during a road trip that are the ones we rembember the most.

We had decided to go to Mustard’s Grill for lunch.  I had been to Mustard’s once before, but my parents hadn’t been, and since the owner/exective chef at Mustard’s was recently featured on Top Chef Masters, I thought it would be fun for them to experience her menu.  There was a 35 minute wait, but we didn’t mind, especially after smelling the heavenly aromas coming from the kitchen.  By the time we were seated, we were definitely hungry, and had no trouble figuring out what to order.  Since it was 2pm, we decided to have lunch.  My mom and I had the Grilled Ahi Tuna Sandwich, which had a basil aioli and housemade pickled ginger.  It was devine!  I always like ahi tuna, and this sandwich definitely didn’t disappoint. My dad had the BBQ pulled pork sandwich, which he said was delicious, as well.  We opted for iced tea over wine, since we were hitting the wineries after lunch.  I told my parents that I’d love to go back to Mustard’s for dinner, to truly experience the chef’s cuisine.

After lunch, we went to Cakebread Cellars, because I had been dying to go.  My parents had never been to this winery, so it was a new experience for all of us.  I’ve had Cakebread Chardonnay in restaurants before and loved it, and I knew their other wines would be just as good.  When we pulled up to the winery, we saw a sign saying that wine tastings and tours were done by prior appointment only.  Undeterred, we entered the winery and asked about making an appointment.  Luckily, they had room for us at 3pm, so we only had to wait a few minutes.  The really cool thing about this wine tasting was that they take you on a tour of the grounds (which were gorgeous).  At each stop you make, you taste a different wine and get to learn a bit more about the winery.  I really love this type of tasting because it seems much more fun and interesting than simply standing in a tasting room and sampling wines.  (Don’t get me wrong, I love doing that, too, but when you’re in the Napa Valley, it seems a shame not to fully experience the winery).

They started us off in the gift shop with Sauvignon Blanc, which I didn’t enjoy.  I don’t care for that variety at all, but my mom said she enjoyed it.  Next, we really began the tour, and they took us into the garden to sample the Anderson Valley Chardonnay.  This was absolutely delicious.  I liked it so much that I splurged on the $37 bottle.  The guide explained that this was made “in the French style,” and whatever they do to it, it is remarkable.  Then we were led deeper into the grounds and got to sample the Reserve Chardonnay.  I thought I would enjoy this wine even more than the Anderson Valley Chardonnay, but I didn’t.  Don’t get me wrong, it was really rich and buttery, but I liked the crispness of the Anderson Valley Chardonnay better.  Next we headed into the wine making area and sampled the Carneros Pinot Noir, which was really good.  We watched them bottle wine as we tasted my favorite wine of the day, the Red Hills Lake Zinfindel. By far, this was the smoothest, richest Zin I have every had in my life, and I would have definitely purchased a bottle, except for the fact that payday isn’t until Friday.  The nice thing is, I can order it online, and I definitely will, when I have some extra money.  Finally, we headed back out to the garden, to the outdoor bbq, and sampled the Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.

It was so interesting to learn the history of the family, the winery, and the development of the wine from Barry, our guide.  When we overhead the tour group behind us, we were even more glad that Barry was guiding us, because the girl on the next tour sounded like she should be at Disneyland rather than a winery.  I’m all for having energy, but her fake enthusiasm was a bit much.  I loved the relaxed nature of Barry’s presentation.

We left Cakebread hoping to hit another winery, but didn’t have enough time.  This is the one problem I have with Napa – they close the wineries too early in the summer.  Why not stay open until 7pm in the summer, since it’s lighter later?  Most of the wineries close at 4 or 5, making it difficult to get to many, unless you start out really early in the day.  Still, the visit to Cakebread was really worth it.

After the winery, we went to St. Helena to go to Michael Chiarello’s Napa Style store.  It was nice, but didn’t really have much merchandise out.  He has an amazing selection of spices and marinades, but other that that, I wasn’t very impressed with the wares.  The website and catalogue are so much more visually appealing than the store itself, which I find odd.  Also, we have a Napa Style locally, so I guess I wasn’t amazed because we can go to the store whenever we feel like it.

Then we went to Dean & Deluca, which was great.  I loved looking at all of the exotic offerings, and my mom picked up a bottle of Moroccan marinade that we said we were going to use on some grilled ahi of our own.

After the gourmet food shop, we got back on the freeway and headed to the Outlets.  What’s a trip to Napa without some outlet shopping on the way home, right?  My dad and I both found shoes to purchase, and amazingly, my mom came away without anything.  She’s usually the first one to find something to buy, but this time nothing struck her fancy.  The shoes I got are simple flats from Clark’s (un)Structured line, but they are like walking on pillows.  I think they’re going to become my daily wardrobe staple once school starts again and I’m on my feet all day.

Then we headed back home, but we ended up taking the scenic route by accident.  There was so much fog on the Great Hwy that I told my dad to take the wrong exit, and we headed through Pacifica, through Half Moon Bay, along Hwy 1.  It was absolutely gorgeous to see the ocean over the curves of the cliffs, but it definitely added to our driving time.  We arrived back at my parents house at 9pm, tired, hungry, but very happy.

It was a truly fantastic day.  Beyond the delicious food and the terrific wines, the best part of the day was being able to enjoy time spent with my parents.  I am so very lucky to get along so well with them and have the type of relationship with them that makes us savor the moments we share together.  They are two of my best friends, which is so special to me.

Here are a few photos of our time at Cakebread:

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Exciting Possibility

Ok, so I should tell you right up front that I’m not going to reveal too much of what’s been going on because I don’t want to jinx anything.  Not that I’m especially superstitious or anything.  But, I am someone who has been accused of oversharing. Go figure, I’m a blogger, of COURSE I  overshare.

That being said, I did want to tell you all that a job opportunity has presented itself this past week.  It’s a position that I’ve been wanting for over 3 years, and it would have a huge impact on my life, my career path, and my future.  I am completely qualified for the position, and have a really good shot of getting the job.

The downside?  It’s so close to the start of the new school year, and if I were to take the position, I would feel as though I was leaving my classes and my colleagues in the lurch.  Sort of.  Not the English classes so much, because that is an easy position to fill, but the yearbook and journalism classes, because for some reason, there aren’t a lot of people out there who want to take on both of those duties.  I LOVE teaching those classes.  In fact, those classes are what keeps me sane as a teacher.  I am actually going to miss teaching those classes if I get this new position.

The new position itself?  I don’t want to give too many details unless it comes to fruition, and then I’ll probably bore you with the minutae of the job descpription.  It is still in my school district, and it’s obviously still in education.  What it isn’t is being an English teacher.  Which means that I will no longer have any essays to grade, should I get the job.  The pay is more or less the same as I make now, although I will get $2400 less per year, before taxes, because I won’t receive two of the stipends I currently receive.  But in thinking it over, I’d gladly take a $2400 cut if it meant not having to grade any essays.

So, I’ve turned in my cover letter, resume, and 3 letters of recomendation.  The position is posted until July 29th and interviews will take place about a week after that.  My hope is that they make a quick decision so that I can figure out my next steps.  If I get the position, it means I have to clean out my classroom.  10 years worth of materials and files and decorations.  Ugh.  But thankfully I have a huge basement to store everything in.

So, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that I get it, but if I don’t, I will hold true to my belief that everything happens for a reason.

Naked Nails

For years and years I’ve had gel permanent french nails.  They made my stubby fingers look a bit longer, and I loved the fact that I never had to worry about filing and polishing my own nails.  Sure, the cost was a bit pricey at more than $50/month, but that’s  the price of beauty, right?

Well, last week, out of the blue, I decided that I was going to take my nails off.  Let my real nails “breathe” a bit, and save time and money by not having to go to the nail salon every week.  That was a major plus for me.  I had a standing appointment at the salon every other Monday at 4:30.  When school is in, making it to the appointment wasn’t a big deal; I’d just head there after work.  Now that summer has been here and my schedule is a lot looser, I really hated having that appointment time.  It was smack in the middle of the day and it meant that I had to carefully plan the Mondays around the nail appointment.

Plus, I was getting bored with the look.  Yes, my nails always looked neat and clean, but it was always the same look.  I longed for black nail polish, or red, or pink, or a light champagne color.  Being able to switch the color to suit my mood.  A bit of variety, if you will.

So I went into the nail salon yesterday and let them know that I wanted to have the gel taken off.  You would’ve thought I said, “please cut off my fingers,” from the reaction I received.  Every single nail technician in the joint came over and asked me why I wanted to take the nails off.  Even some of the regular customers asked me.  It was weird.  I just told them I needed a bit of change.  End of story.  I guess people are always looking for drama or a good story, but unfortunately, I didn’t have on for them this time.

So now my nails are “naked.” Yes, my fingers do look a bit more stubby.  But typing is so much easier!  Not that I had long nails, but my own natural nails are really short right now.  But they look fairly healthy for just having the gel removed yesterday.

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So now I’m going to use manicures as a reward for weight loss.  I’m hoping to get them done once a month, but only if I make my goals.  I’m thinking of making different goals each month.  One month it might be to earn 25 Activity Points each week.  Another month it will be to have gone to a WW meeting each week for the month.  Another month it will be complete the EA Sports 30-Day Challenge or the 30-Day Shred DVD.  Something achievable but challenging.

I know this post is probably boring for most of you, because of its navel-gazing nature, but I just wanted to document the change.  We’ll see how long I can go with natural nails.  I’m hoping to go for the rest of this year, and beyond.  Why pay all that money for fake nails when I can maintain my own natural nails by keeping them healthy?

Actually, I think that’s what taking the nails off was all about for me.  I’ve been spending this entire summer trying to get my body healthy through a variety of exercise and diet.  I’ve made a huge lifestyle change in the past year as far as weight loss goes, and I guess keeping my own nails healthy and natural is part of that for me.  It shows I can take care of myself, because healthy nails = healthy Bella.

Doing my nails myself will be something of a novelty for me.  I was never very good at polishing my own nails, but maybe maturity has improved the steadiness of my hand?  I think polishing my nails once a week, maybe on Sunday evenings, would be a good way to do something nice for myself and prepare for the coming week.  Hmmm… I think I just thought of a new weekly ritual.

So now it’s time for me to go out and splurge on some fun nail polishes.  Any suggestion for favorite colors/brands?  I’ve always been a fan of O.P.I., but are there others out there that I should look into buying?

41umN8uHLRL I just finished reading Everyone is Beautiful by Katherine Center.

I absolutely loved this book, and I have to admit, I was a bit surprised. I wasn’t sure how much I could relate to the story of a married woman with 3 kids. But the story of Lanie Coates is the story of any woman who has seen imperfection in her own life. And really, which of us hasn’t?

One of the things I loved about this novel, besides the brilliant writing and laugh-out-loud humor, was the use of art (photography and music) to demonstrate the creative outlet we all need. I also appreciated the fact that Lanie admits that having kids isn’t all about baking cupcakes and smiling faces. She shows the real side, the very difficult side, that you sometimes wish you could get away from.

One aspect of the novel that I could completely relate to was the idea of reinventing yourself. Lanie goes on a quest to get her pre-mother self back. She starts taking time for herself, even when there doesn’t seem to be even one minute. She starts going to the gym, she starts taking pictures, and she starts being a little bit selfish. And in the midst of doing it, she not only regains her “self,” but she also finds the new woman who she has now become.

One of the quotes I love from this book comes from the last page, but it doesn’t give anything about the novel away:

Beauty comes from variety, from specificity, from the fact that no person in the world looks exactly like anyone else.  Beauty comes from the tragedy that each person’s life is destined to be lost to time.  I believe women are too hard on themselves.  I believe that when you love someone, she becomes beautiful to you (Center 233).

This quote made me think about myself.  So often I focus on the things about myself that I want to improve – weight loss, how to deal with my crazy, curly hair, a new foundation or lipstick that will make me look beautiful – and I forget to focus on the things about myself that I love.  My personality, my humor, my intelligence, and my lust for life.  I am beautiful, and this quote reminded me to think about that a bit more often.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a well written story but I feel like it should be mandatory reading for anyone who is a mother.

I look forward to reading Center’s other books, because she is an author with a gift for expressing the everyday in an extraordinary way.

As you know, yesterday I spent the 4th of July by myself.  I didn’t deal with it very well.  I mean, it’s not the same as being by yourself on Christmas, but it is a holiday that’s meant to be shared with people.  Laughing, bbqing, drinking, and celebrating our nation’s independence. Instead, I was reminded of my own independence and got a bit depressed and down about it all.

After I took a 30 minute walk, I felt much better about my singledom and decided to spend time reading and watching the last few episodes of The Wire, which I had gotten from Netlix. (How AMAZING was that show?!  I’ve now finished the series, and wow, I loved it.  Yes, it was hardcore, but it said so much about city politics, policing, and how easily people can fall between the cracks.  If you haven’t seen it, I’d highly recommend it).

Anyway, back to the real reason for this post.

My parents, my uncle, and I are getting together today to have our 4th of July BBQ, a day late.  I’m going to wear the shirt I found on Cafepress.com.  The one that I thought I would wear on the actual 4th of July (until the plans changed).  I figure that I might as well wear it today, since I spent the money on it and I don’t want to wait a whole year to wear it:

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I just love this shirt, and I think it captures the true spirit of this holiday.

As far as the food for the BBQ, we’re going all out – guacamole and chips (appetizers), turkey burger sliders, deviled eggs, pasta salad, and a green salad.  And for dessert?  Well, my mom found “the cutest recipe” in one of her online recipe websites (something along the lines of Family Circle, I’m sure).  It’s Rice Krispy Treats made to look like the American Flag.  Easy and adorable, right?  I said I’d make it, because it seemed easy, and I’m usually bringing some sort of appetizer to these events, so I wanted to change things up by bringing something for dessert.

I went grocery shopping on Friday and got the marshmallows and Rice Krispy cereal.  Then I went along the baking aisle to find some sort of icing that could be used for easy decorations.  I found “easy squeeze” frosting in red and blue ($4.85 each) and then I found an aerosol can of white frosting ($5.50).  This was going to be one expensive dessert.  But, convenience is something I don’t mind paying for.

I thought the easy squeeze packages had some sort of decorating tip on them.  They didn’t.  That was sold separately.  I should’ve gotten the aerosol can in all three colors (the aerosol can came with 4 different tips included.  I guess you do get what you pay for).  I imagined making the blue square in the upper left hand corner, then putting little white stars on it.  Then, I thought I’d make waves of red and white frosting for the rest of the flag.  Well, you know what they say about the best laid plans…

The blue frosting wouldn’t come out of the package!  Easy squeeze my ass!  I was using all of my muscle in both of my hands just to get the stuff out.  At one point I thought I was going to have to go to the store and buy the aerosol can of frosting, but then I told myself that I’d already spent way too much on this dumb dessert and tried to make it work.  I finally got the blue out.  Then I started on the red, giving as much force as I could – well, wouldn’t you know that the red came flying out?  In big red globs.  You would’ve thought someone was bleeding to death, from the looks of things around my kitchen.  Sigh.  Luckily, the aerosol can worked beautifully, and I used two different tips to decorate the stars and then the stripes.

With the creative use of a butter knife, I was able to salvage the look of the flag, but man, I am NEVER making this damn thing again in life.  There is a reason that I stick to savory cooking – I’m good at it.  Baking isn’t really my thing, and while I do make good cupcakes for my classes from time to time, anything that requires any level of real cake decorating skills just isn’t my thing.  Plus, I should’ve stayed away from any sort of recipe that would be featured in a middle America bake sale – Suzy Homemaker I’m not.

Anyway, here’s the finished product.  The camera wasn’t able to capture all of the mistakes.  Let’s just say that I hope it tastes better than it looks:

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