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Archive for July, 2009

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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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.

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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?

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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.

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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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july4thHappy 4th of July, everyone!

Usually I spend the 4th with friends and/or family at BBQs and beach parties.  There was the one year that Neece got married on the 4th of July, and I was in her bridal party.  There was another year that I went out on a first date with a guy I met online on the 4th.  And then there’s this year.

This year I am spending the 4th of July by myself.  And I don’t like it.

I don’t mean to sound full of self-pity at all.  My life is amazing and filled with wonderful people who show me how much I mean to them in thousands of ways throughout the year.  It just so happened that today all of those people have other plans. My parents are going wine tasting with friends so we’ve delayed our usual BBQ until tomorrow. LC is going to spend the day alone with her family.  Ish is off with her hubby for their annual 4th of July Reno trip.  Not sure what Neece is doing, but since it’s her anniversary, I’m sure it involves couple-time with her husband.  The rest of my friends all have boyfriends or husbands or families.

Spending the 4th of July alone really highlights for me that I am sick of being single.  If I were dating someone, he and I would be spending the 4th of July together, and no matter what we decided to do, even if it was just to stay home and watch movies, we’d be doing it together.

The question that’s come up a lot for me lately is how the heck am I going to meet someone?  I would never date another teacher at school because if things didn’t work out, it would be so awkward, plus can you imagine the field day the teenage girls would have with gossip like that?  I’ve tried the online dating website thing and never really met anyone worth knowing.  I’m fairly social, but it’s rare that anyone would come up to me in a bar or restaurant.  And I’m not really a member of any sort of social club or organization where I’d meet someone.  I guess my best bet is somehow being introduced to someone through a friend?

Yesterday I was thinking a lot about being 38.  About how it’s so close to 40, and am I really going to get married someday, or is that just a pipe dream?  Again, I’m not trying to sound down on myself or self-pitying, but it does weigh heavily on my mind sometimes.  Luckily, my family never puts any pressure on me to get married.  They know that I wish I were dating someone great.  They also know that I think my weight affects my ability to meet men.  Which I believe it does.  Whether or not it should, if I believe it does, than it must.  It’s like a self-fufilling prophecy of sorts.

I think I’ve come to the point in my life where I am really open to meeting a nice guy.  I’m not going to put a ton of effort into meeting someone, because they say that you find love when you’re least expecting it.   So, I’m saying I’m open to the possibility of meeting someone great.  I’m putting it out there in the universe.  And that’s all I’m going to do.

I’m going to keep living my life like I have been.  Enjoying time spent with friends and family.  Keeping active and losing weight.  Relishing who I am and what I’ve accomplished.  And if it’s meant to be, it’ll happen.

And now I’m going for a walk to get outside of the house (and out of my own head) to enjoy the music on my iPod and the sights, sounds, and sun around my neighborhood.

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black-and-white-candles

Today is my 38th birthday, and I guess it’s time for a bit of reflection.  38 is definitely in the “late thirties” category, yet I don’t feel that old at all.  I feel as though I’m in my late twenties, maybe.  I guess that’s because I don’t have a husband, children, or a mortgage, and all of those other things that go with being a responsible adult.

Being young-at-heart runs in my family.  My dad just turned 69 and he doesn’t look it or act it at all.  He’s still so full of life and vigor, and it’s wonderful to see him enjoying his retirement.  (Although he retired 3 years ago, he still substitute teaches because he says the kids keep him young).  My mom is the same way – she’s 62 years old and you would seriously never know it.  She has a really energetic personally that keeps all of us on our toes, and I love it!

This birthday marks 20 years since I graduated from high school.  The summer of 1989 was one of the best ever because it was the one between high school and college.  The summer on the cusp of growing up.  The summer when there were absolutely no responsibilities.  This summer feels very much the same way to me.  It’s the first summer in years that I haven’t worked, and I’m absolutely enjoying every minute of it – even the quieter ones.

So, what’s on tap for today?

  • Well, I started the day with my WW meeting.  The news was good, and the meeting really helped me get on the right track for this week.
  • After the meeting I got the car washed – I love the feeling of a spotless car.
  • Then I came home and did the Wii Fit.  I don’t know what it was, but I broke all sorts of records today.  Maybe there were being nice because it was my birthday?  Or maybe I’m just advancing!
  • I’m planning on spending an hour or so today just reading.  I’ve been really lax about reading this summer (too active, I guess), and it is going to be nice to just sit with a good book.  I’m reading Very Valentine by Adriana Trigiani.  Love her writing and I’m sure this won’t disappoint.
  • Later this afternoon, my mom and I are going shopping!  She said that the gifts that I mentioned to her (she still likes us to give her birthday wish lists) were ones that she needed me to be there to pick out.  I’ve asked for some silver hoop earrings, a new coffeemaker, and a few other items.
  • After the shopping, my mom is making me a birthday dinner – pasta with pesto, barbecued Italian sausage, and a salad.

A birthday spent with family – shopping and eating well – how much better can it get?!

Now to explain the title.  I know all of you can add, but to me, turning 38 is really a wake-up call to me to get back on track with my life list (aka Bucket List, only these are things I want to do by the time I’m 40).  So, I have two years to complete the following:

Things to do before I turn 40:
1. Lose 100 lbs. Working on it, but the progress is slow.  I’m vowing to do this, though.  It’s the most important thing on this list.
2. After weight loss, go on a shopping spree at Anthropologie and Ann Taylor Loft, knowing the clothes will look great!
3. Sky dive.
4. Own a convertible. I should complete this one in August, when I buy the new VW Beetle convertible!
5. Find balance in my life. (I’m so bad with the work/personal life balance). As I wrote earlier this week, I’ve got a great handle on this one.
6. Make spirituality a part of my everyday life.
7. Try yoga. I have not only tried it, but I discovered I LOVE Bikram yoga.  I haven’t been in a while, though, so I’m going to go this month.
8. Start meditating. I tried it a couple of times, but couldn’t seem to quiet my mind long enough.  It might be worth another shot.
9. Get a Brazilian bikini wax.
10. Go to the beach in a bathing suit and feel proud of how I look.
11. Go to NYC.
12. Go to Boston/Connecticut CTLB’s wedding in August ‘08. I’m hoping to go back next summer to see CTLB’s new house.
13. Run a 5K. (Maybe even a 10K). I’ve walked two 5Ks, and have another one coming up July 19th.  Not sure if running one will be realistic.
14. Meet “The One” aka “Mr. Right” and be engaged, or close to it.
15. Own a home (condo/townhouse), even if I’m still single.
16. Go on an exotic vacation to Bali or Morocco.
17. Learn to speak Italian.
18. Get some of my writing published.
19. Use my masters in educational leadership, either in school administration at my school or on the district level working with the new teacher program.
20. Adopt a dog.

So, you can see that I still have several of the items to work on.  Some of them are a bit unrealistic, but that doesn’t mean I can’t try.  You never know what you can do until you attempt it, right?

38 is definitely going to be a great year, I can just feel it.  There is no doubt that I will feel better than I ever have with my increase in activity, focus weight loss, and quitting smoking (July 15th).  There are so many things I want to accomplish, but like you know by now, I’m a girl who loves a goal, and I can’t wait to take some of these on!

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