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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
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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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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:

jitcrunch

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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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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Ever since I started my weight loss blog, I’ve been writing much less frequently on this one.  Because weight loss is my main focus (almost like a part-time job), it makes sense that I have more to write about that topic than any other.  Still, sometimes I feel badly that this blog, the one I started blogging with, gets pushed back to second-class citizen status.

One thing that seems appropriate to write about here is how I’ve been doing on my quest to “get a life.”  Last August, I wrote a post where I vowed to take back my life and stop living to work instead of just working to live.

I’m happy to report that I am now a reformed workaholic.

It wasn’t easy.  At first I felt like I was really sloughing off on my duties at work.  “I really should go to the play this weekend.” “The students would really like it if I went to that football/basketball/soccer game,” etc.  Instead of feeding into this guilt trip I was laying on myself, I just said no.  I took myself off of the numerous committees I had been serving on and kept only those that I felt were the most important.

Did I feel like I was out of the loop?  Yes.  Did I crave being “in the know” the way I was when I served on lots of different committees and attended tons of school events?  Sure, sometimes.  But that feeling of being slightly out of the dialed in group was well worth the time and energy I found now that I wasn’t spending so much time and effort at work.

It was a strange year for me because CTLB, my best friend at school and one of my best friends in life, left.  I felt a lot lonlier than I had in the past 4 years, when were were “joined at the hip.”  But before you start feeling too sorry for me, I do have an amazing group of friends at school, and we all eat lunch together every day, so it’s not like I sit alone in my classroom and grade papers while I eat a stale sandwich.  (That would never, ever be me, by the way).  We also had a new principal this year, and that made for a lot of changes.  Good changes, but still, there were a lot of things going on this year that left me feeling out of sorts a lot of time time.

But my life outside of the work day was fantastic!  I found that I had tons of free time, and I used it to try new activities, reach out to old friends and make some new ones, spend lots more time with my family, and just enjoy myself by doing whatever I wanted to do – riding my bike, reading a great (or trashy) book, watching movies, cooking, etc.

It seemed idyllic until the school said they were looking for someone to teach a “summer school after school” class.  I saw dollar signs and knew that if I taught the class I would have the money I needed for a down payment on my new car AND I wouldn’t have to work this summer.  So, beginning after February break, I gave up 60 hours+ of free time and taught the class.  (This may not sound like a lot, but this is on top of teaching 5 other classes.  Not to mention grading and prepping for 6 classes).  It is something that I’m glad I did (for the money), but will never do again.  It’s just not worth giving up that much of my life.

All in all, I loved having my life back.  I felt like I was a better teacher because I could look at things from a well rested, happy point of view.  I plan on doing more of the same this coming school year.  Actually, it should be even better because I’m only teaching one honors class, which will dramatically cut down on my paperload.  Can’t wait.

Ok, enough writing, time to get out there and LIVE!

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Today was the perfect summer day!

The weather was 85 degrees – warm, but not too hot.  Earlier in the week the weather was really overcast, cloudy, and sort of cold.  Not conducive to feeling like you’re on summer vacation.

I started the morning with a WW meeting.  It had been more than a month since I’d gone, and let’s just say the absence showed up on the scale. (To read more about the meeting, check out my weight loss blog).

After WW, I straightened up the house a bit and then went to get the car washed.  The poor thing was disgusting, and I hate driving around like that, especially when the weather is nice.  I always feel so much better when the car is shiny and clean.

Then I headed to my parents’ house to pick up my dad so he could go with me to the nursery to buy some summer flowers for my house.  My dad is an expert gardener and always helps me plant new flowers.  I chose some really beautiful flowers that should do very well.  My house is shaded by two huge trees, which is nice for keeping the heat at bay, but not so great for choosing blooms – most of the flowers I love need full sun.

Window box - this is the view from my front door. Purple colius, yellow begonias, a spider plant (previously planted) and baby's breath ground cover

Window box - this is the view from my front door. Purple colius, yellow begonias, a spider plant (previously planted) and baby's breath ground cover

Front view of the window box

Front view of the window box

Close up of the window box flowers

Close up of the window box flowers

Pots of impatiens for the front stoop

Pots of impatiens for the front stoop

Flower pot and window box

Flower pot and window box

Full front view of my house (on the right)

Full front view of my house (on the right)

Once the flowers start to really take and are in full bloom (within a couple of weeks, I think), I’ll make sure to post updated pictures.  I love flowers, and I think this is definitely one of the harbingers of summer for me – planting the flowers in the front of the yard.  I love going out every other day (or so, depending on the weather) and watering the plants – there’s something very nurturing about it.  Just like cooking. It’s part of what makes a house a home.

After the flowers were planted, I made lunch for my dad and then brought him home once we had finished eating.  I love spending time with him this way.  He’s in his element outside, and he has so much expertise, so it’s really nice to be able to learn a bit from him about one of the things he loves.

When I got home, I decided that I’d take a short bike ride to the library to pick up the books I had requested.  Nothing is better than getting that email notification from the library telling you that you’re books are on hold.  Love it!  I didn’t realize that I had ordered quite so many books, though.  I had 9 hardcovers to fit into my bike basket!  Luckily it’s big enough, so everything fit – just barely.  It was great to bike the 2.6 miles roundtrip because it was just enough of a workout to get my blood pumping and make me feel alive.

Now I’m about to get ready to go out to dinner at Thea, one of my favorite Greek restaurants, with one of my old high school pals.  I’m so glad that she and I reconnected a few months ago because I really missed our friendship.  The thing is, nothing really happened – we just lost touch after high school as it’s so easy to do.  Thankfully, we found each other on Facebook (gotta love social networking sites!) and have gotten together about once a month ever since.

All in all, a wonderful summer day – I hope to have many, many more just like this one.

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Lately, I’ve been hearing that question a lot.  This is the first summer where I haven’t signed up to work, and I couldn’t be happier.  I’m looking forward to actually getting one of the full benefits of teaching – an entire 2-month period of time off.

My mom in particular is worried that I’ll get bored.  She knows me too well, because when I get bored, I start to spend money.  What better way to ebb boredom than to go shopping, right?  Well, not this summer.

This summer I plan to do nothing.

And by “nothing,” I mean that the plan is no plan. Nothing too specific. Mornings spent reading the newspaper while sipping coffee. Walking. Working out. Swimming. Biking. Lots if activity & focus on weight loss. Keeping the house super clean and organized. Feeling like every day is a Saturday, even when it’s Tuesday.  Thursday morning WW meetings. Seeing friends. Buying produce and flowers from the farmers market every Friday. Overusing my Netflix queue. Music in the Park. Cooking healthy, delicious meals for myself every day. Laying in the sun reading a captivating book. Shopping, but trying not to spend too much $.  Starlight Cinema.  Buying a new car in August when my current lease is up.  (I’m thinking a VW Beetle convertible would suit me perfectly).  A tiny bit if tweaking my current curriculum. And lots and lots of writing on this blog and BellaOnTheBeach.

Summer afternoon, summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.

— Henry James

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