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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.

Photo 20

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.