Friday, December 30, 2011

Best of 2011.

2011 has been a wonderful year for me personally and for my blog. I am not, however, one for setting resolutions or even, really, goals. Maybe this is my own fear of failure, but I find at this point in life I am much less focused and more inclined to simply explore life as it comes at me. 

That said, I am a girl who likes to look back. 

So today I thought I'd share the Best of 2011 on Eat. Live. Laugh. and sometimes shop!  

Top 5 posts of 2011 in terms of traffic numbers:  

1.   50 most beautiful English words.  I am still baffled by the fact that this post received over 40,000 page views since being published in late July {as per Google Analytics}. Absolutely baffled. I just sat down and went through the dictionary. I didn't even really add any of my own thoughts. Maybe that is the key to my success:  keep my thoughts to myself.  Hmmm. 

2.  Big shoes to fill.  Maybe it is the admission that I treat my children differently that struck accord with readers, but this too made quite a journey around the internet.

3.  Amy's Top 5:  Beauty Products. I find it humorous that anyone cared at all. But someone did. And that someone shared it with a few thousand friends. 

4.  A new decade. A new year. A new me. Thank you. Thank you for taking the time to read this lengthy post. It was personal. And heart-felt. And it feels good for people to read and comment on something I actually took time to write and share. I also appreciate all 40,000 who like my random list of words, but truly, this is the writing that comes from and feeds my soul. 

5.  Dear Apple.  One of my few attempts at humor. Not as funny as I remember it, but Apple does indeed rule our world still. And the madness continues -- we've added Apple TV in the mix. And now wonder how we ever lived without it.  

The internet is a random place, my friends. And this list proves it! 


Top 5 posts of 2011 in terms of, well, in my humble opinion. 

1.  They arise and call her busy. Because we all struggle with being torn in a million different directions and question whether we prioritize properly. 

2.  Well, I never . . . .  Like I said, I like looking back. This was just good clean fun.

3.  A new decade. A new year. A new me.  Because it felt good.  To write it and share it. 

4.  Motherless day.  This is a bit of a cheat because I truly wrote it in 2010, but it was published openly for the first time in 2011 so it makes the list. 

5.  I was a #SeniorHottie.  Not an obvious choice, I realize. And truly, I am hesitant to draw more attention to the horror. But, it was really fun to write totally tongue-in-cheek. And a good dose of humility does a body good.  


Thank you again for taking the time to read all {or some of} this nonsense! 

For whatever reason, I look back at my 2011 posts and see I've shared more snippets and small thoughts, and not as much of myself or my writing. I suppose that is part of the natural progression -- that I have less and less to share over time -- and I need to simply relax and continue to explore life as comes at me!

So here's to 2012 and whatever comes my way!  

And here's to wishing you and yours all the best!!

xoxo









Friday, December 23, 2011

Merry Christmas!

I wish you all a very, very Merry Christmas!

And a New Year full of life's richest blessings. 

I also want to thank you for joining me here this year.

Thank you for taking the time to read whatever it is I feel the need to share.  

Thank you for encouraging me with your visits and kind words. 

I realize my words have been fewer and further between lately.  

We'll see what the new year brings in that regard. 

For now, I commend my post from this time last year for your reading: 



Thursday, December 22, 2011

I Caught Santa.

I absolutely love this. The lies are mounting and I currently have only a slight hold left on the Santa myth. This, however, is the icing on a beautiful Christmas cake -- a photo of Santa leaving a gift in our very own house. No, I'm not hiring a crazy man to pose in the middle of the night, I discovered iCaughtSanta.com …

i caught santa picture

Absolutely brilliant!

In three easy steps anyone can upload a photo taken inside their home, add Santa Claus…

Santa poses

… and then print it or share it on Facebook or Twitter!

The kids are going to flip!

icaughtsanta photo

If you create one yourself share it on my Facebook fan page.  You'll find mine there on Christmas day.

To make this even sweeter, I have a 50% off code just for you! Enter: SANTA50 and get your entire order half price! There’s nothing “naughty” about that deal.

Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Christmas Traditions.

I look forward to the day each December when 
my duo and I decorate a gingerbread house together. 

We make hot chocolate. 

Regardless of whether or not it is 80 degrees outside. 

We eat copious amounts of candy. 

Whether or not we've had a proper lunch. 

We make a huge mess in the kitchen. 

No whether or not about that. 

But we have a wonderful time and I love reflecting back at the series of photos that result. 

Here is our 2011 creation. 
That's Santa in his sleigh on top of the roof, not a crucifix.
 Just in case you weren't sure. 
You can compare it to a previous creations featured here

Strangely, what's changed most over the years is not the quality of the 
house construction, but the two darlings in charge of said construction. 

I hope you are enjoying your holiday traditions with family and friends. 


I'm linking up today at #iPPP



Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Wish List.

I really do not want anything for Christmas.

No, really.

I have all I need and more.

But, if there were a few thousands {or more likely, tens of thousands} laying around, this would be my ultimate Christmas morning fantasy.

My Christmas wish list.


1.  J Crew long sleeve sweater, 2. J.Crew skinny leg jeans, 3. Prada logo bag, 4. Lanvin ballet shoes, 5. Devon Leigh 24k earrings, 6. Amrita singh owl necklace, 7. Rimowa Salsa Air 26" Multiwheel Trolley Suitcase.

Jetting off the day after Christmas to spend a week {including my birthday and New Year's} in Paris - j'adore that idea!!

Une fille peut rêver {a girl can dream}.


The Hubs, of course, has his own list and I'm pretty sure this tops it.




So, I suppose we are both dreamers.

Quite happy and content in reality, but dreamers nonetheless!


I hope you all have a very dreamy Christmas!!

Friday, December 16, 2011

25 Questions: Holiday Style

When I ran across Anna's Holiday Survey today, I thought: this is exactly what I need. Not only is a list of 25 questions an easy way for me to force myself to sit down and write. But, I've focused all week on my stinkin' cold and am ready for a little holiday cheer. 

I need a little holiday cheer. 

I'm going to create a little holiday cheer around here despite the 13,001 kleenex balls I've littered about the house over the last 5 days.

So here we go. Join in if you'd like. There is no linky or requirements. You do not have to forward this to 20 friends and even if you do, nothing particularly special will occur fifteen minutes later. Except, of course, the holiday cheer you'll create when you're smiling ear to ear reading responses and considering your own!

25 Questions: Holiday Style

1. Eggnog or hot chocolate?  Eggnog laced with bourbon and topped with freshly grated nutmeg. {yes, I grate it fresh for every glass.}

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?  Santa leaves unwrapped presents next to your stocking.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?  White inside and out.  Except this year we've wrapped a tree in LED colored lights.  It looks a bit like Dr. Seuss stopped by our otherwise traditional home. 

4. Do you hang mistletoe?  We don't have much mistletoes in these parts, but we did when I was young. 

5. When do you hang your decorations up?  The first weekend in December, generally speaking. 

this picture doesn't have a point, but isn't he cute in his Christmas finest?!
6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)?  Tenderloin from Perini Ranch Steakhouse.  It is our Christmas Eve dinner tradition. 

7. Favorite holiday memory as a child? Snow! I spent my first ten years of life in Iowa so nearly every Christmas was a white Christmas.  I adore Texas, but miss my white Christmases. 

8. What is on your Christmas wish list?  Absolutely nothing.  I have everything I need. 

9. Do you open a gifts on Christmas Eve?  Just Christmas pajamas {see tree #2 pic below}!

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree?  We have two -- one in my formal living room that is decorated with multi-colored large glass ornaments and one in our family room that is decorated with all the ornaments my kids have made and those we've collected over the years. 

tree #1 - 2010

tree # 2 - 2010
{wearing just opened Christmas PJs on Christmas Eve}
11. Snow? Love it or dread it?  Love it.  Of course, we rarely ever see it.  The kids still wish they were old enough to truly enjoy and remember this Christmas morning!

Our white Christmas ~ 2005

12. Real tree or fake tree?  Tree # 1 - fake.  Tree # 2 - real! 

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?  A 12" black and white TV I received circa 1979.  Please don't tell my kids this as I've promised no matter how many times they ask Santa he will never bring them a TV for their rooms. 

14. What’s the most important thing about Christmas for you?  The birth of Jesus. 

15. What is your favorite holiday dessert?  Fudge, no nuts. 

16. What is your favorite tradition?  Christmas Eve service at church. I love that everyone gets dressed up and comes out {even those you don't generally see at church}.  I also love seeing all the moms with older kids sitting in the pews with their entire family together. Those moms, who kids now live away, but who have gathered together, seem to sit just a little taller and radiate the most beautiful glow {yes, Linda, I mean you}. I'm also a sucker for Silent Night sung my candle light. I cry every time. Every. Time. 
Christmas Eve 2010
17. What tops your tree?  Tree 1:  Ginormous red silk bow.  Tree 2: A star with an angel perched atop.

18. Do you prefer giving or receiving?  Nothing beats giving. 

19. What is your favorite Christmas song?  Oh Holy Night.  

20. Candy canes, yuck or yum?  Yum, if stirring a steaming hot cup of hot chocolate.  Otherwise, no thank you and please pass the fudge. 

21. Favorite Christmas movie?  It's a Wonderful Life. That's my proper, mother approved, answer. But, truth be told, the only Christmas movie I've watched so far this year is Christmas Vacation.  

22. What do you leave for Santa?  Homemade cookies and milk {in a chilled bucket, of course). Also cheese for Santa Mouse {cute book from my youth} and food for the reindeer. 

Goodies for Santa et al. 2010
23. Do you have a Christmas morning tradition?  It's pretty much a complete free-for-all until the kids have finished their gifts. We may develop a more organized method as they grow older, but right now I just sit down and bask in their utter joy! 

24. Do you prefer to shop on-line or at the mall?  Online!  I don't think I've made a a trip to the mall yet this year and have sworn off Target for the rest of the year!

25. Christmas letter or Christmas card?  Card. My mom scarred me forever with her horrendous letters {RIP, mom, but they were really bad.}

All my best to you and yours, 

xoxoxo

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dear 16-year-old me.

This is when the power of the internet is at its most impressive -- when a good message goes viral. 

Oh, all the wisdom we could share with our 16-year-old selves. 

If only we'd listen. 


Friday, December 9, 2011

Boozy Chocolate Bourbon Cake.

Last month while visiting Napa we ate a few amazing meals. Absolute mind-blowing food. The kind of food that makes you want to leave your husband and children and study at The Cordon Blue or The Culinary Institute of America. Or maybe I just want an excuse to live in Paris or NYC. Besides, I'd stink at cooking school. I'm not really that competitive {anymore}. And I don't actually create amazing dishes - I just copy them. Furthermore, I cannot imagine getting too highbrow frothing essences of this or that. Nor could I ever pretend to live for pâté or truffles {certainly glad I talked myself off that ledge}.

Besides, I'm not a food snob {unless we are talking chain restaurant type food at which point I'll quickly turn my nose up in the air}.

I just like good food.

Honest to goodness good food.

So this is where you'd assume I share a recipe from our Napa trip. That, however, would be so predictable. And I was semi-tipsy every time we ate so I certainly wasn't sharp enough to actually converse with a chef. Suffice to say, I ate famously but came home with no recipes to share.

I did, however, stop in Tyler Florence's kitchen store next to Rotisserie & Wine. I'd really like to gush further about the amazing {amazing!} food at Rotisserie & Wine, but fear I've gone too far astray already.

And thus, to my point: I purchased a fancy bundt pan and a bundt cake cookbook while in Napa.

I could have led with that, I realize, but isn't this serendipitous way more interesting? {hypothetical question}

Honest to goodness good food. Let's stick with that.

For a holiday dessert sure to impress, this boozy chocolate cake is an absolute winner!

Boozy Chocolate Bourbon Cake 
via Cake Simple by Christie Matheson

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temp, plus more for greasing the pan
1/4 cup cocoa powder, plus more for dusting the pan
6 ounces unsweetened  chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup boiling water
1 cup bourbon, plus more for serving
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Drunken Bourbon Sauce, recipe follows (optional, though, truly it takes it to the next level)


Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Brush Bundt pan thoroughly with melted butter and dust it with cocoa powder.

Melt the chocolate in double boiler and let cool to room temperature. {Learn from my mistake and do not lick the bowl or spoon - this is unsweetened chocolate}.

Put cocoa powder in medium bowl. Add the boiling water and stir until the cocoa powder has completely dissolved. Stir in the bourbon and let cool to room temperature.

Whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt in a separate medium bowl until thoroughly combined.

Using a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter with the granulated sugar and brown sugar on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Beat in vanilla and the cooled chocolate mixture.

With the mixer on low, add the flour mixture in three increments, alternating with the cocoa-bourbon mixture in two increments, beginning and ending with the flour and beating until just incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top, and bake for about 1 hour and 10 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean {exactly 1 hour worked well for me mostly because I was running late to get kids from school}. Let cool in the pan for at least 15 minutes, then invert on cooling rack. Serve warm with Drunken Bourbon Sauce {below} or, if time is tight, just sprinkle the warm cake with a little bourbon and dust with confectioner's sugar.

Drunken Bourbon Sauce

3/4 cup unsalted butter
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup bourbon
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

In small saucepan over medium-low heat, melt the butter.  Add the brown sugar and salt and stir for about 5 minutes or until the sugar dissolves and the sauce is smooth.  Remove from heat and stir in the bourbon and vanilla.  Serve immediately.

If you don't already have a bundt cake pan, I highly suggest you travel to Napa, eat at Rotisserie & Wine, visit a handful of amazing wineries, then shop at Tyler Florence's quaint little kitchen store where you can choose from a variety of darling bundt cake pans {truly, the only way to buy a bundt pan}. I also highly recommend purchasing the book, Cake Simple, which is filled with a plethora of bundt recipes to keep you baking honest to goodness good food for some time to come!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Naughty.

For those of you who have been following along for some time, you may remember that we adopted a rescue dog last January. He was only six weeks old at the time and was found lying in the street. He was precious and quickly ensconced himself in the midst of our hearts and home.

It was only after we were all completely smitten that he began to show his true colors.

First it was a tassel on a pillow. Or two. 

Little things.

An accident here or there. But he's so little. And cute.

One day, however, he pulled out the big guns and destroyed my antique needlepoint settee. While I was in the next room! I tried not to cry. It's furniture, not brain cancer. But it was my nicest piece {so I allowed myself to cry just a little}.

I was at my wits end and threatened to get rid of the little guy.

But the family is quite attached.

And they all promise he'll be better.

He's just a puppy.

So here I am nearly a year later.

The destructive episodes are fewer and further between.

But we are clearly not out of the woods yet.

I was out all day yesterday and returned to this little scene {I added the sign for dramatic effect, but the chewed bed and cord are all his handiwork}.



Little Miss Thang later mentioned her concern that he does not have a stocking {the other two dogs, of course, do}.

I noted he did not need a stocking because he is clearly on the Naughty list.

Little Miss Thang, however, suggested Santa could not bear to put this "morsel of cute love" on the Naughty list.

Why, I asked?

Because he lived on the streets and has had a hard life. He's allowed a little naughty.

What do you think?  Do we give the little guy a break due to is unfortunate start?

And really, just how much naughty is too much naughty?



I'm linking up today at #iPPP



Friday, December 2, 2011

A day in the life.

6:15 am - Alarm sounds.  Hubs takes dogs outside and makes coffee.  I roll over and hit snooze. 

6:30 am - Boy Genius enters room and says "mommy, it's time to get up." As if I'm a deadbeat mom who neglects to see her kids off to school {though some mornings I desperately want to be just such mom}. 

6:40 am - I finally roll out of bed, throw on some workout gear and head downstairs to pack lunches. 

7:00 am - Hubs and I begin telling kids "we have to leave in just a few minutes." "Just a few minutes." "Just a few minutes." Kids inhale their nutri-grain waffles, strawberries and sausage.

7:14 am - Off to the bus stop without a minute to spare {literally}.

7:21 am - Kids board school bus and I breathe a sigh of relief - the morning rush is behind me. 

7:30 am - Back home. Make breakfast for myself. Check emails and calendar. Make mental plan for the day {I'm not a list girl though often consider it}.  

7:50 am - Leave for pilates.

9:15 am - Return home sweaty and exhausted. Did I really already eat breakfast? Consider showering straight away but check emails and Internet just in case. Consider blogging but cannot form coherent thoughts.

10:30 am - Realize I've now been staring at my computer for over an hour and have accomplished nothing other than to realize I should not subscribe to twenty invitation-only shopping sites. Promise to look at just one more thing. Make five impulsive Christmas purchases. 

11:00 am - Contractor # 1 arrives. Tells me my entry floors feel spongy. His countenance says this is not a good thing. 

11:30 am - Finally jump in shower, dress, and make bed. 

12:00 am - Consider lunch. Nothing in frig. Begin mental gymnastics to determine how I can squeeze a good lunch into my day. 

12:15 pm - Run by school to coordinate optional field trip to homeless shelter this weekend. 

12:50 pm - Head to eye appointment I have put off until the last possible day. Must get new contacts before my eyes wither before my very own . . . eyes.  Sneak in a quick lunch on my way. 

2:15 pm - I see the world clearly now . . . . 

2:30 pm - Hardwood floor guy arrives and agrees entry floor is indeed quite spongy. Likens my spongy wood floors to cancer - once it's this bad it's not getting any better. Thanks for that. Both my parents died of cancer and now you'll predicting my floor is next?!  Suggests I call foundation repair specialist. 

3:00 pm - Call hubs and inform him we are putting 90 year old home on the market because cancer is killing it too {I'm very emotional around the C word}. He says he cannot understand me through all my blubbering. Didn't you hear me I scream: "the house has cancer." Her reminds me the market is depressed, we love our house, and we should just treat the cancer. So reasonable, the guy.

3:15 pm - Realize kids have been released from school and I'm the parent who must gather them from the bus stop - house cancer notwithstanding. 

3:45 pm - And then begins the flurry of backpacks strewn across the house, lunch boxes thrown haphazardly into the kitchen, pencils sharpened, notebooks open, and the games begin - homework.

4:40 pm - I remind kids we have to finish the spelling homework so we can get to {tennis / gymnastics / golf / piano / violin} the activity du jour on time. 

4:45 pm - Tires squeal back out of the driveway and off to said activity. 

6:30 pm - Tires squeal back into the driveway and I remember that I neglected to get to the grocery shopping today {because there was lots of time for that, right?}. Remember frozen {albeit homemade} meatballs and pat myself on the back for making double batches of meatballs and sauce to save for such a time as this.

7:00 pm - Dinner. Ahh. I'd love the paint the picture of a quiet gathering at our old farm table. That's the image in my head. Reality, however, looks more like this: both kids talking at the same time and one with her mouth full of food. Hubs chastises said child to please, for the 5000th time, keep your mouth closed with chewing. Exactly twenty seconds later she begins to tell her next story with her mouth full of food. Hubs sighs and reminds her for the 5001th time. Boy Genius {mouth properly closed} cannot get a word in edgewise because (1) he doesn't want to talk with his mouth full and (2) he doesn't want to interrupt. As a result, after the first 5 minutes of dinner we hear little from him.

7:30 pm - Dishes piled in kitchen. Kids rushed upstairs for showers. 

8:00 pm - Dishes complete. Hubs reads to kids and I return to my desk which is at this point in the day completed covered with mail, school notes, permission slips, and contractor bids. Work my way through the piles until I can locate my mouse and keyboard. Read a few blogs. Wonder what in the world I'm doing with my own. 

8:35 pm - Tuck in my darling duo and bid them sweet dreams. 

9:00 pm - Hope and pray I have a Grey's Anatomy / Parenthood / Modern Family recorded so I can properly unwind on the couch. Realize 'tis not the case. Refuse to watch anything else on TV. Begin reading my book club selection {only 6 days left}. Doze off somewhere in the first fifty pages.

4:00 am - wake up to sounds of dogs walking around on {spongy, cancer-ridden} hardwood floors. Traipse downstairs to let them outside. Wait at door wondering why in the world I'm up at 4:00 am. 
Sit and wonder where the days, weeks, months are going. 
How can it be December. 
Of 2011? 
Write this blog post as if narrating my day will make it all make sense.  
It doesn't. 
Every day is different. 
But all are full.  
Wrap my head around the idea that I have 30 more things on my {mental} list for today {really must get to the grocery store too - make that 31}. 
Thank God for another day no matter how it's filled. 


What about you? What does your day look like today? Please someone tell me you are headed to the spa, or to get a mani / pedi! I won't be jealous, promise. Just wistful. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Curried Coconut Soup

photo credit
It has been too long - much too long - since I posted a soup recipe. Soups are truly one of my favorite dinner options. And this one now tops the list.  

It will never compare with my chicken noodle soup which is a favorite of the hubs, but this recipe takes only 30 minutes, not 3 hours. And I absolutely adore Southern Living's idea of serving it along side a whole wheat tortilla, layered with hummus, snow peas, grated carrots, cucumber slices and ginger dressing.  Yum!

Enjoy!

Curried Coconut Soup
via Southern Living

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds peeled, medium-size raw shrimp (2 1/30 count)
1 extra-large vegetable bouillon cube
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1 (8-oz.) package sliced fresh baby portobello mushrooms
1 (13.66-oz.) can coconut milk
3 teaspoons curry powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. ground red pepper
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

Preparation

1. Devein shrimp, if desired.
2. Stir together bouillon cube, ginger, and 3 cups water in a 3-qt. saucepan. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Add shrimp, and cook, stirring often, 2 minutes. Add mushrooms and next 4 ingredients, and cook 5 minutes or just until shrimp turn pink. Stir in basil and next 2 ingredients just before serving. Season with salt to taste.
The Sandwich: Toss together 1 cup chopped fresh snow peas, 2 grated carrots, 1 cup sliced English cucumber, and 1/4 cup bottled refrigerated ginger dressing. Spread 1/4 cup refrigerated hummus onto 4 large whole wheat wraps. Divide vegetable mixture among wraps, and roll up.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Santa via video.

Last year my kids received personalized Santagrams from the North Pole. The letters were over three pages long and very detailed. The envelope had a North Pole postmark and all sorts of unique stamps. It all looked quite authentic even to my eyes. Yes, I spent a small fortune, but it was worth every penny. The kids were simply elated as they read their respective letters over and over and over again.

And then over and over and over again when Daddy came home that evening. 

And as intended, the letters did indeed reinforce their beliefs in Santa {despite the fact that he did not produce a "real" fairy last year}. So much so, in fact, that in Boy Genius's letter to Santa this year he specifically requests that Santa send a letter like last year. 

I previously assumed the small fortune spent on fancy letters from Santa would be a one time thing. But he specifically asked. So what's a mom to do? 

Sadly, though, when I attempted to locate my darling Santagram website I could not. I checked my blog post from last year and noted the pictures are now blank and the link broken. Pish posh. Santagrams certainly could not have stopped accepting a small fortune for a personalized {fill in the blank} form letter?!? 

Regrettably, though, I can find no traces of the Santagram we loved so much. And clearly, another version of a Santagram would only raise {already somewhat raised} eyebrows.

No, that won't do. 

But a personalized Santa video . . . now that just may work. 

It is, after all, 2011. 

And Santa is very savvy. 

He's utilizing social media. 

And I believe this changes it up just enough to still thrill and delight. 

So tomorrow my darling duo will find a personalized video in their respective email inboxes. 


I'm fairly certain they will watch the videos again and again and again.

And then show them to Daddy when he arrives home from work.

Are you ready for the best part: The video from the Portable North Pole is FREE {to watch, though you may purchase an actual keepsake video}

I saved so much money on Cyber-Monday that I really need to start working on my own Christmas list!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

I see London, I see France . . .

What a lovely way to compliment your guests as they arrive.
Well, maybe at the back door.  
via


Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Kids Talkin' Turkey

What makes a great Thanksgiving Day celebration?

According to my kids it's cookies {not just any cookies, of course, but the turkey cookies we make each year}, turkey, and pumpkin bread!

When other bloggers began posting and linking videos of their darling little kids talkin' turkey I was reluctant to participate.

My kids are super cute.

Clearly.

But, I assumed they would get all nerdy and go on and on about the actual details of the first thanksgiving.

And who wants to see that.

Besides me.

Smiling proudly.

Truly, when considering whether to even shoot this video, I was reticent because I anticipated my 8 year olds would come off as too smart and/or polished for a kids talkin' turkey video. 

While you're watching I'll just sit back and enjoy my slice of humble pie. 




Kids-Talking-Turkey

Monday, November 21, 2011

Thankful.

 “Gratitude consists of being more aware of what you have, than what you don’t.” 
~ Unknown


It is with a grateful heart and a humble spirit that I thank each of you for the time 
to take away from your respective lives to visit me in this space. 

I am grateful for you.  

                            Source: craftily-ever-after.blogspot.com via AmyEatLiveLaugh on Pinterest

Friday, November 18, 2011

Swivl me anywhere!

I'm not really a gadget geek. Truly. I upgrade electronics only when warranted, not just because the latest and greatest is available. But this little gadget really caught my eye. Swivl holds your iPhone or Flip camera and moves, or swivels, with you to capture your video hands-free!  

If you are a vlogger this could be quite handy. Or if you are like me, you may just use it so you actually make it in a video from time to time!  



Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Napa winery tour.

On a recent trip to Napa we coordinated a day of wine tasting for a few friends / business colleagues of the Hub's. To ensure the day was not only relaxing and safe {i.e., we didn't drive}, but also that we visited some phenomenal wineries, we went to Larry Luttrell, Your Driver in Napa.

Before we arrived in Napa we spoke with Larry and discussed our interests {smaller wineries - introducing us to something new} and requested that our itinerary reflect our budget. We wanted to be able to not only enjoy the wines we tasted but also ship a few {cases} home to enjoy throughout the year {or two}. Larry perfected matched our tastes and budget with the wineries we visited. Each was small, charming, and {relatively} affordable.  

Larry picked the group up at our hotel and began the day by giving us a little primer on wineries, wine history, and wine tasting. 

A few of Larry's helpful hints:
  • Don't be afraid to pour out or dump what you don't like or don't want to drink.
  • Don't be afraid to have and voice an opinion about what you like and don't like. 
  • And, of course, look at the wine in the glass - color and clarity, swirl to aerate, smell, taste  by swirling around in your mouth to use all your taste buds.
  • And last, but not least, stay hydrated.  
Our day started early -- our first tasting was at 10am  -- and this was not a quick tasting tour -- we didn't roll back into Napa proper until around 6pm. But we were having so much fun along the way that we hardly noticed as the hours passed us by.

Here's a little peek into what was quite possibly the best Napa wine tour ever:

This family and winery is an absolute Cinderella story. The couple, Jeff and Karen, are in their 30s, have two small children, and have built their winery from scratch over the past six years. Jeff was a premed major and Karen a lawyer. Fate brought them together and to this picturesque property located in the western hills of Napa. 

We tasted upcoming vintages but also enjoyed barrel tastings of various components of their Cabernet -- Cabernet grapes grown in volcanic ash and Cabernet grapes grown in shale. It was very interesting to taste two of the individual components as well as the ultimate blend.  

I think our entire group agreed that this was our favorite winery of the day. Was it because it was first and our palates were fresh, because Jeff and Karen are so adorable and we loved their story, or because this was our only stone cold sober tasting? I cannot say, but I will say I will be drinking Fontanella wines for years to come. 

Production - 1,200 cases annually
Tasting fee - $20 / person 

This is a small privately owned winery located between Napa and Yountville. Bart and Barbara O’Brien live on the property, grow all of their own fruit, and make the wine in one of the oldest wineries in Napa. 

The old adage, wine is made in the vineyard, certainly holds true at O'Brien Estate. They keep their yield low to ensure their fruit is among the best in the valley. 

We tasted a few lovely wines and were able to witness a bevy of activity as they unpacked all new French barrels and crushed the last of the harvest.   

Production -  less than 5,000 cases annually
Tasting fee - $15 / person 
Amy & the hubs at the O'Brien Estate Winery

Jamey Whetstone is the mastermind and producer behind the Whetstone label. Whetsone is a very small producer of a nice Viognier, a Chardonnay, a couple of scrumptious Pinot Noirs and a Syrah. We enjoyed a private tasting with Jamey's wife and co-proprietor, Michelle, along with a catered lunch of various panini sandwiches, a lemony salad and a charcuterie tray from from Michael Chiarello’s Napa Style in Yountville.  

The setting was as amazing as the wines. An old stone building, built in 1885, set the stage perfectly for a very memorable lunch and wine pairing. Michelle was down to earth, incredible knowledgeable and charming. Their wines, all of which I absolutely loved, are reasonably priced and not readily available other than directly from the winery. 


We joined their wine club to ensure we continue to receive their offerings. I fear, however, once word gets out we may no longer be able to afford their wines.  

Tasting fee - $40 / person (including lunch)

Salvestrin is a 3rd generation, family owned and operated winery which has been producing wine since 1932. They farm organically and have produced 79 harvests. They are very much a farming family though this is now their 16th year of producing {prior to producing the wine they sold the fruit to some of the better known wineries in the valley}. The original plantings were done in 1860 by a Dr. George Crane.

source
They produce a Sauvignon Blanc, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a red blend they call Retaggio, a Sangiovese and a Petite Sirah. 

We adored the Salvestrin wines as well, and if I remember correctly, we ordered quite a bit of of their Cabernet and Retaggio. Or did we join the wine club? I suppose we'll see in a month or so!

Tasting fee - $15 / person. 

Amy and the hubs in the Salvestrin vineyard
We tasted the Hill Family Estate wines in a small tasting room located inside a French Antique store  in Yountville. We were all very relaxed {euphemism} by this point in the afternoon and quickly devoured the lovely prosciutto, cheese and bread provided with our tasting. 

The entire gang - including, Larry, Your Driver in Napa.
We had a fabulous time at the Hill Family Estate tasting room. There is actually video footage where I reenact a certain scene from When Harry Met Sally. I fear Larry may post the evidence on his own website one day but you will never find it here! 

They produce a Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, Pinot, Merlot, and a Cabernet all of which we loved and are reasonably priced. 

This was another favorite winery. Maybe it was the end of the day, maybe it's that we'd each drank our weight in wine, or maybe we just wanted to get April to open a bottle of The Beast, a library wine not on the tasting menu {which she did and which precipitated the R rated video}, whatever the reason we all adored Hill Family Estate wines. 

Tasting fee - no charge {because of arrangements made by Larry}

It was a fabulous day spent enjoying unforgettable wines! I've spent many days touring the wine country and have always had a wonderful time -- what's not to love?!  But I have never had such a memorable day filled with intimate experiences at such unique wineries.

Seeing the owners driving forklifts and unpacking barrels.

Hearing about generations of farmers living together on the family vineyard.

Talking with a viticulturist who was clearly born to make wines.

These are the wine makers of Napa Valley -- as authentic as it gets.  

Monday, November 14, 2011

I want candy.

It took almost two years and over 288,000 jelly beans to make this video. A labor of love . . . or was it just a love of jelly beans!?

Either way the video and song are darling!

Enjoy “In Your Arms” by Kina Grannis . . .


Friday, November 11, 2011

How to score a free trip to Cancun. Part dos.

If you missed yesterday's admission about our timeshare ownership you may want to scroll down or click here to read that post first.

We'll wait.

And now the story continues . . .

OK, I didn't mention in that post {again with the being coy} but the first vacation ownership week we purchased is in Cancun at the Westin Lagunamar Ocean Resort Villas. It is an absolutely beautiful property. 

photo source
But we had never visited. 

We'd owned for two years but had spent our ownership weeks elsewhere. Honestly, I don't think it was that we were scared to travel to Mexico as much as it was we were excited to travel to Hawaii and take the cousins skiing at Beaver Creek. So many places from which to choose, so we hadn't made the quick jaunt to Cancun.  

Until one day I receive a call from the Starwood Vacation Ownership's Customer Communication Team.  The team informed me that they would be shooting promotional videos in Cancun in October and were looking for a few families who own in Cancun and would be willing to enjoy up to a week at the property. 

So let me get this straight: they take our family picture in paradise, we say we love Starwood Vacation Ownership on camera, and we get a free week at a phenomenal resort. Oh, and airfare and a resort credit which will generously cover all meals and incidentals. 

Yes please! 

Of course there is the hub's work schedule to consider. And it meant pulling the kids out of school. So while initially excited, we were equally hesitant. I'm also a big believer in "if it sounds to good to  be true, it generally is." And this sounded much too good to be true. 

In this case, however, the old adage did not apply. It was all quite wonderful and all very true.

Everything was coordinated and executed beautifully! We were given the opportunity to stay up to a week {though we were only to make it work for 5 days}. Starwood seamlessly arranged our airfare and all transportation throughout our stay. 

They entertained our children with putt-putt, feeding iguanas, and visiting ruins while we gave our owner testimonial. 

They hosted a cocktail party to meet and greet all the families and couples who were taking part in the video shoots. They talked to us. Got to know us. Asked us questions about what we loved and what we didn't love about vacation ownership with Starwood. Even more impressively, they listened to and responded to our responses. 

When shooting our little bits and pieces they were respectful of our time. They ensured we were truly enjoying our time away and didn't want to monopolize it {very thoughtful considering they'd paid to get us there for this distinct purpose}. 

But I think what impressed me most was how above and beyond the resort staff and the Starwood Vacation Ownership team went to make it all a once-in-a-lifetime experience. 

On the evening of our arrival we were escorted to the beach and allowed to individually release sea turtles into the ocean. No pictures were allowed, of course, because it would startle the hatchlings who have only a two day supply of food in their bellies to make it out to sea. We each held two little bitty sea turtles, named each one, and released them into the surf by the light of a full moon. 

Truly a once-in-a-lifetime moment! 

So yes, when the cameras started rolling I had absolutely no problem gushing about the resort, how safe I felt in Mexico, or our over all vacation ownership experience.  

Of course, the amazing view from the wall of windows in our room helped.


The gorgeous grounds, pools, water slide for the kids {including my third child - the hubs}, and poolside margaritas didn't hurt. 


Enjoying a bonus break with my family didn't hurt either.


But in the end, it's not the Heavenly Bed or the amazing locations that makes vacation ownership work for us {though they certainly influenced our decision to buy} - it's the people. 

The people at the resorts who bend over backwards to make sure you have everything you need. The other owners with whom we inevitably enjoy talking with by the pool. The customer service people at Starwood who answer my myriad of questions politely and patiently. And the awesome creative team who coordinated this excursion and made our family feel like absolute rock stars. 

In the end, it is the people who make the difference. The people who keep you happy, relaxed and wishing you could afford just one more week!  

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Again, just to clarify, I am not being compensated for this post in any way and certainly cannot guarantee that vacation ownership with Starwood will ever result in a free trip to Mexico for you. This was simply my experience and reflects my honest opinions.


Thursday, November 10, 2011

How to score a free trip to Cancun.

I am dying to share some bits and pieces from our recent trip to Napa. We had an amazing time and I am renewed beyond my wildest dreams. 

But first things first. 

Last month I promised details about our family's recent excursion to Cancun and I'm convinced Leigh may not sleep until she knows exactly why our family was treated to such a fabulous trip. 

I've been a bit coy, I realize. 

So today I'm coming clean.

We own a timeshare. 

Actually . . . two. 

But who's counting. 

And honestly, I have my eye on a third. 

But don't tell the hubs. 

It all started innocently enough. 

In 2009 the hubs and I escaped to Scottsdale to enjoy a little couple time. 

The Westin Kierland Resort & Spa
The Westin at which we were staying offered us a $100 AMEX gift card for attending a presentation on vacation ownership. Sign me up! The gift card will pay for my previously scheduled spa appointment and we'll be on our way. Because clearly, we are not going to buy a timeshare. I prepared the hubs and told him under no circumstances would we do anything other than collect our $100 and head to the spa. Do not pass go. Do not ask any questions. Shake your head, say thank you very much, and leave. 

Brilliant plan. 

And the hubs did his part. 

But somewhere between "locations all around the world" and "forces you to vacation every year" I fell prey.

I admit.

It was all me.

But I was a finance major in undergrad and vaguely remember something about net present value. The numbers just made sense. And the thought of tearing the hubs away from work more often, well, that made sense to me too. 

So we purchased into the Starwood Vacation Network. Of course, as a bonus for making this lifetime investment, we were rewarded with an extra week for our first year. Which is how we were able to spend two weeks in Kauai in 2010

Westin Princeville Ocean Resort Villas
Of course we fell in love and decided we should also own a week in Kauai so we could spend two weeks in Kauai every couple years. 

Oh yes we did!  

Intervention may be required.

But truly, the system works. We do vacation more now. Because the lodging is covered. It's not free. I understand I've paid / am paying for it. But I do not have to separately budget for each and every vacation. I just booked Maui / Kauai {one week on each} for summer 2012 and five nights at the Westin Riverfront in Beaver Creek for spring break. We would not likely make all that work in a six month span if it weren't for that little bank of points accumulated in my account. 

So for our family, the system works flawlessly. 

And did I mention we can also use our accumulated points at not only the Starwood Vacation Network properties, but also Starwood Hotels?! The Starwood loyalty program includes Westin, St. Regis, The Luxury Collection, W, Le Meridian, Sheraton, A Loft, and Four Points. 

That, my friends, opens up the world! The WORLD!

So we often joke, I've become a bit of a point whore. Actually, it's no joke - I'm quite literally obsessed with accumulating and spending my points.

Of course, so far I've explained absolutely nothing about how we scored an absolutely all-expenses-paid- trip to Cancun. 

With this admission setting the stage, I'll share that story tomorrow. 

______________________________________________________

And no, I am not being compensated for sharing this information. This is simply my experience. Though if they'd throw a few extra points at me well, I'd gush even more. Truly - an absolute point whore! 

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Marital Training Complete.

I think we all can admit that husbands often require a little "training" at the beginning of a marriage. They need to learn to answer questions appropriately {no your butt does not look big in those jeans} and provide encouragement {of course you need a new dress for that party} when needed.

Sadly, this is not necessarily common sense for our male counterparts.

Nor does it come naturally. For most.  

Recently, however, I've noted that my husband has come along quite nicely in his training. In fact, after ten years of training I think I can safely say that not only has he graduated from training, but I have further concluded that he is an absolute keeper {though this last bit is not entirely surprising to anyone who knows him}.  

Here's a few of the recent signs that mark his substantial progress: 

Case in point #1: 

We were recently in the closet together packing for a 5 day vacation. I was stressing about the weather and what to wear and what others' would be wearing. Should I wear dresses and heels at night or stick with jeans and a cute top?  Will I need a coat every day or just for the evenings?

He did not so much as blink and eye, but immediately said: "Save yourself a lot of time and grief and pack the huge bag {we refer to it as "the beast"} with lots of options."

Never before have I heard such loving words. I threw in a few handbag options as well. Because I could. 

Case in point #2:

During no point in our travels did he suggest or ever allow me to trolley or otherwise touch "the beast." Nor did he complain or note that it weighed in as "oversized".

Case in point #3:

We recently enjoyed dinner at a very nice restaurant. A Michelin rated restaurant. After eating lunch at another Michelin rated restaurant {I heart Napa}! 

I suggested we not go to dinner at all. I was stuffed. So full I was starting to get the "is she pregnant or just really bloated" glances. 

Nonetheless, he insisted we get dressed and go to dinner at this place "I'd been talking about for months." This despite the fact that I swore only two hours earlier I would never eat again and we'd undoubtedly drop another couple hundred dollars making ourselves miserable. 

But he insisted. And I'm pretty sure he would have been fine with a burger. He's not a fancy-smancy dinner guy. He insisted for me

And I'm so glad he did! 

Case in point #4:

While enjoying said fancy-smancy meal {oh yes, I rallied} our server explained they offered a soufflé which would require twenty minutes to cook, and thus, required ordering before the entree was complete. 

"A chocolate soufflé?" I inquire. 

Indeed. 

I pause, remembering back to the huge scene I made about being too full to even eat dinner. 

Hubs fills the silence with: "Tell them to get started on the soufflé."

Without question or pause he orders my soufflé. That, my friends, is a man who understands his wife. No questions asked. He knows I will find room for dessert {it's mostly air after all}. And he does not once remind me that I wanted to skip dinner all together. 

Case in point #5:

Hubs called me recently and caught me in the dressing room of a local boutique. "I am trying on jeans," I admitted over the phone. He did not snicker or suggest that I have at least 20 pairs of jeans hanging in my closet {only a slight exaggeration}. Nor was he silly enough to suggest that some of those jeans {which I've had for close to 8 years} may be too small {see #3 and #4}. He's no rookie. Instead he responds with, "You haven't purchased many pairs in the last few years so it makes sense that you need a few new pairs." 

A few new pairs!

Jackpot.

Case in point #6:

A few weeks or so ago I cooked dinner for a dear friend who suffered a loss. I really didn't have the time scheduled in that week, but wanted to do something for her. It added to the crazy that the hubs was out of town that night and I'd be juggling after school activities and homework and dinner without any assistance. I made the adjustments required and made my homemade chicken noodle soup

When hubs calls that night to check in he asked what I made and if I got it delivered without incident. I explained that I made the soup, took it over and that they were, of course, very grateful. 

He was not, however, satisfied with that simple response. 

"Did they understand it takes you all day to make that soup? Did they appreciate how good it is and realize you make the stock from scratch? How did you do it all with all you had going on and all the kids' activities? And most importantly, did you save any leftovers?"

Ladies, this from a man who, when we were first married, added Tabasco to my homemade marinara. It goes without saying that my homemade marinara requires no additional seasoning, right?! 

But now he not only brags profusely about my cooking and wonders if it is lost on others but he also truly appreciates how hectic my afternoons can be! 


Training complete. 




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