Archive for the ‘Jenny’ Category

Where has the time gone? (Infertility is a Bitch)

Wednesday, November 11th, 2015

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The past year has been a whirlwind, and my reasons for being away from our wonderful little blog are personal but I feel like I am ready to share them now.

My husband Bryan and I have been trying to have a child for about four years. After so many months of unsuccessful attempts and trying everything under the sun, we finally swallowed our pride and started the fertility testing process early last year. That step was a hard one. This is something that seems to come so easily to so many and we both were putting a lot of blame on ourselves as to why we couldn’t make it happen.

I went through a gauntlet of tests, as did Bryan, and our diagnosis was “unknown infertility” which apparently affects 30% of couples going through infertility. So, we started treatment. Nine months of off and on IUIs resulted in nothing more than an emotional rollercoaster, with no better understanding as to why we are struggling to have a kid.

During that time, I had to think of or do something related to my infertility every single day. I was told to avoid caffeine, alcohol, and to suspend some of the exercises I had been doing. I took some kind of drug almost every day, and I was in the doctor’s office so often that it felt like a second home. Infertility became who I was. It felt like all I was, and it’s the biggest reason that I have been avoiding the blog. I couldn’t think of anything else to say or share because infertility occupied all of my mind space.

After our last failed IUI, the doctor recommended IVF. I decided I needed a break. Before Bryan and I started this process, we discussed how far we would be willing to go. It’s not a one size fits all decision – every couple has to decide what’s best for them. At the time IVF was not something we wanted to do. We are now re-evaluating that decision, but I knew I needed time to just not think about fertility day in, day out and find myself again.

On top of all the emotional baggage you carry as you try to conceive, you start getting advice and opinions from well-meaning people in your life. This makes you feel like you have no clue what you are doing. If you would just RELAX, it would totally happen. Have you tried [insert suggestion of one of the 500 things I’ve already tried]? People insinuate you are being dumb and/or selfish for not considering all the options, but just because it’s an option doesn’t make it the right fit for us. Why wouldn’t you all just adopt? Why aren’t you going to just go forward with IVF?

It’s been a good life lesson for Bryan and I to remember that everyone has their own obstacles and decisions on what’s right for them, and unless they ask for our two cents, it’s not our place to judge what they do.

This year I took time to go on some vacations, got back into an exercise routine (Christina and I are currently training for the Star Wars Rebel Challenge in Disneyland in January 2016), and found myself again.

I have been putting off writing about our experience, because I was hoping to write it in retrospect, after a successful outcome where I was expecting. That’s not the case, and it’s taken months for me to get to a good mental place on this, but that’s ok. We won’t succeed in everything we do in life, and there is no sense in not admitting when there are disappointments (although right now, even though we had no control, it feels more like failure).

Bryan and I aren’t giving up. We are still going to continue to try, but we have (through many tears and hard conversations) accepted the idea that if the rest of our journey together is just the two of us, we will be ok with that.

So, now that this is out there, I am ready to look forward with you. I am excited to share some amazing things over the next few months. I promise to keep writing and sharing. I cannot thank you all enough for reading and supporting us.

You Can’t Google That

Monday, March 30th, 2015

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Two weeks ago, Christina and I went to breakfast and then to get our nails done. On the way to meet her, I remembered something I needed to pick up at the store, but since I was driving I didn’t write it on my shopping list, and sure enough I completely forgot by the time I parked.

During breakfast, Christina and I had a discussion on our frustration with our memories lately. We weren’t sure if our perceived memory loss was due to age or the constant inundation with information that we have in the smartphone age.

Christina commented that sometimes she kind of misses the old days when you would have to think of something all day and then you would have that eureka moment at 3 a.m., instead of being able instantly find answers on any number of questions that pop up in a typical day (“Where have I seen that actor/actress before?” is my most common query.)

I immediately countered her comment with “I don’t miss that at all! I would love to be able to look up what I am trying to remember right now.” We continued our breakfast and then went to our mani appointments, while I wracked my brain trying to figure out what it was that I needed. All I knew is that it was important to something I was doing that day, and it wasn’t something I could not afford to forget.

An hour later, as I was buckling up to head home, it hit me – cupcake cups! That’s what I needed! Every year for St. Patty’s Day I make my Guinness, Whiskey and Irish Cream cupcakes, and I was out of the paper liners. You know what else I learned? Christina was right. It was so satisfying to finally remember what it was that I needed, and to do it on my own, without the help of my phone.

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If I had not remembered, and only realized it when I got home, I might not have the same conclusion, but for now, I will admit that I was wrong. Just this once. For the first time ever. (Ha!)

Twelve 5ks in 2014 – Our Year of Racing

Tuesday, February 17th, 2015

“I think exercise tests us in so many ways, our skills, our hearts, our ability to bounce back after setbacks. This is the inner beauty of sports and completion, and it can serve us all well as adult athletes.”

–Peggy Flemming

Early last year Jenny set a lofty goal for herself – she wanted to do twelve 5k races in 2014 (one per month). She kicked off the year colorfully by completing her second Color Run. In February she invited Christina to join her for the 36th Annual Runner’s Den Pancake Run. Always one for a challenge, Christina signed up for a handful of races too. By mid-year they were right on track, having finished half a dozen. Life got in the way for a few months but they dug in and crossed the finish line many times throughout November and December to end the year strong with a big stack of race bibs to prove it!

Below they share their thoughts on racing and chat about what they learned:

First, why? What made you want to race twelve 5ks in 2014?

Jenny: Exercise is always something I have not been good at keeping up with, so I wanted to do something that would keep me consistently working out. I have done a few races over the years, including two half marathons, and I find that my biggest motivator to stay moving is knowing that I have paid money to participate in an event. I am the one that suffers on race day if I don’t keep up with my walks, so the thought of losing money by not doing the race usually trumps my laziness on those days where I debate working out.

Christina: Honestly, at first it was just a way to spend more time with Jenny. But, I quickly discovered that I loved the feeling of crossing that finish line! Signing up for monthly races is also a great motivation for me to work out in between races.

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What was your favorite race and why?

Jenny: My two favorite races were The Color Run and The Hot Chocolate 5K, but they both will be better this year because I didn’t get to participate in them with Christina last year, and I always have more fun when she’s there. Both races are extremely organized, which appeals to the control freak in me, and both have really fun elements (color and dancing or a big mug of chocolate at the finish line).

Christina: That’s a really hard question! I loved them all! If I had to choose I would pick the 4 mile race that Jenny and I did on the 4th of July. It’s my favorite race because it was the hardest race I ran all year. It was terribly humid that day and well over 100 degrees. I woke up grumpy and exhausted. I was having such a terrible morning that I pouted when Jenny wanted me to wear my Sparkle Skirt! You can imagine how well the race went. I was a hot sticky mess the entire time and there were moments during the race where I had tears in my eyes because I was so frustrated and didn’t want to finish. I did finish though (in my Sparkle Skirt) because I refused to quit.

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What have you learned from this challenge?

Jenny: Racing has taught me to be more independent. Now, I don’t mean doing the races, as I love racing with Christina, but we often don’t actually race together. We will both go our own pace, push ourselves to do the best we can, and enjoy our time together before and after the race. We even have an unspoken agreement that whoever finishes first will be waiting at the finish line with a bottle of water for the other girl. Other than race day, I am on my own when it comes to keeping up with my routine, and have become comfortable with it, and making myself accountable for my workouts.

Christina: I’ve learned a ton. The biggest lesson so far? Squash the negative thoughts you have about yourself. In my opinion it’s the most self-destructive thing you can do. One of the things I love the most about running is all of the time you have to think. When I first started the challenge, there was definitely more walking and muscle cramps then running. I would hobble along beating myself up every step of the way – despite the fact that I pushed through the discomfort to finish each and every race! One day “Titanium” by David Guetta came on while I was running and with every verse I felt more and more powerful. I sang the chorus out loud and it was as if I was singing to myself – you shoot me down but I won’t fall I am titanium cut me down but it’s you who’ll have further to fall…raise your voice, sticks and stones may break my bones I’m talking loud not saying much…I’m bulletproof, nothing to lose fire away, fire away. I listen to that song on every run and it makes run faster. I am titanium. We can’t control what other people think or say about us. But, we are in FULL control of what we choose to say and think about ourselves. That’s real power.

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What are your racing plans for the future? Are you going to try for twelve 5ks in 2015?

Jenny: I will definitely be knocking out at least a dozen races in 2015! I am going to copy Christina in adding some longer races to my repertoire though (I have signed up for a 8K and 9K this Spring and a 15K in December). Christina and I are also planning on taking part in the Star Wars Half Marathon next January in Disneyland. That long-term goal will help me to stay motivated all year. Due to medical reasons, I was not allowed to run in 2014, but with those restrictions now lifted, I am looking forward to training to actually run my first 5K. It will be challenging, but I am excited to be “lightning on my feet,” like Taylor Swift.

Christina: I plan to keep running! I don’t have any major plans I just know I want to run a bit faster and a bit further. I absolutely want to run twelve 5ks in 2015! I also want to do a few 10k races too. I ran the P.F. Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll 10k in January and it confirmed that 10ks are a good next step in my running journey. Once I have a few 10ks under my belt the next big step will be to register for my first half-marathon. Eek!

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Do you have any tips for new walkers/runners?

Jenny: I would say to be patient with yourself (and I will have to do that this year myself in working towards my running goals), and only compete with yourself. I have a friend, Matt, who has been running for years and if I compared my pace and progress to where he is, I would give up and never race again. Everyone who is a runner had to start somewhere, and those successful successful people you know who are successful all do the same thing – they run on a regular basis and they push themselves to always do a little better than they did before. So, on day one1, you may pace at a less than desirable (to you) rate, but each time you go out, push yourself to run a little further or up your pace a little. Your time reduction will be slow to start, but before you know it, you will be able to drive that time down and you will be amazed at what you did. Also, everyone has occasional bad days. Don’t let them get you down, and just get out there again and push it!

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I also want to note that if you aren’t a runner, or you don’t like running, walk! I have never run a race, including either of my half marathons. I know it’s intimidating when you go to the racing sites because of course, all the pictures are going to be people running. Don’t let that stop you from participating. In almost every race I have ever done, most of the people in it are walking at some point. Don’t be embarrassed if you are a walker. Be proud that you went out there and raced!

Christina: Yes – but I will warn you all of my tips are very basic! 1. First, invest in the right gear. Don’t go out and spend a ton of money! It will take you some time to figure out what you like. Start with running socks and a good pair of shoes, a supportive sports bra, a top made from wicking fabric and something to hold your phone/iPod. Second,2. Y you have to run a lot. It sounds so simple but most people (including me) think you can head out on day #1 and run comfortably. The truth is – at first it’s going to suck a little, you’ll be slow, you’ll be sore and you might not be able to go very far. Just know that each day will be a little easier then the last. The more you run, the more you’ll be able to run. Don’t be hard on yourself…just keep running. Finally,3. R remember to enjoy the journey! Don’t get me wrong, most days I have to push myself…really hard. But, I’m a big fan of fun too. I run in tutus, silly hats and covered in color. I pump my arms and sing out loud when an awesome song comes on during a run. Why not? Life isn’t always be about how quickly you reach the finish line, sometimes it’s about how much fun you had (and how good you looked) getting there.

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Ready to sign-up for a race? Check out these blog posts:

Green Beer, Wet Chalk and Raving: 5K Fun Runs
Fuel Your Fire: Coconut Almond Energy Bars
Racing in the Smartphone Age
You CAN Race a Half Marathon

Want to join us? Hashtag your 2015 race photos with #twelve5ksin2015 or #thewildernessgirls. We can’t wait to see your pics!

  

Resolution Revolution

Thursday, January 29th, 2015

I don’t like New Year’s Resolutions, as a rule. I feel like it’s a way to set up way too many goals for myself that I won’t end up achieving, and I tend to like to set goals throughout the year, and not at the beginning (because “everyone else is doing it”).

Christina inspired me with her recent post on her resolutions for this year, and it made me realize that if I kept it to a handful of goals, I could probably be successful.

Here are my goals that I hope to achieve this year:

5Ks, Redux: Last year I walked in 14 5K races. This year I want to walk in at least 12, and do at least one longer race (and considering I just signed up for the Hot Chocolate 15K in December, I would say that one should be achievable). 5Ks keep me motivated to work out other days of the week, so the more active I can be, the better.

Skincare Maintenance: In March, I will be 37, and in my 37 years I have done pretty much little to nothing to take care of my skin for any extensive length of time. I usually get some revelation during the year that “This is it! I am going to focus on skincare from here on out” only to totally falter a few days later. This time I decided to start small, upgrade my facial products and commit to wash and moisturize my face every morning and night. I also want to increase the number of facials I get a year from one to more than one.

Get Off the Grid…Sorta: How do I say that I want to take a break from social media without sounding like the people who post “Facebook is evil! That’s it! I am deleting my account” and then are back days later? I don’t think Facebook is evil. I love social media. Too much. And that’s why this year I need to take a little break. I have two issues that are me issues with social media. First, I am constantly checking it, and thus never really “in the moment” whether it’s at home or with friends and family. Second, I compare my life to what I am seeing online, not remembering that others are also just posting the good stuff. So, it gets me down sometimes. I am human and it happens. I took a one week break already, and it’s much easier than I thought. I don’t want to be off it altogether, but just develop a better relationship with it so that I don’t become obsessed again.

Stop Being So Defensive: That says it all, really. I have found over the last few years I have become increasingly defensive with a temper that’s set off by a very short fuse. I don’t know how it happened, but I am hoping to readjust my attitude this year. I am finding that just pausing and thinking before reacting is helping so far. Wish me luck on this one – it’s going to be the most challenging!

Christina and I have been hiking every week, and share a desire to stay active, so I know that she will be checking-in with me to make sure I stay focused.

I wish you all luck with your resolutions!

Wine Tasting Party: The Experiment Continues

Thursday, November 20th, 2014

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Earlier this year I hosted my first wine tasting party, and it was a learning experience, for sure. I don’t look at wine the same way, and after one get-together, I had a new sense of confidence when it came to talking about wine. But one wine tasting does not as sommelier make. As the saying goes “practice makes perfect,” so I took one for the team (aka you) and attended another wine tasting party with our newly formed group.

This time, our host was “Renaissance Woman” Laura Marlowe. Laura is a print production manager by day, and remodels house rentals, makes jewelry and cooks amazing food (including homemade bread) in her spare time. She is a superwoman and amazing friend.

In our second tasting party, Laura decided to focus on white wines, taking us through everything from Chardonnay to Marsanne. As with our previous tasting, none of us could agree on what we liked or didn’t like, and I am finding that is the point. It’s almost like looking at art – everyone will come away from the wine with a different view.

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I don’t like Chardonnay’s, and view them as buttery and blech, but they are a popular wine, and there were those at the tasting who disagreed with me. These tastings are teaching me that “taste is in the taste buds of the beholder” and it’s ok to not like what everyone else does, or dislike what everyone else spits out. It’s all about trying a variety of wines and finding what you like.

Here is what we learned from our second experiment:

Keep the tasting notes simple
We found a real winner in our second set of tasting notes, put together by Laura (you can download a PDF of our notes here), and designed by fellow taster, Pamela. We went from a very complex form to a four step process. We debated adding “suggested” words to it, but decided that it was best to let people come up with their own descriptor words, rather than be guided by someone else’s words. We have already reused the same note sheet again at a subsequent testing with one change – we have the host add the wine information in the “Wine Facts” section before the tasting. Writing all the information down was a struggle and made the pace a little sluggish, so we decided in the future that we wanted that information pre-printed (I am working on creating an interactive version of this PDF for a future post, so stay tuned!).

Eat up!
In our first tasting, we ate before we started tasting, because that’s what all the sites I read said to do. The idea was that you would eat to have something on your stomach, and then drink water to cleanse your palate so that you could truly taste the wine. I call poppycock on this one. For our white wine tasting, we drank while we ate, and we discovered something amazing – food pairings! It became a fun game to figure out what foods made each wine taste better or worse (sometimes a cookie paired best, and sometimes a spicy salami). Christina has become a true master of this game. Make sure that you have a good variety – salty, sweet, spicy, savory – so that you have lots of options in what you are pairing with each selection.

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There’s an App for That
Before the tasting, a couple of our participants had discovered a fantastic wine app called Vivino. This free app allows you to catalog and rate wines you have tasted, scan or search wines to see how others have rated them, and discover what wines your friends are drinking by connecting you with your Facebook network of friends who also have the app. All of this can be done by simply taking a picture of the label, which the app then uses to find the wine within its database. You simply rate, make any notes, and save. I have used it several times when I am buying wine as a way to ensure I am buying something that is rated well. As a side note, we aren’t being sponsored to promote this app, we just really love it.

Wine Guide
This was truly Laura’s contribution, and something that has proven to be a great addition to our wine tastings – a wine guide. You can customize the guide to include a variety of wines, or if you are focusing on one wine, you can expand on fun facts for that particular variety. It gives your guests a take-away guide to keep on hand so that they can continue their learning at home, and have something to reference the next time they want to try something new. You can see an example of the guide she created for her party here.

After just two tasting sessions, we have really started to hone in on what works for us as a group, from the format to the food to the tasting notes. The key has been assembling a group of people who are like-minded in our desire to learn more about wine, and agreement to allow an environment where people can be open and honest with their opinions.

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Before the end of the year, I will bring you a summary (including a list of what we tasted) for our most recent tasting on champagne/sparkling wines.

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Cheers!

Organize It: Navigating the Grocery Store

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

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Grocery shopping is hands-down one of my least favorite chores. It’s crowded, people aren’t paying attention and by the time I get through the checkout line and to my car, I am ready for a stiff drink and a nap.

Even with all the chaos in the store, I have found a sure fire way to shop as quickly and efficiently as possible, and get out relatively unscathed. Just like my tips in my last post — Organize It: Meal Planning Tips — the key is planning and organization.

Step 1. Make your grocery list.

Once you have your meals planned for the week, make a list of everything you need for those dishes. After that, add staples — like milk, eggs and bread. Finally, add any miscellaneous items you are in need of like cleaning supplies, soap, toothpaste, etc. (I keep a pad of paper and pen in my “junk drawer” in the kitchen so that I can write down items that we run out of immediately. It helps me to remember them when I go to make my grocery list.)

Step 2. Organize your grocery list to the schematic of your store.

Have you ever gotten all the way through your list only to realize that you forgot an item that is on the other end of the store? Me too. The solution to this is to organize your grocery list to the flow of your store. So, you will group all produce together, and then group items by aisle.

For example, see my list (top) and crude (er, I mean, super amazing) drawing of the layout of my local grocery store (bottom):

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You can see that I go from right to left in the store, and I have my items grouped by aisle from right to left. Doing this keeps me from having to look at my entire grocery list every time I go to a new section of the store. I just have to review the list for that particular area of the store. I have had far fewer instances of getting home and realizing I forgot something by doing this method (although it does still happen, usually with ice, because I am so happy to be done that I forget to ask the cashier to add it to my bill).

This method will be tricky at first, but the more you do it, the easier it will be, and you will then be able to combine steps 1 & 2.

Step 3. Organize your cart.

Ok, you have your list and you are ready to go. So, now what? When you get to the store, make sure to set up your cart before you get started. I like to put my reusable shopping bags in the top basket in the cart and then I keep my list and a pen in my purse along with the bags.

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I also make sure that I have my store’s loyalty card and payment card ready to go in my wallet. There is nothing that stresses me out more than realizing that my debit card is not in its normal spot when I am halfway through the checkout process.

Step 4. Divide and conquer. (If you bring a shopping buddy.)

This step I can only do if my husband comes with me to the store. If you have an organized list, you can easily put your shopping buddy to work! When we are in the produce section, for example, I will assign items for Bryan to go and gather, and we then are able to more quickly get through our list and get home.

If you have kids that are old enough that you feel comfortable with them helping with this step, it’s a great way to get them involved in the shopping process.

Step 5. Review and check.

After you get through each aisle/department, do a quick visual check of your cart and list and ensure that every item you have checked is actually in your cart, and that you haven’t missed any items on the list.

Step 6. Get out of there!

You did it! You survived your weekly trip to the grocery store! Now it’s time to head home, put away the groceries, clean your reusable bags (I make this a part of my grocery process so that I remember to it every time), and put your feet up. You deserve it!

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Do you have any tips on surviving the grocery store? Share them in the comments below.

Happy shopping!

Ready for Takeoff: Flying with My Dad

Tuesday, April 8th, 2014

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This past week, I flew to Dallas for a business trip. I am not the best flyer, but since it’s the fastest way to get from Point A to Point B in most cases, I have learned to deal with it over the years. The scariest moment for me has always been as the plane speeds down the runway and takes off.

When I was a kid, my dad had a little trick for getting me through this phase of the flight. He would say “Jenn. We have to help the plane take off, are you ready?” and as the plane would race down the runway, we would turn our arms so they were on our laps but facing up, and we would move our hands upward in a jerking motion, as if we were helping to lift the plane from below. We would sometimes even grab the armrests and pretend we were pulling them up. Anything we could to “help” the plane into the air.

You are going to laugh, but whenever I can, I still do this (Bryan will vouch for that). When I can’t, the thought of it makes me smile, and distracts me enough to get me through the takeoff.

This is a memory I cherish because any time I fly, I think of my dad, and the weird habit he gave me to get through takeoff.

Do you have any superstitions or acts that help you get through stressful times that you learned from your parents? I would love to hear your nostalgic moments in the thoughts below.

Wine Tasting Party: An Experiment

Friday, April 4th, 2014

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Wine is both something I love, and am intimidated by. Whenever I go to a restaurant, and the waiter pours a “taste” of what I ordered, I am able to fake my way through the swirl, sniff and sip test, but I am not really sure what I am looking for. Instead, it feels like a ransom I am paying to get the rest of my glass of wine from the waiter, who I probably wrongly assume is a master of all things wine and judging my every move.

After years of being a drinker of wine, and stressing out every time someone asked me to bring a bottle for dinner (fearing that the jig would be up, and they would see that I know nothing of this beverage I claim to love), I decided enough was enough. It was time to learn more, and what better way than to host a wine tasting.

I invited my fellow Wilderness Girls, Christina and Rachael, as well as my friends from work, Laura and Erica, and we booked a day to start the first of what will be a series of tastings. I wanted this to be a journey that we took together, so that we could help improve the process as we went.

For my first tasting, I decided it would be a good idea to go back to basics and focus on Cabernet Sauvignon. I did some online reading, and headed to Total Wine to pick a bottle from each of the regions that are known for Cabs (France, US, Argentina, Chile and Australia).

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I had appetizers and seltzer available for us to enjoy as everyone got acquainted, and bought some chocolates and cookies for dessert. I didn’t concern myself too much with what I served since we weren’t doing a pairing with the wine, but it doesn’t hurt to look online to make sure you aren’t serving a spice or type of food that might clash with the wine if it lingers on the palette.

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The first tasting was far from perfect, but we learned a lot and had a fantastic time.

Here are my tips from our experience:

Tastings are best done with a group of 6-10 people.
I started by inviting 8 and we ended up with 5, so in the future, we are going to build our group to 12 so that we always have a larger number at each event. The more opinions and knowledge around your table, the better. You may be surprised at some of the facts your friends know, and at our tasting, everyone brought some new tidbit to the table.

Laura taught us that the “legs” are what you look for after you swirl, as they will drip down the glass, and the higher the alcohol content, the stronger the legs will be. Erica chimed in that she learned from her wine tasting trip to Argentina, that the best Malbecs have a 14% or higher alcohol content (and we also found this to be true in our small sample of Cabs). Rachael advised us when tasting that if we wanted to have a better sense of the elements of the wine, to inhale a little air through our mouth as we let the wine cross our palate.

Plan ahead.
Unlike my normal routine, I had a particularly busy week and did the majority of my planning the day before and the day of the event. If you are hosting, you don’t have to be an expert on the wine you serve, but it helps to do some research so that you can select wines properly. What I did was pick a wine from each region that Cabs are known for coming from, but what I would do next time is pick the best regions, and then both research options through an online wine site and survey my attendees for suggestions.

As a group we decided that a wine cheat sheet would be the perfect addition to future events. On the sheet we will list the traits and information on the type(s) of wine we are serving so that each attendee has access to review them during the tasting.

Keep score.
If you are a novice group, start with a simple scoring sheet. We used this scoring sheet from Total Wine, but half of us didn’t even use the scoring method and just took notes. For me, it almost made the experience too intimidating and less enjoyable. You can always add to the sheet you start with after each tasting. We are customizing our own sheet for our next event.

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Have a “control bottle.”
If possible, have a “control. bottle” What I mean by that is if you are focusing on one type of wine, buy a bottle that you know for sure is a good representation of that wine. It will ensure that you have something to compare everything else to, and that you know at least one of the selections will be good. We decided to end with the “control bottle” for future tastings.

Put your big girl pants on.
Try not to get offended if a few of the wines you selected score poorly with the group. I totally failed at this with my first tasting. The first three wines were a mix of “this is ok,” “tastes like a Pinot – a bad Pinot,” and “meh.” Being the perfectionist that I am, I didn’t want anything to go wrong, and ideally, I wanted all the wines to be good. But that’s not realistic or helpful. The point of these events is that you have the opportunity to openly discuss wines with your friends in a safe environment. And the interesting thing was that except for two wines (Michel Gassier (France) and Chateau Los Boldos (Chile)), we all disagreed on whether or not we liked most of them. So, next time, I will remember the big girl pants.

Make it a team effort.
I learned a lot at our first tasting and am already looking at wine bottles differently (for example, I never cared about the alcohol content before, but with some wines it makes a difference). The biggest thing I learned was that a tasting will go best if you make it a team effort. We all were there with the same goal – to learn – and you can’t be too proud to ask for help, or assign tasks.

At the end of the event, over dessert, we had a discussion on what we are going to do differently next time, and things that we wanted to keep from our current tasting. We agreed that we will have this same discussion after each tasting so that we can continue to improve the event.

Here are our items to keep or improve for next session:

* Keep the white tablecloth. I read that having a white tablecloth helps in the swirling stage when you are looking at the color, and we found this one to be true. This tip is a keeper, and if you decide to do this, you can get a very affordable tablecloth from Amazon.

* Go potluck. Having one person prep and pay for all the food is a lot, and most everyone who came wanted to bring something anyway, so we will all contribute food in the future (unless the host prefers to do it all themselves).

* The host selects the wine. Although it might be fun to have each person bring a bottle, we decided that it’s better to have the host do the research and select all the wines.

* Buy-in fee. We each decided that all who attend will chip in a $15 buy-in fee for the tasting. Our hope was that this would enable the host to buy a few inexpensive bottles and potentially spring for a more expensive bottle for our “control bottle,” if needed.

* Increase the attendee count. We are adding a few more people so that regardless of schedules, we always have a group that ranges from 6-10 people. The more people that attend, the more we learn.

* Take more pictures. I realized by the end of the night that I had very few pictures of the event, so make sure to keep your phones handy. It is a good idea to assign that task to one attendee each event so that one person has it top of mind.

We already have our next tasting adventure booked. We will be sampling alternative whites with our wonderful host, Laura.

Check back for a recap of our second event soon!

Organize It: Meal Planning Tips

Thursday, March 27th, 2014

Eating out is bad for your wallet and your waistline, but we succumb to the temptation on a regular basis because we can’t figure out how to incorporate cooking into our busy schedules. In addition to picking out meals and shopping, the prospect of making a meal when we get home from an exhausting day at work usually has us waving the white flag in defeat, and speed-dialing our local pizza place for delivery.

How do you get out of this cycle of fast food and delivery every night? The key is developing a meal plan routine.

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Each Sunday morning, I sit down with a cup of coffee and put together a meal plan for the week. I then plot out my grocery list and hit the store (keep an eye out for a future post with tips on efficiently navigating the grocery store).

Step 1: Recipe Research
The first step is to decide what you are going to cook for the week. This can be an overwhelming task, so I have three sites I would recommend to help you in getting started.

Pinterest: Like most of us, I am on Pinterest daily, so I pin recipes as I see them, and then use my boards as a one-stop shop for planning my week.

Sweet Peas & Pumpkins: This Jamie Oliver Food Revolution award-winning blog is written by self-proclaimed “foodie mom” Sweet Pea Chef. She tasks herself with designing healthy meals that her kids will actually eat. One of my favorite recipes is her Mexican BBQ Chicken. I marinade sliced chicken breast, along with peppers and onions, and use it for tacos. I also love her Sesame Ginger Chicken Burgers.

Skinnytaste: Skinnytaste is another site I visit daily, and most of our meals come from here. Gina creates recipes that are delicious and low-calorie, and she lists all the nutritional information on her site (including Weight Watchers Points!). Our favorites include her Stuffed Buffalo Chicken Breasts, Zucchini Tots and Turkey Chili Taco Soup.

Tips on picking your meals:

* Whenever possible, try to pick at least one meal that you can have for two nights. This makes it so that one night during the week, you just have to reheat your meal instead of starting from scratch.
* If the recipe makes more servings than you need (say it’s six servings and you are a family of two), cut the recipe in half, or use the leftovers for lunches, or freeze them for future meals.
* Share ingredients between recipes. Did you find a recipe that uses a 1/2 pound of chicken, but you are buying a pound? Find another recipe that you can use chicken in so that you reduce food waste.
* Don’t pick complicated meals. I usually do a quick read-through on any recipe before I add it to my meal list to make sure that it’s not something that needs to simmer for 3 hours, or something that has dozens of steps in order to complete. The more complicated it is, the higher your chances are of giving up and getting take out.
* Want to be adventurous? Check out Rachael’s post on how you can source locally grown produce inexpensively. Most of these local vendors will even provide recipes on how you can use your produce. It’s a great way to save money, and be more inventive with your cooking.

Step 2: Schedule Meals
Once you decide what your meals are going to be by day, either take a piece of paper and write them out, or do what I do and compose an e-mail to yourself. In the e-mail, I usually list out each day, what we are having, and below that I put a hyperlink to the recipe, for easy access. I title the e-mail “Recipes for the week of (Date Here)” that way it’s easy to find in my Inbox.

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It is a good idea to take inventory of any produce or perishables you have before you make your schedule for the week, and use items that are close to expiration first. For example, if you have a zucchini on hand that’s starting to get a little soft, you can schedule your Skinnytaste Zucchini Tots for earlier in the week.

Step 3: Make a Grocery List
Finally, you have to make your grocery list. To do this, I go through each recipe, write the ingredients on my grocery list, and then go into the kitchen and cross off any item I already have. When I don’t do this, I usually end up buying something I already have, which is why I have three tubs of white pepper.

The more you practice your routine, the better you will get, and the easier it will be to shop each week. I can tell you from experience that if you have the ingredients at home, you are more likely to stick to your meal plan.

Do you have any tips on creating your own meal plan? What recipe sites are your favorite and why? I would love to hear about it in the comments below.

Birthday Ditch Day!

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

Birthday ditch day was born four years ago when I was having lunch at one of my favorite CenPho spots – Postino – with some co-workers. It was a beautiful spring day and we were sitting on the patio, eating and lamenting how we wished we had the day off, so that we could drink some wine and just enjoy the weather. That’s right. Birthday ditch day was spawned so that we could day drink on a work day. That first ditch day, two of my girlfriends took the day off with me and we hiked, got manis and pedis, and drank wine.

We had our very own “Treat Yo Self” day ala Donna and Tom from “Parks & Recreation.”

Ditch day technically doesn’t have to be a weekday or an expensive endeavor. My friends, Adele and Chris, spend a weekend day for Chris’ birthday each year together as a family, and end the day with a trip to Whole Foods to buy ingredients to make dinner. If you want to keep it even more simple, there are a lot of free items you can get on your birthday, so you can use your ditch day to take part in Rachael’s favorite tradition – the birthday freebie scavenger hunt!

Ditch day for me has evolved into taking a Friday off with my husband Bryan, and spending the day together. Although each year the agenda is different, the idea of spending some weekday quality time with my best friend has become a birthday tradition that makes my teenage self green with envy.

This year we had donuts and coffee on the couch, then I headed out for some morning pampering at my favorite mani/pedi spot. Pink glitter nails? Yes, please!

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After a relaxing morning, we headed to the Phoenix Art Museum to see two exhibits I have been really excited about – “Read My Pins!” (a selection of broaches from the collection of former Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright) and “Lifelike” (an exhibit where the art is not necessarily created in the medium that it appears to be – I will be writing a future post on this).

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The rest of the day involved food (lunch at Short Leash Hot Dog’s brick & mortar store – Sit…Stay! and dinner at my favorite Phoenix occasion restaurant, The Gladly) and a movie.

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We had such a good time that we are already planning out what we might do on Bryan’s birthday ditch day.

Just because we aren’t kids anymore, doesn’t mean that we can’t take time to relax and enjoy getting to be another year older. What will you do this year on your own ditch day?