Posts Tagged ‘true life’

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.

Gardening…Dare I Dream?

Wednesday, June 24th, 2015

I have a Pinterest board called “Gardening…Dare I Dream?” because even though I have always been abysmal gardener, I can’t shake these vivid, bucolic fantasies that I may one day grow beautiful, healthful produce in my very own back yard. After all, my dad is a great gardener and can bend plants of all types to his will. Pepper plants tremble before him and lettuces quiver at the might of his harvesting shears. On the other side of my family, my Papaw was a tobacco farmer in his youth and a prolific backyard gardener in his later years. Memories of tinkering around in the garden with him fuel these fantasies to the point that a few times I’ve been overcome with hope and actually planted things in the soil. I literally have farmer’s blood – this should be no problem. But there is a problem. There is always is a problem.

The first time I committed “attempted gardening” was when Jacob and I lived in Columbus, Ohio. We weren’t even married yet so it must have been the summer of 2000. I went outside and dug up a 2’x2’ square next to the back porch of our duplex house with a hand trowel. There I planted some random seeds in soil better suited for throwing pottery than growing crops. Precious little grew and I had no desire to crouch among filth and bugs to pluck weeds in the summer heat. At harvest time we gathered a few knobby carrots that were comparable to a shooter marble in size, shape, and density. Oh well, better luck next time, I thought.

Three years later, I discovered container gardening. I deduced that hard soil (and not lack of water, fertilizer or proper sunlight) was the reason my carrots turned out badly. Containers of optimally blended potting soil were going to solve all my gardening woes. I got a transplanted piece of garlic chive from a green-thumbed friend and I bought a tomato plant from the garden center at Walmart. The tomato was wilted dead from thirst before the first blossom could open. Surprisingly, the garlic chives took off like gangbusters in spite of my neglect. It was only then that I realized I didn’t know what to do with a garlic chive apart from sprinkling it on baked potatoes, which my husband hates. On a side note, that townhome had slugs on the porch; they were super gross and creeped me out so I really did prefer to stay indoors.

For the next several summers I tamped down my urges, but when we moved to Phoenix, purchased a home, and I learned that there were two growing seasons per year here, all restraint was lost. Obviously this was the solution to my problem. It wasn’t that I was a bad gardener, I reasoned, it was just that I needed more practice. This was an opportunity. Plus, now we were official first-time homeowners with a fenced yard. Sure, it was a horrid, barren little yard, but it was ours and maybe a lush veggie patch was just the thing to inspire us to really get into landscaping and outdoor living.

I hit the library for a stack of gardening books and the home improvement store for many dollars’ worth of hoes and shovels and such. This time, I decided I was going to do a recessed bed so I could turn the hose on it and soak the space to irrigate the plants. I nearly broke my back trying to turn the soil, which was baked hard as brick by the desert sun. I might have seen this as foreshadowing the garden’s fate, but I was intent on my verdant goal. I considered renting a tiller because this time I was mostly sure it was probably going to totally work. In the end I decided not to because but just in case – on the off chance it didn’t go well – I didn’t want to invest too much cash. A month later when my plants were choked out by weeds and outdoor temps soared well above 110 degrees, I lost all interest. My husband started watering the plants in an effort to save them from my (repeat-offender style) abandonment but when he saw how little I cared he gave up too. The total of our harvest was a fistful of Thai red chiles and two medicinal-tasting cucumbers. Thus ended the gardening ordeal of 2008.

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Henry helps reap the bounty of our doomed garden

You would think that by now I would be done with gardening fantasies. It is pretty clear that I like the idea of gardening much more than the actual doing, that I don’t want to make a significant investment of dollars or hours, and that once it gets hot out I’m likely to cut and run, leaving the little plants to fend for themselves. On top of all of this, my husband vehemently discourages all gardening talk. I don’t blame him and I don’t consider him unsupportive because he speaks truth. Time and again I’ve proven myself untrustworthy with seedlings. That’s why I was a little bit nervous for him to see the heirloom tomato starter I brought home from the farmer’s market last spring.

This time is it, I thought to myself. I think it could be different – I could be different. Yeah, I know I’ve said it all before, but I felt good about this attempt. I built up two 2’x2’x1’ raised beds right near the hose bib and in a place where they get some afternoon shade from the shadow of the house. Next, I filled the beds with good potting soil and nestled in the little starter. I set up a tomato cage and gently tied the limbs up with twine so my plant could grow strong and true. In the next bed I planted basil, rosemary and oregano which are herbs I actually use and know what to do with.

Things went well for a while, but once again it got hot out and once again I had a derelict weed patch where my garden once stood. The heirloom tomato is dead. The herbs are dead. I officially quit. I am never, ever gardening again. In fact, if you ever find yourself in the garden center at The Home Depot and catch me in one of my gardening-fantasy stupors, please stop me. Maybe even warn an employee about my tendencies so they can deny me service.

You can save the Earth one plant at a time…by keeping them safe from me, The Plantslayer.

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!

New Year, New Resolutions: 2015 Edition

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

If I’m honest, 2014 kicked my butt. Looking back, there was no single event that made the year rough, but rather a collection of painful circumstances. 2014 was a blister on the back of my ankle that just wouldn’t heal. It was annoying, it slowed me down, made it hard to move forward and it just plain hurt. I know I’m not the only one because I watched some of the people I love most wade through their own Bog of Eternal Stench. Is there anything worse than watching your favorite people struggle? Scrolling through my news feed on NYE, it was clear that lots of people were thrilled to put 2014 behind them.

But you know what? I’m ready to rock 2015.

I’ve been thinking a lot about resolutions. I think I had it right in 2014 when I kicked all of my stale resolutions to the curb and resolved to enjoy life more. What do I want to do in 2015? More of the same! So, I’m sticking with a couple of my resolutions from last year and adding a few new ones too. Here’s what I came with:

Capture More Memories. While I did take more photos in 2014, I didn’t get very many of Rob & I. This year I want to have a photographer snap some photos of us with our dogs. I got a Fuji Instax for my birthday last year and have had a lot of fun documenting our little family’s daily life. I printed lots of photos too! This year I want to explore creative ways to print photos, DIY a display space for my Insta prints and hang a gallery wall of family photographs in our home.

Be Stylish. I love fashion – but all too often I haven’t allowed myself to wear the clothes I’m crazy about for fear of what others might think. It’s time to clean out the closet, both literally and figuratively. I want to explore fashion, define my style and learn how to dress my shape.

Make Money Being Creative. For most of 2014 I was in a creative role at work and I loved every minute of it. While it was the hardest work I’ve ever done I’ve never been happier or more fulfilled. Unfortunately, my position was eliminated in late September. While I am super grateful to have been hired back in a different role, I am now desperate to find a way to make money being creative and working with my hands. Total side note: I also intend to spend more time here! Creating content for our little site makes me so happy and I didn’t do nearly enough of that last year.

Make Good Choices. This is the big one for 2015! I need to get my act together. While 2014 was the year of the 5k (I ran 12!) it was also the year of my scale going up and down a number of times. In 2015, I need to pay more attention to what I eat. I also want to be more active and spend more time outdoors. And, over the last few years I’ve made a conscious decision to use ditch toxic cleaners and personal care products for natural alternatives. This year I need to explore alternatives for the products I’ve been too stubborn to get rid of (Scrubbing Bubbles I’m lookin’ at you). This one is really all about living with intention and treating my body right.

No year will ever be without its struggles. BUT, this year I am determined to stockpile love, laughter and all the goodness I can get my hands on so that I have something to cling to when life gets rough.

After all, in the immortal words of David Wooderson, “you just gotta keep livin man, L-I-V-I-N.”

Happy New Year! XOXO

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!

Bus Adventure

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

When was the last time you rode the bus? For me, it was just a few weeks ago at the invitation of my daughter, Betty. My Mom doesn’t drive because she is visually impaired so she and my daughter ride the bus together all the time. No matter how mundane the destination, Betty has christened these little trips “bus adventures” because, when you really think about it, everything is an adventure to a two-and-a-half-year old.

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On the day of our bus adventure, Betty invited me to join her and G-ma for a trip to the playground at the mall. Usually when the three of us go anywhere together it is by car, so this “Three Generations” bus trip was a first. Since she never knew me as a broke twenty-something, Betty thought I never rode a bus before and she wanted to show me how it’s done. She told me all about how we hold hands at the bus stop, how we put our dollars in the machine by the driver and where to find the best seats. When we got close to the mall, she told me all about pulling the cord to make the bus stop and reminded me to say “Thank You” to the bus driver on the way out.

Parenting my daughter teaches me new things all the time, but this was the first time she actually realized she was teaching me something. Of course, I asked a lot of questions, being a first time rider and all. She was so confident. I could see it in her body language, her strong little shoulders and her head held high as she looked me in the eye and explained each step of the process. Later, as we rode home from the mall after playing hard in the kids’ zone, grabbing a slice of pizza in the food court and making an impromptu stop at The Disney Store, I watched her as she quietly looked out the window at the neighborhoods going by. She was sleepy but satisfied; proud of herself. I thanked her for taking me on a bus adventure and told her what a good job she did teaching me how to ride the bus. She snuggled into me and sighed, “I love you, Mommy.” It was a pretty good day.

I <3 PHX: Bodega 420

Friday, March 21st, 2014

A couple weeks before Christmas I wanted to get a few jars of Peanut Butter Americano to give as gifts, but I missed the public market that weekend. Fortunately, the PB Americano website pointed me to Bodega 420 as one of the places I can get a PB fix any day of the week. One visit and I knew this was my kind of place.

Bodega 420 sits at the corner of Fifth Street and Roosevelt, in an old house right in the middle of an active community full of artists, students and young professionals. In 2012, owners Adrian & Mona Fontes and John Sagasta recognized the neighbors needed groceries and other basics but lacked easy access to those everyday essentials. They opened Bodega 420 with a small assortment of products and decided to see how it would go. The sign outside touts hardware, smokes and snacks but this little store offers something better than all of that – connection with the community.

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The shop is eclectic with a wide variety of merchandise in a pretty small space. In the first room, there is the counter where you can buy basic convenience store things like cigarettes, candy, headache or upset stomach medicine, allergy remedies and condoms. Above the old fireplace behind the counter hangs a pegboard full of hardware and art supplies. When I asked Adrian about it he told me, “It’s back there so [customers] need help with it, which makes an interaction happen. It’s not just grab it, pay for it, and leave and keep your head down and don’t talk. You have to actually interact to get to that stuff, and that’s by design.” Customers can also ask for bulk grains, beans and pastas. Local musicians count on Bodgea 420 for a little stash of everyday music essentials like strings and drumsticks and can even special order instruments and supplies.

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¿Wachoo Want?
On day one the owners painted a chalkboard on the front wall and christened it “The ¿Wachoo Want? Board.” Customers add products to this communal wish list and their neighbors come along and add a checkmark if they agree. When an item gets enough checkmarks it is added to the product assortment in the store. This is also how they’ve grown from a few shelves of hardware and household basics to include an expanded selection of grocery items, an impressive variety of fresh produce, music and art supplies, bulk foods and local specialties. Their newest endeavors include a weekly farmer’s market and new cold-pressed juices.

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Fresh Produce in the Food Desert
Before Bodega 420 the neighborhood was a complete food desert which means there was no place to buy fresh, affordable, healthy food for miles in each direction. Now, local produce from Crooked Sky Farm on 16th St & Buckeye shares space with hyper-local fare that is grown on-site.

The garden is in its second year and going strong. Carrots, bok choy, spinach, arugula, lettuce, kale, parsley, fennel, sweet peas, beets, basil, heirloom tomatoes and sunflowers grow in the rich earth that master gardener Tim has coaxed and composted from desert tan to rich brown. The kale plants are so prolific that they look untouched the day after Mona and Adrian harvest them for juicing. Their parsley patch can’t be stopped. I can only hope the heirloom tomato starter I bought will do as well under my care as they’re doing in the bodega garden.

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Local Favorites
One of the many things I love about Bodega 420 is the focus on local. The community needs a reliable source for Spaghetti-Os and ramen noodles and you’ll find those items on the bodega shelves. You’ll also find Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap right next to the Irish Spring because there is a demand for both products. Sometimes people are surprised that a place that carries so many fresh foods and local products would also carry Hunts ketchup or Fancy Feast cat food, but that’s what the community wants and needs so that’s what is on the shelves.

Still, there are many local treasures to be found. All of the ice cream, butter, farmer’s cheese and Greek yogurt they sell is from Udder Delights in Gilbert. The eggs come from Hickman’s Farm. I already mentioned the PB Americano – they carry all the flavors and the new almond butter, too. The peppers, pickles and relish are by Mrs. Klien’s and made over on 43rd avenue. They carry coffee beans from Jobot coffee just across the street. The Olive Leaf Tea Company just opened their first brick and mortar store but Bodega 420 was the first place to give them shelf space to sell their product. If you need seasonings you can find the locally mixed Slavo Salt or the most perfect chile powder and condiments ever from Santa Cruz Chile and Spice Company. When the demand for e-cigarettes increased, they found a local supplier who produces lab-grade product in a safe environment, so they rolled out a line of e-cigs and accessories just in time for First Friday this month.

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Art and All the Rest
As if all of this wasn’t enough, Bodega 420 is a gallery. Adrian says, “Every month we put a new artist up. [This month’s artist is] a photographer and you can see her work all through the store…so that’s how we do our art shows. And it is really a function of sticking with the roots of the place. We’re in an arts community, so we want to have art on the walls.” In addition to the artists they nurture, Bodega 420 is something of a business incubator. There’s a jeweler who sells her work in the shop. The soap guy makes his product just a few blocks away and sells it at the market. Local artists were asking for more types of paint but it wouldn’t work well at the shop so Adrian urged a neighbor to create a paint shop on his property. A small children’s clothing shop called The Squid and The Monkey got its start at Bodega 420.

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Tonight is Third Friday. If you’re in the ‘burbs like me, consider a trip downtown tonight and be sure to stop by the store. Grab yourself an old-fashioned Faygo Root Beer, sit down on the porch and chat with a new friend. Listen to live music. Watch the people go by. Be part of a community and appreciate all that Bodega 420 has to offer. I hope to see you there!