Thursday, November 19, 2015

stuff that's worth your money

Fact: I hate shopping. I wish I loved it, but I find it time-consuming and torturous. That said, I feel like I've done a lot of it lately. I get so many great gift/treat yo self ideas from other people's blog posts that I wanted to share what I've been spending money on (or have been gifted) lately because 'tis the season, to shop for others or add to your own wishlist.

(No links are affiliate because I'm not that fancy.)

No idea why some of these came out blurry but at least I tried. Pics are all from the links below.

Planners: Bloggers love planners, am I right? Last year I scoured Target in early January for a Sugar Paper planner and I have loved it ever since. I got the weekly/monthly view for 2015, which is set up just like the Erin Condren life planner (without the extra sections in the back). The month tabs are laminated and the cover is plastic coated. Mine lives on my desk at work and is still pristine, but I can't comment on the wear-and-tear it would face from being carted around for a year. This year, I decided to try out the Signature planner. It looks like a moleskine notebook with an elastic closure (except it's cardboard). The layout has the days of the week on the right and pre-printed areas on the left for goals and people to call/email and things to do. Since I think in terms of what I need to do each week, I thought this might be a nice change. I hope it works for me.

Left: The Erin Condren-esque layout of my 2015 weekly/monthly planner | Right: 2016's planner. The headings are top three, to do, don't forget, to call, to email, to buy, and then this week's goal along the bottom. Both have similar monthly layouts and the 2016 planner is slightly larger overall than 2015's.

Gifts: Williams Sonoma Hot Chocolate is always a favorite. It's pricier than the standard stuff, but it's rich and amazing and just feels like the holidays to me. I just wish temps would stay cool enough in Houston to partake! My friend Sarah got me an adult coloring book for my birthday and I'm a convert. It's nice to do something with my hands while the TV is on in the background. Ulta also got me a great birthday gift - a Bare Minerals Mauveloss Moxie lipgloss in Birthday Babe. I'm typically afraid of lip color and this is slightly outside my comfort zone but still dark enough to tell I'm wearing something. I got a coupon for it for being a member of Ulta's club and it's normally $18. I don't think this color is available for purchase, but it's pretty close to the Rebel shade.

Basics: I'm really not a makeup person, but I got the Maybelline Nudes Palette for super cheap on Amazon and I love it. It has directions on the back for how to layer which shadows and it matches everything. I finally tried and got these cat toys for Bauer because they were $2 and had amazing reviews. He hates toys unless he's destroying them - he won't even chase a laser pointer - but he loves these and will stand beside whatever piece of furniture he has lost one under until I get it out for him. I also loved how fast and easy was - highly recommend.

Treat Yo Self: Lately I've had great luck finding tops at Charming Charlie. The sizes seem consistent, the store layout is easy, and it's never crowded. I got these Kendra Scott earrings that seem to magically change colors depending on the top I'm wearing and I've gotten tons of compliments. I also finally made my way to Lush and got a few bath bombs for the second time ever. I'm ready for a nice, de-stressing bath once the holidays get too crazy.

So! All of that said - anything of your own you would like to add? I still have tons of shopping to do for others and I need all of the help I can get!

Linking up with Joey and Kristin!

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

california, here we come: the day we did a lot

On our fourth day of vacation, Andrew planned for us to travel north to Calistoga. While planning, he did a great job of keeping us in the same general area so we didn't have to spend much time in the car. We read horror stories of bumper to bumper traffic, but we never really saw much, likely because we spent most of our time in Napa during the week.

We went to Redd Wood for breakfast, which was down the street from our hotel. It was highly acclaimed, but the breakfast was nothing special. I had lemon ricotta pancakes and Andrew had an omelet - both were good, but neither were amazing. It was nice to sit outside, though, as the weather was pretty and there were a lot of locals and vacationers walking by.

Our first winery of the day was one of the prettiest we visited - Chateau Montelena. Its claim to fame is putting Napa Valley wines on the map during the Judgement of Paris in 1976. The Chateau itself was built into the mountain and was surrounded by Japanese-looking gardens and waterways. We were able to see huge crates full of grapes in front of the chateau, too. In the tasting room, the amount of attention was great. We were able to share a tasting and learn a good amount of the winery's history. We opted out of the full tour, but we were able to walk ourselves around the grounds and take pictures at our own pace. It was one of my favorites just to see.

 Chinese gardens, the Chateau, grapes ready to be processed (the tanks were huge), and views.

After that, we went to Frank Family Vineyards. The property was pretty, but the tasting room was kind of plain and felt very commercialized. There were different levels of tastings, and we opted to share one. We were shown to a room with the person leading the tasting and an older couple who was already about halfway through their tasting. We could tell that the employee had already established that the older couple was very well-off, and while he was nice to us, we were a little more of an afterthought. However, he let them taste a new Frank Family wine not normally included in the tasting called The Patriarch which just came out (and was $225 a bottle) and out of obligation, he let us try it, too. I didn't appreciate the other aspects of service, though, as I felt like he was saying he knew we didn't have the same means as the other couple (we don't. They were splitting the shipment between their various homes, but I didn't need him to remind me!). It was just awkward. We still ended up purchasing a few bottles of wine, though (but not The Patriarch!).

A subtle, homey tasting room with old winemaking equipment and vineyards outside. I needed a picture of the Patriarch since we didn't get any of our own.

My aunt and uncle went to Napa last year and kept telling me about the gondola ride at Sterling Vineyards, so I had to go. Sterling wines are available in grocery stores, so we visited here just for the gondola and the scenery. Unfortunately, all of that is included with the cost of the tasting and keeping a glass, so we couldn't share the fee and had to pay for wine we didn't really want. I loved the views of the gondola up the mountain. The views from the mountaintop facility were lovely, too. The set-up was nice in that there were four samples you could get at your own pace as you went through the facility. It was interesting to see the giant barrels used for mass produced wines compared to the smaller barrels we saw at other wineries the day before. The views and the experience were great if you need a short break from drinking, but don't plan to fall in love with Sterling wines.

The gondola | The bell on the tower on top of the mountain | These barrels were at least thirty feet tall - you could see the difference between large and small wineries here | more views, including Andrew not enjoying his wine despite the fantastic patio.

We had time before our next winery appointment, so we looked for somewhere to have lunch and of course Andrew found a barbecue place. Nothing else sounded good, and I wasn't very hungry after our large breakfast anyway, so I was willing to give in. After all, I owed him from the gondola ride. California barbecue was, in a word, disgusting. At least this was. It was covered in sauce and chewy. The potato salad was undercooked. At least, Buster's BBQ in Calistoga was. Avoid it! We also had time to walk around downtown Calistoga, which was really cute, though I didn't have time to really stop and look at much.

I loved how every roadside looked like a postcard. There were a few of these huge signs on the highways so I had to stop at one! (Can you see me on the left?)

To get a break from all of the reds, Andrew made an appointment at Schramsberg Winery, known for its sparkling wines (my favorite). This was a small group cave tour by appointment only. This cave was mostly hand dug and is the largest in Napa Valley. The inside was dark and covered with moss and only a limited amount of electricity was run inside. It was our tour guide's first time giving a tour, which I think affected our visit, but he talked about the winery's origins and how making sparkling wine differs from making stills. Inside the cave, a large table with two candelabras was set up for our tasting. It was a far different experience from anything else we did, and the sheer number of bottles inside the cave was neat to see. Availability at Schramsberg is limited and reservations are apparently increasingly difficult to get, so they require that each person pay a tasting fee and don't discount it for purchasing wine.

I liked the tasting area of the cave tour. If you look to the side of the wall of wine, you can see all of the natural moss inside the cave.

We had heard great things about Castello di Amarosa, a castle-like winery that was supposed to be beautiful. It is not known for having great wine. We were hoping to stop in and purchase a glass each and walk around, but the only option was to pay $25 per person for a tasting to get inside the castle, and we opted out of it. After going to Sterling just for a look around, we didn't want to do that again. I did take photos of the outside, though, as it was really pretty.

We got back into Yountville around 5pm and went to V Marketplace, next to our hotel. It has shops that sell everything from toys to chocolates to souvenirs, but of course it closed at 5:30, so I didn't get to look at too much. We also went to the Hill Family Tasting Room that was in walking distance and had a great experience. We were able to share a tasting and got to hear stories about the Hill family. They had all kinds of sports memorabilia in the tasting room as well as a surfboard and guitar stained with red wine and fun little vases and gifts to buy. There was a huge replica of a chair from The Voice that I had to sit in, too. It was a great place to check out.

Andrew wanted to drive back in to Napa for dinner at a place called Oenotri. Reservations are definitely needed at this place as the wait was over an hour. We decided to walk down the street back to Oxbow Public Market so Andrew could have some pre-dinner oysters (he loved them that much) and we could do some window shopping. Dinner at Oenotri was good and I loved our table in the window so we could people watch. They are known for their charcuterie, which was good, and I had a smoked salmon pasta dish, which I had never seen before. It was a good meal, but not great. I'm glad we found something to do during the long wait! After dinner, we went back to Yountville and our hotel for a good night's sleep before our last day of vacation.

The lighting was awful for pictures. Food was good at the time but mostly forgettable now.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

from the metaphorical cutting room floor

Confession: Last night, I wanted something to blog about so I went to my drafts folder. I thought I maybe had ten posts in there, three of which mostly need pictures, so I didn't expect to find much. I was shocked when I saw 55... That means 55 times that I have stared at the screen, had a fleeting thought, and then quit. What a waste of time!

Some of those posts will likely never see the light of day. I have one about being "dumped" as a friend and another about a sticky work situation... but others just never got finished, or, their very contents stump me. Some examples:

- Things I bought that are awesome that aren't expensive: I got as far as Not Your Mother's dry shampoo and Payless Dexflex flats (seriously, love those shoes for the price).

- My Christmas House - explanations of some of my favorite Christmas decor (maybe I'll do that this year. Does anyone care?)

- A post called "Walking Your Dog is Hard" with all of the anxiety about neighbor interaction I used to feel about walking my dog. A year later, and I still feel it.

- Blog Your Unpopular Opinion, Volume Two which includes my disdain for Starbucks cup instagrams (especially now. Yes, they're red. Cool, I guess?), hashtags in blog posts, and the words Fri-yay, spirit animal, and adulting. You guys, I like English and slang is okay sometimes but can we just chill a little?

- A post with random facts about me dated 9/11/14 where I say Napa is my dream vacation. On 9/19/15, I got to go there. I love having a blog for keeping memories like this.

- Five Things I Wish People Would Agree On. Impossible! That one sounds like it could cause some disagreement. Maybe it's better no one has seen it.

- Other assorted titles like "Ways my husband failed at childhood," "I know you disagree but cats are awesome," "How to make people hate you at graduation," and "You took a blogging break - now what?" (I wish I had some insight on that last one... I wonder what I was going to say?)

The only thing that I'm really confessing here is that my intentions on blogging are better than my follow-through, but I wanted to support Kathy and Nadine with their link-up so let's pretend that this works. So, help a slacker out - if any of these posts should happen, let me know!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

october books

After last month's reading slump, I'm happy with this month's progress, even though it didn't include anything amazing. Here's to hoping your luck was better than mine - I need some new recs!

Anything with an (A) means it was enjoyed as an audiobook when I wasn't listening to Gilmore Guys or This American Life podcasts...

The Last Time We Say Goodbye -  I need to stop reading books about dead teenagers because they're all running together. An eighteen year old girl is trying to get her life back in order after her parents get a divorce and her younger brother commits suicide. The way it was written - in journal entries and the present day - was a nice change, but a lot of the characters felt stereotypical. There was nothing inherently wrong with the book, but for me, it wasn't a must read.

(A) Forever, Interrupted - This book was half sad and depressing and half meetcute with a perfect man, but I liked it anyway. A woman's husband dies less than two weeks after they got married and before they can tell each other's families about their relationship. The story jumps back and forth between their meeting and relationship and the aftermath and getting to know the husband's mother. I found Elsie, the wife, mostly likeable and the book made me wonder how I would behave in a similar situation. It was a super easy read and one of my favorites of the month.

Bittersweet - This book went on way too long and it took a while to go somewhere. I felt like a lot of what happened was ancillary and when something happened to advance the plot, it was discussed between characters in a page or two and then we moved on. I kept reading because the main character alludes to something in her past that isn't revealed until the end of the book, so I would say the story was intriguing enough, but it wasn't very satisfying in the end. (Recommended by my library's Book Hunters program).

(A) The One & Only - Emily Giffin's books are all over blogland and since it was available as an audiobook, I thought I would give it a try. First, the book is read by someone doing a ridiculous Texas accent, which I can't fully hold against the author, but it was annoying. Second, the Texas stereotypes in the book like a man constantly referring to a grown woman as "girl" and some stupid line about how every Texan knows that barbecued ribs can solve any problem (um, what?) drove me nuts. It's like the author watched Friday Night Lights and thought she wanted to set a book in Dillon. And without spoiling too much, there's a super icky romantic storyline that I just couldn't get on board with.

Beautiful Ruins - I don't think I knew enough about this book to fully appreciate it until I was too far into it to have paid attention to the details I needed for full enjoyment. Does that even make sense? I think I would love this book on a reread. Here's what you need to know: this is a story told in a non-linear way with various narrators, including a 20-year-old Italian man in 1962 and a present day young woman working in Hollywood. The root of the action is the fictitious behind-the-scenes drama that went on while filming the movie Cleopatra in the 60s. It had its share of real world drama, but this book tells a story of what could have been. There's romance, people making poor decisions, and over-the-top characters. It all wraps up nicely at the end, too. I would recommend this one for a quick read, maybe on a plane. (Also recommended by Book Hunters).

(A) Inside the O'Briens - I was worried that this book would be too dark and sad, but after a month of fluff and clunkers, I was ready to dive in. This book is heartbreaking. It makes you wonder why you read it, because it will only make you sad, but knowing that real-life people are dealing with this just made me want to know more about the awfulness that is Huntington's Disease. The author's ability to weave a story and realistically explain the effects of a terrible disease kept me interested the whole time. I get what the author did with the ending and the point she was trying to make - and I mean, do we really want to watch these characters we had grown to like suffer? - but the open-endedness of it didn't leave me satisfied. I still liked the book overall, though.

DNF - The Spool of Blue Thread - This was also recommended to me by my library's Book Hunters program. It started slow, and I consulted Goodreads to see if it was worth sticking it out, and basically read that nothing ever happened and all it did was tell you about the characters. I had other books waiting for me, so I let it go.

I'm currently reading Matthew Quick's Sorta Like a Rockstar which is written in annoying, teenage girl prose but I'm mostly biding my time with it since I'm next to borrow several books at the library, including Furiously Happy and Why Not Me?.

Thanks as always to Steph and Jana for hosting the link-up - I give it tons of credit for helping me with my goal of finishing 70 books this year!