Friday, December 30, 2011

Christmas Traditions

We live more than 1000 miles away from our parents.   However, when both sets of parents live in the same county, married children don't have to alternate spending Christmas with one side on the odd years, and with the other side on the even years.  We are lucky that we can see everyone.

Sometimes it's a mixed blessing because we're in the car a lot.  Driving back and forth isn't too bad when there is no snow, and we are certainly lucky to be able to see everyone in one trip.  While we're unable to keep every tradition for both of us, I like to think we've done a decent job of blending them together.

Christmas Eve my family goes to Mass at 5pm.   It's the Children's Mass, which used to be absolutely adorable with children processing holding animals, telling the Christmas story (complete with giraffes in the manger) and singing many carols.   It's changed a bit and now a lot of kids are still there, but are no longer performing.  Going with Michael now guarantees we will hear a male voice singing Christmas songs, which is rather lovely!

Michael's family always eats lasagna for dinner on Christmas Eve.   Theresa and Ray join us (Theresa always makes the best salad!), and ML provides the peppermint dessert.  Basically chocolate, graham crackers and pink mint ice cream.  Yeah.  It's delicious.   Most years (at least since I've attended, starting in approximately 2002), we play a game.   My favorite part of the game playing is when my father in law shouts "Julia is on my team!"  I also enjoy when our team happens to win, as was the case this year.  Check out our enthusiasm, especially Mario's thumbs up- we couldn't have done it without Theresa and Michael.  

2011 was particularly lovely because for the first time since 2008, Marissa was home for dinner, along with Howie!  And Mario's parents were there too, making the table full with 10 chairs!

Christmas morning, in both our homes, always meant lots of presents.  We now spend the night at Michael's parents' house, open gifts in our PJs, eat a big breakfast, and then head over to my parents' house for small family presents, followed by dinner with at least 20.   Among other items, this year, dinner included ham and turkey and cheesy potatoes!   Midwesterners will know that this ridiculous dish of frozen hashbrowns, cheese, campbell's soup, and cornflakes is both ridiculous and amazingly good.   It should be consumed annually, though I don't remember the last time I had it...  Erica and I did a little dance when we saw it on the buffet.

Every year we take a Lasky cousin picture.   This is our photo from 2011 and FINALLY Anthony and I (the tallest 2) are not sitting on the darn floor.

The entire day is quite the raucous time.  We have dinner, open gifts, chat, eat snacks and appetizers, play games, sing Christmas carols around the piano, and enjoy everyone's company.  At times, the decibel level is at least 80!   And we wouldn't have it any other way

Monday, December 19, 2011

Sing We Joyous All Together

While we're on the subject of all things holiday (see also: It's a Wonderful Life, The Nutcracker) why not talk about music?

For me, Christmas music is as much a part of the holiday season as the tree or the gifts or the online shopping.   Unlike my local radio stations, which begin before HALLOWEEN, I don't start to play Christmas songs until after Thanksgiving.  On the way back from South Carolina, I revel in my freedom to play 6 hours of Christmas music.  Poor Michael.

I have a Christmas playlist on my iPod that includes approximately 36 hours of Christmas music.  I have another Christmas playlist that is instrumental only, appropriate for dinner or times when you don't want to sing along.   I don't know when this time would be.  As a child my dad often would say "Julia, no singing at the table"   For this reason, it helps to have instrumental music whilst eating.   Yet another playlist is labeled Christmas Run and includes all the peppier songs that are appropriate for a jog around the neighborhood.   When you live in the Sunshine state you really can jog outside in December.  It is lovely.  And confusing.

My favorite Christmas song of all time?   That's easy.   Silent Night.  Do you know the story of Silent Night?   I do, mostly because on A Christmas Together John Denver tells the story before he sings Stille Nacht with the Muppets.  Beautiful song, beautiful story.

My favorite Christmas album?  Whoa boy.   That is a toughie.

1) James Taylor at Christmas

Does this require an explanation?  Anyone who has ever heard JT sing knows he is amazing.  Every song is expectedly wonderful.  Even Jingle Bells, which I find a bit tedious at times, is enjoyable thanks to his bluesy interpretation.
Favorite song on the album: Who Comes This Night

2) Amy Grant (all 3, plus the EP, don't judge me)

Amy Grant is awesome because her albums are always a mixture of fast and slow, religious and secular songs.  No matter your mood, Amy Grant will have a song for you.
Favorite song on all albums:  I have 39 Amy Grant Christmas songs.  I cannot choose!  Mister Santa is my least favorite.... how's that?

3) The Time Life Treasury of Christmas

This collection features all the old classics sung by Perry Como, Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Andy Williams, etc.
Favorite song on the album: This is so hard!  White Christmas.  No, Home for the Holidays.

4) Kenny & Dolly's Once Upon a Christmas

Classic singers, a wonderful mix of original songs and standards.
Favorite song on the album: With Bells On

5) Sugarland's Gold & Green

This is a new one, but as with Kenny & Dolly, I love the mixture of original songs along with their interpreting old favorites.
Favorite song on the album: Gold and Green

6) A Rockapella Holiday

Did you watch Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?  Remember the theme song?  Rockapella sang it! This is a legit group that has been recording for years.  And they are awesome.  Some new members over the years but fantastic a cappella singing still reigns supreme.  I have all 3 albums, this is their newest, out in November.  In fact, we are seeing them in concert (again!) on Thursday in Tampa!  So pumped
Favorite song on the album: Christmas All Together

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Christmas Movie Feature

I had been planning to write an homage to my favorite Christmas movies.  There are several, but my favorite Christmas movie ever also happens to be my Favorite Movie Ever.

It's a Wonderful Life

This movie and I go way back.  I don't remember the first time I saw it, but it was almost certainly on TV in the 1990s.   You see, my parents always went to the Company Christmas Party in mid-December.   Always on a Saturday, it was the fanciest night of the year.  Mom wore a glittery dress, Dad a jacket and tie!  When your Dad works in the steel industry, these items are not frequently donned.

Initially this night meant a babysitter.  Nene or Auntie or sometimes a neighborhood girl.   But when we were young-ish either they couldn't find anyone or they trusted us because Al and I were left Home Alone!   (Another favorite movie for another time)  Our stay-at-home evenings were very exciting.  I made macaroni and cheese for dinner, which is still a requested item when my sister and I are together at home.  We ate in the family room (!) and watched It's a Wonderful Life on TV.   I am sure I had seen parts of it before, but the first time I saw it start to finish was on a Saturday in December with my sister.

Like clockwork, every year, on that same Saturday as the Christmas party, NBC aired It's a Wonderful Life.  I laughed and cried and my sister laughed at me.  She claimed to like Mr. Potter best.

While it's a Christmas movie, the movie is about so much more than that.  Family togetherness, true friendships, the importance of each individual to so many people, and above all, that life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful.

It's a simple film and these messages remain universal.

There are so many 'wonderful' components to this movie, that I encourage you to hop over to The Pioneer Woman's contributor post and get his take.  It's well written and sums up why the movie is still enjoyed by so many.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Waltz of the Flowers and Sugar Plum Fairies: A history

Ah, December.   For me this crazy month means the usual holiday mayhem, but also two family birthdays (hi Al and Dad!) and, since 2001, a Nutcracker performance

Regular readers will recall that in 2001, Hannah, Ashley and I took a trip to the Nutcracker.  You see, Pannie received a ballet subscription from her parents earlier that year: two tickets to several different shows.  Being the trio that we are, we traded in the 2 Nutcracker tickets and paid the difference in order to get 3 together.  We were in the very back row of the top tier at the Kennedy Center.   Not ideal seats, but a lovely show with friends.   I had never seen the show so it was all amazing to me.

In 2002 we planned a repeat evening.  All three of us would see the Nutcracker and take a break from studying for finals, thus beginning a college-long tradition at the holidays.  Only it did not happen that way.   Ashley's grandpa became very ill, and she had to fly home to Missouri just before our show.  Much to our dismay, Pannie and I went without her (my boyfriend, now husband, Michael took the 3rd ticket).

Sadly, Ash did not return to school the following fall.   Pannie and I continued our ballet tradition, though it was not quite the same.   I believe we decided to get slightly better seats, in 2003 and 2004, however.   You can only see so many consecutive shows in the top tier before you start to wish you could see their faces a bit better.

Upon graduation in 2005, we both got jobs in DC, and thus continued our tradition.   Between 2001 and 2007 we saw performances by the Bolshoi, Kirov, Joffrey Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, and The Washington Ballet.  All are lovely in their own unique ways, though Pannie and I have a soft spot for ABT.

In 2008 tragedy struck.   I moved to Florida in May, which meant No! Nutcracker! Performance!   I tried to soften the blow by sending Pannie nutcracker ornaments but it did not work.   We had broken tradition and it was sad.

In fall 2009, soon after getting married, I received an email from Pannie.
In other news: I think you need to come visit this fall/winter.  We need some roommate bonding time--I am in withdrawal.  I'm starting to receive info about this year's Nutcracker performances, and I must say, it rather sucked not to enjoy holiday festivities with you last year.  I'm just throwing that out there for your consideration.

She sure knows how to twist my arm.  The good thing about traveling between Thanksgiving and Christmas is that airfare is rather inexpensive.  Relatively speaking.  Bonus points in 2009: Pannie had a new job and got FREE tickets to the Washington Ballet.

Last year, as you know, we were in Ithaca, NY.  It was cold.  But Michael finished finals the week before the Nutcracker performance, thus requiring us to make a slight diversion to DC before ending up in Ohio for the holidays.   Note: I think we both look exhausted in this photo, but I cannot figure out why!  Anyway.   We are cutest when we do not look like we've been up 3 days in a row

As we are back in the Sunshine State, once again in October I got an email from Pannie

Apropos of nothing...Nutcracker tickets are on sale today.  
Just throwing that out there.  :)

I checked airfare and things were not looking great initially.  However, eventually the expedia travel Gods smiled upon me and I found a decent ticket.  Luckily there were decent seats available for a performance, and we were set!  

Last Friday we celebrated seeing our tenth performance of the Nutcracker.  

Fittingly, it was ABT, with brand new choreography and set design.  And, even better, we were sitting next to 8-year-old Paige and her grandma, who was taking her granddaughter to her very first ballet performance.

Monday, November 21, 2011

For what I am about to share, may I be truly grateful

'Tis the season for turkey and stuffing and green beans cooked in Campbell's soup (sorry I'm from the midwest; green bean casserole is a-ma-zing) and PIE.    Mostly pie.    It's also the beginning of the holiday season -- despite the fact that Target has been hawking Christmas decor since mid-October -- where everyone tends to reflect on the past year.    Thanksgiving, despite being a forgotten step-child in the retail world, really does start us off on the right foot, don't you think?

We're back in Florida so that means we'll be driving to South Carolina to see Michael's maternal grandparents, Nana and Papa.  We had a great time last year (Ithaca = drive to New Jersey to see the other side of the family!) but I am also a stickler for tradition.   That said, I am grateful that we are back here in Florida, and consequently, able to be back there at Thanksgiving.

All 4 of Michael's grandparents are awesome.   Specifically, Nana and Papa are both over 80 and each play 18 holes of golf each day (he walks half, she walks half) and they act like they're closer to 50 than 80.    They watch current TV, read current books, and are lovely people to converse with, about pretty much any topic.   I am thankful that, by marriage, these wonderful people are now part of my family.     I am thankful that we are close enough to to drive to spend time at the holidays with them.   (and avoid the airport!)  I am thankful that in less than 48 hours I will be in their condo wearing yoga pants, glasses, and no makeup, reading a book and drinking tea, with no distractions.

I am thankful that the upcoming Thanksgiving weekend includes watching lots of movies, reading lots of books, playing lots of games, and spending lots of time talking with each other.   That's what Thanksgiving is all about, after all.   Family and love and relaxation.  Not black Friday sales and craziness.

May each of you be blessed with a lovely Thanksgiving weekend, and may you be truly grateful for it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Operation Surprise Ashley

So the suspense is over.   After two months of keeping my fat mouth shut* I can finally talk about the surprise visit this month.

It all started in September, about 8 weeks ago.  Ashley's husband Jason called Pannie and I one afternoon and explained his idea.  Essentially it was this:

I have 2 Southwest flights that expire in December 2011.  I'm not going to have a chance to use them.  I would love to fly you two out and surprise Ash for her birthday.  What do you think?

What do we think?!  Well he knew what we thought.  Ash's birthday was the first weekend in November but I was in Colombia and Pannie was Maid of Honor in her sister's wedding so the 2nd week won out. Good news is I think it might have helped throw her off.   Ash said she had an inkling awhile ago that he might surprise her (she knew there were 2 almost expired tickets and they mentioned it briefly this spring) but Jason kept throwing her off by telling her about the 'surprise' trip they had planned.

After we rang the bell and surprised her Friday we went upstairs and saw a good portion of Ash's closet on the bed as Jason encouraged her to 'pack' on Friday evening.   Once she gave him a little bit of sass about the trick, (all in good fun) we had a lovely relaxing girls weekend.

One of the great things about surprising someone is they don't plan anything - no agenda!  I had NO AGENDA!-  so you can lounge around and chat and drink tea or coffee or wine and enjoy each other's company because that's what it's all about.

We also finally watched the Friends series finale.  See, it aired after school ended on spring and Ash couldn't bear to watch it without us.  So she's been waiting for seven years and this weekend seemed like as good a time as any.

Quasi-related, I read The Hunger Games on my [free!] airplane ride.  If you have not read it, go ahead and order yourself a copy.   Amazon has it for $5!  The movie will be out soon and I am quite certain it will be good.  But you know the book is always better.

*I am in actuality a good secret keeper

Saturday, October 22, 2011

To Do: November

Y'all, I have quite a month ahead of me.   In no particular order the following festivities will occur in November

  • Trip to South Carolina for Thanksgiving to see Nana and Papa and also watch way too many movies
  • Visit from my boss (!) who is here over a long weekend
  • Trip to _______ for a surprise visit to see ____________ *
  • Visit from my aunt and uncle and cousins that includes trips to Disney World and water parks and other fun places
  • Trip to Colombia to visit Michael's aunt and uncle and coincidentally, a fellow Cornellie who lives there too!

If I'm not traveling, someone is traveling to see me!   Literally every weekend in November is booked.    To quote Michael:  Oh this is going to be fun for me!

*Seriously- this is all you get.    I can't give any details.   Just in case that person is reading.   Doubtful, but you just never know and I love surprises.   So we all can wait in anticipation.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Photo Book

My sister is not always known for her proactive behavior relating to gifts.  When we were younger and our non-imagintive relatives would buy us the same darn gift at Christmas, I wrote a thank you card and Al signed her name.   If we need to give a major gift (graduation, wedding, etc) I choose a gift and Al writes me a check for half.  Minimal creativity and brain power involved.

Anyway.   The point of this is not to tease my sister.   It is in fact to sing her praises.  This year, just after Christmas in fact, Al approached me.   Boue, she said.  She calls me Boue, pronounced Boo, as in ghosts.   Have we talked about this?  Boue, I have a really good idea for a gift for Mom and Dad.  You know how you do Apple photo calendars at Christmas?   Well what if for Mother's Day and Father's Day we made them a book that is pictures of us when we were little? 

CREATIVITY AND BRAIN POWER RELATING TO A GIFT!   What an excellent idea!  The catch?  Al was bound for the airport to fly back to her home in the big city.   I was still in Ohio.   Which meant.......    I had the dubious honor of sorting through literally more than 20 photo albums full of family photos.   Luckily my mother is OCD about organizing photos.  Like crazier than me OCD.    She has every photo since her wedding shower in 1978 in chronological order in albums. It is quite impressive.

So I spent much to long curled up on the floor of the living room sifting through photo albums.  I had to be covert because this was a surprise and Mom tends to pop up at all the wrong times for surprises.   She is notorious.  But through some small grace of God I was able to grab what I needed, throw it in an envelope and take it back to Ithaca with me.

Then!   I spent hours and hours and HOURS scanning 1980s photos.  It was not particularly enjoyable.  But I would do anything for my sister.   After the worst was over, I got to also gather the digital photos I've been taking since college, and arrange the darn things in a book.   How to approach it?   Chronological?  Al pages and Boue pages?   Photos just with mom?   Family photos together?  All Christmas pics on the same page?   The combinations were endless.

But finally it was finished and I placed the order.    I ordered the book in early June after we got back to Florida.   Logic here: Ship it to my house so I could hand carry it home in July for Grandma's 80th and present the gift in person, with Al.    I did not want to risk it arriving at home and my mother, who we know spoils surprises at times, to be tempted.   Plus- I wanted to see it!

I obsessively tracked the order and shipping.  Finally it was delivered as per the FedEx site.   I went onto my porch and --- my doorstep was empty.   (not really- there was a welcome mat)  So I paused a moment and came back inside.  Michael did not hear the bell ring nor did I.  I checked the ground below the porch.  You never know.   Nothing.    So then I took a walk around the neighborhood and checked homes whose addresses are the same digits as ours but in different orders.  Nothing.  So I came back home and called FedEx.   This resulted in a very thorough detective search between customer service managers on the corporate level and local level and all sorts of folks in between.  It was a mess and lasted more than a week.

I explained the gift was for my parents, not an iPod.   The item was sentimental and had no street value, so to speak.   It was time sensitive because of the impending trip home.  Blah dee blah.   Well, turns out the box was delivered to the wrong house.   The driver came back out and drove to the house where he dropped the box and.... it wasn't mine.  At least he admitted it.  But since we live in a resort community and he dropped it off at a rental property I couldn't even ask a neighbor.   That house has no neighbor.

Good news: I called Apple and had the book reprinted and shipped to Ohio.   Of course at this time the darn book was going to arrive AFTER our July trip.   Darn it.  C'est la vie.   It did arrive the following week and Mom and Dad loved it.

Flashforward: Today Michael saw a package on the porch.   It was the original book its cardboard sleeve- not original box.   So here we are 4 months later and the poor sap who thought he was getting a free MacBook Pro opened the damn box and saw it was a book of a bunch of crazy midwesterners with bad 80s fashions.  So I guess they - covertly? - dropped it off today.   Neither one of us saw anyone.  Um way to be late, poor sap.

So I am keeping it.   I have a new coffee table book.  It's just like my parents' book and it's awesome.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


Do you know BzzAgent?  One of my colleagues told me about it about 6 months ago.  It all started at lunch.

K was microwaving a new LeanCuisine product that included a soup and sandwich duo.  I had recently seen the item advertised in a magazine, so asked her if they were good.  K told me this was her first one; she received a coupon through a free product-trial group.  Now,  I love new products and I love coupons.  I was instantly hooked and asked to know more.

BzzAgent is a group that promotes free products to its members.  Products run the gamut: cleaning supplies, cosmetics, diapers, iPhone apps, not-usually-free websites with financial services, coupons for food, etc.   It really runs the gamut.  I took a look at the website that evening and signed up.  Again, it's free to join and participate.

Once you create an account, you take surveys.  They are brief questionnaires: 5 or 8 questions.  They do not take all day thankfully.   And, more importantly, they are useful.  They want to know about you so they send you the right products.   I am a married 28 year old female without kids.  They will not be sending me diapers.  Nor will they be sending me One-A-Day's newest line for men over 65.   Helpful.

So the more surveys you answer, the better tailored the products will be.  Don't worry, they don't give you 100 surveys to start.   They give you maybe 5 and then the next time you visit the website, there might be 2 more.   They are literally 5 questions and take about 10 seconds to answer.  The more surveys you fill out, the more likely it is that a) you will receive a free product and b) it will be a product you just might buy.   (Especially if they send a coupon too!)

Now that they know you, you'll start to get emails about free stuff.   If you indicate that you would like to try the product that is described, you will get a box in the mail!   Don't worry, they do not send anything unless you indicate you actually want it.  Now, this is free, but the folks at BzzAgent do want you to talk (Bzz) about the products.  Tell your friends and colleagues and neighbors and sisters  and hair stylist about the stuff.  Write about it on facebook.   Blog about it (guilty as charged).  Give friends the coupons.  Help the big corporate giants promote their new products in a more viral, social media type way.

So far I have received and used the following:

-A rather large box chock full of SCJohnson cleaning type products
A bottle of pledge (LOVE!), some type of floor cleaner, scrubbing bubbles auto shower cleaner, scrubbing bubbles stick on toilet cleaning gels, glade plug in refills in a springtime scent, a glade candle in a springtime scent, glade spray air freshener in a different springtime scent, and 5 coupons for each product.   I was to share coupons with friends and save some for myself to buy additional products if I liked them.  And these were good coupons, y'all. Each were at least $1.00 off, some more.  Whoa!
Verdit: I love the SCJohnson company and everything in the box.   Not a surprise.   I will continue to buy my favorites but unless I have a coupon I am not spending full price on the toilet cleaning gels.

-A new L'Oreal eyeshadow
L'Oreal One Sweep Eyeshadow, which has an applicator brush shaped like your eyelid.  The corresponding survey even asked about my eye color so my free sample would be the exact product I would buy in the future, should I like it.
Verdict: I hated the applicator but loved the colors.   The applicator is too small for my eyelids.   Gave this product to my [also brown-eyed] sister.   I don't know if she is still using it or not.   I will not be buying this product.

-Burt's Bees Sensitive Skin Products
Burts Bees Sensitive Skin Facial cleanser (full size!), BBSS moisturizer (full size!), and a bunch of free samples of the moisturizer to share with friends.   Along with a handful of $1.00 off coupons to share.
Verdict: So far, mixed reviews.   I am an exfoliator.   Sensitive skin face wash does not have exfoliants, obviously.   There is no scent, which is probably a good thing for me.  The moisturizer feels nice, but I still think I prefer my Olay.
Prediction: I will use it up but likely won't buy it again

Had I been thinking ahead, I would have photographed the boxes and their contents so as to provide a visual for the post.   Alas, I did not.   I have room to improve in this department.

Can't wait to see what comes next!

Disclaimer: I have not been compensated in any way by the folks at BzzAgent nor any of the above mentioned brands.  Just sharing a fun free way to try new stuff!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Momsie was here again!

Before we celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary, my mom came down for a visit.   Since she's been here a few times, we did not knock ourselves out doing touristy Disney things, and some days we didn't even have an agenda!   That is a big deal for me.   Ok.  I was working those days so it doesn't count.   Whatever.  It's still a big deal, right?

Even so, a trip to central Florida is not complete without a trip to a theme park of some sort, right?

Despite Mom's veteran status in Orlando we did manage to get in some new highlights, including riding the NEW Star Wars ride (ohmygosh!) and visiting perennial favorites Space Mountain and Captain EO.   Outside the theme park, favorite moments include seeing Cirque du Soleil's La Nouba, eating dinner at the delicious Artist Pointe, and taking Mom to a super cool wine store: Total Wine and More.  We also all discovered Menchie's.   Do you know this establishment?   It's good, but I wish it were ice cream.

Below are fun pictures of general mayhem and shenanigans.  What more would you expect?

My favorite Pixar character- he has a friend in me!

Yes, I was the only one who ordered dessert.  Who is surprised?

 Wilderness Lodge is beautiful- the pictures do not do it justice

Familiar sights highlights include: 
Meeting the White Rabbit (first time since 1978 honeymoon)

Riding the darn Teacups (I abstained)


Main Street Electrical Parade (first time since 1989)
and by the way, it's just as fun when you are 28 as when you are 5

Don't forget to let me know if you're in the area.   I am always game for fun in Central Florida.  Just please don't make me ride the teacups.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Two Years Married!

Today is our 2nd wedding anniversary.   September 19, 2009 we got married in Ohio on a gorgeous late summer day.   September 19, 2010 we were in Ithaca, NY and it was a wee bit nippy.   We ate dinner on a hill overlooking Cayuga Lake and the beginnings of fall foliage.   September 19, 2011 we are in Florida and it is 90 degrees.

We celebrated our anniversary on Friday night with dinner at Victoria & Albert's.  It is a AAA Five Diamond restaurant at…..  Walt Disney World.  Yes folks, I was at the Grand Floridian Hotel, which is gorgeous, for 3 hours, eating amazing food.   I do not consider myself a foodie.   Don't get me wrong: I love food.   Despite being a very picky eater as a child, I now love food of many sorts, and my most favorite food of all time is a cheeseburger.   Specifically, with american cheese on a fresh roll.   What can I say?  I am a midwesterner at heart.

But let me tell you, this was once in a lifetime (so far at least) and also incredible.  It was a 6 course meal and we also added the wine pairing, with a half-glass per course.   Our waiters, however, gave us each at least one glass per course, thus resulting in a particularly long meal.  (I am not complaining)  As an added 'cute' component, our waiters (Jack and Sherry) also happened to be married!   They were adorable and very knowledgable with the food and wine and all that jazz.  The entire restaurant is impressive, and as an added touch, menus are custom and include your name and the date, along with a plethora of foods.  After dessert, the ladies are given a long stemmed red rose.

Throughout the meal, I convinced Michael to take photos with his phone, even though Emily Post would probably be rolling over in her grave.   Sorry, EP, but if you would have seen this food, you would understand.   Below, some visual highlights.  

Amuse Bouche with (from top right) prosciutto melon 'gazpacho*', crab salad with cream, jerk shrimp, ahi tuna in ginger sauce
*They didn't say gazpacho.   I forget what Jack said.   It was soup-esque and cold, hence, gazpacho

Diver Scallop with Braised Fennel

Roasted Alaskan Sablefish with Arugula Pudding

Duck Breast, Duck Sausage and Confit with Strawberry Rhubarb Puree

Roasted Butternut Squash Soup with Tortellini

Niman Ranch Lamb with Candied Marble Potatoes and English Peas

Kurobuta Pork Tenderloin and Belly with Verjus-Bacon Vinaigrette

Flora Nelle, 24 month Parmigiano-Reggiano, Gouda and Southern Belle Chevre

Coffee service was presented in a fantastic steaming Bill Nye type science pot.   It was tasty.   I don't even LIKE coffee

Grand Marnier Souffle

Tanzanie Chocolate Pyramid with Champagne-Chambord Truffle

Then I got my rose.  As if this was not enough, they also handed us breakfast bread to enjoy the following morning.   They probably should really give you a slim-fast or a piece of celery.   Can anyone say DETOX?    We actually wandered around for awhile, enjoying the scenery (we could see Cinderella's Castle from the boat dock, but the photos don't do it justice)   But even the walk was too much to handle.  

This restaurant is not for sissies.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Auditory Amusement

After seeing The Help last weekend (recommended!) Michael and I grabbed food at the Wolfgang Puck quick service restaurant across the street.  We had never been before, but based on our (my) interaction, we should go frequently.  Chad was a riot.   His helpful Disney nametag tells me he is from the midwest.  No surprise there

Me: I don't know what I want
Michael: Jules, just pick something
Me (to Chad, the young guy at the register): I need your opinion please
Chad: OK
Me: If you were going to order a salad, would you choose the barbecue chicken salad or the roasted turkey salad?
Chad: Well, I think I was a T-Rex in a former life and I don't eat salad.  I would tell you to get the pepperoni pizza with extra pepperoni
Me: But I don't really want pizza
Chad: Well, I do eat sandwiches.  So if both of these were sandwiches I would pick the turkey because the chicken salad as a sandwich sounds gross
Me (laughing) : That is not helpful!
Chad: I told you I don't eat salad!
Me (still laughing): Fine.  Ok.  Well, I don't want pizza and since you are no help with the salad, I will order something else
Chad: We do sell a lot of the barbecue chicken salads
Michael: I would like the Thai chicken please
Chad: See, he knows what he wants for dinner
Me: That does not HELP me!  OK, Chad, I am going to have the pesto chicken sandwich.  We met halfway.  You don't like salad, I don't want pizza.   How's this sandwich?
Chad, to Michael: Wow, so this is pretty much your life, huh?
Michael: Yep.
Chad: That's awesome!  The sandwich is good.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Class in a Glass

Since we lived in Ithaca, Michael has gotten very into wines.   He reads about them, keeps notes, goes to a huge wine shop for a great selection and what he tells me are great deals.    I just drink it and know if I like it or not.  He recently purchased Mumm Napa champagne- excuse me SPARKLING WINE because it's not from France- that we have been saving for a special occasion because, well, it's champagne.  (I am calling it champagne, folks.   Deal.)   And you should drink bubbly in one sitting once it's opened.  We tried to get Carmen and Tony to share the bottle when they were here, but the declined.   Side note:  Seriously, who declines champagne?!

So on Sunday we decided to hell with it, we're opening the bottle.   We had also that weekend purchased a champagne saver topper which somehow keeps the bubbles in.   This newfangled device allows us to drink only part of a bottle at once.   It's super fancy.  Don't ask me how it works.  As I said, I only know if I like wine or not.  

In typical fashion, before opening the bottle, Michael did research on the champagne and food pairings.   It turns out that champagne goes with a variety of foods including french fries and apple pie.  Two of my favorites.   We had neither in the house Sunday so Michael decided he would 'get some apple pie.'   We live across the street from Publix, so this seemed to be an easy feat.   But Michael did not go to Publix for the pie.   I'm so glad.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Best Website Ever?

So I have heard of Pinterest.   I had no idea what it was, and it seemed a bit like a typo for someone like me who types too darn fast.  But then, Holly, at NBB, wrote about it.   I love Holly and her projects and her writing style in general.  I am not a dangerous stalker, I promise.    So once I saw she had written about it, I knew it was worth more investigation.   Then I read her post, and whoa.  You Guys!

I think this is my mecca.   Are you familiar?  I'm not really sure how to describe it.   It's sort of a.... virtual bulletin board?   For photos of amazingly awesome and often unrelated things.    At least that is how I am treating it.   It's a place where you can keep everything wonderful idea you saw online in one, wonderfully well organized, space.   Amazon has a wish list, which I use and love.   But what if you are looking for headboards and you don't like the ones on amazon that much, but there is one at Hayneedle, and one at CB2 and another one that was featured in the pages of Martha Stewart but who knows where it's from?    Well, my friends.   That's where you pin.    Log in to Pinterest and you can pin all the headboards you love.   So when you're ready to actually buy one they are all together.   And once you start pinning, you will probably see that other crazy people have also pinned headboards and you fall down the proverbial rabbit hole and have looked at photos of headboards for more than 2 hours.   At this point, the Indians game will have ended, your teacup will be empty, and your husband will be upstairs brushing his teeth.   And you have still not purchased a headboard.*

My current obsessions are: finding a headboard for our bed.  We have been married nearly 2 years, it's time to have one.    Related to the marriage thing, I am also pondering 2nd anniversary gifts.   Traditional gift: cotton.   As I do not want or need any more bedsheets, I am considering other options.   Pinterest is not disappointing!   I might have found just what I am looking for.   Finally, in true Jules fashion, I am pinning organized homes and closets and pantries and the like.    I am not a slob, but there is always room for improvement, especially with this crazy website undoubtedly patrolled by other OCD folks.

I honestly think the one thing that has kept me from totally losing it is that I am not crafty.    There are lots of cool ideas on the site but once you click you can opt to pin, and see where to buy it or how to make it.   Y'all, I do not make much.    Well, that's not totally true.    I make some tasty desserts, I make wonderful nostalgic photo gifts and montages and videos (aka family historian), and I make the bed every day.   I do not do crafty or woodshop type projects.   Silver lining: it helps me keep pinning in check.

Finally, you can follow people on Pinterest!    I read that small type in passing as I hastily requested an invite early Friday morning, only to quickly have my request GRANTED before lunch.   I dove in yesterday after dinner and less than an hour into it, I saw a familiar face: Hannah's sister Gretchen.  She has what I consider to be good taste so I am following her and she, me.   If you Pin, holler!  We can be thumbtack buddies, or whatever they're called.  

*True story, happened last night.

Sunday, July 24, 2011


Months ago- we were still in Ithaca- I found out that New Kids on the Block and Backstreet Boys were planning a joint tour in the summer of 2011.  Needless to say I was pumped and declared immediately that I had to go.  The only problem....  where would we be in the summer?   I was sad to not be able to buy tickets, but once we moved back to Florida in June, I figured it would be safe to buy tickets for a late July show.

Michael graciously agreed to go with me, and we bought pretty decent seats.  Friday was the big night and it did not disappoint.   Matthew Morrison opened for them, and he was a little boring when he was just singing.   Definitely needs to keep the dancing as a focal point in the live shows.

But we were really all there for the main event....  NKOTBSB.   They performed for about 2 1/2 hours a lovely mixture of NKOTB and BSB trading off, changing outfits, etc.  I sang along at the top of my lungs along with the other women in the crowd aged late 20s to early 40s.   (Needless to say the lines for the lady's restrooms were UNREAL)

Both bands made a point of reminding us that BSB got their start in Orlando so they were in their hometowns.   At the end of the show, NKOTB said the [big] group decided they wanted to do something special for the homecoming show.   Everything was quiet, and the audience just kind of hung out, waiting for an announcement.

Then, all of a sudden, I heard a chord and the familiar 10,9,8,7...  indicating that Motown Philly was starting.   And that means one thing......
Anyone who knows me knows that I live for Boyz II Men.  Own all their albums, have seen them live several times, etc. etc.  As soon as I heard the '10' I turned to Michael and shouted at the top of my lungs NO! FREAKING! WAY!  I was pretty pumped to see New Kids and BSB performing live after all these years, but to see BIIM performing to a sold out arena was pretty damn awesome.

Pannie sent this article on the NY Post complete with a VIDEO in case you are crazy and want to see it. I found another video from a decent angle where you can see them all singing together.  Very cute.

Had NSYNC or Zack Morris been there, it would have been the ultimate 90s time capsule.

Side note: BoyzIIMen will be at EPCOT in November.  Yes I am going.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Highs and Lows

No, I'm not taking about the temperature.  In Florida, it's all highs in July anyway!

I work in sales.  This is a mixed blessing in that the months you are good, you are GOOD.  Super good.  Amazingly wonderfully good and you impress your entire team, and most importantly, your boss.   June was one of those months.   I sold more than $100,000 worth of programs, and was second on my team of 10.  Not bad for someone who has been selling for less than 6 months.  It was really fun and actually pretty awesome to need to work that many hours.

But the months that are slow?  They are torturous.   I am in one of those months right now.  My usually packed 10-hour days that whiz by are dragging on slower than a hog in quicksand.   

The good news?  This is normal for my programs in July.  
The bad news?   I still have to deal with it.

One of my colleagues is so optimistic, I love her.  I have been a bit panicky and annoyed about the situation, and she offered this sentiment: This month is really giving us a chance to get creative.

This week has offered us that opportunity for sure.   Hopefully by the end of next week the work will have paid off and I will have made a bunch of sales to close the month.  Fingers crossed!

Monday, June 27, 2011

My Sister the Comic

Al and I often communicate via gchat rather than phone.   We're cutting edge like that.   Our conversations provide great amusement to me.  Today's chat was no exception.

Alison: I had library books due on Thursday.  I figured I'd shove them in a drop box after work (libraries here are 10-5). Library 1- NO DROP BOX  Library 2: NO DROP BOX!  Library 3: drop box!  for the LOVE OF GOD    So I can barely check books out, and now you are making them difficult to return?!  It's a scheme to get fines just like the evil USPS in cahoots.

Alison: I want the Netflix equivalent of the library, please.  No due dates

me: They have that.  You pay for it like Netflix tho- libraries are free.   I mean, via taxes

Alison: Oh puh lease my taxes are SO HIGH.  I should be having books wrapped in gold leaf and picked up by a trained shiba inu with a saddlebag and a cap that says NYPL

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Ivy League Graduate

After a year in Ithaca, NY I am pleased to announce that we survived student housing and Michael earned his Master's Degree from Cornell!  YAY!

Now we are back in our nice house in Florida and I am working from home.  My office is currently set up on a folding table from Target, which works surprisingly well.   It looks very temporary, so I am now on a quest for a not ginormous desk to put in our 3rd bedroom.  I welcome suggestions!  

Other than working, we have been enjoying our spacious house, visited Disney World (to ride the new Star Wars attraction) and today, I took a long dip in the pool.   Life is good.

Monday, May 23, 2011

When are you going to start dancing to Time After Time?*

Ten years ago this month I attended senior prom with Michael and also prepared to graduate from Lake Ridge Academy.   I spent 13 years at LRA where I made many friends and participated in more activities than I can count.  I recently volunteered to be a class agent and serve on the alumni council, which means I had to also attend the 10-year class reunion this weekend.

Our class had 39 graduates, and 10 of us showed up; not a bad percentage.  The front row includes me and 2 members of our quartet.  Jane was a year younger so it's no wonder she wasn't there.  I've known some of these guys since 2nd grade, and it's very cool that I had a chance to see them again this weekend.

Highlights include seeing everyone, working with Blake (former Student Council ally) to move tables together for dinner, beer on campus, and more specifically, beer during the "2001 kids take a campus tour" segment.  I didn't even want a beer but I grabbed a Sam Adams so we could all hold them in the classrooms.

Elena and I first watched Romy & Michelle's High School reunion when we were sophormores (I think) and the moment had finally come:  We didn't order the business woman's special or have a crush on Billy Christensen or dance to Time After Time, but we did do this.   It was probably the highlight of the night for me.... especially when she showed me how to hold my arms.  Love you, Lenie-Pie!


*Lakshman actually asked us this