Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Rockin V is Rocking Out my House!

During my family's trip to Napa, I formed a deep appreciation for wine barrels.  I learned barrels are used up to three times to store and ferment wine- but what happens when the wine maker is through with these giant wooden "Tupperware" containers?

They are reborn into wonderful pieces for the home!- enter Frank Villas, owner of "The Rockin V"- French and American Oak Wine Barrel Creations.

During our stay in Napa, we noticed that many gift shops sold lazy susan's made from tops of wine barrels.  I immediately wanted one to take home as a memento from our trip- the only problem was that they were overpriced ($150), and I wanted a lazy susan that actually came from a Napa barrel.  The store owner of the very last gift shop we entered gave us Frank's business card- thank goodness!  When we got home we contacted Frank right away- 10 days later, this is what we received and we were beyond thrilled!

The piece came with a tag with all of the necessary barreling information.  I also love the authentic stamping that makes each one of Frank's pieces unique!

After being so pleased with Frank's craftsmanship, we decided to purchase another one of his creations.  We have been needing a table to go next to our leather recliner in our living room for a while now, but it has been difficult to find a piece that can naturally fill this awkward space.  We contacted Frank, and once again, he wowed us with his work!   
Notice the staining outside of the table legs...that's a wine stain from the wine being stored inside of the barrel at one point!

If you are looking for a special piece of decor to add to your home, especially if you are a wine lover, or you need a one-of-a-kind gift for someone that has it all, contact Frank Villas at the Rockin V.  His creations range from the two pieces my family has purchased to clocks, candle holders and more. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday- My Favorite Places to EAT!

This post is really for my friends in CT who know that they can always come to me when they are looking to go out to eat and need a recommendation.  I figured I would lay it all out on the table here so my new friends and old friends can refer back to the best of best in my little foodie world!

10.)  USS Chowder Pot IV, Hartford, CT:  This place hasn't been updated in a very long time, but I keep coming back for here for the "chowda," which I think is the best I have ever had (I have sampled chowder from around the country so I am highly qualified to judge- haha).  I also like their "Lazy Man Lobster"- who wants to get their hands dirty and wear a silly bib anyway?  In this dish, all you have to do is enjoy drenching your succulent lobster pieces in warm butter!  Sometimes the wait to be seated is too long, but I think you can call ahead and put your name on a list.  If you are craving clam chowder that is actually filled with clams and is thick and creamy instead of all potatoes with a watered down broth, this is the place to go.  F.Y.I.- this restaurant is participating in CT Restaurant week which runs now through the 16th!

9.)  Bills Seafood, Westbrook, CT:  On the topic of seafood, Bills is a little place that I try to visit in the summer months as they have amazing outdoor seating overlooking a saltwater pound filled with friendly seagulls and lots of sunshine!  I ALWAYS get the hot buttered lobster roll (can you tell I have a thing for lobster- I don't know how you can not!)- it comes with a side of homemade slaw (non-mayo type!) and I usually upgrade to seasoned curly fries because they are fun to eat.  Seating is first come, first serve and some people can be very feisty when they've eye locked a table down.  This is a great place to go if you like seafood (non-seafood items are limited to burgers and chicken sandwiches- a.k.a. boring dishes!) and are on a tight schedule to eat out- with people in line to sit down starting you down, its hard to take your time.

8.)  Agave Grill, Hartford, CT:  Why I love this place-
*  Homemade Guacamole with warm tortilla chips
*  Generous Portions- what do you know, my favorite dish here is their LOBSTER enchiladas!
*  An AMAZING Sunday Brunch- try the breakfast burrito, you will be powered up all day.
*  Creative Beverages- they offer many different flavors of Margaritas and have a wonderful collection of tequila.
F.Y.I.- this restaurant is participating in CT Restaurant Week which runs now through the 16th!      

7.)  Ginza Japanese Cuisine, Bloomfield, CT:  In my teen years I went through a sushi craze and spent all of my hard earned Dairy Queen money on spicy tuna rolls from here.  Once I found my sushi partner in crime (my sister) we were unstoppable raw fish eaters!  I've toned it down these days and had to lay off the sushi during my pregnancy, which was pretty difficult to do- but when I want to immerse myself in Japanese Cuisine, I go here. F.Y.I.- this restaurant is participating in CT Restaurant Week which runs now through the 16th!

6.)  King and I Thai, Hartford, CT:  I have only been to this place once but it left such a great impression that I wanted to add this restaurant to my list.  First off, it's a BYOB kind of establishment so we rolled up with a case of red wine and had ourselves a very good night!  It is recommended to make reservations ahead of time because the dinning room is tinier than my living room and seats about four to five parties at  a time.  Even though the restaurant is small, instead of pushing you out to allow others to get in, the staff here allows you to sit for hours- a great place to go with a group of friends!  Try the drunken noodles with  chicken- yum!    

5.)  AltaStrada, MGM Grand at Foxwoods:  Another restaurant that I have only been to a handful of times, yet left a good impression was this upscale italian eatery.  Before the baby came, my DH and I went on a "babymoon" (a weekend getaway for just the two of us) and we ate here.  Their menu is simple and offers many classic dishes (on menu called "Old School Favorites") that your "Grandma Nona" would make from scratch, except their version is better!  My go to is the Chicken Milanese with Arugula, Tomato, and Red Onion.  

4.)  Todd English's Tuscany, Mohegan Sun:  I live a little over 30 minutes from Mohegan Sun so it is convenient and fun for me to shoot over there for a great meal.  I'm addicted to the olive tapenade that they serve with warm focaccia bread when you are waiting for your main course.  When walking up to this place it is pretty grandious, with a giant waterfall that is quite noisy- make sure to sit inside of the restaurant for a more intimate dinning experience.  My DH likes to make up his own pasta dishes here (like adding chicken and pesto) and it is never an issue.        

3.)  Hilltop BBQ, Moodus, CT:  After going to Mohegan Sun's Food and Wine Fest last winter and sampling a pulled pork slider from here, this restaurant became our favorite BBQ hidden gem.  The location is out in the middle of nowhere, but it is worth the drive if you are traveling afar.  They have this sampler platter that my DH and I share, it includes:  pulled pork, beef brisket, St. Louis style ribs and Memphis style ribs, cornbread and two sides (we usually get mashed potatoes with gravy and collard greens).  You need to wear sweatpants to this place in order to feel comfortable after digging in to their wonderful selection of wings (a ton of different flavors), burgers, classic BBQ dishes, sandwiches and salads.        

2.)  Max Amore, Glastonbury, CT:  I have been visiting this restaurant with my DH since we were dating in high school.  I had the rehearsal dinner before my wedding here and many memorable get togethers include gathering around a table here with friends and family.  They have a great menu that changes with the seasons- I love to taste their risotto dish at the turn of each season-recently, their summer risotto consisted of fresh corn off the cob, and lump crab meat in a creamy sauce.  There was a time when my DH and I were coming here four times a week, sometimes twice in one day- it was our dinning room!  We each have dishes that we order over and over again because they are so good!  F.Y.I.  this restaurant is participating in CT Restaurant Week which runs now through the 16th!    

1.)  J.Gilberts, Glastonbury, CT:  One of the reasons why I listed J.Gilberts as number 1 on my list is because of the consistency of their service and quality of food- it is always excellent!  They have a great mailing list where I get awesome email discounts, hear about special offers and menus and they send you a $25 gift card around your birthday.  This is the ONLY restaurant where I will order steak because it comes out exactly the way you want it.  I'm not even a big red meat eater, but there is something about the way they do meat that turns me into a carnivore!  The portions are just right and the wine selection enhances your dinning experience.            

Notable Mentions:
*  Bricco Trattoria, Glastonbury, CT. 
*  NuNu's Bistro, Colchester, CT. also B.Y.O.B.= FUN!
*  First and Last Tavern, Middletown, CT.
* Luce, Middletown, CT.

Where are your favorite places in CT to sit down for a great meal?  Have you been to any of the restaurants I mentioned in this post?

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Learning from the First Year- What Works for a Working Mom

Recently my DH and I had dinner with another couple expecting their first child.  This couple asked us if we had any advice, as we are one year into parenthood.  At first I was taken aback by being considered knowledgeable, as I feel like I spent this past year not knowing what I was doing AT ALL!  However, I did have a lot of "advice" (if you can call it that) that I was able to share with the expecting couple and I figured I would share it will all of you!

*  The "Extinction Method" from Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child by Dr. Weissbluth works- when Baby A was two months old, I had one more month until I needed to go back to work so I was desperate to get her to sleep through the night so I could make it through the work week.  On the first night my DH and I sat on our bed holding hands as we endured 26 whole minutes of blood curdling screaming and crying out in protest of this new bedtime routine (according to the method, you are not suppose to go back into the baby's room AT ALL- you are to let the child cry it out until the crying becomes "extinct").  These minutes seemed to last forever as I bit my lower lip to stop from crying and nervously paged through Weissbluth's text to make sure I was following his instructions to a T.  The next night the crying lasted a painful 19 minutes, and by night three she protested with only a murmur.  People say I am lucky that I have a child who has been sleeping through the night since she was two months old, but I really think it is the "Extinction Method" the proved to work!    

*  Take your baby everywhere!  Baby A has been to the nicest restaurants and her table manners are excellent, haha, not really, but she is pretty well behaved as long as she has people to watch and something to play with- like bread.  She is an extremely social baby and I think my DH and I have conditioned her to be this way by immersing her in social environments since an early age.  

*  Have a schedule, but train your child to be flexible-  Our household is predictable and on most days, mealtime, playtime, bath time and bedtime have specific time slots.  I think it's good to get into a routine because expectations are set up and that way, when your child has to go to bed, it is expected and not a battle.  However, I am not too rigid with our schedule, especially on weekends and during vacations- it's okay if your little one is up an hour or two past their bedtime every one in a while.  This past Summer Baby A had some late nights especially during the weekends when spending time with family and friends was more important that following our schedule.  This occasional irregularity in bedtime proved to be helpful when we went to California because it wasn't a big deal if Baby A was up latter than normal- she goes with the flow!

*  Another great book that was given to us by experienced parents that proved to be helpful is The Happiest Baby on the Block by Dr. Karp, known for the 5 S's (swaddle, swing, sing, sideways, shh) to calm colicky babies- Baby A has food allergies and the first 8 weeks were tough and this book gave great suggestions for calming baby so that most importantly, you can be calmer!  Visiting the website is a must for new and expecting parents and is highly interactive and educational.

*  The 8 week milestone- When Baby A was first born we had many relatives, friends and neighbors come over to meet the little one.  One of our neighbors could tell that I was stressed when she stopped by and she told me that this tough time is temporary and that after about 8 weeks it all clicks in and motherhood become a little easier.  At the time, I couldn't wait 8 weeks, I was exhausted, frustrated and ready for it to "click in" already!  However, time does move fast and she was right, at the 8 week marker I felt myself more comfortable and natural with being a mommy- so ride out the first 8 weeks and just know that it does "click in" eventually!  

*  If you have a baby with a food allergy and need to go on a pricey formula, contact your insurance company to see if they can help pay for all or most of the formula.  Baby A was diagnosed with a soy and dairy allergy and moved through many expensive formulas before settling on the one that worked- Neocate ($139 for a case- four cans- each can lasts a few days!).  My insurance pays 100% of this and I get it delivered right to my door every month.

*  Even though I have a child now, my home doesn't need to be turned upside down with toys tucked away in every corner.  I recommend designating a bin, box, or tote for a select amount of toys to keep in the family room/living room.  Rotate toys monthly so that your little one isn't overwhelmed with play options and older toys become new ones when they are rotated into the toy basket!  It took my DH and I a while to build our sense of style and we spent a lot of money on furniture and decor to make our house a home- we have not lost our sense of style and our house is still welcoming instead of a crazed romper room!  Additionally, no one is in our home during the work week so there is no need to have toys everywhere.

Baby A celebrating her first birthday!  It has been an AMAZING year filled with laughter, tears,  stress, and realizations about love, life and happiness!
Now it is MY time to hear some "advice"- for those experience moms and dads our there- what are some realizations you have come to about parenting?  What works for you?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Learning about Nor Cal Part 3- San Francisco

The City by the Bay has been a place we have wanted to visit for a while now and this visit lived up to and beyond our expectations!
View from the car driving up from Napa- the Golden Gate Bridge is pretty impressive!

Monday, August 12th- Today we did not have scheduled plans so we designated today for taking it all in! We spent the day strolling around this beautiful city.  One of our first stops was at the famous Boudin Bakery known for it's sourdough bread!  This facility houses a tour-able factory, cafe, restaurant, and gift store. We also stopped by the touristy Pier 39 known for harboring hundreds of sea lions!  Check it out!
Outside there is a giant viewing window where people passing by can watch the bread makers craft masterpieces and take in the wonderful smell of freshly baked bread via vents that blow out warm, scented steam from the factory!

I've never seen this before- loaves of bread shaped like animals!  We actually shipped the crab seen in this picture to my sister in law as a thank-you for taking care of our dog Brooklyn while we were gone.

So the day started with food and ended with food with dinner at The Franciscan Crab Restaurant at Fisherman's Wharf (pier 43 1/2).  If you are a seafood lover like myself (if it's from the sea, it's for me- is one of my favorite sayings), then this place is for you.  Even my husband who wouldn't touch anything from the ocean with a ten foot pole, fell in love with The Franciscan's famous dungenous crab.  The crab arrived at our table basted in succulent butter and covered in secret spices (not Old Bay seasoning, but very similar).  This is the type of place where everyone is wearing a bib and wet naps are served with the bill!  I also had crab alfredo which was also crab-tastic!

We stayed at the Hyatt at Fisherman's Wharf and ended our day with a nice swim in their rooftop heated pool.  Check out Baby A :)  

Tuesday, August 13th- This was an exciting day because we had made reservations to visit Alcatraz.  It was a beautiful day and we had a wonderful time.  What I was really impressed with was the audio self guided tour which lasted 45 minutes and kept my attention (something that I lack when at museums) the entire time.  Baby A was strapped to the front of me and she was even well behaved!  Check it out!
Top Pic: The view of the island from the ferry. Bottom Pic: The teacher in me took this photo- lifelong readers made from jail time!  
Locked Up, lol!
This is the view of San Fran from outside of the prison- so beautiful!
When we got back from Alcatraz, we enjoyed more time walking around this beautiful city.  Highlights include stopping at Ghirardelli Square where I enjoyed an AMAZING ice cream sundae at their ice-cream and chocolate shop and got to view how they make their chocolate, trying west coast oysters (which are so much smaller than those on the east coast), taking a drive down Lombard Street (the crookedest street in the U.S.), watching electric cars and trolleys travel down the road without stinky street pollution and simply taking it all in!  Here are a couple more photos:
Such a pretty picture of the water and the bridge. 
My favorite picture from the entire trip!  The views from this restaurant were similar to the picture above- however there were people swimming laps in the water, some in wet suites and some not- cold, yikes!

What I learned about San Francisco:
*  We got lucky with the fog burning off pretty early in the morning, but people do not realize how chilly it is here and many tourists were seen wearing San Fran novelty sweatshirts and jackets because I'm sure they were not prepared.
*  San Fran is rated the #1 "Smart Places to Settle Down" according to Parents Magazine (October 2011)- this is def. a family friendly city and I can totally picture my family settling down here some day!
*  Not one restaurant served Rice-a-Roni-is it really"The San Francisco Treat"???
*  The trolleys are overrated, yet people wait hours to ride one.
*  Sadly, there are a lot of homeless people on the streets due to the stable (not to cold, not to warm- all year round) weather the city has to offer.

This was such an AMAZING experience to visit these parts of Northern California- San Francisco was the perfect spot to end our trip.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Learning about Nor Cal Part 2- Napa Valley

We have always been captivated by the beauty of Napa as seen on television, movies, and in books; so it made sense that we would spend some time here on our trip- not to mention our LOVE for vino!

Friday afternoon, August 9th- we left Monterey and took the two hour drive inland to Napa.  It was interesting how the moist, cool air turned into dry hot air by the time we pulled into our hotel at The Westin Verasa Hotel in Napa.  This hotel is pretty AMAZING-  as we walked into the lobby, we found ourselves instantly transformed from seaside beauty (Monterey) to wine country sheik (Napa) as samples of wine were freely being passed out (I took full advantage).  The entire back wall of the lobby gives way to a giant veranda with a large heated pool/jacuzzi.  In the bar, lavish appetizers laid across a thick butcher block counter top to accompany the many wine offerings.  After we picked our jaws off of the ground, we made our way up to our room- and the jaw dropped again as the door opened way to a very comfortable suit with a full kitchen, sitting/living room area and a balcony to boot!  I got to wash baby A's bottles in a dishwasher to sanitize and started a load of wash as we went off to dinner- this place was like home!

Saturday, August 10th- after one of my favorite breakfasts (lox and cream cheese on a bagel with capers, tomatoes and purple onions), we meet our limo driver for the day out front- you always need a DD when in Napa!  First stop was Beringer's Vineyard- known for their beautiful grounds.  Take a LOOK!

There was a calypso band playing out front and Baby A and I sung and danced the early afternoon away!

After a couple of hours of dancing, singing and tasting, we were ready for lunch at The CIA a.k.a The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.  The moment I walked in I was captivated by the smell of roasted chicken.  I never order chicken when going out to eat because it is too boring, but here I couldn't resist!    
In the center of the CIA restaurant you can watch the soon to be chefs receive training from top talent- even the hostess and servers are in training!
After a satisfying lunch, we hopped back into the limo and headed to another vineyard called Castello di Amorosa- an interesting experience.  Take a LOOK!
No, this is not a castle from long ago, however, it is an authentic castle built by the winemaker!
This winery often throws Renaissance parties here where guests dress up from the time period. 
You cannot buy this wine at any package store.  The wine from this vineyard is only served at select restaurants in the area, so we made sure to buy a few bottles to be shipped back home. 

The most interesting experience here was that during a tasting, the solemner asked us to try a very sweet dessert wine- yuck!  After he noted that we were not a fan so much, he asked us to wait and disappeared for a couple of minutes, only to come back with a bar of dark chocolate- I was intrigued!  He broke the bar up into many pieces and had us put a piece into our mouths and melt over our tongues.  This chocolate tasting was surprising because as the piece began to melt, large crystals of salt rock were uncovered.  Next, he told us to taste the sweet wine again...WOW- this time the wine tasted completely different.  Instead of overpoweringly sweet, the wine tasted crisp and refreshing with a subtle sweetness that did not get in the way of enjoying the wine.  Needless to say, we left this winery with a bar of this magic chocolate and some wine!

Sunday, August 11th- One can NEVER sample too much wine, so we decided to go visit another vineyard- one that my DH's parents discovered when they last visited.  Artesa Winery took my breath away.  Take a LOOK!
We enlarged these photos and are using them around the house like in the guest bathroom!

This winery is very contemporary and features many beautiful water structures (like the ones above).  Artesa is built into a mountain (see below), preserving the views around it and also making it unique- they use 50% less  air conditioning than other wineries.  
Below is a picture of where they store barrels (barrels can be reused up to three times)- the sound of Monks chanting fills this room, as it is said that the vibrations of the music agitate the wine, thus enhancing its flavor.   
Another beautiful water feature inside of the winery, used as a reserved tasting room.
The next couple of photos are taken outside of Artesa and are for your viewing pleasure!

What I learned about Napa:
*  Until you actually pull into a particular winery, the land is pretty barren.
*  August through October can be very warm- it was 85 degrees, dry and sunny the two days we spent here.
*  The largest bottle of wine I saw was called a Nebuchadnezzar (named after the king of Babylon) and it needs three grown men to lift and pour from it.

*  The tops of wine barrels make beautiful lazy susan turntables.  
*  Napa has many hidden gems like Artesa and can be found by doing a little research- like digging around in Wine Spectator magazine.  These wineries are often less crowded and offer unique experiences.  
*  Hiring a limo driver for the day can make traveling to many wineries in one day fun and SAFE!
*  I could spend a full week here and would LOVE to go again!

Next up, the final installation... San Francisco!  

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Guest Post - Learning Not to Leave Your Husband Home with Access to Your Blog.

Over the last 12 months, I've learned that being a parent is arguably the best part of life.  I've also learned that it can be a trying experience that can frustrate you to no end.  Case in point: 7:30 a.m., Friday, September 16, 2011.  

The morning began great.  Jen's alarm went off at 5:00 a.m.,  Brooklyn jumped on the bed and barraged me with Golden Retriever hugs (a/k/a smooches from my pooches), and I didn't have to put on a suit.  At my job, the combination of Casual Fridays and me not having to be in court on a Friday is rarer than a Necci being told they are tall.  I was also looking to the start of an early weekend.  Friday night was the big UConn v. Iowa State football game at the Rent and Saturday was going to be a big family party.

After getting ready for work and handling the manly duty of deciding which ruffly shirt I should put my daughter in, I headed downstairs to pack Abby up for daycare, or as I affectionally call it, school.  As I had been told by the Jeneral (fantastic nickname if you are married to someone named Jen who is as obsessive compulsive about neatness and list making as a world war 2 era drill sergeant) the night before, I dressed Abby in a great outfit, packed a backup outfit, and put her fleece on.  I then sat her down in her car seat... oh wait, no I didn't because there was no car seat in the house.  Or in the garage.  Or in my car.  Turns out the car seat was somewhere in North Central Connecticut, either in the car at Jen's school or trying to board a plane at our local international airport.  We'll probably never know.

Because this was a big day at work and one of the few times I get to spend more than a couple of hours at my desk answering emails and voicemails, I have to admit that my first reactions were: a) confusion; b) frustration; and, c) anger.  To be fair, those were probably my first, second, and third reactions, and I have to be honest that I am glad that the grandmother living with my neighbor across the street really only speaks Polish, because the words that were echoing in my garage should not be heard east of the Rhine River.

My wife doesn't know this, but I had a premonition about a similar event about a week ago.  Not really a premonition, but an actual experience that almost led to me making an angry call to her school before I ultimately found the car seat in the foyer.  Boy, that would have been a "foot in the mouth" moment!  Fortunately for me, I got to make that call this morning!

When I called, emailed, texted, smoke screened, and faxed Jen about the situation, I tried not to be angry.  It's clear that she didn't mean to leave me in a bind. Or did she?  That would be really twisted, so I'll go with it being accidental.  It was similar to when you're at a restaurant and you're frustrated with the service.  You try to make a point to the waiter or manager without the end result being saliva or other substances put into your food.  I know who takes care of me and my family, and while I don't think Jen would do anything gross to Abby's food, she might do it to Brooklyn's delicious Eukanuba Adult Breed mix just to spite me. (Eukanuba is a proud sponsor of "The Learning Passion", where we not only teach human lessons, but pet lessons as well.)  That's probably not true either, but I digress.  I won't bore you with what happens next, because the complaining part is more fun that the resolving issues part, but things did work out in a way that allowed me to take care of some things at work without needing the car seat.

That last sentence is what I want to focus on in this post.  I've been told that this blog always has   a TGIF learning moment, and it is Friday, so here is mine.  Things work out when you are willing to take the necessary steps to resolve a problem.  In most circumstances, life is not about the ideal situations we are put in.  It's great when that happens, but the vast majority of our lives are dictated by the choices we make.  

To quote one of the greatest movies of all time, The Shawshank Redemption (FYI, I also highly recommend reading the short story the movie is based on, Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, which is found in Steven King's novella Four Seasons.  Great book that includes short stories that the movies Apt Pupil and Stand By Me are also based on), "Get busy living, or get busy dying."  Issues or problems are not resolved by worrying about them.  They are resolved by analyzing them, reviewing your options in a quick, but thorough manner, and then taking direct and deliberate actions.  One of the redeeming qualities of law school is the way it teaches you to how to think in stressful or pressure filled situations.  Having fantastic parents that tell you that you can do anything also helps, and is also less expensive than law school, so I highly recommend them.  I also recommend challenging your kids in a way that encourages them to try difficult things when they know you are there for support.

It also does not hurt to have a partner that you completely trust and that you know will always support you unconditionally.  It's easy to take unpopular or unusual positions when you know no matter what, someone is in your corner.  It's also easy not to get frustrated by an accident when you know it just as easily could have been you, and that you would also have been forgiven (albeit after a few hours of ridicule.)

In closing, I appreciate you spending some time reading this post.  It's been fun writing something that does not have to be supported by a ridiculously structured statute or by an opinion that was written by a judge who's been dead for 75 years.  I hope that you all continue to read Jen's blog and also that you encourage your friends to do the same.  She is passionate about the things she loves like reading, her dog, her daughter, and her fantastically understanding husband.  I think that passion comes through in this blog.  

Now let's get back to talking about that ridiculously amazing NorCal trip, which is much more entertaining to read than this diatribe.  I promise that if I am left home in this type of situation again, there will be a 3000 word dictation describing the ways the Mets can improve both their play on the field and their uniforms (Shout out to my boys at and 

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Learning about Nor Cal Part I- Monterey

I've been wanting to write about the trip my family took to Northern California for a while now.  Hurricane Irene caused this post to be delayed as we just got internet service back recently.

*This is the first post in a series of three posts covering the places we visited on this trip.


Wednesday Night, August 10th we arrived in Monterey and stayed in a wonderful hotel called The Clement Monterey from InterContinental Hotels and Resorts Click here to be linked to this hotel!
This hotel had the most comfortable bed to relieve my jet lagged body with down everything (featherbed, pillows, and comforter)!  My DH and I put our DD down after a day of exhausting flying and ordered room service from The C Restaurant, which we later learned is known as a top notch place to eat in the area.  I ordered the dungeness crab salad and this became the first of many crab dishes I experienced on this trip.

Thursday, August 11th we went sightseeing all day starting with a walk through the Red Wood Forests of Big Sur.

Look at how small the stroller looks compared to the base of this redwood!
The DH was getting creative with his camera shots- he wanted to show just how tall these trees are.

Next, we took the 17 mile drive along the Pacific Coast line.  We stopped at many interesting sight seeing attractions like:
The Lone Cypress recognized among “10 Most Magnificent Trees in the World” by World Amazing February 2009.
Pebble Beach Golf Course- rated #1 Public Course in the U.S. by Golf Digest
I most enjoyed gazing out the window as baby A (a.k.a. my DD) soundly slept in her carseat.  It is amazing  (and a little scary) how close the road is to the coastline, however it makes for breathtaking views from the car.  The only way that this day could have been any better is if the sun were out!

Friday Morning, August 12 we visited the well known Monterey Bay Aquarium.  I had heard about this aquarium from other people that had visited this region and was told that it is amazing (I use this word a lot when I get excited about something) and a must-see!                IT IS!
My two favorite people!  This attraction produced the most smiles :)
The best part parts of this aquarium are:

*  the "Open Sea" exhibit-which is a tank that reaches from the floor to the very top of the ceiling and when you stand in front of it, you feel as if you are standing on the bottom of the ocean in the deep blue sea.
*  adorable sea otters floating around on their backs and silly penguins up for a photo op.
*  multiple touch tanks all over the place= never crowded and always room to pet a sea cucumber!
*  live shows outside with the ocean as the backdrop- cast members dressed as jellyfish, penguins and other sea animals dancing and singing in an effort to communicate with children the need to preserve sea life and help keep oceans clean- the DD LOVED this and clapped throughout the whole performance.
*  WHAT I REALLY LIKED is that they had a special section just for toddlers to explore!
Abby experiencing the motion of the ocean in the toddler only section- I couldn't get her off of this thing! 
If this aquarium weren't on the other side of the country and I would definitely purchase a season pass to this AMAZING aquarium!

What I learned about Monterey:

*  It can be very chilly and was in the 50's when we were there.
*  Dungeness Crab is native to the west coast and DELICIOUS- much meatier and fulfilling than crab from the east coast.
*  Sea lions and sea otters are swimming around all over the place- keep your eyes peeled!
*  Cannery Row (where we stayed) is famous for canning and producing sardines- there is an exhibit on this at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
*  John Steinbeck was inspired to write about this local.
*  this is SHOCKING but, I thought chowder from Fisherman's Wharf was better than New England Clam Chowder (I feel like such a traitor)!

Next Up...Napa a.k.a. Wine Country!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Top Ten Tuesday- What I will miss about Summer Vacation

It's officially back to school time for me and I will throughly miss my time at home.

1. Spending time with my DD-cuddling, playing, giggling!

2. Getting to wake my DD up every morning and having her look at up me from her crib and smile :)

3. Spending time with my fur baby Brooklyn.

4. Watching the "Today Show" every morning with a cup of coffee.

5. Not getting dressed for the day until I want to, or not at all- I LOVE comfy clothes.

6. Going for leisurely trips to the grocery store daily for fresh meal ideas.

7. Having time to do laundry, vacuum and clean the house.

8. Staying up late and not having to worry about being tired the next day because I could take a nap when my DD does.  

9. Eating whenever I want to- not just the allotted 15 minutes a day I get for lunch at school!

10. Having nothing to really worry about and enjoying life in the moment!

What does your list look like?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

I'm Back!

It has been a while since I have blogged because I was vacationing in Northern California and then my PC bit the dust!  Almost two weeks later and I am a more experienced sightseer and a proud Mac owner (I am typing for the first time on my brand-new Mac Book Pro)!

I want to address my last post "The Scaredy List"- where I posted a list of everything that I worried about before leaving for my trip to Nor Cal in an attempt to calm my fears before leaving and prove to myself that I had nothing to worry about.  Boy, was I wrong!  This strategy did NOT work- the list became a list of preconceived notions.  Below I have copied the list and in red I have written what really happened.

*  Did I forget something?- the number one fear that runs through my mind constantly!
Oh yeah, I forgot to bring my WALLET with my ID and every other essential document to bring on a trip!  I realized that I did not have my wallet at the airport, about 30 min. before our flight was to take off, right before going through security.  My DH and poor DFIL had to take a $150 cab back to where my car was 45 min. away just to retrieve my wallet.  In the meantime, I tried to hold back my tears as we missed our flight, were charged $50 per person to change flights, and the baby started getting fussy because we should have been already in the air by the time I got my wallet back and we checked out bags.   

*  Am I or someone I am traveling with going to get sick from the flight?
This luckily did not happen.  I researched how to stay healthy when traveling and found that you can keep your  nasal passage moist and prevent germs from invading by using a nasal spray before and after flying.  I tried to drink a lot of water and took Ester C all week to boost my immune system.  

*  Is my 11 month old going to scream the whole flight?  Will I upset other people on the flight?  Are her poor little ears going to hurt when we take off and land?  Did I bring enough to entertain her- will I be able to entertain her?
Due to the fact that I caused our flying to be prolonged (because we missed our flight we had to fly from Hartford to Minnesota, then to LA , and then to San Francisco) my DD did have a hard time on the last flight we took.  She would cry really hard and really loud the last 15 min. of every flight and then pass out in my arms, only to be woken up again to change flights again.  

Surprisingly her ears did not seem to bother her.  We found the iPad was extremely useful in keeping my DD entertained.  We downloaded an app called "baby paint" where she could finger paint on the iPad screen.  We also downloaded a couple of episodes from Mickey Mouse Playhouse and OSO from the Disney Channel (I know that there are a lot of moms out there who would be appalled that a baby watches television, but on a 4 1/2 hour flight, you gotta do what you gotta do!).  

We brought an entire carry on bag (because a diaper bag does not count as a carry on) filled with toys, but she was most entertained by a pair of $2 headphones- she has a weird fascination with wires!    

*  I hope the weather will be good- bad weather or too hot/too cold weather.
Weather was perfect- Sunshine everyday :)

*  I miss my golden retriever already!
We missed her a lot- especially in Napa where dogs are welcome pretty much everywhere and we were constantly reminded of our fur baby.

*  Will the hotels be family friendly with cribs and non-smoking rooms?
Yes, perfect- if you ever travel to Monterey, Napa, or San Francisco, email me and I will let you know where to stay!

*  Will I have a good time?  Will my family have a good time?
We did have a good time and I will have my first "Wordless Wednesday" this week where you can see for yourself!    

*  Will this trip meet my expectations (which are always very high)?
This trip did meet my expectations.  I did not adjust as well as I had wanted to the time change and wish I wasn't as tired as I was.

I guess this strategy was a good idea because although it seemed like all of my worst fears were coming true at the start of this trip, when reflecting in red here, I really didn't have anything to worry about.  I just need to make sure that I have my wallet with me at all times and I try to get as much sleep as possible to fully enjoy traveling! 

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Scaredy List: "I'm leaving on a jet plane..."

I am an extreme worrier and can be somewhat of a pessimist.  I have a bad habit of thinking of all the things that could go wrong when trying something outside of the norm.  Early tomorrow morning I am getting on a plane with my DH, my 11th month old DD and my DH's parents to Northern California.  I decided to create something called a "scaredy list" to get my worries out of my head.  I am planning on addressing this list when I get back to prove to myself that I had nothing to be scared or worried about.  I'm hoping this strategy will help me to become less of a worrier and more of a free spirit!
Okay, so here is my list:

*  Did I forget something?- the number one fear that runs through my mind constantly!
*  Am I or someone I am traveling with going to get sick from the flight?
*  Is my 11 month old going to scream the whole flight?  Will I upset other people on the flight?  Are her poor little ears going to hurt when we take off and land?  Did I bring enough to entertain her- will I be able to entertain her?
*  I hope the weather will be good- bad weather or too hot/too cold weather.
*  I miss my golden retriever already!
*  Will the hotels be family friendly with cribs and non-smoking rooms?
*  Will I have a good time?  Will my family have a good time? 
*  Will this trip meet my expectations (which are always very high)?

What sorts of fears, thoughts and/or questions run through your mind when you travel? 

Again, I am planning on coming back to this post to prove that I was being a worrier for no good reason!  Wish me luck...

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The $84 Chinese Takeout Debacle

Friday nights are for getting together with friends and relaxing after a long work week.  This past Friday night my husband, daughter and I went to another couple’s house for swimming and Chinese takeout.  When it came time to order the Chinese I had to feed my daughter dinner and the boys decided to just go by themselves to the Chinese restaurant to order and wait for our meals with a couple of beers at the bar.  I pretty much will eat anything so I left the meal decisions up to them.  An hour later, and my friend and I are sitting around playing with my daughter and her dog when we realize that our husbands have been gone for a very long time.  As soon as we came to the conclusion that they were probably getting in trouble they walked in the door and boy, did they get in trouble when my loose lipped husband loudly said that they had spent a whopping $84 on the food.  He walked over to me and insisted that I feel how heavy the bags of food were, laughing hysterically the whole time.  I went with it, thinking that it was a joke and how could two grown men spend almost $90 on Chinese food for four people? 

The seriousness of this spending hit me when I looked at the spread of food that they arranged in front of me.  I later learned that when the food was ready at the restaurant and the guys were paying for it, they had commented on how it seemed like a lot of food for four people and the cashier looked at them in astonishment saying that the food was probably not too much for six people, but for four people, that was A LOT of food.  What were they thinking?  Especially since the other couple doesn’t eat left-over Chinese food!

I ended up filling up my plate twice that night; totally destroying my weight watchers plan because I felt the need to eat my moneys worth.  We also took home two bags filled with leftovers and have since eaten Chinese for breakfast, lunch and dinner and STILL have some left.

LESSON LEARNED:  Do not allow someone to do the ordering for you- when it comes to your money, make sure it is being spent wisely!     

This is what was leftover when we sat down for lunch the next day (ariel view)! 

I did not feel too well after lunch!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Wonders of the Kindle E-Reader

Last Fall I received a Kindle for my birthday.  I was never against using an e-reader over print text, but I definitely preferred reading printed text over text on the computer (my eyes cannot tolerate more than 15 minutes of reading on the computer and I usually try to print out text from the computer to read it in its printed version).  I also learned about the 20-20-20 strategy when reading on the computer- it entails to stop every 20 minutes from reading on the computer and look away for at least 20 seconds, 20 feet away from where you are.  With this being said, I was completely surprised at how fast I took a liking to reading on the Kindle.

As it became more and more enjoyable to read on the Kindle, I began to see how the Kindle could be used in the classroom.  And then, the Kindle Project was born- with the nudging from a fast friend I made who was subbing as a paraprofessional in my school, I jumped into what would be a year long journey to gain support from other educators, administrators and donors to get Kindles in the classroom.  Below is an overview of my project- maybe I can inspire other educators to support their use in the classroom, or at least persuade readers who are reluctant to join the 21st century and buy a Kindle.

 Imagine a classroom where students can grow as readers without judgment from peers: a classroom where students are engaged in authentic learning.  Add a sustainable library with endless possibilities for students to read.  This classroom will exist with the assistance of Amazon’s Kindle Wireless Reading Device.  The Kindle is an electronic book (ebook) that all students should have access to, and is an invaluable resource for schools.  With currently 27,023 children and young adult texts available, the Kindle is every teacher’s dream.   

Using Kindles to Ignite Minds on Fire

picture property of

Year after year, I have many students come into my classroom with reading abilities well below their grade levels.  Because of continued difficulty with reading and comprehension, these students become frustrated and turned off to reading.  They develop poor attitudes towards reading.  This mindset might seem irreversible by many, but in my professional opinion, children do not hate to read, they hate the associated failure.  This failure is the result of poor book selection that occurs when students try to read books above their independent reading levels in an effort to look like they are reading at the same levels as their peers. They want to avoid the embarrassment of feeling like they have been left behind.  Unfortunately, this causes the gap between the grade level standard and the student’s level of success to widen.  Authentic learning only happens when students have texts they can actually read and understand. 

Our task as teachers is to teach our students how to comprehend texts that are difficult for them ~ with greater depth of understanding. The Kindle allows students to mirror the reading comprehension strategies we model for them and because it is new technology, it is extremely engaging for them.  When reading in hardcopy, we model how to highlight important concepts or vocabulary. Now the Kindle allows for electronic highlighting which certainly supports 21st century learning.

I can take up to six Kindles and download texts within a certain band of difficulty (ex. guided reading levels R,S,T) and then place these designated Kindles in the hands of students at that reading level. These students will be able to enjoy reading on their current levels, work towards higher reading levels (and better comprehension) and no one knows at what levels others are reading. This evens the playing field for all students.

Not only can Kindles assist struggling readers, they can enrich and push all students towards higher levels of thinking. Writing about or responding to literature encourages dialogue.  While reading on the Kindle, students can make notes right on the device. This is a particularly important tool for students with handwriting legibility issues.  But more importantly, this feature creates discourse between the reader and his teacher, between the reader and his peers and even between the reader and the author.  It certainly aids the teacher because it serves as an assessment tool. When a teacher can go back and reread what a student wrote about being connected to a character, a conflict in the story or some particular detail, it opens the door for further opportunity to deepen understanding for the student/reader.
picture property of
Working at the middle school level is difficult when it comes to tapping into students’ interests and motivating them to achieve.  For some students, the sight of a book turns them off to learning due to negative past experiences.  With the addition of Kindles in the classroom, I can use children’s fascination with technology to spur real interest in reading.  The Kindle allows reading to be personalized and differentiated for individual readers.  The Kindle uses e-ink technology that simulates print text to minimize eye strain.  Students can vary the font size, set the screen to show one page or two, access the built-in dictionary (which helps readers expand their vocabulary) affording each student the right to choice.

picture property of

picture property of

As a Kindle user myself, I have first-hand experience with the benefits of using it as a learning tool in the classroom.  Both economical and sustainable, the Kindle will help students read and succeed in the 21st century, as well as give them the most important gift for success in life and that is being life-long readers. 

Monday, August 1, 2011

My First Blog Post!

I have been behind the blog scene for a while now- learning about other peoples blogs by studying them; asking questions to blog owners; reading different types of blogs from vegan themed to cooking, to blogs devoted to motherhood; I have even entered (and won!) contests from various blogs.  I love to learn and read and talk about what I am learning and reading, but writing has always scared me. 

I have taught 8th grade reading for five years and have absolutely loved sharing my passion and strategies for reading with my students.  This upcoming school year I will be teaching 7th grade language arts which entail the instructing of both reading AND writing- YIKES!  I don't know what it is about writing, it has always been so laborious and frustrating for me.  Maybe it is that I feel like I have nothing to write about, which is as far from the truth as possible because I can talk to anyone about anything- I love to talk!  Getting my thoughts down without hitting the backspace bar and wiping it all out every two minutes is a problem.  

I wanted to start up this blog to become a more confident writer and to build a passion for writing like I do in the other aspects of my life.  I have so many great ideas and personal thoughts on food, being a mother for the first time, educating adolescents, my golden retriever "Brooklyn," - I could go on and on- that I really need to get over my writer's block and WRITE!