Friday, February 27, 2009

To greater heights...

Today is my Aunt's 74th birthday. My truly beautiful and profoundly good hearted Aunt. She is the hybrid of family member and friend. Because of the age difference between she and my parents, her and my Uncle are also very similar to grandparents to me. I had no grandparent component growing up as most of them had passed when I was young. However, was I able to choose, my Aunt and Uncle are exactly what I would select. They are so loved, by so many. I know how lucky I am to have them. And my Aunt is someone I have always been able to talk to openly. In those conversations, she has shared some great advice and wisdom.

When her own mother passed, years ago, I asked her if she felt sad. She said no. While she would miss her mother terribly, she knew they had a great relationship so that alleviated some of the sadness. I thought it succinct, and very profound and obviously have never forgotten that dialogue. Taking from that I know that I have made marked effort to make it clear to the people I love how I feel.

Later in my life, I asked my Aunt when you know you are ready to marry someone. She (married over 50 years) told me at that time there would be days you simply could not lay your eyes on the other person but it is the commitment along with love that carries you through. When you know you can make that commitment, you know you should be getting married.

When I am 74, will I have a lifetime of lessons to share? I hope so. I think about my own son, and hope I have wise thoughts to impart, and more importantly, that he seeks my counsel and my "wisdom" may matter to him.

If I had to start a list now, although it might be short, in addition to things I have learned from my Aunt, I think of other great advice I have heard over the past few decades. So, as a tribute to her, here are some of the best bits of advice or lessons I have learned:

Stand up straight: This could not be any simpler. Slouching forward like you are carrying heavy sacks of chickens is not how to project yourself in the world. Elongate and put those shoulders back. You will automatically look more confident. Practice while sitting. You wont see any major figurehead with poor posture. It is no coincidence.

Pick your battles: Ahhh, this may be my lifelong work. My career and at certain points during that career it seemed important to pick 9 out of 10 battles. As was shared with me, you have to decide if this (issue) is the hill you want to die on. Oh, and lets be honest, my personal life had the same ratio. It has helped me, several times. Sorry college boyfriends, I didnt know this lesson then.

Gather your thoughts: Since I am more a reactive person, it can be safe to say that at times, words flew out of mouth faster than brain could process. Gather your thoughts is a great opportunity to do what you have been told since first grade: think before you speak. It also provides a great opportunity for you to make your message succinct. A professor in law school told me that sometime you only have a few minutes to make your case. If you can't do it in those few minutes you either don't know your case, or you are too close to it. Give the bottom line. If people want more details, they will ask. Not everyone wants to know where the watch was made and why you chose to buy it, they just want to know what time it is. Sorry college boyfriends, I didnt know this one either.

Know your worth: When I was in college, I was dating someone but admittedly still a bit puddly-eyed over some other boy. Current boyfriend sat me down one day and said "If you are hurting and need time or space, I will give it to you and I will wait. But if this is more than time or space, then we need to make other plans. I know I am a great guy, and a great boyfriend, and you don't recognize that, you are not the right girl for me." He was in college. How many college kids actually have their act together? Talk about someone with a self-concept that works. And he was right, he was a great guy. More importantly, I realized how essential it is to know your worth. This same concept helped me greatly when I was in a crossroads of a job. I am thankful for the lesson.

Don't be wrong by proxy: In essence, sometimes you can not be a passive witness to someone else's bad behavior. This does not umbrella obvious things like your friend trying to rob a bank. Its much simpler. One night in college at a bar, a group of people were discussing whether X was gay or not. Someone, knowing I was close to him, asked me outright. I said I didn't know and if he wanted people to discuss it, he probably would put it on the airwaves himself. I never thought more of the conversation until years later, X told me he heard the story from one of his old friends (who I didn't know) that was a few feet down the bar. He thanked me for not chiming in on something that it would take him years to be forthright about publicly. From his feedback, I realized I did not ever want to take part in a conversation, either actively or passively, that someone would later question my judgment. I know you can not change people's minds, about numerous topics, but you do have the right to ensure you are not part of certain types of detrimental conversations. You can refuse to take part. For some people, it takes a lot to publicly defend someone and if that is out of your comfort zone, you still have the option of excusing yourself. People still get the message.

Say you are sorry: Elton John, you are wrong. Sorry is NOT the hardest word to say. It is easy and it is necessary. Think of the impasses you could have avoided in life if someone would just apologize. It does not make you weak, but makes you better, and stronger. A guy I dated in grad school called me one day, years after we graduated, and totally out of the blue. The genesis for his call was to apologize for something he said about me at a friend's wedding. He went into his details and said a very close girlfriend of mine heard his comment, and turned to him in front of many others, and said "JennyMac is actually a good friend of mine and a lot of people here know her, so this probably isn't the right place for you to make these comments." (Not being wrong by proxy!). After he finished, he said he was sure I had heard about it and he knew he owed me an apology. I actually hadn't heard it. I asked him why he said it in the first place and he said because I broke it off with him. Awwwww sour little grape! The truth is, it took moxie for him to make the call, regardless of how much time had passed. And to own up to the source. Since his comment was just a touch of sour grape juice talking, we eventually laughed about it and are still friends to this day.

Sorry is powerful and it heals some of the smallest wounds. We have all been mad, and inflicted that emotion on someone else. Own that and if apologizing can rebuild that bridge, it seems so worth it to me. In college, I was a bad friend to someone who needed me to be nothing but a great friend to them at the time. I made a choice but that loss of friendship bothered me for over a decade. I could never locate her until recently and one of the first things I did was apologize. I did not assume she had ever thought twice about it, or that my regret would mean a thing but I owed it to her and finally, she has it. Truth is, she did think about it, for years. Hopefully it will mean turning a corner for us.

Diffuse: A wise mentor told me once that in any temperamental situation, his best option for diffusing other people's anger was to ask "How can I help?" He told me to adopt this policy. I might not have chosen to adopt it immediately ( I was still looking for 9 out of 10 battles then) but I have always taken it with me. On the occasion I have implemented, it has never failed me.

Confront Bullsh*t Head On: Now, this is the meat of the story and one of the best lessons I have learned. In early college, I was snarky about a girl in our sorority. I do not have a valid reason but I certainly had an audience and we frequently gave her a hard time. One day while grinding out a term paper she found me and asked to speak to me privately. In the tete a tete, she asked me to clarify the problem I had with her. I, never being one short on words, was actually short on words. You know why? Its called "Getting Called on the Carpet". And I had it coming. I told her I did not have a problem with her per se. Her response, "Well, then I expect you to shut your ***&@^!(^ mouth about me. People in this house look up to you, grow up." OUCH. But the value in that transaction was priceless. First, she had moxie. She earned tremendous respect from me for putting it down on record. I remember that vividly, and it came in very handy for me one time later in life. I hope I made the same impression she did.

These are some of the best lessons I have learned but certainly not all of them. I appreciate the people and the circumstances by which I learned them, and some of these people have no idea how this single point in time has resonated with me. I hope that when I am 74 I have wise things to share but thankfully, I am off to a good start. But I know these are mantras to live by, and I can certainly be practicing more. Always, a work in progress.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

You say it's your birthday....

Oh, birthdays. Why are they so equally loved and hated? Why do some people relish and plan? Others ignore and reject? Maybe its relative to age. Ask a woman over 40 her age and you get " A little over 30". Ask a two year old, and they scream it from roof. Or, they sing it. All day.


Today I'm two. I'm two. I'm twoooooooo.
Woooooo Hoooooo

I am a birthday fanatic. How you view birthdays is all based on the blueprint from your family. In our house? The day might have a special breakfast including colored sugar (my mom literally put food coloring in the sugar and had it in a bowl on the breakfast table.) Special dinner where we picked the menu was automatic. We got to make big plans, and as we got older, it only got better. I swear my mom would have had the high school marching band playing a wake up song if she could have got a bus to bring them all to our house at 6 am. I grew up in a house where your birthday was a personal holiday. And I loved it.


Our munchkin turned two last month. I am ready to carry all that tradition forward. Listen, he is two. I am not bringing in balloon animal making clowns and a petting zoo. No need for a grown man stuffed into a Buzz Lightyear costume (yet). I worked with a woman once who spent a thousand dollars on her child's FIRST BIRTHDAY. Parameters.....aren't they the key to parenting?


While I knew better than to go over the top, I was looking forward to making it fun for him. So I bought a few hats. Maybe a "Hooray for Me" Elmo button for him to wear. As I am hand-making dozens of Elmo faced cupcakes with stabilized whipped cream frosting for his party, my husband gently reminds me that he will never know the difference between store bought and homemade at this age. OH, the blasphemy! I will know. And believe me, I loved every minute of the Elmo cupcake making process. However, because I am new parent, what I did NOT know is at age two, very little care is given to the actual cupcake. Primary focus? Frosting. So a plate of frosting? Well, that would be a pot of gold. Our little man actually ate some of the cupcake, and every day for a week after would ask me morning and night, "Elmo cupcake Mommy?" He would then add "Its delicious!" Awwwww, flattery will get you everywhere son.


The first summer I moved to Atlanta, I thought what better way to meet more people than to throw a party, and what better event than my birthday. So, what began as a tradition that only ceased last year, I threw a bash each year to celebrate. The celebration is very little about me and more to do with having so many great people in one place at the same time. I tried to make them different every year and when I look at those pictures, I smile.


Some of my best work? Years ago I decided to hire a DJ and have a pool party. The menu was great to which I included ten GALLONS of homemade sangria. (Red AND white. Yum. I called it Sangria Cha Cha Cha (should have called it LIQUID SIN.)


And somehow it was decided to also make 200 jello shots. Such a lascivious idea was not my own but placed upon me by my rowdy neighbors to whom jello shots were as common and routine, as oh, I don't know, let's say showering. And was I schooled in the prep and execution of said jelloshots like I had not been schooled before. Each one in a two ounce cup with a snap lid. This means that each jello shot had close to an ounce of vodka. But why do math poolside on a hot summer day?


The math might have been important because as I wheeled the jello shots around the pool disbursing them to guests, I of course, had to partake. Nothing says "CLASS ACT" like distributing and consuming jello shots in your bikini. But word to fools: Do not take endless jello shots at pool party! Do not take pictures of consumption of endless jello shots at pool party! It was an 80s music remix jello shot consumption festival. And yes, I did need a bit of an afternoon catnap. Being escorted indoors by the elbow as I became perilously close to no longer being precious in public? NOT my best work.


And I had one of the best suprise parties back in the day thanks to my two best girlfriends and my mom and step-dad. I could not believe they got it over on me, and I thank them for doing it!


PS: My best gal T. told all of our friends not to call me the entire day for fear someone would ruin all of their hard work. Can you imagine your mood when not a ring telephone to be heard? Sour, believe it. I was a pain in the arse all the while they snickered behind my back. Good for them. The suspense was worth it.


I have great memories of other people's birthdays too. You know, the other Birthday Revelers like the look on my mom's face at her surpise 60th. Perfect for a Priceless commercial.


But since its not only about me, I am a Birthday Recognizer. If I know its your birthday, even if we have not seen each other since sophomore year, you will get a note from me. Some people fuss, I say, you are are best work so far. Celebrate. I hope everyone has at least one amazing birthday memory. And I hope my son has at least one every year.
detox

Monday, February 23, 2009

Raindrops on Roses...

Actually, raindrops on roses might not make the list of my favorite things but I do occasionally enjoy silver white winters and some brown paper packages, well, those can be downright delightful. A girlfriend once told me I should send out a monthly list of products or services I have tried and like. Such an endorsement! (Thank you N.) And for over a decade my mom and I have emailed each other any new product for which we find a fancy. So for fun, here is a starting point of some of my favorite things in the bath and beauty product category:


Bath/Beauty:


Jo Malone Bath Oil Collection: gorgeous collection and for even the most committed to the nightly bath, these will last you for months. A little goes a long way and the scents linger. And these scents? Top shelf spa environment.

Art of Shaving Shaving Cream Rose Absolute (Pump): this is the best shaving cream. Ever. A tiny amount goes on and on and super smooth and fantastic. Worth every penny. My husband is a big fan of the men's line so The Art of Shaving is a fit for the whole household.


Crest Weekly Clean: This is the best addition to my teeth brushing and I thought it would be hard to beat AquaFresh Extreme Clean. Because you use Crest Weekly Clean once a week, you get that just from the dentist feeling without the angst and frowny face.

Dr. Bronners 18 in 1 Pure Castile Soap: Peppermint: This tiny bottle found at Whole Foods is a multipurpose cleansing wonder. I use it in the shower with my exfoliating gloves to give the body's largest organ (skin) the true exfoliation it needs. (And since everyone should have exfoliating gloves, they don't even need to be on my list).


MAC strobe cream: perfect instead of foundation. Focus on cheekbones. Luminous!

Bliss Glamour Gloves: slather on hand moisturizer and pull these gloves on for 20 or 30 minutes. Sorry Wintertime, you have been foiled.

Sally Hansen Nail Growth Miracle: My hair grows inches per month but my nails won't grow without help. This is a boost in a golden bottle.

CoverGirl Lash Blast: DiorShow and Lancome Definicils, I have tried them all. Lash Blast is fantastic. Super trick I learned: after coating inside of top lashes, coat the outside of top lashes too. Stand back and say WOW.

Smith's Rosebud Salve: I used this for lips and cheeks and it is amazing! I saw myself on the news recently and while I, like anyone else, will over-analyze every word I said, I did think the rosy hue on my face was star-worthy. Plus, its dirt cheap and even used daily, one tin will last you a year if not five.



Friday, February 20, 2009

Ms. Multi-Task

Is multi-tasking not the preferred method by which type A people govern their micro-universe? If there is another more proficient means, share. For me, multi-tasking is the key to success...and survival. While I might be a tad more on the energetic side, I still think much can be accomplished in a day.

Perfect example. My mom called one weekend morning and asked what I was doing:

Teaching Munchkin the Pledge of Allegiance while
Making handmade valentine's cards with Munchkin and
Whipping up a Latte for Johnny Mac then
Reading New York Times online while
Watching Munchkin play with his Bob the Builder set before
Going to Monkey Joes at 10 am
Dropping Munchkin off at home to
Go to the gym
Do errands and later
Making handmade ravioli for dinner with friends.

90% of my girlfriends will read this list and confirm, yes, this is a typical weekend morning. Some might think I was slacking off a bit even. And we are not even at the stage of baseball practice, basketball games, field trips, big birthday parties, and boy scouts.

My husbands list for this same morning:

Wake up
Want to go back to sleep
Do go back to sleep
Wake up a little later
Mmmmm, someone made latte
Get up, brush teeth
Kiss family good morning
Drink Latte
Watch SportsCenter
Drink more Latte
Light nap on couch while watching SportsCenter

My husband is an achiever, but let's just say bounding out of bed, with voltage, well, that is not one of his gifts. I love morning and view it as a perfect portal to the day. My husband would buy insurance to assure two activities were never on his morning calendar: Absence of coffee and conversation. I actually reject caffeine. Those who know me know this is wise choice. I took a midol once and the microgram of caffeine it contains wired me for hours. Not pretty, but boy did I get a lot done.


Roughly a year ago, JohnnyMac and I had an interesting, even dangerous conversation. We were tasked with identifying the one thing we each do that irritates the other. I know, I know. Everyone reading this pulls back there face and eeeeks at the knowledge this talk isnt the best way to start OR end the day. However, we proceeded. Listen, you know you are on dangerously thin ice here...the trick is to not wear your stilettos and stomp too hard. I went first (to show how gentle this could be.) I said that the last one up makes the bed unless its him and then its a bit of a craps shoot. Since we already know morning is my gig, I think we know who is the last one up. However, I also know that since I am the one who actually wants the bed made, if it is not made, I make it. See how simple? Cup full of compromise.

Now his turn. He said in the morning when I am getting ready, I leave all of the drawers open wherever I have been, as well as the closet light, and the armoire doors, and any drawer of my jewelry armoire I have dipped into in the process. I actually smiled. Because this was in no way accurate. I felt like he got confused and forgot that I am extremely tidy and have barely gotten over the agida of him squeezing the toothpaste from the bottom. I asked him if he was sure, knowing he could not possibly be right. He laughed and said it goes on. Daily.

Hmmmm. I asked him to point it out to me the next time he saw it as a means of helping me identify this issue and resolve it. I have to admit I probably smirked (on the inside only) knowing it would be weeks if not months before I got that tiny prod. Well, it was the NEXT morning. Curses! I realized while I may shut each and every door and drawer before finally leaving the room, its the interim he meant. Mind you, at the time we had a munckin, chock full of curiousity and smiles, walking and wobbling around. Any open drawer might as well have been a trip to paradise. This was JohnnyMac's point. Open drawers + busy baby = constant clean up. The point was made. The relevance? JohnnyMac asserted the only reason drawer/door tornado occurred each day is because I was doing too many things every morning. He asked why not simply get up, get in shower, dry hair, apply products, dress, leave. Hmmmm. I never thought about such a simple routine.

My "get ready" ritual has always been easy. Now that I have the super T3 tourmaline hairdryer, I can literally be ready in less than 30 minutes. Always. Why not work in a note to a friend, answer some emails, read a few pages of my magazine, make tea, download some songs into my iPod, and flip through some recipes for later that night since I have saved oh so much time on my Personal Prep. And yes, I do enjoy each one.

One July 4th holiday week, while visiting my hometown, we decided to have a cookout. We sent invites and then popped up to the San Juan Islands for a few days. On Thursday, my mom asked what time people were coming over. On Sunday. I told her 4 p.m. and she said, oh, we needed to be home first thing in the morning Sunday. I gave her a puzzled look. I said we could be home at noon and be fine. She was nervous. I could tell. A quick trip to the grocery on the way home Sunday and believe me, I was on the phone, putting things in the oven, draping tables, and making salsa. Simultaneously and without a second thought. She was fending off heart palpitations as she watched the clock. I sent her outside with a cocktail. And because my version is Smooth and Easy, and not all Helter Skelter, I will endorse it ten times over. And I know dozens of people operating in a quite similar fashion. Multi-tasking: KEY TO LIFE. Its easy to me, and maybe just a touch befuddling to my mate. Some people dont want that many things to do in a short amount of time, and further, they dont get the superfly sense of accomplishment from having a full list of things checked off at the end of the day. Admittedly, I do. Its like an Awards Show just with me. Listen, we have a family friend who kept her child/spouse on permanent fixed schedule so even I have my limits. My protocol applies only to me. I set no expectations for anyone else in our house. Sometimes it takes our munckin 25 minutes to eat his cereal because he changes his mind, multiple times, about the spoon and bowl combo, or whether he eats the cheerios first and then drinks the milk out of the bowl or vice versa. Hey little man, you take your time. You have the rest of your life to be in a rush.

Too much free time? Who gets this? I have never said "I have nothing to do" just as a wee one, I am certain I never said, "Mom, I'm bored." There is always something to do. I will multi-task while brushing teeth. Commercials during episodes of Lost? Perfect time to hop up and finish that last little thing. And dont think I havent winded it back. Oh, I have. A friend once told me I was a "hard charger". As long as by "hard charger" you mean more like "Badass" and less like "White Rhino" I will see that compliment and raise you one.

I am a work in progress, aren't we all? I am learning more and more the priceless value of a minute to oneself, patience but if it is "stop and smell the roses", I do it and check it off the list. and I would love our son to have the Zen balance between Daddy's version of morning and Mommy's version of morning. I am sure such a thing exists.



Thursday, February 19, 2009

One for Every Day of the Week: Coffee House Music

Oh, I love music and am a fan of everything from country to violin ensembles. A particular favorite genre of mine is acoustic style. One of my favorite Sirius stations is The Coffee House. For those of you with any interest, here are some are some of my favorite low key cds, one for every day of the week. These are perfect for sitting around with friends (or a loved one) for some chit chat and down time. And when its time to say, hey, lets have a cocktail.


Adele: 19
A torch singer with a cd of beautiful songs including a cover of Bob Dylan. She just won a Grammy so there should be more to come.

Ray Lamontagne: Trouble
One of my favorite cds of all time. His voice is passionate and soulful. I have seen him in concert multiple times and find it hard to believe the voice that comes out of him. Incredible. Listen.

Rachel Yamagata: Happenstance
Beautiful voice and a diverse cd. Listen to Be Be Your Love

Peter Gabriel: Passion: Music from the Last Temptation of Christ Soundtrack
Sexy and lyric free. This music envelopes Passion. Beautiful for the right time.

Buddy Guy and Junior Wells: Alone and Acoustic
Legends of Blues and a great investment. Great songs. Since the day I received it seven years ago, I have never had it out of rotation.

Brett Dennen: So Much More
He is relatively obscure but this cd does not disappoint. Great voice and lyrics.

Elbow: The Seldom Seen Kid
His voice is unique and he has a great ensemble behind him. Listen to One Day Like This.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Be Nice....

I am not an advocate for Toxic Niceness, but I do think we could all be nicer. Those of us low on patience and quick on retort might need to repeat that mantra an extra time or two a day. Sometimes I get in a hurry so I try to give myself extra reminders. Someone wise told me once that people may forget what you said or what you did, but they will never forget how you made them feel. Amen to that.

However, sometimes I see things and think, thats just not nice. Here are a few examples from this week:

1. When you see me someone walking toward the elevator and then get within the reach of sticking their limb through the door to keep it open, and you let them....or worse, you actually stand inside and watch the doors close sharply in their face? Not nice. You, the one in the interior chamber, the button with two arrows pointing away from one another? That is the door open key. Dont make someone risk a limb. Push the button.


2. While on that subject, the woman at Nordstrom last week who didnt actually let me leave the BATHROOM STALL before trying to enter....mmmmm, YUCK. That is too close of a space for you and I to do the two man shuffle. Can you please wait patiently outside the stall until I exit? Oh, and the fact you were Chit Chat Patty on your cell phone, well, I am sure your friend question the acoustics of your story about tennis that morning when she hears you URINATING in the background. That is ill. Stop that immediately.


One time, one of my family members who shall remain anonymous, was on the phone with me as we shared a great conversation. Suddenly, I heard a faint flush noise. Ummm, I certainly hope you simply stepped on a spider and could not bear the thought of putting his body in the trash so you were forced to place him in the commode and flush it while we were on the phone. Any other reason is not nice. And if nature is calling that loudly, use your mute button.


3. Hey Mr. LeafBlower with your super turbo piece of machinery. The one that is so powerful it requires you to wear it with two straps over your shoulders and a tether belt around your midsection. Yes, you....a few days ago, when I was happily driving to work, belting out the words to an old MC Hammer song, with my windows down AND my sunroof open. Do you remember? I pulled up to the stoplight at 1oth and Techwood Drive. You were about to face off with a pile of leaves that were imported from about 100000 trees? And as you turned so deftly with your large contraption, you blew all the leaves into my car windows and the cars in front and behind me? And maybe 300 other cars? Well, that's not nice. I think I may have given you a tiny look. And I think the man in front of me, in his gleaming Jaguar might have actually shaken his fist at you. That is because you are not supposed to SPRAY leaves IN MY CAR.


4. Mean guy at the bar in our hotel in Vegas. I know its not customary for a patron to ask for hot water for tea...I realize most of your customers at 7 am are not asking for such, and more likely to be asking for an Advil, a loan, or a hooker. I appreciate the scowl you gave me as I bounced into your bar full of life and morning sunshine, however, I would love it if you just poured me the hot water and maybe did not respond as if I asked you to create the water from scratch, or carry it in a wooden pail on your back through a hundred miles of desert land, from a well, in Egypt. I like that you asked me to repeat myself. Numerous times. As if "hot water for tea" was a new cocktail involving Ambien and Tequila. You are doing the best you can with what you have, but you are not nice.


So now that is out in the open, I am going to take cookies to our mailman. Spreading NICE! Thats my goal today.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

My Valentine


The moon in starry skies above
which every star surrounds to dance
shines on us as if to say
finally you will have your chance

As I pull you close to me
and whisper what I'd like to do
I hold my fevered heart to yours
and breathe my fire into you.


Happy Valentine's Day.
JennyMac

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Week Long Wanderlust: Napa


JennyMac's Tripping the Grape Fantastic

The Valley of the Gods...Napa. If you have been, good for you. And if you have not, it is never too late. Talk about a peaceful, easy feeling. All that in Napa, and more. Here is my input on Grape Nectar Valley. I am no travel expert. Just a girl who likes to venture out with no shortage of opinions.

On preparing to visit, know this: the people in Napa are gracious and kind and the vineyards and varietals run the gamut. Before you go, you can pick up a book on wine to familiarize yourself with some terms. If you do not have the opportunity to read a book about wine before you go, have no fear. Most of the people working in the tasting rooms at the wineries know more than you ever will and are more than happy to share. In fact, as I have stated before, the 20 year old working at the ice cream stand in Napa knows more than you ever will so no need to feel overwhelmed. If you want a book to dive into, Windows on the World is great. The Wine Bible was also recommended and is currently in my big stack.

The key to a great time is great friends, open minds, and a keen interest. Oh, and planning ahead.

Housing: First, line up a place to stay. We loved Carneros Inn. This is a retreat built into rancher cottages and its own community. Breakfast is out on the patio as you watch horses run and the steam rise off the dewy grass. The rooms are beautiful and for the sassy, a private outdoor shower. http://www.thecarnerosinn.com/ . The Farm at Carneros is a great restaurant and the bar fills up at night because of the great interior not to mention the outdoor fireplace and oversized comfortable chairs on the patio. There are a multitude of other housing options so look around.

Food: Great restaurants abound. Oh, everyone has heard about French Laundry but some of my favorites are Go Fish, Celadon, Cuvee, Mustard's Grill, and the gorgeous Redd. For something a bit off the wall but loaded with character, try Turtle Rock by Lake Berryessa. And a super quick bite from a highly popular spot is Taylor's Refresher. Let me do you a favor and tell you not to eat at Zinsvalley. It was my suggestion but when we pulled in the strip mall, I was only mildly nervous. For the most part, I am not sure how many great restaurants are in strip malls, especially there but alas, we forged ahead. ACK.

Wine Time: Pick up an issue of Wine Country This Week. You can find it in virtually every winery (if there are any left). Refer to this as your perfect guide for your visit with maps and legends on most of the vineyards and wineries you want to visit. It provides phone numbers, hours, tour options, etc. And the map is key because you will learn quickly if you are driving to cluster your visits together. It is a long haul from Napa up to Caligstoga back to Yountville then back to St. Helena. Visit as many as feasible in one sector (and find out the length of time each takes when you are planning.)

The Vineyards/Wineries: There are hundreds of options. And clearly, it will be decades before I get to all of them. If you like a wine and can visit their dwelling in Napa, chart your own course. Here are some of my absolute favorites and I will start with the Five Stars:

Chappellet: We have been to visit multiple times and each time, the visits get even better (which seems impossible.) This family owned winery is phenomenal. Try the wine and you will be hooked. The people leading the tours care so much about your experience, and education. Trust me, it is time incredibly well spent. We are wine club members and I highly recommend you visit. Their Las Piedras is one of my favorites. (http://www.chappellet.com/).

Elizabeth Spencer: This is a tasting only and a must-do. This was an unplanned stop based on hearing a little something about the wine in passing one day. Its a gem. Staff is helpful, fun, and very knowledgable. A very relaxed atmosphere and their Petite Sirah is out of this world. We are wine club members here and never disappointed. http://www.elizabethspencerwines.com/


Seavey: Seavey is so far off the beaten path even our navigation system could not locate it but the trip was well worth it when Mary Seavey herself visited with us and spent hours showing us around and telling us about their wines. Our favorite is Caravina and spending the afternoon with someone so delightful made it even better. Appointment only. http://www.seaveyvineyard.com/

Kuleto Estate Winery: This venue is one most gorgeous in Napa. Incredibly savvy personnel and we visited on a perfect day with a great group in tow. It is so worth the drive. The picture up top is just one of the sweeping views. http://www.kuletoestate.com/

Other heavy hitters:
Zahtila (tasting)
Sterling (tour & tasting. A great air tram ride delivers you to the top of the winery)
Charles Krug (tasting. Go, they have fantastic affordable wines)
Opus One (25.00 for a tiny taste but a gorgeous venue to visit at least once. The Overture is another one of our favorites)
Caymus
Cakebread (great white wines)
Stags Leap
William Hill

And a few to skip: Not to be unkind but at few wineries, well, we just didn't feel the love. Either the location, the people, or worse, the wine itself was not quite worth the visit. Unlike leopards, wine can change its spots so if you do go, perhaps you will have a better experience. But proceed at own risk.

Artesa: a really cool exterior that reminded me of being at MOMA but the wine was a let down.

Castillo di Amarosa: I thought the tour would be so beautiful that the wine would be irrelevant. Shame on me. The venue is pretty but the wine is not.
Andretti
Turnbull

To end on a positive note, in addition to great food and wine, there are other fun options: You can go to an olive oil tasting, can rent bicycles and do a great bicycle winery tour, visit the Calistoga springs. To finish it off, be sure to take in the patio at the famed Auburge du Soleil at sunset. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Shake it Baby


video


Shall we talk about a great discovery I made as a Mommy? Oh come on.

It is called Baby Loves Disco and I hope it is coming soon to a theater near you. I heard about it when our munchkin was just a little bitty, but had not gone until last Saturday. BLD is held in Atlanta about four times a year. Geared for kids 7 months to 7 years, it is a mini disco ball swirling party with bubbles coming from the ceiling, egg shakers, and a great local radio personality as DJ.

Our little man just turned two and since I have suffered through multiple weekends at Monkey Joe's (more on that later), I thought this could not be any worse. We arrived about ten minutes before the doors opened and I thought maybe I took a wrong turn and ended up at the "Stand in line to meet Coldplay" party. There were hoards of parents waiting for the doors to open and now I know what the hype is about...


BLD is a great event. Super-organized, roomy, and safe (parent and little one wear matching numbered bands) I was so pleased we made the plunge. The location in Atlanta has a front room for the dancers, a side lounge for hanging out, and a back room with pillows, toys, books, and face painting. Every bar area was stocked with fruits, veggies, organic chips and cookies and plenty of healthy options. The kids were into it as my tiny man went straight for the DJ and the bag of egg shakers. And he danced his little booty off. We got home in time for him to take a three hour nap so BLD pays dividends for the little ones and for Mommy and Daddy.


http://www.babylovesdisco.com/ in numerous metropolitan areas.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

eTTIQUETTE

A few simple suggestions about email that will make friends and influence people:

This is not a new fandango discovery. Haven't we all been on email for a decade or more? You know that email from Bill Gates, the one with the inclusion of a promise to give everyone $50.00 if you simply forward the email on? Declare a moratorium on this email. I literally saw that email for the first time in approximately 1997. Be sweet and stop forwarding. Do you know one single person who has received this highly publicized dividend? Exactly.


Here is one email I will never open:

TO: JPM
FROM: XYXY

SUBJECT: FWD:FWD: FWD: fwd: fwd: fwd: FWD: Fwd: A very funny story you must read.

Do you know why? Not because I don't like funny stories, but because NO funny story has eight forwards in front of it. This is attention getting and not in the way you hoped when you emailed it. Delete all forwards. I can not possibly be the first person who suggested this yet, I see it everyday. And the jokes....hmmmm. I am not sure when the last time I saw a REALLY funny joke on email. Blonde jokes? We told those in 3rd grade. There is no new and clever blonde joke that should be transmitted.

And the heinously long attachments. I love pictures of kitties wearing helmets made out of lime rinds just as much as the next girl but use discretion.

Oh, and should we talk about REPLY ALL? Do we need to? Reply All should only be used when ALL involved want your reply. This is never the circumstance in emails with jokes, FWDs, and attachments. Planning a golf outing this weekend with a big group? Different story. Commenting on your friend's YouTube upload? Not exactly.

I have a baby, and he is a pot of gold, I am telling you. However, there is an art of sending baby pics out. First, craft a careful list of people who want to see your child's growth and progression. The people who ask you about your child is a good starting point. Then, select your favorites. Oh believe me, I have sent as many as ten out at once to the "Special List" but I narrowed it down to ten from about two hundred. People get it, he's a cutie pie but outside of people related by blood to him, I can promise not everyone wants to see him engaged in every activity.

And the emails with the ALERT about scams, predators, and assorted tom foolery. Some of them feel urgent to pass on and warn all your loved ones and by all means go ahead, but make a quick stop to http://www.snopes.com/ and check accuracy. I engaged in a fun email debate with a certain family member this summer over correctness of statements sent to me in one email specifically. Snopes could not make it any easier because they have all rumors circulating via internet in subcategories. For example, regardless of who you voted for in the 2008 election, I am pretty sure if Barack Obama was a Jihadist, I would believe it more if it was published in Time Magazine or the front page of my newspaper. I am fairly certain such a piece of breaking news would be fed to us from every media outlet in the country and not solely from the email your friend Tim from Poker Night sent you.

See, just a little easy breezy email charm and you will no longer have to ask people if they got your email to hear them stammer, "Ummm, I am not sure, my inbox is so full. When did you send it?" See that stall? That is the person that sees your name, with FWD FWD FWD and an attachment and hits "DELETE ALL."

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Dance Party USA

Oh, the self-created theme party. And what a party it is. Do you know this Dance Party of which I speak? I hope you do.

It started in college, my superfun roommate Susie (the blond bombshell also known as Sue Suave) and I would be getting ready for dates, and decided as part of our pre-party, that loud blasting 80s music could only help the situation. That turned into racing into the living room that separated our bedrooms, and you have got to love belting it out together. One song turned into five and it became a ritual. Then by the end of summer, it had turned from "dance party" to "DANCE PARTY!!!!!!!!!!". Never whispered, always shouted. We missed a party one night because we, and many of our friends, were literally bogged down by the DP. I took DP with me to every future dwelling too. I remember being back in town after graduating and supposedly maturing. A group of us met up at a girlfriends house and spent hours having dance party, with the piece de resistance, being our sing-at-top-of-lungs version of Salt N Pepa's None of Your Business. So loud in fact, we embarrassed ourselves, when our friend's parents had to come down to the basement and tell us to stop.

I had a Main Gay in college and he and I loved up on some Dance Party too. We would also practice our high kicks. Let me tell you, nothing motivates you more than watching a 6 ft + man swing it like a Rockette. Dance Party was freeing, and liberating. And I loved every second of it.

Before we got married, JM and I were talking about dancing. JM knows nothing of DP. He told me he "wasnt much of a dancer". Anyone can enjoy the DP and I proved it to him one night after I was nearly overserved martinis. I think he was a fan.

Fast forward to a night past October. I had just executed my biggest fundraiser of the year for work and thought it was a success. Since I dont nip at the whisky at work events, I was ready to rock it when that night was over. Both brothers in town, we invited friends over and I introduced the DP. We were like teen agers singing. I shouted across the room to JM, "Why dont we do this more often????" He shouted back over the din, "Because we have a two year old!".

Enjoy it when you can. It will make you feel like a million bucks.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Dating 201 for those who need it

I have some single girlfriends who share stories that transport me back to my single days. One in particular inspired me to share what is not so profound wisdom. I feel like going back in time...and thankfully, when I met JM, he didnt need a single piece of this...

I live in a large metropolitan area filled with hundreds of single, desirable men over the age of 30. Somewhere between the professional dater and the man who is actually shy lies an anomaly which is becoming increasingly more visible: the hybrid of all bad dating mannerisms known to women. While not every man wishes to be a slick connoisseur of one woman after another, there is an art to achieving the goal of a second date. Almost anyone can entice, persuade, cajole or simply ask a woman out and have that first date under their belt. However, beyond that initial night especially if he has any remote shot at obtaining that impending “magic” date where he is convinced he can sleep with her, exists the important and often overlooked Second Date. To help all men with the true interest of making it to the next level, and more importantly to end the bewilderment on why she just does not return your interest after the first date, here is a tutorial:
Idea: When you place the call or send the email (do not text or IM the first date request or you are beyond help) with the intention of seeing her again, have an idea in mind of what you want to do. A mere suggestion is fantastic and yet not so rigid that you would be opposed to her potentially good idea. The often occurring and snore inducing “what do you want to do” responded by “I don’t care, what do you want to do” lacks production. If you want to see a show, a stand up performance, a band, or how many drinks she can put away, say it. If movies are your thing, speak up. However, use caution here: Find out first if she is into the whole Will-Ferrell-same-character-as-usual before you suggest it. Believe me, it was hysterical in Zoolander, but not so much in Semi-Pro (or what should have been called Zoolander Part XV). If funds are the issue, suggest a walk around the park with your dog or a dog you borrow. This becomes increasingly important as you progress because believe me, by the third or fourth round if you are still lacking luster and creativity, she is thinking to herself “this man will never have a great surprise in store or an interesting conversation with my friends, neighbors, or family.” This of course doesn’t even mention her thoughts on your creativity or skills in the boudoir. If the mere concept of an activity on your second date is too much of a brain-teaser, she has more reasons than one not to see you again.

Presentation: A little goes a long way and no, this is not an implication you need to show up in your brand new souped up duds or a suit jacket if that is not your trend or protocol. Pants and a nice button down are always safe. Watch the t-shirts too…seriously, your “Gettin’ Lucky in Kentucky” or “I love that 70’s Show” are only cool if you are washing your car with her. Gentlemen, you have already seen this girl once…think back…chances are good she is going to have some foxy number on especially if your second get-together is an evening date. Remember, it is a date, and not Texas Hold ‘Em night at The Beer Mug. Unless it is during the day and you are at a sporting event or taking her to see you bench press at the gym, the ball cap, while a great weekend feature, is not the right accoutrement for your night of flirting. Easy on the cologne and hair gel too…we are happy for the wave of metrosexualism but don’t be carrying more product than we are. If she is a self declared feminist and gets sour about the door being opened for her, unfortunately you will learn that as you go, but many women still appreciate the door being opened and you walking on the outside of the sidewalk. If you would do it for your grandmother, do it for her. If she gets wild eyed and indignant about it, you might have more than one reason not to see HER again.

Conversation: This is a tricky one and yet the simplest piece of advice is just that; keep it simple. If you are nervous or not sure what to ask, ask HER a question about HERSELF. This is easy to do without appearing fake or insincere. Examples: how long have you been…in town, living here, had the dog, played tennis, played piano. Pay attention if you see her house. See any books? Art? Wine? Unique furniture? There you go…ask away. When some men get nervous, they just start rattling on and on. If this happens and your mouth gets running stay AWAY from any topic involving your road rage or how much you drank the last time your college roommate was in town. There are some clear deal breakers with women, not all women, but most of the women you are going to want to date so pay attention. If you don’t know her, don’t even think about mentioning any of your big thoughts about sensitive subjects like politics, homosexual marriage, or Jessica Simpson’s rack. Again, you do not KNOW her or if anyone she is close to is a politician, gay, or has implants. Also, never talk about your ex-wife, girlfriend, or the other women you are dating. Women do not want to hear all your war, horror, or whore stories this early on in the game. And don’t even consider for a moment you will gain ground or appear to be a catch if in your discourse on past women you call even one of them a “bitch”. The only thing rising in that situation is your jackass factor. If you MUST tell a story involving say, a trip, or a vacation you went on, try saying it was “with a friend” you don’t need to mention anything more about her.

Location, location, location: If Bacchanalia or the top of the W is not your idea of a comfortable outing, not to worry, but my vote is error on the side of conservative. In other words, unless you met her at Hooters, it is not an option. Ditto that on Joe’s Crab Shack or TGIFriday’s for various reasons. If cost is an issue, perhaps a wine bar, Starbucks, or ice cream. Again, a sunny day at a park is not bad either because ideally you should have fun doing something ordinary with a great person but be careful…your idea of fun may not be hers and again, unless you know her and know she will buy into your plan, things like NASCAR events or her coming over to watch the play-off game with you and your five friends is the guarantee of no more dates. While debating, make sure it is not a location you will be easily convinced to over-consume. When all else is failing, getting loaded is never the right answer.

Wrapping up: how you end the date will be contingent upon how the date comes along. If you throw some F notes around, talk about your previous live-in, how wretched your mom is, how you like to take Ecstasy, or the time you got arrested for mooning, you just walked yourself right into “NO FUTURE” with this girl. Discretion can be nice. When you take her home, walk her to her car, or the door, and say goodnight a good motto is always leave them wanting more. Watch for clues, if she is taking her keys out of her purse before you even open the car door, give her space. Don’t try pawing or groping and above all things, don’t ask her if she wants you to “tuck her in”. Better to have her asking “why didn’t he try to kiss me” then giving you the quick head turn and cold shoulder. But by all means, if you are getting the signals, make the kiss a good one.