Jesus was all about wine and so am I

Okay, so the Bible never really specifies whether Jesus drank the miracle wine he created but either way, he knew how to keep a party going so I raise my glass to him.

Virginia is pretty well known for its vineyards. Isn’t it? Maybe I only think that because I live in Virginia and can visit any number of them in a 45-minute drive. But I feel like Loudoun County wines are a thing.

My husband and I have visited quite a few of said Virginia wineries (side question that does not need to be answered: what’s the difference between winery and vineyard? I think something to do with grapes grown on site versus shipped in — which sounds like that is technically cheating, but what do I know).

His favorite (until recently) was Stone Tower. It is a gorgeous vineyard with rolling hills and a pond and a separate barn for kids and pets so people can bring their family OR people can enjoy adulthood without screaming kids and slobbering dogs. Choices. There’s a huge patio overlooking a second patio (which is usually closed — at least when we’ve been — for a wedding), and tons of seating that is always almost all taken.

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This vineyard is lovely and well worth a visit, but it is crowded and if it’s a weekend in the summer, there’s a wedding closing down part of the grounds. This is why — after the third or fourth visit — even my husband admitted defeat and agreed we could go elsewhere (after waiting 20 minutes in line for a bottle of wine that is decent but…I’ll just say we go for the scenery).

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Stone Tower does lend itself to some pretty great photo backdrops

My favorite is Paradise Springs in Clifton. Part of this is because we can’t go to Paradise Springs without also stopping in the town for some ah-mazing crepes at the Clifton Cafe. I think the wine is pretty good here, too, but full disclaimer: I’ve only recently begun to develop any sort of “palate” for good wine vs. less good. Wine is wine, amiright? No, I know I’m wrong. I guess I’ll just need to keep up the wine tastings until I’m able to discern between the complexities of a merlot and the subtleties of a chardonnay (or even if those descriptions could even apply to those wines. I’m hopeless!).

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So excited for Paradise Springs! (Photo stolen from my sister’s Instagram)

I’m still trying to find my husband a new favorite vineyard near here, but since visiting Sonoma on a spur of the moment trip last time we were in California, he’s become something of a California wine snob. Still, we have a date this afternoon to visit Quattro Gumba, so fingers crossed!

Now, Missouri isn’t known for its wines, but apparently there’s a Missouri wine country very similar to Loudoun County and not too far outside Saint Louis, so we can keep exploring and improving our wine palates even after the move.

 

Road-Trip Playlists

It’s officially summer. The perfect time for a road-trip. And what is a road-trip without music?

Not something I’d enjoy, that’s for sure. A good road-trip playlist is even more important than snacks — and this might be the only time I say ANYTHING is more important than snacks.

I will say, Spotify has a decent “Road Trip Sing-Along” playlist that was well-received by all four members of my most recent road-trip. We listened to it on shuffle so it was kind of all over the place between classic rock and throwback pop and more current hits, but pretty much every song was great.

Usually, I prefer to make my own playlists. For our upcoming two- to three-day drive to St. Louis from the D.C. area, I’ve already started on two different lists, and may now make a third.

When you first leave, everyone is usually super pumped to be on the road and looking forward to the adventures that await — both on the journey and at the destination. You’re amped and you want your music to reflect that energizing optimism. My first playlist is full of pump-up music like “Forgot About Dre” (because none of my road-trips — however long or short — is complete without it) and “Danza Kuduro”  and “Shake it Off”. It floods the car with aggressive beats to get you going.

But then the excitement wears off (especially if you’ve left early in the morning) and the pump-up playlist is too loud. So my follow-up playlist is mellow and calm. It’s got songs like “Cactus in the Valley” and “Swing Life Away” and pretty much anything by Fort Atlantic. It’s great to calm down the adrenaline from the previous playlist and encourage some naps from the passengers.

After the success of the pre-made Spotify road-trip playlist, though, I’m thinking I should put together a third playlist full of songs that are classic enough to spur some sing-alongs but also familiar enough to mindlessly hum or ignore altogether if a particularly good daydream comes along.

I can’t imagine life without music, and driving is nearly impossible for me if I don’t have some sort of tunes pumping through the speakers. If you haven’t already heard of the songs mentioned above, I’d highly recommend checking them out, and if you have any suggestions, send them my way. I’d love to hear what your “must-have” road-trip songs are!

Wildcards Vacation 2017: Colds and Charleston

This year my friends decided to switch up our normal Nagshead beach trip and travel an extra few hours south to Charleston, SC. It was a week-long adventure of discovering new places, seeing beautiful architecture, eating amazing food, and spreading germs between fourteen people and two apartments.

Our car — affectionately and not at all competitively referred to (by us) as the “best” car — carried four people and one massive cold virus. The trip began with an immediate stop for cough drops and ended with none of the other three passengers feeling sick, so we didn’t think too much of it beyond hoping our friend felt better.

Until another wildcard fell ill. Then another. Then another. Every day it seemed a new person woke up feeling crappy. Still, those of us from the best car didn’t feel it. We were invincible. We were immune to what became known — affectionately — as the Tyler Plague.

We went to the beach — both Folly and Sullivan’s Island. We went out to bars every night (even if a lot of those nights we still made it home before midnight and in bed shortly thereafter — when did we become grownups?). We wandered through neighborhoods of houses from the 16- and 1700s. My husband convinced almost everyone to try our favorite burrito spot (Minero) at least twice. (Side note: I’d previously had the best burrito of my life here. This trip, the catfish taco blew me away.) He also had avocado toast at a restaurant near our airbnb (Park Cafe) for the first time…and every day of our trip. By the last day, they knew him there.

Some wildcards went golfing. Some did stand-up paddle-boarding. Some did an escape room. Some went on a ghost tour that turned out to just be a walking history tour about brothels, murder, and conspiracy theories (which is way better in my — slightly terrified of ghosts — opinion). We played our usual drinking games without our usual, youthful enthusiasm, and spent a lot more time just hanging out and chatting.

It was a wonderful trip, even if I personally missed having a pool to lounge around beside. We reflected on how far we’ve come, how grown up we’ve all gotten, and looked forward to future trips and more changes as life spurs us onward.

The magic faded on the drive home. Two passengers were coughing instead of just the original one. We all insisted it was tickles in throats or residual from A/C and late nights and drinking and whatever else we could think of.

Then the Tyler Plague hit my home. My husband got it first, but I was (am) only about a day behind him. Now, we’re shuffling around the apartment, thankful that — due to our upcoming move I still have yet to blog about in detail — we no longer have work to suffer through or obligations that can’t be pushed back a day. Our coffee table is a mess of Dayquil and cough drop bags and tissue boxes. We’re drinking tea all day (echinacea and ginger and lemon and “cold 911” from David’s Teas on repeat). Our pantry is stocked with chicken soup. We’re going to crush this thing.

Our lack of complete immunity is a somewhat humbling blow. Still, it’s a worthwhile price to pay for a week with the Wildcards.

Uh-Oh, Spaghettios

I forgot that used to be a thing, until someone showed me a joke:

her: “I’m breaking up with you.”

him: “Is it because I keep saying ‘uh oh, spaghettios’?”

her: “Actually, yes.”

him: “Uh oh, spaghettios…”

Now it keeps popping into my head. Which leads me to think about — what else? — spaghettios. I love spaghettios almost as much as Kraft mac n cheese or hot dogs. It’s so easy to pop open a can and have that cheesy-tomato goodness in my belly in a matter of minutes. But I am an adult now, and therefore I must limit my lazy junk food splurges to desperate times (like when I’m really needing quick comfort food, or at the beach with my garbage friends). The good news is there are plenty of “adult” (read: homemade) versions of the comfort food I so enjoy. I’m still searching for the *perfect* macaroni and cheese recipe, but I’ve found enough good ones that I can whip up a decent pot when the craving strikes. I save the hot dogs for the ballpark (or a particularly fantastic grilling day). That leaves spaghettios as my only semi-justifiable lazy-splurge.


Until recently.

I stumbled across the original recipe on Pinterest (I am obsessed with Pinterest recipes), but you can find it here. I can never thank Nikki Gladd enough for the post that gave me permission to eat spaghettios like an adult. I’ve made my own tweaks and adjustments, which to me give the dish even more of an authentic taste, still while maintaining an air of healthiness.

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The recipe says use a saucepan, but as you can see, any pan will do in a pinch!

The most important item: spaghetti rings. I found them at Wegmans (which is hands down the best grocery store.)

I skip the garlic. I’m a big fan of garlic, but I’ve found eliminating it from this particular dish actually makes it better (which is rarely the case). The other major trick I found is cooking the noodles directly in the sauce, rather than separately and combining with the sauce at the end. The starch from the pasta thickens the sauce and the tomatoey-taste fattens the pasta.

Check out the full recipe if you’re feeling like reconnecting with the kid inside you (or if, like me, you feel a little guilty for all the canned junk you eat).

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Homemade Spaghettios:

  • Olive Oil for pan (~1 tbs)
  • 1/4 tsp Red Pepper Flakes
  • 1 can Tomato Sauce
  • 1 scoop Tomato Paste (~1 tbs. The time I made this the best, I used a regular spoon and eyeballed it)
  • 3 cups water
  • 8 oz spaghetti rings (or other round pasta)
  • Generous pinch of granulated sugar
  • Salt and Pepper, to taste
  • 2-4 tbs butter (you can cut down to make it even ‘healthier’)
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • ~1 cup shredded cheese (I used pre-shredded Mexican cheese. I also just dropped two handfuls in rather than measuring an actual cup)
  1. In medium saucepan, saute the red pepper flakes in olive oil over Medium heat for about 30 seconds.
  2. Add the tomato sauce, paste, water, pasta, sugar, salt and pepper.
  3. Bring to low boil, stirring frequently to keep pasta from sticking to bottom of pan.
  4. Add butter. Stir until melted.
  5. Stir in milk.
  6. Simmer over Medium-Low for about 10 minutes or until pasta is cooked.
  7. (If sauce seems too runny, add a second scoop of tomato paste to thicken. Stir until fully distributed, then turn off heat) Add cheese one handful at a time, stirring between to melt fully.
  8. Enjoy!

This recipe makes about 4 servings.

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Experiencing the Pacific Coast Highway

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One of my husband’s dreams is to drive the Pacific Coast Highway in a Miata with the top down. Last year, we had a rental Kia instead, but the drive to Big Sur wasn’t any less gorgeous.

I’ve always been in love with rocky coastlines. My parents grew up in Rhode Island, and every time we visit, as far back as I can remember, we take a trip to Beavertail to climb on the rocks and bask in the sun.

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Beavertail, RI

Naturally, I fell in love with the Pacific coast pretty much immediately. Our first trip to California, my husband and I drove down to Laguna from Long Beach, and I couldn’t get enough of the beauty of the more rugged beaches.

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Laguna Beach, CA

But nothing I’ve seen compares to the breathtaking views I experienced on the drive from San Fransisco to Big Sur.

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The water was so blue, the sky bright and the landscape vivid. I made my husband stop at pretty much every pull-off so I could get out and soak in the beauty (and snap a ridiculous amount of pictures).

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One thing photos don’t quite capture is the peace and the joy. A sense of familiarity, home in the purest sense of the word. It’s the same feeling I get as I’m pulling into the parking area in Beavertail. Sheer joy and excitement shoots my veins full of adrenaline, while an overwhelming peace calms every nerve in my body. It’s the most beautiful oxymoron in spiritual form.

It’s life, pure and simple.

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A Movie Date With Myself

I love going to the movies. A small contingency of Wildcards would enjoy weekly “$5 Movies” on Wednesday nights at the local theater. We still do on occasion, but now that some of us have moved, and life has gotten busier and more “adult-like”, it’s been harder to make Wednesday night (sometimes any night) work.

As an experiment of sorts, I recently went to the movies by myself. I’ve always liked the idea of being brave enough to go alone while simultaneously thinking it’s weird to go to the movies without someone else. Also, I have social anxiety mixed with a desire for a stronger self-identity, so it seemed like a great idea to stretch my comfort zone and gain a little autonomy.

I chose the movie Gifted with Chris Evans and Octavia Spencer (because I just adore both of them), and decided to see to in the early afternoon on a Sunday, when the theater theoretically would be less crowded.

The theater I went to lets you choose your seat when you buy the ticket. I always try to sit dead-center in the theater, usually in the middle of the group I’m with. My instinct this time was to snag a seat in the back row, so no one could sit behind me and judge how alone I looked. However, the back row was all taken. And since there was no group to keep me feeling like my edges were protected, I defaulted to an end seat for an easy escape from those prying eyes I was sure would be judging my every solitary move.

Now, even though I’d just had lunch, I stopped at the concessions for my usual order of popcorn and bottled water. This is defensive mechanism two (or three if you’re counting my seat-choice-strategy as two moves), performing a familiar habit in an unfamiliar setting. Plus, munching popcorn could give me something to focus on other than wondering what that back row is thinking about the weird loner on the end near the front. Concessions roadblock: there were only two popcorn sizes — regular and large — and I usually get the itty bitty “junior” size at my usual movie spot. Of course, a rational person might have simply asked if they offer a kid’s size, but remember — social anxiety! I ordered my ridiculously large “regular” and strutted as confidently as possible up the stairs in search of my theater.

Even though the lights were up and shining like a freaking spotlight on my lonely little self, and the people in the back were whispering and giggling, I settled into my seat as casually as I could. I allowed myself one text to my husband letting him know I’d survived thus far, then put my phone away (this is something I’m working on in general, to not depend on my phone in “vulnerable” social situations).

The lights went down and I relaxed. For two blissful minutes, I settled deeper into my seat and focused on the previews.

Then an older couple came and sat right next to me. Right. Next. To me. No buffer seat. It didn’t make sense. Literally the entire theater, other than the back row, was open — which they would have seen on the screen when they bought their tickets — but they chose the seats directly beside the one single person. My heartrate kicked up a notch, but I realized I was more annoyed than anything.

It did make me a little more conscious of myself throughout the movie, if I laughed at something they didn’t, when I had to brush tears from my eyes. I’d get brief anxious whispers: what if that was rude to laugh at? What if they’re judging me? However, the movie itself was so good, I kept getting sucked back in, until the next moment I’d giggle or sniffle and remember I wasn’t quite as “alone” as I might have liked.

The high that carried me home was fantastic. I’d done this brave, out of character thing that turned out overall pretty great. I felt fearless and confident.

Now, when I think about trying it again, that familiar anxiety rears its head, but I’m able to remind myself I survived it once. Even better, it didn’t feel like I just “survived”; I felt — for a little while at least — almost invincible. It’s worth the fear to give it another go.

Rambling Reviews: These Vicious Masks

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Do you like the X-Men series? Do you like Victorian England? If not, this is not the book for you.

If, like me, you are intrigued, then let me tell you about These Vicious Masks by Tarun Shanker and Kelly Zekas.

I became so hooked on the characters and their stories I immediately downloaded the sequel (These Ruthless Deeds) and let me tell you, this series does not disappoint. There are terrifying and clever powers, an explanation for such powers that is plausible yet not overly explained, and interesting characters who wield said powers. You’ve got a heroine who grapples with what it is to be a “hero” (and one might argue she doesn’t quite live up to the title) while stopping at nothing to reunite with her sister. You’ve got a charming suitor and a mysterious, brooding gentleman — Jane Austen would swoon — who trap our heroine in a delicious love triangle. Dangerous escapades and comic misadventures balance well throughout the novel, making for a quick and enjoyable read.

The writing is not flawless, and some things seem to wrap up too neatly, but nothing that sticks out as blaringly awful or even memorable once the story is through.

I adored the ending of the sequel. I won’t say anymore than that because I’ve tried wording my feelings a dozen times and I can’t figure out how to convey my thoughts without somehow spoiling it or creating an expectation that I did not have going into it, so I will leave it at that. It was fascinating.

The first book is $4.22 for paperback, $7.09 on Kindle ($14.89 for both books on Kindle). I highly recommend checking them out!