Monday, September 26, 2011

make it count.

Birthdays are a peculiar thing for me. I find myself hanging in the balance of 2 very different extremes. On the one side of the scale, I want people to make a great deal of fuss over the day of my birth (and really, everyone elses for that matter), not so much in the form of presents, but more in the form of little things like a special breakfast, silly decorations, a beautiful cake, an enthusiastic serenade left on my voicemail, etc. On the other side of the scale, I don't want to tell said people to make a great deal of fuss and am flummoxed when asked what I want to do for my birthday or even worse, what I want for my birthday. Clearly, I expect a lot but don't want to reveal expectations. Rather, I want others to perform magic by reading my mind and knowing precisely what would produce the most amount of joy and revelry. That's a tall order for my friends and family, so if you are either, my sincerest apologies...

If you know me, you might be wondering why I'm writing a birthday post when my birthday is still a good 3 days away. This would be a fair question to which I shall respond with gusto that I will be celebrating my actual birthday in northern California, taking on San Francisco and the Napa/Sonoma wine country. Therefore, we were forced to carry out my family celebration 5 days prior on Sunday, of which you should know, I'm totally oppposed. I always hold a very firm stance that the birthday celebration with the family be on the actual day, but in this case, my trip trumped my rules. Despite all of my protests and overall disinterest, my family rallied together and we had a most joyous time togther.

We started the afternoon with a rare trip (as in I can't remember the last time we went to see a movie together) to the movie theater to see Seasons of Gray which is a Watermark (as in the church I attend) film. It was by no means a blockbuster or Academy award winning film, but it had a solid message and I wanted to support something that some really great people worked on and invested resources in.

After the movie, we headed back to the casa to keep the merriment going with dinner, cake and presents. At this point, the gang was all here which included my 2 favorite party princesses: Haylee and Meredith. I should point out that I'm still working on getting Meredith used to taking pictures with me. If there's 2 points of qualifying criteria for this family, one is most certainly a willingness to take and be in superflous amounts of photos. She's got a lot to learn. (The other, in the event you are at all interested, would be that you must be willing to dance any time, anywhere and to any music...even if it's in your head.)

I had grand ideas of making stuffed mushrooms for an appeteaser (the Office anyone?), but I just kind of freestyled the recipe which didn't exactly produce the culinary delight I was hoping for. They weren't bad, but I think I will be consulting a recipe for the next go-round, at least as a guide. My dad was a willing participant and scarfed the majority of those puppies down. I can always count on him to never let a crumb go to waste (waste not, want not), and for that I am very appreciative.

Since it is now customary for me to have a pizza dinner for my birthday (as in, that's been my cuisine de choice for the past 3 birthdays now), I decided I should keep with the tradition and I had just the spot in mind. Several months ago, my fousin (and true pizza afficianado) introduced us to the one and only Cavalli's and I've never been the same. (Elisa, the pics below are for you.) In an ideal world, we would have set outside on their quaint patio, sipped glasses of their homemade sangria and reveled in the beauty that was a most pleasant evening (below 90 degrees). However, Meredith is not exactly at an age where she willingly submits to sitting in one place for more than 8 seconds, so our feast was shared in the comfort of our home where Mere was free to romp and roam as she pleased. The pizza was extra delicious on Sunday and we devoured every last savory bite.

Hailey patiently waited throughout the entire meal for the highlight of the evening: birthday cake. She must have declared 10 times that it was time for birthday cake and we finally submitted to her demands after the 10th declaration. I should make note that this was no store bought, standard birthday cake. No way, jose. I ain't no holler back girl and if there's one thing I take very seriously, it's cake. Accept no substitutes! I requested my Dad's specialty (since I've forced him to make it 3 times now) which is a homemade strawberry cake with strawberry frosting. It was every bit as delicious as I remembered. The dense cake, lathered with a thick coating of creamy frosting, topped with fresh, ripe strawberries...perfection. I may have enjoyed it a little too much and sent myself into a sugar coma (including a case of the sugar sweats), but it was worth it.

My much too generous family surprised me with a new Vera Bradley duffel bag which was a total surprise. I am humbled by their desire to bless me, even though it is far from a necessity and they themselves could probably use a new bag much more so than myself. Nevertheless, I will honor them by breaking it in on my trip this weekend and using it every single chance I get...even if it means booking more fun trips. I will make that sacrifice!

All in all, it was a night overflowing with love, good food and even better company. I fully intend to make this last year in the decade of my 20s count.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

keepin' it real / born in the USA

I'm honestly not entirely certain where I came up with the title of this particular blog post, but it's the first thing that came to me so I'm just going with it. I am tragically behind in keeping things updated here on Abundant Life, so instead of going back to recap the past month and a half (I might end up doing so, but don't hold me to it), I shall instead skip ahead to a couple weeks ago when I made my inaugural trip to our nation's capital which also happens to be the new home of two of my best girls (Abundant Life regulars), China and Elisa.

These two firecrackers bid farewell to the sunny Texas skies back in August and of course, I jumped at the chance to take a little weekend trip during the Labor Day holiday to visit them and their new abode. Not only was it a positively lovely four days in that I was in the company of my dearest fousins, but I was also pleasantly surprised by just how much I loved DC and the surrounding area. So without further ado, I shall regale you with the who, what, where, when and why of my trip...

As soon as my plane touched down in Baltimore, the girls fetched me from the airport and we headed straight away to take on the sights and sounds of Washington, DC. I was immediately impressed by both the cleanliness and the serene quality of the capital city. I suppose, in my head, I was expecting something along the lines of the sensory overload that is New York City: the packed sidewalks, wailing sirens, blaring car horns, etc. Not so, my friends, not so. There was a plethora of sidewalk to share with our fellow pedestrians and plenty 'o unobstructed sky to look upon, as opposed to walking in the gloomy shadows of towering skyscrapers.

Our first stop in our DC jaunt was the National Gallery where we rendezvoused with Sean and spent a good bit of time looking at the collections of artwork. Major bonus points to all of the attractions not costing a dime...great for a bargain Betty like myself. I also could not believe we were free to take pictures of all the artwork throughout said museum. I wish we had more time to explore, but what we couldn't cover in time, we certainly made up in ample photo opportunities (strange because we never have our cameras...).

Since we were parked at a meter and had already made the trek back to the car once to fill the meter's insatiable hunger for coins (correction: Sean and China traipsed back to the car while Elisa and I gave our barking dogs a break courtesy of a nearby bench), we weren't able to spend time in the Smithsonian or other local points of interest. Instead, we strolled down "the mall," reflected upon the Washington Monument and soaked our feet in the epic fountain (if you recall from Forrest Gump). The water felt amazing on my tired feet that I'm afraid have grown less than accustomed to living in a pedestrian city (side note: my outer hips were actually sore the next day which I think is just a pathetic testament to the lack of activity I get whilst being chained to a desk for 9 hours every day, but I digress). After our frollick in the fountains, we commenced the 20-block hike back to the car to make way to our next destination.

Our next item on the agenda turned out to be one of my most favorite parts of the trip. Just outside of the city lies an area called Georgetown which is quite possibly the most charming neighborhood you've ever laid eyes on. I loved everything about it, from the lampposts lining the streets adorned with precious pink flowers to the to the multi-colored row houses to the robin egg blue Anthropologie store front. If this town were espresso, I'd want a triple. It's the kind of place where I imagine everyone always has a smile on their face and resorts to skipping instead of walking. We even took a peek inside the famous Georgetown Cupcake storefront, but alas, our plans for cupcake domination were quickly dashed upon viewing the line of customers that was roughly 50-deep.

We capped off the night with a meal of mediocre pizza (and that's being generous) at a local establishment of who's name I will politely refrain from posting on my blog, but redeemed the less than adequate meal with glasses of red wine, homemade chocolate chip biscotti and a viewing of The King's Speech. All of which were marvelous.

Ressurection Sunday began with church, a trip to Trader Joe's and a little time in the kitchen to prepare a brunch feast. As an aside, Trader Joe's is in fact all it's cracked up to be. Their wine section features rock-bottom prices and they even have samples at 8:30 in the evening which is clearly one of the most important qualifying criteria when choosing a grocery store. Brunch was a joyous time as we were graced with the presence of Mama Li (Lianna) and Sophia. We feasted until we could feast no more and then settled on to the couch for some Sabbath rest and maybe a little napping. Our time was sprinkled with laughter, a brief dance party, great conversation, love and of course, mimosas.

After our energizing naps, we were seeking redemption (from the aforementioned pizza debaucle) and that redemption was in the form of sugary sweet goodness a la our providential discovery the previous day: Serendipity. Yes, you read that right, Georgetown boasts the 2nd location of the eccentric eatery made famous by such films as One Fine Day (thank you fousins for pointing that out) and Serendipity. I had been dreaming about this since we stumbled upon it the previous night and was practically giddy during the car ride to Georgetown. It was such a perfect full circle moment as Elisa came to visit me in NY during my stint there where we shared a monstrous sundae and scraped that dish clean. I'm happy to report not much has changed on that front. Upon being seated at our bistro table surrounded by Tiffany lamps on every side, we carefully perused the oversized menu before selecting the Red Velvet Sundae. Our crystal goblet was stuffed with a sizable hunk of red velvet cake, smothered with cream cheese icing, topped with chocolate ice cream, whip cream and sprinkles. The last picture in this group is an exact reenactment of the previous picture we took some 8 years ago at the NYC location. I wish I had the picture for comparison sake, but alas, I didn't have a digital camera at the time and I have no idea where that might be in the stack of photo albums store away. Nevertheless, it was a delightful and nostalgic experience and did not disappoint.

We began our celebration of Labor Day with a drive to the Virginia countryside and a leisurely and altogether lovely visit to one of the local vineyards. We sipped through their tasting menu as we chatted with the owners...or actually, I don't think they were the owners, but they were friendly and knowledgable all the same. Once we determined our favorite from the tasting, we selected a bottle, grabbed some glasses and a cheese plate and planted ourselves on the patio for an afternoon of deep conversation, delicious wine and beautiful views of the vineyard. It was one of those moments that you just want to soak in and stay with you for the days to come. I'm so grateful for those couple of hours. It was refreshing and nourishing to my soul. We couldn't stay there all day, though, as we we had places to go and people to see. We managed to capture a few necessary photos (naturally, cartwheels across the lush green grass were essential) before we bid farewell to a beautiful afternoon.

We spent my last night in Virginia soaking up as much quality time as possible. We hit up Reston Town Center for dinner. After a stroll through the rain and capturing our 539th photo opp of the weekend, we selected a dining spot suitable to please our palates. There was seafood, bread and pizza to be had and it was all delicious and made us forgot all about the travesty that was Saturday night...well...almost.

We wrapped up dinner, grabbed our umbrellas and made the soggy trek to Lianna and Ed's apartment for dessert and vino. They welcomed the trio of drowned rats (us) with open arms, warm pumpkin bars, and peanut butter cup ice cream. Pair that with great company and it was the cherry on top of my visit to the east coast.

It was very appropriate that my day of departure was marked with gloomy skies and rain drops 'o plenty. Elisa served as a most generous chauffeur and after a quick seafood lunch, she had me to the aiport in ample time to get in some serious people watching. And just like that I was homebound, singing song of the south and wishing on a star that I could relive every moment (even the epic failure of the pizza). It flew by in the flashiest of flashes, but I know it was only the first of many more...