Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Italy - Post 4

Are you bored of my Italy trip yet? Of course not!

If you're bored in general and want to read my previous posts they are here: Post 1 - Villa Aquilea; Post 2 - Lucca; Post 3 - Cinque Terre.

We're up to Wednesday Gwensday on the trip and six of us took a day trip to Florence. We weren't going to have a ton of time there because we had to get back for a pizza party at the villa that evening. We planned to get going early and drive into Lucca to catch a train to Florence. Well, the Cinque Terre experience the day before had us up late and exhausted so we didn't get started as early as we wanted. We missed the train so we figured out the last train stop before the main Florence station and decided to drive there, park and take the train just one stop so we didn't have to navigate parking right in Florence.

Here's the thing, for our group of 13 we had rented three small SUVs that looked like this:

Oh look, another view from our villa!

Since we were leaving seven people behind, we just took one car, which really only holds five people. Aaron offered to ride all folded up in the back-back (since we were only supposed to be driving into Lucca). But Florence was an hour and a half drive. Oops. Needless to say, Aaron needed a little alone time when we finally returned.

Anyway, we got to Florence and wandered around a bit. We had made museum reservations (make sure to do this before you go - it saves SO much time) at the Accademia and the Uffizi. We first went to the Accademia, which is where Michaelangelo's David is on display. Let me tell you, I've never seen anything like it, and pictures could not do it justice. It's simply stunning. There are also several other Michaelangelo pieces there and another favorite part for me was an exhibit of musical instruments.

The Duomo and the Baptistry

Piazza della Signoria, including a David replica and a bridal party!

We made our way to the Uffizi and here's where Aaron was the smart one. He had downloaded walking tours from Rick Steves so he knew what he was looking at, while the rest of us didn't and after a while everything looked the same. (Yes, we could have rented audio tours, but we didn't.) So after a bit, our four friends took off and I waited for Aaron to finish. I mean, it was cool and all, but it went on and on and just how many Italians painted the Adoration of the Magi anyway?

1. Street scene | 2. Street art outside a museum | 3. Gelato! | 4. Had to take a picture of 
Caffé Mingo in honor of our cat | 5. Outside the train station | 6. Pizza and beer for lunch |
Center - check out my Cinque Terre sunburn

We met up with the rest of our small group and got ourselves back to the villa, where we had a pizza party. The villa has a pizza oven built in around the back. The owner, James, purchased all the ingredients and showed us how to make the pizzas. It was a fabulous evening!

Next up - a cooking class in our villa and buying wine at the hardware store!

Confessions of a Gila Monster

Monday, April 29, 2013

Monday, Monday

I wasn't going to write a post today. Usually I do a weekend recap on Monday but I'm not feeling it, although the weekend was fun: Friday night we introduced our friend Amy to Pulp Fiction; Saturday we had a choir rehearsal in the morning and in the evening we went to dinner, but that will be a future restaurant odyssey post; Sunday we went to church and lunch, I took a lovely nap and we played Apples to Apples with Colin and Amy. And now it's Monday and it's raining and ... blech.

But then I started catching up on some blog reading. I've mentioned my friend Candy here before; she's a sorority sister of mine living in Columbus so we occasionally see each other, and in fact we had lunch with some other sorority sisters on Friday. Candy writes a blog, Bird Uncaged, in which she posts something that she's thankful for every single day. She also works with Yoga Gangsters, an organization which her sister started in Miami, and Candy brought to Columbus. From the YG website: "Yoga Gangsters empowers youth by addressing the symptoms of trauma and poverty such as limited education, addiction, violence, incarceration, teen pregnancy, HIV, and more through the science and practice of yoga."

The Columbus chapter currently works through Huckleberry House and trust me, this is not your average yoga class. Last Thursday Huck House held their Awards to Celebrate Youth and Candy was in attendance. I would really love for you to read her thoughts on that night, so please go here. I believe that every child deserves to have someone who loves them and believes in them.

Stay Tuned,

Confessions of a Gila Monster

Friday, April 26, 2013

Stop #12 - Level Dining Lounge

The Restaurant Odyssey continues with a trip to Level Dining Lounge

On this outing we were joined by our neighbors Michelle and Jeff. 

Michelle and Jeff, meet everyone. Everyone, meet Michelle and Jeff.

Level opened about three years ago in a prime corner location. They did major renovations and it's now a stylish yet comfortable place to have a drink or a meal. We were tucked into a cozy booth and set about ordering cocktails. Aaron and Jeff both ordered the Lavender Martini, which includes locally made gin from Watershed, I had a Raspberry Bellini and Michelle took our server's suggestion of some kind of blueberry drink. Later when he asked her how she liked it she said "it's OK; I forgot that I don't like blueberries." Silly girl.

First round of drinks, then the boys switched to some kind of dark beer, I got my standard Sauvignon Blanc, and Michelle probably ordered something else she didn't like. (Love you, mean it!)

Appetizers: potato skins (quite loaded, pretty greasy but of course we still ate them!); calamari (kind of chewy, although the Thai chili sauce had a nice flavor).

Aaron, Jeff and I ordered from the Seasonal Menu: Aaron had the Level Lasagna made with sausage (I had the leftovers and it was yummy), Jeff had the Duck Flatbread (duck confit, carmelized onions, goat & gouda cheeses and a berry reduction - yes, please) and I had the Smokey Black Bean Burger with fries (don't get me wrong - I'm a red meat kinda girl, but I love a black bean burger and this one didn't disappoint - spicy and not dry). Michelle had the Chicken Artichoke Panini and insisted that I have a bite. I'm not a big artichoke fan but this was a nicely done panini and the Parmesan Potato Chips were crispy and delicious.

Clockwise from top left: black bean burger, lasagna, chicken artichoke panini, duck flatbread

Overall a solid meal. We had a little struggle over who was buying, which Jeff and Michelle "won," so we walked up the street to the Local Bar where Aaron and I treated for after dinner drinks.

Coming up next: Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams!

Stay Tuned,

Confessions of a Gila Monster

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Yahtzee strong

Last night was Yahtzee night in the 'hood. (If you don't know what I'm talking about, go here.) We had a smaller group than usual. There were just six of us, but it worked out wonderfully because we sat around Carrie's kitchen table and ate delicious curry and we could all be involved in the same conversation. And we talked about all kinds of things and drank lots of wine and laughed and cried (not quite, but almost) and supported each other and made fun of each other. We definitely missed the ladies who couldn't be there, but it was one of the best Yahtzee nights ever. Sometimes you just need your girlfriends. 

These aren't from last night but here's some of the Yahtzee crew.

And then Angie created what I think should be our slogan:

Yahtzee Strong

Happy Friday Eve!

Confessions of a Gila Monster

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A (very) random Gwensday

Also known as "I don't have anything planned to write about so here are some pictures of my cats and my husband."

Señor Gato Negro sometimes snuggles with me while I'm blogging.

As much as I love my gas fireplace, I'm ready to not have to use it for awhile.

But there are signs of spring! Photo on the left is our house; photo on the right is not.

Clover has found a favorite spot. Note to self: de-hair the chaise before lying in it.

Mustn't forget Bella!

Aaron on our Sunday walk. Some people stopped us and said that he looked like Judge Doom from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? You decide:

Separated at birth?

Have a wonderful Gwensday!

Confessions of a Gila Monster

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Italy - Post 3

Post 1 is here
Post 2 is here

It's Travel Tuesday again, and it's Tuesday on our Italy trip as well. On this day all 13 of us went to Cinque Terre. We woke up to pouring rain, which really isn't what you want at Cinque Terre. But Tracy was adamant that we go, and damn if it didn't work out to be a beautiful day. Cinque Terre is a series of five villages on the Italian Riviera. Once you get to one village, you can reach the others by train or you can walk. Some of the paths are much more difficult than others. Also, in the fall of 2011 there was extensive flooding and mudslides and I don't know if all of the paths are currently open, but they were in 2010 when we were there.

We drove to Riomaggiore and started walking to Manarola. This was the smoothest trail (it's wheelchair-accessible) and it's also known as the Via Dell'Amore, or Love Walk. At one point, there's a photo op for couples and in the picture below you'll see Aaron and me and Mike and Tracy at that spot.

Riomaggiore in the middle. The rest are pictures on the way to Manarola.

We wandered around Manarola a bit and some of us had a bite to eat, then moved on toward Corniglia. We were starting to see some blue in the sky and caught some beautiful views.

Manarola, coming and going

At some point on the way to Corniglia we sort of broke up into smaller groups because some of us (read: ME) were slower than others. But we always reconnected at each village. This is also where we finally started taking pictures of all of our food.

See that train? That's what I SHOULD have taken to get to Vernazza. I love the pic of the three old dudes, and one of them is wearing a Cleveland Indians cap.

The trek to Vernazza was brutal for me. It was pretty rough, somewhat treacherous in spots, and LONG. Aaron and I left before the rest of group. I later found out that Doug and Denise had taken the train. Oh, if only... Did I mention that a week before we left Columbus I sprained my knee? So that obviously didn't help.

So gorgeous, but at the time I was in pain and didn't much care.

Once we made it to Vernazza, we feasted.

Just some of the food and wine and beer we had at Gianni Franzi (that's our fabulous server holding the sign). We had a couple kinds of anchovies; penne and prawns; pasta with pesto, potatoes and green beans (which we make at home regularly); mussels and stuffed mussels; baby octopus; spaghetti Bolognese; whole fish.

Most of us opted to take the train to the last village, Monterosso. Only five of the guys chose to hike it. The other two guys went off and drank beer or something; us girls did some shopping and had some wine and met people who lived in Columbus. Wild.

The bottom left pic of the four high school friends is one of my favorites. Bottom right is a convenience store at the train station (we ALL took the train from Monterosso back to Riomaggiore, where we had parked).

The whole gang, minus Aaron who took the picture.

Next up: Florence!

Confessions of a Gila Monster

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Bittersweet Weekend

Before I get into what I did over the weekend, a little history. Aaron and I got married in 1991. He had moved to Columbus from Cincinnati and was out of work for a while so he started telemarketing for the Columbus Symphony Orchestra. That's right, he was one of those guys who might have called you at dinner time asking for money. Through this job, he learned about the Columbus Symphony Chorus, a volunteer group that performed throughout the year with the orchestra. There were auditions in January of 1992; we both auditioned and both got in.

Doing the math, that's over 21 years that we've been singing in the Chorus. We've both served on the board, and I was chair of the board for a year. We got to perform at Carnegie Hall with the Orchestra and Chorus. We've met some of our best friends through Chorus, and it led us to First Community Church, where we now both sing in the choir. I can't imagine what our lives would be like today without it.

Last week I shared with you that we had a big concert over the weekend. Friday night was spectacular! We performed the world premiere Of Songs and Singing and we sang our hearts out in Brahms' Requiem. Then we had a lovely reception on the 28th and 29th floors of the Huntington building. Saturday night we had another wonderful concert, then went out for drinks with Chorus friends.

But Saturday was a little harder. Aaron and I have decided it's time for a break. We'll still be singing at church, but not with the symphony. My tears started even before Saturday's concert when I told my friend Susan that we weren't coming back. Susan and I joined the Chorus at the same time; when she was chair I was her vice-chair; we've sat next to each other for years. I was a blubbering fool during the first half of the concert. I'm not sure how I even managed to sing. I was much better for the second half until we got toward the end of the Requiem. Then the floodgates opened again. We truly believe that we'll be back, but it's super hard for me to think about. But we're looking forward to being in the audience and experiencing the symphony and chorus in a brand new way. And I'll probably cry then, too.

Also over the weekend: we had a community garden meeting and "clean up" Saturday morning, but most of us bailed because it was flipping COLD. We even saw some snowflakes. No thank you. My mom arrived and we went for dinner at Lindey's before the concert.

Sunday we had the morning off from singing at church. We slept in and went to breakfast with mom at The Angry Baker. She headed home and Aaron and I went for a long walk. It was a beautiful day, though a tad chilly. We hung out on the porch for a bit with neighbors and toasted Jennifer and Jason's 1st anniversary, then got to meet some new neighbors. And I managed to get the laundry done, which was no small feat.

Stay Tuned,

Confessions of a Gila Monster

PS - Head over to Erin's blog (Love, Fun and Football) and wish her a happy birthday and  read about some other bloggers' memorable birthday gifts, including one of mine!

Thursday, April 18, 2013

In the wake of yesterday's Senate vote...

“We won’t be able to stop every violent act, but if there is even one thing that we can do to prevent any of these events, we have a deep obligation, all of us, to try.” 
- Barack Obama

If you're against gun control, you don't need to keep reading. And let me be clear, I'm not opposed to gun ownership. But I do think we need stronger gun laws. This is my rant on my blog, and if nobody reads it, I don't care.

I don't want to hear that background checks won't do any good. I don't want to hear statistics, because unless your statistics include "100%," then there is room for good to be done. 

I don't want to hear that the Newtown families (and Tucson and Aurora...) are being used as "props" to further the President's agenda or that Obama is using them as "emotional blackmail." If emotions can't be a part of this then neither should the NRA's money or power. I promise you that the Newtown parents would much rather be at home than showing pictures of their now-deceased children to senators to try to get them to have a conscience. Actually, they probably would NOT rather be at home, since that's just a reminder that their children aren't there, and never will be again.

No single law – or even set of laws – can prevent every act of violence in our country. But the fact that this problem is complex can not be an excuse for inaction. 

"Mark my words: if we cannot make our communities safer with the Congress we have now, we will use every means available to make sure we have a different Congress, one that puts communities’ interests ahead of the gun lobby’s. To do nothing while others are in danger is not the American way."
- Gabrielle Giffords, in her op-ed column

I wish I had the answers. I wish the answers were simple. I wish there weren't evil in the world. But I know that good is stronger than evil and that love is louder than hate. And I know that I have a strong voice and it will be heard. And I know that my vote will count in 2016, Senator Portman

My friend Candy

Confessions of a Gila Monster

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Random Gwensday ... Wait, it's only Gwensday?

If you're looking for me this week, I'm either at work or here:

For those who don't know, I sing with the Columbus Symphony Chorus (Alto II). This weekend we're performing the Brahms' Requiem, along with the world premiere of Stephen Paulus' Of Songs and Singing, which the Chorus commissioned in honor of our director.

We had a rehearsal Sunday afternoon and one last night, and we rehearse again tonight and tomorrow night, with performances Friday and Saturday nights. If you live near Columbus, please come check it out!

In the meantime, enjoy these e-cards that I've seen recently that are totally ME:

After posting I realized that this one might be in the "bad timing" category. I hope you all know that I'm the furthest thing from insensitive, but I'm leaving it up.

Stay Tuned,

Confessions of a Gila Monster

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Italy - Post 2

If you missed my first Italy post, it's here, and it's fabulous so you should really check it out. Now we're on to Monday, in which much of our group did something that I can't remember, and Aaron and I and Ben and Kate went into Lucca to explore.

Ben was the best man at our wedding and because he and Aaron went to college together, I've known Ben as long as I've known Aaron. He met Kate in med school and they now live in Indianapolis with their three kids (the oldest of whom is our godson).

Ben, Kate, Aaron and me having lunch

Lucca is a walled city; you can walk on top of the walls.

Lucca was the home of composer Giacomo Puccini, and "Turandot" is Aaron's favorite Puccini opera,
so we had to have our picture in front of the Turandot Caffe!

Some street scenes in Lucca. You can barely see the sandals that I'm wearing ,
but I bought those that day (and still have them)

Meanwhile, whatever the rest of our group was doing, it involved ALL of them taking a picture of this.

...and it also involved filling wine jugs at the hardware store. Yep, you read that right.
You'll have to come back again for more on that story.

Next week: Cinque Terre!

Confessions of a Gila Monster