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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Gratitude Friday - Music

Gosh, I realize that I haven't posted a Gratitude Friday post in such a long time. It's not that I'm not grateful for's just that sometimes I just don't get the inspiration to write about anything in particular and I don't want to ramble about just anything. But today, as I was driving to work and I was listening to my iPod in the car, I realized that I am truly grateful for music. Music can move me to tears or bring a big smile to my face. I have a really good memory for music and so I remember times in my past when a particular song was playing. When I hear the song now, it will instantly bring me back to that place. For instance, when I hear "Harbor Lights" by Boz Scaggs, I am transported back to my Senior Prom so many years ago and being in heaven slow dancing with my then special guy. Or when I hear "A Bridge Over Troubled Water", I remember sitting with my cousin in Italy and feeling so special because I could sing along to an English-speaking song. All those memories come fleeting back to me whenever I hear those songs.

I like all sorts of music, except maybe classical and opera. I'm not sure why I never really gained an appreciation for these, but I just didn't. And for me, music is all about the emotion that it imparts. Classical music makes me nervous. The changes in tempo and rhythm leave me feeling on the edge and jittery. I enjoy pieces that are melodic, those that have meaningful words, and those that have a great beat. Yes, even rap and hip hop!!

I have an extensive collection of Italian music as well. I think Italian lyrics are always so romantic and beautiful. I can picture myself having someone sing those beautiful words to me!! At times, I can even daydream about it. Whenver I am on a plane, I have the iPod earphones in my ear and I will seldom be moving along to the beat in my seat! I call it "seat dancing"!!

Music is all about memories for me, as smell is for lots of people. It reminds me of places, people, events, and so many other things.

Here's a special Thank you to all the musicians for their contributions to my happiness!!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Willow Stream Spa

Now, I'm not much of a spa-goer, but when I do go, I want to be pampered!! That is exactly what I got at the Willow Stream Spa at the Fairmont hotel in Scottsdale, AZ! The facility is absolutely beautiful and peaceful. Just upon entering, you can "smell" the relaxation coming!!! Aromatherapy is definitely put into effect here, and the scents they use will immediately give you a sense of peacefulness! The spa can be "booked" for the day by paying a daily fee for use of the facilities, or is yours to experience with any spa treatment. My first day there, I decided to get a pedicure. Now...the pedicure was $90!!! Astronomical!!! But, then I realized that not only was I paying for the Fairmont name, but I was getting the use of the spa facilities for the day, so I was able to justify it a bit more. The pedicure was very nice - I sat in a massage chair while my feet soaked in a warm bath. I was given a warm neck roll to help me relax as well. The experience lasted one hour! I walked away with beautifully pampered feet just in time to show them off while I lay by the private pool. The pool is on the rooftop level - there are about 100 lounge chairs and some of them can be made private by pulling the curtain closed around the chair groups. There is also a fireplace to add a bit of ambience.

Besides the pool, there are several other very nice "activities" to enjoy. There is a warm mineral pool with a waterfall which splashes into the pool under which you can stand and get a sort of massage (if you don't mind getting your hair wet!). This is coed and is situated between the entrances to both the women and men's locker rooms.

Inside the women's locker room, there is a very hot jacuzzi tub which resembles a roman bath. There is also a cold plunge pool, which some people enjoy after soaking in hot water! There is a dry sauna, a steam room, a swiss shower, and a room temperature aromatherapy room infused with eucalyptus. This is the perfect spot to clear all the nasal passages!! The second day of my spa extravaganza included a hot stone massage! The therapist was very professional and did an excellent job. The therapy room opened up to a small courtyard which allowed for fresh air to seep into the room as well as the sound of the running water from the waterfall.

The masseuse used the hot stones to massage me, as well as her hands. She used bindi oil which smelled wonderfully. The towels were all infused with lavender to create just that much more of a relaxed experience.

The spa also offered a fitness room for a great workout and aerobics classes. They had a small snack area with teas of all kinds and orange infused water. There were muffins in the morning, and organic cookies in the afternoon. Apples were available all day! There was a beautiful teak outdoor eating area with infused sun where all the spa goers sat in their plush white robes awaiting their treatments. The locker rooms had giant shower stalls and all the amenities to primp after your treatments - hair spray, styling brushes, blow dryers, and much more.

Fairmont Hotel in Scottsdale, AZ

The Fairmont in Scottsdale, AZ is truly a remarkably beautiful hotel with all the amenities that a hotel of this caliber should offer. The service and the facilities are impeccable. The grounds are very beautiful, and they incorporate the beauty of the desert landscape with cactus gardens, earth colored buildings, and pathways covered in clay like stones.

Of course, they have added green grass and swimming pools to the mix to accomodate lounging by the pool in the warm Arizona sun.

Bougainvillea and red geraniums also brighten up the scenery by adding just the right splash of color.

At night, the atmosphere becomes romantic and dreamy with all the fires burning throughout the property. Fire and water features are found strewn throughout the hotel, from the giant fountain in the main courtyard to fire-illuminated walkways. All the bars offer fire pits for those cool desert evenings.

The rooms in Building E are suites featuring a living room and eating area, a generous sized bedroom with walk in closets, and a gorgeous bathroom with a separate shower stall, water closet, and sunken tub. They even have a wonderful espresso machine for making that perfect cup of espresso in the morning!!! The crema made by this machine is wonderful!

On the whole this hotel was scrumptious....but there were a few little things which rubbed me the wrong way. First of all was that there was nothing to eat to be found after 10 pm!!! Granted that by 10 pm, you should not be looking to eat dinner, but we found ourselves in need of finding nourishment at this late hour after having arrived from California. Therefore we were forced to order room service! And, after having seen the romantic atmosphere that was all around us at the hotel, we would have loved to have experienced it with a glass of wine and a nibble of food - instead of cooping ourselves up in our room!!

The other drawback to this hotel was the silly little charges they added to the bill - there was a luggage fee of $12 per person per day, irregardless of any luggage handling done by the staff, and a $2 per day per person maid fee! the $250 to $500 price range of the rooms at this hotel, couldn't they just throw that in? Or, if they were smart and had to add that, they should have just included it in the fee charged and not tell you that they were nickel and diming you with these extra charges!! Whenever these luxury resort start adding these extra charges, it irks me to no end because it cheapens the experience.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Ditty in Dialetto

My parents, having come from Italy right before I was born, always spoke Italian to me from the beginning. But between themselves, they often spoke the Lombardian dialect. I came to understand it completely, but never really learned to speak it. Every time I'd go to Italy, I would hear the dialect spoken and I felt like a snoop because others thought I couldn't understand it, but I comprehended everything!!! And whenever I heard it, it made me happy - it always seemed so comical. Even when the people were having a "discussion", it never seemed like they were angry or upset with each other!! This little "ditty" was one that I learned (one of the few things I can actually say in "dialetto") and it is one of my favorites!! To the foreign ear, it all sounds the same...but it really does mean something!!! Who can figure it out?

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Some Things to Do in and around Portland, OR

On a beautiful sunny day, Cathedral Park in Portland, along the banks of the Willamette River, is a perfect spot for a casual picnic. The park sits underneath the St. John’s Bridge – a green colored suspension bridge with towers that resemble Gothic cathedral spires. The bridge was begun in 1929 and dedicated in 1931. It is the only suspension bridge spanning the Willamette, and also the tallest bridge in Portland. This area is peaceful and a wonderful spot for just relaxing.

Right across the Columbia River from Portland lies the old British outpost of the Hudson Bay Company called Fort Vancouver. In 1825, the HBC (a large fur trading organization) set up headquarters here. For the next two decades, Ft. Vancouver became the fur trade capital of the Pacific coast. Many people of all nationalities worked and traded here.

In the 1830’s and 1840’s, American settlers came to the Willamette Valley to farm and live. The HBC made supplies and credit available to these new settlers. This influx of Americans resulted in a division of the Oregon Country and left Ft. Vancouver on American soil. For a few years the HBC continued to trade with the settlers and Indians, but trade diminished and the company abandoned the fort. By 1866, the Fort was abandoned because of fire and decay destroying all the structures.

In 1947, archeologists began excavation on the site of the original fort recovering many artifacts and allowing for reconstruction of the original structures. Touring this wonderful place harkens the visitor back to life in the Old West. Many docents, dressed in period costume, work the facility in the blacksmith shop, the bakery, the kitchen, the general store, and the fur trading outpost.

Seeing the fur pelts hanging from the walls and on the floor is very interesting, even though a bit sad because of all the animal slaughter that went into this trading business. But this is how life was like in this part of the country in those days, and the authenticity is amazing.

The visitor can experience life as it truly was in the 1800’s.

The Best Pizza I Have Tasted So Far

Ken's Artisan Pizza in Portland, OR, is truly one of the best pizzas I have ever eaten, and being Italian, I am pretty particular when it comes to pizza. This wood-fired pizza delivers that crunchy, slightly burnt, and never soggy thin crust that, for me, is the epitome of a great pizza. And then, when it is topped with fresh and savory ingredients, DELIZIOSO!!

The restaurant is located in Portland’s quaint South East neighborhood. It is a fairly small place which, unfortunately, doesn’t allow for lots of seating. Therefore, there is ALWAYS a long wait – sometimes upwards of one to two hours. They do not take any reservations, but they do allow you to have a glass of wine from the bar while waiting to be seated. The ambience is simple – lots of wood!! Supposedly the wood was salvaged from the Giant Dipper roller coaster in Jantzen Beach!! Nice to know that the vintage roller coaster lives on!! The giant wood oven in the center of the restaurant is fascinating to watch as the pizza artists put their creations into the burning inferno just to have it reappear as a super-culinary delight.

This restaurant did not disappoint in any way – even the long wait was well worth it!!!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Nines Hotel in Downtown Portland

This Luxury collection hotel is located across the street from Pioneer Square in Downtown Portland. The Nines is located on the upper 9 floors of the historic Meier and Frank building (therefore the origin of the hotel’s name!). The lower floors are occupied by Macy’s.

The hotel boasts a very chic interior consisting of gray, aqua, black and taupe color schemes with crystal chandeliers and marble bathrooms. The décor is a beautiful mix of modern and classic design elements. Even though the rooms are a bit on the small side, all the amenities are included. Charging stations and Ipod plug ins for listening to all your Itunes favorites are found in the room as well as free wi-fi. When the turn down service occurs in the evenings, you return to soft music playing in the background and some pseudo chocolate brownies. The brownies aren’t great – they taste too healthy to be good but the thought is appreciated!! The beds are absolutely wonderful – plush duvets and soft, but not mushy, pillows – which make for a very restful sleep. The rooms on the top floor, facing the street, are extremely quiet.

The hotel proudly displays a contemporary art collection from local artists, and the art is not only found in the public spaces but in the guest rooms as well.

There are two dining establishments: The Urban Farmer is located in the downstairs lobby (which is on the 8th floor) and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It looks to be a typical hotel restaurant, and not too exciting.

But, on the 15th and top floor, is the very chic Departures bar and restaurant. The atmosphere up there at night is electric. It is dark, but the twinkling lights of the city below create an exceptional aura. There is a lot of life up there. The clientele tend to be on the younger side, but not to say that an older person would feel out of place. Even though it was very lively and crowded, it was also very romantic. The cuisine is Asian-flaired with a modern twist.

The Nine’s location is very convenient for walking the Downtown area and for hopping on Portland’s extensive public transportation system. Many stylish shops and boutiques, as well as exceptional restaurants, are all within easy access to the hotel’s location. All in all, for a Downtown experience, the Nines is a wonderful and luxurious escape.

Monday, February 15, 2010

An Italian Recitation

Well, today I finally got the courage (after a bit of practice) to post my recitation of a very famous Italian poem by Giacomo Leopardi. I have tried to enunciate as well as I possibly can, but I'm sure my pronunciation leaves a lot to be desired :( I don't think I could ever lose the American accent that permeates my Italian to the core. This video also highlights some of the beautiful Italian countryside of which this poem speaks of.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Vampire of Venice?

Today on the news, I saw this interesting little clip about the so-called vampires of 16th century Europe. What could they be? And my question remains why all these weird and evil creatures survived then but have since disappeared from the world? Or are we just calling them something else? Hmmm...

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Gratitude Friday - Time

Time is a blessing, and when you can find that you have some free time, it needs to be treasured. Our lives have become so frantic that we tend to use every spare moment to get another errand done. You'd think that with all the modern conveniences we have now over what our parents and grandparents had, we'd have more free time to spend enjoying life a bit. But instead, we add more and more to our plate!!! So I have decided that I am going to sit back and take things a bit slower. I am going to learn to say "no" to those things which I don't feel to be important. I used to feel guilty when someone asked me to do something - but now I've decided that I will do something because I enjoy doing it, not out of a sense of duty. It took me about 30 years to figure out how to say NO, but it is getting easier. Life is just too short - you can't fill it up with things that are not enjoyable. And when was the last time you lay down on the grass and watched the clouds stream overhead? I know it's been years for me....once the weather gets warm again, I promise to myself that I will do it!!!

Sunday, January 31, 2010

And the Tile Project Continues....

This weekend I had the opportunity to glaze my tiles. I still have some side panels to do, but these will be the center tiles. Now on to the firing process!!!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Gratitude Friday - Creativity

Thank God for the gift of Creativity!!! Without it, I couldn't be happy. It doesn't happen all the time this creative burst of energy, but when it does, it creates a calm in me that cannot be described. I have always had this side of me, and I have done many creative things in my life - from sewing, to embroidering, stencilling, home decorating, photography, and tile designing!! And I definitely know which things I can do well, and which I have absolutely no talent for (like drawing and flower arranging!!!) I go in spurts with these activities and many I don't enjoy doing anymore (like sewing and embroidering)...but the important thing for me is having an outlet to create SOMETHING! These times allow me to relax and to escape into my own little world for awhile. There's nothing wrong with my real world, but I find out that when I allow myself these times to create, I am calmer and more focused on everything. And I am blessed that my family understands this about me and they give me the time and encouragement to do MY thing!

Right now, I am in the tile decorating mode! I am designing tiles for three end tables, and I am having a ball! I only wish that I had more time to dedicate to it because I have the desire to work on it all the time. In fact, I would be working on it right now if I had more than 15 minutes of free time :(

This is the point I am at right now: I have designed my tiles and have outlined them with black wax resist. The next step will be to fill in the glazes. Once that is done, the tiles will be fired in the kiln with the result (hopefully) being brightly color glazed tiles which will be set onto the table.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Diet Update

Well, it's been a full week on the 2-week boot camp jump start version of the Mediterranean diet - and I have lost an amazing 9.5 pounds!!! I know that most of it is water loss, but I can already feel myself being smaller. The diet has given me some excellent recipes! The flavors are all so well blended and the dishes are filled with lots of good tastes. I would love to be able to enjoy a glass of wine with each dinner, but for these first 2 weeks, that is restricted. That's OK - I can live without wine for a little while. The cravings for capuccino's and other sweets has gone completely away. I think that was the purpose of this 2 week severe restriction on certain things. Next week we will begin the maintenance phase where we can slowly incorporate back into our diet certain things like dairy, wine, and fruit. Even though I have LOTS more weight to lose, I am going to go on the maintenance plan for a few weeks and see what happens on that. If I continue losing weight, I may just stay on that. But if the weight doesn't seem to decrease, I will do another 2 weeks on boot camp. By alternating the different phases of the diet, I hope to continue losing weight without feeling deprived. I realize it's going to take a lot of time to lose the weight that I slowly accumulated over the years, but I am confident that I can do it. And with such wonderful recipes, how can I go wrong?

Here is one of my favorite recipes:

Broiled Chicken

1 t. salt
1 t. pepper
1 T. chopped parsley
1 T. chopped herbs like sage, oregano, or thyme
1/4 c. olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon 1 T. red wine vinegar

Combine all ingredients in a bowl. Add 2 chicken legs and thighs and coat the chicken with the marinade. Marinate in the refrigerator for 2 hours.

Preheat the broiler.

Remove the chicken from the marinade and place it on a broiler pan. Broil it for 30 minutes. Turn it over and broil for an additional 20 minutes.

Remove the skin and squeeze another 1/2 lemon onto it before serving.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

New Year's Resolutions

Every year, I always have a New Year's Resolution which I vow to keep. But, alas, they don't usually last for more than a week :( But this year, I am determined to stick to it. Beginning Tuesday, I am starting on the Mediterranean Prescription Diet by Dr. Acquista and planning on going to the gym 3 times per week as well as doing other physical activity on my off days. Since I turned 50 this year, I have noticed that my body is not as agile as it once was. Of course this lack of agility has crept up slowly, but I can feel myself not jumping up as quickly as I used to and being a bit slower to get moving. The lack of exercise and the increased weight surely has contributed to this...and I DON'T LIKE IT one bit!!! So, I have made a promise to myself that things are going to change!! I bought Dr. Acquista's book and began reading all about his "prescription" for losing weight. Since Mediterranean cuisine is pleasing to my palate (and it very well should be since I grew up with these flavors all my life), I thought it might be a good way to try to lose some weight. He begins with a 2 week "tough love" boot camp where you pretty much just eat fish, lean chicken, and LOTS of vegetables. No wine, pasta, bread (except for one slice of whole grain bread at breakfast), juice or fruit is allowed...My husband is going to join me in this effort which will make cooking a lot easier. My plan is to make a double dose for dinner so that we can eat the left overs for lunch the next day. I have already set out my meal plans for the whole week and did my shopping for it, too. I am actually looking forward to experimenting with all these new recipes!!! And I hope to also lose lots of weight. I will try to keep my progress posted here and let you know about the trials and tribulations which I'm sure to face!!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Murder Mystery Party celebrating 2010!!

Last night, we decided to host a Murder Mystery dinner party to help us usher in the New Year. It was a huge success and loads of fun to play! We all dressed the part and acted silly trying to portray our character!! That was really the best part of playing the game. The accusations were flying around the room and our creative juices were flowing!! The setting for the story was during the Nazi occupation of Paris in 1940. All 8 guests were invited to board a train leaving Paris for Southern France. But sometime during the train ride, a murder occurred, and we were all suspects!!! Our job was to figure out who did it! Through a series of clues revealed periodically during the evening, we threw accusations at each other trying to be the super sleuth to solve the mystery.

Could it be Belinda, couturière extraordinaire?

Or The Duke (the swashbuckler)?

Of course, it could also be Wey, an RAF officer shot down during a mission over France because he mistook a cow pasture for a military runway...

Or Barbra, the heiress to a perfume empire...

But then again, Mary (quite contrary), the prize winning reporter, may have had a reason...

As well as Mal, whose ubiquitous profession as an "importer/exporter" raised lots of eyebrows....

And Princess Idelle's idle chatter led to lots of speculation...

While Khover's business dealings between Paris and Berlin were always a mystery.

All the characters had a motive for committing the murder, but only one DID it....

Sadly, none of us figured it out, but that didn't really matter as the process was more fun than the solution!!

Gratitude Friday - Happy New Year

Today, being the first day of a new year and a new decade, brings with it lots of hope for a bright future for all!! I wish for all my readers, family and friends, a year filled with joy, happiness, and health :) I am always grateful for the sincerity and kindness of others, and strive to give that of myself as well! Happy 2010!!

And this message from George wishing all the marvelous women in this world a Happy New Year will always put a smile on my face!!