Monday, December 31, 2012

The Best of 2012

What a full year 2012 has been! I cannot believe how many amazing things I have done and been a part of!! Here’s a quick review of some of them:

If this year was not so wonderful for you, keep your chin up. I can attest to the fact that things turn around, and even this year was not without difficult struggles for me.

You can try to blame hard times on one thing or another, but really, life always cycles up and down, regardless of a person’s status or religion. All any of us can do is become stronger with each struggle and make the most of each moment of joy in our lives.

Have a fun, safe New Year’s Eve, and may 2013 bring us all more knowledge, personal growth, and memorable adventures.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Quick Update

Just in case you were wondering, yes, I did update the design of the blog. You're not going crazy. :) I'm playing with a couple ideas, so don't be surprised if you see a few other changes here and there. Thanks, and let me know if you like the new design! Erin

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Oh Christmas Tree!

December brings with it my favorite holiday of the year, Christmas! I enjoy other holidays, such as Halloween and Thanksgiving, but Christmas is the holiday I remember most from my childhood. The lights outside houses and the holly draping inside them – it is always so festive and welcoming. I also loved decorating gingerbread houses with my cousins, singing Christmas carols with my friends, and watching Christmas movies with my mom.

In all the crazy, joyous events surrounding Christmas, my all-time favorite event is decorating the Christmas tree. While my mom and I would decorate the rest of the house ourselves, the Christmas tree was the one decoration that my whole family would do together. My dad would set up the tree and put on the lights, and my mom would open up the Christmas boxes and pass ornaments to my brother and I to hang on the tree.

We all had our favorite Christmas ornaments. My dad liked the crystal ornaments (except for this one crystal ballerina with fat legs. LOL); my mom liked the handmade ornaments from nuts and yarn; my brother liked the train ornaments and usually took them off the tree to play; and I liked a dog ornament that was made out of tiny little pine cones.

Many of our ornaments had stories behind them, such as who made it and what event it was created for. My brother and I had our first baby ornaments, and there were the ornaments that grandma had made, including the decorated nuts and pine cone dog. There were also countless ornaments that my brother and I had made in school or church over the years. Even the ornaments with next to no story were always greeted as friends when they were unwrapped from their protective tissues.

First Christmas ornament I ever made

Though I live on my own now, I still treat my Christmas tree the same way I did when I was little. The first thing I do is pick out a nice live tree. Fake trees work just fine if you have enough room for a second tree in a house, but the family tree, that protects the presents until Christmas morning, MUST be a live tree in my house.

The process of decorating the tree is sacred, and being the strange person that I am, I do it the same way every year. After the tree is in its stand, I put on the lights. First twining them against the trunk of the tree; then, circling them out on the edge of the branches. Next, I wrap a pretty ribbon, usually red or gold, around the tree. The ornaments follow shortly after. All the fun, unique ornaments go on first, making sure our favorite ornaments get the best locations. The colorful bulbs go on next to fill in any empty wholes. A few small red bows usually get scatter around, and finally, I hang a box or two of classic candy canes all over.

The result is always wonderful, and I love staring at the tree for the rest of the holiday season. Here’s a picture of this year’s Christmas tree!

In addition to a few of my favorite old ornaments, Dan and I’s tree is decorated with some of his favorites and a new one that we picked up the night he proposed. :)

Dan's favorite ornament

Ornament from where Dan proposed to me

As Christmas and the other holidays celebrated in December draw closer, I wish you all at least a few moments peace in all the craziness. Remember that the holidays are supposed to be about giving and spreading joy to others, which does not have to come in the form of a present.

Merry Christmas! Happy Holidays! And a wonderful New Year to all!

Robots on a Christmas treee? I wonder where that came from!

Friday, December 14, 2012

Handcrafted by At The Lamppost

While researching wedding decorations, I have come across TONS of great ideas using wine bottles and corks. Everything from candle holders to chandeliers can be made from wine bottles, and wine corks can be used for wreaths, place card holders, and more. One of my favorite ideas so far is cork keychains. What better way to remember your favorite bottle of wine than to have a keychain that you can carry around with you!

On a recent VA wine tour, Dan and I stopped at Aspen Dale Winery, one of my favorite wineries. It did not take us long to start up a conversation with the proprietors, Larry and Kelly, who were eager to help us add Aspen Dale to the VA Wine geocache trail. After we hid the new geocache, Kelly and I started talking about weddings, and I mentioned some of the ideas I had for incorporating wine bottles and corks into our wedding.

When I mentioned cork keychains, Kelly got really excited, saying that things like that would sell very well at the winery. I completely agreed, and next thing I knew, we were talking logistics on how Dan and I could make cork keychains to sell at Aspen Dale. :)

The display board and cork keychains for Aspen Dale

Over the course of the next couple weeks, Kelly and I figured out what the keychains would look like, what kind of tag they should have, and how we could best display them to customers. It was a blast!! Here are some of the things we though made cork keychains a great purchase:

  • They make excellent stocking stuffers for Christmas!
  • It’s a great way to remember your visit to Aspen Dale
  • Pick a cork from your favorite bottle of wine
  • Cork keychains are great for boat keys because they float
  • And they just look downright cool! ;)

Last Sunday, Dan and I made our first delivery of cork keychains to Aspen Dale. It was so exciting to see the display board that Dan made hanging in the tasting room! The cork keychains looked fantastic, and everyone was happy with the entire presentation.

So, when you stop by Aspen Dale Winery for some wine and geocaching, be sure to check out the cork keychains (made by yours truly) hanging by the checkout counter!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


It’s the last sequence day of the century!! Those of us alive today will probably never see another one like it! I hope you all have something fun planned to celebrate and make it memorable. There are rumors of lots of different parties and events to commemorate the day, including a concert benefit for a Hurricane Sandy relief fund.

For myself, I am planning a quick geocaching lunch near my work. I hope to find at least one of the four caches that are close to my building. Maybe I’ll pick up a cool geocaching badge for my account. :)

Update (2pm):
I found two geocaches during lunch. It took me a little longer than I was expecting, because I am a little rusty at finding them. Guess I've been spending too much time hiding the VA Wine Trail caches. LOL However, I was awarded a cool, new souvenir!

My shiny, new souvenir

Update 2 (later that day):
My fiance and I got to do even more geocaching after work. Through some friends, we learned of a geocaching event happening near our home; so naturally, we joined in. We followed the coordinates of the event and found an entire restaurant filled with geocachers! It was great fun swapping stories/TBs/swag with our fellow geocachers.

Dan and I got to meet the leaders of the NoVaGO group (a group of cachers in the NoVa area), and we even got to make an announcement about the VA Wine Trail of geocaches. Judging from the number of people who came up and asked us questions afterwards, there will be a lot more people hunting the VA Wine Trail soon. :)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

How To Make Tails Wag

Abigail - a precious beagle mix looking for a home

I absolutely love animals. When I was little, I wanted to be either a vet or a zoologist. I never became either, but that has not stopped me from greeting every animal that I come across. :) As any pet owner can tell you, a pet brings an incredible amount of joy to the lives of their owners, not to mention the friends and family of their owners. It is because of this that I chose to start helping more homeless pets.

When most people think about helping animals, they think about adopting animals from a shelter. While this is definitely an important undertaking, not everyone is able to adopt an animal. Perhaps they cannot afford one, or perhaps, like me, they already have as many animals as they can support. No matter what the reason, I have learned that there are many other ways to help homeless animals.

Griffin - a lovable young fellow who just found a home

Shelters are always looking for donations. Some only accept money donations, but others accept old toys, bowls, towels, and so forth.

Shelters need all kinds of different volunteers. Some have a higher commitment of time, and others have a come-when-able commitment. Volunteer positions also range from keeping up grounds to working with the animals – find what fits you!

Most people do not realize how big an impact education makes for homeless pets. Education can cover everything from presenting information about spaying/neutering to teaching your children how to greet and handle different animals.

Cha Cha – an energetic munchkin who needs a home to play in

For myself, I started volunteering as a dog walker at Friends of Homeless Animals (FOHA) on Saturdays and/or Sundays. With my sporadic schedule, walking dogs gives me the freedom to volunteer without having to commit to a specific timetable, and I ABSOLUTELY LOVE it!

In addition to walking the dogs, I try to take pictures of each puppy I interact with and post it up on Twitter. I have no idea if this matches a dog with a potential owner, but it certainly helps spread the word that there are wonderful dogs out there looking for a good home. :)

Malcolm - a sweet Rhodesian mix who's found a home

So as we celebrate all the different holidays this month, remember all the pets who are looking for a home where they can bring more joy to the world!

Eden - a little gentleman looking for a place to play

Shalimar - a cuddly lady looking for a permanent friend to cuddle with

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Two More Geocaches for the VA Wine Trail

Hi everyone! I trust you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday.

Some of you have already discovered this, but there are two new geocaches on the VA Wine Trail! These went live just before Thanksgiving, and they have already had three separate finds. I guess my fellow geocachers love these vineyards as much as Dan and I do. :)

VA Wine Trail – The Equestrian Oenophile
This geocache is hidden at Aspen Dale Winery at the Barn, one of the first Virginia wineries I ever visited.

On our most recent visit, we were able to talk to Kelly and Larry who manage the winery. To our delight, they were both fellow geocachers and have found caches all over the world! They walked us around the property and helped us pick out the perfect location for the cache. You can find the coordinates and hint on the geocache page.

btw... if you are wondering what Oenophile means, it means: a lover or connoisseur of wines.

In addition to a geocache, there are many characteristics that make Aspen Dale a wonderful winery to visit. Their food and wine pairing is delicious and gives you a great glimpse into the endless possibilities that wine and food can offer.

The setting of the winery is also breath-taking, whether you are sitting inside or outside. The tasting room barn is spacious and comfortably snug at the same time, and if it is free, I recommend a spot next to their fireplace.

VA Wine Trail – One for the Dogs
The next geocache is located just ten minutes from The Equestrian Oenophile, so you can easily grab both in a day. This cache is hidden at Barrel Oak Winery, or BOW for short.

I have written about BOW on multiple occasions and count it among my favorite wineries. Some of the many characteristics of this location are: its dedication to dogs and animals, the family-friendly atmosphere, and amazing view – and that is not including all the wine, which is delicious. :)

To organize this cache, Dan and I had some help from our friend and fellow VA Wine Mafia member Kathy (@Virginia_Made on Twitter), who works in the tasting room. While we tasted some of the latest wines, Kathy got permission from the manager for us to hide the cache. It was pretty easy to find a location, and you can find the coordinates on the geocache page. It’s hidden in a picture perfect spot of the tasting room and surrounding mountains!

We hope everyone has fun finding the latest geocaches in the VA Wine Trail!!

Friday, November 9, 2012

Narmada Winery

Having explored many of the Loudoun and Fauquier County wineries, Dan and I have decided to start expanding our explorations toward Rappahannock County. Our decision came at a great time, because others in the VA Wine Mafia group were planning a trip that coincided perfectly with our open weekend.

During our wine excursion into Rappahannock County, we stopped at Narmada Winery in Amissville. Narmada was very easy to find, with its flag waving right on the edge of route 211. Stretches of Virginia rolling hills and a fantastic view of the nearby mountains made the grounds of the winery truly breath-taking.

As we made our way into the tasting room, our wine tour guide, Kurt (who’s also part of the wine mafia group), introduced us to MaryAnn, the general manager. She was very gracious and told us about the three different tasting options that they had available. Yes, you did not read that wrong, they have THREE different wine tastings!

MaryAnn explained that they offer 16 different wines at Narmada! In order to make sure visitors are overwhelmed by such a large tasting, they have broken the wines into three different flights: Fruity-Fresh-Fun, Proprietors’ Reserves and Classics, and Decadent and Delicious. Dan decided to try the Proprietors’ Reserves and Classics flight, and I decided to try the Decadent and Delicious flight.

The flights were both unique and delicious, and our pourer did a wonderful job in describing each wine. Dan’s favorites were the Chardonnay Reserve and the 2009 Yash-Vir. From the Decadent and Delicious flight, I really enjoyed the 2010 Mom, the 2010 Dream, and the 2010 Primita.

Looking at the grounds

Now, in addition to great wine and beautiful landscapes, Narmada offers something that I have not found at any other winery – authentic Indian cuisine. Mmmm… My mouth is watering just thinking about it again. While sipping on our glasses of wine, we got to enjoy samosas, buttered chicken, and pita with hummus. It was divine!

Dan and I knew we had to add this winery to the VA Wine geocaching trail, so as we were checking out, we explained what geocaching was to MaryAnn. She thought it was a great idea and gave us permission to hide the cache that day. :) So, without further to do, here is the latest geocache in the VA wine geocaching trail: VA Wine Trail – Pairing India and Virginia!

Have fun finding the geocache and tasting the wine!

View from the Tasting Room

Flint Hill Public House

This weekend Dan and I went on a wine tour with friends from our VA Wine Mafia group. Since we were running a little late, we caught up with them for lunch at the Flint Hill Public House. If you are ever out in the Flint Hill/Washington/Sperryville area, this is a great place to have lunch!

Before we could even get up to the entrance, Dan and I were snapping pictures of us out on the grounds.

The restaurant had a nice clean, classic décor. I especially liked the chairs and booths, which were very comfortable and covered in a white, soft leather-like material.

Since we were on a wine tour, Dan and I started with the wine list, which contained dozens of local Virginia wines. Dan chose a Fox Meadow red, and I chose a Gadino Cellars rose. The food menu was equally enticing with a mixture of salads, sandwiches, and entrees. Because so many items sounded delicious, most of our party decided to try lunch combinations. The food did not disappoint, and we were quite full by the time our plates were emptied.

When the waitress came with the dessert menus, we changed our statements of “I’m too full” to “That looks too good not to try”. :) Dan and I shared the pumpkin crème brulee, which was delightfully creamy and delicious. Mmm…

We were a happy, full group as we left the Flint Hill Public House. I can say for a surety that Dan and I will be returning to the restaurant on our next journey to the area.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Coffee Beer and Hard Cider Cupcakes!

I began experimenting with cupcakes earlier this year, and I have been getting very enthusiastic responses from friends and family who have tried them. Because of this, I have decided to share my little secret with everyone! Some people might keep their secrets to themselves. However, I would rather share it with the world, so everyone can enjoy something delicious. :)

My secret ingredient is not a special homemade cake/cupcake mix. Seriously, I usually pick out a Pillsbury mix. It is not from-scratch frosting – though I have considered experimenting with this as well. My secret ingredient is alcohol!

Really, it is. Instead of putting the required amount of water into the cake mix, I substitute the water for some kind of beer or hard cider.

Now, an important thing to note about doing this is that not just any kind of beer or hard cider will work. Sometimes you have to experiment with a couple different kinds until you find one that turns that regular old cake mix into something extraordinary.

Winning Matches of Cake Mix/Beer:
Coffee-flavored beers (not just stouts. They HAVE to have a strong coffee flavor) work very well in Pillsbury Devil’s Food cake mix. With this mixture, I usually pair it with a white buttercream frosting.

Hard Cider works very well with Pillsbury Classic White cake mix. The flavor is very slight, so I have learned that adding about a tablespoon or so of cinnamon to the mixture enhances the flavor of the cupcake.

One of the hard ciders I have used

Why Beer or Hard Cider Make Such a Difference:
As much as I love nerdy things, I am not a scientist, so I cannot specifically say what causes the beer or hard cider to make the cupcake mix so much better. From an everyday person’s perspective, however, I have observed the following:

  • That the carbonation makes the cupcakes much lighter, while still retaining moisture
  • That the flavor (if it is a good match) hides the over-sweetness that many cake mixes have
  • That the not-so-sweet flavor pairs nicely with the frosting, creating a treat that is not as sickly sweet.
So, there you have it – the secret to my success with cupcake making.

The only other thing that might help you make the cupcakes even better is getting a little creative with the decoration of the cupcake. For instance, look at the liners you are using for the cupcakes. Are they boring and drab, or are they bright and fun?

Also, don’t just slap the frosting on top! Smooth it on. Decorate it with sprinkles at least. If you are a little more creative, try making animal faces on them. Owl and Cat faces are soooo easy to make, and they look awesome!

Most importantly, have fun! If you mess up, don’t stress. Pillsbury cake mix is cheap, so you won’t break the bank by trying again or experimenting with new beers or ciders.

Happy Cupcake Baking!!

Monday, November 5, 2012

Casanel Vineyards

Situated just outside Leesburg, Virginia, Casanel Vineyards is easy to reach, yet far enough from the highways to be quiet and peaceful. Dan and I learned about this winery from our friends and fellow wine bloggers, Fred and Allison, who invited us out to visit one weekend. (You can view Fred's wine reviews at This Is Wine.)

Walking up to the tasting room, I instantly fell in love with the beautiful, stone building. Originally used as a barn, the owners transformed the rustic 1800s structure into a very cozy tasting room, complete with scattered high-top metal tables and chairs.

At one such table, Dan, myself, and my dad (who’d been able to join us) sat down and Fred gave us a tasting of the Casanel wines. They had a nice mix of reds, whites, and a rose. Some of our favorites were the Viognier, the Batucada Merlot, and Dulce. Fred did a fantastic job with the tasting, and we had a lot of fun asking questions and bantering. Fred also introduced us to the owner, Nelson, who was very sweet and told us lots of great stories about Brazil and Portugal.

With glasses of wine in hand, we made our way outside to the covered patio and ordered some gourmet pizzas from a chef who was working at the vineyard for the day. The winery has lots of great outdoor seating if the tasting room starts to get crowded. The owners are also working on an additional tasting room that will provide even more room for guests.

As the winery received more and more customers, Fred went back to help with wine tastings, and we wandered the grounds with Allison.

Pictures from the grounds:

Cute Statues

Gazebo by the Lake

Dan and I Enjoying the Day

Our visit to Casanel was fun and relaxing. We took an extra bottle of Merlot home to share on another night, and we are looking forward to hiding a geocache on our next visit. :)

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Marathon of the Mind and Fingers

I’ve done it! I have signed up for my very first NaNoWriMo!! Woot!!

What is a NaNoWriMo?
In short, NaNoWriMo is a marathon of a writers mind and fingers. For the month of November, writers from all over the world sign their souls over for a month of literary writing. The goal of each writer is to complete 50,000 words of a novel. The authors can choose whether the novel is finished or if they will add more to the story at the end of the month. They do not have to worry about editing, rewriting, or any such polishing of the novel. The point is quantity. Reach the 50,000 word mark, and you will have accomplished your goal. You can find out more on the main website or on the wiki page.

Now that you know what NaNoWriMo is, you are probably wondering if I will be able to pull off this ambitious undertaking. To be quite honest, I am not sure I will be able to myself. However, I am ready to at least put forth a very gallant effort to accomplish this momentous word marker.

Even as I type, my mind is whirring with excitement, and I can feel my imagination gearing up in anticipation of plaiting a new story from the depths of my mind.

I am sure that in a few days I will be crying in frustration, swearing at my keyboard, or berating my exhausted, yet inadequate, creativity. It is that upcoming day during which you can encourage me to continue, yell at me for even thinking of giving up, laugh at my ridiculous undertaking, or whatever combination that might suite you.

I shall leave you at this point and foray into the writing world.

Happy Writing!

A Month of Silence

Don’t worry, I’m still alive! October has been an insane month for me, and previous commitments have kept me from having time to post on my blog. The good news is that things are finally returning to a state of normalcy, and I can begin to post again!

Here are some posts you can expect to see soon!

  • Exciting things that happened in October
  • Delicious food discoveries
  • Winery visits
  • Wedding planning craziness

Thanks for continuing to follow my blog! I’m looking forward to sharing all the excitement of the upcoming holidays with you!

~ Erin

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Happy 5th Birthday Vander!

Today I wanted to take a few moments to wish my sweet, wonderful dog a Happy Birthday. :)

To celebrate what a loving, adorable companion he is, here are some of the things I love best about him:
  • He is always happy to see me walk through the door, even if I have only stepped out to grab the mail.

  • He is the first to sense something is wrong and try to cheer me up.

  • He is extremely playful and always does something to make me laugh. (Video )

  • He has seen me on my best and worst days and still loves me.

  • He cuddles with me on our sleep-in days.

  • He likes to stay close to me so much that he’s always underfoot or following me into the bathroom. LOL

  • He loves to play fetch. (Video)

  • He has SO much fun swimming.(Video)

Like many dog owners, I could go on and on about what makes my dog so special to me. For now, I will summarize and say that he has been my best and truest companion for the past five years. I have seen people come and go in my life during that time, but he has always been beside me, for which I am truly greatful.

Love you Vander!!! :)