Thursday, August 23, 2012

VA Wine Trail – Where Pears Grow in Wine Bottles

Before Dan and I left for our vacation in St. Maarten, we had a day of errands. However, this was not a boring day of errands; this was a fun one! We did some typical things, like stopping at the bank, but we also picked up my resized engagement ring, ate food from a fantastic Jamaican restaurant in Leesburg, and hid the next VA Wine Trail Geocache at Fabbioli Cellars.

Dan and I have visited Fabbioli Cellars before (read about our previous visit), and we have also been able to enjoy their wine at some local restaurants in Leesburg (Fireworks). Our most recent visit to the winery was just as enjoyable as before.

Before arriving at Fabbioli Cellars, we picked up food from Blue Mountain CafĂ©, a fantastic Jamaican/Caribbean restaurant located on South King Street in Leesburg. If you have not visited this restaurant yet, you have to check it out! We heard their Ox tail was amazing, but since they did not have any ready when we picked up out take out, we enjoyed some of their delicious jerk chicken instead. Mmm… While eating this yummy food, we split a bottle of our favorite Fabbioli wine, Raspberry Merlot. Delicious!

After finishing our lunch, we walked around the grounds and located the great spot to hide our new VA Wine Trail geocache. :) You can find coordinates and hints on the cache page. If you would like to learn about geocaching, check out my previous post. There are now six VA Wine Trail geocaches, and you can find them by searching for “VA Wine Trail” on or by selecting the links from the Winery sidebar on my blog.

With our geocaching complete, we wandered back to the tasting room for dessert – a wine tasting that included chocolate pairings. The coolest thing about the chocolate pairings, apart from them being delicious, was that all the chocolates came from a local boutique. One of the chocolates was even made with some of the wine from Fabbioli!

A unique thing about Fabbioli is that they have two different kinds of tastings. One is savory (food), and one is sweet (chocolate). Dan and I’s favorite tasting is the savory, because we both prefer savory food over sweets. However, both are delicious, and you will be missing out if you do not try them both. LOL

On our way out, we picked up bottles of Paco Rojo and Raspberry Merlot to bring home, our two favorite reds. We enjoyed our visit to Fabbioli Cellars, and we hope you get a chance to stop by soon to see the winery and find the newest geocache!

Friday, August 10, 2012

Passion Blue by Victoria Strauss

Something I love about writing a blog and being involved in social media is that you are able to communicate with people who would be otherwise unreachable. This capability has made itself most evident by my opportunities to connect with some of my favorite authors, as well as discovering some new authors.

One author whom I have met through social media is Victoria Strauss, an accomplished writer of both adult and young adult books. I came across her twitter feed when another author re-tweeted one of Victoria’s posts. As fate would have it, we messaged back and forth a little, and she accepted my offer to review her book Passion Blue.

Passion Blue is set in Renaissance Italy and tells the story of Guilia, a precocious young woman who sketches constantly and dreams of having a family. Growing up as the illegitimate daughter of a wealthy nobleman, Guilia received the distant care of her father and the scorn of the rest of the household. When her father dies unexpectedly, the lingering security he provided quickly falls apart, and his widow forces her to join a convent. Desperate to escape, Guilia seeks out a sorcerer with the power to create a talisman that fulfills desires. The talisman seems to work as she begins life at the convent, but Guilia must discover if it is directing her toward marriage or something completely different.

Thoughts on Passion Blue:
I was in the perfect mood when I picked up Passion Blue from the top of my to-read stack. I had just finished a very lengthy book and was ready for a story that did not have to force an extreme level of epic to be an accomplished, complete book. Passion Blue was a wonderful, relaxing read that ended with a flourish and left me with a positive thought.

Within the first paragraph, Victoria Strauss’s depiction of Italy, painting, and color drew me into the story. I love how she described the sensation of Guilia becoming thoroughly absorbed in her drawings. It was so accurate that I started having flashbacks to times when I have become enthralled with my own projects.

My favorite character was Maestra Humilita, who oversaw the painting workshop. While Guilia is an accurate character for a teenage heroine, I found that I was able to relate more to the Maestra, who had already discovered herself but still struggled against the limitations of a biased world.

The overall message of the book, that no one should settle for a life that does not match their true passion and talent, was fantastic. In my opinion, this is an idea that can never be over taught, especially when there are still so many women (even in modern places of the world) who have been raised to believe that a successful life is only accomplished when you meet someone else’s ideal.

To summarize my thoughts, I found Passion Blue to be a delightful, fun read. It is the perfect book to bring on vacation or to curl up with on a rainy weekend. I would recommend this book for pre-teen or young adult readers, as well as for those who enjoy historical fiction or works involving drawing and painting.

A special thanks to Victoria Strauss for responding to my message and giving me the chance to read and review her book!!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

I'm the King of New York!

I was in elementary school when I first saw the Disney movie Newsies. It was both love at first sight and eternal love. LOL The music, the dancing, the cute boys with sling shots and newsboy caps – I was hopelessly infatuated, like many girls my age. If you can even partially grasp my love for this movie, you will have a small inkling of how excited I was when I learned that Newsies was going to Broadway!

Sadly, I must confess, that before this recent trip to New York City, I had never been to a real Broadway play. I have been to college plays and small theaters in DC, but never an all-out production like you find on Broadway. Are you beginning to see why I was so desperately wanted to see Newsies?

While looking for vacation packages on TravelZoo, I happened to see a small line of text with the word “Newsies” on it. After following the link, I found myself looking at the most beautiful web page ever. One that said I could get fantastic seats to Newsies on Broadway for a very reasonable price!

The moment I got home from work that day, I brought my laptop, with the page already open, to Dan and declared that I wanted nothing more in the world than to see Newsies for my birthday. :) Dan (being the wonderful fiancé that he is) agreed that it was a great idea and purchased tickets for us. Huzzah!!

Me ready for the show to start!

It was with great enthusiasm and anticipation that I counted down the days, and before I knew it, we were standing in line to enter the theater. Naturally, I was practically bouncing up and down, taking pictures of all the signs for Newsies and humming the songs in my head. Dan was definitely amused by my antics. Then, the line started moving, and we headed into the theater.

Before I describe how wonderful the show was, I do want to say that the theater itself was beautiful. The walls were covered with wooden carvings and gilded crown molding. The carpets were adequately worn to show popularity and the experienced age of an older, successful theater. I have included a picture below, but it does not do it justice.

The production itself was fantastic! I reveled in every second of the play, absorbing as much of the experience as I could. The set was simple, affective, and fluidly transformable. The cast had a great balance of talented singers and dancers, and the musicians made the show come to life!

The crowd that night was also fantastic. You could tell that there were many Newsies fans, as well as fans of the actors themselves. You could hear a few people singing along to the songs (not enough to be disturbing), and the cheering that followed favorite scenes and actors was deafening.

My favorite scenes or songs were:
  • When Davey and Jack first meet
  • The scene where they decide to strike
  • The “I’m the King of New York” song (so classic)
  • And when Teddy Roosevelt banters with Mr. Pulitzer

Dan in his new Newsies hat

I did notice a few differences between the show and the movie, and I will attempt to mention them without giving away anything important in the plot. The first thing I noticed was that Broadway show changed some of the words to the songs. Some word deviations were more drastic, but some were very minor. It was a little disappointing that I could not sing along completely. However, I had expected that the words might be a little different.

The next big change to the show was that the reporter’s character had been changed to a girl. This adjustment was one that I really loved. It was nice to have another prominent female character in a mostly boy-based story.

There were a few other tweaks here and there in the story to account for timing and adjustment to the stage, but nothing that hurt the plot or experience.

To sum my review up, seeing Newsies on Broadway was the experience of a lifetime! Anyone who loves the movie half as much as I do has to see the show, and anyone who has no experience with Newsies should definitely educate themselves by seeing this production. :)

Dan and I at the theater

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Yotel in New York City

Dan and I had a great time staying at the Yotel while we were in New York City. The Yotel is a small chain of hotels with locations in London, Amsterdam, and New York City. At this hotel, rooms are called cabins and everything is highlighted with purple neon lights, giving it a very modern, almost Star Trek-like, atmosphere.

One thing that you should know if you stay here is that the cabins are small. You will not be knocking your knees into corners or anything (the rooms are laid out too perfectly for that), but it would not work well for a family trying to share a room. For a couple, however, it is quite perfect.

Dan relaxing in the room

There really are too many nice features about this hotel to describe them all at length, so here is a quick list of all the things Dan and I enjoyed about the room:
  • Location and price were excellent
  • iPod connections to the TV
  • Lots of convenient outlets
  • Good use of storage areas
  • Comfortable bed and pillows that double as a couch
  • Complimentary coffee, tea, and muffins for breakfast
  • Organic soaps that work as shampoo and body wash and smell fantastic!

Dan with the funny-looking mascot

There were only two things about the room that were not ideal. The first was that there was really no bathroom door, just glass walls. This can be a little off-putting if you are not used to sharing close quarters with someone, or (it must be said) if you have to make a #2 visit to the bathroom. I understand that they chose to use the glass to make the room feel bigger and brighter, but it is a little bit of a surprise if you are not expecting it. :)

The second thing that was not ideal was how well the light switches were hidden. This is probably just a user error on Dan and I’s part, but I swear, we didn’t find half of the light switches until a few hours before we checked out. LOL

Overall, Dan and I thoroughly enjoyed our stay at the Yotel, and we are definitely planning on staying there again on our next visit!

Cool robot arm that stores luggage

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

New York City Weekend – A Cache, a Show, and a Proposal

Forgive me for being remiss about posting this past week and weekend! It has been one of the busiest, most exciting weekends of my life, and I promise to give you all the best details. Our visit to New York City was supposed to be my birthday present from Dan (tickets to see Newsies on Broadway!), but by the end of the trip, it had turned into something else as well…

Around the City:
Dan and I arrived at our hotel, the Yotel, just before 11am on Saturday. Our room was a very cute, tiny cabin, with a bed that turned into a couch and glass bathroom walls. (You can read a full review soon) It took only minutes to organize our things and head back out to the elevators.

Our first destination of the day was Time Square. Within ten seconds of us reaching the main area, we ran into Spike Lee, who was walking to the theater where he is directing a play. I would not have known who he was, but Dan pointed him right out. :)

As we wandered around, we stopped at a cool music store, the M&M store, a couple New York gift shops, and the Element store. I have always been a huge fan of Element clothing, so I was really excited to find a whole store dedicated to them! Lunch was a tiny little pizzeria with mouth-wateringly good pizza. I’m drooling just thinking about it again.

After lunch, we decided to find a nearby geocache. It was a cool hide near a small memorial to fallen firefighters. It took us a bit to find the cache, but we both felt quite proud of ourselves when we figured it out. (Info on geocaching is in my previous post) Happy with our shopping purchases and geocache, we headed back to the hotel to clean up for the evenings events.

Dinner and Drinks with Family:
One thing that happens when you have a large family is that you usually have family members scattered throughout many major cities. For me, NYC was not an exception. On this visit, I got to meet up with my cousin Anne and her boyfriend Lee.

Since they live in the city, they had some great suggestions on restaurants, and we met at a little Thai restaurant called Wondee Siam. The food was fantastic. We listened to the Four Square suggestions and ordered food from the main menu and the “Secret” menu, sharing them among us. (If anyone is interested in finding this restaurant, there are many locations. We were specifically at Wondee Siam I.)

Dinner took less time than we planned, so after eating, we went a few blocks over to the Pony Bar. They had a great selection of beers from local(ish) breweries, and Lee mentioned that it is a favorite bar of the Daily Show cast. Unfortunately, it was too early for cast members to be there, but we still had a great time and enjoyed the relaxed atmosphere.

Dan and I’s next stop for the evening was an 8pm showing of Newsies. I’m not going to lie, I was giddy with excitement when we got to the theater. I have loved the movie version of Newsies since it came out in the early 90s. My best friend and I had childhood crushes on the two main actors. She loved Jack Kelly (played by Christian Bale), and I loved Spot Collins (who had an awesome slingshot!).

Ready to watch Newsies!

You can read my full review of the show, but for now, I will simply say that the show was FANTASTIC! They picked a great cast, and the theater itself was beautiful. Dan enjoyed it as much as I did – except he did not know all the words to the song, so he could not sing along with me. :)

The Empire State Building:
Our final destination for the day was the Empire State Building. Dan had asked to see this spot in particular and wanted to go up at night to see the city lights. I thought his interest (he bought tickets in advance) was a little unusual and wondered if he might have something important planned. However, I had never visited the Empire State Building before and decided to wait and see what happened. Besides, I love the movie Sleepless in Seattle; so really, how could I not want to visit?

After checking into the building on Four Square, my first thought as we walked through the building was, “Wow, these lines could be HUGE! I’m glad Dan thought to come late at night when there are less people.” LOL

When we reached the terrace level, the view was really spectacular! The night was mostly clear, but even the clouds were neat to watch as they whipped past. Since there was a virtual geocache for the Empire State Building, we wandered over to the location where the secret “tool” was supposed to be. The information needed to claim the cache was easy to find, and I got some great shots looking out at the city.

Dan and I wandered around for a while longer, locating our hotel and Time Square in the distance. I was starting to wonder why Dan was being so unusually quiet when he said he had a fun question for me. I responded with a casual “OK”, and as I leaned over to look at something below, I heard him ask, “Will you marry me?”! When I turned around, he was kneeling one knee with a ring in his hand!!

I am sure I stood there with my mouth hanging open for a few seconds before I ever so gracefully responded, “Oh my god, are you really proposing to me?!” SMH (smack my head) I was so surprised/excited that he was proposing that I completely forgot to answer him. Haha! When I remembered the normal protocol of proposals, I quickly blurted out an excited squeal of a “Yes”!

The rest of the night was a wonderful blur of calling parents, texting friends, posting pictures to Facebook, and so forth. We were so blissfully happy that a bike cabby was able to con us into taking a $70 ride back to our hotel. LOL

I never knew you could do so many exciting things in one day! It was definitely an unforgettable weekend, and I have lots of fun things to remind me of it all, maybe you will spot a few of our keepsakes on our Christmas tree or at our wedding. Of course, the best one is now on my hand, and I have not been able to stop staring at it!

My New Shiny