Variations on a Theme: Wine Time

Third Time Wife, Wedding Planning

So we’d tossed aside the 40s and 50s as era-inspiration and monkeys were dubbed a little too childish (well, for the wedding at least). In our earlier discussions we’d also talked about and nixed pretty darn quick the costume-heavy weddings of any of our geekier interests: Comics, RPGs or Star Trek. And while Mr. RT said he would be open to a Renaissance-style wedding (since I used to play in the SCA–Society for Creative Anachronism), I wasn’t as interested in that as I once might have been.Where was our theme?! Was there no single idea that would guide our decision-making process and steer us towards a color scheme while we’re at it?

And then the answer arrived.

Even have one of those ‘duh’ moments? In retrospect, this was one of them for us (or at least for me; T understood my need for a theme but wasn’t too worried about it himself). We’d already discussed doing a wine ceremony instead of a more traditional unity candle (blending yes, merging not so much, or something like that) and, obviously, food and wine were going to be major considerations as far as the reception was concerned–a wine-themed wedding was practically staring at us in the face!

Yay, a theme!

Collage of wine-themed images

Sources: Style Me Pretty 1 (photo by Miki & Sonja Photography), 2 (photo by Lisa Lefkowitz), Strictly Simple Style, Apartment Therapy (image by Green is Universal), Style Me Pretty 3 (photo by Kristi Odom Photography), 4 (photography by Mike Larson, event by Touch of Style) , 5 (photo by Apertura), 6 (photo by Kim Seidl Photography, event by Simply Chic Events)

With that decided, many other details started to fall into place. Color scheme? Green and Red-Purple from the grapes and leaves, with a brown accent/neutral from the vines. Centerpieces? Why, all those empty wine bottles we’ve been collecting may have just found their re-purpose! And the corks from said bottles can be used in all manner of crafty goodness. Even a couple of wine-related favor ideas floated around my head and, oh, there’s that ginormous cork monogram that we just *have* to make!

Wine-themed color palate

our working color scheme

Now, with a direction in mind, I finally felt like I could actually start to plan!

Was your own theme obvious when it presented itself
or did you even bother with one?

Celebration With Much Zoobilation!

Everyday Adventures

If you’ll indulge me as I stray from the 64 Arts, I’d like to share my wonderfully awesome birthday adventure with you! If you’re just here for the creativity and projects, check out the Arts So Far and the Projects pages and come back next Tuesday when we start the Art of Perfume.


Running Away Isn’t Always a Sign of Weakness

Sometimes you just need to get away from it all, to relax and unwind. Todd and I had been feeling that need more acutely than ever this year (usually we’ve done a convention or 2 by the end of April but I’m on “restrictions” until I finish the book so we’ve not gone anywhere or done anything except work–even the holidays were full of moving and unpacking and stuff).

Wanting to harness the childlike fun of birthdays (I really dislike the way we train kids to expect fun and celebration on young birthdays and then tell them it’s over at some point in their teens) I announced, one night as we were just going to sleep, that I wanted to go to the Zoo for my birthday and see the monkeys (I have a serious thing for monkeys).

Reservations made for 3 nights at the Hampton Inn in downtown Jacksonville (on a 3 for 2 offer, hotel points +1), we knew Saturday (my actual birthday) would be spent at the Jacksonville Zoo with dinner plans flexible depending on how tired we were–as much as I love a nice dinner with wine, etc. I was totally cool with the idea of Chinese take-out in the hotel room if we were worn out–and no real plans for Sunday or Monday (we’d both gotten the day off) except to relax and hang out together as much as possible.

Pack Your Monkeys and Let’s Go!

We both managed to scoot out of work a little early on Friday to get a head start on traffic. Just before leaving Todd posed a rather difficult question:

Do you want your presents now or tomorrow?

Oh, what’s a girl to do?!

Turns out it wasn’t too tough, after all: there were 2 presents in play and I asked if I could have 1 now, and 1 on my birthday. The first present (the one that would stay home, he said) turned out to be a DVD of Up–probably our second favorite Disney movie (Meet the Robinsons coming in first, hands down).

Watch out World, Monkey at the Wheel!The birthday fun well-begun and the bags loaded in the car (Todd played chauffeur all weekend–it was wonderful having absolutely 0 responsibility!) we set out on I-10 East and, immediately, felt the ease of vacation settle upon the whole car.

And just as I wondered if it was just me, Todd pulls one of the Georges* from the back seat and gives him a turn at the wheel. (Don’t worry, the cruise control was on.) He got bored quickly, though, and left the rest of the 2.5 hour trip to Todd.

It’s almost unheard of for us to get to our destination with daylight left but this time we did (and a good thing–the construction going on might have made finding our destination in the dark a bit more challenging). After unpacking it was time to decide on dinner.

Being 2 foodies on vacation, grabbing fast food or a bland bite from a chain just wasn’t going to cut it–we wanted something local and good! So, with the help of jax-dining and yelp, we settled on a couple of possibilities on the same street (in case the first didn’t look as good as it sounded or had too much of a wait).

Of course, first we had to get the guys settled in for the night…

Chilling in the hotel room

They’re not going to get up to any trouble while we’re gone, are they? Of course not!

The back-up restaurant wasn’t necessary. We found European Street Cafe with no problem and had one of the best meals we’ve had in quite some time. (At least until the next night, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.) And thanks to their delectable bakery counter we knew where we could come for birthday cake the next night. (More food details available soon over on Nibbles n Bites)

Rueben from E Street Cafe

my Rueben from E Street Cafe


The Birthday Officially Begins

We hadn’t mean to, but we ended up awake past midnight and, just before falling asleep my curiosity got the best of me and I asked for my other present.

Sparkly Monkey Necklace

Isn’t it just the cutest sparkly monkey necklace ever? It’s a monkey… with BLING! I was tickled pink and it was the best way to start my official birthday-day. (It’s being modeled by one of the Georges, of course)

The next morning I was up before Todd (a rare occurrence, I assure you!), eager to get our day started (breakfast included in the reservation–more than just the usual continental, hotel points +2).

First things first, I wanted to start our day at the Jacksonville Zoo by finding another George to add to the collection. It was a tough choice–there were about 6 different monkeys to choose from but, after much deliberation, we settled on Mandy George, and headed out to the platform to catch the train that goes around the perimeter of the Zoo. Todd offered to buy more than 1 monkey that morning but I honestly didn’t want to take advantage of his generosity, at least not overmuch. (I had booked the hotel room for the long weekend away but Todd was covering meals and entertainment–I didn’t want it to be too unbalanced, does that make any sense?)

Our Newest Family Member

There’s something incredibly… freeing about letting your grown-up guard down and letting the inner child run loose for a day at the Zoo. Not only that, there was no conflict, no tension, no tears and perfect accord between Todd and I. Not that that’s rare with us, but it’s something I’m still so grateful for with him and it just made the day all the more sweet.

We made our way through each and every exhibit (even the creepy crawly ones), stopped for lunch at the Trout River Grille and made our way clear to other end of the Zoo just before 4pm (closing time was 5 and we started at 10–it’s a full-day attraction). I took far too many pictures to share them all here but I a lot of them over on Flickr for the curious. Of course our favorites were the monkeys, though the sleepy otters, gliding penguins and the goats in the kid’s area were quite fun to watch.

some of the sights

More Zoo Fun

The idea was to take the train back to the entrance, rather than walk, and while we waited we stopped into one last gift shop. And my intention not to take advantage of Todd’s generosity failed miserably when I saw dancing monkey pens. And more possible George’s. There was one little guy, up on the top shelf, with the perfectly coiffed fur and a somewhat sardonic smile–he had to come home with us.

Dean George and Todd

So we had TWO monkey’s to introduce to the two at the hotel.

The Meeting of the Monkey Minds

After a day like this, what kind of dinner can top it?

Surprisingly enough we weren’t absolutely exhausted (so no Chinese take-out in the hotel) and we’d been given some restaurant recommendations from a local webcomics friend so we weren’t quite so aimless as the night before (even though–kudos  to us–E Street was one of the recommendations so we blundered into a local fave then, too!).

After looking through the suggestions, comparing menus, reviews (and ruling out a fun-sounding hookah bar on account of my lungs needing to stay smoke-free), we settled on 13 Gypsies, a tapas and more restaurant on Stockton Street that’s easy to miss if you’re not looking for it.

Now, we didn’t have a reservation–we didn’t know we needed one–and would have happily taken the one free table on the sidewalk but, due to a group calling in a different number for that night we were granted a corner table, as long as we’d be done in 90 minutes. About an hour later, as we were finishing up, the couple at the next table asked if we were enjoying our dinner as much as they were–turns out they’d been trying to get a reservation for MONTHS (13G is a rather small place–intimate!–something like 10 tables, tops)! Birthday luck on our side, I suppose.

And it was delicious–we ordered half a dozen items from their tapas menu and everything was amazing. I’m so glad we didn’t just order entrees as it would have been a shame to miss out on the variety the tapas menu afforded.

Quixote Style Beef from 13 Gypsies

Just one of the lovely dinner bites: Quixote Style Beef

The day had been so wonderful–not just because of the multitude of monkeys or being spoiled and indulged by Todd–it was the feeling of utter and complete contentment, like we hadn’t a care in the world except to spend the hours as together as possible and nothing more. I felt loved, cared for, cherished. And I told Todd this, holding hands across the table, there were even tears in my eyes from sheer joy–then my hand cramped and we dissolved into giggles. I swear, I can’t do the white romantic stuff for very long at all.

Happily full, we declined dessert and headed back towards our downtown home.

But what about the birthday cake?

Oh, we didn’t forget. We both had our sights set on the Chocolate Beast cake we saw in the case at E Street. Back we went for two large slices to enjoy in the hotel room, later, in pajamas. And, yes, Todd (and the monkeys) serenaded me. Todd doesn’t very often, but it was the best Happy Birthday I’d ever heard.

Chocolate Beast from E Street

And then there was the rest of the weekend.

Saturday being so full and focused, we kinda dilly-dallied Sunday morning, getting up with just enough time to throw on some clothes and head downstairs for breakfast, then slow-poking through showers and such. Then it was off to St Augustine to tour the Castillo de San Marcos (a place I hadn’t been I was a toddler), sticking our noses into various shops in the Old City and heading up to San Sebastian Winery for our second wine tasting of the day. Monday morning ran the same way–a slow start, a late breakfast, and taking our time packing up to leave (noon check-out, hotel points +10)–and we didn’t even mind going home.

One things really stands out to me about the weekend. Well, one thing that isn’t birthday-related, that is. We never once needed to read before bed to wind down. We read for fun whenever the mood strikes, of course, but at night both Todd and I read before bed as a way to relax, to unwind from the day, from staring at screens and worrying about work. The entire weekend we were away? No books before bed. We were completely unwound the whole time and it was glorious.

Another thing? The weird worries that plague me in the moments between waking and sleep? Nonexistent. I didn’t even notice they were gone until we were home and they came back! I’m working on ways to keep them at bay, too.

We’ve decided we need more of these sorts of weekends. Maybe not a long weekend out of town–our budgets aren’t really built for that–but at least one day a month we’re going to blow off everything else and spend the day in a vacation-state: find a local festival or take a drive somewhere, tour a museum, something!

Because that was the best part of any birthday or any other day: being together, no strings, no worries.


*Monkey notes: All of our monkeys are named George; it’s like the George-Borg. On this trip we started out with Curious George (CG for short) and Pillow George (likewise known as PG–yes, I have a pillow pet, he was an anniversary gift, he stays on our bed and frequently causes us to giggle just before going to sleep), most of them stayed home to guard the house, though.

Our First Festa


This past weekend Tallahassee saw it’s first (annual? only the future will tell) Italian Family Festa out at the John Paul II Catholic High School. I found out about the Festa through Groupon, which turns out to be a fabulous resource for learning about local businesses and events, not just saving money at them.

With the Greek Food Festival an annual event that we dearly love, we hoped the Italian Family Festa would come close to that ideal.

Italian Family Festa

As a first-year festival there were some expected hiccups. The website, for instance, was a little sparse on details (it would have been nice to know what sorts of foods would be there, not just a list of Italian foods that might be there, and a price-list is always helpful for folks who don’t carry cash as a habit) and, once we arrived it took being sent to 3 different tables/locations just to find out where to sign up for the wine tasting.

Italian Family Fest Wine

Those bumps aside, we had a good time. The wine tasting (at $10 a person) was more a class than just a taste-for-all, featuring 6 Italian wines and a very good presenter–he had personality to spare and plenty of ways to make wine relatable, always a good pairing. It was held in the school’s gymnasium, though, and was not the only activity going on in the space, making a little hard to hear.

Various entertainment was scheduled throughout the weekend and we had fun listening to the singer perform pop hits. Funny, we didn’t know songs like Firework and Seasons of Love were inherently Italian 😉

But, wait, what about the food?

There was a stand selling meatball subs and sausages–we each chose the latter with peppers and onions. Lots of fennel and very tasty. There was a local New York-style pizza place with a stand and, finally, a stand selling Fried Doughnuts (zeppole? though I’m not sure how authentic they were), calamari (they were out by the time we tried to order some), mozzarella sticks (pass), funnel cakes and steamed mussels. There were also cannoli available at a table, inside. The cannoli were the best things we ate, that day, and gone so quickly that I failed to snap a photo!

Italian Family Festa Food

Ices and a variety of coffee and tea were available from booths as well as bottled water, beer and wine (the latter required the purchase of tickets). Even after the wines we’d taste in the seminar, earlier, we each got a glass of Prosecco to eat with our zeppole before calling it a day.

Thankfully the Groupon offer meant I paid slightly less for weekend passes what it would have cost us just to enter the one day ($5 per person entrance fee). We opted not to return on Sunday.

I hope that they do try again, next year, and are able to add to the cultural options in our little southern town.

Episode 9: I Need a Drink


Whether it’s celebrating the new year, starting off the 12th Night celebration or congratulating yourself for getting the mammoth end-of-year to-do list, done, a drink with a kick can do wonders. After all, what we call cordials and liqueurs were once known as restoratives!

As I rambled mentioned on the show, one of my many sites is Sips & Shots, where I create a new cocktail a week and post about other beverage interests from time to time. And if my voice sounds a little rough on the recording, all I can say is it’s a good thing I recorded when I did as I woke up with practically no voice at all the next day!

Now, what you’re really here for, the music:

Pumpkin Pie–Russell Wolff
Alcohol–O Sweet Static
In the Bar Tonight–Dakota
Crazy When She Drinks–Lee Rocker
Sipping Tea–The Gentlemen Callers
Cold Beer–Jeff Ronay
Glass of Wine–The New Autonomous Folksingers
Wine of Her Lips–Billy Bourbon
Vodka Kosovo–On Wave
Martini Time–AirFerg
Ginned Up–John Hughes
Gin & Tonic–Sammy Barker
The Old Black Rum–Great Big Sea
The Saltee Tango–Stoat
Only the Tequila Talking (feat. John Popper)–Lisa Bouchelle
Sweet Tequila–Brain Buckit
Whiskey Time–The Whiskey River Band
Nancy Whisky–Murder the Stout
Drinking Like a Fiddler–Dust Rhinos

And that’s us for another month. Please, everyone, if you do imbibe, don’t be a drunken monkey–use a designated drive, take a cab, or drink at home and do so in moderation.

Fun’s better if you can remember it the next day!

Surprises Hide in Nebraska


I had the opportunity to visit Todd’s hometown of Lincoln, Nebraska, this weekend. I didn’t know what to expect, really, other than flatland and corn fields.

I was half right.

There’s a lot of corn up there, lining the roads almost as soon as you leave any metro areas, and wheat is plentiful, too! It blows around and gets to where it lines the streets, cornfields and even finds root in bushes planted at the cemetery (we were in town for the unfortunate reason of a funeral).

But Lincoln didn’t seem all that flat to me. Apparently it’s in a bit of a basin and there’s a gently rolling hill sort of quality to the parts that I saw (Lincoln and the highway to and from the Omaha airport).

Haymarket Square

Haymarket Square

While in town we had time to do some sight-seeing and the first place we stopped was the historic Haymarket District. Including the railroad station and several blocks of warehouses converted into shops, restaurants, galleries and lofts, it’s full of old, picturesque brick buildings that kept my camera and I happily clicking away. At least, that is, after we stopped into the From Nebraska gift shop to find batteries.

Licorice International

LicoriceWe mostly walked around and looked in windows, not really shopping (our checked bag weighed-in at 45 lbs, after all, not much room for souvenirs), we did see one store we just had to take a look it: Licorice International. How much licorice could there really be? Enough to have an entire store dedicated to it?

In a word: Lots.

They carry licorice candies from 13 countries, both the traditional black licorice as well as the licorice-like twists in a variety of colors–I even saw some licorice root available for sale!

Licorice International

Licorice International

We were able to taste an Kookaburra Strawberry Twist from Austrailia that was quite tasty, but I’m afraid I made a bit of a fuss when I saw monkey-shaped licorice. A squeal might have escaped my lips. I was even a bit giddy at the possibility of tasting one (turns out most of the items are available to taste if you but ask). The ears and such are traditional black licorice but the yellow muzzle? It’s banana flavored! And with a texture that reminds you of circus peanuts in the best possible way. Even though the Dutch Ape Head licorice only came in 1 lb bags, I had to buy them if only for the novelty factor. Imagine my surprise when we got home and found them utterly addictive.

The rear of the spacious warehouse at Licorice International is used for packaging and shipping orders that keep them quite busy, as I understand it.

“Knee High by 4th of July”


Corn Stalks

As mentioned above, cornfields are plentiful. We stopped by the family farm which was being rented and worked by a local farmer. Even though my own grandfather was a farmer and I’d seen his fields off and on, growing up, he dealt in strawberries, peppers and beans. Corn fields are another sight to behold.

The phrase ‘knee high by the 4th of July’ refers to a benchmark in the growing season. The corn was quite a bit higher from where we were standing; more like that line from Oklahoma–as high as an elephant’s eye. Well, maybe a young elephant.

Nebraskan Wine

As we wrapped up our tour of the Haymarket, we stepped back into the From Nebraska gift shop and were greeted by a wall of wine bottles. As the store purports to carry only items made in Nebraska, I was astonished to find so many different brands and types of wine available from around the state!

We noticed Plum and Rhubarb wine as well as the usual reds and whites, though the varieties were a bit foreign. The store appears to offer tastings and there were signs posted of various festivals in the area (one that morning, in fact, though it was a bit of drive to get to and too late in the day to start). There was also a map of the state that showed over 20 wineries sprinkled around the state (many accessible off of I-80) and half a dozen tasting rooms besides.

Our next trip up there will have to include at least a few of them!

A Trio of Local Favorites

With only 2 days in town we had a lot of nostalgia for Todd to catch up on. First was a Runza–a “loose meat and cabbage sandwich”–sold by a regional chain by the same name. Now, “loose meat” does not a appetizing thought create, yet that’s how I heard it described several times over the weekend. While it’s not incorrect, I prefer to call it a ground-beef and cabbage hand-held pie. Either way, it turned out to be yummy when we did get one after a trip to the Children’s Zoo.

Monkey & a Runza

Monkey & a Runza

Todd still maintains the bierocks I made for New Year’s Day were better but, frankly, I think it comes down to the seasoning. Runza seems to concentrate on pepper alone whereas we added ginger, paprika, nutmeg and caraway seeds along with cooking the cabbage in beer. We also didn’t cook the mixture until it was mush and sort of a grey color all the way around. There’s some benefit to homemade over mass production.

Another well-remembered spot was Vanetino’s. Known from their excellent pizza and rich tomato sauces, it wasn’t exactly as he remembered. The location we went to featured an extensive buffet that included barbecue, Asian and Mexican options in addition to pizza, pasta and salads. Something definitely gets lost with all that “variety” but we hear good things about the smaller locations and the pizza delivery.

Finally, a trip to the grocery store yeilded a salad dressing infamous with the locals: Dorothy Lynch. Diluted tomato soup is the primary ingredient in the sweet and spicy French-style dressing. This got packed in our checked back with the other over-3-ounce contraband and made it safely home. I think Todd is looking forward to salads this summer!