Sunday, November 14, 2010

Go Off the Beaten Path

When you're a city-dweller (OK, a suburb-dweller) it's amazing how much is nearby that you have no idea even exists. So, I recommend taking out a map of your area and looking around.

For instance, I had absolutely no idea there was a city nearby called Princeton, TX. No clue whatsoever. So when my husband suggested we go to a winery in Princeton, I asked, how far away is that? And the answer - 40 minutes. 40 minutes? That's practically just across town. And so it is. Just south of McKinney, very close to the McKinney Municipal Airport is Princeton. A little further east than I expected.

People laugh at me because I'm afraid of wide-open spaces. I prefer the safety offered by the big city. Lots of raised eyebrows when I say that. Lots of people move *out* of the city because of a perception of danger. Not me. If I had to live on a daily basis where there was a possibility I'd not see another person, and that it would take 3 times as long for the police or an ambulance to arrive, or, worse, that I wouldn't have cell phone reception and I'd fall in a ditch and not be able to get up and so I'd starve to death...well, that's far more frightening to me than the options the city gives me.

Which makes Princeton so perfect for an Everyday Vacation! Away from the city far enough that you can hear the birds chirp and the rooster down the road crow (although, why it was crowing at 3:00pm, I don't know), and just enjoy the scenery on a cool, crisp day. Yet, be able to get home before sundown.

Our winery visity was to Collin Oaks Winery in Princeton. They are practically famous for their sweet fruit wines. Steve told us that many people come by looking for dry wines, and leave with a case of my personal favorite sweet wine, Blueberry! Absolutely delicious. Grab a bottle and head out to the deck, and just...relax. You need it!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Time Flies!!

It's been over a year since I've posted! Wow! How'd that happen? Kinda sad, too, because I've had all kinds of nice Everyday Vacations lately. So, let's start over; starting with last weekend.

We've discovered that there are a lot of wineries near our home! Before, we would just take a weekend, or a week, and head down to the Texas Hill Country to experience wonderful wines. Lately, though, it seems that several local wineries are gaining a lot of ground. This weekend, we went to two of them.

First, we headed out to Parker. This is a nice trip for an Everyday Vacation anyway, because of a very famous landmark out Parker-way, called Southfork Ranch. Yes, the famous ranch where exteriors of the 70's prime-time drama, Dallas, were filmed.

But, who knew that there was a winery tucked away there? And not just a winery, but a vineyard. Khatter Vineyards, specifically. Grapes are grown locally, and wine is produced locally. Our favorite was the Texas Ruby Red, which, sadly, is now out of production. Another couple in attendance had bought the last case of it.

The setting is just a little piece of heaven, which is what an Everyday Vacation is all about! You walk up a gravel driveway and enter under an arbor to a vision of lovely grapevines. Mature trees all around, and a stone patio with a wood deck. The tasting room is a rustic little cabin with low ceilings and all kinds of charm. It was literally like stepping out of the city and into the country. Although, to my mind, even better, because, even though it was incredibly peaceful, I could still hear traffic from the road. (I like to feel connected to society) We got a bottle of wine and sat out on the patio and enjoyed the view and the wine, and one of the friendly dogs that live there. What a great way to get a little slice of vacation right at the end of a hectic week?

Listen up, readers - you could have the chance to own a this little suburban paradise. Our proprietress mentioned that the property may be up for sale soon.

Our second winery of the weekend was located on the opposite side of the Dallas metro area in Grapevine. Cross Timbers Winery. And it's a charmer, too! On a large lot with mature trees and shrubbery, the winery is a converted old home. There's a long bar and tables inside for tasting, a furnished porch with a swing out front, and a large backyard out back for enjoying the day. It was absolutely perfect weather - low 70's, sunny, clear, and a great day to take an Everyday Vacation. A bottle of their Sangiovese, cushion-y chairs on the front porch, and some old-fashioned Texas humor from our proprietor, and it was altogether perfect.

So - don't go far, go local! I'm sure you can find the perfect spots near you to take your own Everyday Vacation!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Go Nostalgic

One of my favorite ways to take a break from the grind is to go nostalgic! This could be something as simple (and economical) as having a friend over and discussing things you did in your younger years.

Not that I'm at all old - I'm only in my 40's - but I think everyone would agree that the things you did *before* real life became a major concern are memories you carry with you forever.

My buddy Cat Woman back in our 20's used to go to every rock concert. And if you do some quick math, you can probably surmise that those concerts were hair metal concerts. Or, as I prefer to think about it - the hard rock of the 80's. To this day, I still wonder where I got all the money to go to all those concerts, and then I remember: these were the days when the highest price ticket at the best arena was $35, and when Ticketbastard actually had some competition as a ticket outlet, and before I had a lot of other financial obligations.

Anyway, going to concerts was my very favorite thing to do. Getting dressed up, teasing my bangs up, slathering on the eyeliner, ripping my jeans just-so, doing a shoe-polish rendition of the band's logo on the car's rear window, yelling "Paul Gilbert!" at the top of my lungs, even though it was a Judas Priest concert, crawling home hoarse afterwards, you get the idea...

These days I still go to concerts from time-to-time, and it's still one of my favorite things to do. Although I do opt for the cheap seats mostly, due to financial constraints and the just flagrant price of tickets these days. But every once in a while a band comes to town that I just absolutely must muster up the funds to get the good seats. And among these is Def Leppard.

Def Leppard is my favorite band of all time. I've seen them a number of times, but I've never managed to get decent seats. Usually I'd end up in general admission lawn seating at the local amphitheater in the dead of summer, because for whatever reason Def Leppard always seemed to think that going to Texas when it's 102 degrees outside is a good idea...but that's another post. In any case, when I heard they were coming to town this year (again in August, again at the amphitheater) I decided this was the year I would be in the first five rows. I bought a fan club membership, I got online on the day of pre-sales and I got myself a seat in the THIRD ROW BABY!!

Unfortunately, I had to attend this show by myself, but that's OK. It's also fun to make friends that enjoy the same things you do, like a Def Leppard show. I still enjoyed the ramp up to the show: turning the music up loud, getting dressed up (OK, a denim skort and a black tank top - but that's downright dressy for 96 degrees out), slathered on the eyeliner, and even teased up my bangs in honor of that bygone decade of decadence. I drove to the show, grabbed a $12 beer, and the concert was ON! Sitting that close to my heroes was everything I expected - and more! They had built out the stage a little out in the audience, so I was pretty much third row on two sides! Yay! I rocked out, just like when I was 22. I sang along with all the words. I even yelled "Paul Gilbert!" even though he's not in Def Leppard, either. I partied with the other revelers, and enjoyed myself so much, that even though I swore I was retiring from large-scale production concerts in favor of live music in clubs and small venues, I can't wait for the next time those boys from Sheffield come through town so I can do it all over again!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Take a Game Break

Hey all you gamers out there! There's nothing like a little Virtual-Reality to help you escape the stress of the Real-Reality. But I bet you never find the amount of time you'd like to just sit with the XBOX or PS3 and play-play-play until your thumbs drop off. Well, me, neither. *Sigh*

But don't have wait until the next big Rock Band party to give yourself some play time. With the right game selection and some self-control (yes, those games are addicting, aren't they) you can have an Everyday Gaming Vacation - even on a weeknight!

Game selection is crucial, because unfortunately Real-Reality does rear its ugly head all-too-frequently, and (even more unfortunately) that means you probably have to wake up in the morning and head to your office or other place of work and be at least reasonably productive. So - pick something that has short rounds of gameplay that you can stop playing at a decent hour. But it has to also be a game that you really, really enjoy.

I like to look for a game that is not only a game, but lets me do something else I love. Actually, for me, it doesn't take much looking. I pull out SingStar for PS3 every time. With this game, not only do I get to compete, but I get to sing! It's heaven!

Basically, SingStar is a collection of music videos of all different genres. You select a video, and it plays on your screen, along with the lyrics karaoke-style, and what I call a "pitch meter." You earn points by attempting to hit the notes at the right pitch, at the right time, with the right words. The more correct you are, the more points you get. At the end of the video, your points are totalled up and it shows you the level you reached, along with some pretty cute graphics. The best thing of all is the videos are the original artists!!

You have to have the two-microphone set, but once you have that there are several different versions of the game that you can play, as well as buying individual songs and game packs at the SingStore.

I was having a really rough week at the office, so one Thursday night I invited by buddy Cat Woman over for a glass of wine, some pizza, and some SingStar. We played in the Battle mode, but since it was just friends, there was no "real" competition. We cheered each other when we reached Super Star level, and rolled laughing when we only made it to Wannabe. I spent most of my time at Lead Singer level, which shouldn't surprise anyone who knows me...LOL!! We both had an early call the next day, so we wrapped it up around 8:30. But still - we had almost 2 hours of pure Everyday Vacation! Recharged, and ready to face Real-Reality.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

"I'm Way Too Busy to Take a Break!!"

I'm going to pretend I didn't just hear you say that. Because it's simply not true! When you're at your busiest - that's when you need an everyday vacation the most!

Take me for example. I just started a new job after being off for 2 months, so you can imagine the frenzy of activity surrounding that. Deciding what benefits to sign up for, trying to make sure my wardrobe aligns with the new company's dress code, setting up direct deposit, etc., in addition to actually learning my new job, getting to know my new coworkers, and trying to get my bearings in a new building I'm not used to yet. Not to mention getting used to the commute and new sleep/wake schedule.

And not only am I starting a new job, but I'm getting ready to move in less than a month. Yes, I like to make all my major life changes within 30 days of one another. ;)

So you can imagine - my brain hurts! All I want to do at the end of the day is go home and go to sleep. But if I do that, I'll just wake up tired. What I need is an everyday vacation! Maybe two! So I planned a two-parter.

First, I kept a hair appointment all the way across town in spite of my strong desire to just go home after work. I knew that getting fresh color and highlights would perk me up. Chatting with the stylist I've been going to for years is also a great stress-reliever. And let me tell you, I thoroughly enjoyed the scalp massage portion of my shampoo!! Like a mini-spa treatment! And best of all - this is already a budgeted expense, so no extra cash outlay for this little get-away. So my tip for you is - keep up your regularly-scheduled pampering routine and treat it as a built-in everyday vacation.

For the second part of my everyday vacation, I met a friend for sushi, my favorite food! This may sound routine, rather than vacation-like, but here's what made it special. I hadn't seen my friend in a while; in fact, it had been over two months. There was lots of news to catch up on, and this is a friend who always makes me laugh. We all know that laughter is a sure-cure for what ails you!

Also, we met at a sushi place we had never tried before called Sushi of Plano. It's in a little strip mall on the east side of Plano, has about 6 tables and a sushi bar. I chose to sit at the bar, because I love to watch my rolls being made. Another thing I love to do when I go to a sushi place is try one of their specialty rolls. At Sushi of Plano they have a roll called S.O. The Beach, and it's amazing! I can hardly even describe it - it's a sort of blend of tropical, Asian, Tex-Mex flavors with an unexpected crunch. Go check out their menu for more information. Better yet - head over to Sushi of Plano and try one yourself!

Not into sushi? No problem. What's your favorite food? Got it? Now, find a place that serves that style that you've never been to before. Order the special. Voila'! Everyday Vacation!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Get thee to a winery!

Food Czar 005

It seems like wineries are popping up all over - it's no longer necessary to head to Napa or Bordeaux for a tasting and nice scenery. In fact, going down the road to Grapevine, Texas makes a great everyday vacation!

This past weekend, the weather was absolutely perfect. Perfect! A few clouds, temperatures in the 70's, light breeze. So my husband and I got in the car, opened the sunroof, and headed to La Buena Vida winery on College Street in historic Grapevine. This wonderful winery not only serves their own wines labeled as either La Buena Vida, La Bodega, or Springtown, but they also pour several additional labels as well. We decided to stick with the $7 tasting of 3 selections from their local listing, and while we probably loved the Cabernet the most, we decided on a bottle of the Blush to take out to the patio.

Ah, the patio! What a delightful place. There is lush landscaping, and Spanish-inspired tile fountains in an impressive mission-like setting. We selected a table near one of the fountains, opened our bottle, and "drank" in the sunshine and pleasant atmosphere. Later, we indulged in the tapas menu, settling on a snack of boursin cheese and crackers.

In the summer months, the patio at La Buena Vida is equipped with misting fans to keep you cool. In addition, Thursday evenings and Saturdays bring live entertainment to the patio - you don't want to miss my favorite, Andrea Dawson, who performs smooth jazz & blues there on a regular basis.

Don't live in the North Texas area? No problem. Check around your area for wineries within easy driving distance. If no wineries nearby, I'll bet you could find a pleasant tasting room. We go to lots of wineries throughout Texas, and all have their own unique pours and personalities - I'm sure you'll find a favorite, and enjoy the search!!

Taste some samples, then buy a glass or a bottle of your favorite, and spend a few hours getting away from it all, only you'll not have actually gone too far away.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Forced into a Vacation on the Patio

Or is that, Reduction-in-Forced into a vacation? Yes, I've become a victim of the dreaded RIF (or Reduction-in-Force) that is plaguing many of the nation's companies in this scary economy. So I'm not working now. Except that I like to think of all this unrequested time off as an opportunity for an Everyday (or, every day) vacation. At least the time between scouring and working with my outplacement coach. :)

Although I do have a severance package, I do have to watch the expenses because who knows how long my situation will continue? So I try to keep it simple.

Here in north Texas, despite some crazy scary weather, we've been blessed with a reasonably mild winter. The past couple of days in particular have been just gorgeous, with lots of sunshine and wonderful low-60's - low-70's temperatures. What a perfect time to hang out on the patio!

One of my favorite things to do is to sit on my patio and watch the world go by. We live in an apartment, but we chose one that had a lovely (albeit small) patio with a nice view. We've outfitted it with a bench/table combination with some pretty cushions. I've put up a faux-ficus tree and adorned it with white twinkle-lights. I also added a small radio - an old one I had, that I could live without if the elements were to finally get to it.

In the evenings, especially at sunset, we love to enjoy a glass (or 3) of wine on our patio and listen to the radio. As it gets dark, the twinkle lights on the faux-ficus add a lovely ambience. When we have friends over, we like to all sit out on the patio and just relax. It's a nice, simple, inexpensive (or free, if you forego the wine) way to get away from it all.

Especially for you apartment-dwellers: don't forget your patio or balcony! Sometimes living in an apartment feels like you don't have enough space or enough rooms. Consider your patio an extra room! Get some reasonably-priced, comfortable outdoor furnishings and make it your own little oasis. Some wonderful ideas I've seen on other people's patios:
  • A small bistro table and two chairs set the scene for romantic al fresco dining
  • Bar-height directors' chairs set next to the railing allow for maximum people-watching in an urban-style apartment complex
  • Gauzy, flowy draperies add some privacy and create a Moroccan feel
  • Hanging ferns and potted plants create a lush, gardenesque environment
  • Chaise lounges with overstuffed cushions just like those in a swanky spa