Friday, March 14, 2014

Reviving the lost art of letter writing

When I was in elementary school, I had a pen pal in Ohio. I remember waiting excitedly every day for a letter from her in my mailbox. I'd greedily read the information she'd written, anxious to learn about her life, her friends, her family, her school. I don't remember exactly when we stopped writing to each other. I think I just became interested in other things and that element of my life slipped away.

When I graduated high school, I went away to a university while my boyfriend stayed home and went to the community college nearby. We talked every day on the phone and wrote emails back and forth and he visited me whenever we were both available for a weekend, but the one thing that I actually enjoyed about being separated from him was the fact that we wrote and mailed letters back and forth.

I don't think I ever really forgot about letter writing. I simply didn't know anyone far enough away to write to and figured there wasn't a reason to write to someone close enough to see every day.

Recently I found myself temporarily in a situation where I could only communicate with a person that I loved via mailed letters. In doing so, I found that love of correspondence reawakened and when the situation was over, I missed the excitement that came with checking the mail and finding a pretty envelope waiting with my name on it and a glimpse into the other person's world hiding inside.

Craving that feeling sent me on a Google search for "adult pen pals." I fully expected to find a mess load of sites full of people searching for dirty exchanges with exotic men and women from all over the world. I was surprised when the first one I clicked was quite the opposite. Snail Mail Pen Pals for Adults seemed to have mostly people, like me, simply searching for new friends who also miss the childhood days of writing to a pen pal.

I signed up and within a few hours had six different addresses of women, roughly my age, from all sorts of places. Some of them were within the US and others were in Greece, Germany and the UK. I immediately grabbed my box of stationary and started penning letters to them all.

This was several months ago, and I've now got four regular pen friends who I've been writing back and forth with. One is in Michigan, two in Germany, one in Greece and one in New Jersey. And I love it! They don't know anything more about me than what I tell them in my letters and I know the same about them. I love that we can speak honestly with each other and that I am getting a glimpse into life in a different part of the country or the world.

Did you have a pen pal when you were a kid? Do you wish you still had one?

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Food and Friends and Wine, oh my!

This past weekend was boatloads of fun. A couple months ago the girls in my book club bought a Living Social  deal for a Foodies on Foot tour in downtown Napa and the day finally came on Saturday.

You will simply have to forgive me the Facebook-jacked Instagram photos. Sometimes a girl just doesn't want to carry around a heavy camera!

The tour started at 10 am at the Historic Napa Mill and took us through several of downtown Napa's best eats.

We sampled pastries from Sweetie Pies at the mill, followed by smoked salmon flatbread (I had a veggie flatbread) from the Napa General Store. Then we walked through the second largest Victorian neighborhood in the state to some of the best Italian takeout in town.

I love Victorian architecture and all the ornate details that go into each house, not to mention the crazy colors. There was a super bright purple house I wanted to take a shot of, but sadly, my phone died before we got to that point. It's about time for a new phone, methinks. 

Okay, back to the food.

Clemente's is tucked away inside Val's, a liquor store, and the last place I'd search for Italian takeout. They specialize in a little gem called a malfatti, which is Italian slang for "mistake." It was created as an alternative to raviolis when a baseball team came into town starving and the restaurant was out of raviolis. The original owner took the ravioli filling, rolled it in flour, boiled it and doused it in sauce. The team loved it and a famous Napa original was born.  Of course, this is just the abbreviated version of the story. The full version is on the back of their takeout menu. 

 Reanna and Lynn, selfie-ing without us.

From there we tasted tritip sandwiches (I had a portabello sandwich) at Buckhorn Grill and some delicious olive oil from Lucero's (where we all but one joined the olive oil club!). They made us ice cream with flavored olive oil and then with balsamic vinegar. You wouldn't think it would be delicious, but it is! 

From there we had fondue at The Pear...I'm a big fan of fondue, but this one just didn't float my boat. Maybe because it was gouda. And maybe because it was not warm. I did really enjoy the pear dipped in the gouda, though. 

And Stephanie and I had fun fencing with our tiny fork sticks.

Lastly, we sampled some amazing gelato at Frati. The..chef?...master gelatoer?...I'm not sure what his title is, but the guy who makes it actually learned...trained??...I need to listen Italy where it was first created, so his stuff is legit. And delicious. I could have eaten a whole pan of it to myself. 

From there we did a little wine tasting at Jim's and my favorite winery, Gustavo Wines! I got to taste the Merlot that we stomped back in October of 2012. It was pretty yummy and I bought a couple bottles for Jim and I. We also cruised through to Oxbow Market and bought a trunk-full of bread from Model Bakery.

It was truly a beautiful day and one that I really needed. On the way home, the sunset was amazing, even though I couldn't capture it accurately with my camera phone...and then I put a filter on the instagram photo, so this is what you get:

And I have no way of tying this in, but I thought it was hilarious that a trolly car was gassin' up at Chevron, so here you go:

And that was Saturday. I feel so blessed to have such great friends and the opportunities to share amazing days like this with them.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Book Review: The Painted Girls

I loved this book, and I hated it. But mostly I hated it because it was based on a true story that I couldn't get any more of. Other than that, it was a pretty fantastic book. Let's start from the beginning.

One of Edgar Degas' favorite sources of inspiration was the Ballet at the Paris Opera. He painted several scenes of little ballerinas at the practice barre or waiting in the wings or performing on stage. Arguably his most famous work was a sculpture titled "Little Dancer, Aged 14" (Or "Little Dancer of Fourteen Years" depending on the translation). The girl depicted in the sculpture was Marie van Goethem, and it was her story that Cathy Marie Buchanan wrote about in The Painted Girls.


Marie is one of three daughters born into the slums of Paris in the late 1800s. Her father dies just before the story starts, sending their laundress mother to the absinthe bottle (which, by the way, we tried at book club...YUCK!) and rendering her more or less useless to the three girls. Oldest sister, Antoinette, must then take responsibility for her two younger sisters, Marie and Charlotte, who both find themselves contributing to the household income by entering the ballet.

In my book reviews, I like to give more of my opinion and less information about the actual story, so I will leave it at that.

What I didn't like about the book:

Like I just mentioned, I wish there was more Degas.

When I finished the book, I wanted more information. What happened to these girls beyond this story? Unfortunately, and through no fault of the author, there just isn't that much information on their lives.

What I liked about the book:

The story isn't pretty. It takes you to some dark places with these girls as they attempt to keep food in their pantry and their family together. But the author also manages to write the characters in a way that you never lose hope for them, you never get to the point where you dislike them so much you stop rooting for them.

The story is, at its depths, about sisterhood, about how the love of these three sisters propelled them forward, kept them going and threatened to tear them apart. Even at their point of greatest disconnect, their happiness and their lives depended on each other.

As an admirer of Edgar Degas, I particularly enjoyed this story because it showed him from a different angle, one that you wouldn't necessarily expect to see. Even though he was not a major player in this story and I craved more information about him, more interaction with him, it still was a little bit like you were in the painting looking back at the artist.

It was one of those books that I couldn't put down and I couldn't wait to pick up every chance I got.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. I would recommend it to a friend, and I have.