Ponyo and Homemade Pizza

I first saw the beauty of his work during an annual screening of “Hotaru no Hakka” (Grave of the Fireflies) — even with the Japanese language ability of a two-month old his animation transcended the major gaps in my vocabulary and deeply touched my heart.  He seemed to have captured every detail from the everyday task of tapping the shoe just right to get it on to shaking a tin of candy drops to get the last ones out.  The work of Miyazaki, Hayao is well known, not only through Japan, but also internationally.  Such masterpieces as “Tonari no Totoro” (My Neighbor Totoro), “Mononoke Hime” (Princess Mononoke), and most recently “Gake no Ue no Ponyo” (Ponyo).  DVD cover to "Ponyo"With the nostalgia that each Miyazaki movie brings me, it almost feels like a betrayal to the artwork and culture to watch his films dubbed in English.  Now don’t get me wrong, Disney and Pixar do great work to assemble a fantastic cast, and they go to great lengths to preserve the integrity of the production, but if I have the option to see the works as they were originally created with English subtitles, then bring it on!

To celebrate our Ponyo-viewing occasion, my husband and I invited some friends over for some homemade pizza ala Trader Joe’s.  We bought the pre-made pizza dough in plain, garlic herb, and wholewheat.  We decided to vary our toppings to create a Thai Chicken, a Works, and a Pineapple Pepperoni  – deelish!  What’s more, it was easy, healthier than our beloved Papa John’s delivery, and easy on our budget.  We sliced and diced a bunch of fresh veggies — green and red bell pepper, onion, carrot, green onion, mushroom, tomato — the works.  Then added some pizza sauce and peanut sauce (respectively), mozzarella, pepperoni, and chicken sausages.  Our favorite was the Pineapple Pepperoni, but don’t let us tell you which one’s the best — check out the pics and judge for yourselves.

Thai Chicken Pizza on Wholewheat Crust

Thai Chicken Pizza on Wholewheat Crust

The Works on Garlic Herb Crust

The Works on Garlic Herb Crust

Pineapple Pepperoni on Plain Crust

Pineapple Pepperoni on Plain Crust

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Vino, anyone?

Entrance to the Los Angeles San Antonio Winery

Los Angeles Historic Landmark from the early 1900’s, the only Los Angeles winery to survive prohibition, the only current winery in Los Angeles, and home to tours and restaurant dining — the San Antonio Winery is a great location to take in some history, culture, and of course, some vino.

Visiting the San Antonio Winery is a great way for wine novices to learn more about the wine-making and storage process.  For wine-lovers, it’s an opportunity to sample some new blends, buy some bottles (or cases) at reasonable prices, and expand one’s collection.

On a visit with a group of friends, we enjoyed visiting the sampling room, even tasting vintages poured by Mr. Stefano Riboli himself — one of the surviving founding family members, taking in the 45-minute tour, and dining on the delicious and very satisfying entrees.  The tour was free, the wines are reasonable (average of about $7 per bottle; less as you purchase more), and dinner is what you might pay at, say, an Olive Garden — so all in all, not too bad, and a very interesting outing.

Weekly delivery of this 10-12 gallon bottle of WINE!

On the tour we learned more about the history of the winery itself, saw pictures of the founding family, and even picked up on some old San Antonio Winery Trivia.  For example,  back in the day one of the services that the Winery offered was similar to that of a milkman.  A “wineman” would visit homes once a week and deliver a bottle full of the equivalent of 10-12 gallons of wine for a small Italian family (8-10 people).  It’s possible that the alcohol content in wine back in the day was not what it is now, or that longevity of life is being extended with each glassful, but no matter how one spins it — that’s a lotta vino!

Looking for some interesting and local culture?  If you’re in the Los Angeles or Ontario areas, check out the San Antonio Winery.  If not, do some researching, I’m sure there’s a cultural gem in your area waiting to be discovered.

Fun Friday Festivities for HalF of Forty Dollars!

Okay, I admit it…I was having Fun with the alliteration in my post title, but seriously, it is good Fun to have Fun without breaking the bank.  So what did we do and how did we do it (we being hubby and I)?

It recently came to my attention that in all these unemployed days of looking for jobs, applying, pursuing my loves and interests, and visiting with the fellow jobless I have not once had lunch with my husband, hard at work, day after day, winning the bread, bringing home the bacon — you get the idea.  So we set up a little lunch date for ourselves.  My husband works in downtown Los Angeles and is a huge lover of authentic street-style tacos.  I arranged to pick him up, take him to a hole-in-the-wall mercado, also known for their delicious tacos de carne asada and pollo, and find a picnic-y spot near USC for a little open-air lunch.  We bought said tacos, found a plaza across from the university and Exposition Park, bought an iced tea and ginger ale at the Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf (i.e. needed to validate parking), and munched on the delicious chopped onions, cilantro, grilled meat, soft handmade corn tortillas, and SALSA VERDE!  To extend our meal I also brought along some cut up Cara Cara (if you haven’t had a chance to sample these citrus babies, I highly recommend that you do), navel oranges, and some applesauce.  We were satisfied!  With mouths burning and tummies content, we made our way through the streets of downtown and the 110 freeway to drop my Querido back at work.

As it was Friday night and the start of the weekend, we chose to celebrate by taking in a movie.  At home we feasted on a comfort-food-lover’s delight of sausage with onions, peppers, marinara sauce, and havarti cheese (more on that in another post), went on an evening walk, chatted with family, and made our way out for the show.  Here’s a cool fact:  the Regency Academy Cinemas in Pasadena offers six-month old or newer releases for the bargain price of $3 for evening admission and $2 for matinee (before 6 PM).  This means that for $6 we can enjoy an evening out at the movies.  And let me tell you, we did.  We took in “Sherlock Holmes” on the big screen, and even splurged for a bag of peanut M&M’s.  Although the theaters are on the smaller side, and seats are not luxuriously comfy, one can still enjoy the theatre-going experience, have the sight and sound of the big screen, and laugh, cry, or fear in the comfort of strangers.  Good times.

Fun Friday Festivities Summary:

  • open-air lunch for 2 (tacos & bevvies): $10
  • evening out at the movies for 2 (complete with candy): $9
  • Fun Friday Adventures for HalF of Forty Dollars: PRICELESS!

Here’s hoping you get out there, find your local deals, and make your own Fun Festivities For Less (and btw — please share if/when you do)!

You Make Me Feel…

I don’t know if it’s the message in the lyrics, the nostalgic memories of riding with my mom in a sky blue Toyota Corolla and listening to K-Earth 101, images of the Lee Jeans commercials, or just the soulfulness that Aretha belts out, but “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman” is definitely a song that has a special place in my heart.  And oftentimes, when I am struck by a certain, sometimes un-nameable, emotion, the song will, without bidding, yet always welcome, come into my mind.  Last weekend was one of those long, extended moments.

Now I’ve said it before — Unemployed.  Tight finances.  Cutting back.  But this doesn’t mean that our life is without fun, nor is it without shopping.  Since we hadn’t been in awhile, my husband suggested we make a visit to our local Goodwill and check out the deals.  When we visit the Goodwill store, it’s often with a particular item in mind, but something that we have the patience to wait for — meaning if we see it and fall in love with it, we’ll get it, but if not, we are content to keep looking until we do.  One of the things I love about entering our local Goodwill is that at each entrance there will be a sign with the specials of the week and, what I like to call, the colored tag finds [You know those pesky clear, plastic tags that you have to cut out of new clothes — well Goodwill uses those same tags, but in colors — thus helping manage their inventory.  After so many weeks, a particular color, representing inventory from some weeks back goes on sale].  This means that one clothing item – say jeans, will be on special for $4.99, and anything with a purple tag will be 50% off.  This week we were greeted with the happy surprise (really more for me than my husband) of finding dresses at a special of $3.99 and red tags at 50% off.

For awhile now, I’ve been on a quest for cute, springy-summery, not black, dresses.  With such a deal, I was off to the dress section.  My modus operandi for navigating the shop is to go through a section, pull out anything that strikes my fancy, that I would likely wear, and that is in my size.  This often means that at the end of a section I could have a good six to seven items on my arm, and usually after a fitting room stop, the pile will shrink down to one, two, or zero items.  This time started off no differently.  I scavenged my way through the dresses, and for good measure made my way through the neighboring pantsuit section (I’ve been needing a good professional suit — remember, I’m an optimist and full of hope that I will have need — for an interview, job, conference, etc.).  Since the fitting room has a maximum allowance of three items, I batted my eyelashes at my hubby, gave him my remaining six items, and took in my first round of three.  Now here’s where Aretha kicked in!

The first two dresses carry the tags of one of those stores that put out modern and edgy advertisements, but usually no clothes that I can honestly wear.  These two must have been their only exceptions.  I had grabbed them on a playful whim – kind of a – let’s see how these would look, but now — on me — they were cute!  Both different, but both cute!  Immediately, I could hear Aretha singing her chorus.  One was coaxing me to take it out for Salsa dancing (my husband and I attended community classes for 8 weeks), and the other issued out invitations to sunny picnics on the beach with waves gently crashing and kids building sandcastles nearby.  Validation came from my husband’s admiring looks and approving words when I opened the fitting room door.

After two more rounds of fitting room fun, I was down to my two dresses.  Meanwhile, my husband was scoping out the dress shirt section, and had his own stack to dwindle down.  In the pantsuit department, there were a couple of possibilities, but nothing that I was in love with.  You have to understand — I’m short.  We’re not talking 5’5 or 5’3, but more like 5’1 (on a generous scale) short.  So even when clothing designates petite or short, it’s usually not enough.  Especially when combining pants with blazers – putting my short legs, curvy hips, and short waist into these outfits means I have to find the right one.  The first ones I picked out were either too baggy, flared too much in the hips, or hung down too low on me, but I did discover that I was now fitting in a size smaller, and could check out some of the other options I’d passed over.  So, back to pantsuits.  I pulled out two more, tried them on.  No dice, but closer.  One more — that was going to be my limit, and then my Goodwill visit was done.  I grabbed one more suit that had caught originally caught my eye, but being in a smaller size, I had disregarded it.  Me and my pantsuit were off to the dressing room, where once again, clothing and wearer magic ensued.  The pants fit well, they were flattering, the blazer hung at just the right level.  It was cute.  It was professional.  It was a winner.  My husband totally agreed!  So there we were, two dresses, one pantsuit, two workshirts for him — jackpot!  One our way to the cashier he spotted a lovely black, velvety dress blazer and encouraged me to take a look at it, so with my arm twisted behind my back, I tried it on over my shirt.  [insert magical fairy-like sound here] — another winner!  Now since the dress jacket was a last-minute add in, I decided to see how our total was before official adding it to our purchases.  So here we go, holding our breath, moment of truth (we had an idea, but a couple items were obscure in their prices)…$39.60…and this is after adding in the dress coat.  So, Accounting majors out there, we got two dresses, one pantsuit, two workshirts, and a dress jacket — for less than $40 — that’s less than $7 an item!  Again — jackpot!  This is the kind of splurging that our anemic budget can handle.  So to those of you who also find yourselves with cutting back, unemployed, or facing tighter budgets — check out your local Goodwill or thrift shop.

Now throughout this whole Goodwill-shopping, Fitting Room-visiting adventure, Aretha was right there with me — singing her heart out.  Why?  Because for one of the first times being faced with a full-length mirror (sometimes two) was not disheartening or discouraging me.  Rather, I was seeing me, seeing all of me, and appreciating what I saw.  Over the past two years, as I have made slow and gradual changes in my eating and activity lifestyle, better health has also come.  In addition, I have lost weight and lost dress sizes — things I do not want to find again.  I could see in my reflection the changes brought about by my regular walking/jogging, my cycling, my Yoga, my Pilates, my stretching — all of it.  My body is still uniquely me — extra curvy in some areas, slimmer in others, the trademarks that God created within me.  Even with a little extra in the tummy, hips, and thighs, I could look in the mirror, take it all in, and truly feel “like a natural woman”.  No, my body is not perfect, but it is healthy, and that to me is beautiful, and that feels so good.  And like Lady Soul sings, “But you’re [i.e. self-love, self-appreciation, love from my God, love from my hubby] the key to my peace of mind — Cause you make me feel, you make me feel, you make me feel like — A natural woman.”

C’mon — sing it with me and Aretha…

Looking out on the morning rain
I used to feel so uninspired
And when I knew I had to face another day
Lord, it made me feel so tired
Before the day I met you, life was so unkind
But you’re the key to my peace of mind

Cause you make me feel, you make me feel, you make me feel like
A natural woman

Do you have a bug in your yard?

In the Michaels Make-It-Take-It (MITI)  spirit I joined a gathering of families and eager children to make my clay pot ladybug.  The place: Michaels.  The price: less than $1 for each piece (or less than $2 for one complete ladybug creation).  The value: priceless.  Cheered on by the low-cost craftiness and enamored by the absolute cuteness of the ladybugs, I decided to make an extra for my neighbor.

Clay-pot Ladybug Creation

Ladybug Close-up

Although I had adrenaline pulsing through my veins after realizing I’d mistaken the time and just barely slipped in with enough time to complete my project, the act of picking up the foam brush, dipping it in the black wrought iron and geranium paints, and decorating my clay pieces immediately took me to a crafty place of Zen.  When I asked if it was bonus to get paint all over my hands, a fellow three-year old participant immediately piped up, “That’s the best part.  You’re supposed to do that.”  He definitely had the right idea.  Relieved with his reply, I continued on with bolstered enthusiasm.

Forty-something glorious minutes later, my pieces were painted, polka-dots were applied, antennae were curled, and foam wings were cut — it was time for assembly.  I walked my ladybug parts to the glue gun and with the help of our fearless Michaels’ leader, constructed my cute little bug.

In a cloud of peace and utter contentment, I clutched my polka-dotted flyers, and made my way home, catching a few admiring glances from folks on the way.

Ladybugs

Ladybugs

Ladybug Gift

A cheery "Just Because" Ladybug Gift

Ladybugs outside by the Aloe plants

Ladybugs in the Wild

Is this what fishing is like for men?

I’m a huge fan of local and low-cost activities.  Even more than that, I’m a huge fan of crafting.  So, when both come together in the form of a Michaels’ Make-It-Take-It event, I’m there!  Michaels hosts different events for those with interests in exploring particular crafts, as well as for children and families – they are great fun and low-cost (often less than $5, if not free).

Today’s line-up focused on beading.  Using a variety of pre-packaged beading materials from various vendors, a room full of women and children sat down to explore a new hobby, try new techniques, and walk out with a small handful of wearable souvenirs.

We were busy talking our way through the instruction sheets — swapping techniques for bending our wire, keeping the beads on the string, or just making sense of the next step.  Although unknown to one another, the shared experience of working toward the same goal, sharing tools, and enjoying a Saturday afternoon was enough to transform us from a group of strangers to women smiling, chatting, and crafting together.  When our projects required greater concentration something almost unheard of happened — a room full of chatty women became utterly silent.  I wondered to myself – is this what fishing is like for men?  The natural ease of being in the company of your gender, experiencing the bond of shared interest, finding a moment of peace in the world, and no matter the outcome — havin’ a good time.

At the end of our crafty afternoon, we walked out, women of different ages, backgrounds, and interests — with our matching jewelry.

Crafty Afternoon Souvenirs

Souvenirs from a Michaels-sponsored Crafty Afternoon

Pendant Necklace

Black Onyx Pendant Necklace made from Halcraft supplies

Pearls and Pumps Necklace

Pearls and Pumps Necklace from Plaid

Orient Express Bracelet

Orient Express Bracelet from Blue Moon Beads

Beach Ring

Hampton Island's Beach Ring

Embellished Thank You Card

Embellished Thank You Card from Crystazzi and Gartner