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A touch of beauty in my day

Well, my friends, the time has finally come “the Walrus said.” A time I knew was bound to get here and yet I secretly hoped never would. Suddenly everything I thought I knew has been thrown into turmoil and I am left uncertain about the future. Just when you think you have things figured out! The news came to me just a few days ago, through the mail, so haphazardly that I easily could have missed it. And yet, there it was, in black and white newsprint…

“Effective April 1, 2012, Manufacturer’s coupons will be accepted at face value.”

I’ll give you a moment to let the news sink in…

Ralphs announced its new coupon policy this week with the launch of their new savings program. No more doubled coupons. My 50¢ coupons will now only be worth 50¢. No more doubling up to a dollar and cashing in on some real savings. I remember a day when they used to double coupons up to $2! Then, they changed their policy… and now again…Like I said before, it was only a matter of time, but it still hurts.

The good news, for now, is that Vons/Pavilions is still doubling coupons and most of my best deals this past year have come from them, but for how long? How much longer do we have before they decide to follow suit and change THEIR policy? And worse yet, how long will it be before manufacturers decide it is no longer worthwhile to PRINT coupons? Will this be the end of extreme couponing? Are we destined to pay full price for groceries?

Stock up while you can!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I decided to make a farewell trip to Ralphs today and take advantage of some last deals before their policy change. They actually had a few good deals going on, in spite of their big announcement. Among other things, I picked up a couple more tubes of free toothpaste. Will this be the end? (I’ll be glad I stocked up if it is!) I made a remark about the policy change to the checker as I paid for my groceries. He assured me they were launching a whole new savings program that would bring lower prices into the stores than ever before and that I would still see HUGE savings. Clearly, I am skeptical. (Although, I did get a dozen eggs today for only 88 cents.) But I will watch the ads for the next few weeks before I write them off completely and hope to be pleasantly surprised.

In the meantime, I walked away from Ralphs today with a total savings of $37.09 and I only spent $16.52.  That makes it a total 69% savings for my trip! What does $16 worth of groceries look like?

1 bag of grapes, 1 bag pistachios, 3 packs of pantiliners, 1 dozen eggs, 1 Dulcinea personal watermelon, 2 containers of drink mix, 2 packages of whole wheat pasta, 2 toothbrushes, and 2 tubes of toothpaste

 

A fitting farewell. Thanks for the memories Ralphs; let’s hope this isn’t the end.

The view from the top of Beacon Hill

One of the advantages to having a sometimes unpredictable schedule is unexpected days off, like yesterday. I was scheduled to work a job with Cuties Juice sampling product at a Bristol Farms in Westwood. However, upon arriving at the store I was told that there had been a mix up with their ordering and therefore they did not have enough juice for me to sample. All that really means to me is, “No Work!”

So there I was, with an entire Saturday afternoon off! What to do?! There are plenty of things I should do, maybe, but nothing that sounded like any fun. Go to the gym? Oh please, no…there must be a better idea than that! I quickly decided that I wanted to take my puppy out somewhere, to the park or something so that she, too, could reap the benefits of this sudden turn in the day’s events.

My friend Samantha suggested Griffith Park and quickly went about searching for a trail that we could explore together. This was the same girl that just moments before had suggested a spinning class at the gym, so needless to say I was skeptical. Don’t get me wrong, Griffith Park is beautiful and HUGE so I knew there would probably be some cool trails, but it can also be very busy on the weekends and the traffic getting there can be terrible! Although Griffith Park often comes to my mind when trying to think of a fun place to take Nina, I usually disregard it because in my mind I have built it up to be such a hassle!

Despite my usual reservations, Sam found a trail that sounded nice and the three of us headed out to Beacon Hill. Yes, there was a little traffic on Los Feliz Blvd. but it still only took us about 20 minutes to get there from Hollywood and it was TOTALLY worth it! The trail was gorgeous and it turned out to be such a beautiful day.

On the way up to Beacon Hill

The sun was shining and the weather was warm but there was this cool breeze that would sweep past us from time to time keeping us from getting too hot. We used Dan’s Hiking Pages as a guide and with the exception of one wrong turn at the end of the trail everything went perfectly. The views on all sides were incredible, giving us full views of Downtown LA, Glendale, Burbank, Silver Lake, and the Hollywood Hills. There wasn’t a ton of other people or dogs there crowding out the trail and it actually felt like a nice retreat from the hustle and bustle of the city. I think we found my new favorite hiking trail!

A quiet getaway

Nina was racing around in all directions trying to scope out all the new and exciting smells all around her. We kept Nina on her leash, obeying the signs at the start of the trail, but mostly because she hasn’t quite learned how to come when she is called and I still worry a little too much about her. But she had a BLAST, prancing around with her tongue hanging down to her knees and her tail wagging all around! We stopped for lots of water breaks (not sure who needed it more, me or Nina) but never for very long before continuing on our way.

Nina, the outdoor puppy!

By the end of our 4 or 5 mile journey, we were all feeling a little tuckered out and ready for a nap (or food, whatever came first). What a lovely Saturday it turned out to be! I was looking forward to another day off today and to exploring a new dog park with Nina but shortly after waking up this morning it started to rain and it hasn’t stopped yet. So instead, I’m writing this blog with my sweet little puppy snuggled up next to me taking a nap. She doesn’t like the rain either!

I think it is time for another food blog. And when I say food blog, I mean dessert blog because this weekend I made some of THE most amazing cupcakes I have ever tasted (if I do say so myself)! Though I can’t take credit for the recipe (because I found it through foodgawker), I will take credit for following the recipe and making one pretty and super delicious dessert. They just might be my best EVER! I’m not joking, this is serious.

My yummy creations!

I had been looking forward to making these grown-up cupcakes for about a month. I came across the recipe for Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes during one of my regular “foodgawking” sessions and was instantly excited. Not because I am the type of person to get super excited about St. Patrick’s Day but because last year two of my very dear friends were MARRIED on March 17th!! This event turned the whole day into a celebration and turned me into a fan of this bizarre green holiday.

Last year, Eddie and I joined our friends Luke and Sam at the Norwalk courthouse on a cool and foggy morning to witness their exchange of vows and commitment to love each other always. This was followed by a Champagne brunch with friends and later a fabulous dinner with MORE friends before we took to Hollywood Blvd for some St. Patrick’s Day festivities! We ended up in a crowded little bar, with an Improv show in the other room that none of us watched, and toasted to Luke and Sam over a couple (and maybe a few too many) Irish Car Bombs. In case you are not familiar, this is a yummy cocktail that consists of a shot of Irish whiskey and Bailey’s Irish Cream dropped into a half pint of Guinness. In know, right?!

So, what better way to honor their first year of marriage than with a batch of commemorative Irish Car Bomb Cupcakes!?! A chocolately Guinness infused cake with a bittersweet whiskey ganache filling and Bailey’s buttercream frosting… my mouth is still watering!I hope that they enjoyed the treats as much as I enjoyed making (and “tasting”) them. Who knows, maybe this will be the start of a new tradition! I certainly wouldn’t mind enjoying these decadent little cakes every year!

I’m not copying the whole recipe but click here to check it out (and the blog it came from).  I literally followed it step by step, iPhone in hand, with only one exception…

I used twice the amount of Bailey’s Irish Cream in the frosting!

This one is my favorite!

I have gotten to know the streets around my neighborhood more in the last 5 months than I have in the entire 3 ½ years that we have been living here. This is, of course, because now I have a dog and this dog needs to be walked…often. We have our routes and I like to try and mix them up from day to day in order to keep things interesting (more for me than for the dog). We head north toward Sunset Blvd. or south toward Melrose Ave. On the days we have some extra time we will take a trip to the park or to one of our favorite trails. We really only stay in our “hood” if it is absolutely necessary and we just don’t have the time to travel.

You see, ours is not the best of neighborhoods. It’s a little dirty, a little noisy, a few too many angry dogs barking from behind their fences, and sometimes a few too many colorful characters wandering the streets. Not that I feel completely unsafe, but someone did break into my apartment while we were sleeping and steal my computer.

So we take a walk in order to enjoy our walks. By now, I know the streets that I like and the ones I would like to avoid. I know where to find the quiet little neighborhoods with the cute little houses and neat little yards and the occasional friendly little pup looking for a play date (not that my dog is incredibly social). It is always amazing to me how a distance of less than a mile can make such a huge difference. All of a sudden I find myself in this strange land where I can smell the flowers in bloom or the dew on the grass and enjoy the peaceful sounds of nature. I am actually trying to do a little memory recall of that moment right now as I sit in my apartment writing this blog to the sound of a helicopter hovering overhead.

Another thing one might not notice right away about the difference between these two neighborhoods is the amount of dog poop. I never noticed before. That is until I started taking Nina out regularly to handle her own “business”. The amount of poop I have to navigate around is ridiculous! This kind of thing doesn’t go on in the nice, quiet neighborhoods. The fact that I have to be careful not to step in dog poop WHILE I’m picking up my own dog’s poop is stupid! I would think that it goes without saying, if your dog does its business ANYWHERE you pick it up. We shouldn’t need signs in a person’s yard to tell us that! I mean, who else do you expect to do it? Is there a pooper scooper fairy out there somewhere that I didn’t know about?

Well, clearly there isn’t or if there is she should be fired because there ain’t any kind of clean-up goin’ on in my neighborhood! I just don’t get it and frankly it makes me a little angry! I’m not sure if people just let their dogs run free and do about their business unsupervised or what. I can’t imagine any person could stand there, watch their dog do what they do, and then just walk away. It’s not that hard! Yea, its poop and it’s kind of gross but that dog is your responsibility. And if the person who loves that dog isn’t going to pick up its duty, who is? Grab a plastic bag on the way out of your front door and do us all a favor!

*frustrated sigh*

And that’s why Nina and I walk down to Larchmont for our morning walks.

I know, I’m in trouble…it has been a ridiculously long time since my last blog. Writing 1 post every 3 weeks is not the goal! If you are reading this now that means you haven’t completely given up on me yet and I am very grateful for that. My only hope is that this next series of posts will more than make up for my absence. We’ll see…

I am not trying to make excuses for myself but I just got back from a 10-day trip to Florida. And although at one point I had hoped this would be a good opportunity to catch up with my blogging, clearly that was NOT the case. With my laptop stolen shortly before I left, I traveled without a computer of my own (I know, tragic!) and I am not quite skilled enough to write and post on entire blog post via iPhone. So there I was, 10 days away from home with a LOT of down time and no computer to fill the void.

How did I survive you may wonder? Well, I’ll tell you. A kick-ass Florida roommate (Shar Gabriel), lots of mindless TV, a beach and pool right outside my hotel room, and a good, old-fashioned BOOK! Yes, that’s right! I started and completed an entire 500+ page book while I was away. Hardcover. No digital gizmo or gadget. I can’t even remember the last time I sat down to read anything that wasn’t a play or screenplay, let alone breeze through hundreds of pages. It felt good!

 

I sent this picture to my mom when I landed in Fort Lauderdale

 

The book of choice was Her Daughter’s Dream by Francine Rivers. This was book 2 in a 2-part series by one of my favorite authors. My mother and I started reading Francine Rivers back when I was still in high school and she might be the only author we still agree about. There are other books I have loved and my mother hated and vice versa but we never disagree about a good Francine novel. My absolute FAVORITE by her is Redeeming Love and if you have some free time for a good love story, do yourself a favor and read it! But honestly, you can’t go wrong with this author.

Francine Rivers writes Christian fiction novels but don’t let that scare you away. They are simply classic stories of love, family, and struggle that always have a vein of finding one’s faith along the way. You are never beaten over the head with her religion but rather you are presented with realistic depictions of people struggling to find and keep their faith in the world around them. And man! Does she write some of the greatest love stories!

Her Daughter’s Dream is so great because it is a totally female-centric story. Over the course of 2 epic novels, we watch 5 generations of mothers and daughters struggle to relate to and understand one another. As the outside observer, we watch their mistakes and yet at the same time understand their motives. We see how each woman tries to be better than their perception of their own mother but still ends up making the same mistakes and often creating the same divides. The second book takes place entirely in California and relates to more current events than the previous book. These women battle illness, women’s rights in education and work, drugs, sex, war-time, love and most importantly that always touchy relationship between a woman and her daughter. I found myself desperately wanting these women to finally come together and just BE HONEST! Come on ladies, talk it out and work it out!

I saved the last 100 pages or so for the plane ride home because I knew it would be a long flight and that I would need the entertainment. I found myself having to stop and take breaks from reading in order to keep from crying like a baby. It was, after all, an airplane and I was sitting in a middle seat between two young gentlemen that I didn’t know. I didn’t want them thinking I was CRAZY! But this was such a good book that no matter how hard I tried NOT to make a fool of myself, I did let out a couple of tears in the end. Whatever, I’m a crier, I can’t help it!

The first book in the series is Her Mother’s Hope; start there and enjoy this wonderful 2 part family saga.

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