Wine Down Wednesday: how to host a virtual wine-tasting

So….who misses wine festivals???

THIS GIRL!!!

For me, in addition to the normal activities, summers are made for discovering new wines, visiting local wineries, and going to wine festivals. I love visiting wineries and attending wine festivals. With the exception of beaches, cookouts, and vacations, it’s what I live for during the summer.

When it comes to wine festivals, I usually start working on plans during the winter. I brainstorm with my usual festival crew, find ticket deals and figure out lodging options if necessary. Then once summer kicks off, we are all set for wine festival season.

As far as visiting wineries, any day or weekend throughout the summer could lead me to a local winery. I’m lucky that I live in Maryland, which has an awesome plethora of wineries and trails. And I live close to Virginia, which has wonderful wine trails as well. So no matter what my mood or what direction I want to travel in, there’s a good chance I can pass several really good winery options. It’s so easy to build a weekend, a staycation, or a hookie day around visiting a winery nearby, no matter the season. But summers really are made for winery visits.

Covid has wrecked all plans for wine-related activities this year with the exception of purchasing a bottle and drinking it in the house. And that makes me oh, so sad. Like…really really sad.

Times are different now. And unfortunately Covid is our current reality. For me, I am still primarily still sticking to quarantine procedures. I stay in my home or I go out in open spaces, like parks. When I visit family members, we always remain outside and we stay six feet apart. And no hugging…which really really sucks.

I am not visiting restaurants except for curbside pick-up. I do quick grocery store runs. And when it comes to Target, it’s a quick twirl through the store to gather items, or I put in pick-up orders through the app. Everything else for me is off the table. And unfortunately, for now, that includes visiting wineries and attending festivals.

So since I miss girl time with my friends, and I miss wineries, my besties and I decided to try out doing a virtual wine tasting. Sooooo not the same, but satisfied our interest in finding new yummy wines, as well as our craving for social activities with each other.

So here’s what we did.

1) Select wines:
We didn’t have strict requirements for this because, without ample planning and a cushion time for delivery, we are kinda limited to the wines in our local liquor store. or wines that we already have on-hand.

2) Research facts:
When you go wine tasting, typically the host or hostess will tell you some fun facts about the vineyard or its owners, and then add some facts about the wine itself. What notes to expect, what smells and tastes will be experienced, what grapes it was made with, and how best to serve and enjoy the wine. So we looked up tidbits of information about the wines we chose.

3) Set up the Zoom/Hangouts call:
Everyone is all about zoom these days! Where has this app been all our lives?? Unless someone has an unlimited account, the max time for the free account is 40 minutes. So…plan accordingly! Luckily, bestie had an unlimited account and we were able to do our tastings, and chat while drinking more wine…without worrying about time restrictions. Find your meeting app, and set up your time.

4) Sample your wine:
We made sure we did our sampling during the video, so that we could observe initial reactions and subsequent flavor processing. I guess that helped us feel like the tasting was similar to the experience we’d have if we were together at a winery, sampling the wine for the first time. Wines change as they aerate, and sometimes that changed our perceptions of the wines during the tasting.

5) Have a rating system:
We went with the typical scale of 1 to 10 for the first meeting. Maybe we will get creative for the next round and use wine bottles or grape vines or something fancy. But 1-10 got the job done this time. Included in our rating system was our initial thoughts, whether things changes after first, second and third sips, whether we’d purchase the wine again, and why or why not.

Here are the wines we sampled for our first Wine Down Wednesday:

Liebe Winemaker’s Collection Riesling – Wegman’s $7.99

Menage Trois Luscious Pinot Noir – Local wine shop $15.99


Aged in French and American oak, containing notes of black cherry, raspberry, dark chocolate, vanilla and mocha. Pairs well with fish, seafood, and barbecue.

Von Hovel Riesling – Local wine shop $25

Notes include fruit flavors, such as peach, pear, and glazed apricot. Slightly fizzy. A sweeter riesling that is described as being a dessert wine.

It was completely by accident that we wound up sampling various price points but it was definitely great to have that as a factor of consideration, along with where the bottle was purchased. Ie., “if you’re in Wegman’s and want to grab an inexpensive bottle of wine to go with dinner, try the Liebe Riesling!”

The funnest part of the whole evening may have been drinking and chatting afterwards. We truly miss the in-person shenannigans that we’re accustomed to, so this was really a fun way to connect, learn about new wines, and catch up.

How have you been keeping up with your friends and loved ones? Socializing is so different these days. In addition to various zoom gatherings, I do find myself picking up the phone more often to ask questions and do check-ins. What have you been doing?

$40 Nightstand Makeover in Four Steps

I recently moved a have been looking for just the right nightstands to go in my bedroom. I’ve seen a few that I liked, and I hemmed and hawed way too long, and now that we are in the middle of the COVID pandemic, store closures have brought my search to a semi-halt.

Of course I can still look around online, and I could do a delivery, but I like having options before making a furniture purchase. And quite honestly, I wasn’t in he mood to spend a lot of money. And I also like going into stores and getting good visuals of the things I’m interested in.

So when I stumbled across two nightstands for $30 on Facebook marketplace, I decided to go with an all-together less expensive, more creative option.

These tables weren’t exactly what I was looking for, but for the price, I could see the potential to turn my weekend quarantine hours into a project that would keep me busy while creating some furniture pieces that would suit my needs.

If my bedroom furniture was a different style, I would have used these well-kept pieces as-is. But I have more rustic contemporary feel going on in my bedroom and figure that these traditional furnishings may work better if they were repainted. I’ve seen a lot of furniture makeovers using matted blue, grey and black and thought that painting in one of those hues was more in my wheel house.

I perused around online and saw that I could do a pick-up order of some matte blue spraypaint from my local Walmart, so I went with that. All of the other materials that I used were things I had around my house leftover from various other projects, so the cost of this project wound up being $30 for the tables and about $7 for three cans of spray paint. Not bad!

Here are the materials I used:

  • Sanding block (I don’t know what the coarseness is because it was leftover from other projects)
  • Rust-Oleum Ultra Matte spraypaint in True Navy (3 cans)
  • Design Master 14 kt gold spraypaint (1 can leftover from other projects)
  • All purpose interior/exterior primer (leftover from other projects)
  • Paintbrush
  • Rags
  • Tarps

So here’s what I did:

1. Sanded the tables. After removing the hardware and the drawers, I used a sanding block and sanded the tables and drawer fronts. The tables had a glossy finish, and I knew I was going to need some texture for the paint to grab on to, so the sanding seemed like a good idea. After I sanded, I wiped them off with a wet rag to remove the dust, and let dry for a few minutes.

2. Primed the tables. I had some primer on hand from another project, and spread a layer on the tables. I didn’t use very much, so if you have some, use what you have. If not, maybe buy a small can or a bottle of spray primer. It may not even be needed if you are working with an unfinished, non-coated wood.

3. Sprayed the tables. I sprayed a thin coat of the navy spraypaint, let it dry about 20 minutes, then sprayed another coat. Once I sprayed the second coat, it needed 24-48 hours to fully fully completely dry.

4. Sprayed the hardware. These tables came with bronze hardware that was pretty well tarnished. If I didn’t have gold spraypaint on hand, I would have left them as is until I found replacement hardware. But…because I love having craft items laying around, I happened to have a can of gold spraypaint. So I gave these knobs a couple of quick coats and they came out perfectly.

I poked holes in the cardboard backing of an ink pen package (lol use what you have, right??) and I set the knobs in there for painting.

 

Once everything dried, I put the knobs into the drawers and that was that! I love how the project came out! And I love even more than I did it for under $40!

Have you done any cute makeovers that you want to share? Drop me a comment!

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DIY Reusable Disinfecting Wipes

Lemme tell you, COVID caught me completely off guard. I have prided myself lately in trying to remove hoarding tendencies from my life. And one area where I’ve worked the hardest is on not stocking up on tons and tons and tons of household items. I would buy one pack of paper towels, one counter cleaner, one pack of paper towels, etc. Use those and re-up when the time was right. Space is limited and I typically don’t use most items very fast.

This no-hoarding lifestyle has totally failed me when it comes to COVID prep. Luckily I had recently re-upped on toilet paper and paper towels, apparently the biggest must-haves for the virus.

But when it comes to disinfecting wipes, I have what remains in one container I bought several months ago, and that’s pretty much it. I had started using non-toxic cleansers years ago because I had a cat, so I haven’t stocked up on virus killing products. This means I have little to no bleach, alcohol, peroxide, etc. This will all be rectified once we return to normal.

But in the mean time, I decided to try to stretch the items I have, and stop trying to fight people in the store for wipes and sanitizers. And with that said, I present to you my quick, easy reusable disinfecting wipes.

Materials:

1) 1 and a half cups of 91% rubbing alcohol

2) 3 tablespoons of Palmolive dish soap

3) 10-20 drops of essential oils

4) Cloths

5) Container

This step is optional. For my purposes, I figured it would be a better for my usage for me to cut them. Also, one of the last things I stocked up on when I moved a couple months ago just happened to be this HUGE bag of microfiber cloths from home Depot that were on clearance for $2.50. I’ve only used a few of them, so they were perfect for this project. Also, cheap wash cloths would work as well.

When you use them, you can toss them in the wash.  You can easily refresh the mixture when necessary.

The end! Easy peasy!  

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10 Take-Aways from Speed Mentoring Event

What it's like being on furlough (1)

I felt anxious and unsure when I was invited to attend a speed-mentoring event at work last week.  Yes, an opportunity to sit down with my agency’s leaders sounds great, but the thought of saying something stupid…or not saying anything at all…made my pressure rise.  Is this going to feel like an interview?  EEEK!

The large conference room was set up with four tables.  At each table was a senior leader at my agency and four mentees.  Each leader had a topic that they’d speak about to their mentee group for 15 minutes, and then we’d then have five minutes for Q&A and discussion.  After time was up, the mentees would rotate to the next leader.  The four topics were:

  • Self-Marketing:  How do I (the employee) make myself known without being annoying?
  • Innovation & Technology:  Where is the agency heading and how do I (the employee) fit in?
  • Political Savvy: How do I negotiate with senior leadership?
  • A Picture of Success: What does it take to move up the ranks, and what strategies are needed to overcome challenges along the way?

I made some notes and prepared some questions in advance, just in case nothing came to mind as the sessions were going on.  I prefer a more organic conversation, so I was a little nervous because I knew my questions sounded canned and prepped.  But that’s better than having nothing and risking brain freeze in the face of leadership.

The event went so much better than I expected.  The conversation flowed effortlessly, the topics were really interesting, and I actually had to force myself not to interrupt other mentees in my group when they asked their questions.  I struggled between furiously taking notes because so much good advice was given, and trying to listen and converse with the group.

So here are my top ten take-aways from the speed mentoring event:

  1. Order business cards ASAP.
  2. Make yourself both visible and vital to leadership.
  3. Say something in every meeting, and have an interest in what you say or ask.
  4. Attend social events, brown bags, or workgroup presentations.
  5. Say thank you if your supervisor approves training, and then follow up after the training to say what you learned from the course.
  6. Push yourself to talk to people you know by sight but have never spoken to.
  7. Understand how your organization operates and how decisions are made.
  8. Take note of who sits where in meetings and who speaks up first.  Also note if your manager or leader looks to someone else for input when questions are asked of him/her.
  9. Identify parts of your job that can lead to an innovative solution.  Tasks that take up a huge amount of time and have a lot of repetition may be able to be automated.
  10. Take time to master emotional intelligence and self awareness.

If you have an opportunity to attend events like this at your organization, I strongly encourage you to attend, even if you are happy with where you are, you don’t see the immediate benefit, or if you are a bag of nerves.  The tips and strategies discussed in this event helped put me in front of leaders I may not otherwise have had exposure to, and also gave me food for thought for my own personal aspirations, both in and out of the workplace.

Have you ever done anything like this?  What did you take away from the experience?

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Why The Annual “State of My Finances” Is Important

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Money, money, money money….MONEY!!!  Some people got to have it, some people really need it…and some have no idea whether they have it or they need it because they don’t take the time to review their books.  “What books??” You ask.  Well, whether it’s a book or a spreadsheet or an app on your phone, I’m talking about your finances.

Every year kinda goes the same way when it comes to my finances.  I have a pretty strong start with being disciplined and focused, then I eventually lose focus but somehow the bills still get paid, and by the end of the year, things get pretty loosey goosey.  I am not aware of balances, I stop telling myself “no” to purchases as much as I should, I start becoming really focused on when I get paid again, and the paycheck-to-paycheck mentality kicks in a bit.  Then January rolls around and I force myself to get reacquainted with my finances, and I become focused and disciplined all over again.

So…here we are…it’s January and it’s time to know what’s happening with my finances.  It’s time to regain control, see the big picture, know my numbers and dates, and make the promise to myself to be more fiscally responsible than I was last year.

Where to begin:  I have a spreadsheet which has been my trusty companion for the last five years or so.  I use it to track account balances, financial obligations, and monthly payments.  So I pulled that out and got to work.  I went account by account, checked balances and limits, minimum payments, and due dates.  One page of the spreadsheet contains every debt that I owe for every monthly payment I make.  It has the date that those payments are due each month, the current balance of that account, the limit for that account, and the method which I make my monthly payments.  I update it for any new accounts and delete any old accounts that no longer apply.  I sum this all up and I see where I stand from a total debt perspective.  Then I compare that amount to the debt reported on my freecreditreport.com report.  (Side note:  Freecreditreport.com is a very useful tool. I highly recommend this or some type of credit monitoring service.)

So here’s the spreadsheet template that I use.

budgetspreadsheetcapture2

After I’ve updated all the accounts on my current payment roster, I go to my other sheet that lays out my monthly perspective.  I put in my paycheck dates for the year, the amount of each paycheck, and the bills that I pay each month.  This is where I track each time I get a paycheck, and each time I actually make a payment towards my bills.  This is also where I become a little lazy because most of my payments are set to be automatically paid.  I like that these payments occur behind the scenes and that I do not have to monitor them on a daily basis.  I feel like I should stay on top of my monthly payments, but because God invented autopay, I just don’t have the need to monitor it super close.

budgetspreadsheetcapture

So…between these two spreadsheets, this is how I go about performing my “State of My Finances” review.

Upon completing my review, here’s what I found out— I kicked ASS this year financially!  GO ME!  1) I paid off all credit card accounts except one that I use for vacations and such.  2) My credit score has gone up, up, up despite purchasing a vehicle last year! 3) My monthly utility, cell phone, cable, etc. have all been kept at a satisfactory level.  4) I am spending significantly less than I make.  5) And I have a much healthier surplus at the end of each month.  YES!  This is what it’s all about!

Doing an annual “State of Your Finances” is an absolute MUST for everyone, and here’s why:

You know where you stand:  Every adult should know who they owe, how much they owe, and when they owe it.  You need to know whether you need to make changes or stay the course.  You need to know whether you can withstand a financial crisis or an unexpected life change.  While credit reports are a great way to know this information, sometimes they are wrong.  If you haven’t done your own work, you may not realize there are errors, and that can hurt you in the long run.  A good example for me is, when I was furloughed for 35 days, and missed nearly three paychecks, my boyfriend was actually surprised that I wasn’t a big ball of stress.  That’s because I knew I had savings, I knew I had credit cards that weren’t maxed out, and I knew what sat in my bank account.  Granted, it wasn’t a great time, I definitely avoided Target like the plague…but I was able to survive it unscathed.

Knowing your financial status is empowering:  Every year when I do my self-audit, I come out of the experience feeling better.  When they say knowing is half the battle, that’s legit.  You feel empowered to do better, to plot a course, to move to the next step.  Or you feel validated in the way you spent money in the previous year.  Even in the years when I realize my financial situation was not great, when I was completely under water and overwhelmed, I still completed my finance-check feeling better.  I’d rather know than not know.  Knowing your starting point helps you determine your goals.  Just because things aren’t great doesn’t mean you can’t improve and get to where you want to be.  Trust me.  I know first-hand, and maybe one day I’ll write about my journey to this point.

Not knowing is stressful:  Flying blindly is a bad idea.  Not knowing whether you are close to financial ruin or well on your way to financial freedom can cause stress.  Playing fast and loose with your finances is never a good thing.  Getting to a checkout line and not knowing whether you have $500 or $5 in your account is not cute.  Going to dinner with your girls, and having your stomach in knots because you don’t know what the waiter is going to say when he brings your card back…is a horrible position to be in.  Remove one source of stress from your life.  Know for sure what’s going on.  Either way, the money is either in your account or it isn’t.  Don’t add to the stress by putting yourself in embarrassing situations just because you don’t want to know your truth.

You can set the course and let go of the wheel:  What I’ve learned is that by going over my bills and payments in the beginning of the year, I actually figure out what my plan is for the year, set everything up, and then I don’t think about it.  I just let the auto-pay magic happen.  Because I know that I’m not the greatest at being disciplined, I set myself up for success from the beginning and then I don’t worry about it.  Over the course of the last few years, I always dread this audit, and then realize things are better than where I started.  But that’s because I’ve set payments up, I’ve updated when things get allocated based on my pay dates for the year, so I don’t have to constantly monitor and look at things in order for them to get done.  Lay out your plan and let it go to work!

You can take advantage of opportunities: Whether it’s planning a trip you swore you didn’t have enough money for, or increasing your contributions to your 401k, knowing definitively where you stand with your finances opens the door to more opportunities.  For me, if I have money sitting in the bank, that’s money available for me to spend.  But instead, if I allocate it before I see it, then it’s helping me accomplish a goal.  I know I’d much rather accomplish a goal than purchase yet another pair of jeans.  Let your money help you experience life to its fullest.  Don’t let it be the reason you don’t want to get out of bed in the morning.  I’ve been there–it’s horrible.

Start your year off right.  Don’t hesitate!  Know where you stand financially and set yourself up to be in a better position when you review your finances next year.  I know you can do it!

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