2011 Recap & Wrap Up

2011.  I feel like it went by so fast.  At this time last year, I was a completely different person and I’m happy to report that I’m a better me than I was at the close of 2010.

This year, I achieved things I never thought I ever could.  I choreographed three group routines, I started running and ran four 5K races, I got into grad school and survived my first semester, I realized what I truly want in my life and I am starting to become the person I have always wanted to be.

I worked my third summer with the National Dance Alliance, I now dance in an amazing company in Boston and BU has opened my eyes to incredible new opportunities, including an acceptance into a 6-week study abroad program to cover the London Olympics next summer.

2011 taught me to not take life too seriously.  To enjoy each day, love whole-heartedly and appreciate myself for who I am.  It’s a great feeling to look back on this year and know that I have grown in so many ways.

Back in July, I set some mid-year goals for myself.  So let’s recap them and see how I did.

1.  Work (at least) 8 NDA summer camps.  Done.  I worked 9!  I traveled everywhere from Kansas to Maryland and loved every minute of it.  

NDA friends take awesome photos.

2.  Run 2 more 5Ks.  Done.  I ran 3 more: Run for Ryan’s Cup 5K in SeptemberWitch City 5K in October and the Lynnfield Turkey Trot 5K in November.  I wanted to run one in December as well but since I didn’t get to, I signed up for the “Run Your Hangover Off 5K” on January 1st.  I think it’s the best way to kick off 2012!

I heart bib numbers.

3.  Host a blog giveaway.  Done. I hosted my first giveaway in September for Chocolate and Wine’s 1st Blogiversary!

4.  Stick to Weight Watchers (not playing a numbers game here. Work out, eat right, follow the points, be healthy and let the body do what it will.)  Kinda done.  I don’t exactly stick to the WW plan but I did manage to drop 12 pounds this year and I am VERY happy about that.


5.  Rock the first semester of my grad program at Boston University (all A’s would be sweet but we like B+s too.)  Kinda done.  1 A-, 1 B+ and 2 Bs.  I am very proud; grad school is hard, man.

Dream job.

6.  Try 1 new recipe a week.  Fail.  Sometimes when I cook, I use the same recipes over and over.  But now that I have a beautiful new crockpot, I might be able to achieve this goal in 2012.

7.  Dance in 4 DanceWorks Boston fall pieces.  Done.  I danced in 5!  6 if you include the finale/Flash Mob!  

Some of my DanceWorks family...

8.  Train for and run a 10K.  Fail.  I chickened out.  2012 will hold at least one 10K and maybe even a half marathon.

9.  Take hot yoga regularly.  Fail.  I probably did it a total of 3 times between the summer and now.

Overall, I think this has been a great year.  I achieved most of my goals and really let myself let go of the rest of the emotional baggage leftover from undergrad.

So long, 2011…On to 2012! Goals and “resolutions” to come!

It’s Almost Christmas!!!

To start this post today, I’d like to say a very Happy Birthday to my cousin Sam!

Sam's 21st Birthday... 22 will be much calmer.

I can’t believe how fast this year flew by.  It’s crazy to me that Christmas is a mere 2 days away.  Am I ready?  YES YES YES!

Our Christmas Tree... It takes up the better half of the living room.

First, I want to give a special shout-out and thank you to to Boston.com for featuring my Cranberry & Walnut Biscotti recipe the other day.  Because of you, I reached a record number of page views for one day at Chocolate & Wine!  What a great early Christmas present for my little corner of the Internet.

You should really make these for Christmas..

Lots of people ask me what I cook this time of year for Christmas and the various holiday parties I go to.  To be honest, the list is endless.  I try not to bring the same thing to the same place so it’s always a never-ending search for new recipes to try.

This year, I narrowed it down to a few winners.

For my best friend’s ugly sweater party, I made kale chips.  The recipe could not be simpler.  Take a bunch of fresh kale and wash thoroughly (they can be gritty so really let ’em soak).  Then rip the leaves away from the stems and place on a baking sheet coated with non-stick spray.  Top with more cooking spray (instead of oil to save some cals!), a little salt and a little black pepper and pop into a 400 degree oven for 10 minutes.  They become crisp and golden and melt in your mouth.  A really great snack or appetizer for hungry girls watching their waistlines!

Check out those sweaters. We don't play around.

For a Christmas Eve appetizer, I pinterest-ed a recipe (did I mention I’m on Pinterest now?  And obsessed with Pinterest?  Well, I am.) And I found mini toothpick caprese salads.  So easy, so healthy, so beautiful!  I’m even going to make a balsamic glaze to drizzle over the top.

Christmas Day is my favorite.  Because I come from a large Italian family, we do things in a traditional way.  And by tradition, I mean we eat and drink for approximately 6-8 hours and pass out in food comas at the end of the night.

Food Coma 101... Christmas 2007!

Christmas is a time for family and the Torto family’s ancient recipe for homemade raviolis.  These are no joke, my friends.  We already made them (in November) and they are sitting in plastic baggies in my aunt’s basement freezer waiting for their bath in from-scratch, simmered-for-hours tomato sauce.

Christmas day is served in multiple courses.  Antipasti, then escarole soup, then the ravs with meatballs, sausages and pork, then salad, then dessert.  Not to mention the finger foods we munch on before sitting down to the table or the bottles and bottles of Asti Spumonti and 2-Buck-Chuck red wine we go through.

This is Asti and it will be gone.

And that’s only with my family.  I mentioned that Stephen is Italian too, didn’t I?  That’s a whole ‘nother story (and food coma..)

I hope your holiday is filled with family, friends, and great food.  And maybe a surprise or two!

Beautiful pillows of ravioli perfection. Photo courtesy of Miss Ali Reed.

Good staffer, bad blogger – Part 2

Greetings from Towson, Maryland, Louisville, Kentucky, Long Island, New York, Branford, Connecticut … home.  Wait, what?

I know I’ve been away for a long time again.. When you are on NDA time, it’s almost as if real time has stopped, the rest of the world passes at a glance and not one staffer could confidently tell you what day of the week it is.

The past 3 weeks have been nothing short of ridiculously busy.  Here is the Sparknotes version.

3 Saturdays ago (the day after my birthday), I pulled myself out of bed at 5am to catch and early flight to Louisville, Kentucky.  After a much later night than I had anticipated, I was cranky, a total bi-otch.  The flight was originally delayed a half hour and when we finally got on the plane, the captain informed us that we would be sitting in the plane for an additional 2 hour delay before embarking on the 2.5 hour flight to Chicago, IL.  Needless to say, I missed my connecting flight and had to take a much later one.

However, despite my ill-willed travel, I arrived in Louisville and was greeted by NDA staff friends that I had come to know and love from previous years/camps.  I dove headfirst into a 5-day, very large camp with 10 other amazing staffers and came out alive and happy.  Slightly worse for wear, maybe, but happy nonetheless.

Louisville Staff 2011

The last day of my Louisville travels marked the first day of my next camp: Adelphi on Long Island, NY.

Of course, American Airlines decided to be difficult once again and I was delayed in Louisville for an extra hour and a half, therefore missing my connection in Chicago.  I’ll just say it now: I hate the Chicago Airport.  Sorry Chicago friends (if there are any out there), but your airport stinks.

Rant over.

I made it to Long Island and met up with another rock star staff.  Together, we pulled together our routines, staff assignments and inventory (broken trophies and all..) and headed out for our first night meeting at none other than 16 Handles.

Yes, friends, guilt-free indulgence at it’s finest.  Then we laughed a lot.

I want some now. Sigh.
This is what we call the "Awkward Starfish". Embrace it.

Unfortunately, Adelphi was only a 3 day camp rather than 4 days so before I knew it, awards had come and gone, applications had been given out and I had to say goodbye to one of my favorite buddy teams of all time.  Specific details aside, it was easy to become close with this team and when they gave me one of their camp t-shirts and signature heart pins at the end of Day 3, it took all I had not to start crying hysterically.

Adelphi Buddies ❤

I cry a lot, it’s whatever.

When I got home, I proceeded to unpack to repack, saw Stephen for about .02 seconds before falling asleep and didn’t wake up until the early afternoon hours the next day.

Keep in mind, that day was my only day off.

After repacking, having lots of coffee and making myself look half-decent, I left for DanceWorks Boston auditions in the Prudential Center.  Apparently, the travel gods didn’t like me in the month of July because a trip into Boston via train that should take not longer than 30 minutes took me a hour and 45 minutes.  I showed up flustered but somehow, miraculously on time.  Just in time, in fact, to hear Lisa, our director, introduce herself, the company, the day and our first showcase piece: mine.

I got up, said my shpeal (spelling?) about my piece, cried halfway through (of course), and did a small demo of the routine.  All in all, it went well.  I watched the rest of the routines (9 total), decided which ones I wanted to audition for (two) and which others I would sign up for (six).  I held my auditions, auditioned for the other two I hope to be in and then got Pinkberry with a few of the girls.

Oh, and I made cookies.  I forgot that part. Pretzel M&M cookies, recipe courtesy of Brandy’s Baking.

There were none left.  Win for the baker.

DanceWorks Boston Auditions!

After auditions, I returned home to finish packing, get some last minute travel details out of the way and fell asleep around 11pm.  Just the way I like it.

Monday morning, I was back at the airport, this time to catch a flight to Wisconsin, a state I have never been to.  And I have to say, Frontier Airlines makes everything so easy.  Nice people, no delays, arrive on time… makes Marie a happy camper staffer.

A short drive with my Head Instructor and 1 other staff member brought us to the small town of Whitewater, Wisconsin, where I was clearly not in Boston anymore. Seriously — it was like a set of a (mid-)Western movie.

Am I wrong about the movie? Can't you just picture a tumble weed blowing by?

Although I didn’t know the staff as well as those I have worked with at previous camps, we clicked minutes after we met, breezing through our Day 0 to-do lists, grabbing dinner at an adorable (and cheap!) little restaurant a few blocks away and sweating profusely in our non-air-conditioned dorm. (Oh, the gym isn’t AC-ed either. I think I lost about 5 pounds of water while there.)

Whitewater proved to be a great time.  My buddy teams were wonderful and I feel like our staff worked great together.  Sure, they took a staff picture without me, but I’m sure they can crop me in!

Whitewater Varsity Buddies!
Whitewater JV buddies!

A few days later, I drove down to the small town of Branford, Connecticut…details aside, it was the wrong location.  With only one other staffer, coincidentally the same one I convinced to apply to NDA, we would have had a small 3-day home camp ahead of us.  That usually means a 9-4 day, comfy hotel beds and more time to learn my routines (!)  Due to a mix up, I came home a little earlier than planned, but hey, it happens.

Branford staff on the way home... but not without a froyo stop first!

I have 2 camps left this summer but not for a week and a half.  They are back to back, one in New York, one in Rhode Island.  Until then, I have quite a to-do list in front of me.  Including LOTS and LOTS of blogging.

Now that we are all caught up, I promise to have more pictures when I can get my camera to work.  I plan on doing a full summer recap right before I go back to school (ugh… did those words really just appear on my screen?) and there will be many pictures to accompany it.

Until then, I want to know: What’s the best and worst travel experience you’ve ever had?  Did you get stranded somewhere or was a flight attendant particularly nice to you?  Which airlines are your most and least favorite?  And finally – what is the best part of your summer thus far?

PS – I plan on hosting a personal giveaway when I get home (for good).  Anybody interested?  Shoot some ideas my way!

Good staffer, bad blogger

I had a revelation and made a big oops: I am a good staffer and a bad blogger.

If you have been reading C&W for more than a day (if this is your first visit, WELCOME!), you know that I travel during the summer with NDA (National Dance Alliance) to teach middle school and high school dance teams at camps all over the country.

Being on staff entails many things, including early mornings, late nights, complex meetings, 2-3 sessions a day, complicated decision making and above all, lots of dancing and lots of teaching.  Being prepared is essential, being unprepared is… bad.

Last Monday, I ventured 5 hours to Long Island, NY to meet up my good friend, Duke undergrad and fellow staffer, Julianne, spent the night at her house and drove 5 more hours with her the following morning to Towson, Maryland for my first big camp of the summer.

Unlike my Kansas camp, this camp was four days long (five for the staff if you include our report day), had many more teams and a much bigger staff (6 of us total.)  I love big “resident” camps because you get to work with multiple teams in four short days and getting close to your other staff members is surprisingly easy.  I think we spend more time laughing than anything else.

Check out those jazz hands. I'm a pro.
It took us about 10 times to get this picture just right. We were too busy laughing.

Nevertheless, I have been neglecting my lovely blog and I have so many things to share with you!

I got my first sponsor!  I received and e-mail the other day from a woman with a darling company in the UK (yep.. I reach that far apparently!) called Bags of Love and asked if I would like to place the link to her “Personalized Aprons” on the sidebar of my blog.  Well, of course I would!  I even figured out how to make a pretty button for the link so click on over and check it out for yourself.  I will be doing a product review for her in the coming weeks.  Stay tuned.

I have an obsession with frozen yogurt.  I mean, we knew this already but this past trip to New York/Maryland gave me the excuse to ask Julianne, “So you’re from New York and New York has frozen yogurt.  Can we go, please please pleaseeeee?”  I ended up getting froyo four times in the past week: Red Mango, 16 Handles Too (a kiosk of sorts inside of a mall), Yogoya and 16 Handles (the real one!)  Would you like to see what they looked like?

The journey through a frozen-yogurt-packed week:

Red Mango right near Jules' house. I wish I had one.

Frozen yogurt overload.  I’m so jealous of my NYC friends (especially Christine and Ali) for having this at their disposal whenever they want it.

Which brings me to a small update about how my Weight Watchers endeavors are going.  I am now 3 weeks in and down 6 pounds.  I am beginning to see a difference already and it’s really motivating me to eat well and work out.  I hope to see a bit of an increase as the weeks progress but for now, I’m happy and I’ll take it!

Oh and as a staff, we went to see Harry Potter 7.2 on Saturday night.  I proceeded to cry through the entire movie.  It was just that good.  If you haven’t yet seen it, go.  Right now.  You won’t be sorry.

Towson Rock Star Staff

  What’s coming up!!

Today: Normal work day, gym sesh, cooking dinner for the first time in FOREVER.

Wednesday: Normal work day, longer gym sesh, then boyfriend is taking me out to dinner and for some surprises for my upcoming birthday. So excited! He’s a master of surprises, even though he has a total snoop of a girlfriend.

Thursday: Normal work day, gym (or maybe some hot yoga?), repacking my giant suitcase for 2 back-t0-back camps.

Friday: Normal work day, gym, maybe festivities with the fam, bed early.. and oh yeah, my 23rd birthday.

Saturday: 8am flight toLouisville,Kentucky!!

That flight will be followed by 5 days in Louisville and 4 days in New York for two seperate resident camps.  And the last day of July?  DanceWorks Boston auditions!!!  See “Hello World” on that schedule? Yep, that’s me.

So tell me friends… what is your favorite frozen yogurt and where can I find it??

Seneca, Kansas: The Tip of the NDA Iceberg

Hi Friends!

I’m sorry I’ve been a bit MIA this past week.   As you could see from my July schedule, I spent my Independence Day traveling to Seneca, Kansas.  I had never been to Kansas before and I assumed it would be lots of fields and rolling plains and corn.

I was right.

Mmm... corn

But you know what they have in Kansas that they don’t have in Massachusetts (besides corn pickers, weird watering devices and horrifying highways where the only way you can pass is by driving in the opposite lane…) ?


Yes, my friends, frozen yogurt at it’s finest.  The fro-yo phenomenon is just barely reaching Boston, which is unfortunate.  While Pinkberry is pretty awesome, there are other chains that allow you to pour your own fro-yo into a cup (and there are a ton more flavors), load on whatever toppings you want and pay for it by the ounce.  It’s spectacular.  Such chains popping up around the country include 16 Handles, Red Mango and of course, Orange Leaf.

So after my fellow NDA staffer and Idaho native, Kira, and I drove an hour from Seneca to Manhattan (also known as “The Little Apple”), found Orange Leaf and indulged in the frozen treat.  Oh yeah – did I mention it was 100 degrees the entire time we were there and the high school gym we were dancing in wasn’t air-conditioned? So, yeah, frozen yogurt was a must at that point.

I settled for a low-fat swirl of brownie batter and chocolate chip cookie flavors topped with a ton of fresh strawberries and a few cookie dough bits.  I was in heaven.

C'mon Boston.. work with me here.

Kira and I also got to try out a cute little restaurant close to our motel on the last night of our stay.  I had the Champagne Chicken Salad which included mixed greens, grilled chicken, strawberries, dates and spiced pecans with a champagne vinagrette that I got on the side.  It was delicious and definitely filled me up.  If you ever visit Seneca, Kansas, I highly recommend “The Willows”.

The Willows in Seneca, KS. Go here.
I love salad.

The camp itself was great and the perfect way to kick off my NDA summer.  The team was fun, enthusiastic and they picked up the 5 routines we gave them really well.  I was even a little sad to leave after spending three days with them.

Kira, me and the Centralia High School Dance Team

 Coming home wasn’t as fun.  It involved a 3-hour detoured car ride back to the airport, a long delayed layover in Chicago and a 3am bed time, but eventually I got home, hit my bed hard and slept for the majority of the next day.

So what’s next?  According to my schedule, I have normal work today, a gym date with boyfriend and some packing to do before I hit the road to Long Island, NY tomorrow.  Five hours to Smithtown, a sleepover with one of my best NDA friends and an additional 5 hour drive to Towson, Maryland on Wednesday for 5 days of Resident camp fun (and maybe a late night showing of Harry Potter? I think so.)

Although I didn’t get much have any service while in Kansas, I believe I will have more connection in Maryland.  Hopefully I can update the blog as I go but there is a good chance I will be so entralled with Level 3 Kick, I might not have much time on my hands.

What’s going on in your life this week?  Any big plans?  Do you travel a lot during the summer or do you prefer to relax at home?