person pulling a friend up a hill as the sun sets

Wine for Motivation

It’s been a while since I posted. Seems that happens every spring. This spring, though, is different because it’s been a rough one weather-wise and in terms of all the activities. It’s been snowing in Syracuse since last October. Yesterday some of us woke up to a few inches on the ground! Today, May 1, the weather is supposed to be sunny and mid-70s. Let’s hope we’ve turned the corner.

Because, honestly, I think not having the nice spring weather has hurt my mojo. I never realized how much I counted on spring fever to propel me through the end of the school year. Believe me, I could have used that extra spring in my step this year. Between performances and birthdays, we have First Communion and graduation, two things that don’t happen annually. Plus, work got nuts with a crisis university-wide, in addition to all the normal end-of-the-academic year craziness. Somehow, I’ve managed not to go crazy myself!

This morning, as I grabbed my usual coffee at Starbucks I reflected with a friend on how unmotivated I am. I have so many things to do and work on, some exciting projects and even things at home, such as spring cleaning. None of it is really being done. Not that I’m not working at all but it’s just not my normal pace. I need something to jump-start my energy levels and get me motivated!

My gym time is still going strong; I started a new fitness challenge this week, with a personal goal to really focus on progressive overload. That’s the idea that you lift heavier each time you do the workout, making more impressive muscle gains. I had gotten lazier about that so it’s time to redouble my efforts.

I’m still enjoying my wine but even that isn’t exactly a motivator. For example, the other night we had Walking Dead wine! I mean, Walking Dead? That doesn’t scream high energy! It wasn’t bad but a little on the fruit-forward side so it was a better sipping wine than anything else. Apparently there is a whole line of them; we had the red blend.

This weekend is a birthday party and my daughter’s First Communion; next weekend is Jon’s graduation from his master’s program and the remaining May events include science fair and open house, as well as a few other activities for the kids. The pace isn’t slowing any time soon. Hopefully my spring fever will kick in.

What motivates you when you’re in a slump? Share below! I need all the help I can get! Cheers!

lucia praying

Wine for First Penance

My middle child experienced a rite of Catholic passage this past weekend when she made her first penance. Catholics believe in confession of our sins as a way to be forgiven and live anew. We all make mistakes and this allows us to atone for those errors in judgment and become closer to God in the process.

Typically a child has a first reconciliation experience a few months before their First Holy Communion, which for Lucia will take place in May. Lucia did a great job. Many children are scared to death to confess to a priest for the very first time. And while she really had wanted to see her own priest, she was fortunate enough to meet with another local, young priest, who was generous and kind with her.

She said her prayers and afterward lit a candle to symbolize the “light turning back on” and her beginning anew. She grabbed her certificate and we left. I asked her if she felt better since often I feel better after going to confession. She said not really. But, it was her first time!

It’s exhilarating to watch your child do something impactful for the very first time and it reminds me of things that I really should be doing to model behaviors and actions. In fact, last month, I took Lucia with me to confession so she could see that grownups do it, too! Children really do keep you honest!

In my last post I mentioned the two wines we enjoyed over the weekend, both from Icellars Estate, Niagara-On-The-Lake, Canada. Really, anything goes for a big day like Lucia had. We went all out with a big, juicy red and some yummy pasta, making us both happy after a long day!


rigatoni with meat sauce in the instant pot

Wine for an Instant Pot

Happy new year! I have been so focused on goal setting and other projects that this blog has taken a back seat for a couple of weeks. But, I’m all set to get back into the swing of posting. One new development I’ve been wanting to share with you is the addition of an Instant Pot to the Howell kitchen.

I received one from my husband this past Christmas and it’s been interesting! The first couple of recipes we tried were pretty good – macaroni and cheese, chicken soup and hard boiled eggs. My husband made a yummy goulash for New Year’s Eve and I’ve since been doing weekly meal prep, including steel cut oats for breakfast each day, as well as lots of other dinner recipes.

For the most part, it’s delicious, fresh food prepared quickly but if I’m being honest, it’s not that much faster than stove top or oven, depending on the recipe. One of the recipes I tried was Portugese Tomato Rice and Shrimp and that bombed. It burned the bottom of the pot and caused it not to pressure cook as it was intended to. That gave me pause and I was nervous the next couple of times I used it, but I’m still using it a few times a week.

I am using a combination of recipes I find on Pinterest, along with three cookbooks I received for Christmas, as well. Tonight, we had rigatoni with meat sauce and I also made banana bread steel cut oats for breakfast for the week.

I’ve cooked with wine in the instant pot but as far as wine that goes with it, really anything goes! We’ve enjoyed so many yummy dishes from steamed fish and veggies that went well with a Chardonnay to pasta dishes with Cabernet Sauvignon.

If you’ve been contemplating an Instant Pot and you are interested in preparing fresh, delicious food for your family in an efficient way, I definitely recommend it. It’s a great addition to our kitchen. In fact, I haven’t even stored it yet! Even the crock pot goes from the basement to our kitchen counter on a somewhat weekly basis. The Instant Pot still hasn’t made it’s way down; it’s being used that much!

If you’ve tried it or if you do try it, please comment below and let me know what you think. Better yet, share your favorite recipe! Cheers!


A Wine for a Christmas Stocking

In my last post I alluded to the fact I was finishing up a Christmas stocking for my son, a long tradition that started with my mom years ago. A couple of years ago at this time, I was finally finishing up a stocking for my daughter, Lucia, nearly seven years after she was born! I was determined to finish it for her but was torn because I also really wanted to start one for Christopher. My mom said she was looking for a new project and would be happy to start Christopher’s stocking for me, and maybe she might even finish it! I was relieved. I quickly picked out a pattern and delivered everything to her.

She worked tirelessly on the stocking but as her health deteriorated, she just couldn’t cross stitch any longer. The stocking was delivered back to me over the summer to finish. But, that was when she got a lot sicker and ultimately passed away in late August. And, after that, I just couldn’t bring myself to pick up the stocking to finish it. There was something about the fact that she held the fabric and pulled the floss through so carefully. I just couldn’t.

But in late October, I decided I had to finish it. It would be special since it would be something she and I made together. Of course, being mom, she left me the hardest part! All kidding aside, she had done a gorgeous job and I had to complete it just as carefully as she did. A week before Christmas I spent the weekend binge sewing to finish it in time for Santa’s arrival. Near the end of the project, I actually ran out of the floss color needed to finish it up! Luckily, my dad found a bunch in her stash of cross stitch paraphernalia. In fact, it was exactly the right amount needed to finish it. Divine intervention?

My husband finished it up, sewing the back on for me. He likes to sew, and I think he wanted a piece of the stocking action, as well. Christopher is one lucky boy to have so many people love him so much that they would work together to finish his Christmas stocking. And, he’s three years old so he didn’t have to wait as long as my middle child!

While sewing I took a break to enjoy some wine, which had an appropriate name, Still and Co. Still always reminds me of Christmas Eve because one of my favorite carols is Still, Still, Still. The winery’s Merlot was lovely and full-bodied, as well, if not a bit tobacco-y.

Still also has a third meaning, in this case. My mom is still with us, helping us complete the stocking, making sure we even had the floss to finish it up! I know she’s watching us all this Christmas season, as we dig our hands into our own stockings from our childhood, so lovingly crafted by her. We all miss her, but she’s still with us and will always be with us. Cheers, and Merry Christmas!

Wine for Warm Fall Days

This fall has been absolutely gorgeous in Central New York. It’s been a welcome change from the cool, rainy, non-existent summer we experienced. This past weekend was no different. Both days the sun shone brightly and temperatures were in the mid-70s. I had an incredibly productive weekend, getting all the chores I wanted to get done completed. I had things on my list, such as making Christopher’s spider Halloween costume, going through the kids’ clothes switching out summer gear for cooler weather clothing, and even cleaning out the linen closet and refolding the sheets (remember that chore; I’ll refer to it again in a bit).

We also had time to visit Beaver Lake Nature Center for an hour or so Sunday afternoon. It was a gorgeous hike and the kids enjoyed romping through the woods and skipping along the floating bridge over the bog.

From there, we headed to Longbranch Elementary School where Lucia and Christopher played on the playground with a bunch of other kids. After working in the yard a bit (cleaning up a downed tree limb that wreaked havoc last Sunday evening), we enjoyed a delicious meal of spaghetti and homemade meatballs before settling in for the night.

Oh, and about that linen closet clean-out? Well, it’s literally something I do twice a year. And it’s a good thing I had done it because Saturday night, our poor sitter actually had to rifle through it looking for new sheets for our son’s bed. Instead of going to bed he decided to sprinkle baby powder all over his bed! Ugh. Three and a half year old children are so mischievous!

But, it’s hard to get angry when the weather is so amazing and we’re enjoying the last remaining gorgeous days of fall before the snow sets in. The two wines we enjoyed this weekend were both from One Hope: Cabernet Sauvignon (monies support children with autism) and Pinot Noir (funds raised support pet adoption). Cheers!

Wine for a School Fundraiser

Saturday night I attended a “Mom’s Night Out” event, a fundraiser to raise money for my daughter’s second grade class. The fellow mom who hosted the party invited all the moms from the second grade to come for a wine tasting and essential oils demonstration.  While the oils were mildly interesting to me, I was really most curious about the wine. The company that was presenting the tasting was called ONEHOPE Wine.

Just more than a year old, the company was founded to help support various not for profit causes, in addition to sharing fine wine. Its vineyards are mostly located in Napa Valley and Sonoma County, and the “Cause Entrepreneur” who was hosting the tasting said the wines we were tasting were a result of a collaboration with Robert Mondavi, Jr.

Each wine we tasted had a specific cause for which proceeds from its sale would support – everything from fighting cancer, to planting trees in the rainforest to supporting the music and arts culture. According to the organizers, the way this fundraiser worked, 50 percent of the proceeds would go to the cause related to the particular wine while 10 percent would go to my child’s second grade.

I was pleasantly surprised that roughly half the wines we tried were actually very good! Usually these types of mass-produced wines are less than stellar and/or you can’t trace them to their real source. While you don’t know the exact origin of the wine in terms of the actual estate ONEHOPE is at least transparent about where the grapes are grown, listing the source, but not so open about where they are actually made and by whom. It lists Mr. Mondavi as the consultant/winemaker but nothing more is revealed (the exception is the Iconic wines, which are estate grown and bottled, according to ONEHOPE Wine’s catalog).

And herein lies the rub for me with these things. Sure, it’s fun to taste some wines that you may or may not enjoy. But the tasting is only part of it for me. I enjoy learning about where the wine is made and how and by whom. It also helps me extend my learning about wine. So, I was a little disappointed not to have the full story.

As far as the wines go, we mostly tasted whites, which were OK. I enjoyed the Brut Sparkling Wine very much, as well as the Sauvignon Blanc. Two others were too sweet for my tastes and the Chardonnay was too much of a departure from the usual qualities of that grape for me to enjoy it. Plus, it had a strong hint of coconut and I don’t like coconut at all! LOL!

The reds were amazing. My favorite was the Pinot Noir, followed by the Zinfandel, which like the Chardonnay was a bit of a departure from the usual. It wasn’t as black pepper spicey as Zins normally are and I really enjoyed the complexity of it that blended through as it hit your tongue. The Cabernet Sauvignon was nice, as well.

The tasting had different foods to accompany the wines. Most were well-paired but a few were unusual for me, such as the cheddar with the Pinot Noir. Another mom was ready to dump her wine; luckily I caught her just in time with a piece of chocolate, which turned out to be a much better pairing!

All in all, it was an enjoyable evening and the hostess was fabulous. It was a nice idea to have the wine tasting and the essential oils, a little something for everyone. While I think the ONEHOPE Wine concept is a good one, I hope in the future the company considers a bit more transparency in how its wine is made and by whom. I think it could represent a boon for the wineries that are participating; they could promote their goodwill in supporting all these fantastic causes. Now, I must go figure out what I’m putting in my case that I’ll be ordering. After all, it’s for a lot of good causes, including my daughter’s well-rounded education! Cheers!




Wine for Meal Planning

For as long as I can remember (at least since I’ve been a “grown-up”), I’ve planned my weekly meals. Somewhere along the line, it just seemed to make sense, given a busy work schedule. In the beginning, I even selected meals based on what was on sale at the grocery store, visiting more than one to save every last cent! Nowadays, I’m not quite that comprehensive, though if I had more time, I sure would be!

It was a gorgeous Saturday afternoon this past weekend, so I took advantage and sat on my deck with a Red Blend from Winc, while the kids played on the slip n’ slide and planned out meals. I typically use Pinterest as my “go to,” reviewing recipes I’ve pinned along the way. Lately I’ve been bored with reviewing those and have ventured back to my cookbooks, which prior to social media, were heavily used!

This week, I have two recipes from the Go Red for Women cookbook, as well as a few from Pinterest. I try to vary the main protein source so we don’t get bored, so chicken, sausage, beef, pork and vegetarian are the main buckets. Then, I try to include something we all have had before and like, as well as new recipes, when I can find them. As I was making my grocery list over the weekend, I thought perhaps sharing some tips would be helpful for people attempting meal planning themselves. Here goes:

  1. Always be clipping and saving. That goes for coupons and recipes. I am constantly reviewing savings apps, such as Ibotta, as well as digital coupons and direct mail coupons, saving those that make sense. If you still get a newspaper, the Sunday coupon section is also a gold mine. As for recipes, during down times I’m always reviewing Pinterest for new recipes and pinning them to my boards. I also subscribe to several eNewsletters that include recipes I can pin or save for later.
  2. Try to keep sales and seasons in mind. I try to align my meals with what’s on sale or in season. This not only keeps cost down but also tastes the best! Right now, for example, is the best time for those pork/apple combination dishes. Apples are fresh in Central New York! All summer, long we do lots of vegetables since our growing season means we have lots of fresh produce to choose from. When Wegmans has different types of seafood on sale, I leverage that, too, since often seafood is quite expensive!
  3. Think about schedules. I take the time to review our weekly schedule so I can align meals with what’s happening each evening. If, for example, it’s a busy lesson night for the kids, a crock pot meal works best. Also, if a meal needs prep the night before, I make sure I have time the night before to do said prep!
  4. Make a list. My grocery list is very Type A. I list everything in the order in which it appears in the store. If you think I’m crazy, imagine going grocery shopping with three kids in tow. It reduces the opportunity for error to at least go in order! Even then, I always forget something! On one side of my list, I list the days of the week and the meal per day. On the other side, I list the groceries needed.
  5. Be flexible. Even though I have my meals planned and groceries purchased, sometimes you need to know when to move things around. If you no longer have time to make a recipe or just don’t feel like eating it, move it to another day. It happens. Sometimes, we’re forced to eat something else simply because I forgot to buy an ingredient or the ingredient wasn’t as fresh as we had hoped. Even remembering to take something out of the freezer can make or break dinner for the evening!

These are just a few of my tips. Meal planning is a way of life, to me. Once you get into it, you can’t imagine not doing it. In fact, on weeks when I’ve completely thrown it out the window due to stress or unforeseen circumstances, I find we eat a lot less healthy and it’s a lot more annoying to get dinner on the table. So, for me, meal planning is a sanity-saver. Maybe it will be for you, too. Cheers!


Wine for Lunch Prep

I’ve been pinning them for months. Years even. Those school lunch ideas where people put all kinds of delicious, nutritious items in little Bento boxes and tupperwares. I’ve even tried a few at times for the girls — when I was feeling ambitious and productive. But, I’ve never prepped lunches for myself, preferring instead to bring leftovers from dinner. This week, I decided to finally take the plunge and try to prep all five school/work lunches in one sitting. The “recipe” from Ziploc said it would take one hour. Here is how it really went down.

First of all, it’s kind of a large grocery list when you’re talking about a few unique items in a lunchbox for a whole week. The kids and I tackled it with our normal grocery shopping and we noticed we purchased a lot more fruit and veggies, which made us all feel impressed with ourselves! We were going to be healthy!

When we got home from Wegmans, we left all the lunch ingredients on the side counter since we knew we would get to them shortly and it made no sense putting it all away. Then, after a quick crockpot prep for dinner (chicken and dumplings), we ate lunch and got started. I followed the recipe from the beginning, prepping each item in the order they were listed. While I did that, one of my daughters helped with the prepping and the other opened all the containers we had to buy to in which to fit all these cool concoctions!

Then we got started putting it all together. My daughters helped prepare and stuff the containers so it went a bit faster than if I was on my own but, boy, did we make a mess of the kitchen! Still, we managed to find an appropriate container for everything and packed it all up. There were a few hiccups along the way. For example, we realized we need more small containers for dips and dressings. When Thursday night comes, we’ll remember that when we pack Friday’s lunch (we decided we’d have small containers left from earlier in the week by then and could finish packing at that point).

We packed Monday’s lunches into a lunchbags right away and put them in the fridge. Then, we stacked everything else, Friday on the bottom, into the fridge for the week. Cleanup didn’t take as long as it looked like it should have, which was good. All in all, the prep took an hour and 10 minutes plus cleanup so the Ziploc recipe was close! Maybe once we do it a few times it will come together more quickly.

I was way too busy with the assemblyline of putting all the lunches together to even think about opening a wine. But, now as I write this (while eating leftover hummus and crackers), I’m thinking about an easy drinking white or red, depending on what’s in the fridge! I think virtually anything goes when you’re making a huge mess in the kitchen with the kids. In fact, I almost cracked open a beer because it was taking up precious space in the fridge for where we needed lunches to go!

Would I do this kind of lunch prep in the future? Maybe! It wasn’t the worst thing but I guess it all depends on if we enjoy the fruits of our labor. We’ll let you know!


Wine for a Sad Time

It’s been a while since I posted. Those who know me well will know why, but for those who are casual readers, let me explain. My beloved mom passed away Aug. 18 after a 27-month battle with glioblastoma (brain cancer). It was devastating when she was first diagnosed, because we knew there was no cure. Then, it was devastating to watch her fight so hard to delay the inevitable. Then, it was devastating to learn there was nothing more that modern medicine could do. After multiple surgeries, radiation treatment, gamma knife procedure and chemotherapy, there was nothing else that could be done. My mom was tired, and it was time. She went home with hospice care, and just one week and a day later, fell asleep, never to wake up again.

Wine is normally associated with happy times – weddings, family milestones, work promotions, or just a fun Saturday night. But, it’s also associated with sad times. My uncle drank two glasses before the calling hours. But he couldn’t even remember what kind of wine it was. It just was. Wine is kind of that way. I have been so numb that all the wine I’ve had in the past week has been a blur. But, it’s an old friend that I am glad is around when you need it.

Because my best friend is no longer around. She was the one who I spoke with on the way to and from work every single day for more than two decades. She was the one I called or texted first when anything happened. Anything. She would listen patiently if I needed to vent and never once would complain or say she had to hang up the phone. She just listened.

So many people offered sweet memories of my mom over these last several days. It’s too much to relay here in one blog post. But, everyone agreed on one thing – mom was a saint. She never said a cross word to or about anyone. No one ever said anything negative to or about her. Now, how many people can you describe this way? I bet not many. That’s the kind of special person she was and she doesn’t have to be your mom for you to realize it.

My brother put together a slide show of mom to which we all contributed photos. I thought I’d share it here to show you all how wonderful she was. May she rest in peace and may we all find the strength to get through life without our saint here with us on earth. As my brother so eloquently shared at her funeral, my mom often gave this advice: “Be good. Be safe. Have fun.” Truer words were never spoken.




A Day in the Life – Fall Edition

Earlier this year, I shared a typical day in my summer life. Now that back-to-school is nearly upon us, and I begin teaching public relations at the Newhouse School again, my thoughts are turning to my fall schedule. As promised, it’s below. Now, keep in mind some evenings are a bit more hectic when there are swim lessons, saxophone lesson or Daisy Scouts. Then, we just do our best to get to the activities and back home for the evening routine as efficiently as possible. During those activities, I do get in some grading, at least!

5:05 a.m.

5:15 a.m.
Leave for gym with pre-workout shot

5:30 a.m.
Workout – drink BCAAs during workout. Right now, I’m doing the Train with Lyzabeth workout series.

6:30 to 6:45 a.m.
Leave gym with protein/glutamine shake

6:45 to 7 a.m.
Arrive home for shower

7 to 7:15 a.m.
Leave for work

7:30 to 7:45 a.m.
Arrive at work

8 a.m.
Teach public relations class

9:30 a.m.
Grab breakfast at Starbucks on the way into the office

12 p.m.
Lunch and grading/course prep

2:30 p.m.
Afternoon snack

5:00 p.m.
Leave work

5:30 p.m.
Arrive home and prepare dinner while cleaning up, etc.

6:00 p.m.

6:30 p.m.
Prepare lunches and snacks for next day, review kids’ school folders and answer homework questions, add powders to shaker bottles, lay out gym and work clothes for next day

7:00 p.m.
Bathe Christopher

7:15 p.m.
Hang out with Christopher and Lucia

7:30 p.m.
Read to Christopher and get him into bed

7:45 p.m.
Read to Lucia and get her into bed

8:15 p.m.
Head to the couch with my cross-stitching, book, phone and wine. This is also my time with Maria. I also fill out my workout/food log and review the next day’s workout. When needed, I grade papers or course prep but I try to leave that for the weekend.

9:30 p.m.
Maria goes to bed.

9:30 to 10:30 p.m.
Hang out with my husband (lots of times I fall asleep WAY before now, though. 5:05 a.m. comes early!)