2011 was a year to remember for me. 
One of the most emotional years Ive ever had. 
Exciting too.
Heartbreaking as well.
  My biggest accomplishment- by far- was traveling to Seattle, WA to go through the grueling one day test to become a Certified Sommelier.  Before this test was taken, I studied for hours in the morning and more at night for many months.  I made flash cards, I did an online wine academy over and over, I read books, I served one of my favorite friends Christina dozens of glasses of champagne and opened bottle after bottle for her to critique me (thank you).  She and I also did smells kits (flavors and faults) and alas- I travel there to the unknown and stand with 18 other people in black suits, hoping to not screw up enough to be able to take home a gold and purple pin the size of a dime when truely all the odds were against me. 
I passed with a handful of others. 
That day changed a lot of things in my life.
For the good and bad.
My best friend (part of my "soul group") came to meet me in WA right after the test and we drove to Mt Rainier and celebrated for the next couple of days in a cozy cabin and drank wine.  Speaking of her - in 2011 she got engaged!  Holy shit is what I say every time I hear it.  I think of all the talks we had about how wrong every guy she dated was.  Down to the silliest detail sometimes.  But she didnt settle for someone she wasnt sure about.  She kept at it and always with the most positive attitude.  She found him.  She amazes me with her strong will and heart everyday.  She is my family and best friend.  She never judges me and listens to me ramble over and over about the same heartaches.
Its hard to imagine life without her. 

Which unfortunately leads me to the worst part of 2011. 
I have had to experience life with one less part of my soul.  I think about her every single day one million times. Because I talked to her what seemed like one million times a day throughout the last 20 years. My closest and best everyday friend by far. The person who answers the phone no matter what shes doing.  The person I shook my head at laughing. The person that made me smilTHe person whom I never thought I would have to imagine living my life without.  I never questioned that.  Never. I miss her and her daughter. More than anyone can imagine. 
I never knew that your heart had special places for certain people. 
This year I learned that in many different ways. 
    I traveled this year and may be my most amazing year of it.  I learned how to ski in Breckenridge, 
(i also broke my ass and it still hurts to this day)
I went to Seattle twice hiking and waterfall hunting. 
I traveled to California wine country- Napa, Sonoma, lake, mendocino, paso, santa cruz,lodi, santa barbara (i tried to find rob lowe my boyfriend there but he was out of town- I think in Italy looking for our future house :), monterey, Oregon, washington and Arizona wine country. 
I went to Washington dc to see Obama (he wasnt around?) to Las Vegas to buy some moccasins (as my grandpa would say) and to Oregon to see Crater lake and so much more. 
I visited my most thoughtful and favorite foodie and wine friend in Florida. She always stands by me.
NYC was a delicious trip which I met some fun friends who live out there and I hope to one day connect with again soon - maybe he will find a new show for me to be on? Im ready for a change.
    I also went to Italy - on an all expenses paid, first class flight (what a dream) for 11 days.  I am proud to say I was 1 of 5 chosen out of many other Sommeliers to go through the Court of Master Sommeliers.  It was an honor and a trip that I will never forget.  I still cant believe I went to Italy. 
I drank brunello in Montalcino in a castle. 
I ate homeade pasta made made by a gram just like mine....12 courses of it daily.  
    My last travel story of the year is Sedona.  Mystical and Magical.  I felt amazing there.  Different.  I am still thinking it may be the most beautiful city in the country.   I thought I was going to leave there a different person and I did.  Not the way I imagined. but none the less, I did.  
    I was blessed with another year with my grandparents.  They are the true meaning of love. 
Married 62 years and as fiesty as ever.  They are my family and blood. I love them unconditionally.
    Babies all around me- Brock, Sophie and my oldest soul best friend has found out shes having a girl.  Great watching all my friends babies grow up.  I decided Im going to have a baby one of these years yet....I know crazy. Tick tock.
    Speaking of love.  I am in it. I thought this was the year for me and it.  Sunrises and sunsets later. 
I was wrong. My heart will heal from the heartbreak this year.  It has to.  I hope for that.  I pray for that.  reality is a bittersweet friend of mine.  Above, I was talking about having special places for certain people in your heart.  This is another fine example. 
    Work will bring a change this year.  Im very lucky to have a boss thats not only a leader but a dear friend.  I hope to continue doing wine events - I did over 100 this year! WOW.  I also Went to Pebble Beach Food and Wine and spoke at Kohler Food and Wine.  I passed my Certifed Specialist of Spirits test. I didnt kill anyone with my road rage and have gotten progessively better with that problem.  I also started this website and blog...
I drank a lot of bottles of wine this year.  Bubbles too.  And shared food and wine with so many of my dear friends (too many of you to talk about) - Im lucky to have the friends I do.  And some new amazing ones this year...
I can only pray in 2012 I will be as healthy and blessed as I was in 2011.  My year was stellar and my experiences- priceless...

Maybe my magnolia will bloom four times this year.  Thats what Im hoping for.

wine is good people - drink it.    





    

 
 
Im a bubble girl - I could drink champagne or sparkling everyday, all day.  I love the taste and I adore the bubbles.  I drink sparkling water during the day just because it reminds me of drinking champagne. (not really but kinda)
I have NOT been to champagne yet in France but hope to check it off my list this year.
I did a "bubble Tour" of California- hitting korbel, schramsberg, roederer, scharffenburger, J, Mumm, Domaine Carneros.....what a sparkly trip that was!
My favorites are Schramsberg and Roederer from California
my Favorite in France is Pol Roger and about every other damn champagne house.  I wont dump any of it. I promise.
The taste is uncomparable to anything - and remember people- this is mostly chardonnay and pinot noir - just goes through another style of fermentation in the bottle and BAM - bubbles of deliciousness. 
thank you yeast and sugar for producing my favorite beverage - which by the way - is good with anything.....breakfast-eggs, bacon and pancakes.......lunch on the beach with green apples, cheese and bread........an afternoon snack.....maybe a make out session?....Some of my favorite that it goes amazing with lobster rolls in Maine, a celebratory dinner with your best friend on a snow covered mountain in Washington, a romantic dinner in a cabin, after a long day of work, in a bathtub with a book, getting your toes done with your girl gossipping, overlooking the ocean on Highway 1, or at Pebble Beach Food and wine i tasted 8 different Tete de cuveed from 1990 (OMG)  or opening a bottle of shitty cava in front of 2 Master Sommeliers to go through your certified sommelier test or the taste of the glass they give you as you open up your letter to see that you passed!! I have no recollection of what they served us that day .....I was in FEAR mode and what I can remember is the bubbles were super tight (usually means great quality the tighter the bubbles) and it was like an energy pill being put to my lips....it was comforting at a time of pure anxiety and terror!
I do know some of my favorite memories in life I always seem to have a glass of champagne or sparkling in my hand.....its like an old friend hanging on.  I also know that I have some memories worth forgetting when that glass seemed to really be like my old friend and the bubbles sparkled in my mouth to say "Hey Amber you will feel better later- just stay focused on the positive"

SO this New Years Eve - Drink Bubbles - then try drinking it on a normal Tuesday night with your chicken salad and then try it with sushi!  Its not just to celebrate but an every day drinker and it DOES go with everything!


 
 
I had a nightmare last night.  I was giving someone I love cpr and I was trying and trying for what seemed like hours but was really probably 15 minutes.  I could feel my chest go in and out as air was going into his lungs in and out- I was counting to 8 as I pushed on his chest and every number I said out loud was like another punch into reality of what was happening.  I can remember what I was thinking - please just throw up and start breathing like they do in the ER tv show.  I was sweating and trying and trying and trying.  I was waiting to hear the sirens in the background but they never came.  I woke up on my side and when i opened my eyes I was staring at myself in my closet door mirrors.  I wasnt sweating, I wasnt scared, I wasnt crying.  I was just there. 
I had a funeral today for an old friends husband.  34 years old.  He had cancer and has struggled for 4+ years through this horrible disease.  So has his family.  He died on Christmas Eve.  An Angel going home.  They talked about him being strong, fair, funny, the life of the party, romantic, loving and always positive.  But the thing that stuck with me the most was he always had hope.  Hope is what makes us keep going.  Hope.
I look at my friend and hope that she can heal and live her life fully and happy with her 4 year old son. 
Dealing with the loss of someone who has filled up your insides is completely exhausting. 
I hope someday she can feel complete again.

There is always hope


 
 
Ive been blessed to be able to spend a lot of time with my grandparents this month as I've been home a lot of the month.  Ive gone to church with them almost every Sunday - then we have coffee.  One Sunday in early Decemeber we put up the Christmas tree.  My grandma planted the pine 7 years earlier and Grandpa was so proud that we had it sitting in the living room, smelling great and standing tall.  He kept repeating every 10 minutes how we had to make sure and take a picture of her next to it.  i put on the lights and then slowly started to put on ornaments.  This lasted hours as every ornament had a story.  Which was pretty neat to hear. She had ornaments from the 1800s that still looked like they were made yesterday.  She had ornaments that her kids (my uncles) made when they were in kindergarten.  Ornaments from Czech and some ornaments that could have been retired but they all meant so much to her.  A really great day.  When we were done, we sat down to a hard to swallow cup of instant decaf coffee and stared at the tree.  Gramps came in too.  WIthin minutes the conversation went from the tree to why my grandpa is a whiny baby and then he yells out to her "well I rode a camel and shot a goose - what did you do?"
I had no idea where this came from but instantly she shut up and sat up.  She looked at him and said "i will cook your goose mikey"  As you know his name is not mikey, but steve.  He erupts and our quiet moment of looking at the tree is gone.  I am laughing.  He looks at me and I told him I rode on an elephant once.  He looked satisifed with that answer and looked back at gram.  She was smiling like a teenager in love and asked "how did it feel to ride on those humps?"  His anger went away like it never existed and he sat back to contemplate - he then said "well it wasnt really accomodating"
Ok well - great.  He then told me he was in North Africa and stared to tell the story.  Gram interupts and says" I hope he spit on you"  Great.  That went over poorly.  He got up and said "women I dont know about you" and went to read the paper.

Another quick story - today (dec 27) is my gramps birthday.  we had soup and grams famous christmas torte.  Everyone was gone but just a few of my cousins and my grandparents.  I was showing some pics and I came across a "naughty pic" that a friend had sent me.  It was a joke about a foot disease and there is a guy holiding up his infected foot but you can also see his penis - yes I said penis as Im not sure what else to call it on here - anyway.  My cousin sees it from behind me and starts laughing.  My gramps was watching "antiques roadshow" in the room next to us and looks up.  
Now my gram says "what are you laughin about?" Can I see it?" 
I say no.  You may not. 
My other cousin comes up and looks.  Hes laughing uncontrollably. 
Now gram says "come on let me look" 
I tell her its inappropriate and she doesnt want to. 
She asks what its a pic of. 
I say a joke about a boy and you can see his privates. 
She says "you think i aint seen a pecker before - let me see it" 
So against my better judgement- I let her see it.  She looks and then says "oh my god' and puts her hand to her mouth.  She starts laughing and then choking. Turns red.   I havent seen her laugh that hard in years.  Then we all start laughing at her reaction.  I was almost crying I was laughin so hard.
My gramps hears this commotion and yells over the crazy loud tv because he cant hear "what are you all laughing about?  Gram?  Gram?
My gram says she saw a dirty joke and he becomes interested quickly. 
He says "Gram close your eyes you cant see that stuff"  Oh my god"
Well - we all settle down.  Its quiet.  We change the subject for a split second. 
All of a sudden my grams hand goes into the chip bowl and she grabs a handful of chips and says "oh my god I have to eat some chips after seeing that! I am so hungry now!" 
Insane laughter rings out in the kitchen and my gramps is off his rocker and in the kitchen to see what kind of dirty pics are being handed around.  We tell him we are doing nothing wrong but gram cannot get the smile off her face which makes him even more upset so he goes to sit down and refocus on Antiques Roadshow.  Always a fun time with them.  Always
  They are an emotional handful of trouble and so completely in love.  They still communicate which many older couples dont.  Actually a lot of young couples dont either.   They share coffee and talk.  They are lost without each other, for real.  That is where that sentence comes from in life.  It was amazing to spend the time before, during and now after the holidays with them.....
 
 
Its Christmas- family, friends, food and holiday beverages.  and to me - Faith. 
I have faith. 
I have faith I will continue to live life to its fullest.
I will see the world and try to live out my dreams. 
I have Faith that I will heal. 
I have faith that my heart will be open one day  
I have faith that my belief in God will help me go through anything

I hope your Christmas is everything you want it to be
 
 
Wine lovers near and far have heard about "doris' basement" at club liqour
Well - its true- you need an old vintage, vintage champagne, a jug of vin rose, a hard to find single malt scotch, a beer you had once that starts with an A or a place to rent Reidel Glassware - there she is! Her and her daughter Susan run this stacked full place of treasures.  I visit once a week to buy my sparkling water and to gossip a bit - They are both HARD Working women in this mans world of alcohol.  I love them and going there - So looking for the perfect gift of booze - go there and say hi
www.clubliquor-wi.com 
 
Another great treat in Menasha and the BEST PANCAKES IN this area - is Third Street Diner - It is Family owned and they serve up breakfast all day long, fresh never frozen burgers and awesome homeade soup.  Also next door they have just opened up a Pizza place and ice cream shop - The Big Slice!  Just opened last wednesday!  Go try a slice.....

 
 
I looked around today and thought - man am i blessed.  I have a job - a good one.  I have the most amazing friends- and a bunch of them.  My grandparents are still arguing every Sunday - thank you.  My brother is still my brother with whom I love a ton.  I have a house thats comfortable and convenient.  I have a life really.  Some people cant say that.  Im feeling really thankful the last couple days more so than usual.  I had a really special year.  My heart is healing.  And Im blessed to hold some of the most heartfelt and loving memories not only in my head but in my heart. 
 
 


Todays local businesses are in downtown APpleton

The FIRE
www.thefireartstudio.com
You can make your own dishes, plates, signs....really a fun and creative place.  Bring your kids or bring a friend and a bottle of wine to catch up.  Its a really fun saturday afternoon project place to bring out the creative you.

Go get a massage - Ive been going here for years - its a great value and the girls are great....
www.massage-connection.com Maybe go get a massage and then walk next door to the FIRE....Perfect gift card for the people you love!

I love to eat -
Some of my favorite Restaurants to get a gift card at downtown Appleton -
Katsuya - Best sushi downtown Appleton!
 Il Angolo - best appetizers in the city - Chef Fortinos guacamole, mussels and tuna ceviche are amazing
Appollon....Lamb and Greek favorites - YUM
Out with the kids? - Hit Good Company whos been an APpleton favorite for over 25 years!

One more local favorite everyone forgets about is the Cobbler shop - Ive been going to him for as long as I can remember and he always fixes my shoes- I brought in one pair 7 times and finally he patted me on the back and said - no more Amber
 
 
Zuppas - the pear salad, the macaroni and cheese, the fresh berry lemonade and oh my- the baked goods that dont look so good on my hips.....Peter at Zuppas and his amazing staff have quietly sat back while new restaurants come and go - they are still there-solid, delicious and local.  I wish I got to his place more...He also started these amazing new wine and food focused dinners in his side "Green Room".  Please go to one - Ive been to a couple and havent left one yet without unbuttoning my top botton on my pants there is so much tasty food! Not wanting to cook - Peter and his staff will do all of your cooking needs for al holidays - get on his email list!    www.zuppas.com

www.theredradish.com
another great spot in Neenah....organic vegetables, breads, organic and grass fed meats from LOCAL farmers.  Its time to start loving your body more and feeding it non processed foods people - Here is a place you can start doing that.....

www.cannovaspizzeria.com
Always one of my favorite warm and fuzzy places - go there and eat a great pizza, sit at the bar and have a great glass of wine - or my favorite Proscuitto salad!  Homeade sauces for their pasta - and Debbies famous tiramisu.  The owners are always there and great people.  The patio in Summer transforms you to somewhere else

Cys Asian Bistro - Another great spot for lunch or dinner - fresh food and healthy! They have been dishing up the Fox cities Thai and Asian food for well over 20 years - I love the drunken noodle with seafood! Another local place that You ALWAYS see the owner at

www.uncorkedbistro.com
Need a wine basket or a place to have a merry christmas cocktail?  Stop at another locally owned place!  Uncorked has a great selection of wine and a fun atmosphere - great apps too!

 
 
Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror and looked inside.  Not at your reflection.  At the insides of your eyes.  I did this morning.  I looked into what i thought was me and it wasnt me.  Or at least what I want to be.  It was scary as hell and the devil himself.  I vowed to move forward with a new step, a new connection, a new smile. 
So here I am - me.  Oh and off the subject I looked older then I thought too.  That seriously made me disappointed.  Where did those lines come from?  where did the eye sadness come from?  Man i need to get my eyebrows waxed too!
So back on track - here I am 6 days before christmas, looking at myself in the mirror with new expectations, looking at the insides of my soul (or I think I am anyway) and Im sad that Here I am again.  WOndering and wishing and questioning? 
Whats my next step- We will see - I know one thing - its all about me. and my health.  Oh and Im going to travel like crazy next year.
I wont be able to top this year - it was so amazing that my heart still skips a beat - but I will try to - and enjoy every single second. 

the best is yet to come