My 31st Birthday

HAPPY 31st BIRTHDAY to ME! My birthday was actually on February 17th (I’m a little late in posting), but things have been so busy with two pups haha.

When I arrived at work on my birthday I was so surprised to see my office door decorated in an awesome “It’s a Party” banner. Thanks Cynthia for the great decorations and for making me feel so special. I also had a note from my fellow Gaucho co-worker. Thanks Long for the UCSB shout out! GO GAUCHOS!!! ❤ UCSB

Olé.., Olé, Olé, Olé

Gauchos, Gauchos!

My other co-worker Sara got me a very cute mint scarf with little hearts on it and took my out to lunch. So much office love today! I feel like my coworkers really are the best! Here’s a little collage of all my office bday decorations.


When I came home after work, I discovered a beautiful flower arrangement on the dinning room table. I had absolutely no idea who they were from. The GORGEOUS flowers were sent from my college bestie Caitlin!! Awwww…so very sweet of her to send me flowers on my birthday! Caitlin is always so thoughtful and I love her dearly! I’m so grateful that she ended up being my freshman roommate at UCSB and feel so blessed that we have continued to be friends since 2002. ❤ ❤

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This year I didn’t make any big plans for my birthday. The main birthday/valentine’s present was our new pup Dash, so I really wanted to keep things low key. Tuesday night the hubby made dinner (Kung Pao Chicken my fav) which we paired with a bottle of our favorite Kalyra wine. After dinner there were one too many presents to open…I told my hubby NO PRESENTS especially since we got a puppy, but he didn’t listen haha. He is still so very thoughtful and I love him dearly! And I really felt extra special.


After presents we enjoyed some yummy cupcakes from Frost and spent the rest of the evening relaxing with our pups. I seriously couldn’t have asked for a better birthday! Thanks to everyone who made my day so wonderful!

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Last Saturday we got together with my family for another birthday celebration! My mom made her delicious and my favorite spinach lasagna along with another favorite salad with mandarin oranges and candied almonds. There were more presents to open (too many again) and then cake! I love being able to see my family and celebrate all together.

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Here’s to turning 31 and really being in my thirties now! Looking forward to the year ahead and feel so thankful for all my friends and family who made my birthday truly wonderful! Love you all! ❤


Meet our NEW pup DASH

The McConnell’s are now a family of FOUR! The hubby and I have been talking about getting another dog on and off but never felt that the timing was right. To be honest, I’m not sure the timing is ever totally right, but this time it really felt right. Haha, at least that’s what I’m telling myself.

Last weekend (on Valentine’s Day no less) we drove up to Sebastopol, CA to Skansen Kennel to check out some pups. Skansen Kennel was actually founded in Sweden in 1950 by Sylvia Hammarstrom. She moved to Sebastopol in 1964 and has been breeding both top show and family pet Schnauzers for the last 33 years! Sylvia breeds giant, standard and miniature schnauzers and they are some of the most BEAUTIFUL dogs! She also has llams! At this rate I feel like there should be some sort of a family discount. Two of my uncles have giants, my mom has two minis, and now we have two minis. Where’s the Nelson/Finstad/McConnell discount?


We got Emma in 2011 from Skansen’s so it’s not surprising that we got another dog from there.  Emma is like my (I mean our) first born! She is absolutely LOVED and we just ADORE her. She is my EVERYTHING. Chris always jokes that Emma comes before him (of course she does, j/k!) Haha. Here are a few pictures of when I first got Emma.

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Chris didn’t come with me to get Emma. He was in PA school and was actually on rotations (he was going to be in a different place every six weeks for a year!). I was lonely in Merced and needed a dog…so we got Emma. This time around I was really excited to be taking him. Skansen’s is a really cool place to visit. The schnauzers live in big, open ½ acre pens with two or three dogs together so that they can play and run all day. Here are a couple of pictures of the minis and giants. Oh and a llama too!

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We initially decided we wanted a male pup (thinking it would get along better with Emma), but found out that it didn’t really matter. All of Sylvia’s dogs are females and they do great together. The pup we were looking at has the same dad as Emma (we thought that was pretty cool!) so our little guy and Emma are actually half siblings! The pups were only 13 weeks old and hadn’t been outside of the pen they had been in since being born. When we first met the pup he was very shy/nervous and then started warming up. Once he adjusted, the little guy was proving to be rather rambunctious! We were a little worried that this guy might be too much for us to handle. Luckily we decided to ask to see the other pup in the litter (thought it was a girl). Good thing we asked…because the second pup is the one we decided to get! Long story short, we thought the other pup in the liter was a girl but only after his bath did we find out that the little girl was actually a boy! LOL. At that point it didn’t matter to us if the pup was a girl or boy. We liked his more laid back/calm personality and thought he would be a better fit for our family. Check out these cute pictures!

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We got Emma at 9 months and were very fortunate that she was already potty trained. All we had to do was make sure she adjusted to our place and routine. The last time I had a puppy puppy was with my childhood dog Cosmo (also a schnauzer) but my parents did the majority of the potty training. I know Chris and I are in for a lot of work, but I already know it will be worth it. Our new addition has already stolen our hearts and is adjusting to his new life very well. Emma is also adapting and learning to be a great big sister. I think she still needs some time (she’s been an only child for almost 5 years), but I hope in the end they will be best buddies. I’m sure both pups will be making appearance on this blog more often. Now I really need to get writing that children’s book series I wanted to do about Emma. I guess there will be two mini schnauzers in the Adventures of Emma series haha.

It was a truly wonderful experience picking up our pup and making our family feel more complete. One of the best Valentine’s Day/pre-birthday presents ever (my birthday was on 2/17)! A huge THANK YOU to my husband Chris for indulging me once again and learning to love schnauzers just as much as I do. I’m so glad to have his help with our new pup and know this will be a lot of FUN! I love you Chris! <3<3<3

Here’s our little guy meeting my Dad…already so in love with him! I mean look at my dad’s face!

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Weekend Getaway: Auberge on the Vineyard

Last weekend we had a mini-getaway to the beautiful Sonoma wine country. Our trip was absolutely fabulous! We stayed at the most charming bed and breakfast called Auberge on the Vineyard, located in Cloverdale, CA. Auberge on the Vineyward was one of the first B&B’s in the area (formally known as The Shelford House Bed and Breakfast and Ye Olde Shelford House). You can read more about the history of the B&B here…I just love learning about this kind of stuff and staying at such a sweet and lovely palce!

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Auberge on the VIneyward has Queen Anne Victorian architecture, French styling (you know how I love things French!), and stunning panoramic views of the Alexander Valley vineyards! Guests can either stay in the Victorian House (main house) or Carriage House (we stayed here). Apparently, the Carriage House was added to the inn property in the 1980’s and went through a complete remodel in 2010. The Carriage House offered a beautiful common room with expansive windows/doors where you could take in the gorgeous scenery outside. There was also a wonderful deck where you could sit outside and enjoy the view even more! I found myself on the deck many times during our stay (even in the rain) just admiring the beautiful of the vineyards and mountains. Another nice addition in the common area was the butler’s pantry that had complimentary drinks and snacks.

Here are a few pictures of our rainy arrival Friday night, our beautiful French styled room and the absolutely breathtaking/gorgeous views of the vineyards right off our balcony!!

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Our good friends Dan and Jess joined us for the weekend getaway and we were so happy once they arrived! It was crazy stormy on the drive up…lots of strong wind and intense rain so we were glad they made it up safely. Once they got settled, we headed to downtown Cloverdale to check out a brewpub for dinner. Ruth McGowan’s Brewpub was a huge hit! Not only did we get to drink awesome beer and enjoy delicious pub food, but there was also live music for Friday night! Naturally we met the owner of the pub and closed the place down! After dinner we headed back to the B&B and enjoyed some of the butler’s snacks (spiced rum cake, brownies, little pastries, etc.), a bottle of wine and just hung out. Awesome start to a great first night!


It was such a treat waking up Saturday morning knowing that a yummy breakfast was being prepared for us. We’ve never stayed at a B&B before so we really didn’t know what to expect. Lets put it this way…Roxanne and her staff BLEW US AWAY!!! We were beyond SPOILED at this B&B! The food was some of the best I have ever had and simply DELICIOUS. We were served a wonderful three-course French breakfast each morning and it was to die for! There was gourmet French pressed coffee, a variety of teas, and fresh orange juice to start. Saturday’s Breakfast included: 1st Course: red wine poached pears. 2nd Course: crepes L’Auberge (black forest ham, cheese, grilled onions), potatoes Anna, and poached tomatoes with parmesan. 3rd Course: can’t remember the name but it was a cinnamon and nutmeg something with fruit. Sunday’s Breakfast included: 1st Course: kiwi-banana smoothie (very light, refreshing and delicious). 2nd Course: Eggs L’Auberge (2 eggs baked over spinach with a champagne Mornay sauce), pineapple saugage and diced potatoes. 3rd Course: blackberry corstata. Sadly, I took no pictures of the food (shocking I know!), but you just have to trust me the food was OUTSTANDING and probably one of the best things about Auberge on the Vineyard! BEST.FOOD.EVER.

Saturday we headed out to do a little wine tasting. This is my second time to the Alexander Valley/Dry Creek/Healdsburg wine region and I really like! There are a lot of great places in the Napa Valley too, but there is something special about the Sonoma area that I just love! It seems to be a little more laid back and easy going. We went to three wineries: Sbragia Family Vineyards, Bella Vineyards & Wine Caves (we became members here!), and Frick Winery. We had a blast! There was even some intense hula hooping at Bella! Check out these great pics!

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For dinner Saturday night we headed to Geyserville and ate at Diavola, a yummy pizzeria and salumeria restaurant. We shared the house cured salami & cheese for our appetizer and then the Bambino Pizza (Dicilian Style Baked Pizza w/ Fresh Mozzarella, Oregano, Tomato, House Smoked Sausage, Black Olives & Basil) and Inferno Pizza (Roasted Red Peppers, Tomato, Basil, Provolone, Mozzarella & Spicy Calabrian Peppers–this one was HOOTTT). Everything was really tasty and a perfect way to spend our last meal together! After dinner, we headed back at the B&B and played Uno and Bridge well into the evening…haha. What can I say, we love to play bored games!

Sunday morning we enjoyed one last three-course French breakfast, played more Bridge, packed up and then headed back home. It was raining again, but it was still really beautiful!


We had a truly FANTASTIC weekend with our friends and felt so relaxed! It was the perfect break! I must admit it was hard going to work on Monday especially without Roxanne’s delicious French breakfast! After our mini-getaway I felt rejuvenated and refreshed! It was wonderful to spend time with my hubby and our friends in a really beautiful place! We all had such a great time that we can’t wait to go back already. I highly recommend spending a weekend with Roxanne at Auberge on the Vineyard! I’m seriously already planing our next visit. It really is the perfect place to get away, rest, relax, take in the beautiful scenery and enjoy good food and wine! Until next time…au revoir!

Mindfulness Study Group

I recently signed up for a 6-week Mindfulness Study Group put on by the fabulous Cassie Schindler. Cassie is an MBSR instructor and meditation coach. I’ve talked about Cassie before on my blog and think she is an incredibly stunning and motivational individual. You can read about a retreat I attended back in December here and if you want to learn more about Cassie visit her website.

Any time I get an email about a workshop, retreat, or class Cassie is offering I try my best to take it! I’ve had to miss out on a few opportunities, so when this one came up I told myself I’m not missing it! So far the class is going really well. The class is designed for people interested in an exploration of mindfulness and for people who have already completed her 8-week MBSR course. Since I’ve already completed her course I’m using this study group as more of a refresher, to go a bit deeper into the understanding of mindfulness/incorporating it into my life, and recommitting to my practice.

During each session we do a practice meditation and then either have some sort of activity/discussion/or review of our workbook A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. What I really love about this group is that we are a group. We’ve all come together for a particular reason and get to share in what I think is a very unique experience. It’s funny because the more classes/workshops/retreats I attend, the more familiar faces I see. In this study group I recognized two ladies that were at the My Mindful Brain retreat in December and one gentleman that was in my 8-week MBSR course! It’s so wonderful to see familiar faces and share this experience together. Another familiar face and someone who I know really well is my mom! She is new to MBSR and I’m excited to be in class with her.

This year, I am really trying to work on my meditation practice and live a more mindful life! You can read about that being one of my resolutions for 2015 here if you want. This class is a perfect way for me to get back into my meditation groove. Also, I really just love Cassie. Meeting and learning from her has been one of the greatest things that has happened to me. I am so very grateful to have her in my life and to have discovered the wonderful world of meditation.

In closing, I want to share two images that I just love and think are perfect for meditation and mindfulness.

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Meditation and especially mindfulness is all about occupying the present moment. In order to really see what is happening in the present moment, we have to stop and look at the present moment. It can be really hard to do this, but the present moment is NOW. We have to take the time to be present.

The other image is a beautiful quote by Eckhart Tolle. Since it’s so small, here it is: “Look at a tree, a flower, a plant. Let your awareness rest upon it. How still they are, how deeply rooted in Being. Allow nature to teach you stillness.” Now isn’t that just wonderful?! Until next time! ❤