Saturday, October 25, 2014

Weekend Wonder: Palm Tree

{I'm posting every day this month for the 31 Days writing challenge!
Click here to see an introduction and a list of all the posts I've written so far.}

{Weekend Wonder is a little mini-series I'm doing within “31 Days,” where I show you
a picture of something in Santa Barbara that I love, along with a short blurb about it.}

(Click to enlarge)

I have a special place in my heart for palm trees, because they remind me of my desert hometown.  Looking up at this one, with the sun beaming down through the palm fronds, I felt a sense of connectedness between my childhood home and my current home, my younger self and this weird, responsible, adult human I’m apparently becoming.  (When did THAT happen?)

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Funk Zone

{I'm posting every day this month for the 31 Days writing challenge!
Click here to see an introduction and a list of all the posts I've written so far.}

Because it’s sadly NOT my Friday off today, I am of course daydreaming about things I could be doing right now if I didn’t have to be at work.  And one of my favorite ways to spend a relaxing Friday afternoon (or Saturday or Sunday for that matter) is moseying around the Funk Zone.  

The Funk Zone is basically this little section of streets (pretty much all within walking distance of each other) full of places to eat, drink, shop, and explore.  I don’t think I have even begun to scratch the surface when it comes to seeing and experiencing all that the Funk Zone has to offer, but I definitely have discovered a few instant favorites that I frequently visit when I'm headed down that way.

The first and best place is the Santa Barbara Winery, and I’m not just saying that because two of my lovely friends, Michelle and Brooke, work there.  They have delicious wines, a calm and relaxing vibe, and a very cool barrel room that gets rented out for events like birthday parties and belly dancing performances.  As someone who is not usually a big fan of white wine, let me tell you right now that you MUST try their orange muscat.  It is fantastic!  And if you don't believe me, well: they just won Best White Wine in the 2014 SB Independent Readers’ Poll so they must be doing something right!

Deidre and me at SB Winery on a rainy day!
This is the barrel room at SB Winery, during
Michelle's birthday party earlier this year!

Then there are a few other wine tasting rooms that I like to visit every now and then, including Corks & Crowns, Drake, AVA, and Municipal.  There’s a lot of others too, but those are the first that come to mind as the ones with my favorite vibe, flavor, or all-around pleasant experience.

Corks & Crowns does a cupcake tasting every Sunday!

Moving on to food spots, I must admit I really haven’t explored a lot here yet!  I’ve been to Red’s a couple times (and hosted a work party there last year), Metropulos once, and Lucky Penny once.  I really enjoyed all three of those places, so I dunno what's keeping me from going more often.  I also keep meaning to check out the Lark and Seven, and one of these days I will make it happen!  But I hear from plenty of people that those and many other eateries in the Funk Zone are fantastic, so you pretty much can’t go wrong.

I think this happened at Municipal Wine awhile back.
Who doesn't love a good backgammon game while tasting wine?

Sis-in-law Kelly and me at AVA when we had
a Carnes family day in SB this summer!

If you’re a little overwhelmed by all the possibilities and places to check out in the Funk Zone, here’s one great way to pick your starting points: get an Axxess book and check out the places that have offers and discounts in there!  I know SB Winery has a deal, as do several other tasting rooms, eateries, and more.   

What are you waiting for?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Axxess Card

{I'm posting every day this month for the 31 Days writing challenge!
Click here to see an introduction and a list of all the posts I've written so far.}

You may or may not have heard of or the “Entertainment book” depending on where you live and whether it’s available in your area.  Well, Santa Barbara has its own version of an entertainment book called the Axxess Card.  It’s basically a card (and accompanying book) that is chock full of offers and discounts at local businesses, including restaurants, auto shops, golf clubs, salons, and a ton of others.  

You pay $30 for your membership, and it’s good from October through the following December (15 months!).  The card itself has a tiny grid of numbers that coordinate with each of the one-time deals in the book, and whenever you use up one of those deals, the business will punch a hole over the coordinating number.  Then the book has recurring offers that you can get just by showing your Axxess card so they know you have it.

Even if you’re not so good about remembering to use your Axxess card (ahem, like me), it only takes a few uses to make up for the $30 you spent to begin with.  Last year, Joe and I got discounted Disneyland and California Adventure tickets through Axxess, so we got to go for our anniversary without breaking the bank quite as hard as we would have otherwise!  That alone saved us more than the cost of the book.  

My favorite thing about the Axxess card is that it helps us to branch out and discover new places, rather than just going to the same ones over and over.  I mean, we DO still go to a lot of the same places over and over, because we love them!  But Axxess has shown us new places to love that we otherwise wouldn’t have known about.

My second favorite thing about Axxess is that they partner with schools and non-profits every year to help them raise money.  So if you buy an Axxess book through a friend’s kid, $10 of the $30 goes toward their school or whatever they’re raising money for.  

And it just so happens that my dance team (which you read about yesterday) is raising money for our HUGE trip next year to World Championships in Nashville, TN!  We are in the process of getting our 501(c) to become an official non-profit, but the lovely folks at Axxess still let us go ahead and sell books.  

So if you are a local and you haven’t already bought your 2015 Axxess card, help me help you!  I will gladly deliver a book right to your doorstep, no joke.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Creekside and Got Country!

{I'm posting every day this month for the 31 Days writing challenge!
Click here to see an introduction and a list of all the posts I've written so far.}

So...I don’t think I’ve mentioned this on the blog yet, but I kinda joined a dance team earlier this year.  It’s called “Got Country!” and it’s an all-female country western dance group based in Santa Barbara.  

Got Country! in full costume & makeup for our recent competition.

But let me back up a bit.

I’ve been into line dancing on and off since I turned 21 and started going to Montana’s back in college.  Line dancing was about the only way I was physically active in my early 20s, but back then, I only knew about four different dances.  I’d try to figure out some of the other ones, but I just didn’t have the coordination or retention skills to really nail them down.  Still, I loved going and giving it my all.  And eventually (read: in just the last year or so), I started being able to retain more of the dances and really feeling more confident in my line dancing ability.  

It took a couple years after moving to Santa Barbara before I checked out Creekside, our local country bar, which has line dancing every Wednesday night.  When I first checked it out, all I could do was mentally compare it to Montana’s, and so I didn’t really get into it for awhile.  (This is a rare moment when I will tell you that I like something somewhere else better than its equivalent in Santa Barbara: Montana’s will always be my favorite line dancing spot.)

But we’re talking about Santa Barbara here, and I’m happy to say that after giving Creekside another chance in the last year or so, I have come to love and appreciate it for many reasons, of which I have listed a few below (have you figured out yet that I really like lists?):

  • The “regulars” are super friendly and fun.  There’s that core group of people you can bet will always be at Creekside, and they are so welcoming, inclusive, and more than willing to help folks learn new dances.  (Now, I must say that when I first tried Creekside several years ago, this wasn’t so much the case in my experience.  I got yelled at to get off the floor when I was trying to figure out a dance on more than one occasion.  That’s pretty much why it took me awhile to give the place another chance; but thankfully, the people there now are generally a lot more friendly!)  

  • Derek, the DJ, picks great songs to go with various line dances and two steps.  I’ve experienced some country DJs who just didn’t seem to have a knack for choosing songs that work well with whatever line dance they’ve called out.  Derek tends to pick good ones, and he mixes up the songs so that you’re not always dancing the same line dance to the same song.  He also likes to speed up some songs gradually so that the dance gets a little harder as the song goes on, which can be fun when you’re doing one of the easier dances that might tend to get boring after awhile at the same pace.

  • The bartenders make a mean margarita.  I don’t really have to say much about this one.  Just go and ask for a margarita (with salt on the rim, of course) and enjoy it.

  • We have the best line dance instructors.  Listen, when it comes to line dance lessons, the instructor makes a HUGE difference in whether you will a) enjoy the dance, b) actually GET the dance, and c) remember the dance three weeks later.  Dorothea and Lisa are the two instructors I’ve experienced the most in the last year at Creekside, and they both bring their own special quality to lessons.  Dorothea is ridiculously sweet, and she is great at very clearly explaining the steps and going over them to make sure everyone gets it.  Lisa is spunky and always tells people that they shouldn’t think of it as “messing up” so much as “putting your own variation” on a step you may not have done exactly as she taught it.  

  • Minimal creepers.   Look, you know I’d be lying if I said there were NO creepy people at a bar, right?  There are always creepers.  But Creekside seems to attract much fewer of them than other places I’ve been, and I’ve developed a knack for spotting them and avoiding them.  Plus, with all the very nice and friendly people around, we’re all looking out for each other.  

  • Yet another great way to burn calories in Santa Barbara.  Whenever I wear my Loop activity tracker to Creekside, I get SO MANY steps and burn SO MANY calories!  I love it because the app that goes with the Loop always says stuff like, “Wow, you’re a rockstar today!  You were super active.”  Dang right I was!

Full dance floor at Creekside!
Okay, now back to this whole dance team thing.  Earlier this year, Joe and I went to a different local venue that tried out a weekly line dancing gig for a little while.  It didn’t end up lasting very long, but that first time we went, there was this group of girls that got up and performed a really cool dance routine to some country songs!  I remember thinking it looked like a lot of fun but also figuring they were all professional dancers, so of course it didn’t even occur to me to wonder if that was something I could ever do.

Fast forward a couple months, and this same team showed up at Creekside one night.  Derek brought them on the dance floor to congratulate them for winning some competition, and then he said, “By the way, they’ve got an opening on the team, so go talk to Marilyn if you’re interested in joining!”

I don’t think he even finished his sentence before I bolted across the room to where Marilyn (the dance team’s director/choreographer) was sitting and squealed, “I want to be on the team!”

PEOPLE.  Have you met me?!  Since when am I a person who thinks she can be coordinated enough to REALLY dance?  (I mean, this team doesn’t just dance in a line and turn from one wall to the next to repeat it.  There are flips and kicks and jumps and formations and and and...!)  Well, whatever possessed me to do it, I somehow managed to pass the little audition and get myself a spot on the team.  

It’s taken months, but I’ve learned an 8-minute routine and am continually trying to improve on things like kicking higher, shimmying my shoulders instead of my booty (long story), and doing body rolls with actual fluidity instead of looking mechanical and awkward.  (It’s a process, but I’m getting better!)

And just this past weekend, we competed at the Paradise Country Dance Festival!  And I didn’t fall on my face!  And I wasn’t the only one who messed up here and there!  And I didn’t die of an asthma attack!  

So basically, I can now officially call myself a dancer, which is literally the LAST thing I ever thought I would be able to say about myself.  I mean, there’s been a lot of things I never thought I’d do, like running races or hiking up mountains or having actual ab muscles...but dancing was seriously at the very end of the “No, but seriously, NEVER” section of that list.  

So, never say never?

Anyway, all this to say, I have found another great community to be a part of in Santa Barbara, and if you haven’t been to Creekside yet, please come with me sometime!  And stay tuned on Got Country!’s Facebook page if you want to find out about upcoming performances and events!

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Running and Races

{I'm posting every day this month for the 31 Days writing challenge!
Click here to see an introduction and a list of all the posts I've written so far.}

Today I want to talk about running in Santa Barbara.  I have a couple of go-to running paths and a couple of races I like to sign up for almost every year.

My number one running trail is the bike path near Goleta Beach, but I’ve also been branching out from there and running along the actual beach, too!  Something about running on sand as the tide drifts up toward my feet and birds mosey around along the beach is just...calming.  Plus, sea glass.  

Another spot I like to run is at the Santa Barbara City College track.  It’s gentler on the knees than any other running surface, and there’s no getting lost or going out too far and not being able to make it back.  (I mean, no, I never run two miles and then realize I absolutely don’t feel like running another two miles.  Nope, never happens.)  Joe prefers to run here, since he has had knee surgery and feels the impact on concrete or dirt roads a lot more harshly, so the track is where we do our runs together!  I can also throw in a few stadiums for good measure if I’m feeling extra tough.

Joe and I in our new running shoes on a track run awhile back!

The third place I love to run is down by the harbor, usually along the bike path that runs through the parking lots toward East Beach.  I get a great ocean view (and breeze), plus on Sundays there’s some kind of art walk going on that I love to admire as I’m running along.  

As for races: there’s plenty of options in Santa Barbara and the surrounding area.  I’m not quite ready (and I may never be) to run the Santa Barbara Half Marathon (much less the full one!), but I’ve done a couple different shorter races in town that I always try to make time for every year if I can.  Oh, and I’ve volunteered at the marathon a couple of times, cheering people on and making sure cars on the road don’t drive onto the race lanes – that’s always a good time!

The first race I ever did locally was the Super Bowl 4-Miler.  I loved the distance, I loved the energy of the people around me, and I loved that I burned calories on a day when most people are gorging on them!  I’ve done it a couple times since then, and it’s always a great way to start a fun day.

Then there’s the Semana Nautica 15K, which usually happens on or around the 4th of July.  This one I’ve only done once, but I really want to try it again!  Maybe next year.  A 15K is 9.3 miles, and I think if I can actually train well for this one, I could get a better idea of whether I might want to ever do a half marathon (13.1 miles!).  Again, this one had great scenery, an energetic vibe, and a sweet finisher’s shirt that was actually athletic, moisture-wicking material rather than the usual plain cotton tees I’ve gotten from most other races.

And lastly is my all-time favorite race in Santa Barbara: She Is Beautiful!  This is an all-female 5K and 10K race that is just the most fun thing ever.  Surrounded by thousands of other women ready to kick butt, and then seeing all the motivational and quirky signs along the way, makes for a high energy, confidence boosting way to get outside and stay active.

(Click to enlarge)

This year I was getting over a terrible cough and cold, so I ended up just walking the 5K instead of running the 10K, which was pretty disappointing.  But I’m glad I still went out and did SOMETHING, and I still crossed the finish line feeling accomplished, and that’s the main reason I keep coming back for more!  Plus, being at the way back of the crowd was kind of awesome because I got to see thousands of women start the race strong!

What are some other good running spots or races I should check out in Santa Barbara?