Smile #82 – You Have Been Summoned!

The announcement for senior management’s visit was quickly forgotten…until you are summoned for a one-on-one chat.  Keywords:  Senior Management.  Right, no pressure at all…

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The core five W’s immediately alarmed off in my head.  Who?! What?! When?! Where?! and most importantly WHY?!

As excited as I was to partake of this rare opportunity, my nerve did not appreciate the jitteriness.

Before I stepped in, I took a deep breath and composed myself.  Oh boy.  Here comes the real deal!

As it turned out, Mr. Senior Executive is very personable.  🙂  We began with my background and journey into the world of supply chain.  I spoke briefly about my experience so far, the program I am a part of, and where I see myself in the future.  He began his career over two decades ago at our company.  In his current role, he oversees quite a few projects and initiatives.  At the end, I got to pick his brain on our company’s current progress specifically dealing with our most recent process improvement initiative and his intention for future talent pipeline.

It was certainly intriguing to learn more how upper management view the overall company progress and lessons learned through the transformation phase.

I was surprised the conversation flowed through so naturally.  🙂  30 minutes passed by without much notice.

I consider this my big success of the day!  🙂 I survived another conversation with top management. 🙂

Now let’s go celebrate National Chocolate Day!  🙂

Smile #81 – Are You Authentic?

During our Italy trip, Bubble and I were spoiled by the freshest pasta, the creamest gelato and the purest wines.  The aroma and delicacies of these foods lured us into every shop.  You don’t have to ask me twice for gelato!  🙂

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Now that we have returned home, we are cursed with a constant craving of authentic Italian cuisine.  Until we can afford another visit to Italy, we better searching for a local and affordable restaurant.

Surprise, surprise, we found Dolce Ristorante, a small restaurant that serves authentic Italian specialties.  Of course we have to validate their claim.  🙂

Bubble and I made reservation for Gnoochi Night.  Without a doubt, I had to get gnoochi with pesto cream sauce.  Bubble experimented gnoochi with tonight’s special – boar head sauce.  Both were delicious!  🙂  It gave us a fair taste of Italy!

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Bonus!  They also have the best tiramisu!  It comes very close to Pompei’s in Rome!  🙂

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We just might have found the magic key to Italian cuisine right at home!  🙂  Let’s try out the rest of the menu!  🙂

Smile #80 – Nice to Meet You, Blue Ridge Parkway!

Nice to Meet You, Blue Ridge Parkway!  

Blue Ridge Parkway attracts visitors from around the world.  And who can blame them?!  The mountains radiate the most glorious look each fall.  A burst of red and orange and yellow makes the mountains absolutely picturesque.  🙂

After living in Boone for four years, I couldn’t resist returning to the mountains.  Fresh cooler air, quaint local restaurants and small town atmosphere, I am ready to be back in my habitat.  🙂

This year’s fall foliage looks even more vibrant than before.  🙂  The drive up to the Boone has been quite beautified!  🙂

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After dropping off Bubble for his BNO (boys’ day out), my sister and I headed to the Parkway, where a series of interesting events began.

Event #1 – Given this is the first time we actually drove to the parkway, we have no idea where we are going.  So when we saw the Parkway entrance sign, we immediately turned on the first narrow road…leading us to a cemetery.  Should we have taken this as an omen?!

Event #2 – Our plan is to hike Rough Ridge, a short 1.5 miles with magnificent views of the mountains.  We began at milepost 297 passing Moses Cone, Price Lake, Linn Cove…and soon we reached a sign that said Linville to the right.  Sis said she recently visited Linville Falls and Rough Ridge should just be a little past that.  Little did we know the sign refers to the town Linville…not Linville Falls the trail.  Soon we found ourselves at the entrance of Grandfather Mountain!  35 minutes away from Boone, haha!

Event #3 – Alright, we realized we are on the wrong way and needed to turn around.  But we kept passing any areas that would allow us make a u-turn.  Before we know it, we were descending the mountain on a narrow curvy road with no stops.  And so we reached Linville…unintentionally.  🙂

Event #4 – Second time around, we tried to pay more attention to the mileposts.  We returned to the main parkway and up the mountain we went.  We remembered mom’s love for local honey so we pulled over at a random roadside honey vendor.  Just a random honey run #nbd

Event #5 – With just an hour until sunset, it is time to change our agenda from hiking the Parkway to a scenic drive of the Blue Ridge.  As a passenger, the drive was serene…aside from a few terrifying turns that left me holding my breath and praying we wouldn’t slide off the side of the mountain.  🙂

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Event #6 – We took a quick break at Grandfather Mountain Overlook.  It offers a gorgeous view of the mountain and a small lake.  🙂  Take a look for yourself!

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Side story:  While we were posing and taking pictures, I told sis that I wanted a picture of my back.  She took my comment literally and this is what she captured…MY BACK.

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No worries, I got her to take a more ideal one too. 🙂

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Event #7 – The best overlook award goes to Yonahlossee overlook.  At an elevation of 4412 feet, colorful trees stretched for miles and painted the perfect fall foliage image.

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There were so many sight seekers.  With luck on our side, we caught a group departing.  🙂  Thanks for your spot, sir!

The panorama of the mountain left us breathless!  We lingered for a while just absorbing this spectacular view.  🙂

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Event #8 – We made it to our final stop at Moses Cones Mansion.  It has become a tradition for us to visit this trail and so we had to take a piggy back photo like years past.

Typically we have our friends and families with us to help take the perfect photo.  But since it is just the two of us today, we had to get creative.  Using the white wooden fence and my new iPhone 6s’ timer, we took turns hopping on each other’s back.  The image turned out perfectly and we had a great laugh!  🙂

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Dun Dun Dun, ladies and gentlemen, here is our 2015 Blue Ridge piggy back photo.

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We also got a normal sissy picture 🙂

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Conclusion of the day, we had a series of interesting events occurred.  Guess this is what happens when you give the car keys to two girls with zero outdoor navigational skills.  It is all worth it though!  The day was full of laughter and smiles.  🙂   Unfortunately we did not find Rough Ridge…but I promise I will be BACK for you, mysterious Rough Ridge!

For now, Appalachian Cookie Co is calling my name.  🙂

Smile #79 – Nice to Meet You, Florence, Italy! [Part II]

Nice to Meet You  See You, Florence!  [Part II]

Bubble and I planned to explore the other side of the Arno River.  Piazzale Michelangelo is known to offer the most perfect panoramic view of Florence.  It is by far my favorite spot in Florence!  🙂

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On our way there, I was focused on different food options around.  More gelato!  🙂  Out of nowhere, I saw a guy standing on the opposite side that looked familiar.  I blinked and did a double take before I confirmed it is Ash!  WHAT?!

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What a crazy coincidence to bump into an old friend from Erasmus in the street of Florence, especially when we both vacationing in Italy!  We live in quite a small world!  or Erasmus dominates the world!  🙂

After a few minutes of catching up, we parted ways.  It is still a bit unreal to bump into a friend so far away from home without any pre-set up arrangement!  🙂

We headed up the stone staircase to the Piazzale.  By the time we finally reached the top, I collapsed on a nearby bench.

Bubble was very impressed with the Florence skyline!  🙂  The beautiful view is paired with a replicate of the Statue of David.  Several stalls spread out in the square selling food, drinks and souvenir knick knacks.  Of course, selfie sticks vendors were around too.

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I climbed up to the edge to look out at the skyline.  Mountains slightly faded in the back, the famous river ran through city, dividing up the town into two side, and rooftops of century-old architectures were absolutely breathtaking!

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We sat at one of few benches observing the view and people watching.  Buses approached the curb and unloaded crowds of tourists.  With just a few minutes per each stop, everyone rushed in to capture the view.  Pose, click, pose, click.  I wonder if they enjoy that very moment or is it simply a ‘I made it’ kind of moment.

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Sidestory:  A girl appeared to be celebrating her Quinceanera, a major rite of passage in the Hispanic culture, dressed up in an puffy pink dress.  She was accompanied with her friends and a photographer.  He asked her to strike different poses as he worked the camera.  No one knew if they are famous or just an average having an extravagant day out but everyone stood around watching and taking photos of her.  An Asian lady assumed the girl is famous and hopped into the photo.  Haha, birthday party crasher?

We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the city.  No maps, no GPS, just roaming freely.  It is a relaxing yet unique experience.  We kept walking back to the same square.  After a few tries, we finally made it out of the maze.  We surprisingly stumbled across several churches!  🙂

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Santa Maria Novella Church
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The Church of Santa Croce

Outside the Church, a street musician caught my eyes.  A sign advertised Appalachian Music!  Thousands miles away and I still find a piece of home!  🙂  In addition to his music, he also had a paper puppet on a ledge.  As he played his music, the puppet would dance along.  So neat!  🙂

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Atlas, our ten days across Italy trip is coming to the end.  I am not ready to leave this magical country just yet.  Let’s just enjoy another gelato!  🙂

Smile #78 – Nice to Meet You, Tuscany & San Gimignano, Italy!

Nice to Meet You, Tuscany & San Gimignano, Italy!

Bubble and I aren’t huge wine lovers, but what’s a trip to Italy without at least one wine experience?

We booked the Grape Escape Winery Tour with Italy on a Budget.  A day trip to Tuscany and San Gimignano.  🙂

Our first stop is Tenuta Torciano, a wine tasting school.  A generational winemaker family that produces no fewer than 1 million bottles of Chanti wine per year.  Wow!

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Our host began by asking us to try the white wine at our table.  Everyone picked up the glass, swirled it a bit, and sipped the wine.  Horrified and amused, the host shook his head.  We were all wrong on how to taste wine.  Oops!  🙂

The proper way of tasting wine:

  1. With our thumb, index and middle finger of our dominant hand, hold the wine glass at the base of the stem.
  2. With our other hand, cover the top of the glass and swirl the wine.
  3. Immediately take a sniff of the aroma.
  4. Take a sip of the wine and hold!  Let the wine roll around your mouth for 5 seconds with white wine and 2 seconds with red wine.
  5. Finally swallow.  You can now make your conclusion about the wine.  🙂

I can’t wait to try this process at a dinner party and have everyone stare at me, the almost pretentious wine enthusiast.  What can I say, I learned how to properly taste wine in Italy.  🙂

We enjoyed 7 different wines including the famous Chianti Classico, Brunello of Montalcino, and Super Tuscan wines.  P.S. I was totally redfaced by the end of this.  🙂  We also sampled balsamic vinegar and truffle oil.

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Sidestory:  A lady walked around pouring truffle oil.  She instructed us to lay out a cracker on our plate.  She then poured a pool of oil on my cracker.  My cracker was totally swimming in the oil.  I had to literally shake off most of the excess oil.  However, the cracker did taste amazing!

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We were immediately sold on the truffle oil.  We also bought a bottle of white and 2 bottles of red.  🙂

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With our happy purchase, we headed back to the van for our next vineyard stop.  A local winery located in a stunning countryside.  🙂

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The winemaker’s wife gave us a tour of the vineyard and the cellars.  She shared the science behind the wine making process.  To avoid rain and too much moisture, grapes are harvested in September.  To produce delicious white wine, it must fermented in cold temperature so density and bubbles goes down.  It is quite fascinating to learn about the impact of each small detail!  🙂

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We tried 3 wines here, the famous Vernaccia white wine, a rose wine and a Chianti colli senesi D.O.C.G.  Easy choice for me, Vernaccia white wine is my favorite. The freshest and purest grape flavor persuaded me to make another purchase. Bubble fell in love with Chianti colli.  We ended up purchasing four more bottles!  We are becoming wine lovers!  🙂

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Mid afternoon, we were dropped off at a small medieval town, San Gimignano.  It is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site!

We finally found a shop that sells authentic leather goods.  Unlike all the leather stalls in Florence, this shop actually had a leather scent.  Bubble was sold on a leather wallet immediately.  🙂

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The town is known for its many towers.  Apparently, towers are a symbol for power.  The patrician families who controlled the town built around 72 towers to symbolize their wealth and power but only 13 remain today.  We headed to one of the towers that overlooks the Tuscan fields.

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Of course we had to stop at the world’s best gelato shop.  The line extended out the shop.  With so many flavors to choose from, I couldn’t make up my mind.  I was bold enough to ask the waitress what is the best flavor.  She recommended honey.  A scoops of that please!  She is so right!  I loved every lick of it!  🙂

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An hour and 30 mins was just not enough time!  There were so many beautiful spots in this town.  The narrow streets, local shops, beautiful Tuscan countryside and world’s best geleto shop, can this place be any more perfect?!  🙂

Thank you Italy on a Budget, we had the most amazing Tuscany experience!  🙂