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OMG It’s a GNO!

In case you haven’t heard, there is a new phenomenon among women and their circle of friends.  It’s called a Girls Night Out or GNO and it’s definitely not your mother’s bridge night!  Anywhere you hear the sound of a cork being popped or the splash of wine hitting a wine glass, you can best bet there are women gathering to celebrate spending time with their girlfriends away from the pressures of everyday life.

The 30-40 something crowd has taken the GNO to a new level.  These are independent women who relish their time apart from significant others, husbands, and their kids.  These women are fun, full of life, and sassy-  No ordinary dinner and drinks will do.  Oh no, these women have taken the Girls Night Out to a whole new level.  Here are some ideas that are extremely fun, easy to do, and won’t break the bank!

 

  • Shop and Swap:  Like the saying goes, necessity is the mother of invention.  Now a days, the saying should be “mothers with a necessity for bags, invented a swap.”  This may be the greatest thing that came out of the recent recession.     The idea of a purse swapping party is that everyone brings a purse that they no longer want and swaps it out for another purse. One woman's junk is another woman's treasure.  Make a list of about 15 of your friends that you think would like to be a part of the swap, and maybe more importantly, might have a good purse sitting in her closet!  Try to encourage the women to bring a purse that they still would carry but just might be tired of.  Once a bunch of your “besties” has signed on to come, you can plan a fun menu.  Try a signature drink like a skinny lime punch-    -  You won’t be at a loss for entertainment as you watch your otherwise subdued friends act like a pack of lioness circling their prey when they lay eyes on a slightly used Tory Burch bag!  By the way, this swap idea can be used for all sorts of things-  Try gently worn clothes or shoes, or even beauty products.  

 

  • Paint Nite:  If you haven’t put paint on paper since the age you used a finger instead of a paint brush, then Paint Nite is a perfect idea for a Girls Night Out .  The idea behind Paint Nite is to take two popular pastimes, artistic painting and drinking cocktails and puts it in a fun social setting at local bars and restaurants.  And don’t worry if you’re not a Picasso or a Van Gogh because Paint Nite invites a local artist to offer step-by-step instructions.  Between sipping a Cosmo and giggling with your girlfriends you will have taken a blank canvas and created a completed picture that you can hang on a wall at home.  Paint Nite is happening in a variety of neighborhoods bars and restaurants all over town.  Check them out here.

 

  •  It’s my Party and I’ll Wine if I Want To:   So we already know that where ever women gather, the wine is sure to follow.  But here is a fun twist on a Girls night Out with wine.  Host a blind wine tasting party.  It’s not only fun to taste a variety of wines but you might be shocked to find out that the favorite wine of the evening was under $10!  Score!  So the concept is to use a theme for the selected wine like from the same region or price point or variety.  Since many of us are not wine connoisseurs, my friend kept it easy by having us all choose a wine with an animal in the name.   Ask your guests to bring two bottles.  One for tasting and one to be used as part of the grand prize.  Then put all of the tasting bottles in brown bags and number them.  Print out score cards based on look, smell, taste, finish and ask the girls to rate the wine on each category from 1-10.  The wine with the highest score wins the party and the person who brought it gets to go home with the grand prize….The one extra bottle of wine that each guest brought.  Since all the ladies will have their hands full with a glass of wine, try offering some easy finger foods so no one goes hungry. Get some easy ideas here

Women have always enjoyed spending time with one another in small groups.  Maybe it’s in our DNA from ancient days when we were gatherers.   The modern knitting bee is now the Girls Night Out and I for one am much happier that female bonding has taken a turn.  I could never knit anyway and I’d much rather laugh with my girlfriends while eying a handbag!

Hidden Gems - Outdoors on a Budget

Summer in Atlanta can only mean one thing.  It’s time to get out doors.  If you are like most people in “these parts” then you probably aren’t from here and the idea of spending long amounts of time outside might bring to mind a scene from “Deliverance”  But as a native of Atlanta, I have found some great ways to explore our fabulous southern surroundings for less than the cost of large sweet tea!

  • The Swimming Hole:  There are a ton of natural swimming holes all around Atlanta and the surrounding areas.  One that is easy to get to and is pretty popular is Vickery Creek at Old Roswell Mill Park.   Vickery Creek is part of the Chattahoochee National Recreation Area park, and it is a tributary of the Chattahoochee River.  Vickery Creeks’ popularity comes from the small waterfall that runs over a historic dam and the 19th century cotton mill.  Enter the park through a trellis at the Old Mill and take a path to stunning lookouts, a picnic area, relics of the mill’s hydropower equipment and the dam. Enjoy the sounds of the waterfall, the warm sun, the shallow millpond for cooling off and large flat rocks for sunbathing. In addition there are  miles of hiking trails.  Want more? Visit http://www.swimmingholes.org/ga.html 
  • Pickin’ and Grinin’:  Summer time just conjures of the imagine of blackberries sliding down the side of a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  Just crack open any summertime issue of Southern Living and you will see what I mean!  Blackberries are plentiful and easy to pick. Last weekend while spending some time in Lawrenceville,  I found a wild thorny thicket bursting with the berries and managed to pick a pint.  Blackberries grow wild all around Georgia but if you need help find a spot, check out the map of where to pick berries from Concrete Jungle.  This website is great for showing where fruits are  growing naturally in  Atlanta and  to show places to pick blueberries., blackberries, peaches and plums just to name a few.   
  •  It’s the Wheel Thing:  Everyone knows that traffic in Atlanta can be epic.  Take a road less traveled and find a bike trail.  Over the past 20 years Atlanta has done a great job of growing the number of trails and bike paths throughout the 16 county Atlanta metropolitan area. This has really helped to take biking off busy streets and into more protected areas.  The Silver Comet Trail (silvercometga.com) begins 13 miles west of Atlanta in Smyrna and runs more than 61 miles westward to the Alabama border.  Another popular trail runs through the city beginning at the Carter Center and runs more than 19 miles to Stone Mountain.  Peachtree City has a 90-mile path system that not only accommodates bicyclists but also golf cards and walkers.  Check out The Path Foundation for path and trail details. 

Try something different this summer and step into the wonderful world happening outdoors all around Atlanta.  You will not only find some hidden gems but you will also make memories that will last a lifetime. 

 

Paddling the Etowah River in Dawsonville, GA

Just a few miles east of the Outlet Mall extravaganza in Dawsonville, Ga, awaits a serene 9 mile section of the Etowah River that flows through the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area owned by the City of Atlanta.

Like on many north Georgia rivers, Great Blue Herons, wild turkeys, and Kingfishers are frequently spotted as well as deer, Wood Ducks, Red-tail Hawks, and occasionally otters and beavers. Anglers have also reported excellent fishing for River Catfish, Red Eyed Bass, and Bream.

 

Quick Facts:

  • The Etowah River runs for 164 miles beginning northwest of Dahlonega, Ga and eventually flowing into Lake Allatoona.  
  • A popular day trip (approx. 4 hours) is a 9 mile run that travels through the Dawson Forest Wildlife Management Area. You can split this trip up by opting for primitive camping in the forest.
  • Put-in:  From Atlanta, take GA 400 North to the North GA Premium Outlet Mall in Dawsonville. Turn left onto Dawson Forest Road. Drive 4 Miles to Highway 9 and turn right. The put in is 1/5 mile ahead on the left. Parking is free and the park offers a nice boat ramp, restroom facilities and picnic table.
  • Take-Out: On Highway 9, drive South 1.6 miles. Turn right on A.T. Moore Road, go about 1 mile and take slight right on Kelly Bridge Road. Continue for 6 miles until you cross the bridge over the Etowah and park in field on the right. There is a very nice boat ramp making the take-out easy. This is private property and requires a $3 fee per person – envelopes available at the gate.

**Download map and helpful information brochure from DawsonCounty.Org

Camping:

Visit the Georgia Forest Commission website for more info about camping.

Outfitters:

Appalachian Outfitters – Rents canoes, kayaks and sit-on-tops. Please call 706.867.7116 or 800.426.7116 to make a reservation.

The Outside World - Retail and rental equipment available. Phone: 706-265-4500

Lore:

Often the locals will refer to the “radiation caves” located along the river. In the 1950’s this area was owned by the U.S. government who had a secret nuclear facility on the property. You can still see the remaining bridge abutments and hot cell building.  Read more about the history and urban legends.

This Youtube video includes pictures and maps of the facility.

#at=86

Things to do: Chestatee River

Whether you enjoy paddling, tubing or fishing – many recreational options await you less than an hour from Atlanta.

The Chestatee River in Dahlonega, GA is a favorite for first-time or seasoned paddlers. If boating isn’t your thing you can always take a tube float or try some fishing. The river features some beautiful scenery, fun Class I & II rapids and is teaming with wildlife. Blue herons, wild turkeys, and kingfishers are frequently spotted as well as ospreys, otters and occasionally beavers.

Quick Facts:

  • The Chestatee River is a major tributary of the Chattahoochee River, which begins at the confluence of Dicks Creek and Frogtown Creek in northern Lumpkin County and continues for 50 miles where it eventually spills into Lake Lanier.
  • A popular day trip (approx. 3 hours) is a 6 mile run that travels around a mountain with put-ins and take-out located along Highway 19/60.  From Atlanta, travel north on Georgia 400 until it ends in Dahlonega then turn right on Highway 19/60. map
  • Take-Out: Located on Highway 19/60 about ¼ mile north of Georgia 400. This is a new facility offering plenty of free parking, complete with bathroom and changing areas.
  • Put-in: Highway 19/60 about 3 miles north of the take-out. Parking information listed under the outfitter listings.Alternate Put-in @ Highway 52: From the put-in head north on Hwy 60 then east on Highway 52. The road for the put-in is located on the right before the bridge. This adds another four miles to the trip if you take out just north of Georgia 400. Putting your crafts in the river could prove a little challenging due to the very steep incline. After you put in, you will paddle through residential areas and a golf course – be wary of flying golf balls.

Outfitters:

Chestatee River Adventures – Catamarans (aka angler kayaks) $25. Tube rentals $5. Shuttle service for your personal craft - $5. Parking is also available for $5 – please call 770-540-9950 for more information. Appalachian Outfitters – Tube rental $6, kayaks and canoe rentals - $28-$48. Shuttle Service $10. Please call 706.867.7116 or 800.426.7116.

 

Want More Adventure? Class II+ rapid action happens in the upper section of the Chestatee near Turners Corner – to learn more visit American Whitewater

How to host an Oscar viewing party

How will you know if you like Naomi Watts’ dress at the Academy Awards unless your friends tell you that you do?

That’s just one reason to gather people at your home, to all sit and dish as you watch the entire evening of the Oscars. This year’s televised event is next Sunday, Feb. 24.

Your gathering can be anything from simple to spectacular. And we’re here to help with ideas.

Jazz up your gathering with Oscar-themed paper goods, such as Hollywood plates, napkins, tablecloths, etc. from your favorite local party store. Bundles of black and gold balloons are a fairly inexpensive way to get pizzazz around the party room.

Decorations can include a red carpet leading to your front door or buffet table, having a friend pose as a member of the paparazzi as guests arrive, silver Mylar fringe over front door for guest to walk through, and loads of Hollywood posters around the eating and watching areas. Companies such as Entertainment Unlimited Events rent big Oscar statues, from 5-foot to 12-feet tall, as well as Hollywood signs and other show-stopping decor items.

Select the level of extravagance for your party that matches you and your friends. “You can turn it up a notch by asking people to dress as their favorite movie character from this year’s list,” says Stephanie Via-Hagar of Entertainment Unlimited Events in Centerville. “Or make it a black-tie event.”

Add to the fun by having each guest make predictions as to who-will-win-what in the big categories (best picture, best director, best actor, best actress, best supportings). Award prizes for correct guesses as the awards are announced on TV or wait until the end of the evening to find who had the most correct guesses overall.

“No gathering is complete without food, and yours can be a lavish spread or yummy appetizers or anything in between,” says Christina Bender, healthy eating specialist at Whole Foods Market in Mason. “Potlucks are fun, especially if you have a theme to the evening.”

A French theme in homage to “Les Misérables”? Or let your imagination go wild by serving southern Louisiana fare as a bow to “Beast of the Southern Wild.”

“Remember that we’re not too far away from New Year’s Day and many people are maintaining their resolution to eat healthy in 2013,” Bender said. “Serving some healthy choices is always appropriate.”

“Offer guests a signature drink for the evening, such as a ‘Hot Hathaway,’ ‘The Golden Statue’ or another name you invent,” suggests Via-Hagar. She says the drink can be your own concoction or a cocktail recipe you find on the internet

When an evening is based around a televised event, you might want to gently suggest a code of conduct before you turn on the set. Ask guests if they like the idea of keeping talking to a minimum during the show but gabbing away during commercials. Their reaction may be yes or not, and take your cue from that, to create an evening that will have you taking a bow.

MOTION PICTURE MUSHROOM, RADISH AND HEARTS OF PALM SKEWERS

Recipe from Christina Bender, Whole Foods Market Mason.

Balsamic-marinated roasted mushrooms and hearts of palm alternated with crunchy, colorful radishes provide variety and balance on your party table.

Ingredients:

• 3 cloves garlic, chopped

• 24 small cremini or button mushrooms

• 4 tablespoons aged balsamic of Modena, divided

• 3 teaspoons finely chopped rosemary, divided

• 3 teaspoons finely chopped thyme, divided

• 6 medium radishes, trimmed and quartered

• 1 (14 ounce) can hearts of palm, drained

• 1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley

Directions:

Mash or press garlic; transfer to a large bowl. Whisk together 3 tablespoons balsamic, 2 teaspoons rosemary and 2 teaspoons thyme. Add mushrooms and radishes, toss well and set aside, tossing occasionally, for 30 minutes. In another bowl toss the remaining vinegar, rosemary and thyme. Halve the largest pieces of hearts of palm so you have at least 24 pieces; add to the bowl and toss to combine. Preheat oven to 425°F. Transfer mushrooms and radishes to a large, rimmed baking sheet lined with parchment paper and roast until softened and just caramelized, about 30 minutes. When cool enough to handle, thread a mushroom, piece of radish and piece of palm heart onto 24 6-inch skewers. Sprinkle with parsley and serve warm or at room temperature.

Nutritional info:

Per serving: 10 calories (0 from fat), 0g total fat, 0g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 75mg sodium, 2g carbohydrate (1g dietary fiber, 1g sugar), 1g protein

Fitness gifts for the athletes on your holiday list

Some folks might dream of sweater sets, cuff links or sugarplums, poor things, but we know the athletes on your holiday gift list really want stuff that makes them sweat.

We’ve rounded up a collection of goodies that’ll keep those cardio-happy hipsters moving at the speed of fitness. And unlike fruitcakes and eggnog, these suggestions will keep your loved ones healthy, too. What better gift could you ask for?

Rapha clothing

Mellow Johnny’s recently opened the only Rapha concept shop in the Southwest, where it peddles top-of-the-line, retro-themed clothing that’s more wool than Lycra. Think cyclo-cross jerseys with a single padded shoulder for carrying your bike across race fields or a fitted (not boxy) high-visibility cycling vest. Who knew cycling gear could be stylish, too? ($210 long-sleeved cyclo-cross jersey, matching $60 winter cyclo-cross hat, $160 women’s high-visibility pink vest at Mellow Johnny’s, 400 Nueces St.)

Bike bag

Want to cycle to work but don’t want to sling a backpack over your shoulders? Try this old school, eco-friendly, waxed cotton bag, perfect for stashing your laptop and lunch. Attach the bag to your handlebars with Velcro straps for the ride, then sling it over your shoulder once you arrive at your destination. ($35 at www.greatusefulstuff.com)

Running shoes

We love the cushy, loopy soles and snowy good looks of the Cloudsurfer Prism model of the Swiss-made On running shoes. Drenched in white, with three pairs of colorful laces, the shoes make you feel like you’re running on soft, shock-absorbing sand — except you don’t get bogged down on the push off. ($129 at specialty running stores including RunTex, or at www.on-running.com)

Event entry

Sometimes the best gifts are the kind that don’t take up space on the shelf — like entry fees for a local bike ride or foot race. Our favorites include the Livestrong Austin Marathon on Feb. 17 ($120 full marathon or $100 half, prices increase by $15 on Nov. 28, at www.youraustinmarathon.com), the BP MS 150 bike ride from Houston to Austin on April 20-21 ($100; tinyurl.com/a9vepd7) and the Statesman Capitol 10,000 on April 7 ($35; www.cap10k.com).  

“The Ultimate Hiker’s Gear Guide: Tools & Techniques to Hit the Trail,” by Andrew Skurka

From trekking poles to sleeping bags, portable stoves to water purification systems, this book explains what you’ll need on the trail and what to look for when you’re gearing up. (Published by National Geographic, $19.95; available at Amazon.com or bookstores)   

 

Dog-E-Glow LED collar and leash

Sometimes the best exercise partners are the four-legged kind. Make sure your pup stays visible if you’re walking after dark - and show your school colors, too - with this light-up collar and leash. Choose from University of Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Texas Christian and other major college versions. ($25.99 for collars; $29.99 for leashes at University Co-op and www.futurepets.com or www.dogeglow.com)

Nutcase bike helmet

Protect your shell with a funky bike helmet from Nutcase. We like this yellow taxi-cab number, but who wouldn’t want to swath their head in pink leopard skin, tie dye, polka dots or even a watermelon motif? (About $60 at specialty bike shops including Eastside Pedal Pushers and Ozone Bike Dept.).  

Fitness classes

How about the gift of flexibility? YogaYoga offers an array of classes, from hatha to flow to relaxation (unlimited classes for $99 per month, a year of unlimited yoga plus a massage for $995 or 5 classes for $55 at www.yogayoga.com). Rogue Running offers training classes that will help get you ready for a 10K run, including one geared toward the Statesman Capitol 10,000 ($182 at www.roguerunning.com). Or heat things up with a Brass Ovaries pole dancing fitness class that’ll knock your socks off ($35 for a group class; $150/month for unlimited classes at brass-ovaries.com/).

Cycling magazines

To call Privateer and Rouleur magazines is like calling Whole Foods Market a convenience store. These publications read more like books (and cost as much), and they’re packed with beautiful photos and in-depth articles on mountain biking and road cycling. You’ll read every bit of text and display ’em on your coffee table. ($20 at Mellow Johnny’s, 400 Nueces St.)  

Timex Marathon watch

Runners can be obsessive when it comes to checking pace, distance and calories burned. This sweat-proof workout watch uses GPS to monitor both, and stores up to 30 workouts. Comes in black, turquoise or this chipper pink. ($99.95 at Hill Country Running, 9900 W. Parmer Lane or 215 S. Lamar Blvd., Amazon.com or REI.com)  

NiteRider cycling lights

Light up your commute with a Lumina headlight — it’s the size of a tamal, clips neatly to your bike handlebars and easily recharges by plugging it into a cable that attaches to the USB port on your computer. Or opt for the less-expensive, pint-sized Lightning Bug. (Lumina series starts at $89; Lightning Bug starts at $11.95 at Bicycle Sport Shop, 517 S. Lamar Boulevard, and Texas Cycle Werks, 5300 S. Mopac Blvd., No. 501) 

“Fifty Places to Bike Before You Die,” by Chris Santella

Have wheels, but need to know where to pedal? Bicyling experts including Steve Coyle, past president of the Austin Cycling Association, share their picks for the world’s greatest destinations. Among the recommendations? Through fields of tulips in the Netherlands, past giraffes in Botswana, and, yes, into the scrappy, undulating terrain of the Texas Hill Country. (Published by Stewart, Tabori & Chang, $24.95; available at Amazon.com and bookstores) 

Texas Chip Seal Embrocation

Slather on this Hill Country lavender-scented warming cream that acts as your skin’s protective barrier from cold and wind. As the shop says, “It may be the dead of winter, but your legs are vacationing in Cabo.” Made by Mad Alchemy. ($24.99 at Mellow Johnny’s, 400 Nueces St.)

Clif bars

Can the candy canes and stuff your sweetie’s stocking with a handful of iced gingerbread, peppermint stick or spiced pumpkin pie-flavored Clif Bars instead. ($1.39 at grocery stores and sports stores)

KISS 104.1 Universoul Circus

KISS 104.1 Pearl Bistro Feb 25

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