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Monogamy vs. Infidelity: How to Affair Proof Your Marriage and Create Lasting Love

The parallel experiences of treating hundreds of couples over forty-seven years while at the same time learning how to love one woman well have taught me several enduring truths about marriage:

Such is marriageaa complex web of emotion, desire, passion, boredom, conflict, connection, loneliness, obligation, pain, joy, rage, and despair. And, at the centeralove. Not the romance-novel, falling-in-love variety, but a love built on struggle, commitment, and, above all else, a deep feeling of friendship and connection that comes from the certainty that no matter how many times we lose our way, weall do what we must to return to one other.

The Cracks that Lead to an Affair

A marital crisis, such as an affair, doesnat erupt without warning, nor does it explode without a context.

A violent, seismic fracture such as an affair may be the shock that cracks the illusion of marital harmony. However, a trained observer would have sensed the small fissures and fault lines that were trembling below the surface: resentments too trivial to acknowledge, a subtle yet growing distance, awkwardness where there once was a flow, decreased sexual desire, etc.

Twenty-five years ago, Toby Klein Greenwald and I began the WholeFamily Center,, a website on marital and family relations. Our goal was to create an experience of family life from the inside. Using multimedia family dramas, we involve visitors in everyday conflicts of families very similar to their own. We also conducted multiple surveys on monogamy and infidelity.

Based on our results, 100% of the 1543 respondents to our survey stated that monogamy is essential for a stable marriage. Yet, according to another WholeFamily survey which matched other reliable studies, there is a 40% chance that one or both partners will have an affair. Yet, when a spouse discovers the deception, the reaction is always shock and rageacertainly not, aWhat do you expect? Weare your average married couple.a

So, why will 40% of couples turn their back on their principles and risk breaking up their families?

And why is it that every survey and letter communicate the same message: "It's not the affair that I want. What I really want is to find love, passion, and emotional connection within my marriage."

The simple answer is marital neglect and the accompanying feelings of loneliness, resentment, and distance.

A marriage ignored is a marriage waiting for a crisis.

Dr. Michael Tobin, takes a deep dive into the question of monogamy and infidelity in a 20-part series calledA The Marital Odyssey,A How to Affair-Proof Your Marriage and Create Lasting Love.A The series appears onA The Psychology Todaywebsite and his personalA website.

The post Monogamy vs. Infidelity: How to Affair Proof Your Marriage and Create Lasting Love appeared first on Pick the Brain | Motivation and Self Improvement.

Self-Love Act: Write Yourself A Love Letter

It is easy for us to express our love to others. We dedicate time and effort to be with our beloved family, friends, and special ones. But most of the time we forget to show our love to ourselves. Take this as a reminder and a sign that you need to dedicate some effort to love and take care of yourself. The simplest way to start? Write yourself a love letter.

Yes, writing yourself a love letter might sound weird to some of you. Honestly, it was strange to me at first. It is because we got used to treating ourselves as expendable. And it took courage and much support for me to start practicing self-love fully. But however strange the idea of writing ourselves a love letter is, it is an effective way to start focusing our attention on ourselves, appreciating, and loving ourselves more. If you have never written a love letter to yourself before, I have few tips here to share with you.

Get Comfortable

The first step is to dedicate some time and set up a comfortable space to write. Being in a comfortable setting is important as it allows your mind to be at ease. You will be professing love to someone special with words, so pick a lovely place where you can slow down all the other thoughts and focus on this special someone (P.S.: it's you!). It can be a comfy corner of your favorite cafA(c) and you can order a delicious sweet cake that reminds you of your sweet notions. If you love nature, you can have a little nook deep in the woods or sit under the palm tree on a warm sandy beach. For me, it was on my sofa, lighting a floral-scented candle, and with my blue pea flower tea on my side. When choosing the space to write this love letter, think of it as a date: where would you take yourself to?

Writing The Old-Fashioned Way

Writing the letter to yourself needs to be done with full attention and love, so always go the old-fashioned way: handwriting. Typing, especially on digital devices, will take the personal connection and intention out of the letter. Instead, with the old pen and paper way, we get to slow down and be more intentional in expressing our love. Go above and beyond, choose the best paper you have ever touch, and write with the greatest pen you have ever had. Here you may exercise in acknowledging what you like and your favorite things: imagine the best love letter you will ever receive and take this as a chance to gift yourself just that. My very first self-love letter was on a 160-gram ivory paper, written with a brown gel pen. The goal here is to impress this special someone who you are writing to, so put out all of your best moves.

Profess Your Love And Admiration

Don't forget, you are not writing an evaluation sheet. It is a love letter, so think about all the things you admire about yourself and express all the love you have for yourself. Start with a sweet salutation, you can call yourself in a way that makes you smile.

The first part of the love letter can be about the loveliest moments. You can write them out by recalling the beautiful memories in your life, your proudest achievements, and the best choices you have made. Write yourself the praises you have been wanting to hear, don't wait for someone else to say it to you, you can say it to yourself.

The next part is the cheering section. There may be some things about yourself that you are not so happy about or things that you are scared of and worried about. Notice them and write them down, but with all the encouragement that you deserve to hear. Compliment yourself for doing your best so far and give yourself the motivation to overcome them all. And remember to celebrate the unique traits that make you, you. Let it all out because you deserve it all!

For the last part, close your love letter by declaring your love and encouraging yourself with positive affirmations. Be sure to include a lovely salutation that will always make your day whenever you will read this love letter.

Safe & Within Reach

When the love letter is all written down, it is time to "send" the letter. Keep the letter somewhere special but not hidden, in a treasure box on the shelf or a dedicated space in your drawer. Treat the letter with tenderness as it is a love letter from a very special someone. Whenever you feel like you need support and love, don't wait for someone else to give it to you, you can gift yourself just that by reading your love letter.

There you have it, how to write your first love letter to yourself. When you are ready to level up on self-love and self-improvement, you can find many tips and evenguided exercises that you can do in groups. Eventually, all the self-improvement exercises will lead you to healthier well-being and happier life.

Written by Fergie Verantianes, Self-Growth Advocate atA UlooA - the app that guides people to learn new things, build better habits, grow with support from others, and improve their life.

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One Day Iall Fly Away, COVID Permitting

With Fall in full swing, many of us are asking awhen will I begin to live my life again?a Life involves traveling, yet2020 was the worst year in tourism history, with 1 billion fewer international arrivals than 2019. And now, after an optimistic summer,travel bookings forLaborDay were down 15%from 2019, indicating that the Delta variant dissuades people from traveling.Still, getting away is a human need, and an economic need. In arecent press release, theU.S. Travel Associationurges everyone to vaccinate, for their own protection, andato help put us on the path to full recovery.aWhy then are people, including the fully vaccinated, staying put?

I blamelearned helplessness. Eminent psychologist Martin Seligman coined this term as he noticed that aa|uncontrollable events can significantly debilitate organisms: they produce passivity in the face of trauma, inability to learn that responding is effective, and emotional stress in animals, and possibly depression in man.aFor more than a year we stayed at home, schooled online, wore masks outside of home - and COVID did not stop. No wonder we are helplessly giving up on things that we could still do, like air travel.

For me, coming from the world of psychology and behavioural economics, the matter of air travel is settled with four questions. The first questions are answered with data, facts and figures. But the last two, only with emotion.

First, thereas the question of: Is flying anywhere even a possibility? As long as airplanes are in operation, you can go visit your college buddy in Idaho. And as long as foreign countries admit US citizens, you can fly, say,to Germany, even if it involves being fully vaccinated, and proving that you have a justifiable reason to visit. To find out whether theyall let you in, check theState Departmentwebsite, and hit the arefresha button on the travel restrictions at your destination, as they constantly shift. Recently, the European Union has removed the USA from its asafe lista of countries, and every country is interpreting it as it sees fit. Norway is closed to US travellers, Finland will only admit them if vaccinated, and Germany will admit, but quarantine, unvaccinated Americans, according toForbes. The answer here is a yes, but.

Then, thereas the question of a is it safe to fly.NPR saysthat the risk of catching COVID during a flight comes almost solely from fellow travellers, and it is greatly reduced if everyone is masked. TheCentersfor Disease Control and Preventionwarn: aDo not travel internationally until you arefully vaccinated.aYet, they caution that even fully vaccinated travellers might be at an increased additional riskfor getting and possibly spreading some COVID-19 variantsif they travel internationally.

I respect that. But I also know that safety is destination-dependent, which makes the blanket assertion of ainternational travel bada moot. Consider whatWorldmeterstells us about the numbers of COVID deaths per million residents. On September 4th, 2021, the USA had1,996 such deaths, Greece had 1,324, Germany a 1,104, Belize 894, and the Ivory Coast had 17. Or we could use theCentersfor Disease Control and Preventionas listtravel restrictions by country.Mali, Hungary, and Slovakia feature in yellow, indicating the lowest COVID risk, at level 1. Mexico and Canada are dark orange, at level 3 of high risk. Guess what country features in ominous claret, at estimated risk level 4, very high risk? Itas the land of the free and the home of the brave. So, are we really safer if we stay at home?

Apersonalized risk assessmentcould help: If youare older, suffering from hypertension, have a history of falls or fragility factors, or type 2 diabetes, you are at a greater risk for being hospitalized or dying from COVID. And letas not forget your vaccination status, because even young, restless, and initially healthy individuals can gethit fairly hard by COVID if unvaccinated.

Then we can gauge the risk level of a destination byvaccination rates: These are 1.1% in Mali, 56% in Greece and 60% in Germany. aInternationala isnat necessarily dangerous. And letas not forget that the US (53.6% overall) includesVermont, with a 68% rate fully vaccinated, andstates like Idaho, with only 44.41%.aDomestica isnat necessarily safe: hugging your unvaccinated college buddy and his wife, or even stepping into a supermarket in Idaho might be putting you in greater danger than lying under a parasol on a Greek island. The second questionais it safe to fly?acan be answered with a number estimate, taking into account what age and physical condition you are in, how protected you are, where you come from, and where you are heading.

At this point we depart from objectivity and rely on subjective measures. This is how most of us decide most of the time anyway. Welcome to the emotion zone, and to where the plot begins to diverge, depending on you, the would-beaor wouldnat-beatraveller.

Fittingly, the third question is a does itfeelsafe to travel. Well, does it feel safe to you?Prof. Jay Bhattacharyacontends that aThe emergency phase of the pandemic is over. Now is the time to undo the sense of emergency.aStill, different feelings and different levels of risk tolerance for different folks. Your sense of safety might be very different from your partneras, your employeras, or your college buddyas, who does not understand why you wonat visit.

The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) shows that, when it comes to the COVID pandemic,female respondents and Democrats are less willing than their respective counterparts to tolerate risk. Accordingly, women reduce every manner of traveling, and Democrats reduce non-work trips, making for marital disputes, and no right or wrong answers, because our feelings cannot be wrong.

We come to the fourth, and even more subjective question: Is it worth it? Are the pre-and post-testing, the quarantine, if needed, and the reproaching looks from those whose risk tolerance is lower than yours, worth the chance to ride your bicycle in the paved streets of Prague, dip your toes in a faraway ocean, or roam Namibiaas red sand dunes.

At the end of the day, experience is a vital part of life, so you must ask yourself: What are you giving up in the name of risk, and what are you just giving up?

Dr. Talya Miron-Shatz (Ph.D. in psychology)is an author (ofYOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT: What You Can Do to Make Better Choices About Your Health), consultant, speaker, and researcher, who studies medical decision-making in a humanistic way. She was a researcher at Princeton University and taught at the University of Pennsylvania. Now sheas a visiting researcher at Cambridge.Dr. Miron-Shatz is the CEO ofCureMyWay, an international health consulting firm.

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Donat Try to Eliminate Self-Doubt. Do This Instead.

Are you afraid to fail? Do you worry that you donat have what it takes? Are you unwilling to put your ideas out there with the fear that others may not like it? Do you feel apprehensive when stepping out of your comfort zone?A

Most of us do, including those who are highly successful. People who appear highly confident on the outside often deal with a lot of self-doubt on the inside. They arenat confident because they were born with it, but because they have learned to embrace their feelings of self-doubt. They are less worried about looking bad in front of others and more about losing an opportunity to contribute. They care less about being criticized and more about not having the feedback they need to move forward.

They are successful not because they donat have to deal with feelings of self-doubt but because they choose to act despite feeling those feelings. They practice courage to let their guard down, to be seen, to accept what they donat know, and to acknowledge their mistakes. Most importantly, they lead with the belief that they are not perfect. They are always a work in progress.

Some form of self-doubt is good for our growth and learning. After all, it's part of being curious. However, left unhandled, self-doubt can lead to:

  1. Debilitating levels of stress and anxiety
  2. Analysis paralysis / inaction
  3. Overthinking leading to mental health issues

Before we jump into strategies to channel your feelings of self-doubt into constructive action, itas important to understand whatas causing them in the first place.

Whatas causing self-doubt?

Self-doubt can come from 3 reasons:

  1. Doing something new and challenging

Itas natural and healthy to engage in self-doubt when expanding and working outside your boundary of comfort. You may feel like an imposter and worry that others will find out that you are a fraud.

Such feelings are not pleasant, but they inspire you to question your choices, doubt your knowledge and your methods and lead with better solutions.

  1. Negative self worth

If you have been told in the past that you are not good enough or that you canat achieve something, these limiting beliefs can become an unconscious truth for your brain. They can turn challenges and setbacks into proof of your incompetence or that you simply donat have what it takes to achieve something.

Viewing yourself as incompetent or not worthy of achieving something creates the mental barrier to pursue your dreams.

  1. Fixed mindset

In a fixed mindset, you value talent over effort, determination, and perseverance. You believe that irrespective of how much effort you put, you can never build the skills required to succeed in your goals.

This makes you give up without trying hard enough. Instead of building new skills, you stick with what you know. Instead of trying new strategies, you assume nothing is going to work. The belief that you cannot achieve limits your potential.

Once you have identified whatas causing these feelings of self-doubt, start with wholehearted acceptance that thereas nothing wrong with these feelings. Tell yourself that you want to be someone who can channel these feelings to push you forward instead of letting them pull you down.

9 strategies to turn self-doubt into excellence

  1. Get rid of labels

What labels do you identify yourself with - smart, not smart, shy, outspoken, introvert, extrovert, not good at public speaking, terrible at problem-solving, etc? List them down.

Getting rid of these labels is the first step to challenging your beliefs. Your beliefs are a creation of your mind and you can change them. Instead of taking certain actions thinking athis is who I ama and resisting others with the notion athis is not me,a getting rid of labels will open you to explore opportunities that didnat seem possible earlier.

  1. Shift from negative self-talk to positive self-talk

The language that you use plays a crucial role in how you experience certain things, the emotions you feel and finally, it influences how you act.

As Ryan Holiday writes aYou will come across obstacles in life -- fair and unfair. And you will discover, time and time again, that what matters most is not what these obstacles are but how we see them, how we react to them, and whether we keep our composure. You will learn that this reaction determines how successful we will be in overcoming -- or possibly thriving because of -- them.a

Take a note of your emotions and whenever you sense going down a negative path, reframe it using a more positive tone.

  1. Practise self-compassion instead of chasing after high self-esteem

Seeking constant approval and external validation to determine your self-worth can be damaging. Instead of working to keep your self-esteem intact, practice self-compassion.

Self-compassion is the ability to face your mistakes and failures with kindness and understanding instead of judging yourself harshly or acting defensive with the goal to protect your ego. Itas having the same sense of warmth, empathy, and positive regard for yourself as you would have for another person when they are dealing with a difficult circumstance. Acknowledging that life is sometimes messy and imperfect. After all, to err is human.

Kristin Neff, a pioneer in the field of self-compassion research describes it as aInstead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings a after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect?a

  1. Put one foot in front of the other

Instead of taking one giant leap towards the goals you wish to achieve, practice taking small steps consistently in the direction of goals.

Small consistent changes turn off your brainas alarm system that resists and fears change. These small steps may seem trivial at first, but when practiced over long periods of time, they turn into habits. What was once daunting becomes second nature. Soon the new behavior becomes a part of your being, who you are. You will no longer need to put effort into thinking this way. Slowly this is how you will think and act. It will be a habit.

  1. Adopt long term thinking

Self-doubt can make you apply shortcuts and choose a path with instant gratification without thinking about the consequences of your decision in the future.

When making important decisions, be willing to bear a little pain at the moment for a lot of gain in the future by engaging in long-term planning. Think about how your decisions today will impact your future outcomes.

  1. Develop a mastery mindset

Lao Tzu, an ancient Chinese philosopher said aMastering others is strength, mastering yourself is true power.a

Stop comparing yourself to others and start competing with self. Spend less time and energy lamenting about your shortcomings and more time and energy into practices and habits that will get you a little better each day.

Learn useful strategies from others, apply them to yourself, identify your mistakes, and challenge yourself to refine, repeat and keep going. Nothing can stop you when you focus on achieving personal mastery.

  1. Consciously spend time with others

Jim Rohn said, aWe are the average of the five people we spend the most time with.a

Our brain is highly malleable and every experience impacts the neural connections in our brain. When the same pathway fires multiple times, it becomes strong. Are people around you strengthening the right pathway - are they encouraging or discouraging? Do people around you practice courage or do they give in to self-doubt?

Consciously choose. Who you hang out with is who you become. People close to you can have a significant effect on how you think and the way you act.

  1. Shape your identity

Finally, the most important thing is to work on your identity. Instead of feeling limited by awho you are,a define awho do you want to be?a

Once you have defined the identity of that person, simply act in line with how that person would act. When you face self-doubt, remind yourself of that identity and ask what that person would do in such a situation. How would they act?

Steven Pressfield wrote, "The enemy is our chattering brain, which, if we give it so much as a nanosecond, will start producing excuses, alibis, transparent self-justifications, and a million reasons why we can't/shouldn't/won't do what we know we need to do.a Instead of letting your brain determine what you can achieve, feed it with the goals of the person you wish to become.

Self-doubt is a universal experience. The difference between people who only dream big dreams and give up soon after and those who go out and achieve those dreams is their response to self-doubt. Learning to deal with the feeling of self-doubt can turn anxiety, unworthiness into a desire to do better and strive for more.

Vinita Bansal is the founder of TechTello. She has a vast amount of experience in the technology space building large engineering teams from the ground up and leading products with massive scale impacting millions of customers.A She is also the author of Upgrade Your Mindset: How to Overcome Limiting Beliefs and Tap Your Potential. Her experience and knowledge have helped her coach and mentor people from diverse backgrounds to build the skills and support required to grow in their careers and feel confident to take on higher-level responsibilities within their organizations. Connect with her on Twitter.A

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10 Smart Strategies for Achieving Your Goals

Renowned American motivational speaker and author, Dr. Stephen R. Covey once said: aStop setting goals. Goals are pure fantasy unless you have a specific plan to achieve them.a In these few words, Dr. Covey aptly sums up the importance of having a smart strategy for achieving your goals. And then thereas an ancient axiom that states: aGoals donat work unless you do.a

However, to work on goals we need a plan or strategy. This can be the hardest thing to do because very often, we have wonderful goals but donat know what we need to achieve them or even have a faint idea.

Therefore, if youave some goals, as you surely would, the best thing is to create a smart strategy and go about achieving them. If this sounds interesting, continue reading.

In this article, I will write about the 10 smart strategies for achieving your goals.

Ten Smart Goal Achieving Strategies

Obviously, everyone would have different goals. Some of us may have financial goals while others would have career goals and yet others, goals for their entire life. These 10 smart strategies that Iall be writing about would cover all your goals in general. You can adapt these to meet your specific needs.

Set Smart Goals

You might wonder what smart goals are all about. The word asmarta is a short form for Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic and Time Bound.

This means, you need to be very specific about what you want to achieve. Measurable means how would you measure the distance youave covered and what remains while achieving a goal. You might have very high goals. However, to achieve these goals, they need to be actionable- meaning you should be able to work upon them.

The aRa stands for realistic goals. This means finding out whether the goal can be truly achieved or not. Very often, we set unrealistic goals for ourselves which leaves us frustrated when we fail to achieve them. And finally, every goal should have a time limit. Meaning, you need to be specific about how much time it would take you to achieve that goal or where you intend to stand after a specific period of time with that goal.

Draw Your Plan of Action

Failing to plan is planning to fail. Therefore, to achieve your smart goals, youall have to draw a superb plan of action. This plan should include your short-term, middle-term and long-term goals with specific details on how you wish to go about achieving them.

This is most important because short-term and mid-term goals often hold the key to achieving your long-term goals. Find out how far away youare from your goal at the moment and make a plan on how much of it you wish to achieve in a few months to a year.

Also write what efforts you would need to exert to achieve these short-term, mid-term and long-term goals. Exert these efforts diligently so that you achieve all these goals in due course.

Never Put Off Things

Putting things off or procrastinating as itas known is the greatest enemy that prevents you from achieving your goals. Therefore, as a rule, do what needs to be done today and never put it off for tomorrow or a later date unless there are some really serious reasons.

When we procrastinate, we find all the work towards our goals piling on. And eventually, weare unable to complete all the work thatas necessary to achieve the goal.

Thatas the reason I emphasize that a goal should be actionable. And it should be actionable every day and over weeks and months or even years. You cannot put things off for the day, hoping to complete them tomorrow because youall have more work to do and that can delay or even cause you to miss the goal.

Set Daily Goals

The best way to prevent procrastination is by setting daily goals. This means, youall divide the work necessary for achieving your goals into small parts on which you can work daily. This makes it easier and simpler to work towards the goal rather than embarking on one long project that requires lots of time.

Setting daily goals also helps you to measure the quantum of work youave done towards achieving your goals and how much more remains. That way, you can adjust your daily or weekly goals to reach your final objectives faster or in due course, when you want.

Eliminate Addictions & Vices

Addictions and vices can stop us from achieving our goals even before weave started. Thatas because addictions consume a lot of our time and resources. As a matter of facts, most addicts have very lofty goals. However, their goals do not as much leave their brains and remain unfulfilled lifelong.

If youare serious about achieving your goals, consider giving up vices and addictions. There Are several types of addictions. Broadly, they can be defined as substance addictions and non-substance addictions. Itas a well-known fact that addictions are one of the greatest killers of ambitions and goals. Therefore, eliminating them in a proper and scientific manner should be your priority.

Include Money Making Goals

At some point or the other, achieving your larger goals is going to require some extra money. For example, you might wish to do an online course to fulfill your career goals by acquiring more skills. Or you might want to provide higher education for your kids. All these goals eventually need money to be fulfilled.

There are several small business ideas that you could utilize to fulfill your money-making goals. These would help you to take away the additional burden on your income and help save some money for investments for your future. As a matter of fact, there are several excellent small businesses that you can do, and during your spare time only.

Learn from Failure

Understandably, there would be a few failures when you set out to achieve your goals. Unfortunately, most of us get disturbed by these failures and we stop pursuing our goals. Actually, that should never be the case. In fact, every failure holds a vital lesson for us. And thereas a lot that we can learn from failures.

Therefore, if you fail somewhere while trying to achieve your goals, simply take it in your stride, Analyze the reasons why you failed and where and try to rectify that instead of getting rid of the goal itself and not working towards it. Itas worth remembering that even the greatest scientists and businesspersons have met failure while trying to achieve something or the other.

Identify Your Motivation

Obviously, you are working towards a specific goal or a set of goals due to some motivation. Identify clearly whatas this motivation and what do you intend to achieve from setting these goals. Itas very necessary to be inspired and draw inspiration while working towards your goals.

Often, we need to be reminded time and again about what compels us towards achieving some goals. Therefore, remember daily why youare trying to achieve the goal and the benefits that you would get upon the achievement.

Time Management

Time management is the key to achieving your goals. Thatas because every smart goal comes with a deadline. And ideally, you should be working to achieve that goal within the set timespan. To do so, youall require astute time management.

The very first quote by Dr. Stephen R. Covey that I wrote earlier clearly mentions that time is of vital importance when setting a goal. Unless you respect that deadline and manage time, chances are that you would miss the goal or arrive at it too late to make any positive difference in your life.

Maintain Superb Health

Superb physical and mental health are two very important factors for achieving your goals. Clearly, you cannot work on a goal if youare physically unfit or suffer from mental problems such as stress and anxiety, among others. Therefore, make your physical and mental wellness a priority in your strategy to achieve goals.

Daily exercise or a fitness routine and if necessary, visit to a psychiatrist can help maintain excellent physical and mental fitness. Itas not a rule that you need to visit medical experts only when youare afflicted with some serious conditions. On the contrary. These medical experts or doctors can help you maintain superb physical health as well as mental wellbeing.

Other Strategies to Achieve Goals

There are some more simple strategies that you could combine with the 10 I mention above, to achieve your goals. One of them is to take an inventory of your skills and find how they match with your goals. If thereas a skill shortage, you can take an online course and cover those.

Also, take a good look at where you stand as far as your goals are concerned, every week. You can do so by keeping a log of your achievements towards the goal and going over it every weekend.

In Conclusion

You can safely utilize any of these 10 smart strategies for achieving your goals. In fact, millions of people are using these to achieve their goals. You too could be one among such people. These strategies arenat difficult, as you can see. However, you would definitely have to exert some extra effort on these strategies, if youare serious about achieving your goals. Actually, having goals makes our life worth living. In the sense that a life without goals is like the proverbial rudderless ship that doesnat know where itas heading. Goals help us to remain active and enthusiastic in what we do. Therefore, use these 10 strategies while setting your own goals.

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How Negative Thinking Can Put You on the Wrong Path of Life

Negativity is what has led most people to ruins. Evil thoughts and ideas are the results of negativity. The sad thing is, we are humans and there is no way we can do it without thinking negatively.

At times, even when you know your success is around the corner, negative thoughts still pop into your mind. Negative thinking is normal.

The question here is, are you sinking deep into the world of negativity? When those thoughts pop inside your mind, do you allow them to take over you?

Negative thinking holds a very strong power of intimidation. Do you know what happens when you get intimidated by your thoughts? You sink deep, deep, and deep into the world of negativity. You lose your courage, confidence, and positivity! How can negative thinking put you on the wrong path in life?

You begin to lose yourself

Your true self is the lovely you, the positive, and confident person. Yes, when you allow negative thoughts to be your day-to-day norm, you will surely lose yourself to darkness, and the positive, happy, confident side of you will begin to disappear gradually.

Self-intimidation is one of the greatest power negative thinking holds. When you sink deep into negative thinking you lose your self-worth, hope, (God is the only true hope), confidence, and most of all you push yourself too far.

You just feel not satisfied, you feel you are not good enough, you feel you are bad. You keep doing this till you sink deeper into the worst, which is aself-condemnationa.

Self-condemnation is the deepest and most sorrowful effect of negative thinking. The moment you condemn yourself is when you have lost your shield. The shield that guides you is lost.

Negative thinking makes you succumb finally

You succumb! Do you understand what it means to succumb? Since your shield is lost already, more negative thoughts will come in to push you even further. When this happens you will now begin to accept whatever comes your way.

Pains and tears will also follow, you imagine yourself, just pitying yourself. Yes, that is the power of negative thinking and that's why you should never let negative thoughts grip and overtake you.

When you succumb, your negative thoughts will transform into ideas. These are nothing Good but evil.

A perfect illustration: A guy broke up with his girlfriend, however, the breakup affected him the most. What do you think this guy would do? Yes, he automatically taps into the world of negativity! He begins to think negatively. One negative thought can have a billion meanings.

The result of the negative thought is this, it is either he does what he has never done before or commits suicide. He may have never taken cigarettes or weed before, he may have never taken alcohol in his life but because of negative thoughts, he will consider doing those things. That is the power of negative thinking.

Never succumb to negative thoughts. They will surely come because of one situation or the other. You just have to stay with God, staying with God will make you stay positive.

When you succumb is when you begin to process your negative thoughts. The moment you think of doing whatever evil thing you had to think about is the moment you have finally succumbed. Have you?

Negative thinking connects you with negative people

There are over 7 billion people on Earth, however, there are too many bad people. Negative thinking connects you with negative people or bad people. Then, you now begin to share ideas till the worst happens.

You can't just think negatively. One thing or situation must have caused you to think negatively. Some people, in the process of sharing their situations or problems with others, are where they have gotten their negative ideas from.

It puts you with the wrong people at the wrong time. The final road of negativity is when you connect with even more evil people. You share ideas and do bad things together. Why? Because you lost your shield, you succumbed already!

When you connect with evil or negative people you share more thoughts and do more evil things, over and over again. You must never lose yourself to negativity. Fight, fight and fight.

Most importantly, stand with God. There is so much joy and unending positivity and hope when you stand with God.

Never lose yourself to mere negative thoughts, it may be hard and unbearable but negative thoughts should not be the next option. Even though they would come, even if they will press you, even when it is so painful, always love God and love yourself. There is indescribable peace and confidence when you stand in God.

Author bio:

TheThrives is a Personal development blog that writes about confidence, self-esteem, productivity, Godliness, Success, motivation, and inspiration.

The post How Negative Thinking Can Put You on the Wrong Path of Life appeared first on Pick the Brain | Motivation and Self Improvement.

5 Reasons You Should Start Meditating Today

Meditation isnat as complex as it sounds. Whether youare hesitant to try it or have been practicing mindfulness for years, the health benefits are the same. If youare not sure whether meditation is right for you, you should try it out and see how you feel afterward. You might find yourself wanting to learn more about the practice.

What Is Meditation?

Meditation has been practiced and studied for years. At its core, meditation allows you to reconnect with your mind, body and soul by slowing down and focusing on yourself, your breathing and your surroundings.

Around33% of people want to learn moreabout meditation or start meditating through online programs. People have likely heard of the benefits but arenat sure where to start. If sitting in silence makes you uncomfortable, you could try guided meditation first.

Guided meditation is typically done through a video or in person, where someone else, usually a teacher, walks you throughrelaxing your body and visualizing certain scenesor events. With enough practice, youall be able to guide yourself through meditation and sit with your current surroundings.

The Top 5 Benefits of Meditation

Regular meditation leads to more health benefits than just the five listed here, but these might be the most popular reasons people meditate and practice mindfulness. By slowing down and focusing on yourself first, then on your grounded surroundings, youare teaching yourself to remain in the here-and-now.

1. Weaken Symptoms of Depression

When depression leaves you lacking motivation, meditation might be the furthest thing from your mind. However, some people have found thatmeditation works as wellas any antidepressant. By visualizing scenes, especially of you reaching attainable goals, itas obvious to see how the symptoms of depression could lessen over time with regular meditation.

Meditation can help you set goals and work much like affirmations. By getting more in-tune with your inner self, youall start to realize what you need and desire. From there, you can begin working toward a life that will cultivate happiness, all while practicing gratitude for the one you currently live.

2. Increase Brain Size

Some research indicates that meditation couldincrease your brain size. You would then be able to develop your intelligence more efficiently and foster greater creativity within yourself. Whether this benefit is true for everyone might be up for debate, but having the chance to grow your knowledge and expand your thinking through meditation seems like a good opportunity.

3. Slow Cognitive Decline

Meditation and mindfulness, if practiced regularly, can helpfight against degenerative diseaseslike Alzheimeras. Older folks show greater brain activity and stimulation when meditating than without any other form of treatment. Keeping your brain sharp by allowing it to focus on the things that matter is key to staying young, in a sense.

Because the brain tends to dull a bit as you get older, itas important to remain sharp as the years go by. Meditation is a great way to take account of your current mind and bodily functions. By consistently monitoring how youare feeling and taking time to evaluate your current state, youall begin to notice earlier if anything starts to slip.

4. Improve Focus

Concentrating on meditation and living in the presentimproves your focus, as you can live more in the world around you rather than inside your own head. Meditation seeks to connect you with your body so you can sense what you need and how to better take care of yourself. By setting aside time to meditate and regulating your intentions for the day, youall be more prepared to achieve the dayas goals and fully experience everything around you.

5. Reduce Stress and Boost Mood

Most people practice meditation todecrease their stress and lessen their anxiety, which might be why itas often attributed to younger generations, like college students. Regular meditation and staying mindful can transform your mindset from negative to positive and remind you to be grateful for every opportunity that comes your way.

Feeling negative emotions is vital to the human experience, but so are looking for the bright side and learning how to regulate stress properly. If there were never a silver lining on any cloud, life would be gray instead of colorful.

Meditating can help you discover the silver linings on some of your clouds, and the designated time to let your mind wander can help you brainstorm solutions to current problems without even trying.

Meditate and Manifest a Better Life

Meditation doesnat take a lot of effort a you just have to be willing to set aside time in your busy day to reconnect with yourself. Sitting in silence might not be your go-to, but after a few instances of guided meditation, you may be ready to move on and lead your own mindfulness session.

Along with reducing stress and the risk of cognitive decline, youall find that meditation is also simply relaxing. While you might be fidgety at first, eventually, youall ease into the silence and feel more comfortable sitting alone with yourself and getting in-tune with your body and priorities. You could even manifest your best life and provide yourself with the motivation to make it happen.

Kara Reynolds is the Editor-in-Chief and founder ofA Momish Magazine. Mom and step mom living her best life while managing anxiety and normalizing blended families. She enjoys pilates, podcasts, and a nice pinot grigio.A

The post 5 Reasons You Should Start Meditating Today appeared first on Pick the Brain | Motivation and Self Improvement.

How to Find Your True Professional Path

Figure this out; an average career person spends most of his or her waking time at work. Even when relaxing away from work, the thoughts keep wandering back to work matters. If it happens that the work feels boring or unsatisfying, it can easily take a toll on that personas physical and mental health. Just thinking of tolerating long hours of mundane tasks, or thinking of waking up the next day to a dreadful job can lead to frustration, stress, or even depression. In addition, it can be very difficult to advance in such a career.

That is why leading a meaningful, fulfilling and lifelong career path is very important for your overall well-being.

However, finding your true career path is easier said than done. Many factors come into play when settling on a career path. There is your passion, childhood dreams, family expectations, and the need to pay for bills, just to mention but a few.

Considering all these, how do you find your true professional path? Here are 4 steps that you can take to discover the career path that is right for you.

  1. Assess your 4Ps

Your career path should be shaped around your passion, preferences, personality, and principles. Put these four elements into considerations whenchoosing your professional path.

Doing something that you are passionate about will make you happy in your work. It will give you a sense of a purpose and you will have an inner drive that will push you forward. If you are lucky enough to combine your profession with your passion then it will not feel like work, it will be more of a pleasure. Moreover, not only will you make a living out of it, but your job will give meaning to your life.

When it comes to preference, you would thrive better doing something in the nature of what you prefer. For instance, do you prefer working full time or on a flexible schedule? Or, do you prefer working in an office setup or the outdoors? Do you prefer to work with your hands or be in front of a laptop? Do you like having a setup plan or going with the flow? Keep all these questions in mind when you are considering future career choices.

Your personality would also matter in that if you are the reserved type or an introvert, you can find it hard to work well with people. Taking up a career where you donat have to deal with a lot of people would be your best bet. On the other hand, if you are a lively extrovert you will feel energized by being around big groups of people. If you have an artistic mind you will succeed in more creative fields, whereasanalytical mindswould feel better if they have to deal with numbers.

Lastly, we all have life principles that we live by. Your right career path should align with and enhance your principles in life. If altruism is crucial in your life, you should find careers that make a difference in the world and help people. Similarly, if you feel strongly about social justice, you might consider working for different human rights organizations that are in alignment with your life principles.

You can take personal assessment tests online to discover your 4Ps.

2.Make a list of your options

After discovering your passion, preferences, personality, and principles, write down career options that match these four. For passion, think of the things that you can do even if you were not paid. Your hobbies should give you a good place to start from. For preference, write down career options that align with what you prefer in a day-to-day work environment. Do the same for your personality and principles. The idea here is to come up with an exhaustive list in order to make sure that you donat leave any stone unturned.

3.Find an overlap

After coming up with a long list of career options, you need to start narrowing down to the one that is truly right for you. This is the point where you need to find your career sweet spot. This is the point where what you are good at, what you enjoy doing, and what the world or employers need come into an intersection.

In the list that you have, think of what you are good at in terms of skills. Think of what you enjoy doing in terms of interests. Finally, put into consideration that one of the goals of being acareer personis to make a living out of your work. Research on whether the careers that match what you are good at and what you enjoy have a demand in the job market. If there is no demand for it, are there ways that you can monetize them and make money out of them?

Settle on a career where the three overlap seamlessly.

4.Develop your skills

After settling on a single career path, now is the time to assess and develop your skills necessary to succeed in it. If you are already working in that line of work, you can use your current position to take advantage of on-the-job-training opportunities to develop your skills further. You can also look out for internship positions or places you can volunteer to have a glimpse of the day-to-day work, and hone your skills while at it.

The post How to Find Your True Professional Path appeared first on Pick the Brain | Motivation and Self Improvement.

7 Thoughtful Ways to Unite Your Community

Having a sense of community and belonging wherever you are can be an extremely important part of life. Whether youare moving to a new place, want to get involved in your hometown or you simply want to find a sense of belonging wherever you are, there are so many ways that you can unite your community and participate in the growth of your home. Whether you live in an urban metropolis or a small suburban town, uniting your community is a worthwhile effort, both for you and your family, as well as the community at large. Here are a few thoughtful ways that you can get involved.

1.Participate In School Activities

If you have a child thatas currently school-aged, one of the best ways to get involved in your community is participating in school programs and activities. Even if your child is a little older, volunteering for after-school programs, the Parent-Teacher Association and even education assistance if you have the resources to do so can be extremely helpful to the community a especially because children are the future, and building a strong community begins with them.

2.Go to the Library

The library is another community space with so many resources and places to connect, so itas no wonder why communities flourish with the help of a robust library. Whether you have kids or you want to get involved on your own, libraries offer all kinds of programs like storytime sessions for kids, book clubs,language learning societies, volunteer opportunities and even resource-finding programs for underserved populations. If you want to help unite your community wherever you are, think about hitting the books.

3.Going to the Playground

Playgrounds are another great place to bring your community together. Playgrounds have so many benefits for all different kinds of families, itas no wonder why they contribute so heavily to healthy, thriving communities. Not only does going to the playground offer individual family bonding, but it also promotes physical wellness, promoteseconomic growth within the community, offers spaces to connect and, of course, provides a space for the kids to play. Seems like an all-around great deal.

4.Start a Community Garden

If your community already has a community garden, it can be fantastic to get involved in whatever theyare growing over there. However, if your community doesnat have one yet, this can be your opportunity to get one started! Community gardening doesnat just bring people together a it does so much more than that! When you grow food with the members of your community, youare promoting health and wellness, outdoor time, community connection a plus, providing fresh food to the members of your community. Of course, getting a community garden started can be a bit of a challenge, especiallyif youare new to gardening, but itas important to try new things and get involved however you can.


Although this method of uniting your community is a bit more general, itas definitely one of the most important things to consider. There are so many volunteer opportunities in nearly any community a from animal shelters to after-school programs, and everything in between. Think about what kinds of organizations youare passionate about a your community likely has one or more of them, and most places are always on the lookout for a helping hand or two. See where your community needs you most and step up accordingly. You may find a true vocation for helping others along the way.

6.Clean Up Your Neighborhood

If volunteering for any one organization is a bit too much for your schedule at the moment, that doesnat mean you canat lend a hand in your community or neighborhood. In fact, some of the best work in uniting any community is done by thoughtful residents simply looking out for one another. And one of the best ways to get involved in your neighborhood is to do a little community clean-up. Of course, you can start by cleaning your own space, lawn and home, but you can extend that to the rest of your neighborhood, too. Start small a picking up trash, tidying public spaces and other small acts like that. Then, you can extend it further as you feel comfortable.

7.Be Neighborly

One of the most important ways that you can participate in your local community and bring people together is to simply be neighborly and friendly with those around you. Get to know the people in your neighborhood. Host events and invite people around. Make conversation with the people you see out and about. Say hello to those around you. All of those small acts can contribute to a neighborly environment around you and bind your community together.

Thoughtfully Bringing Community Together

Whether youare involved in your community already, youare new in town or youave had a spark of inspiration to bring a bit more neighborly spirit into your community, there are so many thoughtful ways to approach it. By volunteering, getting involved and showing up for your neighborhood in all the spaces it has to offer, you can connect with those around you and better your community every day.

Kara Reynolds is the Editor-in-Chief and founder ofA Momish Magazine. Mom and step mom living her best life while managing anxiety and normalizing blended families. She enjoys pilates, podcasts, and a nice pinot grigio.A

The post 7 Thoughtful Ways to Unite Your Community appeared first on Pick the Brain | Motivation and Self Improvement.

5 Tips to Deal with Negativity When Starting a Business

Starting a business feels good and comes with lots of excitement. But the challenging part is running it efficiently and being successful. Youall have to cope with different struggles to ensure you achieve what you wanted with your business.

Among the obstacles youall encounter is negativity. It comes to a point where you question whether starting a business was the right choice. Would it have been better if you had chosen a different path?

Once you stop believing in yourself, it becomes hard to make progress in your new business. The good thing is that itas possible to overcome a negative attitude towards your business and make it profitable. Here are the tips you need to deal with negativity when starting a business.

  1. Avoid negative people

Hanging around negative people can affect how you think. If theyare always giving negative feedback about your ventures, youall start to believe them and lose your focus.

These are also the kind of people that will make your business appear uncredible. As you may know, others judge you by who you hang around with. If theyare naysayers and small-minded, high achievers like potential partners and investors wonat want anything to do with you.

If you want to be a successful entrepreneur, it helps to cut off negative people in your life. You have to know that it wonat be easy, especially if theyare people close to you. But if youave tried to get them to support you and failed, avoiding them is essential.

It should be your goal to interact with like-minded individuals as much as possible. Surrounding yourself with positive people who are or have been where you are is essential for success.

So, find other entrepreneurs in a similar or related venture and befriend them. Youall always be motivated to keep pushing and reach their level or even go beyond.

You donat even have to do it in person. Because, whatas social media for? Look for Facebook groups and other forums online with lots of entrepreneur-related talks. Share what you have and gather new ideas from others.

Who knows, you may even learn how different business people handled negativity while starting out. There could also be several mentors out there willing to help you overcome any fears while doing business.

Planning is essential when starting a business. In fact, you need a detailed business plan before launching your new business.

A business plan positions your company for growth. It prepares you for uncertainty and youall be better equipped to handle it.

Without a proper plan, business growth happens slower. It may take ages to see any profits from the business. The longer you wait, the more the likelihood of you giving up at the slightest occurrence of a negative thought.

If you want to earn a6-figure incomeor any other amount from your business, you need a good plan. It should have details on where you want your company to be in the future and the steps to get there. Thatas how youall keep on the right path regardless of what negative energy tries to hold you back.

You may have had bad experiences in your personal life. If you carry the thoughts of it to work, making great business decisions becomes hard.

So, every time you step into your place of business, leave out any personal emotions you may have. Donat let your mind convince you that since you failed in another area of life, youall also fail in business.

Also, make sure to always fix any issues you have that arenat related to business. If they canat be fixed, consider moving on as soon as possible. This way, your business is less likely to suffer because youare still thinking about an unpleasant event you had out there.

Because it can be quite challenging to fully avoid negativity, you could try and benefit from them. Thatas by simply trying to get a positive image every time a negative thought crosses your mind.

Maybe youare working late or during a weekend and are questioning whether such efforts will really pay off. After all, whatas stopping you from going to have some time with your friends? If you find yourself with such a thought, consider the potential fruits youall enjoy in the long run.

For instance, you could picture a highly profitable business that allows you to have your dream life. Maybe youave always wanted to fly around the world. Well, think of that as the final reward of you spending your weekends at work now.

Nothing is going to stop you if you learn to counter your negative thoughts this way. Youall get to your business goals much faster.

Wrapping It up

Dealing with negativity is essential if you want to build a successful business. And with the listed tips in mind, you can reduce if not eliminate negative energy while working on your business.

As long as you acquire and maintain aA positive mindset, you wonat have problems getting where you need to be. So, itas high time you start practicing how to stay positive if youave been having doubts about yourself.

Mike Stuzzi is an online entrepreneur and blogger who helps people around the world make extra money and manage their finances effectively. He has started a number of successful online businesses and intends to help his readers achieve the same. He believes thereas a lot anyone can learn about money and entrepreneurship. Check out his blogA The Money GalileoA for tips and resources to become money-minded, boost your income, and practice proper money management.

The post 5 Tips to Deal with Negativity When Starting a Business appeared first on Pick the Brain | Motivation and Self Improvement.

Carmelo Anthony hits milestone as Lakers get a LeBron scare and their first win

Carmelo Anthony finished with 28 points and passed Moses Malone for ninth on the NBA's all-time scoring list as the Lakers beat the Memphis Grizzlies.

Matthew Stafford, after week of Jared Goff questions, is the answer as Rams top Lions

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Jared Goff and Lions put a scare in the Rams but can't put win on scoreboard

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Dave Roberts 'expecting, hoping' he can work out contract extension with Dodgers

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Ethan Garbers' high school coach isn't surprised by UCLA QB's fearlessness

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Photos: Rams defeat Lions in Matthew Stafford vs. Jared Goff showdown

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Rams' 28-19 victory over Detroit Lions by the numbers

Breaking down the notable numbers behind the Rams' 28-19 victory over the Lions at SoFi Stadium on Sunday a scoring and statistics.

High school field hockey: Tournament of Champions schedule and results

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Op-Ed: Notes on the championship series from a onetime Dodgers resister

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Sondheimer: In battle of top two, Mater Dei earns the win with a twist

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The Times' top 25 high school football teams

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Clippers takeaways: Coach Tyronn Lue expected slow start to season

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Santa Anita has fourth horse death in short fall meeting

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Outplayed, cold hitting, and more: Takeaways from Dodgers' NLCS Game 6 loss to Braves

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Dodgers, Kenley Jansen enter offseason with uncertainty

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Keyword Selected: weight

Wine That Stands Up to Pesto

My usual go-to wine when strong green, herbal notes are part of a dish is Sauvignon Blanc. But New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs are often quite citrusy, and US Sauvignon Blancs can be too melony and soft for basil. So I opened a Chilean Sauvignon Blanc--and it was perfect with my linguine tossed with homemade pesto and topped with some heirloom cherry tomatoes.

The 2011 ViA+-a Carmen Sauvignon Blanc Gran Reserva (available for $13-$15 in the market) is made from grapes grown in the Leyda Valley. It has vibrant aromas of grass, gooseberry, and that uniquely weird smell of boxwood that I often smell in Sauvignon Blancs from the southern hemisphere. This wine was green and leafy rather than citrusy, with a backbone of acidity that was neutral in flavor but kept your mouth watering for more. The midpalate was herbal, making me think 'this is what Cabernet Franc would taste like if it were white and not red.' Cool and refreshing, this stood up to the basil. If you have the wine with something less resolutely green, you may find that its assertiveness is a problem but if you have basil, this is a good wine to go with it--and it represents very good QPR.
Full Disclosure: I received a sample of this wine for possible review.

Fish Eye Pinot Grigio: A Genuine Bargain in White Wine

I first enjoyed the Fish Eye Pinot Grigio in 2009 with my fellow wine bloggers at our annual conference (and wrote about that experience here). It was a humbling moment for many of us, who were a bit sniffy about the wine based on the cute label, its availability in large-format bottles and boxes, and because it was Pinot Grigio. There is a lot (and I do mean a lot) of terrible, cheap Pinot Grigio out there. So much of it, in fact, that I've stopped ordering it in restaurants.
So it is with great pleasure that I report that the 2011 Fish Eye Pinot Grigio still has a suggested retail price of $7 (though you can find it in the market for prices between $5 and $10), it is still delicious, it is still widely available throughout the country, and it is still excellent QPR. Expect zesty, pure lemon and lime aromas and to have those scents echo through the flavors. You might detect a nice peachy note as you sip, which takes off some of the bitterness that can be associated with Pinot Grigio.

This is a versatile, food-friendly wine that is light enough to pair with vegetables and salads at a weekend lunch, will be a great companion to asparagus and lemon pasta as you work your way into your spring recipes, and will be welcome at summer barbeques so if you see some on the shelf give it a try.

Full Disclosure: I received a sample of this wine for possible review.

Miracles Happen: Three Worthy Pinot Noirs for $25 or Less

Pinot Noir is a budgetary nightmare for most of us. Pinot is a finicky grape, which makes it difficult to grow, which translates into expensive bottles on the shelves. And that was before the movie that put Pinot Noir in everybody's glass, displacing Merlot.
Recently, I had not one, not two, but THREE bottles of Pinot Noir that were impressive--and none cost more than $25, which is quite reasonable by Pinot Noir standards. If $25 is too much for you--or you like more traditional tasting wines--scroll down to the final recommendation. At $12, it's a steal.

2010 Davis Bynum Pinot Noir (suggested retail $25; available in the market for $20-24) This excellent QPR example of Russian River Valley Pinor Noir has full-bore raspberry aromas and flavors with a burnt sugar edge. The mouthfeel is silky, with lots of toast and spice. The finish is long, with cinnamon and clove notes.
2010 Echelon Pinot Noir Russian River Valley (suggested retail $24.99; use the winery's "where to buy" feature to find a bottle near you) For around the same price as the Davis Bynum, and from grapes grown in the same place, this very good QPR example has intense raspberry fruit with a slightly candied edge to the flavors. The aftertaste is spicy, but less complex and dominated by clove notes.

(suggested retail $12) You might not expect to find Pinot Noir in Chile, but think again. This wine was much lighter in style, which some prefer, with pure raspberry aromas and flavors. You can't beat it for the price, this is a simple and delicious expression of the grape. Excellent QPR for a wine that will appeal to fans of more traditional Pinot Noir.

Full Disclosure: I received samples of these wines for possible review.

Sauvignon Blanc...from Slovenia

Wine is an adventure. At least that's what I've always thought. So many grapes. So many styles. So many countries to visit--even if it's only through the liquid in your glass.
So when one of my favorite addictions--er, on-line retailers--Garagiste up in Seattle offered a three-pack of Slovenian whites to try, I jumped at the opportunity. The three-pack cost around $45, which meant there was a $15 investment per bottle for a Riesling, a Chardonnay, and a Sauvignon Blanc. Recently, I opened up the Sauvignon Blanc and was extremely pleased at my first foray into Slovenian wine.

You might not think "Slovenia" and "Sauvignon Blanc" in the same breath, but there's no reason why you shouldn't do so. Most parts of the globe have a history of wine-making, and that includes central Europe. I had some amazing Merlot when I visited Prague, and have enjoyed some wonderful Romanian wine here on the blog, and one of my all-time-favorite wines from Trader Joe's comes from Hungary. As for Slovenia, they have a venerable viticultural tradition that goes back to pre-Roman times (check this site for more information). So don't be afraid to try wine from regions you may be unfamiliar with, as they often represent very good value, as in this very good QPR example.

2008 Marof Sauvignon Blanc ( purchased in a three-pack from Garagiste; available in the market for around $11) This terrific Sauvignon Blanc had tart lemon pith, gooseberry, and lemongrass aromas and flavors. It was very clean and precise, without being overly herbaceous. A nice balance of fruit and acidity made it an ideal partner for food, and you can't complain about the price! It would be excellent with all kinds of dishes, from salads, to fish, to roasted chicken with lemon. We had it with a soup made with ancient grains and vegetables, and the lively acidity was a lovely counterpoint to the earthiness of the kamut and lentils, and picked out the bright tarragon herbal notes.

Classic Cabernets for $15 or Less

There are all kinds of Cabernet Sauvignon out there. Some are too fruity for me. Some are too green. Some are too expensive. Some are too huge, with big alcohol and palate-punishing tannins.
I like my Cabernets to have a classic profile: plum and currant in the fruit department, pepper for spice, and enough acidity that I know I'm not drinking watered-down jam.

Here are three bottles that fit my preferences--and none has a suggested retail of more than $15. If you like your Cabernets big and bold or fruity and sweet, these wines may not appeal to you. But if what you're looking for is a wine that shows the grape's varietal character and an appealing price point, give one of them a try.

2009 Lander Jenkins Cabernet Sauvignon Spirit Hawk (suggested retail $15; available in the market for $7-$15) Rich plum aromas characteristic of this grape variety lead into a plummy palate with notes of mocha and eucalyptus. Though the tannins are fine-grained, they have a nice grip that will be appealing to lovers of more brawny wine. Excellent QPR.

2010 Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Private Selection (suggested retail $11; available for $8-$12 in the market) This wine has classic aromas and flavors of cassis, plum, herbs, and green pepper with smooth, well-integrated tannins. This will not necessarily appeal to fans of hugely fruity Cabernets, but if elegance is what you're after, you can't do better than this for $11. Excellent QPR.

(suggested retail $13.99; available for $7-$9 in the market) Another Cabernet built along classic lines, this bottle has some green pepper aromas and flavors among the cassis and cherry. There is good acidity, and tannins that area bit astringent in the mouth--which will make it a great partner for juicy beef dishes. Very good QPR (though if you find it for $7, consider this excellent QPR!)

Classic pairings for Cabernet Sauvignon include burgers, roast beef, grilled steak, and (a personal favorite from my childhood) Pepper Steak. If you're a vegetarian and want something to go with Cabernet, look for a recipe that uses rosemary like this white bean and rosemary soup recipe (sub veggie stock for the chicken stock). Rosemary and Cabernet are a match made in heaven!

Full Disclosure: I received samples of these wines for possible review.

Aromatic Food Calls for Aromatic Wine

If you are fond of aromatic food--including Thai, Moroccan, or Indian dishes--you might find them difficult to pair with wine. All those spices can overwhelm an ordinary white or red, and very tannic or very acidic wines can clash with what's on your plate. Often, I recommend Gewurztraminer or Riesling when there are lots of spices in a recipe (and I mean spicy, not necessarily hot).
There is another good option, however: Viognier. The grape is well-known among Rhone wine lovers, but may not be something you've tasted. Intensely aromatic wines made with Viognier can be wonderful with their floral scents and full-bodied texture, but there are many examples (especially inexpensive bottles) that taste a bit too much like dish detergent and feel waxy in the mouth.

So I'm really pleased to have discovered this excellent QPR option for those of you who would like to try something different in the white wine department. Try it with something like this one-pot chicken and chickpea tagine with bulgur (also from Mark Bittman...I'm on a Bittman kick these days).

2010 Wild Horse Viognier (suggested retail $17; average online price also $17) This wine is an excellent example of what Viognier can be, with lemon pith and honeysuckle aromas and flavors. Its stony core keeps it from getting sweet and sappy, and there is a liveliness in the mouth. Expect a nice interplay between the fruit and flower elements. This bottle would pair well with spicy chicken dishes, anything that uses lemons, Moroccan food, and Indian food.

Full Disclosure: I received a sample of this wine for possible review.

Warming up Winter with Syrah

I'm not sure why Syrah tastes like summer to me--but it does. And by 'tastes like summer' I don't mean it's the kind of wine you reach for in July: cool, fresh, and zingy. I'm talking, instead, about a wine that conjures up images of fruit ripening on the vine, dusty back roads, purple-and-red sunsets, and a garden full of herbs ready for picking.
Now that we're approaching midwinter, a touch of summer might be welcome. If so, why not warm up your evening with a beautiful, affordable bottle of Syrah, like this excellent QPR bottling?

The 2008 Andrew Murray Syrah Tous les Jours (suggested retail, $16; average retail price via online retailers, $17) is an exceptional bottle of wine for the price. There is a beautiful balance between the fruit, herb, and mineral notes in this rich Syrah. Black fruits dominate the aromas and flavors, and I detected black currants and blackberries. The wine has a smoky, spicy edge followed by a clean, crisp aftertaste. The wine's good acidity will make it pair with a wide variety of foods, including roasted and grilled dishes, Moroccan food, and even hamburgers.

To go with your Syrah, try this delicious pan-roasted eggplant and lamb pasta sauce from Mark Bittman's Food Matters Cookbook. If you are vegetarian, it would be easy to leave out the lamb and still be left with a rich, flavorful sauce. The acidity of the tomatoes will not clash with this wine, the eggplant's bitterness will be a nice foil for the fruit, and the oven roasting will bring out the smokiness of the wine.

Full Disclosure: I received a sample of this wine for possible review.

Spicing Things Up With Zin

Whether you love them or hate them, the next eight weeks are widely regarded as something of a challenge. Holidays. Family. Bad weather. Trips to the mall. Schlepping kids all over creation. Lots of turkey and mashed potatoes.
To survive, you need to keep some spice in your life. Start with some nice Zinfandel, and throw a pot of chili or pasta on the stove. It will keep you going during the darkening days of winter.

Here are two highly affordable Zinfandels for you to consider:

2009 Ravenswood Zinfandel Old Vine Vintners Blend (suggested retail $10; available in market for $7-$13) This very good QPR Zinfandel has smooth black cherry and blackberry aromas. You'll find the same fruits in the flavors, along with a smoky, spicy aftertaste. The wine has fine tannins, giving it an impression that is fruit-forward, but not too jammy.
2010 McManis Family Vineyards Zinfandel (suggested retail $11.99; available in market for $9-$14) Pure of taste and light on its feet, this is all about the blackberries in the aromas and flavors. There are nice spicy and pepper notes in the aftertaste, too. At 13.5% ABV, this is not a monster of a wine, but a lovely reminder of how Zinfandel can be elegant. Excellent QPR for around $12.

Full Disclosure: I received samples of these wines for possible review.

Exiting the Wine Superhighway with Malvasia Bianca

One of the great things about wine is that no matter how much of the stuff you taste, there is always a new adventure to be had on the shelves of your local store or at your local winery (and yes, most of us actually do have a winery somewhere within driving distance!)
Don't get me wrong: I love the taste of wine. But I also love discovering new tastes, and locating wines I like that are off the normal Chardonnay-Sauvignon Blanc-Cabernet-Pinot route. Today's wine pick is definitely out of the ordinary. Drinking it was a little bit like exiting the familiar wine freeway and taking a back road to your destination.

When I first opened up the 2010 Wild Horse Malvasia Bianca San Bernabe (suggested retail $20; available in the market for $20) from California's Monterey County AVA, I wondered if I had ever had the grape bottled on its own. It often turns up in blends, especially Italian blends. It turns out I have had straight-up Malvasia Bianca before, back in the spring of 2008 when I was looking for a wine to pair with asparagus, and I enjoyed it a great deal. Three and a half years later, I had the opportunity to taste my second example!

And what a nice change it was from the same-old same-old. First off: don't expect to smell lots of fruit when you open this wine. Instead, this delicious white had floral and spicy aromas with an underlying note of litchi. In the mouth, the impression was bone dry, and there was a spicy aftertaste that was unlike anything else I've had before. In some ways, it tasted like a GewA1/4rztraminer without that grape's lush, fruit-forward profile. As the wine was exposed to air and warmed up a bit in the glass, I tasted lean, elegant traces of pear, litchi, and lemon pith. Very good QPR. The 2010 Wild Horse Malvasia Bianca would pair beautifully with delicate fish and shellfish dishes, as well as Pacific Rim cuisine including fish tacos and sushi.

This autumn, make it a point to go wine adventuring. If you're at a restaurant that has a wine-by-the-glass list, try a grape variety you've never had before. If you're at your local wine shop, tell them that you love Pinot Noir but you'd like to try something new. Chances are you'll walk out with a Gamay or a Blaufrankisch--and you may just find a new wine favorite. And kudos to Wild Horse for offering us some unusual varieties like Verdelho, Malvasia and, yes, even Blaufrankisch, to tempt our tastebuds and expand our horizons.

Full Disclosure: I received a sample of this wine for possible review.

Much-Maligned Merlot

Once the darling of wine-by-the-glass programs around the country, and purchased by the gallon by people who didn't know what else to buy, Merlot has been relegated to the margins of wine culture. "You drink Merlot?" people have asked me with horrified expressions.
Yes. I drink Merlot. It's a great food wine--far easier to pair with most dishes than its more structured sibling, Cabernet Sauvignon. Merlot has a bit of softness, a hint of richness, that make it a good choice for autumn and winter meals.

But Merlot critics do have a point: there was such a high demand for Merlot some people got carried away and began mass-producing wines that lost all of the plummy, peppery, clove, and mocha notes that make wines made with this grape distinctive.

Here are a few affordable bottlings that will get you reacquainted with Merlot. And here's a handy list of foods that go well with them: Mustard, Mushrooms, and Meatloaf (and other dishes made with ground beef). It's an easy list to remember, and will help you out in the store whether you're inspired to make Melissa Clark's Chicken with Mustard Croutons, Jamie Oliver's pappardelle pasta with wild mushrooms, or a classic meatloaf or burger.

2009 Rutherford Ranch Merlot (suggested retail $18; available for $14-$20) With characteristic chocolate, plum, and spice notes that persist from the aromas, through the flavors, and continue on into the aftertaste, this is a very good QPR choice. Nicely balanced between fruit, acidity, and oak, the wine impproves with air, suggesting it is suitable for drinking between 2011 and 2014. Buy a bottle for now--and set one aside for 2012 or later.

2009 Arroba Winery Merlot (suggested retail $19.95; available for around $15) A good QPR choice with plum and baking chocolate aromas and flavors. Good acidity and spice in the aftertaste makes you head back to the glass for another sip.
2009 Bella Sera Merlot (suggested retail $7.99; available for $7-$11) Very good QPR at around $8, this Merlot smells and tastes of plums with hints of chocolate around the edges and pleasingly smooth tannins. It may not convince Merlot skeptics, but those who enjoy the grape should give this Sicilian bottling a try.

2008 Concannon Vineyard Merlot Selected Vineyards (suggested retail $10; available for $7-$11) Another Merlot for the price, with more structured rich plum and currant aromas. These fruits are evident in the flavors, too, which are nicely accented with spice. A reminder of the versatility or Merlot, and that the grape can be great if treated well.

If you haven't had Merlot for a while, give it another try. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised by what's on offer these days.

Full Disclosure: I received samples of these wines for possible review.

The Pursuit of Chardonnay

There are days when I just despair for the future of Chardonnay. All it takes is a string of uninspired, overly manipulated examples with loads of fake oak flavors and it makes me swear off the stuff for weeks.
But it only takes one good bottle to remind you why some of the world's great wines have been made from the grape.

If you're in pursuit of Chardonnay, this bottle should help you remember what Chardonnay can be.

2009 MacMurray Ranch Chardonnay Sonoma Coast (suggested retail, $20; available in market for $12-$20) This is a good example of a California Chardonnay that has seen some time inside a barrel, so there are flavor elements that derive from oak, namely a vanillin note that did not strike me as at all fake or forced. Hurray! The entry for the wine comes from its aromas of dough and apple (a bit like an apple crumble), with a note of honeyed vanilla that is the prelude for tastes to come. The flavors are dominated by cream and apple, with a cantaloupe note that I can't say I've ever tasted in a Chardonnay before, but which added an interesting dimension to the wine. Creamy vanilla notes linger in the mouth after your last swallow. Very good QPR, if you like rich and full-bodied California Chardonnays that remain true to the grape.

Full Disclosure: I received a sample of this wine for possible review.

Napa Cabernet for Under $20

Cabernet Sauvignons from California's Napa Valley are among the iconic wines of the USA. They have a cult following, and are in heavy demand, which means that they have hefty price tags, too. Is it possible for those with leaner wallets to see what the fuss is all about.

If you're looking to try a Napa Valley Cabernet--with all the rich flavors that the appellation promises--try to get your hands on this bottle. It may not have all the complexity and structure of a $100 bottle of Napa Cabernet, but for around $15 it's far more affordable.

The 2008 Irony Cabernet Sauvignon (available in market for $11-$17) is a very good QPR choice in Napa Valley Cabernet, with good varietal character and some distinct Napa pizzazz. High-toned plum, cherry and pomegranate aromas and flavors gain depth with a cedary, spicy aftertaste that reminds me of much more expensive bottlings. Though the tannins pucker the tongue with a nice grip, the wine is never heavy. As a result, it is very food friendly and will pair beautifully with stews, roast meat, and steaks.

Full Disclosure: I received a sample of this wine for possible review.

Something to Celebrate

Five years ago, on 7 October 2006, I wrote my first blog post after going wine shopping. Here we are, more than 714, 000 visitors later. As with most things in life there have been ups and downs, some bumps in the road, and some unexpected miracles which led to unexpected hiatuses in posting. Thanks for sticking by me through thick (when I wrote a post a day) and thin (when I wrote no posts for months) and everything in between (like now, when I'm doing my level best to post every Monday and Thursday--or in this case, Sunday and Thursday).
Since a 5th Year Anniversary is something to celebrate, today I've got a round-up of under $20 sparklers for you. They come from Italy, France, and Austria. And because they're affordable you don't need any particular excuse to buy one and open it just because it's Monday!

2009 Weingut Markus Huber Zweigelt Hugo ($18, domaineLA; available in market for $16-$17) A nice choice in sparkling roses under $20, this is made with Zweigelt, and has distinctive strawberry aromas and flavors. Very yeasty (almost beery) in terms of the carbonation, this is a more rustic sparkling wine perfect for charcuterie or a plate of grilled sausages. Very good QPR.

($15, domaineLA; available in market for $16-$19) Very good for the price, this wine is made with Chenin Blanc, Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon under biodynamic growing protocols. The color is rose-gold, and the bubbles are medium-sized and long-lasting. Crisp citrus flavors are paired with richer notes of bread dough and toast. Even Champagne lovers will be impressed with the quality and depth of flavor for $15. Excellent QPR.

N.V. Sorelle Bronca Prosecco di Valdobbiadene Extra Dry
(under $20 at domaineLA; available in market for $14-$18) Clean lemon and lemon-blossom aromas and flavors, and the bead is quite small, which makes for a fun, frothy Prosecco that is good enough to be had on its own as opposed to mixing into Bellinis. Very good QPR.

(suggested retail, $17; available in market for $12-$15) Greenish in color with small bubbles. this wine is part of a new venture in wine making from a Spanish/Italian team. The partnership really shines in this wine which has the apply/bready notes of Spanish sparklers and the citrusy notes of prosecco without any bitterness or excessive yeastiness. Crisp, but can stand up to food especially vegetables and fish. Very good QPR.

Full Disclosure: I received a sample of the Voveti for possible review.

When Life Gives You Lemons...

There is something fresh, clean, and bright about the scent of a lemon. No wonder we use the juice to liven up the flavors in food, and put fine ribbons of lemon peel in so many dishes to add just the right crisp, sweet note.
Today I have two recommendations for lemony wines. Like lemon juice or lemon peel, these bottlings will brighten up your table and enhance the flavors in food. And here's something that will put an even bigger smile on your face: they both retail for around $11.

2010 McManis Family Vineyards Pinot Grigio (suggested retail $10.99; available in the market for $8-14) For around $11 this wine impresses with its clean-edged lemon peel aromas, pure lemon flavors, and slightly waxy texture. There's not a false note or a rough edge to be had, and it's not too bitter so it's a perfect wine if you're looking for something citrusy to accompany lemon-roasted chicken or piccata. Excellent QPR.

(suggested retail $11; available in the market for $8-11) With loads of lemon and lime zest in the aromas, this wine is reminiscent of the fresh, zippy Sauvignon Blancs from New Zealand. The aromas are echoed in the flavors, which take on a nice lemongrass complexity. Clean, zesty, and focused this is another steal for the price. Excellent QPR.

Full Disclosure: I received samples of these wines for possible review.

The Future Looks RosA(c)

Now that we're into autumn, you may think the future looks decidedly less RosA(c).
Those of us who drink RosA(c) wines--those pale to dark pink bottles of wine made from everything from Cabernet Sauvignon to Zinfandel--tend to think of them as summery offerings, suitable for picnics and barbeques but not for serious food.

Actually, RosA(c) wines are versatile and food friendly. They pair with almost everything. Served with a bit of a chill, they offer refreshment when your table contains spicy dishes. And they are usually very affordable.

Here are two of my favorite RosA(c)s, which I tasted over the summer and early fall and which I have no problem recommending to those of you who are ready to take out your stew pot and turn on your oven. And both of them are dry wines--which means that they will pair with almost everything.

2010 San Giovanni Garda Classico Il Chiaretto ($15.00, domaineLA; available in market for $13-$15) This delicious RosA(c) is made from an Italian blend of Barbera, Groppello, Marzemino, and Sangiovese. You will smell the strawberries, and the aromas carry over into the flavors. There is a pleasant stony edge to the strawberry tones, and a lovely, savory note in the aftertaste. Well-balanced, medium-bodied, and . We had it with a Jamie Oliver dish of grilled tuna with oregano and lemon, grilled zucchini, and some garlicky cannellini beans, and the wine had the right amount of fruit, acidity, and minerality to pair with the dish. It would also be great with creamy pasta dishes, sausage, or roast pork. Note: It comes in a cute, chubby bottle but it does contain the full 750ml that you're used to.

2010 ChAC/teau d'Esclans CA'tes de Provence Whispering Angel ($20.99 from my local independent grocery store; available in market for $13-$27)
This wine is very, very pale pink in color--think ballet-tights pink. The aromas are even drier than those of the Il Chiaretto, with under-ripe strawberries, chalk, and melon rising up from the glass. The flavors echo the aromas, but the chalk becomes more intense. Very dry, very savory, and very good QPR (though if you can get it for under $15, you will find it's excellent QPR) This wine is made mainly from Grenache, with some Rolle, Cinsault, and Syrah blended in to it. A nice pairing for shrimp or other shellfish, salmon, tuna, or roast chicken.

Advanced Topics in White Wine

It's that time of year. If you have kids they're back in school with their pencils sharpened and their notebooks already full of doodles. You might be feeling a bit nostalgic about your own schooldays-gone-by, when you were taking courses and learning new subjects.
The best thing about loving wine (ok, one of the best things...) is that there is always more to learn. This fall, why not try some interesting whites that are beyond your normal Chardonnay-Sauvignon Blanc-Riesling comfort zone? You just may find a new favorite.

2009 M. Chapoutier CA'tes du RhA'ne Blanc Belleruche (suggested retail $12.99; available in market for $8-$15) Red wine fans may be familiar with the rich, affordable red blends from the Southern RhA'ne, but have you ever tasted their whites? This blend contains Grenache Blanc, Clairette and Bourboulenc. It is more "old world" in style, with a fresh, neutral taste dominated by mineral and lemon peel notes. It tastes robust, and stands up well to richer fish (tuna, halibut), vegetable dishes, and chicken pot pie. If you like Sauvignon Blanc, I think you'll enjoy this wine. Very good QPR.

2010 ViA+-a Robles White4 (suggested retail $16; available in market for $13-$16) ) This white blend is from Paso Robles, and gets its name from the four white grape varieties that go into every bottle: Viognier, Verdelho, Sauvignon Blanc, and Vermentino. This year's bottling is a very good QPR, versatile white wine with honeysuckle and citrus aromas and flavors. If you like dry Rieslings but are looking for a wine with more body, give this a try.

2010 Freie WeingA$?rtner Wachau / DomA$?ne Wachau GrA1/4ner Veltliner Federspiel Terrassen (suggested retail $15; available in market for $11-$17) The grapes are grown in Austria's Wachau region, and the wine that results is crisp with pear, stony mineral, and citrus elements. The wine tastes full and delicious, while retaining its bright and lively profile. Excellent QPR. I love Gruner Veltliner with fish, roasted chicken, anything made with lentils, and even Indian food.

2009 Leo Steen Chenin Blanc Saini Farms (purchased in my local grocery store for $19.99; available in market for around $17) Made from grapes grown in Sonoma County's Dry Creek Valley, this lovely Chenin Blanc is a lovely, dry example. There are apple and honeycomb aromas and flavors, which bring back the tastes of summer. If you like the apple notes in Chardonnay, but are not always fond of the oak that many winemakers use, try this wine and you won't be disappointed. And if you're looking for wines to set aside for Thanksgiving, this would be a great choice.

Full Disclosure: With the exception of the Chenin Blanc, I received samples of these wines for possible review.

Autumn's Transitional Red

The temperature is up.
You want to use your grill once last time before you put it away.
You want to break out your crock pot.

If this sounds like you, then you need to have some Malbec on hand. Many people associate Malbecs with summer barbeques, but this versatile red is just as good with soups or stews as it is with grilled chicken or steak. In other words, it's the perfect transitional red!

A few reminders about Malbec: though today the grape is most associated with Argentina , it was once quite popular in Bordeaux and produces wines that remind me of French Cabernets and Merlots. Expect a rich, full-bodied wine that can hold center stage. And keep in mind that while some Malbecs can be big, fun fruit-bombs, others are far more restrained and can exhibit mineral and herbal characteristics.

Here are three Argentinian Malbecs I'm recommending this autumn:

2010 Colores Del Sol Malbec (suggested retail $12; available in market for $6-$12) This excellent QPR option has lovely, lush blackberry and boysenberry aromas. That fruity aroma profile is found in the flavors, as well, and there are additional notes of leather and spice which linger on after the fruit flavors fade. This Malbec will go well with grilled sausages, meats, chilis, and stews.

(suggested retail $14.99; available in market for $8-$11) A more restrained example, with typical varietal characteristics, this wine has earthier, raisin, and black cherry aromas and flavors. With air there was a nice spicebox quality to the aftertaste, as well as some tobacco notes. Very good QPR at around $15, if you can find it for around $10 I think it would be excellent QPR for those looking for a more traditional taste.

2009 Argento Malbec Reserva (suggested retail $16; available in market for $14-$16). Don't be worried if the plum aromas are faint when you first open this wine. They develop nicely with some exposure to the air, as do the plum, blackberry, and tobacco leaf flavors. The tannins are drying, and will probably soften a bit with storage time. Also traditional in style, this would be particularly good with grilled or braised meat. Very good QPR.

Full Disclosure: I received samples of these wines for possible review.

To Reserve or Not to Reserve? And What's the Difference Anyway?

In your wanderings down supermarket aisles and through wine stores, you may have come across wines labeled "Reserve" or bearing the name of a vineyard and wondered what the designations were all about. What does it mean to be a "reserve" wine? A vineyard wine? And what difference--if any--does it make to the taste? Or the price tag?

If you are confused about what "Reserve" means there is a good reason for it: there is no standard or regulated use of the term. In its purest sense, it was once used by winemakers to specially mark wines they felt were superior. Today, it can be used to indicate the wines have been reserved in the winery for an extra year or two, that they received special oak treatment, that the grapes used in the wine were from a select portion of those harvested, or some combination. It can also be used purely as a marketing term, because who wouldn't want a special wine?
Wines with vineyard designations are regulated, however, and if you see the name of a vineyard on a bottle it means that 95% of the grapes used in the wine must come from that vineyard. Vineyards vary tremendously in terms of soil, climate, and exposure and all of these variables can alter the taste of your wine. Sometimes, a winemaker feels that the grapes grown in a particular patch exhibit special characteristics, and they decide to keep that fruit separate to accentuate the unique qualities of the grapes.

Recently I had a chance to taste three wines made from the same maker, from the same grape, and all from grapes grown in the same county (although different parts of that county). One was the standard bottling, one was a vineyard designate, and one was a reserve bottling. All three were excellent--but had distinctively different taste. Here's my take on them.
2009 Rodney Strong Chardonnay Sonoma County (suggested retail $13.50; available in the market for $8-$15). A clean and crisp Chardonnay, with apple and lemon aromas and flavors accented by richer pineapple and creamy vanilla notes. A portion of the juice was fermented in barrels, the rest in a tank, which helps to explain both the vanilla notes (the oak) and the crispness (from the stainless steel tanks). Flavorful, well-balanced and food friendly. Very good QPR.

2009 Rodney Strong Chardonnay Chalk Hill (suggested retail ; available in the market for $13-$21) This wine was made from grapes grown in an estate vineyard in the Russian River Valley. A distinctive, classy Chardonnay with apple and toasted oak aromas followed by apple flavors. Layers of cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg make the wine spicy, but the apple flavors remain strong and keep the wine fresh as do the underlying mineral notes. The aftertaste is nicely spicy, too, in part from the time the juice spent in both new and seasoned French oak barrels. Very good QPR.

(suggested retail $35; available in the market for $24-$35). This wine was one year older than the others I tasted (even though it is a recent release) and tasted and smelled far richer with its apple and toasted coconut aromas. Full, creamy baked apple and sour cream flavors were followed up with a rich, spicy aftertaste. The Rodney Strong website explains that the wine was made in their "small lot winemaking facility," and that the juice was fermented in French oak barrels. Though this wine cost significantly more, it was an excellent value of the rich, oaky style of California Chardonnay. Very good QPR.

When faced with a decision of whether to choose a standard, vineyard designate, or reserve bottling, remember this: it's all about the taste and what you find affordable. In this case, the higher priced wines were richer-tasting, in large part because of their contact time with expensive oak barrels. However, sometimes what you want is a crisp Chardonnay. In that case, you'd be far happier with the Sonoma County bottling! As for me, my palate was most pleased with the Chalk Hill example.

As for food pairings, any of these wines would provide you with a pleasant Chardonnay to pair with your late summer/early fall dinners of grilled or roasted chicken, butternut squash ravioli, or grilled halibut.

Full Disclosure: I received samples of these wines for possible review.

Love Fish? Try Falanghina

I don't know why, but recently my largely-chicken diet has turned in the direction of fish. This means my white wine preferences are shifting subtly, too. It's harder and harder for me to find a Chardonnay that doesn't overwhelm fish's delicate flavors. Sauvignon Blancs can be too assertive. Riesling doesn't work for my tastebuds for some reason, unless the fish preparation is quite spicy or I'm having shrimp.
So I kept searching for whites that would pair well with my fish tacos, linguine alle vongole, grilled tuna, halibut, scallops, and shrimp. And I found Falanghina. This wonderful grape is native to the southern Italian region of Campania, and is especially well-known in the vineyards around Naples on the Amalfi Coast.

The wine that knocked my socks off and won a permanent spot on my table is the 2009 VIVI Falanghina Campania IGT. And the suggested retail price? $9.99 (available in the market for $8-$13). You will find that the wine smells fresh and floral, like sitting in a garden by the seaside on a summer's day. As you swirl it in your glass, you may notice some citrus notes, too. Flavors of lemon and honeycomb round out the wine. And while there is plenty of zip and acidity in the juicy aftertaste, it will not overwhelm the delicacy of the seafood or fish you might be serving. Excellent QPR.

Full Disclosure: I received a sample of this wine for possible review.

Fire Up the Grills--and Buy Cabernet Sauvignon

It was 90 degrees in Los Angeles. I know it's snowing in Buffalo, but here it is spring (or maybe even summer). So last night I fired up the grill for the first time, marinaded a skirt steak, threw some sweet potatoes in the oven (note to self: roasting potatoes in oven for an hour heats up the house), and tossed some cherry tomatoes with mozzarella, fresh basil, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Then I hit the Cabernets.

I love grilled steak with Cabernet Sauvignon, and I have three recommendations for you: one under $10, one under $15, and the other just a hair over $20. Even if you are experiencing snow, these wines would also be good with stews, braised short ribs, or a pot of chili.
Under $10: 2009 Big House Wine Company The Usual Suspect Cabernet Sauvignon (suggested retail $9.99; available for $6-$10). Not the most complex Cabernet, perhaps, but a solid example of the grape with characteristic plum and currant aromas. The palate was dominated with plum notes and accented by a bitter taste reminiscent of coffee grounds. The aftertaste was nicely bitter, too, which kept this fruit-forward wine from becoming too jammy. A touch of Grenache is blended into the Cabernet. Good QPR.
Under $15: 2009 Robert Oatley Cabernet Sauvignon James Oatley TIC TOK (suggested retail $14; available for $12-$16) This is another fruit-forward Cabernet, with currant and blackberry aromas and flowers. A spicy aftertaste is accompanied by nice tannins that have just enough grip. Very good QPR.

(suggested retail $22; this new release currently available at the vineyard; previous releases available elsewhere for $15-$25) This was a wonderful wine, and tasted like something considerably more expensive than the sticker price. Aromas and flavors of currant, pencil lead, and eucalyptus made for an elegant and complex wine. With air, the currant notes turn plummy. The aftertaste is smooth, with spicy, well-integrated tannins. This is a lot of wine for $22, and excellent QPR.

Full Disclosure: I received samples of these wines for possible review.

A Candidate for Your House White: d'Arenberg's The Stump Jump

Last week I was extolling the virtues of red blends. After I wrote the post, I realized that though there were many red blends in my cellar, there weren't many white blends. I'm not sure why that's the case, because what goes for reds is true of whites as well: the blending can make the wine especially food friendly and versatile. And, just as with red blends, there is often a very attractive price tag on a white blend.
So I looked in the closet to see if I had any white blends and discovered a bottle of the 2009 d'Arenberg The Stump Jump (suggested retail $10; available for $9-$13) This is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Marsanne, and Riesling. As with most good blends, you can identify the individual components in the finished product. In this case, the Sauvignon Blanc is evident in the aroma which is very grassy, and that grassiness is accompanied by touches of honey from the Marsanne. The flavors have notes of pear, grapefruit pith, and a bit of litchi--so there's more Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling influence there. The mouthfeel is heavier than some whites, thanks largely to the Marsanne. The aftertaste reminded me of a dry Riesling, with its acidity and apple notes. I would have liked the wine to be a bit more fruit-forward--which is not something I say often. Even so, this wine is a good candidate for a house white because of its versatility and very good QPR. I looked over my notes from previous vintages, too, and this wine has consistently been good all the way back to 2004, which is another reason to try a bottle if you see one in the store, irrespective of its vintage.

Proof of the wine's versatility can be had by pairing it with something like this Soba Noodle Salad with Salmon and Asparagus from Bon Appetit magazine. With the rich salmon and avocado, the grassy asparagus, and the ginger-soy dressing, it's a bit of a challenge--but this wine handled it beautifully. The Sauvignon Blanc worked well with the asparagus, the Riesling with the Asian flavors, and the Marsanne stood up to the buckwheat and salmon.

Full Disclosure: I received a sample of this wine for review.

A Red for All Seasons

Last week I was extolling the virtues of spring. Now it's grey and drizzly again. In some places, it's still snowing. With the variable weather, it's hard to know which way is up. Do you dust off the grill and barbecue chicken? Or do you make a pot of stew? And what do you drink in the wine department, given it can be 86 degrees one day and 59 degrees the next?
Regular readers know that I love red blends because they're food friendly. This time of year, though, I am especially fond of them because their versatility means that they are as welcome next to grilled chicken as they are soup. So when the weather gets this way I make a bit pot of chili, pick out a red blend, and no matter whether if feels like June or January I'm ready to go.

A red blend I enjoyed recently with a pot of beef and black bean chili was the 2006 Tamarack Cellars Firehouse Red from Washington state's Columbia Valley. ($19.69 in my local independent grocery store; this vintage available for $20-$25, but more recent vintages can be had for $14-$22) Composed from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Syrah, and Merlot, the result is a juicy, fruit-forward wine with good structure. I've had my bottle for several years, and it's drinking just great now. I detected aromas of blueberry, cinnamon, and baking chocolate, all of which are echoed in the palate. The wine retains a fresh, lively taste through the mouth-watering aftertaste, with some additional herbal and spice notes. What I enjoyed most was the play between the varieties: the Cabernet Sauvignon lending its weight and acidity, the Syrah providing those soft berry flavors and spice, the Cabernet Franc lifting the blend with some acidity and herbs, and the Merlot making it approachable and inviting. Very good QPR.

And if you're looking for some chili recipes, here are a few of my favorites to try:

Fine Cooking's Beef and Black Bean Chili with Chipotle and Avocado

Rachael Ray's Fiery Chicken Chili (warning: makes enough for medium-sized army)

Tyler Florence's Outrageous Texas Chili

Spring/Sprung: Three White Wines Perfect for the Season

Sorry about the long silence, folks, but I've been--er--busy. And I managed to catch the mother of all winter colds, which lasted three weeks and pretty much made tasting anything (wine included) an impossibility.

Now that I'm sprung from booktours and the 'flu, I'm back home, and having a glass of wine with dinner again, so I've got some tasting notes for you. The first are all about spring. It's definitely in the air here in Los Angeles and if you haven't caught a whiff of it yet, you soon will. Here are some lively white wines to celebrate the freshness of the air and the first flowers:
2009 Graves Monkey Wrench ($17.99, domaineLA; available for $17-$23) This wine is blended from one of my favorite white grapes--Grenache Blanc--and Viognier. The result is a fresh, zesty, and well-balanced with lime and mango aromas and flavors. These fruity notes are kept in check with strong minerality and tangy acidity. You will enjoy this with grilled fish, a chicken salad, or Asian food. Excellent QPR. (NB: label if from 2006--I drank the 2009)

(suggested retail $16; available for $10-$23) In the "even zestier" department, this New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc will appeal to the most die-hard lovers of the fresh wines from the Marlborough region. Abundant gooseberry, lime, and lemongrass aromas and flavors will make it ideal with Thai food, the fresh vegetables of the season (I imagine it would be wonderful with an herb risotto, for example), or citrus-roasted chicken. Very good QPR.

2009 Franciscan Chardonnay
(suggested retail $18; available for $12-$22) Finally, if you like a slightly richer wine but are ready to swap your buttery wintery Chardonnays for one that has a bit more zip, try this excellent QPR bottling from Napa. It's one of the best domestic Chardonnays I've had in some time, and is memorable for its liveliness, its excellent balance, and the zesty citrus and apple flavor profile. Elegant and food-friendly, have this one with your richer dishes like a scalloped potato and fennel gratin, your favorite chicken dish, or some grilled chicken-apple sausages and a tossed salad.

Full Disclosure: I received samples of the Chasing Venus and Franciscan wines for review. I purchased the Graves bottling myself.

The Virtues of Simple Perfection: Cep Sauvignon Blanc

Simplicity is underrated. Perfection is overrated. But what do you do when you find a wine that is quite simply perfect? Well, you enjoy it first. Then, if you're me, you write about it here and hope that you can still get your hands on some later.
Some readers will find it surprising that the wine that I'm touting is a Sauvignon Blanc. One person I know recently described Sauvignon Blanc as "boring," and while I couldn't disagree more I think I understand why some she might feel this way. There are a lot of generically "citrusy" Sauvignon Blancs out there that, though refreshing, aren't necessarily going to make you run out and buy more. I think this Sauvignon Blanc is different, though. And even though you might pay a smidge over $20 as I did, I think you will still consider it excellent QPR.

The 2009 Cep Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Hopkins Ranch ($20.99 in my local independent grocery store; available in the market for $15-$20) is a wonderful example of Sauvignon Blanc. Instead of a generically "citrusy" mouthful, I detected pure notes of Meyer Lemon in the aromas and flavors. There was a clean note of mint, as well, and some stoniness that added depth and breadth to the wine. It was almost piercing in its intensity, but never overwhelming or assertive, with lots of focus to the flavors and a long, juicy aftertaste. Think of pairing this wine with Asian food that uses citrus elements like orange peel or lemon, a roast chicken, an early spring salad topped with rounds of goat cheese, or seafood.

This stylish, well-made, and satisfying wine was brought to you by the same people who own and operate Peay Vineyards, and are winemakers renowned and respected for their ability to select great fruit and craft great wines from that fruit. Cep is their second label--which means that fruit that doesn't quite make the cut of their high-end wines is bottled under a different name--and was for a time a well-kept secret. Now the secret it out, and it gives more people a chance to taste their winemaking efforts. Cep also bottles a superb rosA(c) and Pinot Noir, so keep your eyes out for these, too.

Your House Red: Boxed and Ready to Go

I'm the only wine drinker in my house. And there are times, like now, when things are so crazy that planning menus and opening bottles of wine that will in all likelihood go off before I can finish them up doesn't make sense. Enter the new generation of boxed wines.
I'm particularly partial to the Octavin, which has a fantastic spigot contraption that doesn't leak or drip. There are other options out there, too, and all of them keep air from getting to the wine thereby keeping the wine fresh-tasting for weeks, rather than days. The only downside of the Octavin is that with white wines they take up a certain amount of prime refrigerator real estate. With reds, you just set them in a cool place on the counter and enjoy a glass whenever the mood strikes.

Given the convenience of the packaging, I was particularly pleased to receive this sample of the NV Bodegas Osborne Seven because it is an ideal candidate for a house red--you know, the easy-drinking reds that go with practically everything and are great to have on hand. And the price is right, too: a 3.0 L size Octavin (equivalent to 4 bottles of wine) has a suggested retail of just $22. (available in the market for $16-$21)

The very good QPR NV Bodegas Osborne Seven is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Tempranillo, Grenache, and Graciano. With all those grapes in it, it's hard to pin a varietal character on the wine. Instead, this is a "red" wine--which is not a bad thing on a Tuesday night when you're making Mark Bittman's chicken with roasted potatoes and Romesco sauce. I could smell the Grenache in the floral and fruity aromas. The Syrah and Petit Verdot are evident in the flavors which span the plum and blackberry spectrum. There are some darker notes, too: dark chocolate and ground coffee.

This wine will go with pasta, soup, stew, pizza, burgers, steaks--you name it.

Full Disclosure: I received a sample of this wine for review.

Getting Rid of Muscle Soreness After Working Out

Stepping into the gym can be a massive ordeal for some people. Not only is it painful while you are there, but have left you in agony for days afterward. This can be a considerable deterrent for individuals who are out of shape. It prevents many of them from ever going to the gym in […]

The post Getting Rid of Muscle Soreness After Working Out appeared first on Fitness Health Zone.

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