Expect the Unexpected: It’s Pelotonia Week!

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Here we are, the week of Pelotonia.

Guess who JUST got her bike this past weekend?
This girl.
I finally rode my bike yesterday. For about less than a mile. This tired face was the outcome:
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I think it’s time to openly admit that this ride will be super tough on me, but very entertaining for anyone watching.

In an effort to help boost my fundraising efforts, I created a package to offer photo sessions in exchange for donations to my account. Those who booked with me had the option of a 30 or 60-min session to take photos and then will receive an online gallery to view and download their images. I am overwhelmed, in the best possible way, by the response I received from those I told. This allowed me to combine my passion for photography with my desire to make a difference in finding a cure to cancer.

I always have fun shooting and working with people to capture their special moments, but there was something different in the air. My first session was on a gorgeous summer evening, with two individuals who were very clearly in love. Having been engaged for over half a year now, and less than a year til they say “I do”, I enjoyed every moment I was with them. Their laughter, kindness and friendship humbled me and was contagious.

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The next morning, I worked with a two-and-a-half-year old named Avery. She was giggly and excited when she arrived, but the second she saw the camera, she had a melt down. Anyone who knows me personally knows that I’m not a natural when it comes to interacting with children, and I’ll fully take ownership of that. Compliments didn’t work, begging didn’t work…but asking her to pick some flowers for her aunt Meme did the trick! She even picked some for me! It was those light-hearted, candid moments that I captured that made me realize that sometimes you just need to roll with the punches and grasp onto the unexpected.

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That afternoon, I pulled on my cowboy boots (oh, how I love to wear those while shooting!) and trekked some back country roads to a horse barn that was nestled into the woods. Something about that drive over relaxed me, and when I arrived and was immediately greeted by three tail-wagging pups, I was in my happy place. I was working with two young ladies and their gorgeous horses and the friendship between them was so easy-going and fun. The sun was beating down on us as we went for an adventure walk into the trails. It was a bonus that I got to lead Badger, an older bay gentleman who accepted my kisses and neck scratches as we walked. The girls lead us to a very scenic bridge in the middle of the trails and it was something about the combination of horses and nature that just soothed my soul. Later, I was able to take photos of them as they jumped some fences in the arena and we all celebrated together as “the Whale” cleared a high oxer!

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My last session of the weekend was with a new couple who wanted to document their journey of waiting (as patiently) as possible to be able to announce they have a little one on the way. My heart warmed as I watched the husband interact so tenderly with his wife, who orchestrated the entire thing. As many would guess, most sessions that involve a couple usually indicates that it was one person’s idea and the other is just going along with it because they were told to. But he was there, 100%, in body, mind and spirit to support his wife and that tenderness touched me so much. In an effort to not expose too much of their story, I just wanted to share this one photo and express how touched I was after being in their presence.

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These sessions allowed me to feel raw, beautiful emotions and that in itself is a gift I will gladly accept. And from these moments with these individuals, I received a solid reminder to expect the unexpected. I expect that around this time on Saturday, Aug 5, 2017, I will be sore, exhausted, sweaty and probably a little irritated at myself for not training harder. But I hope that I will also experience joy, for being involved in a cause that is super important to me. I hope I will be overwhelmed with the sense of team, community and togetherness. This has been an incredible journey so far, both for me as a person and as someone who is riding in Pelotonia. I look forward to sharing my story with you next week. 

Pelotonia 2017 – Why I’m Riding

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Pelotonia_17_Magnet_1024x1024It used to be that everyone believed that cancer could happen to anyone else, but never them. We all just went on living our lives under the impression that we were invincible. That’s when we were younger.

Fast forward to now, 2017, and many of us have now experienced either losing, or almost losing someone, to cancer. Some more than others. Some of us may have even been diagnosed. We find ourselves paying attention to things now – what we eat, what we inhale, what we do. How will it affect us? Can we get cancer or another disease from it? Even as I sit here now, typing this out, I can smell smoke coming from a nearby cigarette. I’m asking myself if sitting outside, in the sunlight, on my lunch break, is worth the potential harm that inhaling the smoke may cause me.

When I started at L Brands, the teams around me had already begun to rally behind Pelotonia 2017. Established in 2008, Pelotonia had one goal: end cancer. The model remains simple, 100% of every dollar raised by Pelotonia Riders, Virtual Riders and Volunteers goes directly to fund cancer research at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute. This company’s leadership, the employees and the community around us all support this mission with their hearts and souls. I’ve only been here two months and that is already so evident to me.

Now, let me explain to you why this is so important to me.

My paternal grandfather lost his battle to colon cancer.

My mom’s best friend beat her battle with breast cancer.

My father-in-law, despite bouncing back from every adversity that challenged him, unfortunately lost his battle with the extremely rare disease of Amyloidsis.

I had or have relationships with all three of those individuals, but the person I was closest with was my father-in-law, Mr. Rick. He is who I think of every time someone mentions Pelotonia, or cancer, or rare diseases. I am drawn to Pelotonia because it helps to fund cancer research in general, not specific diseases and cancers. There are ones out there that there simply aren’t a lot of resources available or people that know what to do with it. That was the case of Amyloidsis. We as humans are discovering new ones more frequently than we would like to. There are even ones, like Mr. Rick’s,  that are so incredibly rare. Just because we don’t have a lot of knowledge on it yet doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter. That the person who has it doesn’t matter.

The symptoms ultimately began in Fall 2009, although Mr. Rick didn’t seek serious medical help until early summer of 2010. I had just graduated from college and moved home to Pittsburgh, while my now-husband, Rick, was finishing up over the summer semester. Between then and March 2013, when he passed, we watched as doctor’s confided in each other and consulted materials about a disease that they knew nothing about. At the time, we were told that only 1 in 100,000 people in the world would get this disease. The odds were against us. The disease began to attack his organs and he was in desperate need of a new heart.

Bring us to early 2011. The family had to write a letter to the insurance companies who were denying Mr. Rick from being  put on the heart transplant list. They had determined that he wouldn’t live long enough after the transplant to deserve the heart. We had to tell them, “Listen, this guy is a fighter. He’s going to surpass all odds, he always has. He’s a dad, a husband, a friend, a musician, someone who made an honest, positive impact to the world around him. Even though this disease made his treatments a huge trial and error guessing game, he still matters.” I speak for more than just myself when I say this: he was everything to a lot of people.

On March 17, 2011, Mr. Rick received his new heart.
By receiving that, he was then  able to continue with his experimental treatment and receive stem cell transplants in an attempt to rebuild his organs.
Then, on September 29, 2012, he was able to attend and partake in our wedding. We chose September 29th because it was my husband’s parents (Mr and Mrs Rick) anniversary.
Our first anniversary would have been their 40th.
But on March 7, 2013, we lost to the disease. I say we because we were all in this together. Mr. Rick, Mrs. Rick, their daughter Amanda, their son and my husband Rick, myself, and all our other family and friends who were in this battle with us.


I have decided to ride the 45 miles during the Pelotonia event the weekend of August 4-6, 2017. In addition to that, I’ve committed to raising $2,000 to support cancer research. Between the training to ride 45 miles and asking people for donations, this journey won’t be an easy one for me. But Mr. Rick’s journey and fight wasn’t easy, either. I do this in his memory, but ultimately I know he’s right here with me.


All I ask is that you consider making a donation to my campaign. Even $5 helps make a difference. You and I, we can make a difference together.
Let’s do this. For Mr. Rick. For everyone who has been affected by these awful diseases. I encourage sharing this story, or your own, with your friends and family. Together we can, and we will, make a difference.  


Link to my Pelotonia page for donations:  www.pelotonia.org/aeyles 

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My saving grace.

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After the craziness of our quicker-than-we-thought-it-would-happen move from Sandusky to Columbus, I settled into a routine that consisted of sleeping later than I should’ve, taking care of my dogs, looking/applying to jobs, looking at houses, get a little lonely from time to time….rinse and repeat.

So when I remembered that my friend, Stephanie, taught yoga, I knew that was something I should start. It so happened that her Monday classes were free, and it was then that a new hobby was formed.

Only it became so much more than that.
It became my escape (from the apartment), it gave me something to look forward to, it gave me a reason to look forward to Monday every week.

Did I feel awkward at first? Heck yes. I am one of the most un-flexible people I’ve ever met. I can’t even touch my toes! I felt out of place with all these well-practiced yogis. I felt like everyone might be judging me or laughing at me when I couldn’t hold my balance and fell over.

But as the weeks wore on, I stopped caring. I stopped looking around the room to compare myself to everyone else. I looked that brown-haired, sweat-rolling-down-her-face, wobbly girl in the mirror, straight on, like you should do, and said “You can do this. You WILL do this.”

And in the midst of feeling hopeless, getting sad about not having found the perfect job yet, wondering what the hell might be wrong with me, I realized some of the most important lessons that yoga will teach you.

Patience.
Humility.
Create Balance.
Love Yourself.

It was when I finally did that, when I finally just gave myself to the practice, that I felt the change. I carried myself differently. I am me, you are you. I thought about myself differently. I approached life just a little bit differently.

After that happened, everything else started to fall into place. I landed a job at my dream company. We bought the most beautiful house. I have been so happy.

I have one person to thank for inspiring the change in me. Stephanie, if you’re reading this, you  and your yoga class, saved me. It helped me in so many ways at a time in my life when I truly needed it. It changed me, for the better.

In our last class, on April 24, Stephanie told the class: “Patience. The hardest test of life is waiting for the right moment.”

If I learned anything so far this year, that was it. I kept wanting everything, all at once, right now. And when that (surprise, surprise) didn’t happen, I got angry and upset. All I needed to do was have patience, because once I started to, that’s when all the pieces started to complete the puzzle.

I started my last session frustrated with myself and tired.
I ended it by dancing along to the music and smiling.

And to bring it all back to the title of this blog, Hygge….definition #3: a feeling of belonging to the moment and to each other.

Maybe the runner’s life isn’t for me…?

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It doesn’t matter how hard I try, I just am unable to get myself to enjoy – and get motivated about – running. And boy have I tried!

It began when I was a little kid, first grade maybe? My parents enrolled me in my grade school’s cross country team and I truly don’t think they could’ve even anticipated the disappointment they would soon feel. At first, it was that I couldn’t grasp that STEADY was a key word in being able to do these races. We’d start and I’d BLAST ahead because hey, I have long legs and I wanted to use them. I’d be up front for about…a half mile, if I was lucky. By the end of the practice or race, I’d be in last place, doing everything I could to not just sit down. Actually, a few times, that’s exactly what I did.

My dad resorted to bribing me: “If you finish the race, we’ll get ice cream.” Notice I said “finish” – not “come in X place” or anything specific like that. Just…..finish. I remember one time there was a polly pocket on the line and it helped me push myself a little bit. I blasted to the front at the start of the race, lagged til I was one of the last ones during the middle, and at the very end, when I could see the finish line and my parents’ eyes just PLEADING to not embarrass them again, I took every last burst of speed I had to finish it ahead of a handful of people.

My cross country days in grade school weren’t long lived. I started horseback riding lessons, which is where we all knew my heart still is with to this day. I was built and born to be an equestrian.

In high school, since there was no equestrian team (there really should’ve been), I decided to try this whole running thing again. My mom was, and still is, a fitness instructor so she’s in incredible shape and she used to run lots of 5k’s and marathons locally. I knew it would make her proud so I joined the cross country team again, this time in my sophomore year.

The first day of practice was at a huge park (Wildwood in Toledo, for anyone who’s curious), I didn’t know ANYONE and my mom’s friend had to drop me off. As someone who is always cold, I wore pants.

Yes, you read that right. I. Wore. Pants. To. August. Cross Country. Practice.
Because I’m an idiot.

My mom’s friend, bless her heart, went over to Meijer’s and bought me a pair of Joe Boxers and brought them back for me to wear. I still have those bright yellow, smiley face shorts.

I made friends, which was a bonus, and I was admittedly in the best shape of my life. I was eating healthy, paid attention to my body and put effort into exercising outside of what I had to do. But I still wasn’t good at it. My mom started to be the only one who came routinely to my races, and just as it had been in my younger years, I was fighting to not come into last place. I didn’t do it again after that season.

Fast forward to now, some 11-ish years later….in an attempt to train for a 5k in April for the Erie County Humane Society, I was trying to utilize the treadmill in the apartment complex to get myself to run 3 consecutive miles. I started “training” in January and I still can’t run 1 mile without stopping. It’s not that I can’t breathe or that I feel my body collapsing, but it’s my darn knees. As soon as I hit the pavement/treadmill/whatever, my knees swell up and just feel so stuffy and awful the entire time. It hurts. I just don’t think I can do it.

And trust me, I hate realizing I can’t do something.

In order to keep myself active, I’ve created myself a new plan. On Monday, I go to CorePower Yoga and take a C1 class. It’s made Monday my favorite day of the week. On Wednesday, I do some cardio (walk/run 2 miles) followed by some leg work (this is a new addition and I don’t even have any exercises picked out yet so suggestions welcome!) On Friday, I do 1 mile cardio to get my heart rate up followed by some ab workouts. I’d really like to feel comfortable in a bikini again. All of that being said, I’d really like suggestions on workouts to do because I’m kind of making it up/bothering my mom about it/pinning a thousand things to my pinterest board.

Help!

Sarabelle’s Story.

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June 4, 2014.
That was the day that I met Sara.
I had just arrived at the dog shelter for my lunch time volunteering. The dog warden was located less than five minutes from my office, so I spent what time I could volunteering at the shelter in exchange for my hour long break to eat. I had been going there for awhile at this point and had my routine down pretty solidly. I would walk in, walking down the line of kennels to say hi to each face – new and old, figuring out who I was going to spend time with. I usually leaned towards the ones who had been there awhile or the ones who looked scared or old. I had learned that most people would automatically play with the puppies or younger dogs, the ones with more energy and more open personalities. It was the sad eyes, the old eyes that drew me in. I was unable to take them home with me, so I wanted to do what I could to help them while I was there, whether it was take them for a walk or just sit in their kennel, holding them.

As I approached the second to last kennel, I noticed the paperwork on the clipboard and thought “new dog”and automatically my “hi puppy” rolled off my tongue as I kept up my stride to the last dog. But before I made it, my eyes locked with the saddest, droopiest eyes I had seen in awhile. They grazed over the dog’s body, noting the color, the size and then up to the paper to see her age. “You look just like my Hoss…” I whispered, as I lowered to my knees, reaching my fingers through her kennel. She sniffed them, and then allowed me to pet her muzzle.


Unable to help myself, I slipped into her kennel to sit with her. Usually I would read the paperwork to make sure that was okay, but there was just something….different about this one. She needed me. I rubbed her belly and talked to her and just held her and before I knew it, my hour was up.It took everything I had to pull myself away from her, promising that I would be back soon.

I glanced over her paperwork — Sara, Beagle x Rottie, female, 10 years old, owner surrender.
Owner surrender?! On a 10 year old dog? What had she’d done?

Turns out she had done absolutely nothing, and they simply did not want her anymore. She didn’t “fit in” with their growing family. Had she bitten someone? No. Had she gotten aggressive towards anyone? No. They just didn’t want her. Actually, they had told the staff they wanted to put her down. When the staff told the owner no, she left her.

Enraged, I returned to work, my mind still on this sweet, old dog. I told my husband about her that night (to which he said something along the lines of “No more dogs, we’re getting ready to move into our brand new house”) and I visited her at lunch the next two days. How could someone be so heartless, not only to dump a dog, but an old dog who they had adopted from another shelter just five years prior? This poor dog had such an uncertain past and had just been tossed around time and again. To make it worse, we all formed suspicions that she had been abused, because she was timid around men and often quick movements scared her.

On Friday, I decided to take Hoss with me to work (benefits of your office being on a horse farm!) and during lunch, I convinced some co-workers to go with us to meet Sara. I was just curious. I just wanted to see if the two dogs would get along like I had pictured in my mind.

They did. Of course. Which just fueled my desire to bring her home with me even more. The shelter staff suggested that maybe I could foster her for the weekend, get her out of the kennel and into a warm, loving house. Just see how she does. I called my husband, proposing this idea. I was shot down. He was getting ready to leave on a trip for the night and despite the fact that he had already told me no earlier in the week, he did not want me bringing this strange dog home while he was out of town.

 

I was so upset. He just needed to see her to know she was perfect for us, and for Hoss. He ADORED her. What Sara sniffed, Hoss sniffed. If Sara tinkled, Hoss did, too. Dejected, I gave her back to the staff, and they said to just let them know if something were to change. I returned to work and sent the picture of them together to my husband and waited.

About an hour-ish later, he called. “They do look alike. Do they get along?”
“Oh yes! Hoss adored her! And she was so good with him.”
“Okay, Ashley, you can take her home. But you’re responsible for anything she does or destroys, you cannot get attached and she must go back on Monday.”
Tears of joy sprung in my eyes. “I promise.”

Immediately, I called the shelter. “Pack her bags, I’m on my way!” I promised Hoss I would be right back, jumped in my truck, and when I pulled in, she was waiting for me. My little Sara. I got her in the truck and took her to the farm, where her and Hoss snuggled for my remaining time at work. Eventually we left for home, the two of them in the back like that was the way it was always supposed to be.

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That night, Sara enjoyed an entire couch to herself for awhile, called dibs on Hoss’ bed (he was fine with it, what a gentleman) and was a precious angel the whole time. The next day, we went for a long adventure walk in the park, a car ride, a trip to Tractor Supply and then spent our afternoon on a picnic table at the local winery. She handled every moment in stride.

My husband came home that night, and that was the first time I saw first hand how skittish she was around men. She barked at him, which made him a little sad, telling me he was uncertain about this dog and that she did not like him. But when Sunday night came around and I was begrudgingly packing up her stuff, he told me that she could stay another night. And then another. And then one more.

By Wednesday night, I told him that we needed to take her back if we were not adopting her. He said, “No one will want an old dog,” to which I replied “Maybe, maybe not. But if that one person who does want an old dog comes in and she is not there, then that is not fair to her.” It was while we were talking in to Home Depot, to buy things for our new house, that we had this discussion. It was then we struck a deal.

I got to keep Sara, and he would be allowed to buy a boat. SOLD.

On June 11, 2014, it was official. Sara was ours.

Fast forward to current day, March 24, 2017. Sarabelle/Sarbear/Bear/Peanut, whichever name you want to call her, will be 13 this year. We have her birthday as the day we adopted her. She looks older now, grey around her muzzle and sprinkled throughout her coat. She has a few lumps and bumps, most of them do not bother her much. She puts Hoss in his place when she needs to, she plays with him outside (as much as she knows how – when we got her she did not know what toys were or how to truly play with other dogs) and sometimes she even runs. She loves car rides and it does not matter how cold it is out, she wants to have her head out the window. She enjoys laying outside in the summer time watching the world go by or allowing the wind to blow through her ears. She lets us know when she wants to be pet or cuddled or even put on the couch or bed.  She is so incredibly special.

When we adopted her, we both said we just wanted to give her a good life, for the remainder of her life. Regardless if it was a year, or five, or more, we would spoil her rotten and give her everything that she should have had all those other years. She has two beds (three, if you count Hoss’), gets basically all the treats that she wants and is never denied a belly rub.

Most days, she is doing pretty good. She gets around, she runs outside or barks to let nearby dogs know that she is the queen. But some days are harder than others, where she is just a little slower to get up, a little more out of tune with her surroundings or where it seems like her bumps do hurt her because she limps. Today is one of those days. She has been limping for most of the day, and she knows that she should not be walking around if not needed, so she has been laying down. Surprisingly, near me, which is also a new thing for her. Unlike Hoss, she very rarely seeks the company of humans. It breaks my heart.

At the end of the day though, come what may. She taught Hoss how to be more of a dog, and he taught her how to be more human, and she taught all of us so many things, but more than anything, that senior dogs deserve the world.

 

1973.

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In May 1973, my father in law proposed to my mother in law right after her high school graduation. In September of that year, they were married. They were high school sweethearts and ready to start their lives together.

A handful of years later, after making memories and getting to experience many adventures together, they settled down to start a family.  Mr. Rick, as I called my father in law, for “Mr. Eyles” was too formal for him and “Rick” was too informal for me, built their house himself, on a top of a hill just outside Zelienople. The house overlooks 60 acres of fields and woods, and is a frequent bystander to various airplanes and helicopters as they are in the pattern to land at the local airport over the hill. They had two children, a girl and then the boy who would later go on to be my very own high school sweetheart. This homestead was theirs for life.

 

My father in law was hands down one of my favorite people. He inspired me and taught me that hard work is the most rewarding way to get what you want. He showed me love and compassion and so, so much laughter. He took me in as one of his own long before I took the family name. His passing in 2013 hit all of us extremely hard and still comes in waves for me.

 

In early February of this year, we were back home in PA to take care of my mother in law (Mrs. Rick, as I call her, or Mum, now that she is my other mother). She broke her arm, nothing major, she’s an Eyles after all (as the family would say: “Rub some dirt on it!”) I had to take my wedding set in to town to the local jewelry store to be cleaned and looked at. I had a loose diamond and was told it could take a week to be repaired. Being ring-less felt awfully strange, so my MIL suggested I try on her set. Both the wedding band and engagement ring fit like a glove.

They’re old and a very different style from my own rings, but I’m in love. I’m a sentimental person as well, so I’m sure that’ll explain some attachment I have to wearing these rings. Regardless,I can’t stop looking at them. It’s like they belong.
My husband and I got married on September 29, 2012. Our one year anniversary would have been my in-laws 40th. I love that we share this day with them and I can guarantee that I’m not exactly in a rush to trade in my 1973 rings for my original wedding set. Every time I look down at my hand, I’m reminded not only of my own commitment with my husband, but of my in-laws to each other and every single wonderful memory I have with them.

 

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Lemon White Wine Chicken w/ Asparagus

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Some nights I just want to eat dinner, so I make something simple and quick (think ramen noodles or canned soup). But sometimes, I feel a little creative.

Something I missed doing in January was pairing my dinners to a wine. Since I volunteered for that whole Dry January shenanigans, I missed out on the delightful experience of having food with a wine that complimented it. After opening my bottle of Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy Sauvignon Blanc by WINC, I just knew I had to figure out some yummy dish to pair it with. Now, anyone who knows me well knows that I’m not exactly the most talented when it comes to cooking. I mean, I can follow directions for a recipe and usually things turn out alright, but I’m not typically one for “making it up as I go”.

I evaluated the situation in my fridge. I had a pound of asparagus, a pound of chicken breasts and a lemon. I also had my standard ramen noodles in the pantry. I poured myself a glass of vino and got to work.

First things first: Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Then, trim the asparagus bottoms and then chop the remainder into bite sized pieces. Next I transferred the asparagus to a mixing bowl where I drizzled it with olive oil and seasoned it with salt, pepper and a dash of garlic salt. I sprayed the baking pan with a spritz of olive oil spray and then poured the asparagus on. Once on the sheet, I gave them a spritz of lemon juice. Popped em in the oven for 12 minutes. The size of the asparagus will make the cooking time more or less, but these ones were pretty thin so I felt safe at 12 minutes.

While the asparagus was roasting (oh my gosh, I really love roasted asparagus), I cubed the chicken into bite size pieces. Mostly because it was easier to cook that way, but also because then I wouldn’t have to worry about cutting it later. I seasoned the chicken pieces with lemon, pepper and garlic salt. After heating some oil in a skillet, I poured the chicken in and began to cook it. I like my chicken really brown, so the cooking part of this will just vary on your heat and how big your pieces are. When I felt the chicken was 75% done (and that’s really just a guessing game when it comes to me cooking so use your own judgement here), I gave it a spritz of lemon juice andddddd….a couple splashes of the wine.

In the meantime I was also making my packet of ramen noodles. There’s directions on those packages/I’m guessing most everyone knows how to make ramen noodles, so we’ll skip that step.

When everything is finished, I plated the ramen noodles first, topped with asparagus and finally the chicken. It was so good and I could really taste the wine/lemon influence which made this beginner cook VERY excited.

 

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Also, I should note that I only used about 1/2 lb of each chicken and asparagus for this dish. I was cooking for one and wasn’t sure how it would turn out, so I didn’t want to waste more than I had to. Looking back, I wish I’d made it all so I had leftovers today…but now I need to try to come up with something for tonight!

You’ll have to let me know if you decide to give this dish a whirl and how it turns out!

Also, if you are a member of WINC, I highly recommend giving Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy a try. It was so delicious, especially paired with this meal. If you love wine but have never heard of or tried WINC, click here  and 1 of your bottles will be on the house!

Enjoy your Tuesday, everyone!