Cosa Buono

image2It’s difficult to find “unpretentious” in Los Angeles. Especially in the trendy newly gentrified “hipster” areas like Eagle Rock, Mar Vista, and even pockets of Venice. Every so often, though, one may serendipitously find himself in a spot so cozy and friendly it feels inherently like home. This is the vibe at the humble Italian fared Cosa Buono. And the food is just as impressive!

Nestled on an unassuming corner in Echo Park, the pint sized establishment seems to be a perfectly kept secret. An adorable bull dog named Happy Jack and his owners wait for their to-go order just outside the front door. I always love restaurants that are friendly towards four-legged companions. A welcoming hostess directs patrons inside, where the area somehow feels more spacious than it actually is. Conversation inside is easy. So easy, in fact, within minutes we are talking with the couples to our left and right. At one point we even all shared food! The clientele in this bistro are diverse and sociable and the GM, Cesar, immerses himself into the crowd, talking with each guest as if they are old friends. Everything about this place enhances the approachable familial climate.

 

image4Once seated, our attentive waitress is with us almost immediately. She effortlessly navigates us through the menu, honestly explaining which dishes could be missed and which should not be missed. The kitchen at Cosa Buona is so efficient that my one suggested heads up is to tell your waitress to bring each dish out one at a time.  We barely had a bite of our mozzarella sticks and the next course suddenly appeared! Our waitress was extremely accommodating regarding a slow down.  

We started with the Smoky Mozzarella sticks. They are lightly breaded and fried. I haven’t had a mozzarella stick since I was probably 11 years old and I remember them being extremely greasy and heavy. At Cosa Buono I was pleasantly surprised. The cheese is stringy, not rubbery, and has a fantastic smoky aftertaste. The dipping marinara has a touch of heat that really seals the deal regarding taste.

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The Blue Crab Clams Oregenata is a beautifully presented appetizer served in the half shell. It could be considered a bit heavy but is DELICIOUS. With a hint of parmesan and quintessential Italian flavors, it’s definitely a good one to share with a table of four or more.

The Chopped salad is crisp and light though a touch bland compared to chops at other Italian spots. There is just something missing but I can’t quite put my finger on it. After adding a squeeze of lemon and some pepper the flavors open up a bit and the salad becomes more satisfying. Though the chop is good, if your looking for abundant flavors I recommend trying a different salad. I plan on trying the chop again though. Maybe it needs some red pepper flakes, or maybe it was an off day….I will figure out whats missing and the adventure will be fun!

 

image3The pepperoni pizza is out of this world AMAZING. Perfectly crisp, with delicious bite sized pieces of  sausage and that delectable marinara with hidden hints of well-balanced basil and oregano! Voila. It’s gorgeous. As if improvement is possible,  apparently the pizza is even better the next day (my cohort took home the leftovers and ate it for breakfast).

Throughout the dinner we share a bottle of Chianti that looks like it came right from a pirates ship. The wine list is fantastic. The beer list is SUPER fun and covers every option (blonde, IPA…up until porter, which would be too heavy for the food here anyways). I didn’t notice any offering of aperitifs, but there is an apricot brandy on the dessert menu that smells and tastes FANTASTIC. Cesar was nice enough to let the table sample it, but I inadvertently drank the whole thing myself (ha ha!).

The friendly fun atmosphere, fantastic food, and moderate prices make Cosa Buono a place to visit time and time again. I would and will definitely return.

A++

xoxo

QJ

QJ

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MB Post

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I’m not sure what has happened to LA but it seems overwrought with restaurants that are trying WAY TOO HARD. Its nearly impossible to find a spot that has deliciously clean food flavored with simple ingredients. Lately there is so much “deep fried brussel sprouts covered with shaved parmesan cooked with ham hock and simmered in a cream sauce” its no wonder Americans have an obesity problem. I’m tired of executive chef’s trying to be “creative” when all we really need is a delicious meal made from food that is not genetically modified from Chernobyl Farms and that tastes good. I had high hopes for MB Post because I heard great things about Owner/Chef David LeFevre, whose attitude is to bring home-style cooking to the public. When I looked on-line, I liked the look of the menu with its creative naming conventions; “eat your vegetables” for the veggie section, “Seafood…eat food” for seafood, “Meat Me Later….” and so on. I was also excited to venture somewhere a bit further out of LA and see what the scene was there.

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Far enough away from the “keeping up with the joneses” of Los Angeles proper, this Manhattan Beach establishment converted from the original 1960s post office (such a fun idea!) was filled to the brim with friendly un pretentious, albeit hip, people clad in anything from sports gear to casually chic Saturday night clothes. The open kitchen was clean and well organized. The ambience felt lively and beach casual, despite the loudness (Warning: learn ASL if you actually want to communicate with your dinner guests here). Our waiter missed the three-minute rule by probably three extra minutes, but I’ll cut him some slack because the place was packed. The menu had plenty of choices without being overwhelming. Unfortunately, once the food was delivered it was just…..there. The soft shell crab, beautifully presented, was disappointingly soggy and practically meat-free. The broccoflower, which our waiter recommended, tasted like a salt stick. I did actually like the skirt steak, which was nice and crisp from the wood grill, perfectly pink inside, and covered lightly with a flavorful chimichurri sauce. My companion wanted more sauce but sadly by the time our leisurely wait staff checked on us, some 30 minutes later, the steak was almost gone. The green beans with pork was actually an exquisite combination though maybe not worth the 11$ price tag. It blows my mind these restaurants can get away with charging exorbitant prices for food that is just mediocre. Its not that the food here was horrible, some of it was basically good, just not THAT good. A lot of it was salty and greasy. Mostly it tasted like my college roommate smoked a J and decided to make something up in our kitchen using leftovers and then charged people enough to eat it for us to pay for a semester of tuition.

 

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The skirt steak was definitely decent, especially for bar food.
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The asian style green beans were my favorite thing on the menu, other than the spicy margarita.

The hip vibe was cool and the menu was absolutely adorable with its kitschy little phrases. There were so many reasons I wanted this place to work. And it did, for drinks at the bar maybe. My spicy margarita was perhaps one of the best items on the menu! The wine was also quite piquant (not a huge wine list at MB Post but the choices are decent). If you are someone who wants a fun night out at a lively bar that has friendly people, above par bar food, and great drinks, MB Post could be the place for you. But if you are a foodie looking for an experience of exceptional service, party in your mouth fare, and a relaxed environment, look elsewhere.

**photos in this post were not taken by me.

 

xoxo

QJ

QJ

 

ChiSpacca

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As we enter the unassuming front area of Chi Spacca (AKA Mozza To Go), the hostess opens the partition behind her (literally) to reveal an inviting room with abundant sunlight and auburn colored walls ensconced in wine bottle filled built-in shelving. This rustic eleven-table restaurant is warm and welcoming with an enticing aroma that wets the appetite. Immediately I like it here. The ambiance is cultured without being pretentious; its somehow cozy and grand at the same time. Our table feels intimate but not isolated. From the moment we arrive we have the impression we’ve been invited as guests into someone’s home. An added touch is the open kitchen, as it is quite entertaining to watch the chef conduct his menu. I especially enjoyed seeing the Fred Flinstone sized flank of beef on the grill.

Impressed with the atmosphere as well as the friendly staff, I enthusiastically review the menu. There’s abundant choices without being over whelming. The prices vary from high to extremely high, but I am fairly certain that every bite will be worth each dollar.

I loved the food at Chi Spacca. In true Trattoria style, each dish is hearty and comprised of simple ingredients that enhance the natural flavors of the entree. As an example, the razor clams were sautéed with just garlic, a hint of lemon juice, a secret herb, and a drizzle of olive oil. They tasted fresh and natural and were surprisingly filling. For our appetizer we selected the Affettati Misti, which I highly recommend. This sample platter of in-house made sausages (pictured above) is not only delicious, but a great bang for the buck. To accompany our meats and fish, we ordered the butter lettuce salad which was perfectly misted with the most amazingly refreshing lemon vinaigrette I’ve ever tasted. So amazing that my dinner companion and I decided it would be fun to have a competition on who could get the closest in making this dressing at home. The charred sugar snap peas arrived to the table as our final course. These wonderfully crisp snap peas covered with yoghurt and lemon were just sweet enough that they seemed like the perfect desert. Our waitress had mentioned that the flat bread appetizer is the most popular and a chef friend declared his love of the bone marrow pie, but I was extremely happy with our choices. Of course I wouldn’t complain regarding returning here to taste the aforementioned selections. The food is so hearty that, despite the sticker shock, it is actually possible for a couple even on a meager budget to be satiated with spending just slightly over 100$, and that includes a glass of wine.

ChiSpacca is such a treat. It’s definitely a meat-lovers heaven and overall a quaint trattoria. I look forward to revisiting.

xoxo

QJ

QJ

C is for Cleo

 

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A few years ago I went on a wine safari in south Rhone Valley with a guide who eloquently explained that in Europe dinner is not so much about sustenance, but more about connecting with people. He commented that the company one keeps affects our memories of how the food and wine actually taste. This sentiment was 100% apropos for my visit to the new Cleo at LA live. Its not that the food was bad, per say, and I wouldn’t necessarily deter someone from eating there if they were visiting LA live, but for the most part experiencing the Mediterranean fare at Cleo was plainly unremarkable.

Stark and imperial is one way to describe the ambiance at this new location. Brightly lit, sparsely adorned, and a bit sterile, the feel is much less intimate in comparison to the bold boudoir-esque climate at it’s sister location in Hollywood. Music seems to be playing, but only audibly enough to hear sporadically, making it more of a nuisance than enjoyable. Conversation is difficult, as the acoustics in the room create a loud hum and everyone’s voice becomes one big cacophonous overtone. It’s worth noting however, from the moment of entrance, the staff is very friendly and cheerful, an excellent juxtaposition to the chaos of LA Live.

With no Grenache or Chianti the wine list at Cleo is at the least limited, if not inadequate. Our waiter, Taylor, surmounted our frustrations over the wine limitations by serving a flight of their bold reds, which was accommodating and helpful in making a choice. The margarita was basic, clean and crisp but nothing to write home about. I should mention the management at Cleo will not allow you to buy a drink at the bar and transfer your bar tab to the table tab, which could be very annoying depending on what your plans are for the evening.

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Taylor explained that the plates served would be “tapas style”; small but sharable. Our meal started with an in-house-made hummus topped with extra tahini, cumin, and a few scattered garbanzo beans. The hummus, accompanied by a warm lavosh served in a paper bag, arrived at the table in good time. The presentation was original and witty. The hummus itself was tasty, though once the toppings were mixed in, somewhat thin. Lesson learned: As my dinner partner pointed out, “don’t mix in the toppings”.

For our main course we sampled the scallops and the hangar steak. The scallops were actually delicious (though one was undercooked). The steak itself was flavorful though a bit overcooked for “medium” and did remind me of an in-flight airplane ration, albeit first class not coach. It was somewhat impressive for airplane food but not so amazing otherwise. The accompanying carrot purée, perceivably pumpkin sauce, was quite savory as was the side of fingerling potatoes. The staff politely checked on our table often, and engaged in entertaining but non-invasive conversation. From funny jokes to discussions of calligraphy, water fountains, and Caligula, my company and the staff most definitely made the meal more fulfilling.

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As I took a walk around the restaurant, the clientele seemed to mostly consist of wealthy out of town-ers visiting LA Live, which makes sense. The kitchen was not as organized as others I’ve seen, and the women’s bathroom was a mess with paper towels overflowing everywhere. On my walkabout the hostess asked how I was enjoying my meal and the sous chef smiled as I passed by. The attentiveness of the staff here was definitely a nice touch.

Being somewhat of an introvert I often abide the law of Sartre,  “hell is other people,” but regarding Cleo LA Live the truth seemed contrary. It was the friendly staff and my company that made my evening complete. With that being said, the food was far from inedible and I’d say the prices were comparably moderate for the area. If you are at LA Live anyways it’s potentially better than some other options, but I definitely wouldn’t plan my night around eating there. I give it a C.

xoxo,

QJ

QJ

 

 

 

Passion cures the clamorous mind.

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Recently I’ve been watching this Amazon show called Mozart In The Jungle, and, despite any inaccuracies it may portray about the world of the New York Symphony, its making me think a lot about music- for obvious reasons. A psychic once told me I was a prince in my past life and perhaps composing was my passion. It makes sense since composers write symphonic stories. I am a storyteller after all.  In the aforementioned show, a little girl explains when she plays her flute “I really don’t think at all. And when I finish, it’s like waking from a dream.” Anyone who does something with passion can relate. I completely empathize. This is just the type of quieting my mind so often craves. There are a few very specific places where I have found it easy to cease any mental cacophony ; at the barre, certain types of dance/music, cuddling with my friend’s dogs, when I’m in the groove of writing, and when I used to play my violin.

I remember when I was three or four I composed my first song. I didn’t know how to write or read music, so I literally wrote “La la la” on a piece of paper. I wrote it in a strange sort of prose- with odd spacing- probably thinking of COURSE i would remember the melody. Alas, when I re-discovered that paper maybe twelve years later, I did not remember anything. Honestly I was SO beyond excited when I found the note and when I opened it up and read it my heart was broken by the:

La la la   la la

lalalalalalalala

lala

hahaha is more like it!

The last time I had a major hiatus previous to this past one, I decided to use the time to exercise my mind and learn something new. I decided on the violin, and I never looked back. I practiced fervorously every day. I was quickly addicted and I was quite good. My teacher told me I was a prodigy. I mean granted I was like 30+ years old with previous piano lessons of which she was unaware but regardless, she told me I was a prodigy and that I picked it up faster than anyone she had ever met. And I LOVED IT. Not the praise, I LOVED playing.

The Benefits of Learning A Musical Instrument

  1. Increases the capacity of your memory.
  2. Enhances coordination.
  3. Fosters self expression.
  4. Relieves stress.
  5. Creates a sense of achievement.
  6. Boosts listening skills.
  7. Promotes happiness in your life and to those around you.

I miss my violin, and the zen of playing it. I need to get her out of storage. Seriously.

We should all resolve to do something wonderful that placates our minds in 2017.

xoxo

QJ

QJ

After suffering there is supreme happiness?

I’m back to having moments of hating this time of year. I don’t know how I got here or whats going on either but I just have these momentary bouts of feeling lost. I miss my father more than I can express. I’ve suppressed  the pain because there is nothing more that I can do with it. Its not just my dad. Its everything. Everything I grew up with. I miss my youth. I miss the home where it always smelled familiar. Though I don’t want to return there permanently, I wish I could just go back for a visit in that third person time traveler sort of way to observe it and breathe it in. I miss the delicate snowflakes that would softly cloak the blades of grass that ensconced my yard, the biting outside air perfectly contrasting the internal warmth that permeated our home. I remember my mother, in her extremely ugly and tight usually mustard colored turtleneck sweaters, walking around the family room table. I don’t know what she was doing, but together though separately,  we were listening to records. I was learning about Chopin and Prokofiev and history and theater. Sometimes we’d take a break and laugh at Fanny Brice playing Baby Snooks torturing her little brother, Robesspiere. I can recall contemplating  “Robesspiere? What a strange name”.  Snooks’ antics were so hysterical and her way of thinking was tremendously outside the box. These are the lessons that provided me with the tools of imagination. We didn’t watch much TV. In fact, we only had a 19″ black and white until I was almost 16 years old. No cable until I left for college. Instead of zoning on a TV or on video games, I used to sit there at that round hunk of wood, allowing the symphonic poems to stir my imagination and guide me until my pencil moved, and, before I knew it, I was expelling a story. I loved to hear the music, close my eyes, and envision an entire ballet. Stories of love, and fear, and revenge all wrapped into one. Bold costumes and makeup and all the characters were there, just not necessarily the specifics. I could always feel the music so strongly in every ounce of my being and though it may have been madness, it was something I could do that would always bring me home, back to familiar smells and to the warmth from our hearth. In college I would put on my headphones and walk the long mile to class watching an entire narrative unfold in my imagination. That house is gone now along with the family that made it a home. My father is gone, my mother is slipping, and my siblings have grown and changed. All of that is fine and part of life and I understand and accept that. I just miss the feeling of safety. The feeling that good things can still come and that dreams don’t have to die, but instead can be realized.

Meanwhile, I am working on a side project that is definitely not alleviating my situation. I am a story teller. I was born a story teller. I was raised to be a story teller. I am terrified that the awfulness of what I am exposed to on this particular project will destroy me. Of course, realizing I have an extra vivid imagination, I logically know I wont be “destroyed”, but I am in pain from what I imagine feels like Chinese water torture. Its a slow agonizing discomfort that will continue to build on itself until my imagination parishes into tiny little dust bunnies that will disseminate from a gust of wind.

I realize the point of this blog is to help people see the silver lining and to share my discoveries on how to stay young at heart and age well, so I apologize for posting something prior to finding a way to twist the scenario around.

For now I guess my answer is I will just keep on going to ballet because at least there I can feel the music and move to it. I wish I didn’t have physical limitations so I could move to it the way I feel it but for now I can allow it to flow through me and touch my imagination. I will also focus on all the new things I’m learning at my real job. Also I recently freelanced for Cartoon Network. I really missed it there and it felt amazing to step back into that environment. I will reach out and see if I can collaborate with them some more.  I hope that these can be my bandaid until I figure things out. The buddhists believe that suffering is the path to enlightenment……I will keep you posted.

xoxo

QJ

QJ

Must Love Dogs

 

 

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Such a cutie! Dogs are definitely man’s (and woman’s) best friend! 

I loved working for a salon. I was just thinking about that today. It was so much fun. The sisterhood, the camaraderie, and all that laughter! The exchange of services didn’t hurt either. An eyebrow wax and facial for highlights or a pedicure for a pedicure! But mostly it was the sense of fitting into something that was bigger than myself. I was a part of something, a group of women that would have run through fire for each other. Its really odd to me how there wasn’t much cattiness. We all really got along and had each other’s back. I miss that. I miss that a lot.

We all know its hard to make new friends as we get older. It really is. My two closest girl friends moved across the country and  I’ve been doing some soul searching in attempt to figure out where I can make new friends. Definitely not to replace the old, they’re not replaceable! But I do need a local support group, people I can connect with in my neighborhood. The new job is good. Its great, actually. I feel much more part of the whole team here. I’m invited into conversations and well received. I love that. Most days we all eat lunch together as well, which is awesome. The crew is exceptionally cool. We have a dynamic group of very different personalities that all seem to get along and respect each other (so far, anyways). I think back to the Emmy’s consideration party for Jane The Virgin and how well that crew got along. I feel like this one is on that path. Its very refreshing.

In my quest to meet new friends, I’ve decided to look to new volunteer ventures, especially since I am on the cusp of releasing myself from the Junior League of Los Angeles. With this in mind, last weekend I decided to visit the Much Love Animal Rescue charity event at Bloomingdales. This event was brought to my attention by Tori Spelling via Instagram. There were two motivators that pushed me to attend the party. 1. Dogs. 2. Tori. I think I’ve mentioned before how much I adore Tori Spelling. She’s an amazingly witty and humorous writer and just deep down a good person. I’m inspired by her. Shall I do a list? I think so….

Things I’ve learned from Tori Spelling:

  1. Its ok and probably a good idea to laugh at yourself.
  2. On a similiar note, always take the humorous angle first. My dad said this too- find the funny in every situation. Its always there. And it really helps to just laugh!
  3. Be kind as if you think the best of everyone.
  4. The unconditional love of animals is real, not a figment of my imagination.
  5. Big families are a good thing- including extended members.
  6. Share your experiences with others. Especially the ones that you can help educate or inspire, even if it makes you vulnerable.
  7. Love yourself no matter what. Not in an egotistical way, but in a respectful way.
  8. Nurture your friendships. They are important. Tori (and I ) have both had the same best friend for years. I won’t say how long because I don’t want to give up my age- but trust me, a long time.

With this being said, of COURSE I was excited to meet her AND to help out the puppy dogs!

The Event:

I was a bit disappointed the turn out appeared very slight. Surprisingly the line to meet Tori was short, which was great but also not so great- I had hoped a lot of people were participating so that Much Love Animal Rescue could raise a considerable amount of money.

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I just adore Tori. She’s so down to earth and unaffected. I appreciate her strong desire to help animals as well as her deep love for dogs (it matches mine) and also how much she loves her family. She’s one of the least entitled people I’ve ever met and am so happy that in person she’s exactly what I imagined. 

Available to those that showed their receipts of purchase from Bloomies (a percentage of the proceeds went to the charity), there was a DJ, food and drinks, and a station to make a beaded bracelet. At the bead station I met Dean (Tori’s husband) and her daughter (I think Stella?), both exceptionally sweet and kind hearted. Dean was holding a rescue dog that they were taking home with them! That dog looked so content (not to mention adorable) in his arms. Her daughter was SUPER sweet and helped me design my bracelet. She also made one for her dad. I loved seeing how “normal” their family was and how well they interacted.  I appreciate that both Dean and Tori treated me as an equal who happened to be attending the same event.

 

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I love this bracelet that Tori’s daughter and I made together. I had assumed I’d throw it in a drawer but I actually have worn it a few times already!

The dogs were SO CUTE. I fell in love with this little dark tan baby girl that looked like a wired haired dachshund. MSM, however, didn’t budge on the the “no dog” policy that we’re currently obliged to follow at the apartment complex.

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The adorable Cami, who was ultimately adopted by the McDermotts. Photo from the Much Love website. Please go check out all the other adorable pups looking for humans to love. Link below….

In an effort to donate, I purchased the most BEAUTIFUL NARS compact. My thought was that I wished they had set up this event at Saks, since I don’t buy anything clothing wise (for the most part) without Danielle. But here’s the compact:

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Nars’ holiday cheek and lip palette is SO beautiful. I was happy to have an excuse to splurge a little on some new makeup.
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Look at the stunning cheek colors. Highlighter and blush all in one place, this compact is just gorgeous. And the texture is like butter, a great sign that they colors will last.

Sadly I did not make a new friend at the event. Lets face it, no matter how cool Tori is, I knew there would be no way we’d be exchanging numbers and grabbing coffee next week (sadly). Here lays the selfish reason I was bummed the turn out wasn’t bigger. I literally only spoke with Tori, Dean, their daughter, and the bead lady! (Bead lady was actually super cool). Despite no new friendships  I’m grateful I attended because the rescue itself seems amazing. I may reach out and see if they need any volunteers (or even better, board members) to help plan events. But first I want to look into other 501c3. I need to pick just one in which to get involved so I don’t spread myself too thin. I have learned, though, that its important to feel passionately about the non profit you do work with, and I DEFINITELY love dogs….so this one may be the right fit.

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In case your interested in getting involved, here’s a quick link to the rescue: Much Love Animal Rescue This is an amazing foundation that provides foster homes to pets in need. Of course they also help find forever homes for these adorable fur babies.

What the heck to wear to a dog rescue fund raiser at the mall:

I kept it casual because I wanted to keep it real.

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A candid shot of Tori and I perusing the floor, taken by my own personal paparazzi, MSM 🙂 How adorable is that baby bump on T? My outfit: Top: Chaser Layered blouse: Rails Jeans: Rag and Bone Bag: Gucci

I like the idea of making friends through volunteering or being on a board of a non profit because I think it will bring me to like-minded people, where a basis for friendship can be real and substantial.

I’ll keep ya’ll posted!

xoxo

QJ

QJ