Scarlett’s Letter August 30, 2013

I don’t even know where to begin with this day. I guess the beginning would be appropriate.

I slept like crap and there was no good reason. My mind just picked some random topic and decided it should worry about it and keep the rest of us all sleepless. The topic? The wine in the box being transported as checked luggage from Sacramento to Portland to Anchorage to Fairbanks and then its reception and use thereafter. It was epic. There were even related nightmares.

My alarms were set for 3:30 and 3:31AM. You rely on only one alarm? Fool! Two, on at least two devices. It’s called a contingency plan. Have one. For everything.  I had a nightmare or something, last night. I’ve had it before, but not for a very long time. I had the sensation that someone or something sat on the bed, tightening the covers atop me, or perhaps, the someone or something was actually on top of me. Whatever it was, I was rendered incapable of movement. I was also, for whatever reason, incapable of uttering any kind of sound, no plea for help. Have you had this dream? It’s terrifying. I think I may have actually emitted some kind of guttural noise.

Two of four alarms. I'm a little OCD, okay? But I'm never late!
Two of four alarms. I’m a little OCD, okay? But I’m never late!

When the first of my alarms sounded, tired though I was, I leapt from under the covers and prepared myself for … vacation. If it had been work, it may have been another story. I got ready, threw all my luggage into Meep (my Civic) and floored it to SMF (Sacramento International Airport).

The flight to Portland was mundane, except for the “complimentary beverage”. Love that! From Portland to Anchorage, so very typical of air travel, I don’t even know where to begin. Surely you’ve flown. What has been your experience? A screaming baby, someone contagious, someone loony? Am I right? These are the required components of almost any flight, it’s like mandates that must be met. Where do I begin?

At 6:30 AM? Nooooooo! Where will I get a mimosa?
At 6:30 AM? Nooooooo! Where will I get a mimosa?
Cafeteria 15L! I love you! Thank you for being at SMF at my time of need!
Cafeteria 15L! I love you! Thank you for being at SMF at my time of need!

On my flight from Sacramento to Portland was a man. He was short in stature, sort of a “Napoleon complex” going on. He wore black jeans, a black jacket, leather or pleather, I dared not get close enough to discern. He also wore black-lensed aviators, indoors. I first saw him in the boarding area and thought “Hmmm. Whatever.” On the plane, he sat one row back and across the aisle. He looked like he was either some kind of CIA operative or a hit man, or both. Again, whatever. When I got to Portland, after my free two mimosas at SMF and my complimentary red wine on the flight, I headed to the bar for a porter, and, there was CIA operative hit man guy. I’m a little unnerved. I drink my beer, I head for my gate. I sit, I write, I compose some notes, I look up, and, there is CIA operative hit man guy, black-lensed aviator glasses still shading his eyes. I board the plane, and, behind me one row and across the aisle, CIA operative hit man guy. Jeez. Should I be worried. As I understand it, ordering a hit on someone is incredibly affordable these days. Did I piss someone off? I have no assets!

Drinks on us? Thanks Alaska Airlines!
Drinks on us? Thanks Alaska Airlines!
Somewhere at PDX. I would've paid closer attention but CIA operative hit man guy was there, too.
Somewhere at PDX. I would’ve paid closer attention but CIA operative hit man guy was there, too.

Also on the flight? A screaming child, apparently under two years old because it was a lap child, so, by my reckoning, not even in the “terrible twos” yet. Oh my. It is well over three hours from Portland to Anchorage and the child made noise the entire way with only a brief respite. Whether it was happy noise or very unhappy noise, it was still deafening. At first, I blamed the mother. When the seatbelt sign was turned off and the mom got up and walked up and down the aisle with the little monster, which seemed to appease it, I thought she was okay. But, when the noise ensued and continued for the duration, I redacted that from the record. I don’t know how I survived motherhood, and, I don’t know how my children survived childhood. I always believed that, like women of the nineteenth century, that children should be seen but never heard from, and, if heard from, it should be with proper grammar, diction and an excellent vocabulary respective of their age.

Seems like a perfect flight ... except for the usual suspects.
Seems like a perfect flight … except for the usual suspects.

Another guest on our flight today? Coughing guy. Immediately across the aisle from me. I have Airborne with me. I never leave home without it. But I have several more hours of travel, the crucial question here is; can I get to the Airborne before the germs get to me? We can only hope. To make matters worse, he isn’t just coughing, he is blowing is nose into the same limp, wet and wilted tissue, which he produces from his pocket about a mili-second after he has spew germs in several directions, including mine. What’s worse? He is playing Candy Crush on BOTH his tablet and his smartphone. I AM sickened.

Another guest on our flight, and only two seats away? Captain Obvious-ly Not. He has the window seat and, bless her heart, his wife has the middle seat, I have the aisle. I fight hard for my aisle seat. He is peering out the window and narrating, which, in itself is annoying, but when so absurdly incorrect and impossible, I feel like sicking the hit man on him. He says, and I quote, “I can see Canada, but I don’t think I can see Greenland.” Um. Hello? We are flying from Portland to Anchorage at 38,000 feet. You couldn’t see Greenland if you were Superman and ate the planet devoid of carrots. I thought, perhaps, he was the mentally challenged son of the lady sitting next to me, but apparent age and matching wedding bands nullified that prospect. Similar comments continued, barely audible over the screaming, for the entire flight. I ordered wine with my cheese platter. Then, a second glass of wine. On the house.

But, then, there was company for Captain Obvious-ly Not, his corporal, perhaps. The flight attendant passed, carrying two plastic bags, one for trash, one for recycles. He’d made his way up the aisle, audibly, asking for garbage. Corporal Obvious-ly Not actually asked him if he had any lemon-lime on his cart. There was silence, for a long second or two, then, Bryan, the flight attendant responded, beautifully, “I don’t have a cart, I have bags, for trash, but I could probably find you a used lemon-lime here. The cart is coming, just behind me.” Loved it! It wasn’t snotty, it was delivered perfectly and was well received! Bryan! A master at language and communication and a worthy adversary for the walking, talking unconscious.

And, please, let’s not forget “knees in the back of the seat guy”. He was on this flight, too. I haven’t sat near him for a few flights now. May I ask? When you board your next flight, please make note of the seat backs, note the thickness and the quality of the materials, the foam, the man made covering. There is not a lot between your knees and the back of the person in front of you. I paid for a two-hour, vigorous and divine massage night before last. Yesterday, during my pedicure, I was seated in one of those massage chairs, which is alright, except it was set on high and if felt like I was being punched from the back of my thighs up to my neck for the duration. I most definitely did not need another involuntary massage today. I tried looking casually over my shoulder to express, wordlessly, like, “cut it the eff out!” I must have miscommunicated, because it continued, and with a new intensity and vigor.

I did manage to snatch a couple of minutes of sleep, somewhere after the first glass of wine, a less than stimulating article in Vogue, the 902 page Fall issue, and the shrieks of screaming child, now, new and improved, with more intensity, more decibels and a higher pitch! I am wondering, at this point, if I might be able to hire CIA operative hit man guy to make my flight a little more tolerable!

The only truly bright spot in the flight, besides Bryan, the witty and worthy flight attendant, were “the bag ladies”. The woman seated in front of me boarded, and upon taking her seat, placed the most beautiful, most divine, most sublime, small, yet adequate, wheeled, with a retractable handle, delicious red, bag in the overhead. This so did not go unnoticed. By me. Or, by the other “bag lady” on the flight. From two rows back, a perfectly coifed, colored, tinted and Botoxed specimen of a woman stepped forward and asked fab bag gal, “Where did you get that bag”. I eavesdropped as best I could, and, apparently, this fab bag is only available from one artisan, in one shop, in some section of Portland, and, as I don’t know Portland at all, except for one fantastic Thai place with something on the menu that made me laugh so hard I almost wet my pants, I don’t know where to obtain this magical art of a bag. Bright spot and despair.

We are approaching Anchorage. Finally. Screaming child is screaming even louder now. Captain Obvious-ly Not is narrating our descent. Incorrectly, I’m sure. His wife is listening, enrapt. CIA operative hit man guy has broken his code of silence AND removed his black-lensed aviators and is, in the last moments of a nearly four hour flight, trying to make conversation with the much younger blonde gal seated next to him. Meanwhile, I am still getting a vigorous and unsolicited massage. I am out of wine and, since we are on approach, no more is available. I am plotting my stealthy, surreptitious acquisition of the fab red bag in the overhead next to my “Real Tree” hunting daypack. Then, the most beautiful thing occurred; coughing guy, while struggling to replace his tablet and smartphone into his backpack, overhead, turned and coughed, open mouth and all, all over CIA operative hit man guy. Was this some kind of double agent coup? Awesome! You see the most incredible things on commercial air carriers!

I have made my way to Silver Gulch at ANC (Ted Stevens International Airport Anchorage). I love layovers here! Silver Gulch has fantastic brews and, as far as I know, unless you bring a growler home, isn’t available in the lower 48. Why, I met my Sweetie at the original Silver Gulch in Fox precisely three years and a few days ago. Friendship, then love. There is magic in that brew! Apparently, because, as I sit here and write and mind my own business, sipping on my Prudhoe Pig oatmeal stout, I have been mercilessly hit on by a number of guys. I even have a business card. In case I’m ever in the Phoenix area. Ew. Another guy asked, “what, are you a writer?” Well, yes, I am, of sorts, and now, you are blog fodder! Welcome! You and so many other unsuspecting folks!

My official "Real Tree" day pack, complete with my Buff scarf, in scarlet, of course.
My official “Real Tree” day pack, complete with my Buff scarf, in scarlet, of course.
Silver Gulch at ANC. Thank you, thank you, thank you for being here! And here, a Prudhoe Pig oatmeal stout! Mmmmmmm.
Silver Gulch at ANC. Thank you, thank you, thank you for being here! And here, a Prudhoe Pig oatmeal stout! Mmmmmmm.
Yes. I like the goods, but I'm a little odd.
Yes. I like the goods, but I’m a little odd.
Since the beginning of time, I have always been able to secure the one and only seat proximate to a power outlet, until today, but, no worries, upon request, you can be plugged in behind the bar. Tip = good.
Since the beginning of time, I have always been able to secure the one and only seat proximate to a power outlet, until today, but, no worries, upon request, you can be plugged in behind the bar. Tip = good.
I'm done here. Time to head to Fairbanks. I'll be writing, but I probably won't be posting for a bit. Stay tuned, adventures abound in the land of the midnight sun. It will be good, I'm sure.
I’m done here. Time to head to Fairbanks. I’ll be writing, but I probably won’t be posting for a bit. Stay tuned, adventures abound in the land of the midnight sun. It will be good, I’m sure.

I will be in the “Land of the Midnight Sun” and the land of “Not Much in the Way of Internet” for the next ten days. I will be writing, rest assured. I will not be posting, until I am back here, at Silver Gulch, in ANC, at the earliest. Hang tough, it will be good, I promise. Like screaming kids, coughing guy and knees in the back of your seat guy, you can count on it!

Scarlett’s Letter August 29, 2013

My “pre-morning” routine; the routine that occurs before I get out of bed, unless, of course, I’m on vacation, in which case, it may or may not occur at all. I have vacation on the brain, it begins tomorrow. My last official vacation of the year, and only a week, I’m happy and sad, simultaneously.  So, my “pre-morning” routine; roll over, grab phone, scroll through emails, delete ads, decide which emails I’m going to ignore until I am officially “at work” at 9:00 AM in whatever time zone I happen to be in, cruise through Facebook, unplug phone, get out of bed, begin actual morning routine.

My self-discipline has been, though well intended, a bit lackadaisical. I did my fast four miles earlier this week, slacked off yesterday, and began making excuses for today at some point last night. I follow a friend’s page on Facebook, “Runner Girl” and there was some motivational something or other this morning that made me just jump out of bed at an unusually early hour, only because it’s Thursday and the garbage trucks come by at an unusually early hour and wake me up. I donned my running clothes, had a super fast breakfast, a wee bit of coffee and headed out the door before anyone else in the house (Mom) woke up. I’d hoped to get a ten-mile run in before vacation because I know I won’t be running during vacation. I’m not even going to humor myself by putting my running shoes in my suitcase. Will not happen. So, I set out, from the house, for a ten-mile run. I had a route in mind, the combination of a couple of routes I run regularly, and doing “Scarlett math”, I figured it ‘d be about ten miles. I ran and ran and ran. Another reason I took advantage of running this morning, it was foggy and cool, perfect for summer running in the Valley. I ran and ran and ran. I felt energized. I felt like I could run forever. I tried to keep my pace down because of the distance I had planned, but every time I looked at my watch, I was running a full thirty to forty-five seconds faster per mile than my planned pace.

I ran and I ran and I ran. The clouds broke as I ran through the Oak Knoll District, past the vineyards. By the time I neared home, the sun was out and the increasing heat was evident. Still, I ran and ran and ran. Once you’re out there, and you get to the far corner of your route, you really have no choice but to run home. Sure, I could’ve stopped and called Mom for a ride home at any point, but I still felt so energized, like I could run, at this pace, forever. And besides, Mom would never let me live that down. When I got to my preferred point to stop and walk for cool down, I’d run 11.6 miles a full and at a constant thirty seconds faster per mile than plan. I still felt energized. I felt energized, I think, because I didn’t let myself down, I followed through with my original plan and didn’t employ any of the long list of excuses I had ready to justify not running today.

A lovely morning for an 11.6 mile run in the OKD.
A lovely morning for an 11.6 mile run in the OKD.
A lovely morning for an 11.6 mile run in the OKD.
A lovely morning for an 11.6 mile run in the OKD.
A lovely morning for an 11.6 mile run in the OKD.
A lovely morning for an 11.6 mile run in the OKD.
Early harvest this year, most of the white grapes have been picked and they have started on some of the Pinot Noir grapes.
Early harvest this year, most of the white grapes have been picked and they have started on some of the Pinot Noir grapes. WINE BABIES!!

Even though I devoted over two-hours to my run, and hadn’t actually begun to pack for my trip, other than a couple of tiny piles (link), I managed to get everything done. My self-indulgence continued today, after last night’s two hour massage and sugar scrub for my feet, I further indulged in a pedicure and a bikini wax today. Yes, I am spoiled. But as I am doing the spoiling, I really don’t see any issue with it. I pay my bills and afford myself a little spoiling. Problem? Everyone deserves to be pampered, by someone, and if you pamper yourself, hell, at least you know what you like!

My day was fab. My only “observation” for the day; people just don’t think, or apply logic. Either, or both. This is true of more people than not, and I witness examples all over the country. My closest, example, however, today, is at home. When I came home from my pedicure, Mom was gone, out shopping. For some reason, when she returns home, habitually, she sits in the driveway and revs the engine at a constant three grand, for about five minutes. I am only slightly terrified, I have visions of her not being in park and letting off the brake and crashing through the garage, through all of my treasures therein, causing the front half of the second story, my bedroom and my office, to implode. So, far, not the case. At least I know it’s time to go downstairs and help unload groceries. I do. Mom meets me half way up the steps, looks down at my bare feet for an extended period, then asks, as she is looking at them, “what color are they?’ Um. Red. I could not have selected a more obvious shade of red, and I know, for a fact, she is not color blind, and actually, overall, I think her eyesight is better than mine, and when last tested, I was 20/20. So, I wonder, why ask?

Unmistakable red.
Unmistakable red.

I have been in need of a new suitcase for a while. My dear, old, purple Samsonite doesn’t have a single zipper pull left, the cording is worn on every side, and every time I see it arrive on the luggage carousel in one piece I do a little happy dance, which onlookers seem to thoroughly enjoy. Mom has been thrusting Kohls’ newspaper ad inserts at me, day after day. I have actually gone to Kohls to view their “closeout” offerings. They have one suitcase, like mine, but way bigger. Believe it. They make them bigger. I want the same exact one, since I have a slightly less worn companion bag, only slightly smaller. If I can’t find and replace my exact bag, in purple, which, sadly, apparently has being discontinued, I will have to buy two bags, at one time, in another color. Heaven forbid I have two bags in two different colors! Quel horreur. The point here, Mom is aware I need a new suitcase. I am taking a number of bottles of wine to Alaska with me. To share. Maybe. I have been shopping and spending feverishly, on wine. It is now time to pack. This time, unlike earlier trips, I have actually secured an “official”, TSA approved, guaranteed not to break (our winery’s) bottles, box, complete with Styrofoam insert. Normally, I use bubble wrap, two-gallon Ziploc bags and my least favorite pairs of jeans to secure their safe arrival, within my suitcase, to their destination. I have my reservations about the box, we shall see. As I am schlepping the box up to my room, from the garage, Mom asks, “Do you think that’s what happened to your suitcase? Did you carry wine in it?” I struggle for a few, long seconds for a response. If the maximum weight for a checked bag is fifty pounds, does it matter if the suitcase contains cotton balls, gold bullion, or razor blades? How would wine bottles within the suitcase deteriorate the exterior of the suitcase? It most certainly couldn’t be the way the airline employees move suitcases from conveyor to plane to conveyor to cart to conveyor. Repeat almost weekly for three years. Lesser suitcases would’ve had busted wheels two years ago, this I know, for a fact. I have a friend who travels as much as I do, perhaps more. She buys and destroys not one, but two, large suitcases from WalMart every year at forty dollars a piece. They last her about six months before the wheels are busted off or the handle breaks or some other such calamity. I buy one suitcase, on sale, for a hundred-fifty and it lasts me four years. The math works. I will always contend, you get what you pay for. Period. End of story.

All but one zipper tab broken, all the cording worn, obviously, it was the wine.
All but one zipper tab broken, all the cording worn, obviously, it was the wine.

Mom is not the only person filling blank airtime with flotsam and jetsam. People seem uncomfortable with quiet or a lull in conversation. There is nothing wrong with a lull. Lulls provide time for the parties to think of something enlivening and relevant to say. If our only interest is to fill empty airtime with noise, may I suggest music or poetry? It, at least, usually makes sense. To prompt the other party or parties with ludicrous questions does not a good conversation make. It makes me want to break things, as I retreat. Far away.

So, not that I like to gripe, but today, but if I were to gripe, my gripe today would be; think before speaking. Far better to have nothing to say if you don’t have something intelligent to say than to piss off and provoke everyone around you by filling empty air with something illogical and inane. Especially in the form of a question requiring a response. Harsh. But true. So, while I am trying my best to bite my tongue, (link) I would greatly appreciate it if others would try, as well. Idle conversation is grand, but incessant questioning, interrogating, inquisitions and illogical queries does not constitute quality idle conversation. Conversation is an art and one that should be taught in public schools, at all grade levels. Those capable of intelligent and engaging conversation can, and do, rule the world. Those who are inept will be tolerated. Barely. In my travels, in my observations, those truly able to carry on a conversation are few and far between. Ironically enough, the most capable conversers are in bars. If you are traveling, alone or with others, do not hesitate to enter a bar, I promise, the conversation there will be far more stimulating than any other public venue you could happen upon.

So, for today, I have retreated upstairs with my box of wine (bottles), to pack my battered though still travel-worthy Samsonite for yet, another trip. I, no doubt, will pack it and its accompanying piece to no less than forty-nine and a half of the allowable fifty pounds. And the wine in a box, pray for the wine. I’m going to Alaska, one must be prepared.

The final pile. Vacay begins at O'Dark thirty tomorrow.
The final pile. Vacay begins at O’Dark thirty tomorrow.

Scarlett’s Letter August 28, 2013

In the new consciousness it is easier to overlook the unconsciousness in others. Don’t strengthen it by dwelling on it. ~ Eckhart Tolle

My lesson, for myself, for today. Another way to put it, I need to learn to bite my tongue. Most of the time. There is no virtue in correcting others if there is no harm or danger in what they are saying. I am going to grow very quiet. Especially at home.

I spent the day with Mom. I am so emotionally spent I’m physically tired.

This is representative of how my whole day went:

Mom: Where do you want to go for dinner? Pizza and beer at the new place, Thai food at Mini Mango, or that Tacqueria (we’ve both heard amazing things about and both have stated, repeatedly, we’d like to try).

Me: Any of those are fine. (Giving her the opportunity to choose what she’d really like).

Mom: Well no one else is here to help decide! (I think she’s prompting me to be decisive).

Me: (Decisively) Pizza and beer is a little heavier than I’d like to eat tonight. I love Mini Mango, but we’ve been there a lot. How about the tacqueria?

Mom: But we had fish tacos last night!

Do I keep deciding until I decide on the restaurant she’s apparently already decided on? I’ve retreated upstairs. I hear the television on downstairs. I have an appointment for a two-hour massage in a couple of hours. I’m really looking forward to it.

Mom and I successfully made a donation of several boxes and bags of stuff at Community Projects, then another at Cope, according to a longstanding plan. We’d planned on enjoying a winery together, “wine-tasting Wednesday”, since I needed to go “Up Valley” to V. Sattui to purchase a special box designed for checking an entire case of wine as luggage, perfect for my trip to Alaska! On Mom’s winery bucket list was Cakebread Cellars in Rutherford on the St. Helena Winery. Like Trefethen, yesterday, Cakebread Cellars has been a family owned winery since the late 1960’s, producing their first vintage in 1973. They have 62 acres surrounding the winery, itself, and another 900 here and there around the Valley. They also purchase grapes, some, even, from Trefethen, as I learned yesterday. When visiting Cakebread Cellars, do call in advance for a tasting appointment. We were fortunate enough to be able to walk in and taste, but only because it was a Wednesday afternoon and most of the tourists coming from the Bay Area are deterred because the San Francisco Bay Bridge is closed, today, through September 3rd. They were gracious and also honor the Napa Neighbors Discount Program with their standard tasting of six wines, the “Select Wine Tasting”, normally $15, complimentary.

Nancy poured for us, and just for the two of us, as luck would have it. Tasting, in nice weather, occurs out under the sycamore trees by the flowerbeds, viewing the culinary center and the winery building. Nancy was a wealth of information on the wine, the winery, the family and the area. Having her to ourselves allowed us the chat and swap stories of lifetimes spent in the Bay Area and in Napa. It was like having wine with friends!

As I state, on nearly a daily basis, I prefer red wine. Cakebread does offer an exclusively red wine tasting, by appointment. It is $30 and is not available for the complimentary Napa Neighbors Discount. I will return for this tasting another time. The wines selected for the “Select Wine Tasting Menu” were comprised of three whites and three reds. I enjoyed them all, yes, whites included. We started with their 2012 Napa Valley, Sauvignon Blanc. They describe it in their accompanying brochure as every fruit in the market, except peach, and all I tasted was peach. It was delightful. The second wine was a 2012 Napa Valley Chardonnay, also very good, followed by the 2011 Napa Valley Carneros Reserve Chardonnay, which was even better. Our first red was a 2011 Anderson Valley Pinot Noir. I am fast becoming quite a Pinot fan and this wine did not disappoint my amateur palate. Don’t tell Miles that I prefer Merlot to Pinot Noir, even still. My two favorite wines were the last, as the big, bold reds usually are last in the line up. First of my two favorites, and the one I could afford to bring a bottle of home, the 2011 Lake County Zinfandel. The best wine of the day, and a little out of my price range, at least with as much as I’ve been spending on wine lately, was the 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. I envisioned both the Zin and the Cab accompanying a moose steak very nicely. The Zin being half the price of the Cab, Zin it is!

I am, at this point, starving. I’m not quite sure what to do about dinner; eat crow, cook for myself, or go to the tacqueria by myself, it is, after all, conveniently located in the same shopping center as my massage center!

Cakebread Cellars
Cakebread Cellars
Cakebread Cellars
Cakebread Cellars
Cakebread Cellars
Cakebread Cellars
Cakebread Cellars
Cakebread Cellars
Cakebread Cellars
Cakebread Cellars
Cakebread Cellars
Cakebread Cellars
Wine tasting under the sycamore tree at Cakebread Cellars.
Wine tasting under the sycamore tree at Cakebread Cellars.
Wine tasting under the sycamore tree at Cakebread Cellars.
Wine tasting under the sycamore tree at Cakebread Cellars.
Wine tasting under the sycamore tree at Cakebread Cellars.
Wine tasting under the sycamore tree at Cakebread Cellars.
Wine tasting under the sycamore tree at Cakebread Cellars.
Wine tasting under the sycamore tree at Cakebread Cellars.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Piles

Today is the day I make piles, in earnest. The piles sort of started forming yesterday, if you can call three items a pile. I’m actually feeling a little behind schedule in my making of piles. You see, before any trip, whether for work or for pleasure, I put things in piles so I won’t forget to pack them. I pile first and pack last minute. I’ll usually have a pile of electronics and related stuff, a pile of clothes, a pile of shoes, and a pile of other flotsam and jetsam.

Before checking out of a hotel, usually the night before, I gather up all of my things, which I keep hyper-organized in strategic locations within my hotel room, and move those hyper-organized piles closer to my suitcase. I centralize the smaller piles into sort of a cluster of piles. By morning, as I’m getting ready before checking out, those piles just get placed into my suitcase/s, computer bag, purse and I’m off. I have only ever left one thing behind accidentally; a razor in the shower.

This system, piles, works well for me. Even in preparation for an early morning run, I will make a pile of everything I need to remember to take with me the night before; my watch, my hydration pack, my food, my “running wallet” (smaller than my daily wallet), and a reminder to grab the chocolate milk out of the fridge.

You would think with as much as I travel as I do, packing would be no big deal. And, during my busy work travel season, that is very much the case. I really don’t even unpack. I come home, often in very late at night or even in the wee hours of morning, take my clothes out of my suitcase, launder them, hang them to dry and pack them back into the suitcase later in the morning. I sometimes have a less than twenty-four hour turnaround at home. I have duplicates of cosmetics and personal care products and will just refill any travel-sized containers I have when I shower. Even when work trips are a little further apart, like now, I keep many things in my suitcase; ugly shoes accountants would wear, trouser socks that are only ever worn with ugly shoes accountants would wear, my bag of duplicate cosmetics and personal care items, about a thousand Target bags to pack shoes and stinky gym clothes in, and my traveling kitchen which includes a stemless wine glass, a jar of spices, Via coffee packets, salt, pepper, red pepper flakes, snack bags of Ezekiel cereal, a paring knife, a set of cocktail service with a little knife, fork and spoon, a couple of little plastic bowls, those sheet plastic cutting boards.

When I was backpacking regularly, I had the same approach; I’d hike, come home, launder, repack and a) be ready to go and b) have a handy place to store all my backpacking stuff. In the backpack.

I’m sure it is fairly common practice to make piles in preparation for doing laundry, right? A pile of dark clothes that can be washed on the “regular cycle”, which for me, is about two items. Then there’s the pile of dark clothes for the delicate cycle and another for lighter clothes for the delicate cycle, and, finally, white things, delicate cycle, of course. How else would you do this? Do people do laundry without making piles first

I muse at how this all started. Was it because my mom always had me lay my clothes out for school the night before? For all the good that did, I always changed my mind eight or ten times between the time I got up and the time when I was at the front door ready to go. Sure, it may have worked when I was seven years old and was only supplied with three mix and match outfits for the school year, options were very limited. But, by the time I was seventeen and began my lifelong career of making up for a childhood of having only three mix and match, color coordinated outfits for school, by stuffing my closet full of clothes I picked out and purchased myself, selecting what I planned to wear to school the night before was a futile exercise. This may explain a lot about me and my clandestine shopping tendencies, even as an adult. At last. Now you know.

But, there may be more to the origins of my preference for piling things up than an evening chore my mother tried to instill in me as a child. I am surrounded by piles. Her piles. Mom piles things up and always has. I don’t understand the logic of her piles, but, piles are very personal. That’s for her to know. I’m sure she doesn’t understand my piles, though I think mine are far more evident. Perhaps not. Whatever (link to article). Mom has piles, mostly of paper; newspapers, ad inserts from newspapers, magazines, catalogs, important mail, unimportant mail that may end up being important, and unimportant mail that isn’t clearly understood so may seem more important than it is.

A pile on one chair the nature of which I don't totally understand.
A pile on one chair the nature of which I don’t totally understand.
A pile on the other chair the nature of which I don't totally understand.
A pile on the other chair the nature of which I don’t totally understand.
A pile on the table, which I assume had more immediacy than the ones on the chairs, though I could be mistaken.
A pile on the table, which I assume had more immediacy than the ones on the chairs, though I could be mistaken.
The pile on the counter of unknown significance.
The pile on the counter of unknown significance.

I am not really frustrated with Mom’s piles, except they take up seating space and if company is coming I’m the one that has to quickly relocate her piles to the “office”, which was supposed to be the laundry nook, with folding doors, downstairs off the family room. Mom had the laundry hookups placed in the garage and my dad used the laundry closet as his office. Actually, his antique roll top desk is in there, but I don’t actually ever remember him sitting there to do any work until he retired. Like me, Dad despised television. The television is in the family room, adjacent to the “office”. So, he did his nightly bookkeeping from his bike shop upstairs at the kitchen table in relative peace. Mom dominated the family room with news, news, news, sitcom, sitcom, sitcom and the news, again, as a nightcap. When Dad retired, he learned to enjoy television, too, and set his computer up in the office. Now that he has passed, the office provides more flat surface space for Mom’s piles. I have relocated Dad’s computer to my office, the third bedroom upstairs. His computer is piled up with my other laptop, my MacBook, when not in use, my iPad and Kindle. So, for my upcoming trip, I need only grab and pack that whole pile of electronic wonderment! Easy peasy! See?

Mom, however, is frustrated with my piles. I have piles of boxes in the garage. When I relocated here, it was from a full size, single family dwelling appropriately full of my things; furniture, décor, dishes, small and necessary household items, most of which I wished for, worked for and acquired with some effort; Cuisinart food processor, Dyson vacuum, Pampered Chef baking stones, the entire collection, an entire set of crystal from my wedding, my grandmother’s china, which Mom thinks is ugly. I think you get the idea. These, among other things, are my treasures. I downsized a great deal over the past five years, with five moves occurring in that time frame, but these are my treasures. That they fill one third of the garage, okay, the third that would be the floor, is not my fault. That the shelves are full of Christmas decorations that only saw one year of use and are packed in boxes labeled with said year, is not my fault. That there are two ten foot long clothes racks hanging from the ceiling full of clothes from the fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties that don’t fit my mom, is not my issue. My issue is, I have no other place for my things. The dresser drawers that were mine as a child, in my bedroom, are now full of piles of things that haven’t seen the light of day for decades, and, so, my clothes remain in piles of boxes in my room and in the garage. Yet, as it was expressed earlier this week, “your piles of boxes in the garage are stressing me out.” Okay. Let’s see Mom try to live out of those boxes for months on end and reexamine stress levels.

My pile of boxes in my room from which I deal on a daily basis because of the piles in the closet and drawers that once were mine, but, now, are not. Yet.
My pile of boxes in my room from which I deal on a daily basis because of the piles in the closet and drawers that once were mine, but, now, are not. Yet.
Some of my boxes in the garage, piled. My treasures, mostly china, crystal and long sought after kitchen equipage I'd prefer to use rather than have boxed, if there were only room in the kitchen for them. Sigh.
Some of my boxes in the garage, piled. My treasures, mostly china, crystal and long sought after kitchen equipage I’d prefer to use rather than have boxed, if there were only room in the kitchen for them. Sigh.

And this seems to be perpetuating, generationally, too. When my daughter moved to the east coast, when she married her high school sweetheart who is, now, in the Navy, I was left with her treasures and her trash. In piles. I spent several weeks sorting through it all, throwing away the true trash, donating the unwanted treasures and re-boxing the true treasures. All of which are now piled in the corner of a storage unit three counties away. At my expense. In my to-do pile is the plan to re-sort and relocate that pile, here, space permitting.

My son moved to Hawaii last week. He did a fair job downsizing, but, again, in a storage unit three counties away are his treasures, piled in another corner. There is a pile in the garage of the house he vacated which I am to, at my convenience, retrieve and find a place to pile. And, in my office, upstairs, is a pile of books that I am to box up in flat rate boxes, periodically, and send to him, except he has not yet found a place to pile them, he is still looking for housing. Until then, the books are piled on the floor of my office. And, ironically, these are a pile of very nice books, Automobile Quarterly, that my dad subscribed to and accumulated over many years. My dad was downsizing his piles and wanted to “get rid” of these books. As they were lovely publications, and my son has the “gear head gene” that seems to run in the family, my mom, who, I think we’ve established, really resists getting rid of stuff, suggested that my son may enjoy the books. So, the entire collection was loaded into my car and piled into my son’s room. Until now. Now they’re back in the house of origin, in my room.

My Dad's books that became my son's books that are now in my office, back in my parents' house, until they can be shipped to my son again. A pile, nonetheless.
My Dad’s books that became my son’s books that are now in my office, back in my parents’ house, until they can be shipped to my son again. A pile, nonetheless.

So, today is a day of piles. Two-fold. I am piling things up for my trip and Mom and I are each taking a pile of things, two cars full, to donate to Community Projects. If I have to prioritize, though, the top of my pile is going to be packing for my trip. The trip to Community Projects can be left in a pile for later, if need be.

Packing for a trip gets a little more complicated, when I’m not traveling for work quite so often, like now, and a pleasure trip comes up. I need to empty my suitcase of unnecessary items, because suitcases become excellent storage facilities when not in use, and fill it with more appropriate stuff. I have a week in Alaska fast approaching. I depart Friday morning. And like a good Boy Scout, yes, I am a registered Boy Scout, I am always prepared. We have several ideas of what we’re going to with our week, but nothing absolutely set in stone. I need to be prepared for just about anything. I know, at the very minimum, I need jeans, something to wear with my jeans, a bunch of shoes and a case of wine. That’s the easy part. Now I need to think of all those things I might need. For example, last trip I ended up layering my pretty, black work cardigan under a flannel and a hoodie to keep my warm while beheading and gutting salmon into the wee hours of the morning along the Copper River in Chitina. I’ve replaced that pretty black cardigan with five new cardigans, a pile of new cardigans, one in black, one in burgundy, red, navy and navy with hand-painted white polka dots. A trip or two ago, again, I ended up layering almost everything I packed for an overnight pilot car adventure up to Prudhoe Bay where it was forty below and blowing. I once had to buy boots for a snowmobiling excursion, not that I ever mind buying footwear, but this is not nearly as enjoyable when supervised, especially by your sweetie. There is a process to buying shoes that most men will never understand. I did manage to score cute AND inexpensive boots that garner compliments when worn, so we were both satisfied. I am the master at shoe shopping.

Piles. What else piles up on us in life besides mail, clothes and books?

Piles of laundry, some of which will be packed, some of which will be hung, some of which will be folded and put back into their boxes. Reference boxes and drawers.
Piles of laundry, some of which will be packed, some of which will be hung, some of which will be folded and put back into their boxes. Reference boxes and drawers.

Do you ever feel like you have a pile of troubles, problems, concerns, worries, and issues that you need to deal with? Fret about? Lose sleep over? This is a common complaint I hear and I don’t think anyone is truly immune. How we deal with those piles, though, is the difference. How we deal with those piles of negative things; troubles, problems, concerns, worries, and issues, is the difference between managing them and letting them manage us.

In letting problems and such pile up to the point where we worry, fret and lose sleep is really not much different that letting piles of newspapers and junk mail accumulate on the back counter in the kitchen. We are constantly reminded of these troubles, problems, concerns, worries, and issues, because they are ever present and amassing. Stephen Covey, author of, among other great books, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” suggested that we should only ever touch a piece of paper one time. If we go out to get the mail, for example, before we set it down, anywhere, it is classified and dealt with; junk mail immediately in the trash, important mail dealt with and mail for others distributed appropriately. Done. No pile. Could our troubles, problems, concerns, worries, and issues not be dealt with in a similar manner? Sort, classify and deal.

Why let a problem or worry linger and fester? I know there aren’t always immediate solutions to dilemmas in life, but, if the solution is not immediate, what purpose does fretting, worrying and losing sleep over it now, serve? Address the problem immediately, if possible, and as immediately as possible, and, until it can be resolved, focus on more positive things. Focus on the now. If a problem can’t be resolved, it lives in the future. We live now. If we focus on the future, and the problems in the future, we lose the now, the present. We can only ever impact the present, now, the immediate. Fretting over what lies ahead, in the future, steals our ability to deal with what we can effectively deal with now, the present. Worry manifests in this manner, by depriving of us effectiveness and efficiency, now, and because of the negative focus of worry, into the future, makes us dread what lies ahead.

If we are to pile anything up, at all, it should be an arsenal of useful tools and useful habits to arm us with positive thoughts and actions that will propel us through any troubles, problems, concerns, worries, and issues that may arise throughout life. By practicing a positive mental attitude and focusing on living only in the present, by expressing our gratitude for all that we have, all that we are grateful for, by recognizing our strengths, our value and our power as individuals, by setting clear and decisive goals, based on our purpose, our guiding principles and our values, we are driven through life, and all its trivial and petty little dilemmas, with a positive, confident, powerful force that comes from within. We can make molehills out of mountains, tiny piles out of insurmountable ones. I am not saying it is easy, this takes, first, making a decision, second, making a decisive change contrary to human nature, a course of education oneself, and a great deal of diligent effort. But, the reward is piles better than the alternative. Worth the effort.

So I begin my day of piles. Laundry, emails, work, boxes to go to charity, and, best of all, things to go in my suitcase for vacation. And, at the end of the day, the piles will have all been dealt with and I will sleep peacefully, because I don’t let anything I can’t deal with immediately accumulate. That’s my present for living in the present.

 

 

Scarlett’s Letter August 27, 2013

It may have seemed like a perfectly ordinary Tuesday, but it wasn’t. Today was “National Just Because Day”. That could open the doors to many exciting things and to an extraordinary day! Just because.

I decided to go for a run this morning. I didn’t run at all last week. I had every intention to run while traveling, but the logistics always get weird with unusual surroundings, dinners in restaurants and showers and running and impending darkness. I had lots of excuses, and that just makes me feel worse; using all those excuses.  So I went out to one of my favorite running areas today, Dry Creek Road and did a fast four miles. Okay, well, fast, for me. Dry Creek Road is on the western edge of the Oak Knoll District and is one lovely vineyard after another. I kind of knew this, but not really. I sailed past one vineyard with a sign roadside that had beneath the vineyard name, “OKD” and it only took me a few minutes to figure out that meant Oak Knoll District. Well, I had a little help, perhaps, from a sign about a quarter mile up, on the opposite side of the street that spelled it out for me, “Oak Knoll District”. I sailed past that sign, too. Well, maybe I felt like I was sailing, I probably looked more like I was shuffling, but we’ll just say I was sailing past, just because. Other than it being quite sunny and not too shady, because of all the vineyards, and, so, a bit warm, it is a lovely place to run and is quite populated with other runners, walkers, dog walkers, stroller pushers and cyclists. It was a fine morning for a run, a fast four in the OKD. Just because.

As I run I often am struck with brilliant ideas for writing; topics, themes, sayings and word play. Today, I thought, since I was running in the OKD I should find a winery to taste at today, in the OKD. Tasting Tuesday. Why not? Just because, right?  After I got home and did my core workout, took my cool shower and answered a few emails, I went online to find a winery in the OKD to try. I perused several wineries and decided to find one as close as I could to where I actually ran. I settled on Trefethen (emphasis is on the middle syllable). I’d never been to Trefethen before, so that made it an even better choice. I like trying new things; just because.

I prompted Siri with the address, since it was just a few short miles from home, I figured Siri could handle the job and I wouldn’t need Armando and all his bells and whistles. Armando is my voice activated Garmin Nuvi that supplies lane assist, superior graphics, speed limits and how far in excess you are of the speed limit, as well as an ETA. For a quick trip in a familiar town, Armando is a little overkill. Siri, however, took me a longer route than I would’ve chosen had I known precisely where the winery was. Siri got me within about a mile and instructed me to park along State Route 29 and walk the rest of the way. I almost made Siri walk the rest of the way. Instead, I followed my keen navigational instinct and turned right, off of State Route 29 onto Oak Knoll Avenue, where the address was listed and where, at the intersection, was a winery sign. Perhaps my keen navigational instinct wasn’t really necessary, but I got Siri to the winery and she was still yacking about me continuing on to the next major intersection and doing something. Just because, I guess.

The drive into the winery was pretty impressive. I think the driveway was nearly as long as my trip up State Route 29! The winery is housed in a very impressive building, as well, not ostentatious, but statuesque, definitely. I was greeted as soon as I walked inside and the Napa Neighbors discount was happily recognized. A free “Classic Tasting”, four wines from a list of eight; four whites, a rose and three reds. I was introduced to the sommeliers who were knowledgeable beyond what most winery staff are. I was told the details of the estate; purchased in 1968, just one year after my family moved to Napa. It is the largest contiguous estate in the Valley and all of their grapes are grown on the estate. They grow enough grapes for their own production and are able to sell 30% of their crop to other wineries. They provided a map of the estate, for reference, so you could see the source of the grapes for each wine you tasted. I love visual aids! This was the best thing since the three-dimensional relief map at Ceja! As I am fonder of reds than whites, I was first given the 2011 Pinot Noir off the more expensive, “Reserve Tasting” list. It was fantastic. I then worked my way down the list of reds on the Classic Tasting with the 2010 Cabernet Franc, the 2010 Merlot and the 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon. My official four tastings were spent, but, still, I was offered more. I moved to the “Reserve” list and decided, based on the exclamations of others in the tasting room and the price per bottle, on the 2010 Dragon’s Tooth. I decided to cap things off with the S.I.N. – Summer in Napa, 2012 Rose. Just because! I didn’t taste anything I didn’t absolutely love! I was hard pressed to decide which ONE bottle to buy to take with me to Alaska this weekend. While I pondered my purchase, I was offered a taste of the 2011 Late Harvest Riesling, which isn’t on any tasting list, but, “just happened to be opened”, just because. Again, as I’ve said before, and I think I’ve made a liar of myself, I don’t like dessert wines. The last four, of four, dessert wines I’ve tried, I really enjoyed. It may have something to do with the fact that I’m always told they would be delicious with bleu cheese. I think anything is delicious with bleu cheese, and I think this may influence my palette just a bit.

Tasting Tuesday, just because on National Just Because Day!
Tasting Tuesday, just because on National Just Because Day!

I finally settled on the Cabernet Franc, of all the wines I tasted, I think my Sweetie will enjoy this one the most with the hint of cherry, tobacco and raspberry. I will save it for my trip. And I will share. Really I will. Just because! I also bought a silver horse head wine spout aerator. I first spotted it wine tasting in El Dorado County and have been lusting after it ever since. I found it online, but there isn’t nearly as much romance in having purchased it online as there is in purchasing somewhere you can talk about. Right? So, now, in the trunk of my car, along with two DSW bags, is a lovely carrier bag from Trefethen Winery in the OKD. Living with Mom is quite a bit like being married, I have clandestine purchases I feel like I have to sneak into the house. The aren’t really clandestine, but I just can’t take the remarks when I bring home “more shoes,” or “more wine”. And now that it’s kind of a game, it just makes me want to buy MORE shoes and MORE wine! Just because!

You have to admit you have a problem in order to have a problem. No problem.
You have to admit you have a problem in order to have a problem. No problem.

Alas, it is Tuesday. Do you know what that means? It’s Taco Tuesday! I love tacos. I can find a way to make almost anything into tacos. There is just something about putting food into a warm tortilla, folding it in half and having it spill out all over the plate, the table, and your lap that makes it so much more delicious! I made my meal into tacos last night, it was Mexican Monday. Tomorrow is Wrap Wednesday. I planned on having salmon salad for lunch and ended up having an apple, a carrot and celery with peanut butter, instead, in the interest of not having a lot of preparation and dishes mid-day. I really wanted salmon salad, I mean, I “helped” catch the salmon. Not physically, but I did offer a lot of moral support. I did behead, gut and wash the salmon alongside the Copper River at Chitina, then helped jar them, so I have a personal connection with these jars of salmon. So delicious! So, I made salmon salad tacos for Mom and me for dinner tonight. It may not sound very traditional, but they were very, very good and I’d eat more, now, if there were any left! Just because!

I have a very personal relationship with this jar of salmon.
I have a very personal relationship with this jar of salmon.
Taco Tuesday. Salmon salad tacos. Just because.
Taco Tuesday. Salmon salad tacos. Just because.

It is getting late, Mom has just gone to bed and that means I can now sneak my DSW bags and wine purchases upstairs. I managed to move them from the trunk of my car to a hiding place in the garage on the pretense of “taking the recycles out”, which is another clandestine operation. “Recycles” are usually one or two more empty beer or wine bottles than I think Mom would approve of, so I wait until she has the TV on, with a game show, the news, or Chopped on full blast, and I take the bottles out to the bin so she won’t hear them “clink” and so I’ll have enough time to shuffle the newspapers over them. It’s kind of a sport. And a way to avoid the inevitable question “did you have a second beer tonight?” Maybe. Just because.

Scarlett’s Letter August 25, 2013

I had a nice leisurely morning, after my self-inflicted, sleep deprived night, Friday, and my incredibly long day on Saturday, even a decent night’s sleep when I got home from the airport at nearly midnight, didn’t quite rejuvenate me. Nor did a couple cups of coffee. But, a leisurely morning did.

I have no groceries. Well, I do have two eggs left, but I’m not quite ready to consume eggs, again, just yet. I have yogurt, but no fruit and my organic veggies are all a bit wilted. I do still have that organic heirloom tomato I bought at Whole Foods in Chicago and transported home in my computer bag. So, for breakfast, it’s Wallaby organic plain yogurt, local organic honey, oatmeal and, by now, a kind of squishy, misshapen tomato.

I spent the better part of the morning compiling my “Two Hours in Chi-Town” video, time I enjoyed tremendously. There’s nothing like a little creative endeavor to completely kill several hours of time.  In a relaxing and rewarding way, of course.

This afternoon, a barbecue and get together with the “Napa Girls”, their sig others/spouses and an assortment of offspring. My sig other and my offspring are all thousands of miles away, so it was just me. But these girls have been in my life and dear for longer than anyone else, including my sig other and my kids. Other than my parents and older relatives, of course, I have known these girls longer than anyone else. Through thick and thin, through triumphs, trials, tragedies, tears of sorrow, tears of joy and, best of all, tears from laughter, other than my sweetie and my family, these are people that matter. There is absolutely nothing better that I can imagine than a sunny, late summer afternoon sharing food with good friends, looking at old pictures, sharing stories, new and old, laughter, a tear or two, and hugs. Of course I had my camera with me, so, yes, there were staged photos. What can I say? It’s what I do.

Great for a summer afternoon; Sex on the Beach, then Prosecco.
Great for a summer afternoon; Sex on the Beach, then Prosecco.
Good food!
Good food!
Homemade chocolate cake and some "Bunny Tracks" ice cream.
Homemade chocolate cake and some “Bunny Tracks” ice cream.

In going through the old photos, though, I am reminded of all the times I wasn’t there. Often, in high school, throughout college, and during much of my marriage, I was less frequent with my visits, I missed much of the time they spent together. Regretfully, I was always the girl that spent more time with her boyfriend, and later, her husband, than with her friends. It took a lot of reflection, again, regret, and some maturity to figure out the toll that has been taken. I feel I’ve missed much. And there is no way to ever regain that time. There is a time for being with the one you love, and there is time to be with your beloved friends. They are not, nor should anyone ever lead you to believe that they are mutually exclusive.

It is vitally important to you, to your friendships and even to that all-important relationship, that you maintain those close friendships. We must remain individuals, we must remain ourselves, even in a long-term, committed relationship. It is a tragedy to lose oneself in a relationship because you lose more than just your individuality, your identity, your freedom and your autonomy, you risk losing your friendships, too. I overheard a couple of young college-aged ladies chatting, one mentioned to the other that Friday night was always girls night and Saturday night was always with her boyfriend. While a rigid, inflexible, set-in-concrete, schedule may not always be practical, I was impressed with the commitment to her friendships. True, some friendships come and go, as do relationships, especially when younger, but, like with many things, those we invest in usually rewards us well beyond our investment. But we must invest; time, love, sincerity, and energy. Friendships fade and even disintegrate if they are not nurtured, much like romance in a relationship.

In my senior year of high school I dated a young man who was extremely jealous and possessive, he didn’t trust me to spend time with my friends, though I was quite trustworthy. While frustrated, I allowed this to continue for a few months before moving on. How much of my senior year did I miss out on because I permitted that kind of control over me? Regrettably, plenty, and I can never recover that time. Young or old, we should never forfeit our friendships, our freedom, because someone is distrustful of us. There is no room in any relationship, friendship or romance, for distrust. Another lesson learned.

In college, I dated a young man, from my hometown, a little over an hour from where I went to school. Weekends were spent at home to visit him, most generally. He also had a close group of friends and was very, very good about setting aside “bro-time”, as it is referred to these days, time with his friends, without the girlfriends. Though, a time or two, I found this a little frustrating, usually when my friends were all otherwise occupied and I ended up staying home alone on a weekend night, I, truthfully, respected it and honored it. To this day, he maintains those friendships across the miles and through the years, much like I do, now, with my friends. There is wisdom in that, and, again, great reward. Friendships are precious, and, often, as we get older, harder to find.

I am very good about meeting new people, I can strike up a conversation with just about anyone. I can connect quite well with people, initially, but to create lasting friendships, as an adult, is a lot more difficult than it was when younger. I’m sure my vagabond lifestyle complicates this some. I’m also quite sure that the fact that my co-workers, all being “remote” employees, like myself, are scattered around the country doesn’t help. Often friendships develop at work because you spend a lot of time with one another. I work alone about 95% of the time, from home a portion of that, and the rest, on the road. I see my co-workers, perhaps, once or twice a year. There is not a lot of opportunity for close friendships to develop.

For these reasons, and for so many more, too many to count, I am grateful for an afternoon like today. Quality time with cherished friends.

 

Friends for all of time - then.
Friends for all of time – then.
Friends for all of time - now.
Friends for all of time – now.

 

 

Selife

I am a believer in “selfies”, I’ve talked about this before. Selfies, of course, being self-portraits, usually taken with one’s smartphone or webcam, or a camera with a timer. Selfies can be taken alone, or with others to add some variety and fun. How does taking pictures of ourselves help us realize our potential and approach fulfillment and true happiness? Self-confidence is the largest contributor to our success, our happiness, our fulfillment, our ability to evolve into the person we hope to be, the person we choose to be, the person we deserve to be. If we don’t believe in ourselves, how can we expect anyone else to? By taking pictures of ourselves, selfies, we become more comfortable with who we are, what we look like, we learn to enhance our smile, our look, the angle that the camera favors most. Basically, we learn to find a way to like the way we look, which makes us feel more confident about our appearance, we feel better about ourselves, and this, in turn, being the truth in beauty and handsomeness, just makes us look even better. It’s self-perpetuating.

I am often with people who resist having their picture taken, they don’t like the way they look. In other words, they are walking around the planet, on a daily basis, going out into public, working, shopping, visiting, unhappy with their appearance. Ashamed for one reason or another. Can you imagine how this must drain one’s self-confidence? How can we be confident if we are ashamed of our appearance, or simply unsure or uncertain of our beauty? True, none of us are truly immune. Many very beautiful people underestimate their looks. The truth of the matter is that beauty truly does come from within. Beauty is a beacon of confidence. Can you think of a star, a model, or some personality that is deemed beautiful in spite of the fact, when really looked at, feature by feature, are somewhat less than classic beauty? There are surely as many less than beautiful beautiful people as there are truly beautiful beautiful people. Start really looking at what Hollywood, the fashion world and the media consider beautiful. So much of what we consider beauty, on the exterior, is make up, airbrushing, artificial enhancements, professional photography and superior lighting. And we all use these images as a measure for our own appearance, and, if we fall a degree short, we become ashamed of our appearance and our confidence suffers.

Building self-confidence and developing a strong sense of self, a strong self-image is one of the first and most important steps on the path to fulfillment and happiness. A strong self-image and the resulting self-confidence is what we will rely on in our effort to evolve. Whether today is the first day of your journey to a happier and more fulfilled version of you, or if you’ve been on the path to ever increasing happiness, success and enlightenment for years, our self-confidence is always a work in progress. We don’t just achieve self-confidence and we’re done, like nourishing our bodies with regular meals, our self-confidence requires regular care and nourishment. If we simply stop eating we waste away and become malnourished, hungry, and eventually starve. If we eat poorly, our bodies and our overall health suffer. Our self-confidence is no different. We will need to feed it and we will need to nourish it with high quality ingredients to keep it from starving, to keep it healthy and vibrant.

We must make a daily practice of thinking and behaving in ways that bolster, rather than undermine, our self-confidence. This can begin with the practice of meditation, affirmations, expressing gratitude, eating clean, vigorous exercise, healthy relationships and friendships, reading nourishing books, blogs and articles, acquiring a mindset of abundance rather than scarcity, healthy self-speak, and, yes, even a daily selfie.

We love to see progress and by keeping an album, either in print or digitally, of our selfies, we can see the self-confidence illuminate, by degree, day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year. The more comfortable we become with our image, the comfortable we become with ourselves and the more confidence we gain.

To demonstrate the power of self-confidence, try this little social experiment; dress in your homeliest clothes, don’t do your hair, your makeup, or anything. Now go somewhere very public like a shopping center, a mall, or a tourist attraction. Walk around and think to yourself, over and over, as you walk, “I look terrible. I look awful. I feel ugly.” And I’ll bet you do. You are probably somewhat slouched in posture, you are looking down or away from people. There is nothing about you that says “confident”. I’ll bet people pass by you without really looking at you, you blend in and your negative self-speak makes you somewhat invisible. Now go home, take a nice shower, have a nourishing meal, say your affirmations, get dressed up, do your hair and makeup, if applicable, and go back to the same spot. This time, think very positive, uplifting thoughts about yourself, “I look great, I am beautiful/handsome, I like the way I look, I feel awesome, I’m amazing.” My guess is, you are looking up, looking at the faces of those you pass, making eye contact, smiling, and getting smiles in return. You are a beacon of confidence and you get noticed, favorably, as a result. And, getting noticed favorably further boosts your confidence. Several years ago, I had my Girl Scouts perform a similar experiment at a local festival to demonstrate PMA, positive mental attitude. They had fun with the experiment and learned the power that lies within to change, not only how you feel about yourself, but also, how others perceive you. It’s pretty powerful. All we need to do now is adopt the second experiment as our daily modus operandi.

When I was younger, I loved to take pictures, and more, I loved to be in pictures. If there was a camera around, I was likely close by, hoping to be included in the photo. With friends, I was usually the one, and still am, that insisted a group photo be taken. I usually had a camera handy, with a timer, and would facilitate such a photo. There was also a phase in my life where my self-confidence and self-image were poor. And in that period of time there are very few pictures of me. The pictures I saw of myself, I loathed. I took many pictures of my kids, their friends, family, sights and scenery, but I rarely allowed the camera to be turned towards me. When I undertook the project of empowering myself with self-confidence once again, after reading books and listening to audiobooks, I learned of many ways to bolster and rebuild the confidence that once carried me happily through life. One book I read suggested the “selfie”. I practiced this, taking dozens of pictures to keep the one I could almost stand to look at. With daily practice and diligence, I amassed a collection of “selfies” I was happy with, that I actually quite enjoyed looking at. And with each click of the shutter, each photo added to my album, my confidence grew and my happiness, fulfillment and success grew in response.

Though a small part of regaining self-confidence through a healthier self-image is just a small piece of the puzzle, it is demonstrative of how the whole puzzle goes together. We may take dozens of pictures to find one we’re satisfied with, at first, as we become more and more comfortable with ourselves. In our journey, we may try many, many, many different ways to make strides in regaining our self-confidence, some we will be pleased with, others we will likely discard. Like getting the perfect shot, the perfect selfie, finding the perfect steps, practices or means to rebuilding our self-image and our self-confidence, we may make many, many, many attempts before we are satisfied, before we find something that works. We simply need to stick with it, we simply need to continue to make the effort. Life itself becomes a selfie, the picture you make it.

As an avid hiker, I am rather notorious for always wanting to see what’s around the next bend on the trail. This is true, as well, in driving through new cities, or walking through an urban center I’ve not visited before. I am curious and have an insatiable appetite for wanting to see just a bit more. This is how our journey towards happiness, fulfillment and reward should be. We should always be striving to see what lies ahead, what’s around the next bend in the trail, the next intersection in the road, the next block in the city. Never be satisfied, there is always more, there is always room to evolve further. Self-confidence, like exploring a trail through the woods, is never truly complete, there is always more to explore, another adjoining path, a trail up the hill to the left, down into the valley on the right. Never stop.

We, alone, have the power to become exactly the person we desire to be. We, alone, have the power to evolve into a happy, successful, enlightened and fulfilled person. But, we, alone, must decide to do so, we must take the initiative, make the commitment and fuel the evolution. Getting comfortable with who we are, inside and out, is going to be one of the keys to unlocking our potential. Silly though it may sound, and silly it may seem, especially as you begin the practice, a daily selfie is going to assist you in your effort. I swear it. So, get that camera, practice your most winning smile and shine on! You beacon of confidence!

 

 

Scarlett’s Letter August 24, 2013

It isn’t even 2:00 PM, what a fantastic day, so far.

I stayed up way, way, way too late last night. My original intent was to write, work on a video project and go to bed kind of early, get up really early, and be downtown by about 7:00 or 8:00 AM. Well, I stayed up until 4:00 AM, I was really, really into my video project. And I finished two half bottles of wine, generous halves. By myself. Because I didn’t want to pack them home in my checked bag, opened. I’ve done it successfully, before, but I prefer not to, and so, I had an excuse to polish it off.

I managed to get up before 8:00, got ready, had breakfast, packed, checked out and headed for downtown Chicago. Traffic was terrible, on a Saturday morning, and the drive that should’ve taken twenty minutes took an hour. So I was even later than my renegotiated late start. I parked in a garage, and because they all look alike and I know I’ll be in a hurry to leave when the time comes, I took a picture of the car in its spot, I took a picture of the elevator vestibule with the floor level emblazoned on it, and I took a picture of the aisle I was parked in from the elevator vestibule. Once out the door and on the sidewalk, I took a picture of the awning with the address. This is what I do. This is how I manage to move through the world seemingly effortlessly. I document everything.

I walked and took pictures, walked and took pictures, walked and took pictures, walked some more and took more pictures. I was a little antsy about my departure, worried about traffic on the return. The guy at the front desk at the hotel said that two lanes of I-90 between downtown and O’Hare were closed all weekend and to allow some extra time for that. He also said that traffic worsens on the weekends as the day wears on. I asked if an hour would be enough time to get to O’Hare. He said he thought it would be about right, but he also said it should only take twenty minutes to get downtown. And it took an hour.  I planned to leave downtown around noon. I know, I know. I have a 4:00 PM flight, but I really, really hate being late and rushed and stressed, and I really, really, really, love O’Hare and their food, beverage and shopping options. It is one of my all time favorite airports to kill time in and absolutely, positively, hands down, wins the best airport bathroom competition, if there were one.

Getting up close and personal with downtown Chicago. I need more time here.
Getting up close and personal with downtown Chicago. I need more time here.

At about 11:00, I really didn’t feel like I’d seen all that much of the city. I expected more. At this point, I was at the Union Station Riverwalk, which appreciated, but I wanted to see more. I’d seen the “Sears” Tower and have photographs from many angles. How was I going to see the most in just an hour? I crossed the river and was met by a very tan, older man in the scariest shade of orange I’ve ever laid eyes on. Of course he spoke to me, everyone speaks to me. I write down in my affirmations every single morning, “I am friendly, outgoing and approachable.” And, so, I am. He worked for the Shoreline Sightseeing Water Taxi. In all my travels and all my touristy endeavors, I have never taken a water taxi. I’ve had dinner cruises, usually during work-related conferences and meetings, but I have never voluntarily plunked down money for a water taxi tour. Scary orange shirt tan guy facilitated my first, ever, water taxi sightseeing tour. I told him I had an hour and wanted to see as much of the city as possible. He led me down the stairs to the boat, spoke with the “captain”, “pilot”, “sailor”, “admiral”, or whatever you call the dude that drives the water taxi. And he said his trip to Navy Pier and back would take about an hour. Perfect, I swiped my credit card for $14 and bought my ticket. For the next hour we cruised to Navy Pier with a stop along the way (Google where the apple store is).

The water taxi sightseeing tour was perfect, it was relaxing, I wasn’t wearing out my shoes, but, then again, I wasn’t getting exercise. And the views were amazing. I got about a billion pictures, which I’ve reduced to a video, below. I saw more of Chicago in the hour round trip than I could’ve done walking, most certainly, and even driving. Next time I’m here, I hope to be able to arrange my arrival and/or departure to allow me some time on the ground at Navy Pier and the Sky Deck of the “Sears” Tower.

I arrived back at Adams Street at about 12:10, I’d planned to leave downtown, originally, by 12:00, so I was starting a little late. I made my way, handily, back to the garage, found my car lickity split, and headed on my way. As I entered I-90 towards O’Hare, the traffic was barely creeping. Barely moving is, of course, faster than barely creeping by several degrees. Thankfully, two things, I entered in the left lane, and, the express lanes were open “outbound” over the weekend, probably because of the two “local” lanes being closed. The entrance to the express lanes is a left hand entrance, so I only had to navigate through the traffic for three quarters of a mile, then expressed myself at some amount over the posted fifty-five mile per hour limit all the way to 1-190 and O’Hare. I dropped off my rental car at precisely 12:58 PM. My original plan was to drop off the rental car at 1:00 PM. Suddenly, I’m ahead of schedule. By 1:15, I’m through security with a free first class upgrade and headed for Beaudevin, one of my favorite wine bars in the world. Not that I’ve been to every wine bar in the world, but I’m working on it. Nancy was working. She is awesome. I don’t know that I’ve ever been here when Nancy isn’t working. For the record, if you need a mimosa at O’Hare at 6:30 AM, ever, Nancy is your gal.

Thank you Chicago for the reversible express lanes! Glad they were going my way today!
Thank you Chicago for the reversible express lanes! Glad they were going my way today!

Today, I had red wines. Of course. I built my own flight. Sorry, Nancy, I didn’t like the flights on the menu.  Beaudevin offers three ounce pours, six ounce pours and bottles. I had a three-ounce pour of the Nickel and Nickel Merlot. Fantastic. I think they’re next on my winery tour agenda. Perhaps next week some time, especially if Mom is up to it. Which, she usually is. For free wine, she is usually feeling mobile and agile and perky. I also had a three-ounce pour of La Crema Pinot Noir and Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon. Nancy’s shift ended, so I closed out my tab. Fernando took over. Smiley Fernando. I’ve seen him before. I resisted for a bit, but finally relented and decided on something delectable from France, the Mouton-Cadet Bordeaux. Supposedly, my father’s side of the family is originally from the Bordeaux region of France. Whether factual, or not, I’m sticking with that claim. It was a fantastic wine.

Nickel and Nickel Merlot at Beaudevin Wine Bar in O'Hae.
Nickel and Nickel Merlot at Beaudevin Wine Bar in O’Hae.

By the way, happy National Peach Pie Day. I could eat a piece of peach pie, if it were handy. And complimentary. Today is also National Waffle Day, and now, I’m sad. I would absolutely adore a waffle right about now. I haven’t eaten since breakfast and I am starving, but I will be getting free airline food with my free first class upgrade, so I’m not buying anything to eat. Not even waffles. Even if there were a place for waffles close at hand at O’Hare. If I could click my ruby slippers together, right now, and be anywhere, I’d be at Cafeteria 15L for chicken and waffles in recognition of National Waffle Day. I am actually bummed. Here I am, sitting at some dive wine bar in some stupid airport sipping on some silly Bordeaux when I could be noshing on chicken and waffles. I won’t be getting to Sac-Town until after Cafeteria 15L closes, so, I guess National Waffle Day will pass without my contribution to the celebration. Besides, I’m trying to be good. I actually have an organic, heirloom tomato and an organic apple in my purse, for healthy and conscientious consumption. Hope it travels well, I’m probably not eating either. After twelve ounces of red wine and no food since 8:00 AM an organic, heirloom tomato and an organic apple isn’t going to cut it. I may have to head to Torta Frontera before boarding the plane and eating my free airline food.

It is precisely 2:56 PM. At exactly 3:00 PM I need to head from Terminal C to Terminal B. My flight boards at 3:25, I need to be there. You just never know, the people mover might not be moving, you have to allow extra time for life’s uncertainties. Especially in traveling. That’s just how I fly.

 

Scarlett’s Letter August 23, 2013

Just work today. Then I drove back to Chicago. I have a hotel, tonight, near O’Hare, one I’ve stayed at before. Tomorrow I have a late afternoon flight and hope to get up and out early, go downtown and explore a city the way I like to; on foot, taking pictures and covering plenty of ground.

Driving back to Chicago from Indiana.
Driving back to Chicago from Indiana.
Can't wait to explore this town on foot tomorrow.
Can’t wait to explore this town on foot tomorrow.

I found a really cool, old school Continental steak house right around the corner from my hotel. Café la Cave. It so reminded me of a place my parents would’ve loved back in the 1970’s. It was classy, dimly lit and was decorated to look like a cave inside. There was blue lighting around the bar area and the bar was crowded with martini emboldened folks who were all fabulously middle aged, fabulously dressed and all seemed to know one another. One man spoke loud enough for everyone in the adjacent dining room to hear, as I gather it, he’s on the PGA tour. The tables were all appointed with not one, but two white linen tablecloths and there was more silverware on my table than diners in the dining room and patrons in the bar. It’s at moments like these that I’m grateful my mom taught me etiquette and what all the different knives, forks and spoons are for.

Cafe la Cave near Chicago.
Cafe la Cave near Chicago.
The bar at Cafe la Cave near Chicago.
The bar at Cafe la Cave near Chicago.

My parents were a bit older than most of my friends’ parents. They both had previous marriages and divorces and found each other a bit later on in life. Funny how some patterns repeat. I was sort of a last chance baby, and that’s why there’s only one of me. We didn’t ski or boat or camp, we didn’t golf or play tennis or belong to a country club. My family dined out. I ate escargots at the age of eight, and loved them. I’ve had a passion for food, fine dining and dining adventures since childhood. My father was French, and so we usually ate French or Continental cuisine. One of our favorite restaurants, now long gone, was in San Rafael, California, in Marin County, La Petite Auberge. We referred to it as “La Petite”, for short. On weekends, there was a strolling accordionist and the roof opened up to the stars. Around the dining room, inside, grew wisteria. The ambience was dark with golden, flickering candles at each little table. The tables were close together, but still seemed so private and intimate. We often met friends or extended family there and we’d gather in the bar until all were accounted for, then we’d be seated. The bartender, the maître d’, and the waiters all knew us and greeted us whenever we arrived, sort of like “Cheers” and Norm, but in French. I remember them all well, I always thought they looked sort of like my father; darker complexion, dark eyes, dark hair, and like they enjoyed their food and their drink a wee bit more than they should.

The bike shop gang at La Petite Auberge
The bike shop gang at La Petite Auberge

La Petite Auberge served all the classic French fare; sweetbreads, liver and onions, calves brains, and of course, steaks and chops. I always liked the lamb chops and to this day won’t usually pass up lamb chops on a menu. They made a Caesar salad, table side that I remember fondly. Why is it so thrilling to have food prepared table side? I guess because it’s all sort of a spectacle, even if everyone else is having their food prepared table side.

I was in Cincinnati with a group of folks from work a year or so ago. We went to a Eddie Merlot’s, a fantastic steak house together. After a rich and filling dinner we perused the dessert menu and found three different desserts that were prepared table side and set ablaze. We ordered one of each, to share around the table. Out rolled three carts, three waiters and there were three flaming desserts, table side, at once. Best thing ever!

Flaming dessert carts lined up at our table. Eddie Merlot's - Cincinnati
Flaming dessert carts lined up at our table. Eddie Merlot’s – Cincinnati
One flaming dessert. Eddie Merlot's - Cincinnati
One flaming dessert. Eddie Merlot’s – Cincinnati
Two flaming desserts. Eddie Merlot's - Cincinnati
Two flaming desserts. Eddie Merlot’s – Cincinnati
Three flaming desserts. Eddie Merlot's - Cincinnati
Three flaming desserts. Eddie Merlot’s – Cincinnati

Tonight, having read the menu on my Open Table app before making my reservation, I decided to have the Steak Diane, prepared table side, drowned with cognac and set ablaze. It was fantastic! I had the green salad before the entrée and the seasonal vegetables as an accompaniment. I skipped the wine, because of my “daily budget” for my company expense report, and because I have a couple of partial bottles I need to kill back at my hotel. I’ve packed home open bottles of wine in my luggage before, but always feel extremely lucky when the bottle and my clothes all arrived home in their desired form. I’m out of 2-gallon Ziploc bags, anyway. I also elected to skip dessert, though I did enjoy reading the menu. I have some exquisite chocolate back at the hotel to go with my wine.

Table side preparation at Cafe la Cave near Chicago
Table side preparation at Cafe la Cave near Chicago
Cognac on fire! Steak Diane prepared table side at Cafe la Cave, near Chicago.
Cognac on fire! Steak Diane prepared table side at Cafe la Cave, near Chicago.
Steak Diane at Cafe la Cave near Chicago.
Steak Diane at Cafe la Cave near Chicago.
Must finish wine.
Must finish wine.
My dessert
My dessert
The desserts I skipped tonight at Cafe la Cave near Chicago.
The desserts I skipped tonight at Cafe la Cave near Chicago.

It’s because of these fabulous, unique, independent, local restaurants that I abhor large, corporate, conglomerate dining venues. You walk into an Olive Garden or Macaroni Grill, Cheesecake Factory or Bucca di Beppo in any city and the menu has all the same unoriginal, routine offerings. You can totally forget what city you’re even in. When I experience a city, I want to experience the local dining scene, even if it’s Formica tables and paper napkins, it is a part of the community, part of the town’s atmosphere, and it is someone’s passion and dream to prepare food for others. Tonight’s local restaurant was a gem and totally worth driving past fourteen chain restaurants to find. So, my Friday night is off to a good start, and so, too, is my weekend.

Cheers!

Scarlett’s Letter August 22, 2013

You would think after five years of traveling and spending more nights in a hotel than at home for a good portion of each year, I’d be able to sleep better. Night one, no matter how sleep deprived, I never sleep well. I often have the “first day jitters” if I’m working with a new client. Even though I take the time to drive to their location, from the hotel, to be certain I know how to get there, and I set four wake up alarms on two different devices, allowing an extra thirty minutes, minimum, travel margin, and I’ve planned on arriving and have communicated with the client, at least forty-five minutes before the training session begins to be sure I have no connectivity issues, I still fret, all night long, over the “what-ifs”. It’s almost enough to consider a new career. Almost. This week, however, is a repeat client. My hotel is about a block away and other than Wal-Mart traffic, there is none. No worries. It’s all familiar, and at this point, almost routine. So, why can’t I sleep?

Last night, after a super early morning, travel, which is usually exhausting, and a later than expected night, I thought I’d lapse into a coma. Nope. At exactly the moment my head hit the pillow, the occupant of the room downstairs turned their TV on, full blast, and left it on. All night. I am well armed with numerous “sleep apps” on my phone. They make white noise and can successfully drown out New York City street noise. I swear it. But, they are completely and utterly useless when trying to drown out hotel noise from adjacent rooms. I think it’s more the disbelief that people conduct themselves in that manner than the noise, itself. The noise from the TV, I swear, was absorbed through the floor, resonated through my mattress and was then amplified through my pillows. I got zero sleep, until forty-five minutes before my alarm went off.

I love my white noise sleep app when I travel. It almost always works.
I love my white noise sleep app when I travel. It almost always works.

When my first alarm, of four, went off this morning, I quickly reached for my phones and turned off the other three alarms. I struggled out of bed, and, as is my custom, whether at home, visiting my Sweetie, or a friend, or in a hotel, I turned right around and made the bed. I grabbed the pillow I’d used, one of three, and when I picked it up, there was a HUGE bug with a glowing green spot on his head. His eye? I’m not like most girls, I did not scream, though I was simultaneously disgusted, repulsed, and a little scared. It was the size of my pinky nail, but resembled in anatomy and movement, a tick. I got some toilet paper, about six feet of toilet paper, wadded it up and removed the bug. I flushed him. And as he swirled and swirled and swirled in the toilet I paused, should I have kept the bug? What if I develop some rare bug borne disease and the scientists and medical specialists need the bug to develop the rare antibody to save my life from whatever green, glowing venom is coursing through my veins. Clearly, I am sleep deprived.

The bug under my pillow. With the glowing green eye.
The bug under my pillow. With the glowing green eye.

I composed myself and got ready for work. I do have a question; do people who build hotels actually stay in hotels? Do people who decorate and appoint hotel rooms actually, ever, stay in hotel rooms? My guess is, no. Whoever installed the shower curtain in my hotel room, clearly, has never taken a shower. The rod is a curved rod, to accommodate rotund showerers. Rather than installing the curve so it would allow for a large girthed person, so, outwards, towards the sink, it is installed like a smile, high at the ends, low in the middle. Not so visibly so, but functionally so. Who cares? Me. Because throughout my entire shower, and mind you, my shower is a sacred thing, the curtain slid down the rod, from both ends, and gathered in the middle. After repositioning the curtain about ten times, I gave up. I no longer cared if water got on the floor, I was pissed off enough to throw all but two bath towels on the floor so I wouldn’t slip. But, my shower was drafty. Which I hate. Between the bug and the drafty shower, my morning was off to a splendid start.

I got ready, the rest of the way, without incident or drama, and headed to my clients’ office. I’m teaching an “experienced staff audit” class this week and was delighted to have a class full of really fun “kids” I taught “new audit staff” skills to last year! Good kids. And, at the age of fifty, for the record, I have license, liberty and entitlement, to call anyone under the age of thirty-five, a kid. Basically, if the age difference is such that I could’ve babysat them, and, possibly changed a diaper, then they are forevermore, kids.

In my travels through the glamorous Michigan City, Indiana yesterday evening, I spotted a restaurant I hadn’t seen before, in the “uptown” section of town, about a half a mile from the nuclear power plant. Maxine’s. In class today, I asked “the kids” if there were any good restaurants around, and, bless their hearts, they recommended, resoundingly, Olive Garden, Buffalo Wild Wings, Applebee’s and Chili’s. They’d never heard of Maxine’s. On that information, alone, I decided to try it. A very good sign, their was a “Trip Advisor” sticker in the window. So, though I can’t, for whatever reason, pull up any helpful apps on my phone; Yelp, Open Table, Trip Advisor, there is, somewhere, someone who can, and did, and posted something favorable about this place. I’m suddenly excited. I don’t see a menu posted, so I have to commit without adequate information. I enter the foyer and see a chalkboard boasting the local handcrafted beers. Things are looking better. At the very least, if the food sucks, the beer is promising. The décor is nice, sort of an over the top, Midwestern attempt at Old World European. I am greeted and seated. It is an ongoing social experiment of mine, I love social experiments, how do people deal with a single diner, and, in particular, a female, single diner. There is quite a bit of awkwardness and discomfort. On the part of the hostess and the wait staff, not me. I’m fine with it. But people think single diners must be uncomfortable and so they are uncomfortable. Often we are rushed, sometimes ignored. It is very, very interesting.  Of course, when I start taking pictures of food and pull out my iPad and start taking notes, they think I’m some kind of food critic or blogger or something. Oh, wait, I guess I kind of am!

I am seated in the far corner, in a booth. Okay, I like that, I can see the whole restaurant and the bar. I like to people watch. The menu is large, the size and the font, I, at first thought big menu, big selection, but the font size limited the number of selections substantially. I read the whole thing, and, in an effort to eat light, in the Midwest, which is very hard, I passed over the appetizers, the soups, the large salads, the sandwiches and the pasta. I went to entrees and the section labeled “grill”. The entrees all sounded good; scallops, salmon, chicken, a vegan polenta and black bean something or other. In the “grill” section were, basically, steaks. But, to my glory and surprise, they offered a four-ounce filet! I am hard pressed to find many restaurants, even in Cali, that offer a four-ounce serving of meat! My decision was made! And, I got to choose accompaniments. For a few bucks extra, I could order a topping; sauce, cheese, mushrooms, I passed. Included in the price was a “starch”, yes, that’s how it was labeled, thanks for the blatant honesty, it’s about time people realized that a starch is a starch, and a “side”. I chose the “veggies” for my side, green beans and roasted red peppers (though some of the red peppers were orange, and I was okay with that). For my “starch”, I was thrilled to the point of wanting to do cartwheels, to find quinoa on the menu! The waiter came to take my drink order. Both the main menu and the drink menu stated in great big, green, bold and italicized letters, “ask about the draft beer selections”. So, I did, of the hostess and the waiter. Neither of them could name anything. I want to know! There was a chalkboard in the foyer, go read it! I really, really want to be told the entire list of local, craft beers on draft! The waiter asked, “What do you like?” Stouts, porters, lagers, pale ales … God, everything. They were out of stouts and porters. I almost left. I agreed to a sample of some lager he didn’t know the name of. It was good, but I have wine in my room, so, being prudent, and frugal, decided against ordering it. Five minutes later, the owner or manager, or someone of “importance” brought me a glass of some other kind of amber or something, “here’s your blah, blah, blah”. I’m thing, “Cool! A freebie!” I get those a lot; single diner, pictures, notes. Whatever it was, it was awful. It tasted like anise, or anus, or both, and there was a very sharp alcohol burn after burn. I can drink whiskey, straight, out of the bottle, and this beer was hard to swallow.

My steak was great, tender, a little more done than the medium rare I asked for. The only thing, it had an au jus of some sort and it tasted remarkably like Swanson’s beef broth. Other than that, it was supering delicious. The salad was a little limp, but good, at least a nice medley of lifeless greens and a tangy vinaigrette, and not the Sysco variety with the gelatinous consistency and the neon red flakes in it. The veggies were good, very al dente, but that’s the way I like them. I ate every morsel.

Limp but tasty mixed baby greens at and the $7 beer I didn't order at Maxine's in Michigan City, Indiana
Limp but tasty mixed baby greens at and the $7 beer I didn’t order at Maxine’s in Michigan City, Indiana
A four-ounce filet and quinoa. In the Midwest, of all places. Maxine's in Michigan City, Indiana.
A four-ounce filet and quinoa. In the Midwest, of all places. Maxine’s in Michigan City, Indiana.

I declined the dessert menu and the check arrived. About the time I glanced at my check and saw I’d been charged seven dollars for the lousy beer I didn’t order, I heard the waiter tell another table what the specials were. I didn’t get told what the specials were. They didn’t sound that great, but I would’ve liked the information. My bill, along with the portion of the Whole Foods food I bought yesterday, when allocated, put me over my company’s per day limit. By about seven dollars. Don’t even get me started on my company’s daily limit, I eat a lot of my meal expenses, no pun intended, but it is becoming a source of irritation. Enough said. I’m one lousy seven-dollar beer over my limit. And I didn’t get told the specials. Other than that, it is one of the better meals I’ve had in Michigan City, Indiana. For the record. But they wouldn’t survive five minutes where I come from.

After dinner, I HAD to go to WalMart. Again. There is no Target. So sad. My MacBook power cord, somehow, on this trip, got damaged and is nearly severed to the point of not supplying power to my computer unless held in a very specific manner, and one, I’m sure, exposes me to a likely threat of electrocution. I want a new power cord, I know they’re expensive, but I want one. Now. I thought MAYBE WalMart would have one, and, if not, certainly, electrical tape, probably in different colors and patters, like duct tape. I scoured the electronics section and found nothing for MacBooks. I wasn’t totally surprised. This is WalMart. In the Midwest. The only “Mac” known around here is Mac-N-Cheese. While in the electronics section, I spotted some phone cases I’ve been interested in. Otterbox has a cool “Realtree” patterned case I’d love to have, to match my new “Realtree” daypack I bought for fishing and hunting (any excuse to shop, I tell you). But, then, there are the Lifeproof cases, which are waterproof, where the Otterbox is not. I looked on every theft proof, you have to go find and then ask the inattentive associate for the key, peg and everything for the iPhone 5 was sold out. At eighty dollars per case, theft proof peg after theft proof peg was empty. No cord. No case. I went in search of electrical tape. After several aisles, and after nearly losing hope, I found electrical tape. In only black. I bought it. Sixty-one cents. So, in my two-day stay, not a block away from WalMart, the closes thing to a Target I’ll find here, I spent less than three dollars. Hurray. They don’t deserve my money. And, I paid cash, so my bank won’t totally freak out and shut my card off.

A frayed MacBook cord cost me dearly. Only sixty one cents for the tape, but I had to endure WalMart to obtain in.
A frayed MacBook cord cost me dearly. Only sixty one cents for the tape, but I had to endure WalMart to obtain in.

So, I’m capping my evening off with an Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 2010 Sweet Spot, which, according to Vivino (a wine app) has ratings of “low” to “medium”, I think is quite tasty. Maybe being in the Midwest has temporarily impaired my taste for quality wine. I don’t know. But I’m enjoying it.

Even after taping, power only reaches the MacBook if the cord is at precisely some certain angle. Tomorrow, back to Chicago, and my very first stop, an Apple Store!
Even after taping, power only reaches the MacBook if the cord is at precisely some certain angle. Tomorrow, back to Chicago, and my very first stop, an Apple Store!

Tomorrow, after work, I head for civilization. Chi-Town! And an Apple store, for certain! I need power!

I desperately want to eat these, but I shan't.   http://wp.me/p2RnUZ-mD
I desperately want to eat these, but I shan’t.
http://wp.me/p2RnUZ-mD