Scarlett’s Letter September 28, 2013

I was up early and ready for the flight home. A direct flight from Newark to San Francisco. I slept mostly, blissfully. And I dreamt of reusable Taco Bell burrito wrappers. I can’t explain that.  I still marvel, after all the frequent flier miles I’ve accrued, at waking on one side of the country and having lunch on the other. It still amazes me.

It was an excruciatingly slow drive home from Sacramento, I almost wished I was back in New Jersey, where at least the traffic moves. I identify with Jersey drivers. Like me, they drive with intent, and if you ever spend any time in a car with me at the wheel, you will hear me encourage, implore, even beg other drivers to “drive with intention!” It’s a lot better than some things I could shout at them, am I right? I will happily let people in front of me from driveways, I allow people to merge. Yes, I’m a defensive and sometimes aggressive driver, but I am courteous and safe. I have little tolerance for those who drive fearfully, those who don’t show some assertiveness and especially those who don’t display courtesy. I think drivers should show “assertousy”, equal parts assertiveness and courtesy. And, really, is life itself any different. We should live with intention, pursue our goal assertively and always show courtesy. That’s the lesson in life I considered today, as I listened raptly to Jillian Michael’s on Audible reading her book “Unlimited”. I feel inspired to reevaluate my goals and my methods for pursuing them. I feel energized by her words and energy. She makes sense, and not just related to fitness, food and health, but to life, the universe and our place in the universe. Another book I highly recommend.

When I got home all I could think about was food, like a big, fat hamburger or something equally appalling, especially after spending the last couple of hours immersed in Jillian’s Audible aura. Mom and I decided on Downtown Joe’s, a restaurant and brewery at Main and Second Streets in Napa, right along the Napa River. It was quite warm today, but we preferred sitting outside, along the river, if possible. We were offered a seat with a little umbrella, it needed bussing, first, but was ours immediately thereafter. I let Mom have the two square feet of shade provided by the small market umbrella, the small, poorly designed market umbrella that did not have the option to be tilted so as to provide more shade based on the angle of the sun. I like the sun. I sat in the sun. Mom has had chunks of face and appendages carved off of her in an endless catch up battle with skin cancer. I am probably going to suffer the same plight, but for now, I’ll soak up the sun, but only because of the stupid, little, inadequate market umbrella and because I always have about three layers of SPF on my face.

When I was younger, but old enough to drink, this was called the Oberon. We called it the "Slobber On", because we knew we would probably be slobbered on by some guy at some point during the evening.
When I was younger, but old enough to drink, this was called the Oberon. We called it the “Slobber On”, because we knew we would probably be slobbered on by some guy at some point during the evening.
A sunny seat next to the Napa River.
A sunny seat next to the Napa River.

An Effort to Evolve

Sounds good to me!
Sounds good to me!
The "Slobber On", I mean Downtown Joe's bar inside.
The “Slobber On”, I mean Downtown Joe’s bar inside.

Being a brewery, I perused the beer list with great enthusiasm. I decided first on the stout, knowing I’d have to have the porter shortly thereafter, it was impossible to decide on only one at the exclusion of the other. I’d really planned on a burger, but the “Steak and Fritz” caught my eye, a rich sounding mélange of steak, steak fries and gravy. It all lived up to my expectations; the stout, the porter, the very rich and fattening meal. Jillian would probably throw insults at me until I cried if she observed what I just did to myself. Ah, but she is human, too, and I know my limits and I know when, and how, to repent for my occasional sins. And I shall.

The Old Magnolia Oatmeal Stout, first. The porter next.
The Old Magnolia Oatmeal Stout, first. The porter next.
The "Steak and Fritz", more commonly known as SIN!
The “Steak and Fritz”, more commonly known as SIN!
The Overdue Porter behind a wall of fries.
The Overdue Porter behind a wall of fries.

Just not today. It was a simple, but sedentary day. I’d had every intention of working out when I got home, but the two pints of beer and large meal, a very early morning after a fairly short night, a long flight and detailed expense report all interfered. I can do a long, detailed expense report after two pints and little sleep, I could probably run, too, so, I guess it was just a matter of priorities. Running wasn’t going to reimburse me nearly $3,000 for travel expenses this past week. I considered the day a success, at these accomplishments and, my dietary indiscretions still weighing heavily on my mind, I decided to make my late lunch at Downtown Joe’s dinner, too, as I had no desire, initiative, or caloric budget for any semblance of an actual dinner. I just let it go, and sometimes there is wisdom in that.

There are days, most days, where we tirelessly do everything we are supposed to, follow our rules, our plan, accomplish all the things on our never-ending list. Then, there are days where we let a few things go. And that’s okay, if it’s the exception and not the rule. Even highly effective people let things go and they realize the wisdom in that. The “stop and smell the roses” theory. We can be so driven, so on task all the time that we miss the point of our all or action, our activity. The point being, life, and living it. Every now and then, living life to its fullest is sitting still and just breathing, sitting still and just listening, sitting still and just thinking. Just letting it go and gathering it all up again, tomorrow, after some reflection and refreshment, some rest and rejuvenation. And that was this evening’s wisdom. This evening’s to-do list. Nothing. Check.

Scarlett’s Letter October 10, 2013

Make it stop. Please, just make it stop.

I have read, I have learned, I know, I teach; It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters – Epictetus.

This is what happened to me:

I may have had a glass or two too many last night. Yesterday would’ve been my dad’s 93rd birthday. He passed away about a year and a half ago. As you know, Mom was on her own for a year before I moved back home. We have our differences, but, somehow, manage to be close. I’ve been grappling with falling back into a healthy, happy routine this rare week home, and, admittedly, I’ve been a little out of sorts. I knew, yesterday, when she didn’t materialize from her bedroom until almost two hours later than usual that she was moping. She is more a scarcity mindset than I. I think abundance, usually. In other words, I’m the glass half full and she’s the glass half empty. So, last night, I filled two glasses half way, twice, and we had a lovely chat. The day passed without much mention of Dad, until last night. She’d had a glass of her incredibly cheap Robert Mondavi wine she can buy on sale for six bucks. I’d had the last glass of my 2009 Waterstone Carneros Pinot Noir I bought at their tasting room, Taste at Oxbow. I’d been to V. Sattui to pick up my wine club selections for September and October on Monday, so I decided to select one to open for my second glass. I offered Mom a glass, too, and, as she loves all the V. Sattui wines she’s tasted thus far, she accepted my offer. We decided it would be a toast to Dad’s birthday. With that in mind, I selected a 125th Anniversary special, the 2010 Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon, one of Dad’s favorite varietals. Our neighborhood is in the shadow of the Mt. Veeder District. I used to ride ponies from one friend’s house, over the mountain, to another friend’s house. And back. Fond memories, a lovely area, and a fantastic wine. Mom sat at her chair at the kitchen table, I leaned on the kitchen counter by the sink, and we talked for quite a while, about Dad and other things. It was one of the nicer moments we’ve had together this week. I was grateful for that.

2009 Waterstone Carneros Pinot Noir
2009 Waterstone Carneros Pinot Noir


V. Sattui 125th Anniversary 2010 Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon. Mom's glass on the left, my glass in the middle, what's left of the bottle on the right. Happy Birthday Dad (10/9/1920 - 1/23/2012)
V. Sattui 125th Anniversary 2010 Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon. Mom’s glass on the left, my glass in the middle, what’s left of the bottle on the right. Happy Birthday Dad (10/9/1920 – 1/23/2012)

After our wine, I stayed up until nearly 2:00 AM, writing. My bad. I forgot that it was Thursday today. Thursday’s are the worst in this neighborhood, on this street, in this house, and, especially in my room.  And so, this is what happened to me;

At about 6:00 AM, the neighbor across the street leaves for work. The houses in our neighborhood are almost fifty years old. Most have had windows replaced and have been updated, insulated, central heat and air conditioning installed. Not ours. It is neat as a pin and as original as a stock car from the same era. No after-market parts have been installed. The same old style furnace, no air-conditioning, and the furnace has no filter, just forced air heat coming from some dusty old relic underneath the house. The furnace makes an ominous clunking sound at the end of each cycle. The thermostat is the retro dial style. You can’t program it for different temperatures at different times of the day and night, you actually have to walk into the living room, every time you desire a change in temperature and twist it one direction or the other. The windows, all original, and, I’m certain, several layers thinner than they were new from years and years of being cleaned, inside and out, with drums and drums of Windex. They are the old aluminum slider style, single pane. Napa is a very comfortable climate, most of the time, so central heat and air, dual pane windows and insulation wasn’t considered necessary back in the 1960’s when these homes were built. But, with the insulation and the dual pane windows, not only is efficiency added, but noise is decreased. Like the noise of the neighbor unlocking his car, which goes “beep beep” when he does, every morning, this morning included, at some point before 6:00 AM.

Shortly after that neighbor leaves, his next-door neighbor goes to the gym. Before getting into his car, he walks across the street, collects the local newspaper from behind my car, in the driveway, and puts it up on the porch so my mom won’t have to toddle all the way down the steps and across the driveway in her robe and slippers to retrieve it. And I can hear every footstep. This man’s wife died after a long battle with cancer a few months ago. He has kept her car and, on occasion, drives it to the gym. This was one of those days, I know, because he hasn’t quite figured out how to unlock it with the remote and so, always sets the horn a honking.

Thursday. Garbage day. Garbage day cubed. This is Cali, this is the San Francisco Bay Area. In San Francisco, you need an engineering degree, a flowchart and a consultant to figure out which trash receptacle each item from your McDonald’s bag goes into, plastic, paper, paperboard, Styrofoam, plastic utensils and napkins, which, somehow don’t qualify as paper. I’ve actually seen entrepreneurial homeless people assist tourists in appropriately sorting their trash in hopeful exchange for a tip. Kind of like the homeless folks at intersections who will wash your windshield with a spray bottle of something, piss, probably, and a soggy, blurred, newspaper. Napa Recycling and Waste Services is actually a software client of mine. That was a fun week, at the landfill/compost heap. Nice folks, though. So, meanwhile, back on my street; there are no less than three “garbage” trucks, maybe more. One truck collects the contents of the “blue can”, which are mixed recyclables including wine bottles, beer bottles and other stuff I don’t know about. This matter will be sorted out and recycled by type, glass, plastic, cardboard, etc. Another truck collects the contents of the “brown can”, yard waste, which will be composted. The third truck collects the contents of the “gray can”, which is just rubbish, the stuff that can’t be composted or recycled, and so, I assume, goes into the landfill. I don’t know if there is a truck devoted to the new “food scraps” project, which are being added to the compost pile, and, I’m certain, will do nothing in improving the foul wind that blows from the south of town where all this occurs. This household is not yet participating in the “food scraps” for composting project, so I don’t know the finer points and whether trucks are committed to the effort. At any rate, it sounds like there are twenty of them revving up and down the street, from one house to the next, revving again to power the mechanical arm that picks up and upends the containers. And they all have squeaky brakes. This cacophony all begins at about 6:00 AM and lasts half the day.

I mentioned, yesterday, that the City of Napa is replacing the curbs, gutters and sidewalks in front of nearly every home on our street where the city planted Chinese Pistachio trees, now all nearing fifty years old. The elder trees have roots close to the surface that have raised the sidewalks dangerously, broken curbs and even raised the street in places. Beginning at 7:00 AM the very talkative men in orange shirts arrive, they fire up all their dusty yellow tractors (backhoes and dozers, I know my Tonka Trucks), their dump trucks and diesel pickup trucks. One dump truck and one dozer just do laps around the block continuously from 7:00 AM until 3:00 PM, with a break around 11:00 AM for lunch, I assume. There are jackhammers and other strange bits of man-propelled power equipment that make an extraordinary amount of noise.

So, by 7:00 AM, between the garbage trucks and the men at work, the noise is fearsome. Then, our gardener arrives. He mows, he blows and he goes. But we have close to a quarter acre here, all lawn and leaves, there’s a lot of mowing and a lot of blowing. I can’t even begin to imagine what decibel rating to attach to the morning I endured this day.

My reaction to just the street repair yesterday was not happy. I walked around the house with clenched teeth and a pissy attitude and I let every little noise just eat at me until my nerves were raw. To add insult to injury, Mom had the TV on louder than usual, so she could hear it over all the other noise. I felt like crawling into a corner, crouching down, holding my hands over my ears and rocking back and forth. I went to the coffee shop downtown, instead, and had a lovely day. I had planned to do the same today. But, for whatever reason, my reaction today was different. After breakfast by the noise of the leaf blower, literally, right outside the sliding glass door off the dining area, I took a nice, long shower and sat down at my desk to listen to a conference call for work. I got busy doing this and that, then I got to working on an article I’ve been trying to pull together for a couple of months and the next thing I knew, it was 3:00 PM and completely silent out front. I reacted very differently to the same stimuli from yesterday to today. Rather than let every little thing get to me, rather than foster the agitation I felt at the first noise and allow it to escalate from there, at some point today, I just chose not to react. I got far more done with a lot less stress. True, I would’ve loved to have gone to the coffee shop, and, in fact, probably will tomorrow, if for no other reason, because the cello player is there on Fridays. But, still, the point is, we can react to what happens to us or we can choose not to. The choice is ours. By choosing not to react to every little thing that happens to us, we are choosing to be in control. We are perfectly capable of controlling our reaction, our response, to everything in life, good and bad. Do you get that? Life doesn’t just happen to us, we get to decide how we are going to react, or not, to each and every situation and event that unfolds in our midst. We can choose to get angry when someone does something we dislike, or we can choose to ignore it and move on with more important things. Getting angry doesn’t solve anything, and, in fact, just makes things worse, in most cases, for us far more than our intended target. Acknowledging the situation, making a few mental notes, as a lesson for the future, and just getting on with our day is a much more peaceful and fruitful reaction and one we are totally capable of and in control of. Isn’t it cool to know you are in control of your emotions, that no one has the power to MAKE you angry or sad or hurt? Only you can make you angry or sad or hurt. You choose. You choose how you are going to react. Or not. Of course, it takes practice. I still get my feelings hurt, I still get mad, I still get sad, but then I stop and I think about it; what does allowing these negative feelings, these reactions really accomplish for me? Bad juju and a derailed day productivity-wise, and it certainly doesn’t change or remove the catalyst or source of those negative feelings, in fact, it further empowers them. The only way to render them powerless is to choose not to react in anger, hurt or sadness. Life is good, we are in control!

I had a two-hour massage tonight, it was amazing. I have the best massage therapist ever. I’ve had several, I know I’ve got a good one. First example; he is silent when he dispenses the massage oil onto his hands. Every other massage therapist I’ve ever had sounds like a guinea pig licking the roller in their water bottle when they dispense the massage oil. Am I right? It detracts from the experience, I’d noticed it, but had never really made note of it until I got this therapist. I’ve never heard him depress the dispenser. Amazing. I know. The rest is just magic, he has very gifted hands, and elbows, and forearms. He is intuitive, asks the right questions and really likes what he does. I know from talking to him a bit that this is sort of a family tradition, his mom was a foot reflexologist, so this guy, his foot massages are divine, nearing orgasmic.

I will admit, I am a rather tense person. My muscles are pretty much flexed at all times. All of them. I do not relax. Ever. I may think I do. I don’t. I’m tough to massage because I am always clenched. I try really hard to relax; I breath deeply and focus on the area that’s being massaged and with every ounce of intention, I try to relax, which is probably the wholly incorrect approach, but it ‘s what I know to do. I have gotten better. I have. But, there is this one spot, mid-back, right along the spine, more on the right side than on the left, when he runs his thumb down that particular area it’s like shock waves. I convulse, totally involuntarily. It’s something between pain and ticklish, but I, like, twitch and spaz out a little, sometimes my leg kicks a little bit and once, I almost farted. That is my involuntary reaction, and though it is certainly unintended, I am a little embarrassed. So, I try really hard to choose my reaction, here, too, just like I do with anger, hurt, or sadness. We may think anger, hurt and sadness and other negative reactions, negative emotions, are involuntary. They are not, we have the power to choose how we react to anything that happens to us. So, tonight, on the massage table, I decided to put this to the ultimate test. I decided that I had the power of presence, the mind control, to overcome this embarrassing, involuntary, spastic, convulsive response to focused massage on that one area that, obviously, needed therapy. It took a time or two, but by the third time he ran his thumb down that sensitive area, I was able to relax enough to not feel like I was being tickled and electrocuted simultaneously. The mind is a very powerful thing and it is open to suggestion. Make a suggestion, they’re yours to make and no one else’s.

I’m home now, obviously, all limber, warm and relaxed. I’ve had a lovely conversation with my man, far, far away, and as I finish up this little letter I am also finishing up that last glass of 2010 V. Sattui Mt. Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon, the 125th Anniversary Edition. That is how I’ve chosen to spend the rest of my evening. Good night, all.


Where are You?

I remember it like it happened yesterday. I’m riding my friend’s pony, she is riding another pony ahead of me. We are probably seven or eight years old, at most. She is a good rider, she rides all the time. I’ve ridden a few times here and there but want nothing more than to be a good rider. We are at a full gallop, she rides effortlessly, so well balanced, I’m hanging on to any part of the saddle and the pony I can just to stay on. I remember her laughing, her loud, infectious and usually somewhat maniacal laugh. I’m sure I had my focused face, the face of sheer concentration, sheer will and sheer determination I wear a lot, even now. In my usual “I’m doing this” manner, I am staying on that galloping pony and I’m following my friend. She is winding through the trees and at times I can’t see her. I try not to panic, I have no idea where we are or how to get back to her house. She goes faster and laughs harder. I realize that she is actually trying to get me to fall off the pony by about the third time she grabs a branch from a tree she’s passing, hangs on to it for a moment, then lets go, perfectly timed, to smack me in the face and hopefully unseat me. She laughs, then does it again. I hang on, miraculously, and after the third branch sandwich, I figure out her modus operandi and I learn to duck, or to make my pony swerve, to avoid pain, danger, possible death, and, worst of all, an unscheduled dismount. I have no idea where we are going, and truthfully, other than steering to avoid the branches being snapped at me, I’m not steering, my pony is just following her pony. They’re herd animals. When my friend realizes she isn’t likely to unseat me by snapping branches at me, she spurs her pony on a bit faster and tries to lose me in the woods. I have to spur my pony on, faster, to keep her in sight. I really don’t want to be lost in the woods, so my only choice is to keep up. I keep up and I avoid those goddam branches.

Suddenly, my pony comes to a screeching halt and there is my friend, stopped, at the edge of the world. We are on a ledge with a steep drop off inches from where the ponies’ front hooves have become still. From this ledge, in the dimming afternoon light, off in the distance, are the lights of San Francisco beginning to twinkle. It is magical. “This is fairy’s ring”, my friend explains, a magical place with a magical view. Wherever this place was, however we’d find our way back, I was in awe and I was inspired. In being lost I actually found something; I found that I loved riding ponies and horses as much as I thought I would, and I especially loved riding on trails, in the hills, through the woods, with magical views, and this all became paramount in my life and in many of the life shaping, life altering decisions that were to be made over the next forty years.

Forty years later, in Colorado, with my same friend, we are horseback riding. A rare and memorable treat, like reliving our childhood for a brief afternoon. We are loping along a dirt road, there are cattle watching us speed by, momentarily disrupted from their grazing. My friend, with her same infectious, loud and somewhat maniacal laughter, suddenly leaves the trail, spurs her horse on into the woods and jumps her horse over a fallen tree. I pull my horse up to watch. She heckles me, “Come on! He’ll jump it!” I shake my head. I ride, but I don’t jump horses. I just ride. I’m not a bad rider, but I don’t jump horses, just not my discipline and not something I’ve done since we were kids, careless kids. I think she actually called me a sissy or a wimp or some slightly derogatory name. We are over forty years old, but it seems like we’re still in the second grade. My friend tells me that her mother, who is nearly seventy years old, jumps her horse over fallen trees, and I am riding her mother’s horse, so, apparently, he is capable. I had a conversation with my friend’s mom earlier that day and she told me, and I quote, “I’d rather die while out horseback riding than any other way I can imagine.” I mention this to my friend, who calls me a “big, fat chicken”. I jumped the damn horse over the damn log. I lived. And before long, we were loping in circles, following each other, jumping over the fallen tree and any other obstacles we can find, again and again and again. Laughing. Again, I am determined to keep up, not that I’d be lost if left behind, necessarily, I’d follow the dirt road until it ended up somewhere. And I know my friend would never, at least at our more mature age, leave me behind and lost. She may give me a ration of shit for not keeping up, but I won’t even allow that. And in that moment I found something that I had lost, a certain carefree joy, the thrill of taking a risk and casting caution to the wind for a memory that will last forever.

Old friends finding our lost youth and joy in life.
Old friends finding our lost youth and joy in life.

Back home, I’m riding my own horse, having just moved my horses to a friend’s ranch for boarding, I am riding, at a full gallop, up a steep, wooded hill, following my friend on his horse. I have no idea where we are headed, there is no trail. He knows the way through the dense maze of trees that populate neighboring properties, all private, some we have permission to ride on, others we don’t, and I’m not fond of the prospect of being left behind, being lost and finding my way onto an irate property owner’s land. I keep up, at all costs. I’m a pretty good rider for a middle-aged woman, not as well balanced as I once was, on a taller horse than I rode as a kid, and the ground being so much harder than I remember it being from childhood. I am reminded of the wild ride through the woods on ponies darned near forty years ago. I have the same focused face, again, sheer determination and my “I’m doing this” attitude. I do not like being lost, I do not like being left behind. I seem to have deviant friends. But, truth, I am enjoying the hell out of myself. I don’t have many friends that live like this, take chances like this, do fun, wild and amazing things. This is my life. By design. And, face it, life is going to kill all of us at some point or other, may as well make it good! I don’t want to die in a recliner gripping a TV remote. And, again, I have regained something, this day, that is lost on so many other days behind the responsibility of work, family and home. Fun. Thrills. Joy.

Finding excitement in not knowing the path.
Finding excitement in not knowing the path.

Being lost. There are different ways in which we can be lost. We can be lost in a specific manner, as in having lost our direction, by not knowing where we are or where we should head. We can be lost in a larger, more general sense, we don’t know what to do with our lives, our talents, our energies. We may be so lost we don’t even know we have talents, energies, passions or other components of what life is. We can also be lost from something we hold dear, as in we’ve misplaced or lost track of something we consider of value.

How do we become lost? We lose direction. We lose our bearing. We lose sight of a landmark or other navigational guide. We become disoriented, confused, distracted. Our course is altered unexpectedly. There are many ways to become lost, but, usually, we have gone in an unplanned or unintended direction and we aren’t sure how to right our course, or even whether we should right our course. Think about it.

Life is like water in a stream, when it meets a boulder it is diverted.

Jobs, people, hobbies, experiences can all alter the direction of our lives. It is not possible to live and to avoid this. If you remain perfectly motionless and resist any chance or change, possibly, your life can go with few alterations to course. A slow, steady, monotonous course to death. Step into the raft, trust your guide, and go for a thrilling ride down the rapids. That’s what life is meant to be. Sometimes, we have to become lost in order to be found. The diversion around the boulder that alters our path is certainly better than crashing directly into the rock. Think about it.

Do you have to know every twist and turn of the river in advance in order to navigate the rapids safely, successfully, skillfully? No. If you know enough about rivers in general, about eddies and back eddies, the nature of currents and obstacles, you can successfully and safely guide your raft down a river you’ve never navigated before. So, in life, we don’t have to know, for certain, our exact path, in fact, we will go much further towards our ultimate self if we don’t know every step we will ever take. There are many valuable lessons in self from those deviations from our intended course, again, better to divert our path around those obstacles, to change our course, than to run into and be stopped in our tracks by that obstacle. Think about it.

We don’t necessarily need to know precisely where we are going and exactly, step by step, how we are going to get there. True, we should have a destination in mind, but how we get there may differ from our original plan. There are a dozen ways to drive to any point in the city you live in, no one is more right than another. There may be many variables that cause you to choose one route over another, traffic or road construction as an example. The destination is the same, the course can vary. So, if our destination is our goal, how we accomplish that goal is our journey, our path, and the path we choose initially may not end up being the best route. That doesn’t mean we’ve lost our goal, our destination, it just means we need to alter our path, our direction, our method for attaining our goal. Nor do we need to know exactly where we are at any point in time. We may have to lose our direction a time or two to actually, finally reach our goal. Think about it.

So, being lost is good. Losing our way is preferred. Am I talking crazy?

What is the definition of lost?


lôst, läst


1. unable to find one’s way; not knowing one’s whereabouts.

“Help! We’re lost!”

synonyms: off course, off track, disorientated, having lost one’s bearings, going around in circles, adrift, at sea, astray

If you are unable to find your way, if you do not know your whereabouts are you really lost? You are where you are. You know you’re there, you can feel yourself where you are, you can see your feet, your legs, your hands. You can see everything that surrounds you. You are right where you are. The only thing you may not know, temporarily, is where that point is related to the rest of the world. You, in fact, are not lost, you just haven’t decided which direction to head to change your location to one you’d prefer, perhaps one you recognize.

When I was working with Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts, many, many years ago, I became aware of the “Hug a Tree” program which encouraged children who were “lost” to not wander. As soon as they came to the realization that they were alone, apart from their group, they were taught to go to the closest tree or similar landmark adjacent to the path and stay there, to hug the tree until someone came in search of them. In the wilderness, or even on city streets, if very young, or very old, and unable to navigate back to your group, to safety, this is extremely practical advice. For, if you are very young, or very old, someone is looking for you from the moment you escaped their view, undoubtedly. By remaining in one place you are far more likely to be found. Countless are the unfortunate stories of children, of elderly people, wandering aimlessly while their rescuers tried to follow their path, tried to find them, and, often, their paths crossed numerous times, but at inopportune times. By staying in one place, especially near a trail or path, the chance of being found increase exponentially. Unless alone in the wilderness, for the rest of us, those of us who move autonomously around the planet, independently, this may not actually be the best course of action. If I just froze and clung to a large, tall object the first time I became disoriented in my travels for work, I’d probably have missed a flight, missed a connection, missed a meeting, and, perhaps, lost my job.

As autonomous, independent adults, negotiating our way through the world, we have at our disposal numerous resources on which we can rely; navigational devices like apps on our phones or GPS units, we may have maps or an atlas handy or that can be easily obtained, and we always have the ability to ask for assistance. At the very minimum, we have our powers of observation, our ability to solve problems, and we usually find our way again in short order.

In the wilderness, of course, this may be a different story, especially if traveling through the wilderness is not something we do regularly. Hopefully, we have planned well enough in advance to have notified someone of where we are going and when we should be expected to return. Hopefully we have further prepared by packing contingency items for our adventure, however short; extra food, extra water or the means with which to purify water, matches, a knife, some nylon cord, some extra clothing. And with a certain amount of preparedness comes the calm assurance that survival is more likely, and with that calm assurance, usually comes the ability to think clearly enough to re-orient ourselves and find our way to the path back to civilization. Or to hug a tree.

Notice, in both cases, in town and in the wilderness, our safe arrival at our intended destination was reliant on the fact that we had a few tools, a few necessary items available to us. We had resources or were able to identify resources that would assist us in our return. Knowing how to equip ourselves in our journey, real or rhetorical, will be a determining factor in our ultimate success and in the efficiency of our route. The trick, then, is to know what we should equip ourselves with, and for each journey, it will differ. The resources I need for a backpacking trek will differ from the resources I need to obtain a certain career goal.

We’ve established, then, that becoming lost, in life, is good, that we gain experience and growth and overcome adversity and challenge by becoming lost, not losing sight of our ultimate goal, or destination, and finding another course, through diversion, to our reward, our goal. We have also established, that in reality, when we become lost, having certain resources, tools and skills available to us give us the confidence and clarity to find our way back. This is true in our journey in life, too. With the right preparation, resources, tools and skills, getting diverted from our original course towards our goals is not just a valuable lesson to be gained, but an opportunity to employ that preparation, those resources, tools and skills in establishing a new course towards our goal.

So, in life, when we are feeling lost, what should our approach be? How should we be prepared? What resources, tools and skills should we have at our disposal to establish a new and better path to our destination, our goal? How do we begin? How do we know?

I remember an acronym I learned in a wilderness first aid and survival class I once took. S.T.O.P., Stop and Sit, Think, Observe, Plan. By taking these steps you could usually figure out a way to survive until help arrived, of course, the more training you had and the better prepared you were, the better your chances of survival. This same acronym can be applied to any situation, real or rhetorical. That first moment when we determine we are lost, that our course has changed, been diverted, or we’ve just temporarily lost our way, whether on the streets of a strange city, in the wilderness, or on a path to our goals in life, if we take some time to stop and sit, to become quiet and calm, that is always the first, most important step. If we frantically try to scurry about and determine, in haste, which direction to head, we are likely to make an error, potentially a costly one. Stop. Become quiet. Listen. Be still. We may hear a street nearby, or voices, or just enough peace and quiet for a solid idea to form. Stop.

I was in downtown Chicago for a brief walking tour. I was pressed for time as I had a flight home and needed to drive through traffic to get to the airport in time. I’d parked my rental car in a parking garage, of which there are many. I’d taken pictures of the garage and made note of the address, but it had the same management company and signage as just about every other garage in the area. As I walked in the direction I remembered the garage being, running a few minutes behind schedule, putting me in a position where I could ill-afford a navigational error, I stopped for a moment to gather my bearings. In that moment, stopped and quiet, I heard a street musician, a saxophone player playing, terribly, I might add, the Hokie Pokie song. I knew, at that moment, that the entrance to the garage was just across the street. I’d noticed that musician, heard the same song, as I’d exited the garage. In my haste and concern over being late, had I not stopped, I likely would not have heard the musician and may have taken a less direct route back to the garage.

S.T.O.P. - calmly applying thought and observation to find my way back to the parking garage as quickly as possible.
S.T.O.P. – calmly applying thought and observation to find my way back to the parking garage as quickly as possible.

The T is for think. After we’ve stopped, we need to think. In stopping, hopefully, we have become quiet and have calmed down, our thought process is much more likely to be logical and productive. Depending on the situation, whether real or rhetorical, in taking the time to think of our options, this phase may take a few minutes, or a few months. If lost in trying to get back to the parking garage, I could probably have thought things through in a few moments and found my way back one way or another. My options may have included consulting a map on my phone, asking someone for directions, hailing a cab and giving the driver the address of the parking garage. Lots of options. In a more rhetorical situation, having lost our direction in pursuit of a goal, we may need to spend more than a few minutes to right our course or find a better route altogether. We may decide we need more education, or a different career path, or some other major course deviation, all of which may require a bit of time and effort to collect all the options necessary to consider. The point is, no matter the scenario, thought must be applied, logically, to get headed in the right direction, again.

O is for Observe. As I observed the saxophone player as I left the garage, it was the observation of that sound, again, on my return, that successfully guided me back. After stopping, and thinking through our options, we should observe our surroundings, the resources we have immediately at hand that may aid us in getting started on our path, again. Thinking and observation are not too unrelated. I consider observation just a more tactile form of thought. Thinking generates ideas from vapor, observation generates ideas from tangible items in our midst. In being physically lost, our powers of observation are usually key in reuniting us with our path to our destination; a tree, a rock formation, a building, a landmark, a sign. In our more rhetorical example, observation may not be quite as tangible. We may, instead, observe behaviors of those we consider mentors in our journey. We may observe activities that generate a desired outcome that will further our advancement towards our goal. We may observe resources that may assist us that we had not previously considered. In observation, we are really just opening our minds to other possibilities, we are becoming creative.

P is for Plan. And this, of course, is the most critical part, whether lost for real or in a rhetorical sense. The old adage goes, “a failure to plan is a plan to fail”. In life, failure is not and should never be considered an end, it is often the means by which we learn what it is we need to know to eventually reach our goal. But, if certain failures can be avoided, like boulders in the stream, then, by all means, we should attempt to steer around them. A good plan will assist us in navigating around failures that may delay our success. If lost in the woods or in a city, a plan can be as simple as calling for assistance, heading in the direction, by compass, that we were originally headed, climbing to a higher point for a better vantage point.

In life, a plan is more ethereal, as in both ether and real. A plan, of course, is paramount, and it always begins with the goal itself. Then we can sketch out how we will achieve that goal. Our plan can be very specific or can be quite general. I think the more general the better for the long term, more ether like. But, each day, at waking, or better yet, before going to sleep the night before, a very specific plan should be made, with our overall goal in mind, so that some positive action and progress is made, steadily. A more real plan. Lest our goal be like the sun in the sky, always there and never closer, sometimes shrouded by clouds, or night, but always present, and never, ever closer.

And, as plans pertain to our goals in life, is it not the plan and the deviation from the plan that is the definition of “lost” to begin with? The goal hasn’t changed, but the path, the plan, does. With constant change and flux, it is then critical that we be as flexible as our plan. We may need to adapt the plan, and we may need to adapt to follow the plan. Making a plan, following a plan, and, necessarily, adapting the plan, all requires change. We must embrace change to have any hope of every achieving our goal.

Nothing ever gets better that stays the same. We must accept change, embrace change, court change, in order for any part of our life, our experience, ourselves to improve. Change is a deviation from the current course, is it not? Change is becoming lost, temporarily, with a change in direction. Think about it.

In being lost we are found. In being lost we learn. In being lost we grow. In being lost, we can reach our goal, our dream, our purpose and become richer for the journey, the deviation in the intended course. Do not fear becoming lost, it may be just the key you need to open all the doors you desire. Think about it.

Get lost.


Scarlett’s Letter September 23, 2013

Travel day. OMG. Already. Weekend? What weekend?

My alarm went off at 12:30 AM. Hello? 12:30 AM. I got up, got ready and was out the door. It’s not like I even blow dried my hair and curled it, I wrapped my dripping wet hair in a ponytail and wore my clothes from yesterday. Seriously.

Regarding my clothes from yesterday. I felt absolutely rockin’ hot yesterday. As the Chelly song goes, “my hair done right, my dress real life, all eyes on me, I took the night.” Google it. Ever have one of those days where you just feel totally put together and you can see people see you? That was yesterday. So, after about no sleep and in the midst of the usual morning “what shall I wear today”, though technically still the middle of the night, I decided on yesterday’s outfit, because it was all that! And it was right there, folded neatly in a little pile, next to my bed, where I left it a few short hours ago. The only revision, the bra. Yesterday I wore my miracle Frederick’s of Hollywood bra that is just so amazing. But, truthfully, the price we women pay for that kind of amazing, it is a little less comfortable than my pretty little floral and glitter number from Victoria’s Secret, and considering my cross country flight and all, I opted for Vickie over Freddy, and, well, the results left me feeling a little less than all that. It’s kind of frightening what a minor wardrobe change can do to one’s self esteem. I was all that yesterday and ho-hum today. In my mind.

Oh, but I’m not a bus driver at Sacramento International Airport! I am all that, and even in a lumpy and less than supportive bra. I have a following. I don’t know what it is about bus drivers at the airport, but they LOVE me.  Every bus driver from the economy lot, where I park Meep (my Civic), to the terminals, absolutely loves me. Except the Caucasian guy. Most of them love me. It may have something to do with the fact that I always sit right by the driver’s seat, but, only because I am quite soft spoken and it’s just so much easier on everyone if I can, conversationally, tell the bus driver where I need to stop, rather than shouting it from the back of the bus only to not be heard and then having to walk a half a mile to my car. Right? So, I sit right up front. Ok, so I also tip. Not a lot, just a couple of bucks. But I always tip. Always. As a result, or the reason I tip, sort of an egg and chicken first kind of scenario; the bus driver jumps out of his seat and lifts my bags onto the bus, which, by the way, I am perfectly capable of doing. Heck, I’ve already hoisted them down two flights of stairs and loaded them into a Civic, not a Lincoln or a Cadillac, a frickin’ Civic. After parking the Civic, I’ve hoisted the tightly wedged suitcases, yes, multiple suitcases, each very carefully packed so as to fall just below the fifty pound limit, but barely, out of the car and onto the pavement. At this point, I very cleverly and handily wheel them to the bus stop. Wheeling multiple suitcases should be an Olympic sport. I’d win. No doubt. So, yes, if I had to lift them onto and then, again, off of the bus, myself, I could. And, in fact, since I am kind of a fitness freak, I could probably, actually do so more handily than the bus drivers, but, sssshhhhhhh. Before I have a chance to even grab the handles on my suitcases, they have been snatched from my grasp and placed carefully on the bus. I take my seat by the front of the bus, immediately adjacent to the driver and take up small talk with him, and, yes, occasionally, her. This is not something I initiate, but I do speak candidly with the bus driver if and when the bus driver initiates conversation. No one else on the bus, by my observations, has ever spoken to the bus driver. Whatever; sports, the weather, traffic, kids, travel. It matters not the topic, I will happily talk to the bus driver while I jot my parking space down on my ticket so I’ll be able to refer to it upon my return, and while I check in on Foursquare, Yelp, Facebook and Twitter. So, the bus driver has 98.3% of my attention because I am multi-tasking. I am also, surreptitiously, pulling a couple of bills out of my wallet to have handy as a tip when the bus driver helps unload my suitcases. And, I am certain, they have surreptitiously spotted me doing so. No matter. It’s only a couple of bucks, and I can expense it on my company expense report. And when I do travel for pleasure and can’t expense it, I still tip. I appreciate their assistance and they appreciate the recognition. It’s a win/win.

In fact, on one trip home, as I was met, with jubilation, by my favorite bus driver and he hoisted my two ultra-heavy suitcases on board, and then, when I arrived at my stop, jumped up to help me unload them, an angry and belligerent looking, middle-aged (my age) woman, overweight, unmade up, wearing ugly, unflattering sweats and a bitter expression and a pretty much pissed off at the world attitude, made some snide remark about how the bus driver helped me with my bags, but not hers, because I was “pretty”. I was pretty human, that’s all. Well, I’m 99.9% certain the bus driver would’ve helped her with her bags had she had the patience, but, yes, my bags were first, not because I was “pretty”, as she complained, but because I was fucking NICE to the bus driver. Hello? Hostile woman person, try being nice! Golden rule, love! Golden rule. Pretty has nothing to do with it. Be nice and get nice in return.

Pretty has nothing to do with it. Really, because I was not feeling it today, and, still, for my two dollar tip and a little small talk, I got my bags loaded onto the bus and off. And, I was told I don’t look a day over thirty, and, am “hotter than most twenty-somethings”. Two dollars. My customary tip is two dollars. Buy yourself a compliment for two dollars and you feel like a million the rest of the day even if your bra makes you feel deflated and lumpy.

I had a short and miserable flight from Sacramento to L.A. on AmericaWest, a contractor with United. My dear friend, who I’ve known, literally, since kindergarten, is married to a man who has worked for United maintaining their aircraft for, well, since we’ve been out of high school. A hell of a long time. Whenever I see him, which is not nearly often enough, I tease him, “Peter, are you taking good care of my airplanes?” He reassures me. “Yes, just don’t fly AmericaWest”, or this airline, or that, or any other airline other than United. I try, really I do. But I fly out of Sacramento, not a major hub by any stretch of the imagination. I am, more often than not, going to have to fly AmericaWest to San Fran or L.A. to make my connection to the real world. Peter says nothing, just widens his eyes a little, which, I’m sure, makes me widen my eyes. A lot.

So I boarded my AmericaWest flight to L.A., crossing myself, and I figured, whatever. Whatever happens, happens. Of course, we make it without any drama, except, where everyone, except me, tries, in vain, to stuff their too large of a carry on into the overhead compartment of the small regional jet with microscopic overhead compartments. I couldn’t even fit my tiny cross-body purse in, if I tried. I don’t even try. Everyone is frantically trying to stuff their crap into the overheads before the flight attendant confiscates their luggage and has it gate checked. Don’t look at me, I check my bags. And so, we are delayed.

Getting up at 12:30 AM, obviously, I did not make it to the gym before departing. Now, I used to belong to 24-Hour Fitness, when I lived in Sacramento, and I could have, technically, made it to the gym before heading to the airport. You know, and I know, that never happened. But it could have and that was worth paying extra for; a 24/7 gym. In Napa, there is no 24-Hour Fitness, much to my despair, and the gym I did join has, by comparison, extremely limited hours. So, my point, no, I didn’t go to the gym today. So, the sprint I made between Terminal 8 and Terminal 6 at LAX with my forty-pound computer backpack and my electronic laden purse in order to even make my flight to Newark was my workout for the day. I arrived at the gate for my Newark flight in need of oxygen and defibrillation.

I made it, though. I didn’t get a free first class upgrade, which, truthfully, kind of pissed me off. But, I am on the commuter flight; L.A. to NYC. There are people sitting in first class that make this flight multiple times a week, who am I to think I rank in their numbers. I only do the west coast to east coast thing a couple of times a month! So, I take my seat in coach. Well, and God love United for this, not exactly coach, I get “Economy Plus” seating for no extra charge. I have status. Economy Plus is five extra inches of leg space, which also equates to tray table/laptop space even when the jerk in front of you reclines all the way. And, as a karma thing, I NEVER recline, it’s just not nice. Ever. There is nothing worse than having your red wine and your cheese, fruit and crackers perched on the flimsy tray, almost on top of your laptop, which cost almost as much as a semester of your children’s’ college education, and the asshole in front of you reclines their seat six inches. It doesn’t just thrust your laptop, wine, fruit and cheese towards your white, dry-clean only blouse at an alarming rate, it, 9 times out of 10, pins your laptop in a manner that it takes all of the gay, male flight attendants’ brute strength, combined, to try to dislodge it. Then the hetero female flight attendant comes along and deftly snaps it free, single handedly, while demonstrating the finer points of using the emergency oxygen mask. I really just want to know how to score oxygen even when there isn’t a sudden loss of cabin pressure. Do you think a two-dollar tip and a chatty conversation would suffice? How well does red wine and a healthy dose of oxygen mix?

Anyway. I’m in Economy Plus, thank God, for the next six hours, from L.A. to Newark, NJ. I really prefer booking my cross-country flight from Sacramento to Chicago, or Denver, both United hubs, then to my east coast destination. I like being able to get off the plane after three or four hours and eating real food, peeing in a real toilet, and walking on real ground. But, because of the nature of how my company has been scheduling my work lately, I have been booking flights within a week of departure. I have no options. When you require your employees to travel 70% of the time, best to take into consideration their likely travel experiences, because the more their travel experiences suck, the more likely they’ll quit, via email, while stranded in an airport in the middle of the night, without their luggage. Just saying.

So, I’m on this flight for the next six hours. I boarded late even after sprinting through the airport. The two seats next to me are vacant and I don’t dare hope they’ll remain that way. But I do. I scrutinize every person that boards the plane, I watch them as they negotiate their way down the aisle, reading the row and seat number, and hoping, against all hope, that they aren’t seated next to me. Rare, but lovely, are the flights where I have the whole row to myself. I don’t mind small talk, as evidenced by my bus driver entourage. Six hours of small talk, though, on only a few hours of sleep, is a bit more than I can consent to. I am hoping for an empty row, something alcoholic and uninterrupted sleep until I feel the jolt of the wheels hit the ground in Newark. Hey, a girl can dream!

They’ve made the “doors closing” and “electronics off” announcement, a couple of times. They’ve briefed the exit rows, even. And, still, the two seats next to me are vacant. I am hopeful, but still vigilant in watching for more passengers to board. I am in the aisle seat, of course, that is my preference. On a six-hour flight, I’d die if I didn’t have the aisle seat. Die. I’d die a horrible and very theatrical death, I assure you. I might make headlines, “passenger goes crazy, (insert newsworthy behavior here)” if I didn’t have the aisle seat.

A foreign couple boards the plane within seconds of the door actually being closed. In the slowest motion possible, they walk down the aisle. I’m only in the third row from the door, so it is extremely slow motion. They are looking left, then right, at the row and seat numbers. I marvel at that, once you’ve got the ABC’s and the DEF’s down, it’s all numbers, and in sequence, but, still, their heads swivel, in unison, right, left, right, left. They arrive at my row and, in unison, look at their tickets, look at the placard over my row, look at their tickets, look at the placard. They finally figure out it’s a “bingo”, they smile and, rather than letting me stand to allow them access to their seats, which I am happy to do, and, in fact, prefer, they insist on climbing over me. I hate that, it just feels so, lap dance. I’m all for lap dances, but I’d prefer to choose my participants, thank you. And, there is only one person I’d really like to give a lap dance to, and he isn’t on this flight. Sadly. Newark isn’t his kind of town. Nor mine.

They take their seats and my dreams of a row to myself are quashed. Worse. They begin snuggling and canoodling and displaying all kinds of PDA, which, again, I’m a fan of, if it’s me and my guy, but for anyone else, and especially people I am within inches of for the next six hours, um, ew.

We finally take off and as soon as is allowed, I have my defense shield up. My defense shield; devices that require my attention so as not to have to pay attention to anyone in my immediate proximity. iPod, iPad, Kindle, iPhone, heck, iPhones (2), and ear buds. I know, ear buds are weak. If you really want immunity you need noise cancellation. I’m just torn between Bose and Beats by Dr. Dre. Truth, I’m torn between Bose, Beats by Dr. Dre and paying my bills next month. And let’s not even talk about where in my forty pound electronics backpack, also known as my personal Best-Buy-in-a-Bag, I am going to be able to wedge these much larger than ear buds noise cancellation headphones! But how many flights have I endured where I could have blissfully sat, in silence, or listening to something wonderful, more wonderful than fucking screaming children!? Worth the price, for certain. But, I still haven’t invested. Why? Because every flight, I swear, is my last. Although, as I think about it, those noise cancellation headphones would, indeed, cancel out noise at home, too, right? Like television? And ringing telephones? And …

With my defense shield up and the couple next to me likely conceiving their first child, in flight, I manage to get a whole bunch of shit done! I am just on fire! Ideas are coming to me, I am jotting them down in Evernote. I am drafting emails that will magically fly off into cyberspace as soon as I turn off “plane mode” when we land. I am reading, writing and quasi-communicating, all the while, not paying attention to what is happening in the two seats adjacent to mine. I am grateful that they are speaking a language I do not understand, nor a language I can almost decipher. They are not speaking a romance language. I’m glad. I don’t want to know.

Wherever they are from, they have incredibly small bladders. They are up and down, climbing over me before I can move, in order to use the restrooms. I did notice, they went individually, otherwise, had they gone to the bathroom together, I might have forced my way up to the first class bathroom to pee, again, likely making national network news for my abhorrent and deviant behavior.

After a period of time that seemed way too long, by my estimation, the flight attendants rolled their little carts down the aisle. I’d had my customary oatmeal, banana and coffee from Starbucks at SMF (Sacramento International Airport) at 4:15 AM, in spite of the fact that they open, officially, at 4:30 AM. This is my secret, this is why I am always first in line; I know they will open early, so I start the line at 4:10 AM. But it is now after 9:00 AM PDT. So, I’m hungry! I read the menu carefully. The menus on airlines are intended solely for highly literate people! Only certain selections are available on certain flights based on any of several factors, including, but not limited to, flight duration, flight direction, flight destination and time of day, although it does not specify time zone. I like the cheese, cracker and fruit tray, even with the nasty glob of wilted greens, I don’t eat them, of course, I scrape them off the cheese and pretend they aren’t actually moving on the plastic wrapper where I’ve discarded them. The fruit and cheese platter, for whatever reason, is not available on this fight, some algorithmic function of time, duration, destination, direction and an unpublished and unquantifiable variable applied arbitrarily by someone at Skychef.

I find, instead, the “high-energy breakfast” consisting of a whole-wheat roll, Justin’s Nut Butter, and you know I’m a fan of Justin and his Nut Butter! There is also a chunk of cheese and some grapes. I wait, somewhat impatiently, for the flight attendant and the food cart. Everyone seated in the rows ahead of me are 1) non-English speaking and/or 2) are obtuse. They don’t know to look at the menu in the damn magazine even after the flight attendant announced it three separate times. It takes forever, but, finally, I am asked the ever-important question “food?” Yes! And I place my order. I also ordered a red wine to go with my “breakfast”. This raised many an unmanicured eyebrow in the surrounding seats in coach. Oh, sure, if you’re in first class there are more bloody marys, screwdrivers and mimosas than passengers, but in coach, this is brow raising? Firstly, this is not my breakfast, I had breakfast, with coffee at Starbucks five hours ago. Second, is this flight not landing in the Eastern Time zone? So, maybe I set my watch ahead three hours at boarding rather than landing and this, is, in fact, after noon (EDT). Wine with lunch is acceptable, right? Whatever. I enjoy my wine and my boxed airplane food.

Airplane food and wine. Flying coach at its finest.
Airplane food and wine. Flying coach at its finest.

My productivity continues for a bit, I am enjoying my Kindle book, I read the WSJ on my iPad, jot down a few more ideas in Evernote. I am blissfully productive. The couple next to me have fallen asleep, intertwined. I order another wine and stick my tongue out at the people across the aisle staring at me. Okay, I didn’t actually stick my tongue out, but I thought about it. Airline wine is not so fine, but it is nearly palatable, though, for red, a little too chilled. It is better than nothing.

Airplane food and wine. Flying coach at its finest.
Airplane food and wine. Flying coach at its finest.

We arrive in Newark on schedule and deplane. Now my week in New Jersey officially begins. Considering I was originally supposed to be in New York City this week, I am pouting at the relocation of our training session. I always say I hate Jersey, and I actually don’t. I hate Newark. I’m working twenty miles outside of Newark in Saddle Brook, an area I’ve been to before. But, still, it is a far cry from NYC. I’m still going to pout. I make my way through the airport, claim my luggage and take the train to the rental cars. I choose my car, nothing spectacular, a Chrysler 200, and I mentally prepare myself for my drive through Newark at 5:00 PM. New Jersey driving is, if you’ve never experienced it, a whole new ball game. I know the rules, now, and I adopt my best Jersey Turnpike sneer and my take no bullshit attitude as I turn the key in the ignition, put the car in drive and head for the highway and Jersey traffic. I can do this, it’s all in the attitude.

And, so, that’s my take away for today. We really can do anything we set our minds to. We can get up at 12:30 AM and function. We can live by the golden rule and make our way through life being charming and as a result, lead a somewhat charmed life. We can get a lot accomplished in confined quarters without Internet, if we just put our mind to it. We can have wine at nine because it is noon, somewhere, after all. And, most importantly, we can overcome fear and intimidation and drive with the best of them in New Jersey. Anything at all we want or need to accomplish is within our grasp if we just have some resolve. This applies to long-term goals, short-term goals, wishes, wants, hopes, desires and dreams. “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, it can achieve.” ― Napoleon Hill.

Scarlett’s Letter October 9, 2013

Today would’ve been my dad’s 93rd birthday. Like him, I have a fantastic memory for dates, like birthdates. I can remember birthdates, month and day, but please, please, please, don’t ever expect me to be able to tell you what year something or other happened. I know when my kids were born. I know when I graduated from high school. Everything else just happened somewhere along the line.

Dad still has a Facebook page, so, in case I forgot about his birthday today, I received a reminder along with a suggestion to buy him a Starbuck’s gift card. I considered it, but decided against it. I’ve left his page up, as I’ve noticed with friends who have passed before me, their Facebook pages are left and people stop by to pay tribute on birthdays, holidays and other important dates. It only seemed creepy for a bit, but I actually rather appreciate it, now, to be able to “publicly” pay respect to someone, to see others pay the same tribute. I have yet to take a look at Dad’s page to see if anyone has stopped by to pay homage. I’ll do so after a glass of wine, later this evening.

I ran seven fantastic miles this morning, according to plan. It feels like October in the Napa Valley. I know, it is, but it feels like it. This is the very best time of year in California, and here, especially. It’s cool enough in the morning to want to stay under the covers a moment longer, just long enough to hear the furnace kick on. As a child, I’d have gone over and sat on the floor, over the vent, with my nightgown billowing out around me, trapping the warm air within. My kids did this, too, when they visited their grandparents. I decided against sitting on the heater vent this morning. I’ll indulge at some point, even if just for the sake of posterity. And I can almost bet Mom will pop in to check up on me at precisely that moment and question my actions and intentions, my reasoning, and, perhaps, my sanity.

Once up, I donned my running gear, had breakfast and did a little work, while my running socks tumbled in the dryer. Then I headed to the “dog park”, where I park my car and ran my favorite loop, which ends in the vineyards of the Oak Knoll District. This, my favorite time of year, the sun is bright, there is rarely rain, and, if any, just enough to be novel, enough to wash the dust off everything, making the world look crisp and clean. There is rarely any fog, maybe just a few fluffy clouds here and there, drifting on the breeze as the valley breathes, inhaling in the morning, exhaling in the afternoon and evening, drawing a cool breath from the bay to the south, warming the air in the sunny valley, and blowing it slowly back out towards the water in the afternoon.

This is the time of year that I remember so fondly from my school years. School has started, there are football games every weekend, and the weather is finally just about right to be able to wear all your new school clothes for fall; sweaters, jeans, boots, all the cute things you found shopping for school, but as summer lingers here for so long, they were all much too warm to wear. For the first month or so of school, it was still shorts, tank tops and sandals or flats. Finally, fall school clothes can be worn without danger of heat stroke!

There is a change in the slant of the sunlight, too, that is indicative of the season. You begin to notice the subtle distance of the sun, it is bright, but the light is more diffused and just a little less warm. The light catches the changing colors of the leaves on the trees and on the vines and adopts a golden hue. When the sun sets, it is cool enough for a sweater, but warm enough for an evening walk. As night settles in, someone, somewhere, will light a fire in their fireplace and the smell of smoke will drift subtly on the cool air, like magic, unless it’s a “spare the air” day and there is a “burn ban.” I know, romance = brutally murdered.

The street I grew up on is lined with Chinese pistachio trees, planted by the city. They turn from green to fiery red and orange this time of year. The “City” is tearing up our sidewalk, street and gutters around the neighborhood where the tree roots have lifted the pavement. Our tree, I’m certain, is the biggest culprit. A few of the neighbors’ trees have actually been removed. Mom fears, like death, that “they’ll” remove our tree. They may, they probably should, but haven’t, thus far. Every day this week there have been dusty yellow pieces of equipment trundling up and down the street raising both dust and a racket. Trucks line the street and men in orange shirts mill about. Today, the jackhammering began. I gathered a few critical items for survival and headed for the Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company to regain some quiet, solitude and, hopefully, my sanity. I’ll work here until my computer dies, then look for an outlet here, or elsewhere. For now, with my iced decaf and enough serenity to be able to construct sentences, I am both at peace and in peace. Bliss.

Bliss at Napa Valley Coffee and Roasting Company!
Bliss at Napa Valley Coffee and Roasting Company!
Life at 1027 SB Drive.
Life at 1027 SB Drive.

This is living in the present. This is living in the moment. This is what we’re supposed to do, always. I am working, I am writing, and I am content. Thoughts of tomorrow, next week, next month, next year are as distant as those times are in the future. Thoughts of yesterday, last week, last month and last year are equally as distant. Removed. Removed from me by the time that has passed, the time that has not yet arrived, and, in the same manner, removed from my mind. This is where happiness and productivity thrive, in the present. This is a place free of stress, free of sorrow. There is nothing, right now, I need, that I don’t have. To extrapolate this feeling, this practice, across one’s life would create a happiness and contentment so complete that, if everyone knew about this secret, there would likely be no sadness, no depression, no anxiety, no fear, the world over. There could very well be no war, there would be most definitely, less disease. In fact, I am quite certain, as I’ve learned from Eckhart Tolle, this is the key to life, the key to everything. The present, a present, just waiting to be discovered.

I’m enjoying my present. How about you?

Bliss at Napa Valley Coffee and Roasting Company!
Bliss at Napa Valley Coffee and Roasting Company!

Scarlett’s Letter October 8, 2013

Lunch out, it has become a tradition and unlike many family traditions, this is one I both enjoy and look forward to. Lunch with Mom and my cousin.

I am away from home a lot for work, if you’ve read much of what I’ve written, you are well aware of this. Until earlier this year, I lived in Sacramento, an hour and a half drive away from my mom. Widowed now for coming up two years, aging and in deteriorating health, I’ve moved “home” until we figure out a better solution. This has been really hard for me. I’m sure it’s no picnic for Mom, either, and I’ve written plenty on this dynamic, too.

I am not totally satisfied with my livelihood these days, either. I have a fantastic job, no doubt. I am grateful. My work is satisfying and varied and interesting, the travel, though wearing and tiring, is fun and at least I’m not stuck in the same cubicle day in and day out. I am fairly well compensated and have competitive benefits. But. Yes, but. I am tired. I am bored. I have no direction for advancement. If I stay here I will never progress further. The travel wreaks havoc on friendships, relationships of all sorts and I’m certain constant upheaval, continual lack of sleep, restaurant food for weeks on end and wildly varying availability of exercise has to be less than ideal for my long-term health, which is one of my core principles. And then there’s Mom. How can I be here to help if I’m never here?

This week I am working from home, yet I have no teaching assignments. It isn’t a week off, I have plenty to do; expense reports, travel arrangements to make for upcoming trips, upgrading software, organizing materials for upcoming classes. I don’t get scheduled administrative time, so it piles up until one of these rare weeks comes along. These weeks are also the time I use to regroup, personally. I try to get back on track with my workouts, my clean eating routine, my organization and my attempts to assimilate my more wannabe minimalist lifestyle into my mom’s piles of paper, cupboards and closets of clutter and her knick-knack intensive world. Example; eight months after moving in now, the closet, desk and dresser in “my” room are still full of aforementioned things of Mom’s and I have piles of boxes in my room from which I must sift for underwear, shoes and purses. This all makes me a little cray cray.

The adjustment coming “off the road” where I live and dine in solitude, where I have almost certain quiet in the evenings, returning home where my whereabouts and activities are under constant inquiry, scrutiny, critique and question, where the TV is on full blast more of the day and night than not, where my comings and goings must be carefully and accurately detailed, where everything I say must be repeated, repeatedly, at louder and louder intervals, often with accompanying hand or body gestures, and where meal time is a constant barrage of questions to which there are no answers and lengthy, convoluted stories about people I’ve never met like, Mom’s hairdresser, her doctor, and other characters in her life. How she has accumulated so much personal data on these people I have no idea. She knows the names, national origins, livelihoods and every diagnosis for each and every family member for every individual she has ever encountered. I try to listen actively, to be present, as I preach, as I believe, and yet, the whole while I am thinking “this pertains to me how? What is the point of this story? Why am I being told this story? Is the only lesson here one of patience?” I crave silence, just a tad, if only a moment to gather my own thoughts so I can, perhaps, write an article or make a video or tell a story of my own from my travels.

I am happy to be home and can’t wait to leave again within about the first five minutes home. I am so out of sorts my first day or two home, I’m grumpy, I’m agitated and I hate that I feel grumpy and agitated. If I were a child I’d recommend a big, fat time out. In fact, I’d love a big, fat time out! More than anything. It takes me a few days to settle into some semblance of a routine of waking in my own bed, cooking, cleaning, working, working out, all while juggling Mom’s needs; errands, a chore here and there, figuring out why the TV only displays static, talking to the cable people on the phone to figure out why the TV only displays static, meeting the cable TV technician to demonstrate the non-functioning TV and to be the interpreter between Mom and the technician on why the TV only displays static, moving heavy objects, putting clean glasses back up on the top shelf, hanging the hummingbird feeders and answering tons of  unanswerable questions and listening to even more stories.

I have a lot on my plate and a whole bunch of crap swirling in the toilet bowl that is my mind, these days. I want out of just about everything I’m up to my eyebrows in. My sense of duty and my pragmatic side are preventing me from making the changes I need to, want to and really, have to make. This is my personal struggle and one I am counseling myself on like I would a good friend or anyone who asked my advice.

I don’t always take my own advice. And years later I usually end up scolding myself for not listening to myself sooner. When I don’t listen to my really good advice on personal growth and evolution, I turn to some of my tried and true mentors, usually found on my Kindle and in my Audible library, provided I am afforded any quiet solitude. This week, in my car, alone, I had a good no nonsense smack up the side of the head from Jillian Michaels in “Unlimited”. I agree 100% with every passionately spoken word she said so emphatically, sometimes I felt like I was being scolded, in her self-narrated audiobook from Audible. It was just the right amount of practical advice, common sense and that “get off your ass and do it” attitude of hers that I needed. Her books have, without a doubt, changed my life. Whether you like her on TV or not, her books are the best and there isn’t one I wouldn’t recommend.

With my priorities suddenly straightened out again, thanks Jillian, I got almost everything accomplished yesterday I hoped to; an easy three-mile run, a chest workout at the gym, shopping for food for the week, bills paid, work, of course, and laundry. I got an article posted, though I’d hoped to maybe get a second from my backlog finished and posted, too. Today, I’ve accomplished much of what I set out to do, knowing that today was going to be partially hijacked with Mom’s doctor’s visit. I made it to the gym for stairs and yoga and I’ve posted a couple of articles. But, yes, most of the day was devoted to Mom and her doctor’s visit.

In my absence, while traveling or when living further away, my cousin has made herself available to my parents. She is retired and has moved from San Francisco to Sonoma, and so, is only about twenty minutes away. She is very socially active but always finds time to help my parents out, especially as my dad’s health deteriorated, ultimately leading to his passing at the age of 91, a bit over a year and a half ago. My cousin was there for my mom, often, in the year that followed before I finally moved home, and continues to be close at hand for these doctor’s visits in the neighboring town, as Mom is not real confident driving such a distance these days. For all of this, I am so totally and completely grateful. That my cousin has devoted her time and compassion so generously has allowed me to keep this crazy job of mine, with my wild travels, decent pay and good benefits for that much longer.

The past couple of doctor’s visits, though, I have been home and have been willing and able to take Mom myself. Still, my cousin comes, drives even, and, per our family tradition, this is all followed by lunch, somewhere fabulous. The lunches were tradition long before I ever tagged along, but now, when I am in town, there are more and it is merry!

My cousin, an artist, a photographer, and creative in any imaginable way, strongly opinionated in many ways, and several of those strong opinions I agree whole-heartedly with, I’ve learned.  A few, I don’t. But that’s okay. Being my elder by some years, her children being my age actually, until now, I’ve never really had the opportunity to really develop a relationship such as a peer, a friendship, with her. And for this, too, I am very grateful. There are “family” similarities that cannot be denied, for example, the way we see things, which she easily expresses in art and I have the good taste to simply admire. We have a similar love of food and the outdoors, fashion and some basic philosophies about living life. I will admit, that through the years, as a child and young adult, I feared the differences we may have, based on our propensity to develop strong opinions. Hearing most of her points of view second hand, I almost wished to avoid visits so as to avoid any sort of butting of heads. Not that I seek to avoid people whose opinions differ from mine, but with family, and especially this family, it is sometimes the easier path. Thankfully, due to Mom’s routine doctor’s visits and our traditional lunch, I’ve had the opportunity to find that our differences are minor and rare. Example, I love polka dots, she scoffs at them. Big deal.

So, every few months, like today, the three ladies, our ages spanning three generations, pile into a car, drive to the neighboring town so Mom can see her doctor. After the doctor’s visit, we pile back in the car and decide on a place in Napa to enjoy lunch. At lunch we share stories, we share things that interest us, share artists and authors, ideas and philosophies. We enjoy an incredible meal and, most of all, the three of us enjoy each other’s company.

What in life do we avoid because we fear differences, adversity or conflict? Often those fears are unfounded, the differences, adversity and conflict are much more minor than we ever expected, once confronted, they are manageable, and, in fact, we grow from them. We learn new information, a new point of view, we learn, perhaps, acceptance and tolerance. We become better for the differences, adversities and conflicts we face, we become stronger, more confident. Sometimes, we discover that we have been, maybe, intolerant, closed minded, stubborn and by facing the difference, the adversity, the conflict, we grow. We may even change. Perhaps we even find the inspiration we’ve been seeking, or that we’ve been waiting for, to act as the catalyst for positive change in our lives. I will quote Eleanor Roosevelt daily until the day I die, “Do one thing every day that scares you.” And if that is facing whatever you fear in the way of a difference, or adversity or conflict, then you will have overcome yet another measly fear and you can move on to conquer the next, another day. And with each fear conquered, we evolve towards the people we deserve to be. Make facing those fears, overcoming differences, adversity and conflict a tradition, just like a good visit and a fab lunch with Mom and my cousin after a doctor’s appointment.


Making lunch a tradition with Mom and my cousin is not much different than making overcoming differences, adversity and conflicts. Devour them like an arugula salad pizzetta and a Session lager at Bene Gusto in Napa!
Making lunch a tradition with Mom and my cousin is not much different than making overcoming differences, adversity and conflicts. Devour them like an arugula salad pizzetta and a Session lager at Bene Gusto in Napa!
Just like my arugula salad pizzetta, you can clear your plate of adversity, differences and conflict, as a matter of tradition!
Just like my arugula salad pizzetta, you can clear your plate of adversity, differences and conflict, as a matter of tradition!




What Once Was Lost Now is Found

I have a confession to make. I lost something. It wasn’t just something, it was a handmade gift. I didn’t lose the whole thing, just one quarter of it, but without that one quarter, it wasn’t just incomplete, it wasn’t whole. I felt terrible. This was so unlike me, I’m quite careful about such things. You could even say compulsive. Perhaps even anal.

I became aware of my loss when my cousin, an artist, last visited. We got onto the topic of skulls as art, and ethnic and tribal art over lunch. I mentioned that my son’s former girlfriend was an artist and had made and given to me, as a gift, four hand etched tiles that, when placed together, made a skull. When we returned to the house, I went upstairs to retrieve the tiles from where they are carefully displayed on my small bookcase by my window to show my cousin. I have them stacked, dead in the center. The bookcase is out of the way and doesn’t get much traffic, so, doesn’t get bumped or knocked. I figured it would be a safe location for the tiles. When I took them downstairs to spread out onto the kitchen table, there were only three tiles. I ran back upstairs and looked and looked and looked for the fourth tile. I looked behind the bookcase, in case the tile had fallen. I looked all around the bookcase and even inside the books to make sure it hadn’t fallen between two, or within one. No tile. My mom was pretty insistent that it must be on the floor behind the bookcase, but I’d looked, and it wasn’t. The tiles are heavy enough that I couldn’t imagine the lace curtain on the window next to the bookcase, even in a hurricane force wind, being capable of knocking a tile off the top of the bookcase. I was certain that, in my move, I’d neglected to unwrap the tile from the U-Haul wrapping paper I buy, by the box, with each and every relocation. I know I’d wrapped the tiles with my other “treasures”, usually the last things to get packed, and after riding in my car or in the front seat of the moving van, they are the first to get unloaded and the first to get unpacked. I rooted through a couple of boxes still lingering around, but found no tile. I was now afraid I’d tossed the tile out with some of the wrapping paper. I felt a little sick.

I considered sending a Facebook message to the artist and giver of the gift, telling her of my loss and asking her if she could recreate the one tile, for which I’d be happy to pay. I delayed. Or procrastinated. Or chickened out. I felt careless. As I said, this is not like me. I’m quite particular about such things, and I have considerable experience moving, I just don’t lose things in the process of moving. I mean, you should see how I pack and label boxes, you’d understand.

The other day, weeks after the discovery of my loss, after wine tasting, so a little buzzed, I was rooting around behind a small, upholstered chair, in my room, near the bookcase I had the tiles on. I was in search of something unrelated. I keep caboodles and other tidy containers of things like hair accessories and gloves, sunglasses and nail polish, under the chairs, out of sight, but close at hand. There, on the floor, behind the chair, upside down, was the missing tile, unbroken. Intact. I was so relieved, I did a little happy dance and reunited the piece with the rest of the set, which had been moved to another location, further from the window. The tiles are now spread out rather than stacked, defeating, or at least mitigating, the force of gravity that apparently displaced the reclaimed tile.

What once was lost, now is found. My tile art pieces are joined together once again.
What once was lost, now is found. My tile art pieces are joined together once again. Artwork by the talented Kayla Verseput.

What other things of value have we lost? Whether out of neglect, carelessness, or just with the passage of time. Are there things in life we’ve lost that we’d dearly love to find, to reclaim, a treasure of some sort? Not knick-knacks or pieces of art, not tangible items, but things more valuable, things that are, perhaps even, priceless. Perhaps our self-confidence, our ability to trust, faith, our health, love, our purpose, our ability to forgive, hope, our energy, enthusiasm, passion, courage, our integrity, our inspiration, motivation, our self-esteem.

Like the tile, we may not even realize what’s missing until we need it, until we go in search of it. The discovery of our loss, though far greater in magnitude than my tile, will cause a sense of panic, of confusion and even sorrow and despair. We will wonder how we could have displaced something of such value, something that money cannot replace.

We will spend time trying to figure out how, or even if, we can possibly regain what has been lost. We may feel despair at the thought, or, in some cases, the certainty, that it cannot. At this point, many falter and resign to the loss. Then, and only then, does the loss become real and certain.

Recognizing the loss is our first step. Coming to terms with it helps us begin to take the steps to find what once was ours. We can begin to plan, to set goals, to move in the direction of restoration. We can find our inspiration, foster our motivation. Be assured, that once we have found again what was lost, whether self-confidence, our ability to trust, faith, our health, love, our purpose, our ability to forgive, hope, our energy, enthusiasm, passion, or our self-esteem, it may seem different than in its original form, it will likely be much better. At the very least, we will have a better appreciation and more respect for it. We will take better measures to safeguard it, to care for it, to keep it, much like the tiles on my shelf.

What once was lost, now is found. What you have lost, you too can find, you need only to keep searching, it’s there, I assure you.

Scarlett’s Letter September 22, 2013

My day at home. My only day at home. So, this is my “day off” for the week. I leave tomorrow at the crack of dawn for New Jersey. So today, on my day off, I must unpack from my week in Montana, launder, then pack again. Except I no longer have functional suitcases, so I, too, must obtain new suitcases in which to pack.

I spent my morning at the Napa Premium Outlet Stores. I’ve been suitcase shopping before, knowing this day was not too distant. The suitcases I am replacing came from Kohl’s, my least favorite store on the planet next to, perhaps, Wal Mart. My issue with Kohl’s is you never know what anything is going to cost, it’s kind of like shopping and playing “Let’s Make a Deal” at the same time. The price an item is marked may or may not be what you will be charged. It will never be more, which is good, because the price most things are marked at Kohl’s s far more than I’d ever be willing to pay. Kohl’s prints and sends stuffed in every newspaper and junk mail heap multiple, multiple page ads. I have placed two “current” ads next to each other, side by side, after ten minutes of fervent searching for the suitcase page and the identical suitcase is listed for different prices. Yes. Different prices for the same item on the same day. How is this accomplished? And then, there’s the real deal at the bottom of the page; when you get to the cashier, you get a “scratcher”, like a lottery ticket, and you scratch away the nasty gray shit to reveal an additional percentage off of one advertised price, or the other, I don’t know which. And, if it’s Tuesday it’s more, and if my mom purchases the suitcase on Tuesday between such and such a time and such and such a time, there is an additional savings, and, if she uses her Kohl’s charge card, if I did my math right, they are going to pay me to take the suitcase off their hands. Bullshit. There is something very wrong with their marketing or their merchandise and I’ve decided I’d rather go to the Samsonite store and pay a couple of dollars more and get exactly what I want, in the color I want. I can arrive any day I like, I can use whatever payment means I choose and the price is as marked. I like it. It’s called simplicity. I crave simplicity. So. That’s what I did, I went directly to the Samsonite store, picked two suitcases out, a large and a small. I found an amazing color, more of a wine than a purple, but delicious and uncommon, which is what I strive for in everything in life. The salesperson was super helpful and super knowledgeable. She rung up my purchase as I told her how my last pair finally wore out after three and a half years. She seemed a little shocked. I assured her that I was pleased with the quality and that I just traveled a lot. She asked where I’d purchased my previous Samsonite suitcases. I told her, “Kohl’s”, a little embarrassed. She informed me that the “Samsonites” from Kohl’s are actually made especially for Kohl’s and aren’t quite the same, nor do they offer the ten year warranty. You see? She told me to photocopy my sales receipt and zip in within the lining in each suitcase and if either should fail in any way, just bring it back. You see? Me = super happy customer. I think I spent ten dollars more than if I’d gone to Kohl’s. I think, depending on all those crazy variables and contests. I don’t care, I’ve got the real deal and the real warranty.

It is difficult to be home for only a day. After a week of travel and restaurant food, worse, Montana restaurant food, I really just want good, wholesome, clean food. But it is quite difficult to go to Whole Foods and buy ingredients with which to cook a single breakfast, a single lunch and a single dinner and have no leftovers to deteriorate in the refrigerator during my absence beginning tomorrow. I’m so tired of eating out. So, so tired. But, whatcha gonna do? Mom and I decided to finally try the “pizza” place that occupied the sometimes occupied and often vacant restaurant space in the tiny shopping center by the neighborhood market. Pizza, salads and sandwiches, beer and wine. Sounds good enough. We’ve been by before and it always appears closed. Again, today, it appeared closed. The neon “Pizza” sign in the window adjacent the parking lot was not lit. I walked down the walkway to the “front” door, which is actually on the side. It appeared dark within, but the hours posted in the door stated they should be open. Mom was waiting back by the car. She doesn’t walk unless there is a guarantee of some sort at the end of the journey. I went back to the car and tried the door next to the parking lot by the unlit neon “Pizza” sign. It opened. So, either the place is unlocked or they are in fact open. I toddle, along with Mom, up to the “front” door, open it and we venture inside. The tables are all empty and it is quite dark inside. There are lights on, but it is quite dark. Mom and I exchanged a glance, neither of us is too keen on being the only diners in a restaurant. I don’t mind dining alone, but I only if there are other people around me. Being the only patrons in a restaurant makes me uneasy. I noticed the back door to the patio was open and outside were tables. Occupied tables. We were greeted and seated outside.

A little backstory. I grew up with a couple of kids from a large, long-time Napa family, an Italian family, in the grocery business. This restaurant site was once their home. When they built the market next door and the surrounding shops, they converted the house into a restaurant site. This neighborhood is a couple of miles from downtown Napa, and so, a bit removed. Until recently, Napa, the city, has sort of been the laughing stock and ugly stepchild of the Napa Valley, world famous wine region. Passing through Napa was just necessary in order to get to the real destination; everything from just north of Napa, onward. In the past few years, downtown Napa has been struggling, and in some respects, succeeding at also becoming a destination. While there are many vacancies and the “mall” has been officially pronounced dead, it is all slated for redevelopment and some big brands are in line to occupy some of the new spaces. Many downtown restaurants and tasting rooms are thriving and the streets are (infuriatingly) lined with slow moving tourists, both on foot and in cars. There are a couple of nice hotels that seem to be doing well, with another one or two planned. I am of the ilk that growth, development and progress is good. Mom is not. She wants it all the way it used to be; complete with cows and sheep and orchards and only a couple of vineyards. It is my hope that as Napa grows and reinvents itself, that some of these little restaurants out of town a wee bit, will have a better chance of success.

Are we unlike towns, shopping centers and restaurants? Don’t we sometimes need a little re-inventing of our own? A bit of creativity, a new look, a new outlook, a new purpose? Sure we do! And we should fight the same resistance to just want to remain “the way it used to be”. Like all things in life, like all things in the world, we need to progress, we need to adapt, to grow, to change. We need to evolve in order to remain relevant and vital.

As Napa reinvents itself and fosters a better chance of success for its businesses and restaurants, it is this little restaurant in particular that I hope thrives. Bene Gusto. What a bright spot in my week. Mom and I sat on the patio with the other guests, sipped a couple of cold beers from their NorCal beer offering. They featured Napa wines, of course, and a great sounding little menu. On their menu was a “Lunch Bite” special. For ten bucks you get a beer or wine from the list, a salad with greens so fresh Whole Foods should pay attention and a personal, ten inch pizza in any variety you choose from either the New York Style menu or the Artisan Menu, probably ten to twelve different pizza varieties in all. We both ordered a “Lunch Bite” and the salad, as I said, was so incredibly fresh I looked around for the garden. I didn’t see one, but I’ve not had greens so good in a long time. And I do shop at Whole Foods, with satisfaction. My pizza was divine, the crust was perfect, the toppings were of superior quality and creative in their combination. Best of all, our waiter was the best, and I gathered, related to the endeavor. A father, sons project, if I put the puzzle pieces together right. And for all of this splendor, it only cost me ten bucks. So happy. So, so happy. After lunch, on our way back through the restaurant, I checked out their little bar area, which was inviting and had a chalkboard ad boasting pizza and a beer for six bucks as a happy hour special. Perfect.

After my salad, pizza and two beers, back home, I did that which I dreaded; I tried to figure out how everything that had special pockets and spaces in my old suitcase would be contained within the new suitcase, which is completely, architecturally different on the inside. As I’ve mentioned, I never totally unpack my suitcase and if I need this or that, I know exactly which corner of what pocket in whichever suitcase to find it. This is major upheaval. I managed to get it all put together, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to be thrashing through everything looking for one thing or another, at least for a while. I managed.

And then, the Sunday night ritual, well, actually, to be more precise, the Sunday late afternoon ritual; I set my alarm for 12:30 AM and tried to sleep while it was still daylight outside and kids were still playing in the streets and neighbors still mowed their lawns. And, about the time life in the neighborhood finally quieted down, my alarm went off and it was time for me to go. Once again.

Creekside patio dining at Bene Gusto in Napa.
Creekside patio dining at Bene Gusto in Napa.
Creekside patio dining at Bene Gusto in Napa.
Creekside patio dining at Bene Gusto in Napa.
Creekside patio dining at Bene Gusto in Napa.
Creekside patio dining at Bene Gusto in Napa.
A great little beer selection at Bene Gusto in Napa.
A great little beer selection at Bene Gusto in Napa.
A great little beer selection at Bene Gusto in Napa.
A great little beer selection at Bene Gusto in Napa.
The "Lunch Bite" is a great deal at Bene Gusto. Here, the Potato Pizza from the Artisan Pizza menu.
The “Lunch Bite” is a great deal at Bene Gusto. Here, the Potato Pizza from the Artisan Pizza menu.
An entertaining way to deliver the bill, tucked in some fantastic old book.
An entertaining way to deliver the bill, tucked in some fantastic old book.
Bene Gusto - the bar area.
Bene Gusto – the bar area.
The Bene Gusto "mascot". I think.
The Bene Gusto “mascot”. I think.

Scarlett’s Letter September 21, 2013

Do you ever feel like you’re on an episode of “This Is Your Life”? Or maybe “Candid Camera” or “Punk’d”? That’s how my day felt from the very beginning.

After checking out of my hotel early this morning, I headed to the Glasgow International Airport. It’s still dark, of course, that is pretty much my travel M.O.

I did a “dry run” last night. I knew approximately where the airport was from my arrival, but since I was being driven to the airport to retrieve my rental car after dark, after a very long day and a whole bunch of beer, I thought I’d better figure out exactly where it was. I remember the nice lady, an employee of Silver Airlines, telling us as she turned off the “highway” that there was only one sign indicating the airport was up a certain road. And, technically, after passing said sign a time or two coming back from a couple of the out-of-town restaurants I visited, it was just a picture of an airplane, no arrow, no words. Just an airplane. So, it is up to the driver to figure out what to do with that vague bit of information. In my first attempt in finding the airport, I actually approached from the other edge of town. I stumbled upon another airplane sign and ventured up the road that turned closest to the sign. And, indeed I found the airport. In all its majesty it stood there, perched next to a runway tinier than the very narrow road I’d followed up the hill. The entire facility was surrounded by very tall chain link fence. I drove the road along one edge and another road along another edge, but didn’t actually find the entrance to the airport. Nor did I find the other road, from the other edge of town, the one closest to my hotel and the one I’d hoped to use this morning. I ended up turning Andy’s rent-a-Buick around in some dirt driveway because I was on the beginning of what appeared to be a very long, narrow, dusty road to nowhere. I found my way back whence I came and drove to the other edge of town. I accidentally passed the street proximate to the airplane sign, but only because the airplane sign is only on one side of the road, the opposite side of the road than I was on, and so, not visible from the direction I was currently traveling. I made a U-turn, or, as we used to call it back in high school, “flipped a tit”. I approached from the other direction, now, and turned right immediately after passing the airplane sign. I ventured up the hill and found myself one “driveway” down from the dirt driveway I’d turned around in a few minutes earlier. Apparently the first “driveway” I passed was actually the road I was looking for. I find street signs so incredibly helpful, especially near airports. I should alert someone in Glasgow to this fact.  I turned left and ventured down the road I have now been down twice before in the last ten minutes. This time, however, I spot the tiny paved path, barely wide enough for a car, that is, apparently, the entrance to the Glasgow International Airport. And, it is. I am so glad I have decided to kill thirty minutes driving in circles and back and forth and back and forth tonight, rather than tomorrow morning. Heaven knows I don’t want to miss my flight. There is only one flight to Billings each day. With luck.

I make it to the airport without a hitch this morning, again grateful I successfully completed the reconnaissance mission the pervious evening. The airport is a bustling hive of activity. There is a TSA agent and someone behind the counter, I presume, who will be able to check me in, as this is not something that can be done online with this airline. I am also hoping to have both of my suitcases checked to the same destination I am traveling. I approach the counter and the nice lady addresses me by name. How did she do that? As I gathered, as other passengers arrived, it was by the process of elimination. I was the only “out-of-towner” taking this flight today. I very efficiently produce my California Drivers License and wait. A minute passes as the lady types very slowly with one index finger on the ancient keyboard. I strain to look at the monitor, I’m pretty sure it’s one of those old monochrome green monitors, but I actually don’t want to know. I would find that a little unsettling. I really, really want to get home. I only have a one-day weekend ahead of me and I really need to unpack, do laundry and pack again before Monday morning rolls around.

The terminal at Glasgow International Airpot in Glasgow, Montana. I spent entirely too much time here.
The terminal at Glasgow International Airpot in Glasgow, Montana. I spent entirely too much time here.

Another minute passes. She has stopped typing for a bit and has pulled out a four inch thick three-ring binder and is flipping through page after page, each page ensconced in a plastic sleeve, I’m guessing, because they are so frequently used the paper may wear completely out on a very frequent basis. I lower the forty-pound computer backpack off my shoulder and it meets the ground with a soft thud. Note to self, look up that chiropractor my friend recommended and schedule an appointment for some time in January when I may be home for more than just a Sunday.

She pokes deliberately at the keyboard some more. It has been five full minutes. At least. Not a word has been spoken. I’m trying to make a pleasant face. She seems really stressed out and I don’t want to end up in Egypt with my bags in Detroit. I can’t think of anything worse. Except for maybe staying here. She consults the binder again. Then jabs at the keyboard again. She has begun to narrate her actions and keeps talking about an “entry” that needs to be made. Is it her fist day? I’m trying really hard not to leap over the counter and push her aside. Certainly I could hack my way through whatever entry she has to make. I’m pretty good at computers and software and shit. I refrain. I shift from one foot to another. Ten minutes have passed and another passenger has entered the “terminal”, well, let’s just say, room.

At last she produces two luggage tags. I’m encouraged! I ask her if I’ll have to claim my bags in Billings and check them in with Delta as I did on my trip here. She told me, brimming with pride and confidence, that she was able to check them all the way through to Sacramento. At this point, I would have preferred to see my bags in Billings, to touch them, to lay hands on them and to check them again, with Delta. I’d be willing to pay extra to do so! And, Delta, truthfully, is not my favorite airline, not one I’m willing to say, with confidence, that I trust. But compared to what I’m witnessing presently, I’d trust Delta with the national deficit and the national defense, if I had to choose between the two. Dubiously, I take the claim tickets to my two purple suitcases that hold, pretty much, everything I need to survive a week on the road in the manner I’m accustomed to. And, if they were lost, I’d be hard pressed to remember exactly what all of those items are.  A cool plastic bowl, a couple of those roll up plastic cutting boards in ultra cool colors, my uber-sharp, high quality paring knife, my wine bottle opener and my beer bottle opener from the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo (definitely not easy to replace), my clothes, of course, my cute purple and pink blow dryer and pink and brown straightening iron, not to mention that elusive circumference curling iron I’ve had sine the 1980’s that I’m SURE is no longer made. You get the idea. Screwed. I’d be screwed if it were all lost, forever, in Detroit, by some keyboard jabbing incompetent.

She is still poking at the ancient keyboard, violently. My bags have a ticket to fly, I do not. She consults the manual again. Finally, she makes eye contact with me and explains her dilemma. For whatever reason, she can’t get my boarding pass to print. I wonder if she can email it to me, but based on the antiquity of the equipment, I’m guessing, “no”. Two more people have entered the room, I mean terminal, and have taken seats to wait their turn to have their tickets printed. It has now been a full thirty minutes. She picks up the phone, dare I look? Is it a rotary dial phone? No, it is definitely an old school, perhaps first generation, touch tone phone. I am mildly relieved. She jabs violently at the keys on the phone, looking first at the directory, then at the keypad on the phone, then at the directory, then at the keypad on the phone. Someone picks up the line, apparently, because the ticket agent begins to narrate her keystrokes, all of them, in detail. She references the information in the three-ring binder in her detail, and, after about ten minutes of one-sided dialog, there is a pause. The pause is followed by more violence against keyboards followed by a “nope.” More jabbing. “Nope.” More poking. “Nope.” This continues for another ten minutes. I’ve taken my Kindle out and am three chapters into that book I’ve been meaning to start. The ticket agent suggests, finally, “I can just hand write her a ticket.” Yes. Let’s do that. And I’m so glad I allowed my customary hour for check in and checking bags, in spite of the size of this airport. Stick with your schedule, either way, you’ll probably end up reading a book while your wait.

The ticket agent writes out my boarding pass, painstakingly, left-handed, and hands me two copies. She explains that she’ll collect one copy from me when I board. Okie dokie.  I take a seat. And in three minutes, flat, the other four passengers are all checked in, bags are checked and they have their computer generated, printed boarding passes. There are now three TSA agents and one comes around the corner and wheels my somewhat road-weary purple Samsonite suitcases into the secured area. I approach the security desk. Once issued your boarding pass and having checked your bags, you usually head for security screening. Nope. This is a new ball game. I am told to take a seat and that I will be called when they are ready to screen passengers. I couldn’t help but notice that the security agent who told me this is, literally, elbow deep in the larger of my two suitcases. He has in one hand my beautiful fuzzy, leopard print Jessica Simpson slippers with the black glitter bow and, in the other, my computer tool kit for those on the road repairs I’ve had to do while on the phone with my company’s tech support crew. I hate those. The calls to tech support, not the slippers. I love the slippers and, frankly, I’m more than a little uneasy with the fact that this large, cross-eyed, red-headed, mouth breathing, more than slightly awkward TSA agent in the middle of B.F.E. is fondling my J.S. slippers. He nervously sets them down, blushes, and tells me to take my seat in the waiting area, which, by the way, is well out of view of whatever he is doing. I am told that they will call us when they are ready for us to proceed through screening. I’m wondering where the two women TSA agents are, shouldn’t they be monitoring this guy, like when you have a pelvic exam? The doctor always has the medical assistant in the room while things are going down, as like, a witness. I’m pretty sure this guy should have a witness for whatever he’s doing to my J.S. slippers. Ew.

I, reluctantly, take a seat in the waiting room. The other passengers consist of a few men and a woman. One man looks like a guy that stepped right out of a Wrangler commercial. When I was a young girl in 4H, hanging out with all those cowgirls and cowboys, back in junior high, we used to say “Wrangler butts drive me nuts”. I think it’s a viable ad campaign, but one Wrangler has chosen to avoid, for whatever reason. The woman is interrogating the other two; one is an “oil people”, the most feared and most talked about breed around town. There are lots of “oil people” around Montana these days and they are to be blamed for anything and everything from climate change to any unsolved crime or odd occurrence, including the penny increase for gas at the pump. In fact, I could probably pin blame on this “oil people” person for my boarding pass not printing properly. I’ve got my own troubles, and my own profile, to deal with. The other guy is a railroad worker. The hotel I stayed at was full of railroad workers and “oil people”, and riff raff like me.  The local lady seemed to like the railroad worker guy and had a pleasant and lengthy conversation with him. He was from New Mexico. She was simply going to Billings for a bridal shower or some such thing. The rest of us were on to other destinations outside of Big Sky Country. Except for Mr. Wrangler. He never spoke a word and was never asked a question. But he got a boarding pass and made it right through security when it came time.  A man of mystery in his legendary jeans. Personally, unless riding a horse, I prefer Levi’s, both for wearing and for admiring. Wranglers have no raised inside seam, which for riding horses, or bulls, is very nice. Levi’s do. That’s the technical difference. Aesthetically, I think it’s just personal preference.

I hear a tape gun. I hear a tape gun. I have moved five times in five years, I know the sound of a tape gun. I have to say, with absolute certainty, I have never heard a tape gun in an International Airport before. I hear tape being spooled from a tape gun for seconds upon seconds upon seconds. I’m thinking they’ve spooled out about eight feet of tape! What in the world? My stomach sinks. My suitcase. The larger, and more expensive of my two purple Samsonite suitcases has a busted zipper. A busted zipper on every compartment except the main compartment. The zipper pulls are busted on the main compartment, but the zipper still functions. I just can’t lock the main compartment. I’ve gotten over that fact years ago. I swear by Samsonite. I’ve had these suitcases for most of my five and a half travel intensive years with my current employer. I have been shopping for a new large suitcase a couple of times, but have held off. Until the last zipper busts or the wheels break off, I’m going to keep getting my money’s worth out of this bag. No one every opens those other compartments, ever. The broken zipper is like an unspoken rule. Like rules of engagement. Like “Dude, if you open the compartments with the broken zipper, you can’t close them again and the poor lady (obviously, the bag is purple) is going to have to shell out $400 for a new suitcase”. A few minutes later, Mr. bulky, cross-eyed, red-headed, mouth breathing, more than slightly awkward TSA agent in the middle of B.F.E. comes rolling around the corner with my suitcases. The larger of the two is bound and gagged with several wraps of packing tape. He fails to make eye contact with me. For now. I whip out my phone, open up my calendar and schedule “suitcase shopping” between 12:00 and 1:00 on my only day off for the week. That should allow just enough time to get the new suitcase home, and packed, before going to bed at 4:30 PM because I have to get up at 12:30 AM for my next flight away from home for the next work week. I then open my notes app and begin drafting my letter of resignation. For the five hundred and twelfth time.

We are, at last, summoned forth to approach the security desk. I am, as usual, first in line. I can’t help it, it’s just me. Mr. bulky, cross-eyed, redheaded, mouth breathing, more than slightly awkward TSA agent in the middle of B.F.E. takes my California Drivers License and my hand written boarding pass. He studies it for several seconds longer than is necessary, then asks me to step aside. Meanwhile, my computer bag with two computers and every necessary cord and peripheral and my purse with my credit cards, my iPad, my iPhones and my Kindle, and every hope of ever being able to reach people back in civilization, slowly proceed through the scanner. Let us not forget my perpetual and somewhat rebellious experiment, my bottle of eye drops in my computer bag and my bottle of mouthwash and tube of toothpaste in my purse, both thus far undetected, unchallenged, though every airport through which I have travelled for four of my five and a half years of frequent travel.

I am asked to step aside. The locals look at me like I’m a terrorist. Yes. Of course. The next 9-1-1 is going to originate out of Glasgow, Montana and I’m the Muslim extremist, Al Qaeda perpetrator du jour. I have brown hair, large brown eyes, large features and I’m “not from ‘round here”. Mr. bulky, cross-eyed, redheaded, mouth breathing, more than slightly awkward TSA agent in the middle of B.F.E.  is conferring with keyboard abusive ticket agent lady. I’m fucked. She’s explaining how the computer wouldn’t print out my ticket and he’s explaining that he needs to be able to verify my ticket and my destination. Neither is listening to each other, they are just explaining, loudly, simultaneously. Everyone is staring at me like I’m “the evil” George W. Bush described. Meanwhile, our flight is now, officially, late. I’m such a bitch. I made a flight late. Because, obviously, I’m a frickin’ terrorist. With purple suitcases and fuzzy, leopard print slippers. God, I hope he didn’t touch my matching glittery, floral V.S. undies and bras when he ransacked my suitcase. The slippers were bad enough.

Ten minutes later, a resolution is met; keyboard abusive ticket agent lady wrote, in pen, my name on the ticket she prepared. It was absent that key piece of information beforehand. I’d noticed. I didn’t want to be rude and mention it and I thought since she was just collecting one of the two pieces of paper as I boarded, it probably wasn’t that big a deal. Well, it was. Now that my name was on the ticket, in still wet blue ballpoint pen ink, and the name, miraculously matched my California Drivers License, I was okay to board the plane. I ran. I casually observed that no fluid was leaking from either engine, that I could discern, and I boarded. I was in the back of the plane. We were all in the back of the plane. The local lady strikes up a conversation with me, asks me what I was doing in Glasgow. I tell her what I tell everyone, the best way I know how to describe what it is I do; I teach CPAs how to use software. She smiles and says, “Oh, so you worked with Richard this week!” Yes. I did. Not Richard, exactly, his daughter and a couple of other folks. She knew. She has known Richard, and his family, for, well, forever. I’m in. I’m O.K. And, more importantly, I’m on the plane. And it doesn’t appear to be leaking.

The pilot/flight attendant comes aboard and asks us all to take seats up front until we make our first stop in Wolf Point. Then we can take our assigned seats again. I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and try not to think of the impetus for this request and follow instructions. We take off a few short moments later. At Wolf Point, we land and are allowed to stay aboard. A few other passengers board, we all assume our assigned seats and we take off for Billings. Never have I been so excited to be headed for a metropolis such as Billings, Montana. We make it there post haste, as fast as those two little prop engines can manage. I exit the plane and my only worry in the world is; where the fuck are my bags?

I have a couple of hours to kill in Billings. I exit the secured area and hang out, not too suspiciously, but, maybe, lurk, around the baggage carousel, just to see if I spot any unclaimed purple suitcases. I don’t see them. Detroit. I’m certain. Or Egypt, as I seem to be on course thus far. I go to the restaurant on the “outside” of security and have a miserable breakfast and a bottomless cup of coffee.

Yuck. At Billings International Airport.
Yuck. At Billings International Airport.

For lack of anything better to do, after breakfast, I make my way through security screening again, because one can never have too much fun in one day. I find my gate and sit, charging my electronics, hoping to be able to write, which I am unable to do because some lady is broadcasting her cell phone conversation for us all to hear. “Us” all being everyone in the boarding area for our gate and the three surrounding gates. She was, apparently, highly religious, and wanted everyone within a half-mile radius to know that she was blessed and that God loves us all and that she was in fellowship, via her cell phone, with people of God. I’m happy for her. But all I want to do is clasp my hands over my ears and yell “La La La La La! I can’t hear you!” and, maybe, collect enough unique, original thoughts to get part of an article written. Nope. No such luck. I unplug everything and put them all away. I sit and stare straight ahead and just wait for the boarding announcement. That’s all I can manage.

For lack of anything better to do, after breakfast, I make my way through security screening again, because one can never have too much fun in one day. I find my gate and sit, charging my electronics, hoping to be able to write, which I am unable to do because some lady is broadcasting her cell phone conversation for us all to hear. “Us” all being everyone in the boarding area for our gate and the three surrounding gates. She was, apparently, highly religious, and wanted everyone within a half-mile radius to know that she was blessed and that God loves us all and that she was in fellowship, via her cell phone, with people of God. I’m happy for her. But all I want to do is clasp my hands over my ears and yell “La La La La La! I can’t hear you!” and, maybe, collect enough unique, original thoughts to get part of an article written. Nope. No such luck. I unplug everything and put them all away. I sit and stare straight ahead and just wait for the boarding announcement. That’s all I can manage.

Our plane arrives, we board, we fly to Salt Lake City and there I wait. I have enough time for a couple of excellent, local beers and the worst airport food I’ve ever tasted. Mind you, the best airport food I’ve ever had has been at SLC, I just didn’t think I had enough time to go that far and make it back in time for my flight to Sacramento. I compromised. I regretted it. After my nasty bar fare and my Polygamy Porter and my Evolution Amber Ale, both by Wasatch Brewery, and both very enjoyable, I made my way to my gate for my final flight. As soon as I approached, found a seat next to an outlet and plugged in my iPhones, the gate agent announced that the flight to Sacramento was oversold and they were looking for volunteers, who would, of course, be compensated with travel voucher. My instincts kicked in, my fight or flight instinct, no pun intended. Like Wild Bill Hickok, who, by the way, is my fourth cousin, I unplugged my devices, stashed them in my purse and was to the counter before anyone could even blink. Yes, survival of the fastest. I secured myself a seat on the later flight to Sacramento and had in my hot little hands a $400 voucher, which, and I made sure, will work on Alaska Airlines and $18 worth of dining vouchers. I now had hours to kill and vouchers to spend, I was off to find the ladies room and a voucher worthy venue with power outlets.

I only got as far as the top of the escalator and was sucked in to the undeniable force that is Vino Volo. I kind of missed the step involving the ladies room. I sat myself down at the bar and ordered the “California Kings”, my usual, though the selections vary. As I waited for my wine to be poured it occurred to me, crap, well no, not crap, but I did really need to use the loo. My wines arrived. I tried my best to savor them, but I really had to go. I guzzled my three three-ounce pours, quickly paid my tab and ran for the ladies room. I couldn’t help but notice, though, that there was a whole new side to Vino Volo; beer. Vino Volo was now Vino Volo Winery and Ale House. I ran. I peed. I returned. I still have five and 7/8 hours out of six to kill. I took a seat at the other bar, the “ale house” side. You can have wine or ale at any spot in the venue, I was just a little embarrassed to go back to the same seat. For all the difference it made, I had the same waiter. I ordered three tastes, for free, three ounces each, which I savored with the spicy edamame. Based on my tasting, I ordered a large glass of the Desert Edge Brewery’s Latter Day Stout. So good. I enjoyed this robust brew with a fab spinach salad, for dinner. Because I had now been at Vino Volo for an embarrassingly long time, I cashed out and headed towards my gate. Still way too early, even by my standards, and, after verifying that the Sacramento flight was appropriately displayed on the monitors at the gate, and, finding no available seating, I headed to another bar adjacent to my gate, and had one more Polygamy Porter. For the road. Or the air. Or whatever. I will miss Montana and Utah brews once back home. Not that I’m going to be home long enough to even open a beer. Still, I’m seizing opportunity while in the midst.

 Vino Volo AND ALE HOUSE? Whaaaaat?
Vino Volo AND ALE HOUSE? Whaaaaat?
Vino Volo and Ale House at SLC. Beer. Wine. Food. What flight, where? Who cares?
Vino Volo and Ale House at SLC. Beer. Wine. Food. What flight, where? Who cares?
Desert Edge Latter Day Stout. Chorus of angels sing.
Desert Edge Latter Day Stout. Chorus of angels sing.
Vino Volo and Ale House and good food, too.
Vino Volo and Ale House and good food, too.
A final beer in Utah before my flight back to California. Wait. California. We make wine. And beer. Ok, I'm ready to go!
A final beer in Utah before my flight back to California. Wait. California. We make wine. And beer. Ok, I’m ready to go!

I enjoy my porter. I board my plane. I fly to Sacramento. I make my way downstairs and to the baggage carousel. I’m the first there, of course. That’s just me. Before the carousel is even spinning, and I’ve made a restroom stop along the way. I can move pretty fast, as evidenced by the $400 travel voucher in my purse! I look at the Delta baggage claim office and what to my wondering eyes appear? My two purple suitcases, waiting for me. They’d caught the original flight and were waiting for me, tape hanging off of them, zipper compartments gaping open. The only think I truly cared about in those zipper compartments was my travel yoga mat, which was, happily, tucked snugly within. I grabbed my bags and headed to the bus, to my car in the economy lot and then an hour and a half down I-80, home. Tomorrow; one routine followed by another. Lather, rinse repeat, then unpack, launder, pack, repeat. And so, the rhythm of my life. For now.

Scarlett’s Letter September 17 – 20, 2013

Greetings from Glasgow, Montana.

I feel like I’m living in a Prairie Home Companion episode, or the 1950’s, or both; everyone here knows each other, and, usually, are related through marriage, if not directly. There is a mild distrust of anyone obviously not a part of “the clan”. Like me. And all of the “oil people”. The town without a Wal Mart (link). I mean, Michigan City, Indiana has a Wal Mart, and I bitched about that! Glasgow, Montana. Life seems a little simpler here, for those accustomed to it. Unless you need something from a large retailer. I, personally, am struggling.

The view from my hotel room.
The view from my hotel room.

But, first, let’s talk about trust. With much effort, tenacity and perseverance, I managed to find a car to rent in this town. I Googled and Googled and Googled. I eventually found a rental agency, online, that rented cars in “rural Montana”. I carefully selected a car and filled out the reservation form. There were “safe” and “secure” transaction badges all over the site and the name of the agency even sounded vaguely familiar. But, after entering all of my information, there was an error message that the transaction couldn’t be processed, though no reason was given. Five minutes later American Express calls and tells me my card has been hacked and was used at a Home Depot in New York City. Hello? If you’re going to hack a card with no credit limit, really? Home Depot? For a hundred bucks? Were you desperate for light switch plate covers and masking tape? Tiffany, Barney’s, Louis Vuitton and Cartier are right around the corner, loser. Back to trust. I picked up the phone and called a real person at the hotel I made reservations at. A real person answered, no recorded phone maze and I didn’t have to press anything for English. Amazing. The nice lady at the hotel gave me two phone numbers for folks she has known her entire life, that might just have car for rent the week I’m going to be in town. How nice. One is a Ford dealership, the other a Buick dealership. I call the Ford one. I’ve owned a 1966 Ford Mustang and a 1992 Ford Bronco; I am a Ford girl. But, sadly, they don’t rent cars anymore. I call Andy at the Buick dealership. They still make Buicks? Whatever.  Andy is very nice, but, all three of his rental cars are spoken for. He will talk to the boss (his dad) and, maybe, they can “buy” another car for me. Alright then. Nobody’s ever bought me a car before. He’ll call me back. And he does!!!! I am blown away! Whoever calls back when they say they’re going to? “I’ll call you back” normally translates to “I can’t help you, I don’t want to help you, I want off the phone, now, and you’ll never hear from me again.” Andy called back and had a car for me! Wow. Amazeballs.

Andy instructed me thusly; when my flight arrives in Glasgow (link), the car will be in the parking lot, unlocked, with the keys tucked behind the visor. There will be a bright orange piece of paper hanging from the rear view mirror with my name on it. This is trust. Or naivety. Andy, obviously, has never tried to reserve a car in Glasgow, Montana online. Andy has, obviously, never had his car stereo and the contents of his trunk stolen from him in the dead of night, from his locked car, parked in his own driveway in the “best part of town”. Andy, obviously, doesn’t shop at Wal Mart often, because it’s three and a half hours away. How cool to live in a world where you can leave a car at the airport, unlocked, with the keys within and a sign that says everything but, “steal me”. There must be a catch. There is.

There is no AT&T cell service for miles, from what I’ve been told. Having arrived very late at night after my epic flight and non-flight, I sort of tumbled into bed, hoping it was clean, and I slept, I might have actually passed into death, briefly. I was tired. I didn’t glance at my phone as I readied for bed, other than to set the alarms for morning. When I arrived at my clients’ office, and, at break, went to send my Sweetie my customary “Good morning, Love” text message, I found “No Signal” where the bars should’ve been. My first thought was that my service had been cut off due to some gross bookkeeping error in some remote third world country where AT&T has outsourced their accounting function. I tried calling myself from my Verizon phone. I know. Geek. I tried texting myself, back and forth, to no avail. I finally worked up the gumption to ask the twenty something attendees in my class about cell reception. I was told that AT&T only comes in from the middle of the lake. I don’t happen to have a boat with me. Nice. Maybe Andy has a boat I can rent.

There are places I go, routinely, where there is little or no cell reception, and I am fine. Work is not one of them. When I am travelling for work, I really, really, really want to communicate with everyone in my life. It keeps me sane. Nearly. I could feel a mild state of hysteria overcome me as I tried to work out, in my mind, how I was going to manage communication without a cell signal. My Verizon phone is for “work purposes only”. I even had to sign a mile long “contract”, after watching an online slideshow/movie/presentation thing (for people in our company who can’t read, I guess), as to what is business and what is personal use of the phone and that, under penalty of death, we would not use our work iPhones for personal purposes. I’m totally fine with that. Until now. I have full reception on my work (Verizon) phone. There is a world out there I need to contact at random points throughout the day and night. This I must I do. Shit.

All day long I am thinking and planning and scheming on how, exactly, I’m going to communicate with everyone. And get away with it. I figure out that with my Verizon MiFi, which is mine, all mine, and, yes, seemed like an extravagant $50 bill every month, until now, I can turn it on and use my AT&T phone to reach part of my world; my kids via iMessage and Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Foursquare. That is pretty much the whole world, except my Sweetie, who, in the outskirts of Fairbanks, Alaska, though without Internet or Wi-Fi, is actually in a more civilized and amenity filled world than Glasgow, Montana.

My only solution to that, then, is to use my “work” phone to call my Sweetie. Sssshhh. But, gosh darnit, when you’re a thousand miles from home, alone, because of work, I’m pretty much thinking that being able to connect with your loved ones then becomes a business necessity. So. Fire me. Please.

I went out to dinner with several folks from the firm I’m working with this week. We had a lovely dinner at the one pretty good restaurant in town. I strategically seized a seat in the “middle” of the long, rectangular table, thinking I’d be able to hear everyone, and soft spoken as I am, would be able to project to all. I ended up playing conversational Ping-Pong. The folks on the left of me are all talking about hunting and fishing and epic adventures, the people to the right of me are all talking about travel, shopping, wine and dining out. My interests are divided, normally, but usually I can juggle them. This is just cruel, I am forced to decide, or be an idiot and keep trying to participate effectively in both conversations. I just swivel my head left, then right, left then right, and try to participate in both conversations. I order another beer and, with my MiFi on in my purse, I manage to check in from on all my social media, complete with pictures. After dinner, I head back to my hotel room. I pull out the useless weight in my purse, which happens to be the iPhone 5 I lusted after for months, I notice a sign of life, a faint pulse. A faint glimmer of life, of utility. There is a signal. Like, two and a half bars. I try to place a call, to no avail. I try to text, to no avail. So, it’s alive, but in a coma. And still, a useless weight, a lying, cheating, misleading useless weight. Bars imply functionality. Liar. Liar. Liar.

Dinner at Durum in Glasgow Montana
Dinner at Durum in Glasgow Montana
Shared dessert at Durum in Glasgow Montana
Shared dessert at Durum in Glasgow Montana

I eventually come to terms with my inability to easily communicate with people in the civilized world. People with a Wal Mart closer than three and a half hours away. Not that I, by any stretch of the imagination, consider Wal Mart an indication of civility, culture or even domestication. Still, there is a certain calm that comes with the acceptance of being so remote you no longer exist to the social media world. This is why I thoroughly enjoy backpacking as often as I can. This is why I find my visits to Alaska so grounding, so centering, so nutritive. I know I’m a junkie, a technological, social media needia junky. I’ve written about a trip to Alaska where I learned to overcome my six-shooter Google App for iPhone reflexes and remembered how to use dictionaries and other anthropologically important methods to find information, in order to prove my point, that I was right, or, in rare cases, to educate myself when I was lacking knowledge. I jest, of course. Of course.

It is often observed, in the Bible and in other historical accounts, that when things are the darkest, light ensues. After the floods, the sun on the fringe of the clouds and the rainbow, blardy blar, as an example. Somewhere, at some point, I decided, maybe decided is too strong of a word, I succumb to the fact that I was here, social media and decent cell service were not, and I could not do simple things, like Open Table, Foodspot or Yelp for restaurants, bank from an app on my phone, check in for flights and pay for bags from an app on my phone, or, even hold a simple conversation on my cell phone, text or talk. With acceptance, however unwilling, of these facts, the rainbow appeared and I decided to embrace a certain simplicity. To simplify in a way, or two, that may even leave a mark on my data enriched, or perhaps, data inundated, lifestyle back home. Besides, I was getting menacing emails from my Verizon MiFi data plan about approaching my limit for the month and the cost of overages. And I’m only ten days in to my plan month. Crap.

Does it mean something when your almost brand new iPhone 5 battery only lasts 2/3 of the day before requiring life support? With each new iPhone, I was pretty sure, the battery life was supposed to improve. Oh, wait, but so does the quantity and quality of all the apps for the iPhone. It’s like heroine. We start with an app or two, then ten or twenty, then a hundred or two hundred. Before long, we can’t get out of bed or measure the quality of our sleep without an app. Or two. The more apps we use to simply exist, obviously, the more battery life we consume in an ordinary day. I have lots of apps. I used to know I was an app junkie by the crazy number of notifications in the upper right hand corner of the “App Store” icon. I was normally in the triple digits. Embarrassing. I know. But, thankfully, I am oblivious to my addiction once again. With the iOS7 upgrade, my phone now automatically updates all my apps and I never see an update push notification. Since this marvel I have probably downloaded two-dozen more apps. It doesn’t help that apps are advertised on Facebook for iPhone. I fall for it. I click through, read the description, read the reviews and download the app. Free apps are offered on other apps I use, like the Starbucks app and EasilyDo. I even downloaded two apps while at the airport after watching popular media on TV. Shoot me. I have discovered some cool apps this way; Evernote and Dashlane, for example. I couldn’t survive ten minutes without either one of these apps on every one of my devices; phones, macs, PCs. Seamless. Unless, of course, I’m in Glasgow, Montana.

I’m quite certain one of the reasons my iPhone battery drains so quickly is because of the volume of crap emails I get. For the record, I hate email. Loathe, despise and hate, with a capital H-A-T-E. And I’m old enough to remember when email was the cool thing and not everyone had it, only the totally in the know, cutting edge, Avant-garde people had an email address. I remember the lengths I went to to have an email address of my own. I had a personal email long before I had work email. Alas, I have always been this way. Sigh. And for this; email hell. Every business I do business with, which for me, is lots, including every store I shop at, every social networking site I affiliate with and every app I have to register for, which is pretty much all of them, I get regular emails. And by regular I mean hourly. I spend more time deleting emails in a twenty-four hour period than I do sleeping, which is just wrong.

And what is the proper etiquette? My daughter was in a youth group for several years but has not been, now, for a couple of years. The daughter of a now deceased youth advisor for the same youth group has an MLM and, God help me, I’m on her list. I will never buy any of the shit she sells, even if I knew what it was, nor will I become a representative for any of the shit she sells, in fact, I find her quite tiresome not only in email format but on Facebook, as well. Can I “unsubscribe” and “unfriend”, or is that “uncool”? And with that guilty thought came a revelation. I’m fucking unsubscribing from everything. Today will be “Fucking Unsubscribing from Everything Day”. I’m going to the National Calendar Day page and requesting this as an official day! They may go for it, but I’m guessing they’ll edit the name a little. By the way, they need an app of their own. They don’t have one. I checked. Yesterday.

I made progress, while I was within range and within budget, on Wi-Fi. I couldn’t help but delete all the garbage emails as they came in, but then, in my free time, which I have lots of, since I can’t actually communicate with anyone in the outside world, the real world, the internet, only by email, I’ve been going through my email trash folder and systematically unsubscribing to everything. This is so liberating! I can’t wait until tomorrow morning when I have like, zero emails! I’m genuinely excited. I haven’t unsubscribed from shit in almost five years! I think I may even weigh less as a result! I’m going shopping for size fours! Wait. No I’m not. I’m in Glasgow, Montana AND I can’t reach Fudge.

Irony. I tried to unsubscribe from the MLM youth group connection lady. The “unsubscribe” link resulted in an error, all forty seven times I’ve tried. My penance. Well, hell.

As the week progresses, I continue to opportunistically unsubscribe to all the emails I’ve been receiving, daily now, for years. I really do feel leaner, lighter, freer. I highly recommend this. How much time and energy do you spend every day mindlessly deleting email after email after email?

Are there other things in our life that drain us like unwanted emails drain our phone battery life? Think about it. Are there things we do, or things we endure, that make life more cumbersome? Poor health, an unhappy relationship, a job we don’t love. Is there something in life you dread as much as seeing a push notification for twenty-five new emails you know are all junk? Is it time to unsubscribe? Is it time to sleep more, and to sleep better, having put all this waste behind us. Like a juice-cleanse for the soul? Think about it. Then take action. Unsubscribe from all those unwanted emails, then unsubscribe from the unnecessary and tedious things in life that fill you with the same feeling of dread and trepidation as hundreds of crap emails. Be free.

I have actually been enjoying my evenings, here, in Glasgow, Montana. I’ve been eating well, in spite of the fact I haven’t been able to see how many stars or spoons a restaurant has earned from adoring fans. I have been receiving restaurant recommendations via “word of mouth”. It is so retro it’s almost cool again. This is how it works; someone ate somewhere and liked the food and they tell you, in person, and even suggest a menu selection. I know. Right? So you drive to the restaurant, and, thank goodness the Garmin still works here, because they’re all, like, fifteen miles from town, but totally worth the ten-minute drive (speed limits are pretty high around here once you get three feet out of town). And the local beer? Wow. Who knew? The only place in town that didn’t have an admirable local beer list, or any beer list, for that matter, was the pizza place. I didn’t know you could eat pizza without beer. It can be done, and, yes, the pizza was good … but. I ate a slice or two in the restaurant, had the rest boxed, bought beer at the market, and went back to my hotel to enjoy the rest, though sans people watching, at least, with a decent beer.

Lunch at Sam's Supper Club Glasgow Montana
Lunch at Sam’s Supper Club Glasgow Montana
Eugene's Pizza, Glasgow Montana
Eugene’s Pizza, Glasgow Montana
Eugene's Pizza, Glasgow Montana
Eugene’s Pizza, Glasgow Montana

The other place, out of town fifteen miles, that didn’t have a decent beer menu, may have, in fact, had a decent beer menu. Am I missing it? Is there some rule or law or code somewhere that says females only ever drink, or should only ever drink, shitty, pale, piss-water-beer? I don’t. I won’t. Example. I went to the hotel bar with a couple of the partners from the firm I’m working with. I asked about the beer menu. I could see about thirty different varieties, in bottles, in the cooler behind the bar. I was salivating. The bartender started naming off “beers” like Bud Light, Coors Light, Miller Lite. I asked her “what’s the darkest beer you have?” She told me there was a Bakken Bock, but it was “dark” and I wouldn’t like it. I told her I would. She insisted, as in, argued, I wouldn’t like it. I politely insisted that I would, in fact like it, meaning, I’d enjoy it and bring me a goddam glass, please. She tried to suggest, again, that I really wouldn’t like it. I loved it. I had two. I went back another night and had two more. I want one now.

My last day with the client. We finish our session a little early, by design, because everyone in the office is going to the High School Homecoming parade. I time the conclusion of the materials and exercises expertly, they all walk out the door and down the street. I gather my things and get in Andy’s rental car, the Buick, which is quite nice, if you wanted to know. By now, however, the streets are all blocked off for the parade, the sidewalks on both sides are lined with people, all wearing read. Go Scotties. Woof. I try, unsuccessfully, for the next thirty minutes, to find a way around the parade route. The train tracks parallel the main streets “downtown”, the highway in and out of town are on the other side of the street, and the only track crossing is an underpass which is, clearly, part of the parade route, as evidenced by the cop car parked askance across the intersection in order to thwart unpatriotic out-of-towners like me from getting mixed up with the marching band and the floats. The parade route zigzags up one street and down another, I find, totaling, I’m sure, about eight miles in all and covering every bit of pavement the town has, with the exception of the highway, on the other side of the tracks. The tracks I cannot cross, the highway I now, desperately wish to be upon. At one point I get too close to the parade route and can’t turn around because I’ve run out of side streets and all the driveways are blocked by onlookers. I just drive my red Buick LaCrosse down the street. All the onlookers wave excitedly at my red car as they peer in to see who, exactly is driving. Their smiles all fade when they at last conclude that I’m just a dumb out-of-towner that got mixed up in their parade route. I exit the fan-lined street as quickly as I can. At long last, having now driven in circles, squares and up and down every street to find only dead ends and farm equipment impeding my escape, I approach the cop car at the intersection of the parade route and the underpass to freedom. The cop politely smiles and waves me on, under the train tracks and to freedom! So, I’ve been driving around like an idiot, crisscrossing the parade route multiple times, for nearly an hour. I’m a little embarrassed. I hope no one from the firm has seen me make a spectacle of myself.

Bergie's in Nashua Montana
Bergie’s in Nashua Montana
Bergie's in Nashua Montana
Bergie’s in Nashua Montana
BBQ pulled pork wrap at Bergie's in Nashua Montana
BBQ pulled pork wrap at Bergie’s in Nashua Montana
Ice Cream made at Bergie's in Nashua Montana
Ice Cream made at Bergie’s in Nashua Montana

So, on my last night, I went to a restaurant out by the lake. You know, the lake where AT&T has service. In the middle of. I don’t believe it. I am seated and a very nice though somewhat awkward, and, dare I say, backward, young waitress greets me. There is a vibrant bar with all kinds of “Montana-like” people at the bar, stout, swarthy men, stout, swarthy women. I’m thinking they’ve got to have stout swarthy brew! I implore. I am given the usual, “oh, you’re a girl, and not a particularly swarthy, stout one, so you must want a light beer, but only because our wine list sucks, otherwise you’d order a Chardonnay”. Wrong, on every count.  I don’t want a Bud Light, I don’t want a Coors Light, I don’t ever want Chardonnay. I want real beer, that tastes like beer, made from malt and barley and hops and maybe something exotic like chocolate or oatmeal. Or both. I settle on a Sam Adams because my waitress is dumbfounded and can only point at the bottles in the cooler behind the bar. She actually suggests Smirnoff Ice as a “beer” selection. I am trying to be tolerant, accepting and kind. I manage. Meanwhile, I see other people in the vicinity with beer that has color, like maybe an amber, even. Sigh. The waitress reads the specials to me, with labor, chicken “cord on balloon”, I have a visual, but she then describes the ingredients, in gruesome detail. I’m sorry, doesn’t everyone know what chicken cordon bleu is? I let it pass. She then goes on to tell me that the chicken “cord on balloon” is served with hhhhhhhhhherb mashed potatoes. She pronounced the “h”, with emphasis. Oh dear. My heart breaks a little for her, poor child. She doesn’t know what real beer is and she, obviously is under the impression that someone is serving chicken with balloons tied to it with cords. I tip her 20%, hoping she puts it to good use and gets out of Montana long enough to learn what cordon bleu means and that real women often drink real beer.

Gateway in Fort Peck Montana
Gateway in Fort Peck Montana
Gateway in Fort Peck Montana
Gateway in Fort Peck Montana
My favorite Montana brew, the Bakken Bock, enjoyed at Cottonwood Hotel.
My favorite Montana brew, the Bakken Bock, enjoyed at Cottonwood Hotel.

I’m ready to go home. In so many ways. I get back in Andy’s Buick and head for the hotel, where I stop in at the bar for one more Bakken Bock before I ready to leave for home, and civilization and cell service, briefly, tomorrow.

Montana scenery
Montana scenery
Lake at Fort Peck Montana
Lake at Fort Peck Montana