Scarlett’s Letter September 1, 2013

It’s Labor Day weekend and opening day of moose season here in Alaska. When I arrived a couple of evenings ago, the airport was full of folks aiming to shoot a moose, literally and figuratively. All those visitors and most of the locals will be in the woods, on four wheelers, on foot, on boats, looking for moose. Everything has been late this year. Break up, when the ice on the river breaks up in spring, was late this year. And everything else followed in turn, late. The salmon ran late. The warm weather for planting gardens and greenhouses was late. The berries were late, which I am not complaining about, there were still plenty to pick upon my late August arrival. It is likely that the moose will be late this year, too. It isn’t cold enough, yet, and there are still too many leaves on the trees. Things work seasonally here, not by a calendar. You can name dates and make rules that follow dates, but nature will always follow the seasons.

People here, most of the people here, are seasonal, too. My man is definitely an example of that. Life is not ruled by calendars and clocks, it is ruled by the weather, the seasons, the slant of the sun, the amount of daylight per day, by the fish in the streams and rivers and the animals in the woods and on the tundra. Calendars and clocks have no impact on nature, but moose hunting season is set by the calendar. My man thinks I’m just a calendar and clock kind of girl, and that is somewhat the case. My life is run by calendars and clocks because of my job. I also remember dates and kind expect others, too, as well. Holidays and birthdays mean a great deal to me, to others, often seasonal folks, and especially my man, that isn’t the case, they’re just another day in the midst of some much more important season. But, I am seasonal, too. For example, I happen to know that bikini and sundress season is almost over and boot and sweater season is almost here! And I love that the California climate allows for some overlap in these areas. Alaska is different. The fall season is here, even if the calendar disagrees.

Last year was different, and with a busy work schedule ahead of him, my man saw a moose on his way home from work, on opening day, pulled his rifle out of the back of his economy car, and shot his moose. Opening day. A quick call to a friend with a truck and a couple of knives and three hours later it was quartered, loaded and hung up at home. Not the norm and not the way things are going to be this year. There may or may not be a moose, but, with moose still in the freezer from last year, there is no real pressure to get one this year. But, if no moose is had this year, the pressure will definitely be on next year. As I like to say, it is what it is.

We were not going to hunt for moose today, or this weekend, or maybe at all. We have an invitation for a visit with a friend with a very large cabin, more of a lodge, really, up the Salcha River a ways. I’ve crossed the Salcha River, on our way to dip net for red salmon on the Copper River in Chitinia when I was here in July, but I have not really “seen” the river. We were a little hesitant to commit when the invitation was offered with threatening rain and an open airboat, but, today, we decided we’d go for it. Without cell service or Internet at the house, we relied on the news on one of the three or four television channels that sporadically come through. It looked like we might have enough of a rain free window to make it there, and back home again, without getting too wet or too cold.

We packed up, loaded up, geared up, hitched up and went. I wore about ten layers of clothes, Smartwool, fleece, Gortex boots, and I had my man’s huge winter parka along, for good measure. We were looking at a couple of hours, potentially in rain and wind, in an open airboat. It could be cold. And I’m a wimp. No, I’m not really, but I’m a Cali girl and it is less than 80 degrees out, so I’m a little chilly.

As we drove south, with a stop at Silver Gulch in Fox for breakfast and a brew, through Fairbanks and North Pole to Salcha, the rain would splatter the windshield just enough now and then to require the wipers. Then it would stop. Then it would begin again. When we arrived at the park where the boat launch was, we could see the trucks and trailers parked in the lot, in the overflow lot and along the road where they shouldn’t be parked. Because we’re glass half full folks, we cruised through the main lot, closest to the ramp, up the line, all full, around the corner and back down the other side, all full, except one. One spot in the main lot was open. We quickly dropped the boat in the water parked the truck and trailer in the open spot. I say we, I looked on as the boat was launched and the truck and trailer were moved. But, either way, the glass was definitely half full. See?

We got our gear on the boat and stowed. I’d worn “cute clothes” to breakfast and brought ugly clothes for the adventure. I had hoped to stash my “cute clothes” in the truck, but, with all that happened in securing that prime parking spot, this did not occur. I was ready with my daypack and all the essentials for the trip and the overnight, with some contingency items, too, like the good Boy Scout I am. And, now, in addition to uber-efficient daypack, I had an UrbanOG tote with my J. Crew cardigan, my skinny jeans, a cute blouse and my brand new black flats. I stuff them under the bow of the boat with the boxes of fishing lures, syphon hoses, aircraft engine oil and spray lubricant. I’m trying not to think about what can happen to my lovelies.

I take my spot on my lawn chair, positioned carefully in front of the “pilot’s” chair. I put my headphones on, for the engine noise, and I put my life vest on, somehow, over my Sweetie’s huge winter parka and all the layers of clothing I’m wearing. I don’t even want to think about what I look like. There must be a way to do all this with a tad more style. I will find that way. I did it as a backpacking Boy Scout leader (I’m sorry, those olive drab pants and shorts are like vomit), I will do it again. Find style and functionality where only functionality seems to be the norm. Watch me. I am grateful for the parka, though, and my gloves, and my cap as we set off up the Salcha River. Especially when it began to rain precisely two minutes into our journey.

Again, I am reminded of what it means to be lost. I am. I mean, I know I am heading upstream on the Salcha River. Period. End of story. I know, in a couple of hours, we will arrive where we are planning to go. That’s it. As with most rivers, there are channels and adjoining streams along the Salcha. My man navigates them, turning this way, yielding that. He has been to our destination once before, but overshot it by twenty or thirty miles before stopping and asking directions back. I am not unnerved, I have total and complete trust, if, for no other reason, because mine is a man who WILL stop and ask for directions. And he knows rivers, their nature, how they are constructed, how they work, what is dangerous, what is safe. Most of us look at a river and see water moving in one direction, but there is much more going on, there are eddies and back eddies, there are cut banks and shallows. To be safe, and efficient, you need to know which side of the river to be on when there are eddies and back eddies, cut banks, and all. I don’t. He does, and in particular, in an airboat. An airboat can navigate in very little water, which is why they are gaining so much popularity with hunters and outdoorsmen (people). Airboats can go where jet boats can’t, and jet boats can go where boats with propellers cannot. Airboats can even travel over hard surfaces, if need be, but, of course, this is not good for the longevity of the plastic coating on the hull of the boat, and fissures, cracks and other weaknesses in this coating, I learn later that evening, in a story, can cause said airboat to take to the air and perform acrobatics, tossing its occupants asunder in a spectacular display. Still not worried.

To add to the adrenaline, which, by the way, I love, and may actually be just a bit addicted to, remember, it is opening day of moose season. There are boats of every imaginable shape, size and propulsion charging up and down the river scaring the fuck out of any moose within a ten-mile radius. We saw no moose, we saw lots of moose hunters, and because their boats were all empty, they, apparently, hadn’t seen any moose either. We have the big rifle with us, because during moose season, you just don’t leave home without it. It rests obediently in the bottom of the boat. I love that guns are so obedient, they do exactly what you tell them to, nothing more, nothing less. For those of you a little less convinced, just keep in mind, guns are inanimate objects.

We reach our destination, which, for me, is always a little unnerving. I consider myself quite capable, quite handy, pretty smart, and, most of all, trainable. This is a new world for me, and one I quite enjoy. I’d like to assimilate. But I need to be taught the ropes, quite literally. My man is very aware of all of this, and is an excellent and patient teacher. But, sometimes you have to know what to teach and when to prompt your student to do what is expected. I am learning that when we stop the boat, I am to leap up, grab the bow rope and leap to some firm footing and secure said boat, without a) looking like a dork b) acting like a girl and c) falling into the water, which would encompass both a) and b). Only occasionally do I still need to be prompted. The only piece of the puzzle I’m missing is which knot, specifically, I should be tying. I’m a Boy Scout leader, I know lots of knots, or at least I used to. As I often say, and often say to my man, show me once, maybe twice, and I’ll be flawless. My knot left something to be desired, but it held. Next time, for sure, I’ll have him show me exactly what know he uses.

Our host is not at home. We sit on his lovely deck and enjoy a beer. A few minutes later, he arrives. Boats are shuffled about and we all retire to his palatial cabin, out of the rain and wind, and visit for the remainder of the evening late into the night. The perfect ending to a perfectly executed day, no directions required.

Scarlett’s Letter August 3, 2013

I ran with the herd today. It’s been a while.

I’ve mentioned before, I belong to an excellent running club in the Sacramento area along with 500 hundred other people or so. Due to travel for work and vacation and weekends away with girlfriends and all, I haven’t run with the club at all this season, which began in June. Since I’ve been running on my own, all alone, and have made some progress pace wise, I was unsure which pace group to run with today. The plan was an eight mile run, and I’ve been running about six and a half or seven, on my own. I last ran with the “Gold 12:00’s”. The club is divided into several color groups, each focusing on the appropriate distances, paces and walk/run intervals based on the goals and abilities of the members. When I started running a little over a year ago, I was a “Red 13:30”. I promoted myself over the course of the year to the “Gold 12:00’s”. On my own, I’ve been running about, on average, 11:00 minute miles, but for a slightly shorter distance and I’ve been challenged. I decided, upon my arrival this morning, to run with the “Gold 11:30’s”. My ultimate goal this year is the “Green 11:00’s”, and ultimately, maybe, the “Blue 10:00’s”. We’ll see.

SacFit Running Club
SacFit Running Club
SacFit Running Club
SacFit Running Club

It was a fantastic run, and seemed almost effortless. Eight miles along the beautiful American River Parkway, the gem of the Sacramento area and something I have cherished and enjoyed for over thirty years. I ran alongside one of my favorite coaches, who also, for whatever reason, moved up a pace group. We chatted a little as we ran and we both agreed, running is so much easier in a group, in a regular group, your group. Like a community. I’ve been thinking a lot about the word community lately and have even expanded on it and what it means to me, and in general. Community is important.

SacFit Golds!
SacFit Golds!

After my run, I headed back home to Napa full of energy and feeling very satisfied and accomplished. After showering, I took Mom to the wine tasting room I stumbled upon a couple of weeks ago, “The Taste at Oxbow”, which offers four or five free tastes to Napa locals.

I ordered the Brie plate to share with Mom and we enjoyed our time there. One of the gals who works at Taste recently adopted a dog, Pickles, from a couple who had to move to assisted living. Pickles spent her time cruising around the tasting room policing the floor for crumbs. I do really miss having a dog in my life, but, at this point, it is probably best and I can get my pooch fix by enjoying other peoples’ pups.

The Taste at Oxbow
The Taste at Oxbow
The Taste at Oxbow, the Brie Plate with brie from Marin French Cheese Company
The Taste at Oxbow, the Brie Plate with brie from Marin French Cheese Company
My favorite sommelier at The Taste at Oxbow, Pickles.
My favorite sommelier at The Taste at Oxbow, Pickles.
I did not leave Oxbow empty handed.
I did not leave Oxbow empty handed.

I’ve been really missing having horses, too, but, again, I placed my horses in other homes because I simply couldn’t provide them with the attention they deserved, and they really weren’t fitting into my short-term financial goals, like being able to buy groceries and gas. But, when you have a passion for something, like horses, and you can’t fully indulge, there are ways to include that passion in your life. While supporting a horse, boarded, properly vetted and shoed may be beyond my means, an occasional lesson may not. If there’s a will, there’s a way. This is on my “to-do” list for the next month; take a riding lesson.

This evening, I worked on a video project I’ve been wanting to put together, and while I think it’s fricking hilarious, the quality isn’t quite right. I had camera and lighting issues. It’s a good thing I had a really good time filming it, it occupied the better part of my evening, and will probably occupy the better part of tomorrow evening when I re-shoot it. As it involved food, and wine, I will definitely want to stick with my work out plan for the next week. Well, for the next forever, actually. It has been a rough month or two on my fitness goals with all the traveling, dining out and partying. To one’s self remain true. I banished my muffin top a long time ago, and it seems to be seeking a reconciliation. It shall not happen. Time to make an effort to get back to the effort.

High calorie video project in the works.
High calorie video project in the works.

Scarlett’s Letter July 20, 2013

I have been such a slug this week. Just back from a month away from home, a week and a half for work in New York City and a few days in New Jersey, then just over two weeks for a wonderful, amazing and adventure-packed vacation in Alaska. And back to work within hours of my return home. Long days on the phone with clients, teaching the finer points of audit software skills. My “free” time has been spent trying to get caught up on outrageous (NYC) expense reports and other administrivia, plus trying to catch up on a few blog posts.

There may have been a fiftieth birthday in there, too. But, here it is. Saturday. As you can imagine, over a week in Manhattan, followed by vacation and the celebration of a birthday, my eating and workout habits have been sort of sidelined. For three weeks. The last deliberate attempt at exercise was a short, hot, run in Central Park. And here it is. Saturday. I belong to two running clubs, one in Napa, where I live, one in Sacramento of such high quality and superior coaching that it is worth the hour and a half drive. I’d intended to make the drive to Sacramento today, but a quick glimpse at the weather and the planned track workout changed my mind quickly. Forecast temperatures were 102 degrees, and the track at CSU, Sacramento is notoriously hot. The track workout, I rationalized, would not really benefit me as far “off-program” as I am right now. What I really need are some miles on my shoes. The local group set off early, and fast, and far, and, again, what I really needed were some miles on my shoes, and not necessarily fast miles. Just miles. To get back into the swing of things. So, with every ounce of gumption I could muster up, I got out of bed, pulled my hair into a ponytail, pulled on my yoga pants and a jersey from my first half marathon. I laced up my running shoes, ate a quick, light breakfast, and set off. I intended to run between three and five miles, depending on how I felt. I felt pretty good, and it wasn’t, yet, too hot, so five miles it was. I was so proud of myself! I love it when I actually do what I think I should do. There is nothing worse than letting yourself down and nothing better than the satisfaction of having done what you knew you should. Does this make sense?

After my run, though, I had a whole day with no plan. A whole, beautiful Saturday and no one around to conspire with to find trouble to get into. I’ve been stuck close to home pretty much all week, with the exception of my birthday and a meal out and some errands yesterday, okay, and lunch out. But I really, really, really think I might die if I had to sit at home on a lovely, sunny Saturday. So. I didn’t.

What to do when you have nothing to do; a lesson from Scarlett. Something. Anything.

There is always something to do or to see, even if you have no plan, little money, and no one to get into trouble with. You just need to be creative and willing to try something new, all by yourself. And so I did. After a couple of errands, I planned on going to my favorite public Wi-Fi hotspot in Napa, Oxbow Public Market, a collection of food and spirit vendors in a “market” type environment. The Wi-Fi is weak, but the people watching and festive atmosphere more than makes up for it. I enjoy working from there, in complete, total and blissful anonymity, because everyone there is a tourist, but me. I work there for a couple of hours every now and then, for a change of scenery.

Before actually heading to the market, though, I decided to put one of my new initiatives into action. I grew up in Napa, and I’ve lived not too far from Napa for some thirty years since moving away. But I really don’t know Napa anymore. I had a conversation with a guy in a wine bar in Seattle last week, he was from L.A. and knew way more about Napa than I did. So, with the convenience of residency, I’ve decided I need to learn more about the wine industry that has pretty much changed every aspect of this once sleepy, unknown little cow town. Yes, cow town, there used to be a lot of cattle, sheep and many orchards, with just a few vineyards. Decades ago. So, my new initiative is to visit at least one different winery per month AND to visit at least one of the many tasting rooms in downtown Napa per month. So, today, a tasting room, just a couple of doors down from Oxbow Public Market, The Taste at Oxbow. I walked in, MacBook tucked under one arm, scarlet handbag over the other. You know, I wear something scarlet in color every, single day. I do. Just because. I took a seat, alone, at the wine bar. The tasting room was nearly full of tourists, sitting at tables and at the bar, all chatting with one another and enjoying some wine.

I was greeted by one of the sommeliers behind the bar, who, I’m sure, probably doesn’t get too many solitary patrons on a sunny summer Saturday. I explained that I’d grown up in Napa and had just recently moved back to town. So had she, from Portland, Oregon, so conversation ensued. I further explained that I wanted to learn more about the tasting rooms in the area so when I had guests I would know where I could take them. I also inquired as to whether there was a “locals” discount“. Yes! They were part of the “Napa Neighbors” program, which, today, here, meant five tastings for free. Free. I couldn’t stay home for that! If I tasted wine at home, I’d have to buy it, right? And even at Target, with my Red Card 5% discount and my additional 10% discount for buying six bottles at a time, I was doing far better here! And this wine isn’t available at Target! After the first couple of samples I was feeling a little punchy, and a little guilty for getting so much for free. I ordered a snack off the menu, a small “wheel” of Brie from a cheese maker in nearby Marin County. With the Brie came local, organic honey (link I love everything about local, organic honey), crackers, and some dry roasted peanuts. For $9. I don’t think I could’ve purchased all of this for $9, at Target, or anywhere. There is nothing quite like a chunk of high quality brie, drug through sweet, golden honey and spread on a crisp, light cracker. With red wine. Best. Afternoon. Ever. For an afternoon with “nothing to do”. Right?

I chatted with the sommeliers and with other patrons and had a fine, fine time. I could’ve stayed home and watched re-runs of Will and Grace or Modern Family, like I did yesterday afternoon. So very glad I didn’t. After my wine and cheese, local honey, crackers and peanuts, I headed to the public market, found a seat, and wrote and wrote and wrote. Why do people sit at home alone when they have nothing better to do? There is something, somewhere, everywhere, to do, to see, to learn, to experience.  A coffee shop, a book store, a park, a pub, a restaurant that doesn’t mind if you linger, for example, McDonald’s and Denny’s locations often have free Wi-Fi, and if you order a cup of coffee or an iced tea, they’ll let you stay for as long as you like. I know McDonalds and Denny’s aren’t the most glamorous places on the planet, but isn’t it just nice to get out, about, and be in public now and then? To experience life first hand?

So I encourage you, like I sometimes have to encourage myself, get out there and find out what there is to do and see in your town, your city, your community. Become a part of your community instead of being a fixture on your couch. Be a tourist in your own town! It is fun and so, so much better than sitting home wishing there was something better to do than nothing!

Free for locals, and fairly reasonable for everyone else! Taste at Oxbow has excellent wines to taste and enjoy!
Free for locals, and fairly reasonable for everyone else! Taste at Oxbow has excellent wines to taste and enjoy!
Is this not better than sitting home watching re-runs of sitcoms on Netflix? Of course! Local brie, local organic honey, and organic peanuts to accompany my free wine tasting!
Is this not better than sitting home watching re-runs of sitcoms on Netflix? Of course! Local brie, local organic honey, and organic peanuts to accompany my free wine tasting!