It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown!

I’m reading a great book right now! I’ll rephrase that. Of the six or seven great books I’m reading simultaneously, one relates to the following story I have to share.

I’m reading “I Can See Clearly Now” by Dr. Wayne Dyer, one of my favorite authors. I’m reading it on my Kindle, on my phone via the Kindle app, and I’m listening to it on Audible in my car as I drive north, south, east and west for my various adventures and social engagements.

In a recent chapter, Dr. Dyer tells the story of a final exam he took in a graduate course where he’d studied, as I did in college, Abraham Maslow and the Hierarchy of Needs and “self-actualization”; the highest need. The professor gave the class a question and asked them to write an essay, giving them thirty minutes to complete the assignment. The question went something like this, “A self-actualized man attended a party. When he arrived everyone was in slacks, jackets, and ties. The self-actualized man was in jeans, a t-shirt, and athletic shoes. What did the self-actualized man do?” The entire class wrote their essays, all taking nearly the entire thirty minutes, filling page after page with carefully constructed details. When the professor returned, he asked each student to read their essay aloud. Each essay was roughly the same, stating that the man acted on confidence and didn’t feel self-conscious about his non-conforming attire. The professor told the class that everyone, in jest, had failed the exam.  The question could be answered in exactly three words; he didn’t notice.

Self-actualizers, among many other characteristics, have a comfortable acceptance of self and others. They are also reliant on their own experiences and judgment, they are independent and don’t rely on culture and environment to form opinions or views. A self-actualized man would not make notice of his attire in comparison to the other party attendees. There would be no comparison of self to others; the self-actualizer is completely fulfilled, comparisons of self to others are unnecessary.

I went to a party this weekend, a masquerade ball, to be exact, at a popular winery in Sonoma. I was invited to the function as a member of a MeetUp group I am active with, a women’s networking group. I saw in the excerpt describing the party that it was a costume party and quickly scanned the list of attendees. A great group of gals were planning to attend, so without reading any further, I clicked “Yes!”,  added the event to my calendar, and purchased the $65 ticket online, as one of the very few details I did read said the event was likely to sell out fast. I was committed.

A couple of weeks before the event, the same group of ladies had an impromptu happy hour gathering at a restaurant nearby. I attended and we all chatted about many things over snacks and sparkling wine. With the masquerade ball fast approaching, the topic of costumes came up. I’ll admit, I’m a bit of a procrastinator and I had only a few very vague costume ideas in mind. I had not even begun the process of deciding, making, acquiring, or purchasing. When asked, I mentioned that I had a great black dress that I have worn as a costume, playing the role of Morticia Addams from the Addams Family. I also had in mind a zombie school girl outfit I could assemble from wardrobe items on hand. The group organizer informed me that the masquerade ball was actually an eighteenth century masquerade ball and that our costumes should be reflective of that period. She then mentioned that her costume was going to be a twist on that theme, and would be “steam punk”. I am aware of “steam punk”, and had a quick visual image of how she might incorporate that with an eighteenth century ball gown.

I wasn’t too worried. I happen to have an entire storage unit full of beautiful sequined ball gowns, all hoop skirts and corsets and boning and the whole deal. Okay, only the top layer of my storage unit is beautiful sequined ball gowns, all hoop skirts and corsets and boning and the whole deal. I really need to go through that storage unit and get rid of stuff, but, thank you “universe”, for making me a procrastinator; I haven’t purged the ball gowns. You just never know when you’ll need a formal ball gown, right? They were my daughters, from a youth group she was active in during high school. Fortunately for me, I’ve shrunk, deliberately and with considerable effort and discipline, over the past several years and there is a good chance theses ball gowns will fit me. If not, there is, somewhere in that storage unit, an old Jessica McClintock dress in a very forgiving size that I’m sure I can make work. While I totally embrace minimalism, there are still remnants of the former quasi-hoarder lifestyle I escaped from a half a decade ago. Like ball gowns and dresses from the 1970’s. The universe works in very mysterious ways, or, perhaps, it’s just a freaky coincidence. Anyway, I’m not worried, in the least, about having a costume for the ball. 

The day of the party arrives. I’ve selected the best fitting dress of the lot, and, of them all, my all-time favorite. I’ve made my own mask, which I’m quite proud of, it matches the unique orange sherbet color of my dress precisely. I am feeling so beautiful and confident and perfectly outfitted for the event, I can hardly wait to arrive. In fact, I am so eager, I arrive a full forty minutes early. I select a very strategic parking space in the gravel lot so I won’t have to walk too far in my lovely sherbet orange, ornately sequined, taffeta and tulle gown.

Scarlette Begonia

I sit in my car and wait for my girlfriends to arrive. And, as I sit and wait, I observe other early arrivers as they emerge from their cars. There is a man in a powder wig. Excellent. There is another man in a top hat, he looks like Abraham Lincoln almost! Perfect. A woman exits a car in black slacks and a purple and red striped tunic top. With a mask. What? More people begin to arrive and woman after woman after woman, I observe in slacks, maxi dresses, and LBD’s (little black dresses), some, quite slutty. Cute, but slutty, and, most definitely not eighteenth century ball room, masquerade ball, style dresses. I am comparing my brilliant orange, sparkly affair with the outfits of all the other women I see. I am near frantic. I glance at the clock. I live on the very western edge of Napa, if I push the speed limit, I could make it home, change my clothes and be back before the festivities begin. I seriously consider it. But, then, I remember, my girlfriends are all going to be dressed appropriately for an eighteenth century masquerade ball. We’ve discussed this. I’m cool. I hang. I continue to watch. I continue to watch and to compare myself to every other female who arrives. After about one hundred LBD’s, carefully paired with stiletto heels and a cute mask, I see one woman, about ten years my elder, arrive in a period-appropriate dress. Ok.

I never see any of my girlfriends arrive, but, it is getting darker and I am trying to observe most of this action in the rear view mirror of my car. I check the MeetUp app to see if anyone has posted their arrival in the comments section. Nothing. I see several more LBD’s arrive and no other period-appropriate dresses. Again, I glance at the clock on my dashboard; if I left right now, went home, changed and drove back, I’d be 23 minutes late for the official beginning of the party, which is known as fashionably late. I’d be fashionably late and I’d more fashionably fit in.

Why do we have such an innate desire to “fit in”? I am consumed by this need and why it isn’t at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy, I don’t know. I think “fitting in” fits in to “love/belonging” and “esteem” rungs in Maslow’s hierarchy. But it isn’t at the top. Apparently, I’m not a self-actualizer. Yet. That’s a crowd I’d like to fit in to. Sigh.

More LBD’s, more black maxi-dresses, all with masks, though. Hoo-fucking-ray for the masks! None of them are orange, though, like mine, they’re all black. I seriously consider forfeiting the cost of the ticket and just going home, having a glass of wine, and continuing my study of self-actualization. I check the MeetUp app again to see if anyone has commented. That moment when you realize you’re the only one in bright orange taffeta and tulle.

The party begins in a few minutes and the organizer has commented, “Here!” Much like my RSVP to this event, I send of a rapid fire response, “OMG! Everyone is in LBD’s and I look like the frickin’ queen!” No reply. At least I have ridiculously dressed friends at the event, they’ve somehow eluded my watchful eye in their corsets and bustles, their taffeta and tulle, their colors and sequins. I am emboldened. A little. I extricate myself from my Civic, which is no easy feat. The tram has arrived and I step aboard. There are four rows of seats in the tram, each wide enough for three humans, unless, of course, they are in a period-appropriate dress. I take up an entire row and am trailing orange sherbet colored tulle behind me as we speed up the paved drive towards the winery.

Everyone on the tram is in black and modern attire, except one woman, probably twenty years my senior; she is in a period-appropriate dress. It’s black, though. But, at least we can both fret with our hoops and corsets and bustles, exiting the tram, in tandem.

The tram pulls up to the winery where a crowd has assembled, awaiting the lowering of the chain across the entrance. The party has not, apparently, officially begun. I gracefully slide off the tram seat and alight on the ground. My taffeta and tulle catch up with me several seconds later, in their brilliant sequined orange. There is a hush over the crowd and every head turns. “Hello.”

I hold my head up high, I smile, I make eye contact, and I frantically look for a recognizable face. Where are my ridiculously dressed friends? Where is the wine?

Scarlette Begonia

I find the wine, thank the lord. Our group organizer finds me, in her “steam punk” dress, which is actually an LBD with some anitique-ish looking accessories that could be argued as period-appropriate. She looks so gosh-darned cute, and sexy, and pretty, and I look like the Great Pumpkin from the Charlie Brown Halloween special. The organizer brought her friend with her. I’ve met her before, she’s super fun and funny and cute, with a delightful accent. I suck at accents, but it’s from somewhere cool, I’m certain. She is in an even L’erBD, with lace and leather and barely covered body bits, and a mask, of course. More wine, please.

I am having a very difficult time navigating the crowd with my very fluffy skirt. My daughter is a full four inches shorter than I, so I am struggling with why the skirt is dragging on the floor for me and it didn’t for her. I’m not good at physics, or trigonometry, oh, wait, that’s triangles, geometry, then, I guess, but I think it has something to do with the circumference of the hoop. Pi, or the square root of pi, or some derivative of, I don’t know. I do know that people keeping stepping on my tulle train which immediately halts any forward motion I am attempting. My daughter’s lovely pumpkin dress cost $500. I know, I bought it, and I really, really, really don’t want to ruin it, though it is highly unlikely anyone will ever wear it again, anywhere. My mom, ever  ready for the worst case scenario, which, in my estimation, just paves the way for the worst to manifest, left, on the kitchen counter, for me, a ten-year old bottle of chemical wonder called “red wine stain remover”. So far, they have only poured bubbly, here. Per the event program, red wine is on the third floor. I love red wine, but I may seek to avoid, at the event, and just imbibe in the bottle of Zinfandel I have on my desk, when I get home. I may just stick to the first floor, all bubbly, and I won’t have to navigate the stairs or commandeer the tiny elevator, me, my skirt, and I.

My gal pals and I head for the Bubble Room, on the first floor, where they remove jackets and other outer garments to further reveal the beauty of their eighteenth century as interpreted by the twenty-first century costumes. And masks, of course. They both sit, easily, in the chairs. I move to sit in a neighboring chair, my ass hits the seat a full several seconds before my abundance of tulle settles around me. I’m sure everyone is watching the spectacle that is me. I smile confidently and adjust my chin a bit higher. Though, whether sincerely, or out of sympathy, several people have remarked on my dress, in a complimentary manner. The employees behind the wine bar, the hired dancers and musicians, and other paid individuals, are all wearing full skirts and flounces, they appear corseted and bustled, but aren’t, actually, as am I. I wonder if the other guests assume I’m hired entertainment. I decide, if that is the assumption, perhaps I shall oblige and act as though I am hired entertainment. I shift, nervously, smile more confidently, and raise my chin even higher. I am probably grimacing, by this point, and that I notice the raw beams of the ceiling suggests my chin may be held a bit too high, at the moment. I readjust.

I have two questions; where are the other gals from our group, one, and, what are they wearing, two?

We three polish off our bubbly and decide to explore the rest of the venue. We make our way out to the foyer and there are two or three other guests milling around. Where is everyone else? There were dozens of folks milling around outside before we were allowed to enter. We finally locate both the stairs and the elevator at the back of the room. We collectively opt for the elevator. When the car arrives, I gather up my yards of orange tulle and squeeze into the back of the elevator. My two friends manage to negotiate their way in, and, surprisingly, the doors close without hinderance. We exit at the second floor where the program states there is a fortune teller. There are two or three guests milling about, looking puzzled and a little bewildered at the lack of festivities, as are we. The fortune teller occupies a table and has a person seated across from her. I favor telling my own fortune, I sure as heck don’t want some acne riddled, twenty-something, making up a story that may seal my destiny. The power of suggestion is far too mysterious and too close to reality and manifestation for me to flirt with. We circle the limited space of the second floor, find no food and no wine and quickly retreat to the elevator once more.

We make our way to the third floor and as the elevator doors part we see where everyone has accumulated, not that there is a great crowd yet, but the dozens assembled out front prior to the party seem to have gathered here, on the third floor. There is food on a long table on one side of the room and every color of wine being poured a bar at the edge of the room, oh, and a juggler. I am hungry. I ran twelve miles earlier in the day and have metabolized all I’ve digested thus far, and then some. I approach the table. The mask I made, the beautiful glittery, sparkly, sequined mask I made, I decided should be of the sort that is on a stick and could be raised and lowered in a coy fashion. I did not want some mask strapped to my face for the duration of the party, smearing my eye shadow, messing up my eyeliner, or mashing my mascara enhanced lashes. I didn’t want my face to sweat. So, I am trying to manage the now empty wine glass I was told to “hang on to”, a mask on a stick, and a napkin, as there seems to be no small plates to amass finger foods upon. My very full skirt doesn’t quite facilitate approaching the buffet completely. I am a yard or so away, kind of leaning in to snatch bits of food perfectly positioned near the edges. My “dinner” for the night consists solely of some overly bright red meat like substance, some kind of salami, and thinly sliced deli variety turkey, which I despise. But I’m famished, and drinking, and must later drive home un-inebriated. I make a reach, snatch a few morsels of cured meat, retreat in an orange taffeta and tulle flourish, and scarf it down, approach the table again, and repeat. After a few repetitions, I feel adequately nourished, though not totally satisfied. What I’ve ingested thus far in food and beverage hardly accounts for my $65 admission. An occupational hazard, I try to not cost things the rest of the evening and focus on just having some fun.

There is music. A DJ. A rotund, middle-aged, DJ. He is playing music from “my era”, music popular in the 1980’s. I glance around at all the beautiful people dressed in small bits of black fabric, with masks. They all look and act older than me, but are probably “from the eighties”. There is a smattering of very beautiful, very young people, but they are loving the “old school”. There is dancing happening. This makes me happy.

I’m feeling a little the third wheel, at this point. The MeetUp event organizer and her “+ one”, aka guest, have known each other for nearly twenty years. They are very close and share two decades of shared experiences, stories, and inside jokes. I smile confidently, adjust my yards of tulle, and raise my chin a little bit. We do the girl-dance-thing, you know, when a bunch of girls really want to dance and there are no men who want to be caught dead dancing. In other words, every dance and every date and every party I’ve ever attended. We dance in the customary circular formation, each of us acting as cool as possible and yet keenly aware of just how good a dancer the other ladies in the circle are. There is unspoken competition here, but, I am disadvantaged. When in a very short, very form-fitting LBD, it is quite apparent how the hips and torso are being moved to the beat of the music. When your hips are adrift in twenty seven yards of orange taffeta and tulle and your torso bound in very rigid boning, movement is not perceptible to the casual observer. I must overachieve. I must overcompensate.

The next song is the “Nay Nay” song. I don’t know the name, or the artist, but, thank god, it is more contemporary than the litany of eighties songs. I love eighties music, but I’m craving something from the current century, I want to break out of the mold of old. The DJ demonstrates the Nay Nay dance and all the LBD’s follow suit. I do my rendition of the Nay Nay dance and only my arms appear to move. I take it up a notch, or two. I’ll admit, I am now having fun and our awkward little dance triangle has dissolved and I am on my own, free to express myself in the art of dance. I win the contest. The DJ awards me a CD of some sort I have yet to listen to. I am presently, actively, looking for the appropriate electronic equipment on which to listen to whatever has been recorded to such antiquated a medium. I mean, I have a turntable, but I don’t have a CD player. Get real. But, it, the CD, is recognition, it is my prize, and it is shiny, like my sequins, so I am happy. I’ve concluded that I won the Nay Nay dance contest, not because I was the best dancer, though I was, but because in the sea of LBD’s, I was the only recognizable dancer.

Scarlette Begonia

At last, we locate the other three gals from our group, also wearing LBD’s, with masks, of course. They’ve made their way to the third floor and the party can now, officially begin. They all compliment my dress. I smile confidently and raise my chin a little higher. And we dance. We dance, we dance, we dance. I am on the dance floor and every song that comes on is my jam! Sometimes there is one other lady dancing with me, sometimes two, sometimes three. The only constant, is me. I dance and dance and dance. I dance the night away and I have an absolute ball. At the ball. With my mask, of course. In fact, I dance for such a very long time that I danced to Abba’s Dancing Queen, not once, but twice! It’s my jam. The only song more my jam is the Cupid Shuffle; I love this dance, I rock this dance, I did not need to remember to smile confidently and raise my chin higher, I was high and all smiles doing the Cupid Shuffle; me and my skirt. I have, by this time, figured out exactly how to move so as to make al twenty seven yards of orange taffeta and tulle do amazing, swirly, things. I am the belle of the ball! I am the bright spot in a sea of LBD’s, the poor dears, all blendy-blendy in black, all in high heels, limping around, doing that “wincing walk” thing. You can tell when a girl’s feet hurt in her outrageously high stilettos, you can see how their stride becomes shorter, eventually a mincing little shuffle, and with each foot fall, a stifled moan and a wince. I have the most comfortable pair of flats I own on, never perceptible beneath my bountiful skirt. “Orange” you having fun?

Scarlette Begonia

The crowd of “older people” (people my age) is beginning to thin. The younger crowd has been rendered motionless by their aching feet. It is nearing the bewitching hour, ten o’clock. The wine has stopped flowing and the party trays are no longer being replenished. There are four of us “old girls” left, still dancing, still partying, still having fun, one has over-indulged. No worries, though, the three other gals have Ubered their way to the party and are sharing the cost to Uber, once again, from Sonoma, back to Napa. I opted to drive myself, and my twenty seven yards of taffeta and tulle, in my Honda Civic, to and from the party. I have been prudent and am in fine shape to drive the twenty minutes home. I make certain the most inebriated girl, being the one responsible for summoning the Uber ride, has successfully done so. There was a period of time in which she was lost. I finally found her in a bathroom stall changing into Birkenstocks. Well, if not Birkenstocks, something equally as ugly and at least as comfortable. You see, I could have worn Birkenstocks all night and not a soul would have known. I am feeling so right and so proper and so winning in my big, bright, orange dress. I am feeling like the Great Pumpkin, in fact. Once I got the three reunited and was certain Uber was en route, I headed for my car. I decided not to wait for the tram, but was feeling so exceedingly well, that I ran to my car. I ran, me and my skirt, all twenty seven yards of orange taffeta and tulle, and as I approached one couple from behind, the female of the pair, limping pathetically along, they turned to see what the fast footsteps behind them were all about. There I was, skirt gathered in hand, running, comfortable but cute shoes still on, down the festively lighted path, towards the parking lot. They called out, “Cinderella, did you lose your slipper?” To which I replied, “Yes, have you seen it? It’s glass, you know!” And I continued on. The woman complimented, “Such a pretty dress!” I responded, “It’s my daughter’s! And I must hurry, because if I don’t have it back by midnight, it’ll turn into the great pumpkin! Oh, wait …” And I scampered on, me, and twenty seven yards of pumpkin colored taffeta and tulle.

I had so much fun, and so many compliments, I overcame my insecurities of being different, of being “the Great Pumpkin”, and, in fact, found that the being different, if comparisons need be made, actually enhanced my experience exponentially. I may not yet be self-actualized, but I am so grateful I didn’t slink home and seek to conform. I had a ball, at the ball. With a mask, of course, in twenty-seven yards of orange taffeta and tulle; the great pumpkin!

Scarlette Letter – September 10, 2015

Students of happiness agree that certain habits foster feelings of contentment, peace, and joy. These habits include:

Gratitude – I’m grateful for the people in my life who love me

Affirmation – I am lovable

Attitude – Jubilant

Activity – Stroll through town

Nurture – Night out in Napa with my sweetheart

Enrichment – Quote – “A good listener is a silent flatterer”

Nourishment –

Scarlette Begonis Scarlette Begonis Scarlette Begonis Scarlette Begonis Scarlette Begonis Scarlette Begonis Scarlette Begonis Scarlette Begonis Scarlette Begonis

Sushi - Moriomoto's Napa
Sushi – Moriomoto’s Napa

 

Giving – just love, appreciations, gratitude and smiles

Connection – I got to spend the afternoon and evening with my guy, strolling through Napa, enjoying eats and drinks and visiting at all our regular spots

Simplifying – I organized some of those long overdue tasks that have been weighing on my mind, they are nearly ready to send off to their respective places to be dealt with

Journaling – The incurable condition of doubt, a story and some thoughts, reposted

Social – Instagram (begoniascarlett), Facebook Page (Scarlette Begonia), Twitter (@BegoniaBegoniaS)

Scarlett’s Letter November 29, 2013

Remember that list from a couple of weeks ago? The one I didn’t finish and would have to tackle when I returned from New York and San Francisco? I made a dent, today, I made a small dent in the list.

And, no, I still haven’t gone to storage to get the damned coffee grinder. I still have an unopened pound of Peet’s whole bean coffee in my cupboard in the garage and I am still frequenting the coffee shop a mile from the house. In fact, I am even “the mayor” of the Browns Valley Yogurt and Coffee Shop on Foursquare. True, I may be one of twelve people in Napa that uses Foursquare, I am likely the only Browns Valley Yogurt and Coffee Shop customer that does. I win. I rule.

The dent I made today, no, not my five expense reports, and I am beginning to stress a little about those. I really need to get them done. Oh, how I loathe doing expense reports, especially really big scary ones, like New York. Especially when the really big scary New York one contains a great deal of personal expense that has to be a) acknowledged and b) separated out from reimbursable expenses and c) paid for by me. The dent I made today was my room.

I moved “home” in February, it is November, and until late this afternoon, there have been boxes I have been shuffling about, opening, rummaging through, shuffling, and restacking, multiple times a day for things like underwear, socks, purses and shoes. The closet, as in only one, which, by the way, is way smaller than any closets, as in at least two, I’ve had in the past several years, has had several boxes of “things” that were Mom’s that she said were mine, or were, at least, mine to deal with. The dresser and dressing table drawers were all full of matter of questionable worth; old magazine articles, outdated maps and trinkets gifted over the years and kept out of duty rather than affection. On one of my trips, I made certain that no boxes blocked access to the drawers and Mom finally undertook the task of the dressing table first. Partially. Five of seven drawers are empty. And I am so hoping she doesn’t get her “sewing” drawer mixed up with my “toy” drawer, they are dangerously close to one another. But, girls, the toy drawer, like real estate, is all about location, location, location. Proximity matters. Mom doesn’t sew so much anymore anyway. Let’s hope.

The dresser was, at last, emptied, completely. The closet, again, was mine to deal with.

So, after a fast four-mile run to declutter my head, I spent a few hours decluttering my room. It was amazing. I liberated my purses and shoes, my underwear and lingerie and organized everything in a manner, though not perfect, a manner I am fairly certain I can tolerate for a bit. Two of the boxes in the closet I had to deal with contained framed pictures of my kids for all of time. I will never own a home large enough to display them all, so I think I’ll unframe them all, scan them, store them in an album and donate the frames. No dusting that way, either. You know I hate dusting.

The third box, a Rubbermaid tote, actually, a large Rubbermaid tote, I’ll add, was full of, and I kid not, old Martha Stewart Living magazines, Reader’s Digests and newspaper clippings. The minimalist within was apoplectic. I have been coexisting in a house where I know much of this matter resides. On one edge of the kitchen table, there is the one pile of mail and reminder notes written on tablets made from years and years of printed out Facebook pages. My dad would print out my Facebook wall for Mom to read, which I find painful to admit, and, yes, she still has them all, but has now cut them in half, put them in stacks and stapled them into “notepads”, which I find even more painful to admit. There are piles of newspapers and clipped out jumble puzzles on two of the four kitchen chairs. And, there is a pile or two of similar stuff, mostly mail, I think, downstairs in the family room. I don’t spend much time down there because the television is almost always on, usually on the news, and really, really loud, three things I am very sensitive to, so those stacks are out of sight and out of mind. The rest of the matter resides in drawers, closets, cupboards and boxes in the garage. I’m sure there are mountains of such matter and I know some day it will haunt me. But, there is no more such matter in my room. My room is matterless.

Oh, then there was the Fisher Price Family Farm, barn, silo and all the little animals. And the tractor with the cart. I played with it for a while, then placed it in the pile to go to storage. You do know it makes a mooing noise when you open and close the barn door, even still, after all these years in the back of the closet.

I have two boxes ready to go to charity, two marked “bathroom” left to unpack, but, no drawers in the bathroom have been afforded to me to unpack into, yet, and two boxes to go to storage. But, for all I did manage to unpack and the organization that took place is huge in enhancing my level of contentment at home, in my room. It is good.

And the day got even better!

This evening I met with my besties from all of time, Janelle, Janette, Eden and Gloria, for a multi-faceted celebration. We’ve all turned fifty now, as of Thanksgiving Day, with Janelle’s birthday, we are all now a half century old. The other celebration, Gloria’s victory over cancer.

A couple of Janelle’s friends joined us for the festivities, and every time the doorbell rang, more wine was produced. Janelle is a fabulous cook, her passion and her trade, and made us a fantastic Asian noodle salad. I asked if I could bring something and the option was left open, without a helpful suggestion, I could bring whatever, if I could think of something to go with Asian noodle salad, or nothing at all. I’m always a bit self-conscious about my prowess in the kitchen in Janelle’s company, so, I made the one thing I am really good at; a beer run. I brought a cold, mixed six-pack of premium porters, lagers and brown ales.

I started with an IPA, then the sparkling wine arrived, so I had some of that, too, simultaneously. Then the chilled Jessup Cellars white was opened, so I had some of that. With dinner, a Terra D’Oro red was uncorked, so, yah, I had some of that, as well. For the record, I did not have any of the blush sparkling wine, though I don’t know why.

After dinner, with Janette as our designated driver, we all piled into the largest vehicle in the driveway and made our way to Silo’s in downtown Napa for a night of Motown music, dancing, and, yes, more wine. We ended up at Empire, at the “west end” and somehow I found myself drinking a lemon drop, poured from a pitcher of the stuff on our table. Things were a bit fuzzy by this point in time, and the last thing I remember with real clarity was really not wanting to drink the lemon drop. I nursed it for a while and texted a bit with my Sweetie, just home from another trip to Coldfoot. I remember overusing emoticons and being grateful, for once, for autocorrect. We always punctuate our texts with emoticons, but I’m pretty sure there were three full rows of emoticons in one text I sent. I consider it poor form to reuse the same emoticon in the same text, with the exception of the red heart and the kissy lips, those two can be used to fill the last row at the end, for emphasis, and to make the message symmetrical in appearance. For the record, there are not enough heart shapes in my emoticon library to fill three full rows of text, I definitely overused certain items. Shame. And, as for autocorrect, I usually do battle with autocorrect, I use big words that the engineers at Apple don’t use, I guess, and I make up my own words, like “matterless” and “declutter”. But, when drunk texting, I am a very poor typist but a much more diligent proofreader, and, so, appreciate autocorrect more than usual, at least as long as I am able to still form intelligible phrases.

And that was about it. I remember that each time Eden and I had to climb into the back back seat of the car, because we were “the bendy people”, it became progressively more difficult. I think I had become, perhaps, too bendy, during the course of the evening. Extracting myself from the depths of the back back seat that last time I do vividly remember and there will be a bruise. Maybe more than one.

I did manage to get home in one piece, only having to navigate myself about two blocks and into the driveway. This task I have practiced for many, many years long before I was of legal drinking age. And, once upstairs, just like old times, tiptoeing, even in my Guess boots, across the squeaky, hardwood floor of my room, careful not to wake the ‘rents, I peeked out my window, down onto my car in the driveway, just to make sure it was a) actually there, b) parked straight c) parked in the middle of my half of the driveway, and d) not halfway into the (closed) garage. Aces.

Scarlett’s Letter October 16, 2013

Two glasses of wine. Well, maybe two and a half. Maybe my glass is large. I awoke feeling like I’d drained the whole bottle. Oh, wait, maybe I did. I gave Mom one glass in her demure little goblet, and I know, for a fact, I poured myself two glasses, and a splash, but, bottle equals empty. I felt like someone hit me over the head with the bottle when I awoke this morning. Dues = paid.

I, for whatever contrived excuses, did not work out yesterday. I had hoped to go to the gym for a core workout, cardio and yoga, but failed. Today, I planned to run, and per my training schedule, I was to run eight miles.

I got up, slowly. I ate breakfast, slowly. I answered emails and did a little work, slowly. And, slowly, I came to the realization that if I didn’t do my run today, I’d likely not get a long mid-week run in, and I will have let myself down. I have my first full marathon coming up in December, I need to stay on track. I have some busy travel weeks coming up, so, now is the time. Slowly, I pulled my running tights on, wiggled into my Victoria’s Secret hot pink, tiger striped yoga bra, which, by the way, is way easier to put on than to take off, especially when all sweaty. All of my upper body fitness, strength and tone is attributable to the high intensity interval training that is removing one very sweaty Victoria’s Secret hot pink, tiger striped yoga bra after a work out. In case you were wondering. My running shoes and socks were in the car, so I found matching flip flops, a miracle, filled up my hydration pack with water, fuel, ID and insurance card and headed out the door. Honestly, I didn’t feel like walking to the car, let alone running eight miles.

I know myself pretty well. I will cheat myself, I will wimp out, if I can justify it for even a moment. Last night’s missed work out being evidence. I have a six-mile loop that I run routinely. Last week, I was to run seven miles, so, after completing the sixth mile, I ran right past the parking lot at the park where my car was, and ran an additional half mile down the road, turned around and came back. Today, weak in spirit and head throbbing ever so slightly, I knew, knew, knew, without a doubt, I’d wimp out at six miles. There would be no running past the car for another mile, turn around and come back. I know me.

This is where it is a good thing to have a somewhat deviant mind. I told myself we’d do six miles, then see. At nearly mile four I round the third corner of my rectangular route. My deviant mind concocted an evil plan to trick my wimp out mindset. I decided to keep going straight, for an additional mile, turn around, and then finish the remainder of the loop. The result being, eight miles and no possibility of wimping out at six, because, well, I’d still be two miles from my car! Brilliant, I know. Right?

I ran every last inch of eight miles, and then some, my calculations were off by nearly a half-mile, but, you know, it didn’t kill me. I felt accomplished for the day. My self-esteem and self-respect were in tact, perhaps even inflated a little. I headed home for a shower, lunch and the rest of the day to do with whatever productive endeavor I chose. Bliss.

Lending "race day" authenticity to my mid-week training run.
Lending “race day” authenticity to my mid-week training run.
I have become a GU snob. This is the shiz.
I have become a GU snob. This is the shiz.
Yes, as a matter of fact, I am running through the vineyards.
Yes, as a matter of fact, I am running through the vineyards.
Wine embryos.
Wine embryos.

As soon as I walked in the door, though, all I could think was “HAMBURGER!” I wanted a hamburger. And maybe even fries. I wanted a high quality hamburger, not some fast food, cooked earlier today, kept in a warmer drawer and micro-nuked to a sickening shade of gray and soggy limpness upon order. I wanted a gourmet burger with an exotic cheese and a unique sauce and some rare ingredient mixed in. This is Napa, there are no shortage of places I could drop twenty bucks on the burger of my dreams. I may have mentioned, I’m on a money diet, I’m being more mindful of my money consumption and my restaurant food consumption. My spending and my waistline need a little whittling after the past few weeks indiscretions. So, I’m proud to say, I did not go out and get a gourmet hamburger. I ate leftover salmon salad, open-faced sandwich style. Such self-discipline, I know, adding even further to my self-respect and my self-esteem.

I was good, I had leftover salmon salad for lunch. Not a burger.
I was good, I had leftover salmon salad for lunch. Not a burger.

After a few more hours of work, HAMBURGER! was still on my mind. I had some Whole Foods, happy cow 85/15% burger, frozen in quarter pound chunks, in my freezer. I decided to get one quarter pound lump out, thaw it, and make myself a burger. I also decided, as a treat, to go to Whole Foods and get some sprouted grain buns. I could eat one tonight and freeze the rest for later enjoyment. Oh, and sweet potato fries would be super duper yummy, too. And maybe one large format beer. We’d see. I hopped in my car and headed for the mecca of mealtime ingredients, Whole Foods. I actually found a parking place, at 5:00 PM. I was astounded, I didn’t even have to circle the lot or follow grocery-laden shoppers down the aisle from the store to their cars. There was just an empty space, sitting there, just for me. Okay, so it was across the shopping center and I had to walk fourteen rows, but, hey, I can run eight miles, I can certainly walk fourteen rows.

Once inside my favorite place on earth, next to any shoe store in NYC, I grabbed the smaller, double decker cart. I usually use a basket, but in Jillian’s latest Audible book I’m listening to, “Slim for Life,” she says we tend to buy more crap food when we use a hand basket over a cart. Okay, I don’t really think so, but I’ll give it a try. I always figured you could only buy what you could carry if you used a hand basket. But, I’m freakishly strong when it comes to being able to carry desirable purchases in one hand, to the cash registers. Years of practice, my friends. If it were an Olympic sport, I’d win.

I shop at a lot of different Whole Foods, and, unlike Target, who has precisely three different floor plans, every Whole Foods is unique. As I travel around the country, it is my unspoken mission to visit every Whole Foods in the nation. So, that I don’t totally know the layout of my local Whole Foods is not really a reflection of my intelligence. I swear. The Napa store is chopped in two, it really seems like two different retail spaces connected by an opening between at the front of the store and another at the back. I usually stay to the left; produce, meat, wine, dairy, done. I do know that frozen pizza and beer is immediately through the portal to the “other side” at the back wall, and, ingeniously, displayed immediately next to each other. This is my Friday night wall. Pizza and beer.

For whatever reason, tonight, I head directly for beer. Something was beckoning me, an unseen force. OMG! A sale! I knew it! I can sense a sale on just about anything from quite a distance. The sale aura was very strong in the direction of the large format beer. I chose three. They were on sale. I had to.

Bread happens to be near beer and I quickly located my sprouted grain burger buns. Check. I decided to check out the cheese aisle. I love cheese, and have actually 95% given up cheese because I lack control. But, what is a homemade gourmet burger with an exquisite, and on sale, large format beer, without cheese. I settle on two interesting looking cheeses. I buy cheese a lot like I buy beer and wine; the label. If it has a cute label, is organic, locally grown, fair trade and sustainable, I’m fucking buying it. Was my list complete? Something nagged at me from the depths of my mind. I’d forgotten some staples when I was here the day before yesterday. I pulled out my phone and consulted my perpetual Whole Foods shopping list in Evernote. Ah, yes, canned, organic fire-roasted tomatoes and tomato sauce, both of which go really good in my homemade macaroni and cheese recipe. I’ve been lusting for macaroni and cheese and have made Herculean efforts, successful, by the way, to NOT order it from every appetizer menu I’ve glanced at in the past two months. But, Friday is carbo-loading night, perhaps I can make my homemade macaroni and cheese instead of having pizza! I’ve got cheese! So, I stop in the pasta aisle and buy a really cool looking package of organic, whole grain, locally produced, fair trade and sustainable bag of macaroni noodles.

On to canned foods. I load up my cart with cans of fire-roasted tomatoes, regular tomatoes, and tomato sauce. May as well stock up, I seem to keep running out. At last I head to the checkout. I pile my purchases onto the belt, along with the one reusable bag I’ve brought along. I size up my purchases and, in retrospect, I probably should’ve brought another bag. Or two. I swipe my card and wait for Tatum to scan my purchases. Fifty-six dollars. How did I spend fifty-six dollars on buns and beer? I could’ve gone to the best restaurant in Napa featuring gourmet hamburgers and exquisite large format beer and paid less. Oh, but, I do have ingredients for Friday’s dinner. And beer for a few nights. And a whole fucking lot of canned tomato products. I sign my name, unintelligibly, on the screen with the blunt tipped stylus thing, my signature has become, pretty much, a 72-point wavy line, for whatever it proves, for whatever it’s worth. It would be interesting to see if it held up in court, my electronic signature. Not so interesting that I actually aim to find out. But it looks nothing like my real signature. Whatever.

I schlep my purchases fourteen rows out to where I thought I’d left my car. It was actually sixteen rows over. I only looked a little like a dork lugging my canned food and large format beer laden grocery bags to row fourteen, pausing, perplexed, doing the parking lot pirouette, trying to spot my very small, low profile, non-descript Civic amidst a sea of exotic cars and high-end SUV’s.  I heft my bags into the trunk, the Civic squats a little from the burden. I climb in, and at eighty degrees, I open the sunroof all the way and silently pray that a hawk with a snake in its talons doesn’t fly over and let go of the writhing snake just as it passes over my car. I know, a weird phobia, but this scene I have actually witnessed, and think about, every time I open my sunroof all the way. Except, on that fateful day, my sunroof was closed and the snake hit the ground, on the shoulder of the highway, immediately next to my car, mere feet away. And as the snake landed, unceremoniously, and pissed off beyond belief, all I could think was “What if it landed on my windshield? What if it landed on my roof? What if it landed on my sunroof and it was open?” That scene is forever, indelibly, etched in my mind, and plays out over and over again every time I reach for the sunroof button. That’s why I usually tilt, instead.

Say "Cheese!"
Say “Cheese!”
Tonight's large format beer, on sale for 20% off at WF! Speakeasy Butchertown Black Ale!
Tonight’s large format beer, on sale for 20% off at WF! Speakeasy Butchertown Black Ale!
Tonight's large format beer, on sale for 20% off at WF! Speakeasy Butchertown Black Ale!
Tonight’s large format beer, on sale for 20% off at WF! Speakeasy Butchertown Black Ale!
Tonight's large format beer, on sale for 20% off at WF! Speakeasy Butchertown Black Ale!
Tonight’s large format beer, on sale for 20% off at WF! Speakeasy Butchertown Black Ale!
My burger.
My burger.

A life of “what-if’s”. What if we squandered our entire lives thinking of all the terrible things that could happen, so much so that we were too afraid to do anything and life escapes us before we know what it is? That, I think, is the worst “what if” of all. Life is a collection of risks, and whether you think you’re assuming any risk, or not, you are. There is substantial risk in staying home, sitting in your worn out recliner, remote clenched in hand, flipping through the channels, watching other people live. So many things could happen, the least of which is that your life is passing you buy, opportunity is fleeting and you’re sitting there, oblivious, because the news broadcast has you terrified to venture out into the world and live your life. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. I’m not saying go out and court danger, I’m saying, take risks. Go out into the world and have experiences. In risk lies opportunity. In the guise of safety lies mediocrity. Open that sunroof and drive. Hell, if you’ve seen a snake fall from the grasp of hawk in flight, and it missed you, barely, what are the chances of that series of events ever unfolding in a similar manner? That, I like to refer to as the “Garp principle.” If you’ve never seen “The World According to Garp” with Robin Williams, this may be lost on you. But, Garp and his wife are looking to purchase a home. As they stand in the driveway of a house for sale, a small airplane crashes into the house. Everyone is horrified, especially the realtor, knowing for certain the sale is lost. Garp is thrilled and says, “We’ll take it!” His wife looks at him incredulously and he explains, “What are the chances of that ever happening again?” Take it. Take the risk. Open the sunroof.

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.

BEER MENU!
BEER MENU!
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.

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 September 12, 2013

I went for a run this morning. It was cool and overcast when I set out, incentive, plus, I needed to run, I’ve been a slug all week. I’ll be traveling for work, again, the next couple of weeks, and that damn marathon is really beginning to loom large on my fitness calendar.

I’ve been running for about a year and a half now. Ninety percent of that running has taken place with my running club, in Sacramento, where we run along the lovely, American River Parkway, devoid of automobile traffic, crosswalks, traffic signals and other perils. Only recently have I begun to run on the street. It is very different, not nearly as scenic, and quite a bit more hazardous, even with bike lanes and sidewalks. Even the streets of Napa. Particularly the streets of Napa, perhaps.

My favorite six and a half mile loop, and a major portion of my favorite twelve-mile loop, encompasses an area of Napa that not many tourists see. I run past liquor stores, nail salons, past a couple of schools (by far the most dangerous traffic, ever, minivans and distracted moms), a gas station where all of the city buses, tour buses and limousines fuel, a couple of hotels, and several trailer parks. That’s the ugly side of my run, the part of Napa that not many tourists see, except for the hotels. At precisely the half waypoint, I, literally, round a corner and am running along a rural road lined with vineyards dotted with traditional Napa farmhouses and a few ostentatious villas. I like to run the same direction around this loop for two reasons, to avoid having to keep crossing the street to be on the “correct” shoulder and, to end my run on the more scenic side.

I am convinced that more people should run, or cycle, or ride motorcycles, because runners and cyclists, like motorcyclists, are much more attuned to the perils of traffic, they know to look, not once, but twice. If I am running on the “correct” side of the road and approach a driveway or intersection where a driver aims to make a left hand turn, I know, almost certainly, they will only quickly glance right as the execute the turn and probably won’t see me, no matter how much fluorescent clothing I’m wearing. I usually just run into the parking lot and skirt around behind them to avoid any unplanned encounter, and I do so at a distance.

In “urban running”, major intersections and crosswalks throw my time off, which makes me distraught, I can’t help it, I’m a calendar and clock kind of girl. Time matters. When I look back on my mile by mile stats, I can always tell where the major intersections are, my time once dropped to almost 19 minutes per mile because I obeyed the traffic signal and waited for the “walk” sign. I can crawl faster than that. Now, I just go around the law a bit, as in, I just run down the street a block or so, then jaywalk, or run, then run back up the block on the other side of the street and pick up my route. I can maintain my pace and even add a little mileage. I know this is probably some minor misdemeanor in the eyes of the law, but they’ve got to catch me first. Jaywalking.

One of my favorite pastimes is walking. Walking in New York City is more than a pastime, it, for me, is sport. I have always been a very, shall we say, “efficient” walker. I want to cover some ground, I do not stroll. Like driving, I would rather keep moving than be stuck behind something slow. Add to my desire to keep moving, traffic and crosswalks and a million other people, all walking way slower than I, and the sport has begun. Like a cyclist, it’s all about pace or cadence, I intend to move through and around obstacles at a steady pace, I do not want to stop, I do not want to slow down. The first trick is to be able to navigate around large groups of slow moving people, or worse, the people that suddenly stop, right in front of you. I usually use the zigzag approach; skirt the crowd on the right or the left, as space allows, switching back and forth as necessary. Sometimes I just walk the curb. Other times, I have no choice but to thread the needle, squeezing between groups, even turning my shoulders sideways, on occasion, to avoid contact. This, by the way, is an excellent workout for the upper body and waistline, as well as the lower body. A brisk walk on crowded New York City sidewalk, threading the needle.

I can walk at a pace, usually, after a few blocks, where I can fall into rhythm with the crosswalk signal. If I am consistent, once I hit a “walk” sign, and I am not impeded in some way, I can hit all of the “walk” signs going in one direction. Once I alter direction, I need to reestablish the rhythm. Of course, that’s only if there are cars crossing the crosswalk. If there are no cars coming, and the signal says, “don’t walk”, well, you do. You can tell the “New Yorkers” from the tourists in a heartbeat. The tourists stand dutifully on the corner, looking a little forlorn and confused while they wait for the signal to change. The New Yorkers cross, and often between oncoming cars, as the tourists look on in shock and bewilderment. I’m not a New Yorker, but it didn’t take long to figure out how to move around in their world.

That is my whole impetus in life; to move through the world in the most efficient manner, no matter where I am, no matter what I’m doing. Just move. Efficiently. This applies to more than walking, running or driving. This applies to everything from banking to television to shopping, working, working out, traveling, and, well, everything. Life can be hard, it can be a trial, it can be exhausting and wearing, if we don’t know how to move through the world efficiently in every way possible.

My mom, my elderly mom, bless her heart, who will not, does not want to, and will never consider, embracing technology in any way, is stuck in a world that has become unfriendly and hostile; the non-technical world. She will look up phone numbers in the phone book, wondering why she can’t find listings that “should be there”. Not everyone advertises in the phone book anymore, because, only a handful of people use them. There are a million online listings that are faster and way more informative, with reviews and photos and a map, the hours of business, everything you ever wanted to know about a business without having to get out the magnifying glass and phone book to scour for the number to call and get the information. It’s funny that she trusts the phone book so, because they’ve misspelled her name this edition, and she has been in the phone book, with her name spelled correctly, with the same number, for the past 47 years. I think the post office must be involved. So, once Mom has found the phone number in the phone book, she calls and wonders why she is put through an automated maze and then put on hold for a duration. Well, probably because most folks are accessing the information online, the company has only one or two people who are tasked with taking phone calls, in addition to their actual jobs. Not a priority.

My mom will sit down in her office and write checks, put them in envelopes and drive them to the post office only to hope, against all hope, that the least efficient, least effective organization on the entire planet will deliver the mail in a reasonable amount of time to the correct address. I went out and got the mail for Mom earlier today. There were two pieces of mail in our box addressed to someone three blocks away. They were addressed correctly, delivered incorrectly. Mom has a cell phone on my account. Every month she writes me a check for ten dollars to cover her share. Three seconds later I deposit it into my account with an app on my phone. Before the bank app had such capability, I’d stuff the checks in my wallet, for months on end, because I just won’t go to the bank unless I’ve got a check for like a thousand bucks, or something, which is practically never. Thanks for the app, guys!

Mom talked to my cousins on the phone yesterday, first one, then the other, then the first one again. Somewhere along the line, in her second conversation she mentioned that she’d fallen while ironing while I was not at home. She was fine, but this is a very real danger for someone a few short months from being beyond her octogenarian age. Apparently, that cousin called my other cousin, who, then called Mom back. She recommended an app or a setting on her phone that would be voice activated to call 911. My cousin carries an iPhone, which, my mom is completely confused by and refers to as my “facebook” . I got Mom the simplest, easiest to use, made for old folks, flip phone, at her request. So, Mom asks me about this wonderful technological capability. I said, “Mom, in order to use the phone to obtain help you have to carry the phone. It has been plugged in to the outlet by the microwave since I moved in six months ago. If you fall in the family room, the phone, no matter what app or button it has on it, will not be able to leap up off the kitchen counter, unplug itself and fly to your side to help you.” I pulled my phone from my back pocket, “I keep mine here.” She knows that, and gives me shit for it, too, for always being on my “facebook”. Well, yes, sometimes I’m answering work emails, sometimes I’m texting my kids, often I’m Googling answers to the endless stream of random questions Mom has, and, occasionally, I am on a social networking site.

I digress. I had a great run this morning, moving through and around traffic efficiently, and, as evidenced by my ability to write this article, safely. Look left, look right, do it again. We are everywhere, just trying to move through the world, and life, efficiently, and safely.

Ahhhh-laska

I am back from the wilds of Alaska. Well, maybe not the wildest part of Alaska, but, yes, the part with no Internet, no cellular service, and, at times, no electricity. Right, I didn’t make it to Barnes & Noble. So I have much to say, a week in Alaska, who wouldn’t have a lot to say?

It is no surprise that I love Alaska. I mean, I love California, all of the Californias; the endless coastline, some sandy, some too rugged to traverse, the big cities, the small, historic towns, the big trees, the agriculture, the history and the heritage, the big mountains, the rolling foothills, the winding rivers. Mostly, I love the Sierras. But I love Alaska, what I’ve seen of it, thus far, a great deal, and, yes, in some ways, more than Cali. And, yes, in some ways, I love Cali a bit more, but, increasingly, that tends to be related only to quality shopping venues and wine.

They call Alaska “the last frontier”, and while it is certainly my latest frontier, I don’t intend for it to be my last. It will be a lasting frontier, for me, though. I really can’t see, at this point in time, no matter what happens in my life, on any level, not having Alaska in my life on a regular, if not quasi-permanent basis. I am in awe.

But, it is no surprise that I love Alaska. I’m sure you must have some memory from childhood, some very formative memory, that, though random and seemingly insignificant, has, in some way influenced your life and even, maybe, directed the course of it. Certainly you must have. We all must have. For me? It was a Hamm’s beer sign. Circa late 1960’s or early 1970’s, I don’t know for certain, that’s when I saw the sign, it could’ve been an “old” sign at that point in time. But, it was a sign, a sign that guided me into certain pathways and journeys, not directly, but through the subtle and lasting impression, and the sheer, somewhat cheesy, backlit beauty of the scrolling river scene, depicting waterfalls, a serene river, wildlife, a campsite. As Liz Lemon would say, “I want to go to there.”

There was an old school scrolling Hamm’s Beer sign in “Food City” in Napa, at the intersection of Jefferson and Old Sonoma Road, for any old time “Napkins” out there. My mom would push the clackity-wheeled grocery cart through the store, filling it with boxes, packaged cake mixes and Jell-O, and cans upon cans of faded, waxy vegetables and condensed soup, I was a particular fan of “Campbell’s Manhandler’s Beef and Barley”. I was pretty sure that’s what was in the kettle, over the fire in the campsite in the Hamm’s Beer sign. Mom would pick up a couple of items from the produce and meat aisles, iceberg lettuce and ground beef, most likely. While she shopped for the week’s “loss leaders”, I stood at the front of the store, mesmerized by the sign. I am one hundred percent certain that is where my love of the outdoors, of the wilderness, camping, rivers and adventures was first ignited. I know, Hamm’s Beer wasn’t from Alaska, but the scene in that sign could’ve been Wisconsin, or California, New York, or Alaska. It didn’t matter, I wanted to go to there.

My parents certainly were not “outdoorsy”. Until I was four years old, we lived in Oakland and I only remember gray fog, gray streets, gray highways, gray factories and the gray water of the San Francisco Bay circa mid-1960’s. They never camped in tents or hiked, canoed or skied.  Seeing nature was done from the comfort of a large sedan on a Sunday afternoon, with, maybe, a picnic, if the weather permitted. A trip to “the wilderness” was staying at a friends’ cabin in Tahoe. The adults sat around inside the dark cabin, day and night, having cocktails, smoking and playing cards. The kids took to the woods, followed a stream, out to the lake. Fish were caught by the boys, and some fish never made it back to the cabin, on a dare, they were eaten raw and whole, by the boys, before we even knew what sushi was. The fish that did make it back to the cabin were never seen again. I’m really not sure what ever happened to those beautiful rainbow trout, we certainly never ate them, cooked, or raw. We had the contents of boxes, packages, and cans, accompanied by Jell-O molds, on a bed of iceberg lettuce, as a garnish. I’m sure there was ground beef in the meal, somewhere, too, but certainly no freshly caught rainbow trout out of the pristine, blue waters of Lake Tahoe.

I’m certain it was because of the Hamm’s Beer sign at Food City at the intersection of Jefferson and Old Sonoma Road in Napa that I begged my mom to let me join Girl Scouts. I wanted to camp and fish and live in a tent by that river, maybe see that bear. Beer really wasn’t on my mind, yet, I was a few years too young. And, ironically, my first beer was with those very girls, from Girl Scouts, sleeping outside, in sleeping bags, under the stars. On my parents’ deck. Sssshhh. But, perhaps that sign has had another influence in my life; my love for beer, especially if it were to be enjoyed alongside a woodland river. Not Hamm’s, of course, for like my love of the outdoors, my taste for beer has developed into a lust for more.

I had the best Girl Scout leaders in the world, and, again, I’m sure that is another formative turn in my life; that I had Girl Scout leaders that hiked and camped, in addition to all the crafty stuff. By the time I was big enough and old enough to be a Girl Scout leader, myself, most of the other Girl Scout leaders wouldn’t fathom setting foot outdoors for an activity. My troop did. Because of the influence of my adventurous Girl Scout leaders as a girl, and, because of the Hamm’s Beer sign at Food City at the intersection of Jefferson and Old Sonoma Road in Napa, I became the Girl Scout leader that took the troop hiking, backpacking, snow boarding, rock climbing and rappelling.

So off to Alaska I’ve been. Again. And there will be another again. And another. There is much to see, there is much to do, there is much to experience. And though I still have many corners of California I intend to explore, I want to see all of Alaska. Too. And other frontiers, as well.

This trip started with the idea of a couple of new adventures.

Our plans for a July trip to “fish camp” on the Yukon River to fish for “silvers” were dashed due to the fact that there weren’t enough salmon in the river. So, in July, instead of gill netting for silvers on the Yukon River, we dip netted for reds on the Copper. I didn’t mind the change in plans! I was thrilled! The annual fall run of “chum” salmon on the Yukon gave us another opportunity for “fish camp” and more salmon. Like the Hamm’s bear, I could eat salmon pretty much every day, maybe not every meal, but I have been known to. No easy task keeping this girl supplied with salmon, and, I will resort to, dare I say, frozen fish from Whole Foods and maybe even, shudder, Target, if I must. Desperate times, desperate times.

I’ve seen a few parts of Alaska in our travels; Anchorage, Fairbanks and surrounds, certainly, Coldfoot, Prudhoe Bay, Denali, a little bit, and Chitinia. We were hoping for a “pilot car” trip from Valdez to Fairbanks, taking an extra day to see the town of Valdez before reporting for duty. With only a week of vacation left for the year, this was it, and a trip to the Yukon for a couple of days and another to Valdez for a couple of days, would pretty much round out the plans for the week.

There were also hopeful plans for a wine-tasting party, which is a more “winter-time” tradition in the “neighborhood”, when it’s too dark to do much else. But, no one would object to a wine-tasting party earlier in the year, certainly. I, as you know, have been buying up wine, week in and week out, winery after winery, tasting room after tasting room, and then, I very carefully selected the six (of twenty seven) bottles I’d take, to share with friends and neighbors. It is, I assure you, no easy task to lug two suitcases and a half a case of wine, single handedly, from the trunk of my car in the economy parking lot to the bus, from the bus to the terminal, and finally, to the agent to be checked, at whatever unholy hour of the morning it was. Feeling like a mother parting with her infant at day care, that first day back to work, I handed over the specialty box I bought to cradle my wine from Cali to AK, even in the hands of the Samsonite gorillas.

But, as with life, even a week in a life, plans change. And, as with life, when plans change, there should never be sorrow or anger, disappointment or despair. Plans change. That’s life. Plans change. That’s vacation. Plans change. Though we never made it to “fish camp”, or to Valdez, and, well, we drank all the wine ourselves, it was a splendid, fabulous, wonderful and never to be forgotten week. Not because of the wine, and, yes, even with the all that wine, nothing will ever be forgotten. Being able to adapt the plan and still enjoy every single moment is what vacation needs to be. Being able to adapt the plan and still enjoy time together is what a relationship needs to be. Being able to adapt the plan and still evolve in life is what success in life is all about. Practice, every day, adapting for alterations to your plan, because, being a master at that is what will carry you through life, much like the canoe, on the cheesy, backlit scrolling river on the Hamm’s Beer sign at Food City at the intersection of Jefferson and Old Sonoma Road in Napa.

 

Aaaahhh-laska!
Aaaahhh-laska!
Enjoying V. Sattui wine from the Napa Valley, in Aaaahhh-laska!
Enjoying V. Sattui wine from the Napa Valley, in Aaaahhh-laska!

 

Aaaahhh-laska!
Aaaahhh-laska!

Scarlett’s Letter August 27, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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