Divine White Wines That Will Blow Your Mind (and Reds, too!)

STANDOUT WINE: 2016 Chardonnay Reserve ($60.00)

I wasn’t ready for it, this gorgeous winery in Southern Ashland. It was Labor Day. Yeah, I know I’m behind, but with numerous disastrous fires, near death by fire, PG&E constantly turning off our power crippling our work-at-home business, and a few other Mars/Mercury retrograde issues, it’s taken a minute. But in all those minutes, I have not stopped thinking about this winery.

Irvine & Roberts, Southern Ashland, Oregon – Estate Winery

There are a number of reasons for that. First, Irvine & Roberts was one of those delicious, unexpected surprises that gets inside you. Southern Ashland was the first stop on our 6 wine region wine/spa blog tour and while I had planned to combine each region into one post, when we arrived at Irvine & Roberts, I knew there was no way I was going to be able to do that. Before we even entered the tasting room, I knew this space needed its own story. I could feel the care and grace that had gone into creating this space and it wouldn’t be right to lump it with the others. A land healer who spends time and ritual exploring geography, I am sensitive to such things, and I don’t frequently experience a convergence of sensations like those that emanate from Irvine & Roberts.

We stopped to take in the gardens on the entry. Native plants covered the hillside on the right. To the left, the breathtaking views of the vineyards and mountain ranges that embrace the property. It was peaceful. Quiet. Almost, Botanical Garden vibes. I almost forgot we were at a winery and that it was Covid Season until I saw this.

A Gracious Welcome for a Gracious Winery

As we walk up to the tasting room, we are greeted first by a sign of the times, recognizing we are in Covid Season, thanking us graciously for being there, and letting us know safety protocol is in place. We enter into that wine I mentioned in the title: divine white wine that will blow your mind! Even before we reach check-in, the wine is flowing. What a beautiful way to start the tasting. The pour was another delicious Chardonnay. The Reserve was yet to come.

Tasting Room at Irvine & Roberts Winery, Southern Ashland, Oregon

White wine in hand, we were escorted to a breathtaking vista where we spent the next 3 hours. What made this feel like West World or some video game that we had leveled up in was that we had been locked down with fires, repressive heat, and COVID. We hadn’t seen blue skies for what felt like months up in Northern California. Sitting and taking in this stunning view of the vineyard, sipping the welcoming white wine, was such a treat. All this before the tasting had even officially begun.

But back up. On the walk to the table, I noticed a kitchen to the right of the tasting room and a woman with kind, smiling eyes behind her black mask. After we had sat for a few moments, 80s music (which, let’s be honest, is really the best) piping out to the patio at a perfect background level, the woman with the kind eyes came out and introduced herself as Dionne Roberts. I immediately understood why the winery felt the way it did. Dionne’s whole presence is one of kindness, graciousness, and it makes you, the taster, feel cared for knowing you’re in good hands. 

Dionne Irvine, Owner and Storyteller Extraordinaire at Irvine & Roberts Estate Winery

We spent some special time hearing Dionne tell us about how she and her husband, Doug, had been real estate people in Temecula, California and returned to Oregon to raise their daughters, deciding to dive into the wine business head first. There are many different models for making wines, but Irvine & Roberts decided they would do it all: grow the grapes on site, use the grapes in their wines, taste the wines while looking at the grapes and top all that with grace, elegance, and tasty food pairings. An epicurean’s delight! That’s where Chef Kris comes in.

Chef Kris delivers the PERFECT epicurean delight

Chef Kris loves working in the kitchen with unique pairings and that’s where the transformational experience takes hold. I don’t write this from the point of view of food or wine, but rather the combination of both and how they transform each other. Kris rocks that! In Italy, we experienced this often, but the servings were so big. In Italy, even though we walked 1,000 miles there, I gained 15 pounds just trying to taste the over-powering combinations. At Irvine & Roberts, however, the presentation is perfect because somehow, the combination of flavors is so fully satisfying to all the senses that you walk away feeling you’ve eaten a decadent meal. As not many wineries could figure out how to do food in Covid Season, we were grateful Irvine & Roberts made this a priority. In fact, it spoiled us a little moving forward. As we sat taking in the tastes of Kris’ master combos with the flight, sounds of the 80s, bouquets of the wines, and the gorgeous mountains framing it all, I was so compelled to capture it for you.

I could have sat here all freaking day!

My fear was that the wine would not hold up. How could it? Unfounded fears (as most fears are.) Oh, was I wrong. Not only was everything we tasted magnificent, with that white wine that will blow your mind thing, but the presentation was in the top 5% of California wineries. Beyond the amazing vintages, each of which is a star in its own right, one reason for this is their attention to glassware. Kris brought out all the different kinds of glasses for the different wines which just made it all that much better.

Chef Kris introduces the wines in those gorgeous glasses.

At this moment, I must come clean: I am not as much a wine snob as a glass snob. I absolutely cringe when I see someone bringing out anything less than a Riedel. I mean, I feel sad for the wine. Like it’s disrespectful or something to all of the hard work that’s gone into the vintage. I mean, this stuff takes YEARS to cook. So when I saw we spoke the same glass language, my heart fluttered a bit and I knew the wine would showcase at its best classy, graceful self.

A moment more on glasses, and this is where I tell you I do get some wine money if you buy from these links which I love and appreciate, but that’s secondary to the importance of you knowing this. The top favorite Riedel glasses I drink from now come in a combo pack! This is the best news. The new world Pinot glasses are amazing, but the Cab/Merlot ones are necessary, too. If you want to taste wine the way it should be tasted, you need to go here now and get these gems. And remember when I said that Irvine & Roberts has white wines that will blow your mind? Get these for that because drinking white wine out of a red glass just loses something. Be warned: it will be hard to go back to drinking wine out of water glasses, but you will reach a whole new level of flavor fun.

I mean, look how pretty these Pinot glasses are!

Coming to Irvine & Roberts first on this trip set a standard for all the wineries and made me rethink my whole template for how to write about future wineries. I will return to this winery, to write about the specific wines in more detail because they deserve that, but for now you just need to go see for yourself. You must get (at least a glass of the chardonnay reserve 2016. I hardly even drink any other whites than Cakebread’s Chardonnay Reserve, but this one is a white wine that will blow your mind. And don’t even get me started on the Clandestine Pinot Noir.

In advance, you’re welcome.

PS Kris gave us these home made crackers to go because he’s awesome like that.

Tips:

Make a reservation: 541-482-9383

ALWAYS tip, whether you buy wine or not

Curated Flight ($20) add Curated Pairing ($6) !!!

Give yourself a solid 2 hours to enjoy their grace

Go early, preferably on Tuesday, for less crowds

Location:

1614 Emigrant Creek Road, Ashland, OR 97520 

IrvineRobertsVineyards.com

How much does wine cost here?

$30 – 60 per bottle, with higher price magnums available

On site glasses of wine run $9

Posted in fun, healthy living, Inspiration, travel, white wine, wine and food, wine tasting | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Seek Plymouth to Taste Life

Just after Labor Day, during full-on Covid Season, I was in the middle of a project rewriting a book I had written in a weekend retreat during March 2020. Revision is the hardest part, and I needed to stick it in a drawer for a minute.

My book Shine: When Chasing Sacred Spaces Goes Dark was that project. What happened when Shine came out, which wasn’t something I’d predicted, is that she hit #1 bestselling position in multiple categories for several months. Each morning I would check the rankings, and I am humbled to say, since the day it came out, Shine still remains on the bestseller list in at least one category. As this stat is updated hourly, I never know where it will land and I try to not hold attachment, but I think the day I look and she falls off that list I will feel sad because I want more people to read her words. I feel like she can really help a reader’s personal journey. Many people who have read Shine have told me they love her, that the book is a gift in their lives. (https://tinyurl.com/BuySHINEBOOKHERE.) And this promo you witness here, my friends, is the reason that I am only today returning to Region 2 of that tour: Amador County. (Region 1 was So Oregon. You can read that one here. In fact, we have since returned to that winery and joined the wine club!)

Shine, my gift to the world during Covid.

We needed to get out that September 2020, to go see what was happening in the Covid World, and I was very curious about how the rest of the people that weren’t working on a book were doing. Like many, we had multiple trips cancel and were trying to figure out where to go and what to do where we could practice precautions for ourselves and others. Originally we were headed to Hawaii for September, but that was off the table due to travel restrictions. What came to me was a 3 Week Tour through 6 Wine Regions in So Oregon and California where we would see how the wine and spa industries were pivoting during these times. We’d set up a safety protocol of some kind. We’d see how they were doing the same. I figured they would be great teachers in this time, and this would be a Master Class in Covid Life, an option to sitting in a dark cave on Zoom calls. Amador County was our second stop on that tour.

Downtown Plymouth

We’ve been back to Amador since that Covid Blog Tour. In fact, we’ve been to Amador around 20 times. I’ve written about it here and then again here. We first discovered Amador when some friends were living in Sacramento and invited us to come, stay, and go wine tasting for the weekend. That began one of many trips to this region. It reminds me of the Wild, Wild West and in fact more than one winemaker I’ve interviewed has called it that (both in and out of the region.) The open spaces and street fronts give it this feel. We’ve gone with large groups of people, with our family, with our dog, and just my husband and myself. It lends itself to all these formats because of its roomy spaces, its open wineries, and its ranch-like setting. This is gold country, and you are reminded of this often by companies that tour you down beneath the earth into the cool, blackest black spaces where hopes and dreams of discovering gold once thrived. Here live caves with stalagmites and stalactites reaching down and reaching up to hug you.

Black Chasm Caves near Volcano, California 20 miles from Plymouth

Plymouth has become our favorite town in Amador, especially in Covid Season. There are many reasons for this, but overall the sleepy town holds wide streets, a library front from what feels like at least 200 years ago, and a nice parkette and walk through “town” where you may see one or two other people. The historic buildings take you back in time and space and allow you to imagine another dimension.

This library has actually never been open when we’ve been there, but it’s the cutest thing you’ve ever seen.
Do you see those old theater seats? Those are in front of the library.
Down by the elementary school, buildings like this take you back.

And yet, in this teeny-weeny town, is this amazing combo of a boutique hotel and incredible restaurant where we’ve celebrated many occasions called Taste. The last of these occasions was a combo birthday celebration for my daughter (30) and my husband (58) in Scorpio Season. Chef Micah made the most beautiful meal, accommodating all our dietary restrictions from vegan to meat eater and the in-between pescatarian. He prepared a printed menu of multiple courses and wine pairings and created the most delicious evening you can imagine.

Chef Micah crushed it by creating each version to look like the other – and with a personalized birthday menu!
See how it is a heart? xo
Happy Birthday, Mike and Kelly!

There are so many gratifying sides to incredible Taste, but one of the greatest is that it is next door to (same owner) REST, the boutique hotel which has become our default. After your multi-course pairing at Taste, you do not want to drive, so you walk literally ½ block back to REST.

5 Stars!!!
I always look forward to the ever-changing suitcase mantra.

We’ve come to love the suites there as our first pick because of their great bathtubs and roomy spaces, but we’ve stayed in every type of room at REST, including the pet room in which Kai is very comfortable.

Hi I’m Kai, and I get special treatment at REST. They love me here.

The breakfast choices, the people, the S’more kits for gathering around the fire pits, and again, the feeling that you are there alone even when you aren’t are my favorite parts of Rest.

Ask for the S’more kits for the fire pit

After our special birthday combo dinner at Rest, the king suite living room gave us plenty of room to try out the new and improved “Clue” and build our domino train in any direction!

Room to stretch out for family game night old school style

You do realize I haven’t even got to the wineries yet, right? There are so many of these centered in Plymouth. In fact, it’s rare we leave this area as we find our favorites are all within a few square miles.

The style of wine tasting we’ve come to love is not the “limo” kind where people set out to fall down. It’s the kind where you hear the story of the people, of the grapes, of the battles over who has the oldest vines and who gets the winery in the divorce and how it’s split up and the way that changes the names. It’s the story about where the grapes are going and where they are coming from. (Allegedly, the bulk of Amador’s grapes go to Napa, and while the number changes based on who you ask, it’s north of 70% at last visit.)

“Where will I wind up?” ask the grapes.

I will start on my favorite wines right now in Amador in my next blog, but before we leave Plymouth, you must also know about the market across the street from REST with the most delicious perfection of truffle potato chips you have ever tasted. In fact, you need to get in the store after they are freshly fried or they will be gone. We discovered these in a restaurant in Sutter Creek about ten years ago and have never come home without them. That’s not all Vintner’s Market has though. They have delicious sandwiches, salads, an artichoke dip that you’ll go back for, chocolate toffee heaven, and awesome hummus with homemade (sort of) spicy pita chips. Are you hungry yet?

In the next blog, I’ll tell you how we used all that deliciousness, but for now, just know everything you need is right there for you in one square block in the center of tiny Plymouth which includes this parkette.

Kai’s favorite parkette.

An offering:

My oldest son has been nudging me to offer my services for a fee because of my planning abilities, connections, and extensive experience at these places. This last family trip we took to Plymouth was so much fun and he reminded me about that offering. If you would like to take advantage of that service, email me and let me know. I’d be happy to help you plan: jamieweilwrites@gmail.com.

Posted in Covid, dog friendly, epicurean, fun, Inspiration, Rejuvenation, relaxation, restaurants, self-care, travel, Uncategorized, wine and food, wine tasting, wineries | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Dog-Friendly Wineries

Kai and his pack at 6 weeks dreaming about winery visits

We’ve been winetasting a very long time, nearly 27 years. There are many things we’ve come to love about winetasting beyond the wine. One of those is wine dogs. By wine dogs, I mean both dog-friendly wineries you can bring your dogs to and wineries that have dogs running out to greet you. It just adds something.

Kai and Jack, a wine dog from Paso, are old friends

Books abound on the topics, and in some regions, nearly every winery or bed & breakfast we stay at, has a local canine holding down the place. We started bringing our own dogs, first Ms. Bay and then Kai. They may not be tasting the wine, but they both seem to love going. I think it’s just being with their pack, meeting other wine dogs along the way, and hanging out in nature.

Ergo I am always on the lookout for wineries that welcome our canine friends, just as I am on the lookout for dog friendly restaurants and four-star lodging. We love being able to hop in the car on the fly, without booking our in-demand dog-sitter who is usually already booked and being able to go on an adventure.

Kai loves REST in Plymouth, CA

For all these reasons, I’m on the lookout for these places you may want to enjoy with your best canine friends. I found one of those dog-friendly options in the Applegate region in Southern Oregon. It’s kind of a funny story. As we set off on a 3 Week Wine/Spa Tour around Labor Day on Labor Day (before things got Covid-bad again), Southern Oregon was our first stop. I called to schedule 23 visits. You should have seen the spreadsheet because it’s like pre-production on a film during Covid Season setting these things up. I looked on Yelp to see what people were liking and noticed a winery called Devitt in the Applegate AVA not too far from Jackson, past lots of bricks and flags. I knew the direction and figured it would be a great contrast to an amazing estate winery we’d visited in the Rogue Valley AVA  which you can read about here.

Jacksonville, Oregon

When I called, I got Sue on the phone. As in she answered. As in, I didn’t have to leave a message, or go to the “very easy to schedule” website. (Note to wineries: I know you all think your website is so easy, but they’re not easy. I promise you. And they’re all different. And we’re busy, too.) A real live person. Ahhhhhh. What a pleasant thing in this world where nobody ever answers the freaking phone besides Sue and my mom.

We started to chat. I told her what I was doing. We vibed well together. I usually get one of two reactions from people: they love me, or they hate me. No real middle ground. Sue was in the first group. We talked for 30 minutes. You are never going to believe what we discovered. When we lived in Southern California (Torrance in the South Bay), she actually lived right behind our wall! She went to school in the same district of Palos Verdes that our kids had been educated in and that we had been married in so many years ago. Her daughter went to the same high school as our son. Not sure how that’s possible in a city of 4 million people, but there it was. Synchronicity at play. Sue and Dewitt earned an excited star on my spreadsheet.

Devitt Winery in the center of Applegate AVA

When we pulled into Devitt, a huge crowd pleaser on Yelp, I was struck by the humble shed structure with its neon sign. The same rural feel that hits me when I pass our local OK Corral small town bar hit me there. A devourer of experience, I couldn’t wait to go inside. As we walked in, there was Sue and a young man. Sue, who I soon found out had MS and is in a wheelchair, and her grandson, Brendon, were masked and ready to greet us.

Devitt’s Tasting Room

I felt like I knew Sue for many years. I pulled a seat up to the bar, socially distancing especially as she is very immune compromised, and we began to talk story. We talked about her husband who had a dream that landed them in this space. Jim Devitt started out in 1971 as the owner and winemaker of Pope Valley Winery in Napa County. As they searched North for a new space, they found this land in Jacksonville and called it home. Jim has since passed. We talked about how she wanted to keep his dream alive, but then the MS, and then the idea: what about having Brendon come live on the property with her?

Sue and Brendon, Devitt Winery in Southern Oregon

She asked, and he did. Now, newly married Brendon is the winemaker, vineyard manager, tasting room manager, all of it. Educated in the vineyard, Brendon’s wines are well-priced for the locals who come and buy it by the case. It’s not uncommon for locals to stop by and see a note on the door: come find me in the vineyard.

If Brendon is not in the tasting room, go look in the grapes.

One of their bottles, Aggie Dog Red, let me know Kai would be welcome here. I knew at that point we’d found a dog-friendly winery. We talked for several hours, and Sue admitted her favorite part of the whole winery gig was this time connecting with visitors and sharing wine and story. As we left, we met Ramen. Oh, he and Kai would have such a great time, no merlot needed.

Meet Ramen, the Devitt Wine Dog

ADDRESS: Devitt Winery 11412 Highway 238, Jacksonville, Oregon  – (541) 899-7511

http://www.Devittwinery.com

Posted in Covid, dog friendly, friends, fun, Synchronicity, travel, wine tasting, wineries | Leave a comment

Covid Season and Wine, 2020: Co-Professors of the Art of Winetasting and Connection

Why are we winetasting for 21 days during Covid Season? We love stories, and we see the microcosm of what’s happening in wineries line up with the macrocosm of what’s happening in the world. You may have to stick with me until the end if you want to understand that comment. I’m about 40 chapters deep in my process, and this is just the prologue. While tasting wine is the vehicle, the bottles are stories that you can’t get at the local wine shops. The grapes are the chapters. 

Summer meets fall week of harvest on old vine Zin grapes.

Tasting life. A journey to get curious about what that means through the vehicle of wine and food, without the general snobbery that goes along with that pairing. The moments I’m interested in are those moments when the sun dips down below the distant horizon, the moment the first star peeps out, and the moment when the quiet is broken by a playlist always under construction for such moments because every epicurean moment needs a soundtrack. These moments are not just about drinking and eating. These moments are about creating space to appreciate the bounty of this life we’ve been given and to savor that deeply.

Opolo’s Vineyard and nightly Charcuterie for Inn stayers! Amazing.

When Covid hit mid-March of 2020, I completely stopped drinking and lost 15 pounds. I think it was my way of rebelling against the collective. If I’m honest, it was probably also an attempt to grab some power in a world where, let’s be real, we had a dwindling supply. I just knew I needed a time out lest I go upside down in the wine refrigerator. I have no desire to become an alcoholic, or sock on more pounds I have to lose later-again. (My “quarantine 15” would come later on this trip!)

Blue Moon in Avila Beach, CA – Saffron Risotto OMG!

Many others, who had never drunk before, started. Alcohol sales skyrocketed and memes began to make it clear the world was stress-eating. I observed this ripple effect and became fascinated with how the Covid/Fire/Racism teacher was schooling us, all of us, and how each individual and group was affected so differently yet so impactfully. To me, this just reinforced what I have believed since I came to this planet: we are all so freaking connected and effected by each other’s actions at every micro-detail. 

This concept is so clear in the world of wineries. US West Coast wineries, many who depend on tasting room sales, were forced to close for months this Spring. While regional rules varied, most closed from mid-March to June. Those with an online presence did well as it turns out more people than usual began drinking at home and sales were up. And when I say drink, they drank. And drank. Not until three months into Covid Season did many wineries with strong club numbers and online presence report leveling out sales as a general rule.

Those who depended on tasting room and restaurant sales suffered. Some closed entirely, just as was happening with small businesses of all kinds. Wineries had the additional issues that they are quite crowded during festivals and weekends, so would require a complete restructure to function under a new model which of course requires money.

Covid Season Ready: note the social distancing discs and spread out barrels.

For those able to pivot, the startling trend gave wineries a time out, room to rethink the tasting room notion. Words like “power pivot” became a mantra. Ideas on how to deal with pain points in the tasting rooms (you know, like those drunk groups that pour out of limos and often onto their faces at some point.) What to do with them? Social distancing and appointments gave wineries a new landscape, one that actually worked much better than the last one, and one we really enjoyed on this trip.

Irvine & Roberts, fantastic hospitality food/wine pairing in Ashland, Oregon.

Because here’s the thing: winetasting is about tasting, and often not even swallowing. Instead, it’s about slowing down, taking in the beauty, enjoying wine with food where you can (and there are some wineries out there currently where you can), while taking time to be present. At its most beautiful, winetasting is about creating this space to connect, to share stories and laughter, to get curious and learn something new. To numb out misses the point. 

Presqu’ile Winery in Santa Maria, CA – food prepared from garden was outstanding.

If speed-tasting is your thing, though, I will get to that in future chapters and I know right where to send you, though I don’t at all recommend that because, like speed-dating or speed-pitching or speed-anything, you miss out on about 98% of the experience.

You miss the stories about the harvest where the winemaker shows you his self-video of stomping the grapes that morning in his bare feet. You miss out on quirky banter and the secret delights the owner may be holding back (that he baked that morning), but certainly reveals as time goes on. You miss out on wine-analysis as in here as Larry Shaffer, described by others as one of the hardest-working winemakers/owners in the Santa Ynez, talks about how your coffee choice determines the kind of wine you’ll like.

Larry Schaffer, Owner/Winemaker Tercero Wines in Santa Ynez on Coffee/Wine Test

One thing was clear from this trip: the mentality of the winetasting experience has shifted for the better. As I hope this blog will not be a wine-snob blog, but rather some ideas for celebrating life fully, here are few winetasting tips we really honed this trip:

  1. Go on a Tuesday or Wednesday – not so busy
  2. Go earlier in the day, preferably 11
  3. DO NOT GO DURING A FESTIVAL, especially now in Covid Season
  4. Make time to enjoy the grounds, gardens, people – bring lunch
  5. Do not schedule more than 2 wineries a day and leave 3 hours apart 
  6. ALWAYS TIP the pourer generously; they work hard (even for free tastings)
  7. When you can get to a winery (vs. a tasting room), do that. You’ll be glad you did.
  8. In smaller wineries, you will likely sit with the winemaker/owner; in larger, pourers who are sometimes trained and sometimes not, and often not as invested in your experience
  9. During Covid, wear a mask and space out.
  10. Make a reservation, even if one is not required. You will get better service.
  11. Connect.
Los Olivos Tasting Room – not mentioned, special baked treats!

Covid has taught us how connected we are and how little control we really have when it comes right down to it. Even if we hide in our houses, we will likely be affected by mental health issues. We must look for the power pivot. Winemakers have been saying this for years. We must be resilient, and take what comes, fires and all. Everything plays into the grapes. It’s all alive. It’s all connected. Just like us.

Cheers to you!

Posted in co-creating, conscious living, Covid, facing your fears, friends, fun, Inspiration, mental health, resilience, restaurants, travel, wine and food | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Lessons from Fire: Love More, Fear Less

Carpe Diem. I am reminded each day that we are here to seize the moment.

When we marinate in indecision, fear, the “what ifs,” we truly miss the point. That’s the idea this blog tour aims to support. That even though we’re afraid, we still need to live fully.

What we didn’t plan for was the level at which we would learn this on Day 2 of a 21-day sojourn. 

What would the world look like if we all did this?

Here’s the story.

We decided to start our 6 Region wine/spa blog journey in Jackson, the first town north of Ashland, Oregon at Lithia Springs Resort where we have stayed (and I have blogged about) many times before. We know the landscape there in every season, including Covid Season. It’s also positioned between the Rogue Valley and Applegate wine regions so was the perfect spot. Ticked all our boxes with the spa options, food, wine, and walk. The movies were even open.

The bud, the thorn, the bloom.

The first day we woke up and, after meditation, headed out on our favorite walk along the Bear Creek Greenway. Beautiful, as always, I felt a deep appreciation for the blue sky and kept taking pictures I would not normally take of trees reaching high up against the sky. I kept stopping and looking at them, admiring their artistry against blue canvas. So much of California had been under fire sky that blue was a welcome sight. 

We walked for several hours down to the bridge and across the creek. We saw a homeless man sleeping in a pitched tent. We saw a snake in the middle of our path.

Through the trees, we spotted a beautiful flower garden we had never seen before. Mike said he remembered seeing a flower farm sign as we were heading out so we looked for it on the way back and found it. 

We walked down to what looked like commune living. Some trailers and the smell of frankincense filled the space. I asked a young woman about the flower farm and she directed us “through a gate and down the hill, past the house, around the trees, and if you get to the grapes, you’ve gone too far.”

We walked down this sort-of path in between two structures and saw a few young people hanging out in an open building to the right. Just as I saw them, I felt these little claws on my calf, and something crawl up my body. I jumped and waved my arms and yelled, “What the hell was that?”

“Oh, don’t worry. He’s tame,” the squirrel tamer laughed.

We stood and watched for a minute as they handled the squirrel and showed us its tricks. Impressive, really. Then we headed past a tiny house in search of flowers, waving goodbye to my squirrel friend (who Mike is pretty sure is an ex-boyfriend based on his behavior as we were trying to leave.)

We headed into the fields of sunflowers as big as the sun, and rows and rows of zinnias in all colors. 

We looked inside the greenhouse and saw a great big lazy Golden who I thought must have a happy, quiet life with the old man moving slowly and tending his garden. 

We walked all the way to the grapes, and the sun was hitting them just right so I took these shots because I’m a bit obsessed with grape photography. I think it’s a hold-over from my days of studying Greek and Roman mythology.

We headed back out, past the peace flags, past the tire swing, past the couches in make-shift outdoor forts, past the hammocks. A simple life, this life. The squirrel peeked out from behind the tiny house, and positioned for the jump, but I was ready for him this time. Still, he chased us all the way up the hill and we finally had this moment that now haunts me.

His eyes. It was like he was trying to tell me something.

Who are you, really?

This beautiful walk is the last one anybody will take through that flower farm. At last call, 40,000 people had been missing and unaccounted for. The man. His dog. The young people in the flower farm. The homeless man in his tent. My squirrel. 

Here’s why.

The next day after our walk, while we were working in our hotel room, and monitoring fires remotely in Northern California where we live, we heard a helicopter. We opened the door to billowing black smoke and flames. We had skipped our walk that morning because of wind gusts that were breaking tree limbs. If we hadn’t, we would have been right in that area where the fire was just like all the other people enjoying the greenway for the last time.

Lithia Springs Resort from our balcony.

In an adrenaline filled rush, we threw all our stuff in suitcases and into the car. The area was chaos. I was worried about the people next door in the memory care facility who hadn’t been out since March due to Covid Season. 

And my squirrel. And the people. And the trees.

Leaving Ashland in hopes of escape! Spoiler alert: we made it.

But there are heroes in this story.

Lithia car company next door to our hotel brought out their vans and piled patients in and to safety. First responders blocked intersections to help get people out. A kind man smiled at me (as we were freaking out because we were stuck in a line of cars that could potentially burn at any moment if the wind turned), rolled down his window, and navigated us to the best fire free route to Medford.  

There was the woman at the Common Block Brewing Company where we ended up (looking for a Starbucks) and was our server/therapist as we poured out our traumatic story in our unbathed exercise outfits as we had planned to go to the gym and hadn’t showered yet. 

Yes, we’ll have one of each, please:) And the cheese curds here are transcendent.

Perhaps our biggest hero was Shannon Johnson. When we finally decided that we would stay in Medford for the night, hoping we were far enough north of the fire, she was standing in the Medford Courtyard Marriott with big smiling eyes popping out behind her mask. She talked to us for about 15 minutes as we debated if we were far enough north and she told us exactly what was happening. There were fires to the north as well, and they had a solid evacuation plan. Even though we got a call at 10:00 pm that night saying we were at a Level 2 and may have to evacuate again, we knew Shannon would get us to a safe place. We just knew it. Even though she had much to worry about herself (as her home and children were in Ashland), she made sure we had a place for the night.

Shannon Johnson, General Manager Medford Courtyard Marriott (hero!)

Here’s the thing. Had we not got our butts up and taken that walk the day before it burned, we would have never had the chance again in that version of the greenway. If I had not stopped to appreciate the blue of the sky, it would be days until I saw it again and that tree would no longer be part of this. It was interesting to me that this all happened so close to 9/11, a day in my country’s history we will never forget.

A day when everything changes, it ripples and those ripples are felt forever. And out of these tragedies emerge so many heroes, such an invitation to love more and fear less. It’s a chance to seize the moment fully, for really, what else is there?

Posted in animal rescue, belief systems, nature, resilience, travel, wine and food, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A New Adventure (And Revisit of Ashland Secrets You’ll Love)

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Today is August 28, 2020, and I just submitted a manuscript an hour ago for my next book called Shine: When Chasing Sacred Spaces Goes Dark. Don’t get attached to the title because it will probably change three times between now and this fall when it comes out. When I’m working on a book, I go on blog break, but I miss it so much that I’m bringing it back with a vengeance, and in several portals.

On this portal, I’m going to take you on an adventure in the next three weeks. We are going to hit 6 wine regions in Oregon and California and spas along the way and dodge Covid very carefully. It’s a Wine/Spa/Covid 2020 Adventure. You in?

Don’t worry. We’ll wear masks. You can even wear one while you read if you like. We’ll bring our Covid kit (involves Lysol and Clorox wipes,) We will social distance. We’ve got this whole part down. We don’t have Covid as we’ve been tested, but also, don’t know anybody who has–and we’re careful. We’re not going to weddings and large gatherings or night clubs of any kind.

Speaking of kind, we have found that talking to people out in the world helps them so much, too. Covid kindness. At the beginning of Covid Season, we talked to one couple with twins in a hotel swimming pool (20 feet away) for 3 hours and they were so thankful because they hadn’t had any human contact. This isolation part takes its toll on people’s souls, and we’ve seen a huge lift to our own by being able to lift others like our friends in the pool. It’s incredible, really. This is the spirit behind our adventure. I will share Covid Cautions along the way. I will also share thoughtful things people are doing to be kind.

The other portal I will blog in is not even set up yet, but will be by next week. You can get in on the ground floor, and trust me, you’ll want to. We have been collecting spa secrets for 25 years, and it’s now time to spill on the 5 W’s along with some spa stories you’ll experience with us along the way starting next week. You’ll have both the male and female version of the experience as we ALWAYS compare notes. The brand spanking new spa secrets is just itching to go and so are we. Click. Subscribe. Walk with me down this path.

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Now, for a take me back from June, 2015. This will be our first wine region next week so wanted you to have a little bit of Ashland 1.0.

June, 2015

There are things you can control in life, and things you can’t. Eric Weisinger of Weisinger Family Winery

(inspired by Professor Clark Smith who wrote on the board: Winemaking (like life) is the art of the intelligent compromise.

Today is mDSCN5248y husband and my 18th wedding anniversary, 21 dating anniversary and 32 friendship anniversary. What can I say? We like to celebrate.

So we headed North to Oregon, pioneer style, to discover unexplored territory. Although I’ve been visiting Ashland for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF) since my teens, we found so many new gems. I can hardly wait to share them with you.

First, we stayed at Lithia Springs Resort. This place is nothing short of magical. It’s a collection of 11 different types of cottages with periwinkle blue walls and yellow doors (perfect for two Bruins!) The cottages have a soaking tub fed by the healing Lithia Springs water, along with a shower to wash off the minerals spa-style. The beds in this place are heavenly–white fluffy pillows as far as the eye can see. You could probably just spend your time going between the soaking tub and bed and be completely transformed into pure bliss. (Well, I could anyway.)

Around these cottages, acres of lush gardens with sitty places abound. Each mini-garden is accented with a water feature of some kind. At the koi pond, you can sit and watch koi of unusual size. Do you see how big those suckers are?DSCN5249

There are benches, loungers, chairs — whatever matches your style. The birch trees even seem to wave at you in the wind. (We waved back, but then we’re freaks that way.) Roses, delphinium, grape vines, and flora throughout the walk ways and cottages are listed in the tea room, along with a list of critters that live there, too.

That’s right. There’s a tea room.  DSCN5256

At 3:00, tea, lemonade, scones, lemon curd, raspberry jam and cookies — all homemade–are put out for guests to enjoy. The space is so relaxing and is right next to the Waterstone Spa so you can catch that spa smell. You can also get hot or cold mineral water out of the tap here. (Not the stinky mineral water you taste in Ashland at those fountains in case you’re wondering.) The lemon curd is divine, but it’s sort of like picking a favorite child at the tea. You just can’t do it.

Then there’s the breakfast! Inclusive in the already low price, is this delicious, extensive breakfast with Chef Cheryl’s own homemade scone recipe. She’s been at this for 16 years and has mad skills in the kitchen. There were eggs, homemade granola and scones, blintzes, yogurt, sausage, bacon, coffee, juices, fruit and about a gazillion other things. On one wall of the dining room is Gabriel Lipper’s first large mural he painted and it really sets a mood. The woman on the left was his then girlfriend, now wife, and the woman on the right her best friend. They bought these vintage clothes and posed for this mural. The owner was so happy with his work, he promoted Lipper and eventually Lipper went on to DSCN5236paint many naked ladies and westerns, including some work for Garth Brooks. How do I know all this? Cheryl (scone etc. maker extraordinaire) saw me taking a photo and gave me the whole back story. Breakfast and history lessons here at Lithia. (We Googled Gabriel and tried to find his studio, but I think we ended up at his house. We didn’t go in because we thought that may be a little weird with the whole naked lady thing.) Instead, we headed to check out the up and rising Southern Oregon wine scene we’d heard so much about. They now boast over 50 in the five appellations at the bottom of Oregon.

We visited four wineries. I would recommend all of them because they were all so unique in place and wine. We love finding wineries that don’t sell wine outside their winery. You can’t find them at BevMo. That way, it feels like a treasure hunt when you find that special  wine or a place.

The first place with that special find was Caprice Vineyards in Central Point just outside of Jacksonville. The first thing I noticed driving in were the fruit trees and a lone catalpa which happens to be one of my favorite trees. Immediately you get a different vibe than the typical winery drive up a dirt road. There’s a quaint, Italian feeling porch with tables perfect for enjoying a glass of wine (I’d go for the ’09 Cab) or one of their delicious cheese trays. But what you should really do, after tasting the wines in their tasting room/gift shop, is get your favorite glass of red or white and head on out to the alpacas. The boys are slightly more friendly than the girls, but both groups (strategically separated) LOVE grape vines. Conveniently, the day we went, the vines were being trimmed and we were able to bring offerings.

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Aren’t they the cutest? They were sheared the weekend before which explains the look. (Jeanne uses the ultra soft hair for alpaca classes and has her students turn it into hats, scarves and other things you can find in the gift shop.) The Caprice owners actually started their alpaca farm in Riverside, California after watching an ad on television. An interesting detail about these darling creatures is that they are shy and considered prey. This llama is put out as a bodyguard to take care of them. This winery is a good option for children as not all in Southern Oregon allow them.

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The next winery we hit up has a whole different vibe. Owner/winemaker Eric Weisinger heads up this long time father/son venture. Eric’s Dad, John, Presbyterian minister emeritus, launched the winery in the 1970s with the digging of what remains one of the largest underground cellars in the area. One of the earliest wineries as evidenced by their very thick Gewurtztraminer vines, Weisinger has taken on different influences over the years. One of the very interesting influences is Eric’s international flavor. He’s spent much time in Europe and actually worked at a winery in New Zealand. Eric explained aspects of the wine business to us we’d never heard in our 20 years of tasting such as the economics behind custom crush. So interesting to us, but here are two things you need to know.

The view here is fantastic and the wine is awesome (especially the first Bordeaux blend in Southern Oregon known as Petit Pompadour at 64% Merlot and 36% Cab Sauvignon. The 2011 is delicious–bought some!) But what I’m equally excited about is the upcoming 2014 Cab Franc and 2014 Pinot that’s on barrel. DSCN5223Eric was kind enough to let us taste from the barrels and wow–outstanding. If it was in bottles (patience because it’ll be a few years) we’d have brought home multiples in a heartbeat! We will for sure be making a trip back when they are released.

The next day we hit two wineries, EdenVale and Dana Campbell. EdenVale is located in Medford, about 20 miles north of Ashland. When we arrived, we saw this stately historic house which we wandered into because we couldn’t find the bathrooms or anybody in the tasting room. You must go here just to see DSCN5252this place. Old photos on the wall reminiscent of plantation homes and vineyards/orchards as far as the eye can see. When we started our tastings, the standout we brought home was the 2010 Rogue River Rose. However, here’s a funny secret about these guys that wine club members absolutely love. We talked to two from San Mateo who verified. They have wine in airtight bags that last up to 45 days. The winemaker responded to club members’ requests. It cuts expense and waste–no more having to drink a bottle in 3 days. Their Sangria, prepared nicely by event manager Aaron Nino with ice and fruit, was delicious.

On the other side of town is Dana Campbell, the closest winery to Ashland. It sits up on a hill overlooking rolling hills and the quaint town of Ashland. Floor to ceiling windows in the converted 5 bedroom house make a breathtaking tasting room and patio. On the patio is a large fire pit with ample seating for those fall sunsets over the vineyard. Pat Flannery was kind to meet us on a closed day and show us around the wines and the place. We loved (as do the locals) the Sauvignon Blanc. Pat has a Hawaiian-esque way of talking story and we enjoyed hearing stories of how the tasting room came to be. The day before we arrived several acres of new grapes had been added to the already lushly covered hills so new wines on the horizon there. They grow the grapes, and take them off site, happy to not have the expense and work to keep up with on-site equipment.  (Pat, after all, is “retired.”) This one is not for kids, by the way. Rattlesnakes live out in the vineyards.

But what about food?

Okay, can I just say GO TO THE LOFT right near OSF.

First, get this:

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It’s the butter lettuce salad.

Then, get the Dungeness Crab Macaroni Casserole. If you are with someone, you can totally share it. It’s rich and I could only eat about a third, but it’s not to be missed. It’s the crab macaroni and cheese treasure hunt. Large pieces of succulent fresh crab hidden beneath a mac & cheese blanket.DSCN5255 In addition to the unforgettable food at The Loft (sit on the balcony under the liquid amber for a quaint, romantic spot) was the service. Ashley Chamberlain was perhaps one of the best servers I’ve had for quite some time. In a funny twist of fate, we discovered she went to the same high school in Palos Verdes California that my oldest son attended. (Yah, we were totally in the flow during our stay there.)

After The Loft, the perfect place to go is
the Shakespeare Festival and see “Anthony & Cleopatra.” For one, it’s in the Elizabethan so you’re out under the stars in this very sacred space rich with Oregonian history. Two, it’s Shakespeare, and you just have to hear people talk like that sometimes. And three, this production is outstanding. All three hours of it wrapped to a standing ovation. If you can still get tickets (and I don’t know if you can), this is one to catch. We also heard great things about “Guys and Dolls” and I’ve never seen a bad play in the New Theater. If you go here and like these plays, join the OSF. You get first pick tickets, discounts, and free tickets during special promotions, not to mention bathroom perks in the Member’s Only lounge. Plus, it’s an awesome cause to support.

So what are you waiting for? High-tail it to Ashland already! I know we’ll be back. Maybe in the winter for another kind of magic.DSCN5229

Lithia Springs Resort – 2165 West Jackson Road, Ashland, OR  (800) 482-7128 www.lithiaspringsresort.com

Caprice Vineyards – 970 Old Stage Road, Central Point, OR 97502 (541) 499-0449 www.capricevineyards.com  Owners: James & Jeanne Davidian

Weisinger Family Winery – 3150 Siskiyou Boulevard, Ashland, OR (541) 488-5989 www. weisingers.com  (awesome new website!) (541) 488-5989 GM/Winemaker: Eric Weisinger

EdenVale Winery, Eden Valley Orchards 2310 Voorhies Road, Medford, OR (541) 512-2955 x2 www.edenvalleyorchards.com – They’re big on events and Aaron Nino is the event manager.

Dana Campbell Vineyards, 1320 N Mountain Avenue, Ashland, OR (541) 482-3798 www.danacampbellvineyards.com, Owners: Patrick Dana Flannery and Rear Admiral Paula Campbell Brown

The Loft, 18 Calle Guanajuato Way, Ashland, OR (541) 482-1116

Oregon Shakespeare Festival, www.osfashland.org (800) 219-8161

Jubilee Trolley, Katherine Hooker, Owner – (541) 253-1080 – If you want to hit the Rogue River Appellation, this is the way to go. At $40 per person per day, Katherine and her husband (who built the trolley) will take you to five wineries!DSCN5209

Posted in conscious living, Covid, facing your fears, film, fine dining, community art, health, Inspiration, resilience, self love, self-care, spas, travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Oceans of Love, Dear Anthony

Anthony and Jordan in Laguna Beach, California

May 12, 1:13 a.m.

We were getting ready to film at UC Davis when I got this text from Anthony:

Hey, was just thinking about you for some reason

Happy Mother’s Day. I hope everything has been good in your universe. Would love to pick up a copy of your book. Just wanted to let you know you’re an awesome mom and a lot of people could learn from you.

This was the first thing I read when I woke up this past Mother’s Day. In the spirit of the day, I didn’t notice the time. In my distraction of all I had to do, I didn’t notice the subtext. In fact, I wasn’t completely clear until just now as I typed this what exactly was being said. Maybe I wasn’t such an awesome mom in that moment.

There were text words back and forth. I told him when I got back from filming and things calmed down, we’d get together and I’d take him to lunch and bring him a signed book. 

Fast forward to this past Friday night. My son Jordan is studying in Italy on a semester abroad and I receive this What’s App message: 

12:56 a.m. (day in Italy)

I guess Anthony Flores passed earlier this month. I just saw it on Instagram.

1:53 a.m. (using my cell for bathroom light and reading Jordan’s WA)

Me: WHAT?!

How could this be? Was Jordan okay? This was his first peer lost and he was so far away. The book—the lunch. That task, I’m ashamed to say, is still on my “to do” list. I’m more than a little mad at myself that Anthony and I did not get to meet for another meal and that I did not get to give him his signed book. It’s something I will have to live with now. I will not make this misstep again. I wanted to make sure I showed up for both Jordan and Anthony in my next move.

So many emotions swirled. I went to Anthony’s Facebook page and saw his last post. Posted just past midnight on Halloween night, early morning November at 3:27 a.m., it was a meme. In the meme, the Joker was walking into a mental health clinic and it said, “Me finally doing something about my mental health.” In the split screen, it showed a man getting hit by a car with the words “Our next appointment isn’t for another 3 months.” He was in pain, clearly. Then, gone.

His last post was followed by sad, angry, blaming, apologetic, remembering posts from people left scrambling, disoriented by his loss. I felt helpless reading, investigating clues to help my son understand what happened to his friend and process this emotionally from across the big wide ocean, the one that Anthony loved. 

Through the posts and through the gathering at the Anderson River Park, and conversations I had there, a pattern emerged that described this beautiful Soul known as Anthony:

This 22-year-old man found beauty in things and captured that beauty while making the things he captured feel seen and beautiful. His tools included his camera, his sketch pencils, and mostly, his words, all of which he used to show others how beautiful they really were at their core. He used his talents to lift others up, even as he struggled to tread water in treacherous storms around him. In those storms, he reached for a life raft in drugs, a strategy that would cost him his life.  He was resourceful, charismatic, deep like the sea, authentic, sparkly like the ocean waves in the sun, adventurous, the best hugger, embracing, kind, resilient af, an explorer of land and sea. Born on October 4, 1997 in Whittier, California, he straddled between Northern and Southern California often throughout his life, but adored Laguna Beach, California where we met up with him. He had briefly gone to school with Jordie and they bonded over their love for So Cal. On that day in Laguna, Anthony took Jordan on an adventure, taking cliff and beach photos all day, and finally graciously accepting our Tommy Bahama dinner invitation for him (said it was the nicest placed he’d ever been). He thanked us profusely and said he would take us out one day. That night, he sent me about 10 shots he’d taken of Jordan.

At the gathering to celebrate him, I sat next to a young mother named Brooke who held her daughter, 4-year old-Lila, on her lap. Soft-spoken, I wondered what her favorite memory of Anthony was. I asked her. She said that in high school, he looked over at her and said, “Do you know how beautiful you are?” Then he pulled out a sketch pad and drew her as if to say, “Here. I’ll show you.” She told me this through teary eyes as Lila listened carefully. She hadn’t seen her own beauty until then. I asked her if Anthony was ever able to see his own beauty and she shook her head. Through a throat filled with tears she whispered, “He never had a chance to get there.”

We shared stories for a bit. I gave her a hug and told her I needed to go return to my husband’s birthday. At the mention of birthday, Lila ran to hug me and yelled at the top of her lungs: BIRTHDAY CAKE!!!! I swear Anthony was a walk-in in that very moment. 

So, from a mermaid to a merman, Tony, here’s an image to take with you on your journey.

BIRTHDAY CAKE!!!

The ocean, the light

There we go, Sweet Soul

Dancing across the waves we play

Free for now of hard lessons

In this in-between space of pure energy

The beauty now I see in me

I see because of you

BIRTHDAY CAKE!!!!!

A donation to The Ocean Cleanup has been made in your name, Anthony Flores, as you loved the ocean more than anything.

Oceans of Love, dear Anthony. Oceans of Love.

Posted in anxiety, authenticity, connection, death, grieving, health, Inspiration, loss, mental health, parenting | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The Power in No Power: A Woman’s Search for Meaning

IMG_7814I’m sitting here on a Sunday thinking about the light side of no power and feeling frustrated by the dark side. I hunt for a narrative that feels good. So many thoughts demand the floor, as it’s been awhile since I’ve let them flow out in this way. Constructed (constricted?) writing, as in the two novels I’ve had published in the past two years, is such a distant step-cousin of this flow. It’s valuable in its own process, of course, but my heart is here in this flow, in the dance of words that go left and then right, then leave a lingering kiss on a bare shoulder. The power lies here.

Oh Cali. She’s my home, and I love her, but she’s got issues. Recently, these issues are mindboggling. Most present, she’s run by a series of power companies, one of which is PG&E. That happens to be ours. This company, of which a number of people have a number of feelings about right now, is on their third wave of preventative power outages in one week to millions of people in California. Unlucky for us, we fall in those millions. There are a number of theories, thinkers who purport to be experts on the corporation’s reasoning for these outages, and people so angry at the whole collective group we call PG&E that they can’t see straight. Today’s local paper headline was actually “Sheriff investigates shooters at PG&E trucks.” It’s a cluster of massive proportions.

In this space on this page, these thoughts are not about that corporation, though I certainly have them as they continue to cause massive problems for so many. Instead, they are more observations to the swirl around the whole thing. It’s one thing to have a thing happen. Let’s call this the event. It’s quite another, the story we tell ourselves about the event. The event itself is just that. A happening. As we respond, though, that event becomes charged either positively, negatively or neutrally by our emotions we attach to it. Annoying, I know. I feel that, too. But right after annoyance, I feel empowerment because I know I have a choice as to what my next response will be. Always.

fullsizeoutput_279dAs I ponder this idea, the foundation of mindfulness therapy, I recall Victor Frankel’s Man’s Search for Meaning, an account of atrocities inside the walls of the Holocaust. How does a person survive such a time? In Frankel’s thoughts we see how what we tell ourselves about the event often holds more power than the event itself. Even in the saddest and most unthinkable moments, we construe a narrative that can help or hurt us and those we love. A man’s efforts to find meaning and self-empowerment amidst a tragic framework is a narrative of the deepest love.

Now let’s take something millions of miles away both physically and emotionally from Frankel’s Nazi Germany. The current power outages represent change, a taking away of things we’re used to like running water and WiFi. Like light. They represent a ruining of sustenance like food which goes bad in the refrigerator. Like small businesses, barely hanging on, suffering setbacks they can’t bounce back from. They represent a frenzied restlessness as even the most un-prepper of the preppers hurries to Safeway to find the water aisle empty and the batteries completely gone. They put older people with a need to be connected to medical services at risk. Surgeries, in the waiting for months, are canceled and rescheduled. Common commodities like gas are at issue (to run generators, to get the hell out of town) even after 24 hours as seen by the long lines at the one gas station still open. They create a supply and demand on generators, those hunted and secured, which can be heard loudly humming throughout small forgotten towns in the rural North State and their wine country cousins alike. (They break a lot and are a hot robbery item according to my small town’s report.) Each human finds their comfort, either in storing nuts in the form of “a plan,” or surfing it out on “the non-plan.” Nobody really knows how long it will extend, this power event, and it’s pretty much a wait-and-see unless you want to drive 30 minutes away to find “connection” so devices will connect to the internet and you may find the latest news. (This news part is the funniest piece to me as nobody who really could benefit from this news can actually see it which does not keep the media from reporting it.) Meanwhile, those unaffected carry on with their regular lives, giving this a cursory “that’s too bad,” and don’t fully grasp the moment to moment of those in this space because honestly, unless you’re in it, you don’t really get it.

IMG_7636This brings me to “The Joker,” which probably seems off task and probably is, but this style allows for that so hang with me. Last week I spent some magical time at 1440 Multiversity with my son Abe celebrating his 32ndbirthday. This 1440—Sharon, THANK YOU!—was such a special series of connective moments for Abe and I. It was packed with funny stories and belly laughs, both experienced there and stored up to share in moments spread over forest walks, meals, fire pits, and steamy infinity pool soaks and spa treatments in the forest of the Santa Cruz mountains.  Abe had asked me if I’d seen this movie because we are a big movie family. I hadn’t, but it was on the list.

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There were different pieces that stuck out. As I am a mental health advocate, super passionate about and sensitive to stigma surrounding media and mental illness, we talked about the line in The Joker’s journal which read something like (Gee, I’d Google it, but I can’t cuz the no-power thing): The problem with having a mental illness is people always want you to behave as if you don’t have one.

Whoa! What a powerful (a) statement and (b) way to convey that statement.  I fear the movie in itself will continue to draw stigma, but this insight was priceless, and really gave me pause to think.

Now for the tie-in: if you don’t have a mental illness or know someone who does (I have yet to meet that person by the way), you don’t really get why it’s a thing about which I would feel so passionate.  Honestly, though, I’m most suspicious about the person who claims that they are that person. It is most ironic that we do not discuss this topic more commonly as everyone is affected in one way or another. This I have learned from hundreds of conversations over the years. It’s worth thinking about in a very deep way. At least then we can breed compassion and empathy even if we aren’t experiencing the immediacy of a moment.

 
fullsizeoutput_278cBack to lights off. Where I go in this power outage is to the inner-net. In the first power outage, I enjoyed the peace of the stillness, the brightness of the stars against the very black night. I went to bed with the cycles of light. I added in an extra daily meditation. I listened deeply to the deafening silence and fell in love. I pulled out fairy lights for every room and lit cinnamon candles. I read by candlelight and fell asleep, my 110-pound lab snuggled up against me as if we were camping.

In the second event, my husband’s influence (he missed the first one because he was out of town) showed up in much different ways than mine. He ran out and got a generator while I was taking my last shower. Extension cords, gasoline cans abound. Several trips out for various supplies. His fix-it skills saved gates crashed over by hurricane-like winds. He fixed latches that had detached from the planks leaving gates slapping in the wind. He stored water bottles in the freezer (genius move). Put motion lights in the closets. Aced every boy scout test there is to take while consistently scouring PG&E outage maps to see what was happening next. I’m thankful for all of this because none of that falls within my skill set. It was interesting how different each of our approaches was to the event.fullsizeoutput_2778

The story I tell myself about the event is this: I take power for granted. I do not show enough appreciation each time I step in the shower for the running water, each time I turn on “our stories” on the television, each time I flush the toilet. These are powerful creature comforts and I need to consciously remember this. In the dark, magic happens. I see someone differently, their heart shines brighter somehow. The fairy lights bring magic and whimsy as I wrap them around our angels. Enjoy that, I remind myself. The power off makes life simpler if you let it. It gives you uninterrupted writing time to dance with words while listening to Deuter’s Buddha Nature. You have been craving this, I tell myself. It slows you down and sends you over to a long, uninterrupted morning playing catchup with your mom, couch to couch, and then walking through the garden talking about tomorrows. Beautiful tomorrows, sunrises and sunsets. It gives you time to write a poem. To watch the rose out the window. fullsizeoutput_2776

The story I tell myself, then, is there is power in no power.

And yet, when my husband knocks on my office door and says, “Do you want to drive up to Oregon and go to Lithia?” I leap up and hug him, relieved at the idea of running water, mineral springs, our stories, and breakfast!

“Oh hell yes. I’ll be ready in 5!”

 

 

 

 

Posted in awakening, co-creating, conscious living, creativity, healthy living, Inspiration, mental health, relationships, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Italia, mi Amor

fullsizeoutput_19d6To avoid posting this one month to the day upon our return, I probably should have let my fingers tap out what my heart wanted to say on the flight back from Milan. Alas, I was too busy wondering if my knee could bounce back from 10,000 miles of stairs. Okay, I’m probably dancing with hyperbole again on the 10K part. I love dancing, you know. And now I’m thinking of my knee again, wondering how long it will be until I can dance again which I’m very much itching to do.

Italy was like a dance. It symbolized the first time I’d ever just cleared my plate of “the list” and disconnected from my daily routine. You have a list, right? Doesn’t everybody have a list? For me, this is a 10-page, single-spaced document that gets revised on a daily. The first page is printed the night before the next day and works as the operating document for the next day. Type, edit, repeat. That is just how I learned to do it back in my law firm marketing days when the list was always way longer than the day or week for that matter. Progress not perfection is the mantra for the list. For Italy, I let go of the list on April 1 and did not revisit that list until May 1. My immersion was a full 30 days. I kept in touch with the kids and my mom through the family text thread, dropping in pics and reports so they could share in the experience. I dropped Facebook updates so we could share with extended family and friends. Of course, I responded to “request for consult” calls, but I only had two. The rest of the time was spent dropping into the present in a magical land.fullsizeoutput_1ab6

What this allowed me to do was immerse into a new culture with a sexy language, unfamiliar money system, new dominant religion (because Catholicism and Judeo-Christian are two different flavors of gelato), unique value system, enchanting geography and so on–and just play. For Mike and I, this was a celebration of 22 years of marriage (25 together and 37 as friends) in which we have never stepped outside US borders together in our journey as a couple. The reason for this is mainly our parenting philosophy and never wanting to be too far away from the kids. But we’re empty nesters now (with a dog/house sitter who’s like one of the family) and we feel like we can set off to explore the world with everyone being okay. Indeed they were, and we were both like two kids in Disneyland for the first time, foodies and wine lovers that we are. But it was more than that. We both loved just soaking up all the adventures of being in a new land and sharing this adventure together.

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Side note: Are you hungry, yet? There will be food porn, so if this is a trigger, stop here.  Just know, food here is anchored in family legacy, art, and is way more than food. Whoever said that food is not love has not been to Italy. And those puzzle pieces? They are the sauce made from the veggies next to them for the Veal Milanese.

Because of the novelty, when we started planning, we were a bit overwhelmed. We’re planners. We like to think through the “what could go wrongs” so they don’t. We don’t like to come back from vacation needing one. We were international newbies. Our trip went so smoothly because of our allies along the way: first Sommer, then Suzanne, and finally Lorenzo and Elizabeth. Sommer, a childhood friend, had traveled to Italy with her family and shared her entire itinerary with us which gave us a lay of the land. It helped us think through a model approach. Suzanne has family in Italy and travels there every year. She gave us her top 10 list of what to visit and what to skip. It was Elizabeth, though, was our secret sauce resource before during and after!

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We found her through Lorenzo. We approached Lorenzo who works at one of our favorite Amador Wineries, Andis Wines. We remembered when he came from Italy to work at Andis and knew of his fourth-generation winemaker family lineage. We reasoned he could tell us where to go. Honestly, we were pulling at whatever strings we could find beyond the travel guides. We craved to tread untrodden paths, at least partly. We arranged to meet Lorenzo at the winery 6mrhGB6OQF2EKn2Rpb5Khgand sat with him for an hour over a glass of Semillon overlooking vineyards, talking about Tuscany, the Chianti region, and where we should go while gazing over a Google map of the region on Lorenzo’s cell. I took notes which I promptly lost. Fortunately for us, at the end of our research session, Lorenzo pulls a card out of his pocket and said in his strong Italian accent, “And my wife, Elizabeth, she is a trip designer who speaks fluent Italian and Italy is her favorite place. We met in Florence where we lived.” Lorenzo, dude.  That’s your starting line, bro.

But see, in Italy it’s not. They like surprise, and love to gracefully-playfully draw things out with a hint of drama and artistic flare. To stereotype, they are natural storytellers. My people. Witness our 5 ½ hour dinner at our first Michelin restaurant that Elizabeth said we must go to and was right en pointe. She and Lorenzo knew and loved the place. (In fact, we couldn’t help thinking throughout the trip like we were on a tour of their love affair.) After eating a 9-course meal at Aroma overlooking the Coliseum, we understood why Aroma was a standout. And we wondered if every meal would be ¼ of a day long. We watched the sun go down, the moon come up and the moon go down. It was really something, and where we learned about pre-dessert, dessert, and post-dessert. Yah. That’s a thing.

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And that’s what I mean about Elizabeth. She just came with all this genius. We brainstormed together, starting about a year in advance. We talked about things we liked. We talked about how we were way more interested in mini-immersion travel then just darting in and out of a place so we could say we’d seen it. We wanted to get to know the people, eat in their homes, which we did end up doing and it was so lovely. We wanted to sample all the geography, physical and cultural, of a space, but still scout the country for where we would return. We wanted to go city, sea, country repeat. We wanted to try plane, train, automobile, ferry. (Our favorite, by the way, was “transfers,” when the driver just picks you up because they’re such great tour guides!) The trains were stressful, but we met some really beautiful people on them, shared synchronicity, and would sit, as if at a big cocktail party, sharing food with several Australian couples and a lovely couple of millennials from DC. Now that we’ve done it, we’d do it again, but the first train ride out of Rome we stood looking at the board for so long the military police got suspicious and started to approach. Not even kidding.

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She had warned us. About train stations, about tourist menus, about museum lines even in the off season which we scheduled intentionally as we don’t fancy crowds.  Elizabeth set us up on an app laying out each day, all train and other tickets attached on respective days, and we had a call together on how to work the whole thing. It was sort of like that call you may have with your grandmother about how to navigate her first cell phone, but she was patient. Included in daily descriptions were suggested restaurants, history of place, anecdotes about she and Lorenzo (points to our love story theory), tips, and even encouragements about busting out on our own outside the app boundaries. While we were there, we decided to stay in Cinque Terra another day, which she gracefully adjusted. When the hotel brought my leggings back pressed instead of cleaned, she gave me the Italian phrase to fix it. (Nothing like a nice ironed pair of stinky leggings, am I right?!)  As I was making an Italian music play list, she and Lorenzo threw out great top hits which I’m still listening to pretty much daily. Several things went sideways: boat tours in the rain, a confusion on an Italian Cinema Tour. Elizabeth was on it with the refund process, advocating for us in Italian, and sharing our emotions along the way. We’re so grateful for this, our own cyber tour guide. She made this trip so special for us.

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Speaking of tour guides, we chose to use one-on-one guides and Elizabeth found the best. The guides were such great resources because they would honestly share with the common refrain “nobody has ever asked me that.” I HATE small talk and am really much more interested on what lies below the surface of a person, space, or event. I found the Italians were experts at beautifying the surface in so many ways, and if asked, would dip below, but normally not until. I asked. We had tours for the Vatican, for a gastronomic tour of Rome, a wine tour of Chianti region in Tuscany, history and cultural in Milan. Each of the guides not only showed us their tour, but answered all my “off-tour” questions: how is mental illness handled in Italy? What is this contradiction where women are both cherished and treated subserviently simultaneously? Why hasn’t “me too” made its way to Italy? How does 95% Catholic look on all different levels of the culture? What do you study in school? What’s up with the toilets?

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Let’s just spend a moment on that. You don’t really think about toilets until they’re different. We saw all kinds. Since we were mainly staying in hotels, they usually came with a bidet. Yet, even one train station had a “bidet adjacent” hose. But here’s the thing. Unlike the Japanese or Korean all-in-one versions, the toilets and bidets are side-by-side so…well…you have to scoot over in bended knee position, fiddle with the on/off, get the temp right, aim the nozzle…it’s a whole thing. (I did, however, miss it when it was gone.) Then, on the trains, the toilet seat is in a default up position, so to sit on it requires some gymnastics I never really got down. In the station itself, it costs a Euro, and although they’re clean, there’s no seat-seat. About three days in, I found this whole toilet business so fascinating, I started taking pictures. The final piece, and I’m really just sure this is getting me ready for visiting other places, there was just a hole in the ground at the Hertz parking lot in Florence. That was EXTRA.

If I had you at toilets, skip to the last paragraph. If you want to experience a more day by day, allora, carry on reading these blog-ettes I wrote along the way. They came to me spontaneously as we landed in Rome as a way to share Italy with those who haven’t been yet, had been and wanted to remember, or were going and could use some of the unofficial guidance that we were given. (At this point, I need to tell you to contact Elizabeth Berault at Impulse Travel Design on Facebook and she will be your guide. She’s the master. We bow to her. That’s what we will do for our next trip to Japan.) Elizabeth the Magnificent

Day 1: Roma!

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Antonio gave us a great tour on the way to our hotel. We’re right in El Centro. Delicious dinner, Elizabeth, right in the square with the same music the server had listened to for 20 years. Brand new to us and topped off with a stroll and tartuffo/gelato. Welcome to Rome!

Day 2, Buonasera!

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Today we learned so much history thanks to private guide, Chiara, a PhD in architecture and a history buff. Did you know the Vatican is its own country? Si. And thanks to Elizabeth, PhD in trip design who found her and the best table at Aroma, a Michelin-starred restaurant, we celebrated our anniversary early over 9 courses with pairings for 5.5 hours. Longest meal EVER. We watched the new moon rise and drop down behind the Coliseum, cursing ourselves for having eaten lunch. OMGOMGOMG. What a day!

April 9, Roma, Italy at Volpetti Testaccio

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Salve ciao! Final day in Rome-tomorrow we head to the sea at Amalfi Coast. Roman obsessions. The Smart cars that zip through the alleys, the alleys, the Tiber River, the lovely Italian people, all of the food (the Siciliano rice balls!), the architecture, the history, the statues, the surprises, the San Pietrini streets. We spent the morning with Sara who took us on a gastronomic tour of the non-tourist part of Rome. She chose special local fresh stores with famous parma ham from “orange cows,” local farmers market, the local’s favorite bakery. As we ate our way through the streets, she shared history of the area. After we walked the Tiber River, then had the adventure ride of our lives to Trevi Fountain and the Spanish steps. Our cab driver was hilarious!

April 10, Amalfi (Favorite!)

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Our train adventure to Naples where (thank God!) Elizabeth had Tony pick us up and drive us down narrow roads through hail, floods and switchbacks to Amalfi. The vibe here, past hills of lemon trees which makes this home of the limoncello, is pure relaxation. Out our window the waves lap the shore and we move from sun to rain to lightning to sun and it’s pure magic. The jacuzzi tub on the balcony is the best place to watch the show. I love this place

April 11, Amalfi, Italia

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Ahhhh, Amalfi❤️ This may very well be my favorite place in the world so far. I’ve never felt more me, more peaceful, more at home in a space.

They’re all about lemons (limoncello) and buffalo mozzarella which is served for breakfast, lunch, dinner. The weather in April is so perfect. The sky moves from rain to sun and back again playing a dramatic game of cloud tag throughout the day. This changes the colors in the Tyrrhenian Sea which I stepped in today. It’s cold and refreshing. We find the people so friendly, gracious, and eager to connect. Last night’s Eolo (Michelin mention) and tonight’s Ristorante Liddo Azzuro (should have a mention) gave these foodies quite the culinary art show.

April 12, Capri, Italy – Capri Adventure (aka practicing psychological flexibility🤣)

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We woke up to a rainbow after a beautiful pounding rain Mike said was so loud it sounded like the hotel was breaking and that I apparently slept through. We set out on our day uncertain until 20 mins before leaving whether the sea was too rough for the ferry to run to the Isle of Capri where we had a boat tour scheduled around the island. (Boating to the boat tour, yes, in the moodiest of spring seas and skies. The irony is not lost on us.) Alas, would we get back to our beautiful Amalfi? Would we get stuck on Capri? Would we actually take the boat tour? We knew this for sure: we would see beautiful Amalfi coast. We would find limoncello and more fresh pasta with seafood, the octopus as local star and the Tako happens to be one I can’t get enough of. In the end, the boat confirmed during lunch at delicious Michaelangelo’s, and then called at meeting time to cancel. No tour around the island. No matter, though, because we rode the furnuncular up and down three times, had a taxi ride in the brightest pink taxi on the narrowest roads you’ve ever seen, and saw beautiful vistas. A fun adventure, but tomorrow we will spend our last day in Amalfi making like locals as best we can.

April 13, Amalfi – Ever-changing Moods of Amalfi.

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I can’t decide which I love best: the constant rhythm of the waves clacking rocks against the pebbly shore or the cathedral bells chiming every hour throughout the town. We wake up to competing smells of fresh baked chocolate croissants and sweet Wisteria, wafting in through our open glass door on a sea breeze reminiscent of our So Cal days. I look out or up or over at this familiar sea and each time it’s different, cerulean blue tossed with emerald splashes of many shades, reminding me to treasure each unique mood and moment of the now. Ride the wave. Take the rain, the sun, the clouds, the rainbow, the sun again. Breathe it all in. Today we wandered down allies and into such a special (and perhaps undiscovered) gem.

A young man, probably somewhere between the age of our two sons, only 3 classes away from sommelier. This is Simone’s (at Da Gemma)  passion. Well, that and the Golden State Warriors. We entered in off a back alley and had Simone all to ourselves for several hours. We put our trust in Simone and let him lead the way, showcasing his best pairings. He was a rock star! So much fun. When our new friends from Louisiana came in for their reservation, we convinced them to do the same. The flavors, the art.

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Another discovery today: Amalfi paper! This is writer porn. So soft.  So sensual. We spent an hour feeling paper, playing with pens, looking at wax seals. So cool. (Hey, everybody’s got their thing.)

Tomorrow we head to Tuscany. We will miss you, Amalfi. So much.🧜🏼‍♀️🧜🏼‍♂️

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April 14, Travel Day – Travel Day on Palm Sunday—oy vey!

Up at 5:30 in the a.m., our driver met us in Amalfi to brave the treacherous switchbacks to the Naples train station. It’s an hour plus drive weaving through the cliffs of Amalfi. Green, gorgeous, and puke worthy. I didn’t. We made it to the train station an hour early with time for coffee with roasted smells for miles and a croissant stuffed with “hazelnut” (eh hem—blonde Nutella.) We shared the pastry and the server cut it in half to pair with our Americanos. I bit into my half and hazelnut cream shot out all over my scarf and newly cleaned dress. I wanted to lick it off, but I also didn’t want to be a bad American representative so I refrained.

We headed to the train thinking we had this thing down hustling to carriage 2 line about 200 meters (EVERYTHING is about 200 meters btw) and then realized the train backed in and the signs were wrong. We ran pushing our bags back the opposite way. Such novices. We learned a few more things—like the trains go 300 kph and suitcases run down the aisle if people (not us!) put them wheels down. After the 3 hour ride, we wheeled our bag through the streets of…umm, not sure, Florence? Firenze?… to the rental car place where we proceeded to wait for 1.5 hours for a car. Palm Sunday, they said. What does Jesus walking down the streets of Jerusalem fanned with palm fronds have to do with disorganized car rental offices? Not sure. We closed the place down (actually last) so naturally I had to pee. I’m going to do a whole thing on toilets because they’re a whole thing here and there you will have to see the hole in the floor toilet at the rental car place! More on that later. (And the case of this blog, earlier.)

Mike (my hero) braved the driving once we figured out how to turn the car on. We hit about 5 really fast roundabouts and only had to circle back one time. That was a win because things move fast! We hit the autostrade along with lightning, thunder and hail-rain. What could go wrong?

Exiting was a relief. Finding our castle hotel in the Tuscan countryside was not. Google was perplexed. Of course, reception was also iffy. (I can’t hear you…can you hear me?) In fact, we finally needed an escort. But so did the people following us. Nice Germans. The curvy roads were reminiscent of getting out of Amalfi, coming full circle on our day.

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Speaking of Amalfi, we may have become locals. We revisited our fave Eolo last night and were sat at the best table in the house. Antonio even took us to the wine cave after and told us we were his first wine pairing to food art people of the season. Amalfi kissed us goodbye with a sunshine kiss and sent us on our way to this Tuscany countryside.

What will it bring us tomorrow when Donnatella picks us up for a wine tasting day across Tuscany? Thank God she’s driving and we can just take it all in. Buonasera, amicos, and happy Palm Sunday.

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Tuscany, April 15 – The Wine is Alive!

Donatella picked us up just after breakfast for a full day of Italian wine school in the Chianti region of Tuscany. Well, not exactly school, but we learned so much.

The Chianti zone is Tuscany’s largest classified wine region and to be a Chianti Classico is a WHOLE thing. You’ve got to follow a butt load of rules and there is a governing body called the consortium that has to approve the wine each step of the way. You have to take them samples and they have to pass you. Unlike California, in Tuscany/Italy wine is not identified by fruit, but instead by region. Ergo, take a guess at what Chianti wine is? Basically, Sangiovese, and in fact must be 80% as one of the rules. The Chianti Classico is competed for and marked by a seal by the DOCG (Denominacione di origine controlata and guarntetarify—or something like this) to prove its authenticity and also marked by a black rooster. Super interesting!

But even more fascinating was to see how wine is at the center of Italian family life and always eaten with food. Not just drinking is a part of family life, but 2 families were living on the farms with generations still living together from children to great grandparents and working the land. Donatella and Nancy (her van) took us to 4 wineries we would never have had access to down long curvy dirt roads, through beautiful towns, where we would reach a destination and then were greeted by a wine dog. One tasting, we sat in the winemaker’s living room eating charcuterie (because always food remember). At the 3rd winery, a charming family (children translated tour, mom made our food, Grandpa was “more possessive of his grapes than his wife” and is the only pruner in his 80s) showed us around and fed us so much we thought it was lunch UNTIL we ended up in a private home with Ramo waving at us so happily as we arrived with homemade pasta and a TON MORE FOOD with tiramisu for dessert. I said no more and they just wouldn’t take no for an answer. Mangi! Mangi!

After, he took us on a stroll of their 700 person town, San Donato in Poggio in Chianti with 3 streets which he has lived in all his life, the last 41 with his wife. She grew up 2 towns over. It was such a special gift to eat with them in their home and see their town as our guide translated between us.

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April 16, Borgo Scopeto Relais – Siena, Spa, & Pizzeria

Siena. Our first walled city. A little fender bender (big car backed into us and couldn’t find horn), a grazie and a prego and on our way, stunning cathedrals, the Holy week, red poppies as birth and resurrection fill the air, the white puffy clouds, spring flowers, coconut gelato, the piazza, toddlers chasing pigeons, no clothes dryers, no cars in the walled city, statues, more cathedrals, the spa—Nectar of the Gods, bathe in wine while drinking wine, steam, jacuzzi under waterfall, couples massage (each snoring at different moments), a local pizzeria with Chianti Classico (copied neighbors, found Marco who works in our castle hotel, so many types of prosciutto (breakfast, lunch, dinner), late night wine tasting in castle before we leave tomorrow for Florence! Dennis & Michelle, for you we eata the gelato! Dennis, we found the church (bad knee so did not go to top!)

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April 17, Florence Firenze

We have arrived in Florence, but not before driving inside the city walls where only city vehicles are allowed. Terrifying, hilarious, and possibly a ticket coming our way as a souvenir. Elizabeth says it’s a right of passage. We were only flipped off once and honked at twice and we didn’t hit anyone! A win! See the three-foot-wide alley Mike had to navigate which seem like the narrowest yet.

We are steps away from this most majestic cathedral and museum which we stumbled upon. (Actually almost drove into😂). We’ve activated our 72-hour Firenze cards and are now on a museum-orama immersion program. The breadth of history, art, creativity fills every crevice in this place. The sheer size of the cathedrals makes you stop where you stand and stare. The intricacies make you question (or at least me) how humans could have contributed so so much to their world in one life time. I guess they didn’t have Netflix.

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April 18 – Florence, Italy – Galleria Degli Uffizi

Firenze. Florence. So many museums and each one has different rules for entering. We have a “fast pass” just like Disneyland, but unlike DL, it’s harder to figure out the offsite ticket acquisition using your pass and the rules for the respective lines. But being Bruins, we know how to navigate bureaucracy! And we were so grateful to have Firenze card because it’s the only reason we got in to the two main museums during Easter week. Reservations are backed up until 4/22 and without them, you can’t get in (like when they close the pirates at DL.) I can’t help see the influence of Walt from Italy btw. I don’t know the history, but I’m sure it’s there from our regular walks through the park while living in So Cal then seeing this. The busts in the Haunted House, for example. Or today we walked by The Pinocchio store.

Now to The David. HE’S SO LARGE. And his feet and hands seem XXXL. And his veins. I thought he was going to be smaller, I think because Mona Lisa at The Louvre was so small. Anyway, outstanding. The Pitti Palace and Gardens—WOW! The elaborate details! We just walked through with our mouths hung open. A beautiful wine tasting paired lunch (from what we suspect may be a Lorenzo/Elizabeth regular date night hang out) across from the Pizzi and then Mr Toad’s Wild Ride to our afternoon reservation at the Acadamia! This time, someone else drove. Our server and restaurant manager said “Next time you come for more wine and less Acadamia!”

Tonight we cross the River Arno for what we think is a late dinner, but is actually the first restaurant setting at 7:30. I don’t know if we’d make very good Italians. But we do excel at the manji manji part so we got that going for us. Arrivederci!

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April 19, Golden Tower Hotel Florence, Italy

Last night—full moon over the Arno. We sat and listened to music in the quad where people gather and amazing musicians play. Magical.

Today started out disappointing with our cinema guide not showing, but we decided to head to the Franco Zeffirelli Museum she was going to take us to anyway. We ended up having the best time! First we walked in this empty church (Jesus dressed like Tuesday Morning) and then had the whole film museum to ourselves for like an hour! Amazing! He’s 96 now and lives in Rome, but comes to Florence each October. His list of works is OFF THE HOOK and his process soooo interesting. We ended our cinema tour day with “Becoming Leonardo Da Vinci” which was perfect to see in Florence! Happy Good Friday and Happy Passover!

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April 21, Monterossa al Mare – The Land of Cinque Terra: the Hike from Monterosso to Vernazza

Happy Easter and Buona Pasqua! We had quite a day! We set out to hike “Lover’s Hike” after breakfast which sounds like it would be a nice meandering stroll, arm in arm, through sweet red roses or something. Alas, it was more like climbing a ladder of uneven stairs with uneven stones to Heaven—like ALL the way there. If you know me well, you know I’m missing my left ACL and meniscus (since 23 skiing accident) and bone on bone at this point. I survive off those new shots and have pushed off a knee replacement for many years successfully. Additionally, my weight is way up which does not make my knee happy. Still, we climbed those stairs to the top of the world. I had a lot of feelings about this. At first I was really irritated nobody had described these steep steps. Then, I was a bit panicked we’d not brought water (for a two-hour hike straight up! What were we thinking?!) Next, I was amused because I had my own personal international cheering squad who could see I was struggling and would cheer me on. If I wasn’t so touched, I’d have been embarrassed. Finally, as we reached the top, my knee throbbing and my throat like sandpaper, I felt nothing but pure gratitude. This man in his goldens was standing there squeezing fresh oj and selling cold bottled water! An Easter miracle. While Mike got juice, I plopped myself down next to a young man with a sweet, gentle spirit and we started talking. His name was Ahmed and he was a PhD in chemical engineering. He was on a figure out the next step trip and we so enjoyed meeting him. After refueling, we started noticing the gorgeous views, vineyards, spring flowers, and met Chris and Renee who loved wine and the study of it. He was at Davis with the Mondavi kid back in the day. She told us the story of her name. She was Japanese but named Renee and said Japanese have challenges with “r” so asked her mom why she did that. She told her she liked the name so that’s that.

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We stopped more than most, partly because I needed to breathe and partly for the breath stealing vistas that made us stop and stare in wonder. When we arrived to Vernazza, a man piping saxophone through the canyon welcomed the pilgrimage. We stepped into a town lost in time, making our way to our reserved lunch by Elizabeth. When we arrived, we could not believe our table nestled away in the side of a cliff. Magnificent! Our waiter Andreas was the star of the show, blowing us kisses from other terraces, singing to us, changing up costumes to serve us, and taking pics with us. What a magical meal! (Please can we take him home?!) We will never forget our buona Pasqual with Andreas!

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We ferrired back aftet lunch and met a foreign exchange student from Iceland living with an Italian family. She LOVED the idea of California. In fact, most people we meet do. They all dream to move there. We are very lucky to live in such a diverse, sought after state. I’m Cali through and through, but never realized how others so idolize it, especially the 18-28 crowd.

I iced my knee for quite awhile after we returned and it was so worth it!

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Varenna, Italy – April 23

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Each time we settle in a new spot I find myself saying, “Ooooh, I love this one best next after Amalfi.” Now in Lake Como (Varenna to be exact), I really mean it. It’s so peaceful here, space to digest and integrate such beautiful people, places, images, experiences.

Our entry into Varenna was followed by two long train rides, one regional where they switched tracks at the last minute and we had to rush down and up stairs lugging our bags (against cattle-like herds yelling PERMISO) to the correct platform with only 3 minutes to accomplish that. QUITE a scene. We were happy we had lemoncino and biscotti for stress snacks after that!

One of the many awesome parts of our adventure has been the people we meet. On the train from Monterosso to Milan we met Peter and Jane from Australia. Their daughter is a child and adolescent psychiatrist there and her partner works for Headspace, a movement I’ve been tracking in Australia. We were then joined by another couple from Melbourne, and chatted for 3 hours nonstop.

When we finally arrived in Varenna, Elizabeth had miraculously changed our boat ride by a day because of weather. Yesterday was clear, today rainy. I happen to adore the peaceful, cleansing rain where the water’s edge merges into an all gray mist. I’m so at peace in that space. But for sure, it’s crap weather for a boat ride. Thanks to Elizabeth’s skills, we would go out on the last ride and she would drop us in San Giovanni for our dinner with Ice from Netflix “Dogs”. We were very excited to meet him and get our lab fix.

OMG—the lake! It’s so unique and still, lined with huge villas (including George Clooney’s😂), and the largest, most deep maroon Japanese maples you’ve EVER seen. Bright splashes of vibrant pink azaleas lined the shores in spots, competing for best in show with the sheets of light lavender Wisteria which grows without limits here. Stunning. Sensual. Matteo, our guide, set up an aperitif for us, some Italian traditional tunes, and took us on a journey around the lake, stopping at Bond movie villas, whipping out his computer and showing us the scenes filmed there from various films, including Star Wars. Bonus!

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April 24, Varenna, Italy – Lago di Como, Varenna – The Grass is Always Greener

We awoke to a sweet, gentle rain and bird choir that actually sound like people making bird sounds. Such unique warbles I’ve never heard. Mist lay across the mountains surrounding Lake Como, ever changing in shape and formation. Honestly, I could lie with the French doors open, listening to the intermittent pitter patter kissing the balcony and feeling the cool, quiet breezes fill the room. The church bells tell us the time even before our iPhones and we know if we don’t move, we will miss our (God forbid) our illy free cappuccinos and extensive breakfast spread.

So we get up. Varenna is more still today, the Easter crowds gone. I like that. It helps me get to know a place better. After breakfast and purple light showers (this is such a concept I want to take home!) we wander out to the streets of Varenna and into botanical gardens steps from our hotel. The light rain continues lightly touching each leaf with droplets of water, and shooting scents into the air of red rose and Wysteria, nature’s diffusers. We spent the next 3 hours attempting to capture the scene: the beauty of the droplets on the bright petals, the mist playing on the mountains, plants we’ve never seen, miles of Wisteria, and always fountains and statues tucked everywhere. We found ourselves fascinated with a boathouse. Later, after lunch, we wandered through the villa that went with the boathouse and stepped back in time to huge marble staircases and tea party scenes. Truly a paradise of the greenest of green imaginings.

We had a free apertif from the hotel at day’s end, and talked to our server. His dream? To move to California with his girlfriend next year and leave this enchanted paradise.

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April 25,  Milano, Italy

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In Milano, northern Italy financial center, the vibe changes while a different strand of beauty spreads out to street protests right below our window in the city center. It’s a national holiday, Liberation Day, and students are protesting a variety of issues that aren’t entirely clear but feel similar to our own in the States: racism, discrimination, a push against the current government. A quick look around shows Italian freedom of press worst in Western Europe and our own informal interviews of guides show a reticence to discuss the shadow (though some cajoling leads them there eventually.)

The juxtaposition of the Galleria with its literal shoe candy (including Jimmy Choos and the bakery) to this morning’s private tour with an art historian who broke down technique, politics, and nuances of many great creators to the overwhelming cathedrals to the more neoclassical architecture to the Japanese influence creating Milano’s new infatuation with raw fish…it’s simply outstanding. Sensorial. A piece of past, present and transcendent future. Just love it.

As in all of Italy, the cathedral is the highest point in the city one way or another. We learned an interesting local detail today: Italy has the highest rate of usage on psychics, magicians, soothsayers and a famous magician (also a conman according to our source) recently went to jail for defrauding poor people. There are new laws to help prevent this blind following. Such an eclectic assortment of original thinkers and group think as regulated by the church.

To see the last, perhaps unfinished work of Michaelangelo emerging from the marble. To see the only painting left of Leonardo da Vinci because of WWII destruction. To hear the stories of the various creators and see their genius. To glance at the visionary inventions of Leonardo…sigh. First makes us feel lazy, and second, lights a fire. Inspires. Stirs imagination. And always makes us hungry!

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IMG_4057April 26 – Art in Every Corner – The Second Religion: Coffee

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Something about the way Italians decorate space, like coffee stores, the Apple store, never ending cathedrals, their Michelin restaurants, their opera. We lived this today. When you can turn a coffee store into art, or create an ocean scene with a “gift from the chef,” or create two operas into one, art is created everywhere. Felix La Bosso (2 stars)  and the Teatro la Scala were highlights today we won’t soon forget.

Wow, Italy. We’re impressed. So impressed❤️🇮🇹

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Rough Re-Entry and Grazie❤️

By the time we reached MXP in Milan to fly home after an outstanding journey through Italy, my knee had readied itself to stage a protest. It just quit. It’s bone on bone, the shots have worn off, and I was just grateful it waited until we were done to do its thing.

Flying day. Never overly excited about this, especially when we’re looking at 15 hours on planes, finding gates in short layovers, etc. Enter I’m out of this cool Naproxen gel they sell at the farmacia, no Advil, and icing is not going to happen. As we arrive at MXP, I feel nauseous from the pain, disappointed in my body’s current state, and not sure how I’m going to navigate the inevitable stairs that will appear on our way to the gate.

We approach the desk and ask for help. The flight attendant looks me up and down and says, “Clearly you can walk some stairs?” I almost started to cry shaking my head as Mike said, “No! Stairs are the worst!”

And that’s how we got the wheelchair.

I was against it at first, embarrassed, but once I let that go it became a really interesting experience. First one had a broken wheel which lead us to “the Ferrari,” a motorized job with a super kind guy who took us through secret passageways and no lines. Bonus! No checking fluids which bode well on our limoncello. BONUS! I started noticing the ups and downs of using a wheelchair. Up, you meet kind people (the pushers) and hear their stories. Down, people don’t look at you and you sense awkward feelings and note averted glances. Up, travelers scatter like ants to make a path. Also up, you can hang your backpacks on it. Down, well, you wish you were walking and you have to wait around when you’d rather be walking. Up and down, you wait in the “disabled” lounge (with its own handy bathroom and filtered water and comfy chairs, at least at Heathrow) with all the others in your position. The way high positive is I now know very well how to travel with someone who needs assistance in an airport!

Then came the plane. We fell in love with British Air when they moved me on a very crowded plane to the empty back row where I could elevate. The attendants were so kind and made me feel a little less ridiculous. One had a house in Positano near our heart place, Amalfi. The only issue, and it wasn’t their fault, was that the weather in London was crap and we missed our connection. In my current state, all I wanted to do was elevate, ice, and find the English equivalent of Advil. While texting my few British friends, and regretfully canceling our dinner in San Fran with Suzanne and Dennis (😢), my cell died in a final reminder we weren’t frolicking in Italy anymore. We grabbed a handful of vouchers and off we went with hoards of others, including a large group of high school students from Pennsylvania on a 9 day “abroad” trip to France with a frazzled leader trying to keep everyone’s passports straight. I overheard one young man say, “I’m going to wait to call my mom until we figure out exactly what’s happening because she’ll freak out.” Smart boy.

The hotel was actually great for such a scenario and they had decent food and beer. We love British TV anyway so dinner, BBC, and early to bed after various makeshift ice packs (shower caps, laundry bags, dining napkins—fail unless you like wet clothes) and we were all set with our BA overnight packs, which included an XL sleeping t-shirt and the tiniest tube of toothpaste you’ll ever see😂

The next day was a whirlwind. They took me down underground at Heathrow and Mike couldn’t come because there was no room on the car. He had to run and did not arrive until the plane was boarding, panting from the very long journey. The good news? We’ve got this shot for you of the bowels of Heathrow, a once in a life tour, as I don’t plan on wheel chairing it again any time soon.

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For all who joined us on our trip through posts, messages, texts, etc., we loved sharing the journey! And to you, Italy, Grazie mille for your warmth and beauty. You’re a class act.❤️🇮🇹❤️

Thus ends my on-the-way blogs.

My favorite of all the beautiful places was Amalfi. I want to go again and again. Mike and I walked down to the sea day and night. Our hotel had a jacuzzi tub on the balcony and you could soak and watch the ocean and village below. The sea breezes blew in through the sheer white curtains and ushered the lapping sound of the water below into our dreams. The moods shifted with the weather, making it look like a different place. Pure magic, this place. Attached to the hotel was a Michelin restaurant, Eolo, which we loved so much we went twice: the first night and the last night. The meal was art, and on our return dinner, we were sat at the best seat in the place making for such a special meal. We let them choose the meal and wine and it was magnificent. My second favorite: Varenna on Lake Como. I want to go back there and explore the lake region, stay in the writer’s cottage in the middle of the lake, spend a whole day wandering through the gardens. Just be.fullsizeoutput_18a1

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But honestly, how do you choose a favorite child? They all are so perfect in their own way. There’s really no need, though we will go back and try, I’m sure. Arrivederci, Italia. Until me meet again.

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Posted in Italy, Travel, Roma, Amalfi, Eolo, Hotel Marina Riviera, Andis Wines, ImpulseTravel by Design, Naples, Cinque Terra, Monterroso, Milano, Varenna, Vernazza, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Ashlandia

IMG_0451We never get tired of it. I’ve been coming here since I was a teenager in English class on a bus I’m sure no driver wanted to drive. It’s where I fell in love with Shakespeare. Probably why I eventually became an English major leaving political science behind for some other would be lawyer. In many ways, it’s the same as it’s been for the past 40 years when I used to ski its slopes. In others, it’s quite different.  I’ve blogged on it a gazillion times. Here’s one: https://jamieweilhealthcoach.com/2015/06/22/ashland-secrets-youll-love/.

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That was about five years ago. On that trip, we went in search of Southern Oregon’s wine scene. This time, they came in search of us. We almost always settle in at Lithia Springs Resort, a peaceful little mineral water sourced place with big tubs in the rooms with mineral water piping into the privacy of your own fire lit space.

fullsizeoutput_1293 Everything about this place is well thought through and always offers new pleasures. A new detail this trip: Cowhorn Winery just happened to be doing a wine tasting of their biodynamic wines the day after we arrived at Lithia.fullsizeoutput_12a8

Cowhorn is located about 30 miles from Lithia and owned by two city kids from the Bay Area who traded in urban living to set up a sustainable ecosystem and grow grapes, purple asparagus, truffles, lavender and make wine all on their own farm. They open their land to creatures, used some super green architecture that is marveled over by those who marvel at such things, and have put together some intriguing whites (Spiral 36 was a standout) and a red called Moonraker that goes along with a story probably best told at the winery itself. Wine does its best in stories after all, and when those stories are told strolling through rows of grapes, all the better. It’s what makes it interesting. Though we weren’t in that lane this visit, our tasting was done about 200 yards from our room which made it nice as our goal for this Valentine’s Day visit was to relax as completely as possible.fullsizeoutput_1298

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fullsizeoutput_12a0I think we accomplished that, even if we felt a bit guilty along the way. (Do we look guilty or are we hiding it?) Back home, we had left a day early because of a storm we feared would block the Siskiyou Pass and keep us from our destination. Twenty four hours before departure we were able to coordinate the dog/house sitter coming early and get the hillside suite an extra night, no small feat on Valentine’s Day week. As it turned out, our drive was perfect, but as soon as we settled in Ashland, back home saw snow they hadn’t seen in two decades. This snow took down three hundred year old oaks (en masse) and knocked out power and phone lines for all of Shasta County, eventually evoking a State of Emergency. Just a freak storm.

Meanwhile, Ashland was seeing fairy snow–powdered-sugared pines, dusted mountains in the distance, and just enough fluffy white to bury the first crocus.fullsizeoutput_12ba I love snow falling from the sky and was eventually awarded for my patience on Day 5. I woke up several times a night and checked our back balcony just so I didn’t miss it. It’s such a peaceful, beautiful feeling, especially when it’s the kind that falls, doesn’t make a mess, and leaves as quietly as it came. Pure beauty.

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Ashlandia wore more than just her moody weather this trip. She carried such a peaceful energy this visit, possibly because OSF hadn’t started the play schedule and partly because many visitors were blocked from the area because of surrounding snow walls.

Without plays to distract us, we spent time soaking up mineral waters, taking long walks, shopping, getting massages, going to tea time, and hitting this retro ’80s throwback everynight (except Valentine’s Day when we stretched fullsizeoutput_12ac.jpegout dinner) to watch every category of Academy Award nominated shorts. We loved doing this, and this is the first year fullsizeoutput_12b9we’ve seen them all. Phenomenal! Having spent the past year and a half making a documentary series I have so much appreciation for this art form.  We also watched Roma on the big screen which was quite different than watching it on Netflix. I loved Bohemian Rhapsody, but I honestly think  Roma might take first. As far as shorts, here are my predictions: animated One Small Step; live action Skin (intense!); and best short documentary, Period. End of Sentence.  But honestly, they’re all fantastic and we really enjoyed experiencing that work.

fullsizeoutput_12afThe other thing we really loved this trip was Alchemy.  Set in this character driven Victorian, it’s become one our favorite Ashland fancy pants places. This visit, Greg (sommelier) was our server and we loved talking wine and food (and family and history) with him. The meal was more than food and champagne. It was a culinary journey. An art walk.

We’ll be back. Again. And another again.

Having the extra time to stroll Lithia Park under dancing snow flakes and through back allies of Ashland landed us on a few treasures: the ice skating rink put up for the winter in the park and a beautification project that takes otherwise boring back walls and spruces them up with murals. It appears as if people sponsor local artists to do this which struck me as a super cool partnership. We loved this one sprucing up a back alley along the creek.

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After soaking up Ashlandia (I mean, there’re four separate menus at Louie’s for each of our eating categories of people), we headed down past Mount Ashland not sure what would we see because of the heavy snow. What we saw was sheer, breathtaking beauty, Mt. Shasta showing off her new coat.

fullsizeoutput_12c1fullsizeoutput_12bdfullsizeoutput_12beSites like these renew me. They show up in my dreams for months after. They remind me what a phenomenal planet we’ve been given to enjoy, and I breathe in every moment grateful to be on it.

Posted in bathing ritual, co-creating, conscious living, film, fine dining, community art, healthy living, Inspiration, Rejuvenation, relationships, relaxation, self-care, spas, wine and food | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments