Such a Good Boy

The Kainnection Adventure, Long Beach, CA 3/21/23


I’m Kai. That means sea in Hawaiian. 

This is where I got my name

Between you and me, my parents have lost their minds. They sold my BIG backyard where I used to go potty by myself. They didn’t buy another one. They said we’re “floating” for awhile. All I know is now we all go potty together in a park. It’s a whole thing. You should see us in the rain. I’ve lost so many pounds my ribs may be showing. 

Back to the big-yard house.  I’ve lived with my people since I was born in the big yard house in Cottonwood, California. Funny story. All my brothers and sisters came to my house when we were just 5 weeks old and had a 4-night sleepover. I didn’t know then I was coming back. Then, all I knew was I needed to stay close to my sibs and my mom because that’s how we did it. 

Mom, move your hand. It’s in the shot.

One day at the big-yard house, our world got bigger. My sibs and I busted out of our pen and into this wonderful green stuff my people called “grass.” What a great thing, this grass! I still love it. We ran all over while the people chased us. What fun. Sticks with flying things and sweet-smelling flowers were perfect for tug. The people kept saying “Not the lilacs” so I guess they didn’t realize how perfect they were for chewing. 

Those lilacs were delicious

Imagine my surprise when I returned to the Lilac House! I could smell my brothers and sisters all over my yard. I missed them and, at first, I went on a hunger strike. But a guy can only keep that up for so long until he just needs to eat. After a few days, I realized I had a new pack that didn’t look like me, but I could tell they loved me.

My two-legged pack and my big back yard

That was then, and now I’m 7. I’ll be 8 next month. I love going where my pack goes. At The Mermaid House, we’re together all day long. Mom sits in her office (the couch) and Dad sits at the desk (or in Mom’s office, on the couch) and I grab some shut eye. Also, I have a balcony here where I like to sit and bark at people as they walk by. Dad tells me no,”but I’m pretty sure he just doesn’t recognize the potential peril of these strangers. They’re very close to my house, these walkers.

Me on patrol of The Mermaid House Deck

The other thing about this ocean house is we walk a lot together. Did I mention I’ve lost 8 pounds? I know this because when we went to my new Long Beach vet for my itchy ears, they told us. Everyone says what a big head I have. They say it in a good way. They talk about my size almost every time. In sum, I guess I’m a big boy, but not as big as I used to be.

Our walk

About me. I like making friends, both 2-leggeds and 4-leggeds. I don’t enjoy squirrels. At my old house with the big yard the squirrels taunted me all the time, and then when I finally got one and threw it up in the air, I got in trouble. I think I may have squirrel trauma. The squirrels here are different somehow so I’m trying to move on.

My main thing is I have this superpower where I draw people over to have long conversations with my mom and dad about things that feel important. They always seem happy after. I just do my thing, then I go sit down and take a nap while my people yammer on about stuff. Also, lots of people want to give me kisses.

Giving Laura kisses. I love Cafe Luxxe so much.

One thing we all agree on, and I hear it often: Kai is such a good boy. I’ll chime in on this blog from time to time. It is The Kainnection Adventure, after all.

In search of Dog Love

We might see each other on the road. If we do, say hi. Remember, I’m such a good boy. May your day be filled with all the Go Bananas  treats you can eat. (They have those at the outside market on Sunday. They’re delicious.)

Puppy love
I hope we buy Go Bananas today
Posted in animals, authenticity, connection, conscious living, creativity, dog friendly, Empaths, friends, fun, Inspiration, pets, resilience, Synchronicity, therapy dogs, travel, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

When Your “I” Breaks

The Kainnection Adventure

Café Luxxe, Long Beach, California, 3/15/23

I woke up reflecting on routines. The rain would be coming in so we set out early from The Mermaid House and headed to Café Luxxe, a March routine we had already come to love and would miss when we left in April for our next adventure.

Routines. I only do this on Monday and Wednesday and this on Thursday and Friday. That way I can get ____ achieved. Routines are something we use to help us achieve and get things done. They also limit us and keep us in a self-imposed prison. In themselves, they are neutral. It’s how we use and don’t use them that defines whether we feel freedom or feel trapped.

We discussed routines, Mike and I, looking at what they do for us and what they take from us. I noticed how quickly we settled into this walk to Luxxe and wondered why with so many options, we had. I danced in the street just to break things up. Alas, we entered the gate we did each day before, ordered our same drinks, settled in the same patio chairs. When Mike brought out the lattes, he spilled mine, breaking the routine. Another perspective: we use our routines to feel safe, secure, predictable, in control. In reality, we aren’t, but it’s comforting to feel we are.

I should have predicted what would come next, but the Universe is anything but predictable. I love that. Two women sat across from us, and Kai placed himself between us. Reggie and Pam live in Long Beach not far from where our oldest son and wife used to live. We started with a conversation about the Covid Anniversary, then Shine which I started writing shortly after, then two hours of hardcore synchronicities and crossovers. It was easy to dive right in with these women. I knew then I wanted them to be my friends. I have deep appreciation for those who do not drag me through painful and meaningless small talk.

Reggie and Pam have the kind of friendship we all hope for in our lives. It feels easy, therapeutic, a container that helps them both through their separate traumas. In fact, Reggie is not only deeply educated in trauma (as in she has a PhD, post doc, has developed her own somatic psych methodology, and most importantly, has lived experience), she is open to sharing her own life trauma in a high EQ emotionally intelligent way.

Like me, Reggie describes herself as an introvert, and really understands the meaning of that. She is also a writer, Pam that friend who promotes her. Her life thread clearly involves dancing with trauma from all sides, and it is also clear this is exhausting. I can tell she is a lightworker emerging out of a dark night. One who helps other love themselves and strives so hard to take in that teaching for herself. A seeker. An empath. One who marvels at our universal differences and encourages others to do the same. A friend I’d love to grab coffee with who I can count on being real and whose perceptions fascinate me. A friend to marvel at and with over espresso. A friend who speaks the same language. A friend who is not afraid to love freely and who understands the wisdom of that conversation with others.

Pam said, “Oh she will be reading every one of your books.” Nothing makes a writer happier than a friend who is excited to read the stuff you’ve poured your heart into over decades. 

We talked about how we hate small talk. HATE it. We talked about how everyone is on a different evolutionary track, and sometimes small talk is all we have. What I wanted to find, what I always want to find, is the joy explosion for these beings. I only got to Reggie because time ran out. I knew she knew because her high EQ demanded that. I was right. Reggie knew that her deep love is musical theater, her participation in that, and that her deep fear is never being able to bring that into being.

Here’s what became clear to me as I saw Reggie on a stage performing, her heart smiling at the journey from the other side. We are, at different times, locked into the dark night of the soul. We have to be. It’s so clearly part of the hero’s journey. Sometimes it takes others (in Reggie’s case, Pam, and hopefully us on this day) whom can see the vision unfold clear as day despite the soul-sucking dark night.

What wants to unfold in you? Where do you find your joy? What are you afraid of not playing out before you leave this life?

I came home to start typing this, remembering a dark night of my own where my own friend Pam was such a support to me, and guess what happened? My finger stuck to my “I” key, and it lifted off my keyboard as if to say, “I” cannot do this alone AND “I” am an important part of this story. It’s “we.” We are one. We need each other. I swear. You can’t make this shit up.

We are all SO connected. I can’t wait to go watch Reggie perform. I know in my heart it’s going to happen.

Posted in animals, authenticity, awakening, co-creating, connection, conscious living, creativity, dog friendly, education, Empaths, friends, hope, Inspiration, law of attraction, mental health, mental health and children, NAMI, pets, relationships, resilience, self love, self-care, service, spiritual, Synchronicity, therapy dogs, trauma, writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

High Tides, Low Tides

On January 3, 2022, I plumped the final pillow on our bed, my dog Kai at my feet eager for the next thing (breakfast). It was 7:30 am, the first Monday of the new year. Normally, I wouldn’t remember the first Monday of a new year, but this was not the regular beginning to a regular year. This was the year of high and low tides.

My mood was heavy, and about to get heavier. My 59-year-old husband, Mike, opened the bedroom door and mumbled these words: I think I’m having a stroke. His slurred words were not what gave it away. It was the look in his eyes across the room that transcended all else and told me he was right. High tide. No beach available. We needed to move quickly.

Luckily, I’m good under pressure, and Mike had already run some preliminary tests on himself to reach the stroke conclusion, so we had a solid starting point. Having dealt with more than my share of life crises, this part of me run by “Captain Dan” took over. (When this happens, the emotional part, so ever present, retreats because Captain Dan is like a military sergeant going to war and demands the room.) I directed Mike to the couch, called 911, decided I could get him two towns away to the hospital faster in my car than an ambulance could reach our rural home, and off we went. Along the way, his speech became more slurred, his face was massively drooping, and his emotional centers were cracked open in new ways I’d never seen in our 29 intimate years together. On the way, I called Mercy Hospital in Redding, California, and they were ready for him when we arrived.

I pulled into the “no car” emergency and called for help. Turns out first Monday in January is a GREAT time to have a stroke if you’re going to have one. Within two hours, Mike was administered a drug called tPA, which is a clot-dissolving tissue plasminogen activator. For Mike, this drug was nothing short of a miracle. Within 15 minutes, all symptoms (which felt severe at this point) dissipated and he was back to normal. The crew of medical staff standing around the bed with me literally cheered. Though he needed to spend the night in ICU, he was out the next day, and you wouldn’t know to look at him that he had launched the year hit with a Universal 2 x 4. That Friday, three days later, we traveled to Southern California to host the baby shower for our first grandchild, born the next month on Valentine’s Day in Long Beach, California. Low tide. A space to rest and celebrate new life.

Grandchildren: a beautiful work of art

Tides just are. We do not need to label tides as good or bad. It’s more nuanced than that. Yes, a high tide can trap you in a space and a low tide can give you time and room to find a space. But tides are tides, they move in cycles just as life does. We can just watch them, learn from them, enjoy the space and time we have between them and do our best not to get stranded against a rocky shore.

After Mike’s stroke, we were pointed to a new health struggle which started in a Southern California ER visit a week later: a clue to what we would learn would be prostate cancer. High tide. This story is in play as I type this. We await eagerly to see how severe that is, and how we will find a space to ride that wave. Low tide.

On Valentine’s Day, our magical grandson Langston popped into the world wide-eyed and ready to spread love. Between Mike’s health waves, our youngest son’s pledge to become healthy and sober, and new life staring me down with saucer blue eyes, I put my foot down on my own health. I stopped drinking alcohol, lost 91 pounds in 9 months (I basically drank really good water and ate lots of vegetables and fish!), and began educating myself on Ayurvedic living. Regular fasts from increasingly dramatic newsreels and long walks, preferably next to an ocean, are up there with my always daily meditation as good medicine. Low tide. My bloodwork, blood pressure, and overall labs were so good my doctor gave me a hug. (To be fair, he always does that anyway, but he was VERY happy.)

I haven’t written during all of this as I search for my own emotional foothold in the swirl. This has been quite difficult as my writing is inexorably tied to said foothold. Now, in the beautiful strip of coast along Dana Point, California, I’m feeling called, by the ocean, by my friends, by Spirit, and so here we are. I have been on a blog hiatus for multiple reasons since writing Shine: When Chasing Sacred Spaces Goes Dark, my last book published in 2020. There are a number of reasons for that, some physical (2 carpal tunnel surgeries and a full knee replacement), but beyond that, emotional. The timing just wasn’t right and I was not physically able with my hands. Changing tides.

Last week, I sat with my friend Katherine and her sister Jenny in a Laguna Beach cove that had appeared in my dreams bathed in golden light just a week before. This cove was significant. I knew that from my mystical dream. As we stood looking down on it, Kath told me that the land here in the center of Laguna had been in her family for generations and she’d grown up going up and down the stairs to the cove below. This cove was only available at certain times. Low tides. During the high tides, no beach can be seen. Only rocks.

We went down to the shore, and I ran into cover myself with the Pacific waters. The ocean sparkled and the sun shined in its perfect way, dancing with the ripples and the waves. As I ran in, I lost my footing due to a big dip (and rock) near the break and was instantly reminded to respect this ocean and the creatures in it. It can change on a dime. Just like life. High tide.

I made my way back to the sand, sitting with Kath under the umbrella, looking out at the breathtaking scene. Low tide. Katherine asked, “Where have you been? Your blog?” Thank you for missing me, Katherine. It feels good to be missed, to be seen. Because sometimes, when it’s been a while since I’ve played in this writing space, I feel invisible. The synchronistic afternoon, sitting in my dream cove which was the same place my last book Shine starts, and in these shifting tides, I was not always feeling the shiniest. This was not missed by me. And yet, what I could see in this moment was perfect. Later that day, just a short way down the shore at Thousand Steps Beach, a 16-year-old drowned. The LA Times wrote:

Constantly changing beach, surf and tidal conditions make the rocky areas along the shoreline unpredictable and extremely hazardous.

Highs and lows. The tide in, the tide out. Lives changed forever. The ocean, like life, moves with such force and power that we just don’t always see coming. Control is an illusion. It can take us any second. And perhaps this is why I believe so strongly in co-creating fun down life’s path. In laughter. In dreams. It seems rude not to.

In this moment, I have a new dream. Well, newish. I’ve had it for some time, but I haven’t known exactly how to birth it, to give it life, to find the space, to breathe into it and make it matter. To make it fun and life-changing simultaneously, not just for the individual but for the collective. Both are important to me and are why I’m on this planet. I’m discovering it now as it unfolds in my heart through these Laguna moments. Here is my dream.

I will help other empaths like me, who feel EVERYTHING so deeply and often attract those who don’t care for their hearts as tenderly as they should. My dream is to guide those who don’t feel seen or heard but have so much to say, those with the strongest of sensitivities living in a world that doesn’t consistently value that…to help them shine. I am in the beginning of this project, creating this container, to hold these magical beings so they may share their gifts with the world and elevate it for the sake of all of us. We can do this. I’m positive of that. I can see the promise on the horizon, and I will not stop until I’ve done my part to guide it in. I will do that here, once again re-branding, re-inventing “Tasting Life,” this current blog you are reading that evolves as I evolve. (I’m a 3D branding person’s nightmare).

There is, always, a story behind the story. When we went on the 6-region wine/spa blog tour in September of 2020 as Covid was well underway, I interviewed many winery managers and owners. I wrote 20 blogs and took great pictures, but I was very unsettled by the whole trip. It inspired major changes in my own psyche, and attitude towards alcohol. What I was hearing was wine sales were through the roof: the collective was on a massive self-medication binge. I just simply was not comfortable with adding to that energy. 

I never published those blogs, nor did I drink the wine we accumulated along the way. In fact, I have not drunk any alcohol since 2021 and don’t really plan to add that back into my life. I was just too turned off. As a bonus, my youngest son found strength and clarity during a rough time in his life through sobriety, and I feel a great stewardship holding that space for him as well.

High and low tides mark our worlds moment by moment, day by day, cycle by cycle.
This blog starts with me. I just know it.

This blog, then, if not about food and wine, will be about what? It’s called Tasting Life after all. But tasting for me has come in the form of connecting with people I meet along the path. The barista that serves me coffee. The woman at the grocery store buying oranges. The Silicon Valley couple in the Fort Bragg coffee shop who talked to us for 2.5 hours about their lives in India and then in California. It will be about connection. With our house currently on the market, I have a vision to move around connecting with others in a way I feel we are being called to do: face to face. Not life in tranches, but real human interaction live and in person. Imagine that. To share stories, hearts, dreams. To focus on our humanity, what we have in common. To trust synchronicity in the face of the unknown. To connect. Tasting Life, then, is about connection. 

Dog Love

Currently, we are in Dana Point, California for October where Kai, our 103-pound lab, is making friends. Today he met Banksy Boy. Yesterday, Winston for a night romp in a nearby park. His daily coffee visit with Kelly, Diane, and Surrena now has him on the 5 free biscuits perk program. Today, they were homemade. I’m thinking The Kai-nection. Maybe it will come in a dream. I will ride the wave. My dream to helping empower other empaths (and myself) through writing is taking shape. Connection. Low tide. High tide. 

Surf’s up. Get ready.

Posted in animals, awakening, cancer, co-creating, connection, conscious living, dog friendly, dreams, Empaths, health, healthy living, hope, Inspiration, intuition, nature, pets, resilience, self love, self-care, stroke, Synchronicity, writing | Tagged , , , , , , | 10 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. ( 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:

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

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

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.


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


1614 Emigrant Creek Road, Ashland, OR 97520

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

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)


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.

Screen Shot 2020-08-04 at 8.47.24 PM

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.


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.


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:


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

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

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

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

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

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

Oregon Shakespeare Festival, (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

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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.


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


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