29 June, 2009

All Seasons, Calistoga

I am over a dish of ricotta gnocchi at All Seasons. The co-owner, Gayle Keller, described the process of making the ricotta. She said it was easy. I haven't cooked for so long that it was difficult for me to visualize the process as she described the various steps. So I just focused on the product. It was piping hot, so I waited for it cool enjoying the fragrance of the creamy sauce.  I didn't wait too long but dipped into the dish and popped the first little dumpling in my mouth. It was rich, as I suspected, and comforting after a long day of hard core relaxation. We had spent long hours at Spa Solage training on the Pilates reformers, swimming laps, and doing Tai Chi and Yoga adapted for the pool. Over appetizers at the side of the pool we talked about the changes in the valley since I first arrived in 1975. I had left in 1980 to follow an urge to live in Europe for a time. Out of sight I had forgotten how it felt to be surrounded by the northern hills of the valley. The dry, golden grasses and the rows of terraced vines in all directions. The creamy sauce of the gnocchi reminded me of that rich, indulgent time of my life. I had lived in a little cottage with a fig tree in the back yard. How tempting to move back, even for just a few months or a year; or two, or three...I believe I could be happy waking up to those hills. breathing that air, hearing those sounds. By the time I finished the last drop of sauce I had a plan. And in the morning when I awoke, the plan, like the gnocchi, was gone.

26 June, 2009


Then we stop working and reflect. On our efforts on our process, our methods. How we might perform more effortlessly more seamlessly, more elegantly. With clearer intention. or perhps on the impact our work has on the people around us. We acknowledge their participation in our lives. And we recognize the dance that is happening, all the time, even when we forget about it. We just relax, enjoy the scenery and flow from one encounter to the next. Transition to transition, life unfolding, happening, and falling away. I woke this morning slightly off balance, just on the edge of dizzy. Not enough to be alarmed, but definitely enough, very subtle, for someone who is pretty tuned into her body to notice. So I'm moving through my work day watching the tipsy tendency and taking it slow, eating apples and being very aware of the humid heat.


We work. And we are grateful for the opportunity to do so. And when we fall asleep at night, bills paid, a little extra in a pocket. We are happy to wake up in the morning and do it again.

25 June, 2009

peace out

For some of us it's not about paying the mortgage. That would be a privilege we are not yet, and perhaps may never, be blessed to enjoy. Some of us are just trying to cover our rent, and make the payments on our truck. Which allows us to work, which enables us to make the payments. It's a cycle we volunteer to participate in for as long as we are willing to carry the responsibility. We are the "other half" and when we wish to see how the "other half," the privileged half, lives, we need only to glance in the mirror. We have educations, credit scores, health insurance, libraries, and the luxury of vacations. We are employed, and some of us are small business owners. We work hard, sometimes 60 hour a week. Then we take 2 weeks off and canoe the boundary waters, or stay with friends in the Napa Valley, or Seattle or Atlanta. While in other parts of the world people struggle to feed their kids, teach them to read, or learn a skill. The only "vacation" available is unemployment. Social services are few and far between...One of the benefits of traveling is the subtle experience of groundlessness, not knowing where you are, stepping out of your comfort zone, reaching out and having to say, "I don't know where I am; am I close to the park; is this the right stop; does the bus stop here?" Recognizing our gifts, and opportunity, our success, and the people and circumstances that support the continuation of our successful encounters. 
Forever and  a day.

23 June, 2009

St Helena

In case we forget: it's just wine. It's a farming community. Growers and field managers. Tractors, cultivators, fertilizer. Even when it's wrapped in gold leaf, it's purpose is to awaken awareness, to celebrate the passage of time from one phase to the next, one season to the next. It can be a way of saying goodbye, of finding closure, of showing gratitude. When I first came to the valley it was 1975. I remember my first view of the terraced rows of vines as I drove down from Lake Berryessa. I thought I was back in Tuscany, a place I had hoped I would never leave; a place I had first found love. And here I was, my first time in California, experiencing the best of both worlds. It was still a sleepy place, pre-bottleshock, before the explosion of global awareness of Napa Valley excellence, before the hype. Ah, the good old days...

21 June, 2009

aging gracefully

It's not so much aging, as it is dying. I spend a lot of time searching for the perfect flower at the peak of it's beauty. Without bugs or blemishes...then I saw this formerly lovely lily wilted into the shape of a heart. Curling around the edges and folding in on itself. And I recognized myself in it. I could sense it's sigh of relief, a relaxation around not having to perform in the classic way. Contributing it's form in another, equally valuable manner. Without the pressure humans feel to pretend it is still in it's earlier phase of bursting potential. It's perfection has peaked, it is sliding down the other side of the mountain into the valley of repose, and release. It will begin to release it's stored nutrients into the earth enriching the soil and becoming the nutrients for the next blossom. The plant will continue to produce flowers, and the flowers will continue to dance in the breeze off the San Fransisco Bay. They will drink in the sun shining on the face of the rocky soil of Alcatraz. Even after I have gone. 

18 June, 2009

spa solage

The privileges of being a member at Spa Solage include free corkage and 10% discount at Solbar. But with privilege comes great responsibility. Responsibility for your own recognition and awareness of the privilege you enjoy, as opposed to the Hispanic woman bring fresh towels as you are hanging around the clothing optional hot tub drinking ice water with cucumber slices floating in the glass. The fragrance of eucalyptus wafting out of the steam room each time the door opens and someone jump into the cold plunge pool. The gratitude and the wish for everyone to enjoy the same privilege and pleasure of being totally relaxed for just a few hours. Without schedules, commitments, or a desk full of bills to be paid. The food arriving at just the right time, with just the right combination of flavors, in just the right proportions. Everything just so...and bottle after bottle of fabulous wine, including a 1975 Joe Phelps Cabernet, and the company of old friends. There are people in the world who collect incredible wines, planning to open them for a very special occasion. The wine gets older waiting for that "special time"...a perfect time. Then the wine begins to fade, and the owner re-defines his idea of special time.                

16 June, 2009


What is it about chocolate that is so divine? so seductive? I don't even have to actually eat it to enjoy the experience of it's charms. Just the fragrance is enough to satisfy me. So, as I recline in the "clothing optional" area of Spa Solage, Calistoga, CA,  with my glass of cucumber water and one of my best friends (a Macbook), I ponder what little I know about that which we fondly refer to as "chocolate." With all our attention to winetasting techniques, chcolate tasting techniques, by comparision, have been under publicized.
Suggestions below, courtesey of http://www.wikihow.com/Taste-Dark-Chocolate

  1. Find a location free from background noise and smell , such as television, music, a crying baby, road traffic noise, talkative friends etc. Being able to concentrate as intently as possible will facilitate flavor detection.
  2. Clear your palate. This means that your mouth should not contain residual flavors from a previous meal. Eat a wedge of apple or piece of bread if necessary. This is crucial in order to taste the subtleties of chocolate's complex flavor.
  3. Make sure that the piece of chocolate is large enough to accommodate full evolution of the flavor profile. A piece too small may not allow you to detect every subtle nuance as the chocolate slowly melts. The important thing to remember is that flavor notes gradually evolve and unfold on the tongue rather than open up in one large package. So remember, don't think small here. 10g should be a minimum starting point.
  4. Allow the chocolate to rest at room temperature before tasting. Cold temperatures will hinder your ability to detect the flavors. Some even advise that you rub the chocolate briefly between your fingers to coax the flavor. This procedure is optional.
  5. Look at the chocolate. The surface should be free of blemishes such as white marks (called bloom). Observe the color and manufacturer's job at molding and tempering. Does the chocolate appear to have been crafted carefully or slovenly? The bar should have a radiant sheen. Chocolate comes in a multifarious brown rainbow with various tints, such as pinks, purples, reds, and oranges. What do you see?
  6. Break the piece in half. It should resonate with a resounding "SNAP!" and exhibit a fine gradient along the broken edge. This is quality stuff!
  7. Smell the chocolate, especially at the break point. The aroma is an important component of flavor. Inhaling will prime the tongue for the incoming chocolate. It also gives you a chance to pick up the various nuances of the aroma.
  8. Place the chocolate on the tongue and allow it to arrive at body temperature. Let it melt. Chew it only to break it into small enough pieces that it begins to melt on its own. After all, we're tasting and not eating! This step is crucial, for it allows the cocoa butter to distribute evenly in the mouth, which mutes any astringencies or bitterness in the chocolate.
  9. Observe the taste and texture. As the chocolate melts, concentrate on the flavors that are enveloping your tongue. Melting will release more volatile compounds for you to smell. Close your eyes, take notes, enjoy this moment of bliss, and bask in contentment. Texture can be the most obvious clue about the quality of a chocolate. Low quality chocolates will have a grainy almost cement-like texture.
  10. Now the chocolate is nearing its finish. How has the flavor evolved? Is the chocolate bitter? Heavy? Light? Was the texture smooth or grainy? Do any changes in texture and flavor occur? Take note of how the chocolate leaves the palate. Is there a strong reminder lingering in your mouth, or does it quickly vanish? Note any metallic or unpleasant flavors in the finish. This is a sign of stale or lower quality chocolate.
  11. Repeat the process with a different chocolate. The comparison will highlight the subtle flavor notes in each chocolate. Be sure to cleanse your palate thoroughly before tasting each different chocolate.

In a nutshell, find your "happy place," listen to it break, stare at it, smell it, and then eat the chocolate very slowly instead of eating the bar quickly.

I arrived in San Fransisco and was picked up by friends who whisked me off to "nopalito, 306 Broderick & Fell. We ordered a selection of appetizers, all winners all tasty, fresh and tantalizing. To reach the loo one went through the market next door, past these amazing looking chocolate creations. As a child, visions of sugarplums never danced in my head, but I would gladly Tango with these charmers any time, even in my dreams. Too full to do more than look and smell, I vow to return someday soon with an empty stomach and a full wallet.

13 June, 2009

attempting to grow

I ponder the question: what would it take to gracefully accept your loss? Simple question, isn't it? Actually elegant in it's simplicity. No frills, no unnecessary details, or modifiers. No specifiers. Just what would it take to accept this loss (not failure) that has happened whether you wanted it it, and or caused it, gracefully. As in Grace Cathedral? Gracefully, does that mean without fighting it? Without tripping over yourself and falling over and over? Without temper tantrums? I don't even know if that is possible for me to do. Does it mean without judging myself. I am overcome with grief when I go there, to that idea, that question. I start making list of everything I've ever lost, every promise, every innocence, every illusion and belief I have had to put aside in order to learn something more about technique, to acquire new skills. It's really quite a task, an exercise in naming and acknowledging my many losses, big and small. And a sense of deserving to be loved, a conviction that I am lovable, and that I am capable of loving others, any others in a bigger way. A more vulnerable way. An unprotected scary way. Without rescuing. In a sense, letting myself of the hook of needing to fix anything and letting other people manage their passion, define their passion. I have crisis (pl?) around parenting as it shifts through the various stages.  Yet I am literally surrounded by incredible beauty. From the peonies to mock orange to blooming sage and fox glove, marigolds, iris, roses. I find myself on the verge of tears so often, aware of my grief. My anger is incapable of protecting me now. I reach for it, like my beloved parents used to reach for a cigarette or a shot of gin. And then I pull back, and pick up a tissue instead. Not knowing where to turn for help, I turn inside. It's really about me, no one else (or everyone else?) So what is it about me? Why is it so difficult for me to give this up? This longing for my loss? Do I miss the temper tantrums? The adrenaline? The sense of feeling right and righteous? Is this grief a process of re-wiring my brain in a healthier way? Like the addict moving toward recovery? Do I need to just distance myself from the triggers, the known triggers? There are so many of them around, like bullies. We are all capable of being bullies, so how do we 'fess, notice when it's happening and change course? Wish for success in whatever form it may come. And to recognize it, when success comes to us (me).  
There is something about the act of surrendering the desire for control, about recognizing that it isn't necessary or possible. And I feel like I do have occasional breakthroughs but that they are few and fleeting. I'm not always sure who I am at any given moment, I seem to change so quickly from one being to another. I'm not really ready to go, but I am so looking forward to it. There is a part of me that just wants to walk away from the situation, and the temptation to engage. I have enough copies of the letters to use in the book which will illustrate my point. Why do women stay in violent relationships? How do they recover? How do they make sense of the experience and the effects on their children? How do they deal with the trauma and PTSD, the flashbacks, and the residual impulses? The "death wish" and the self-hatred, self-judgement. I love my kids and I would never knowingly cause them harm or suffering. And I know they love their Dad, no matter what he does or says or thinks. Without ribbons or whistles, fame or fortune. That is built into the system. Right on the hard drive.  

02 June, 2009

bryn mawr wellness collective

Open house success! Lovely party, people, refreshments and babies. What is it about community building that is so exciting? What is it about new beginnings that hold so much potential and hope for growth? In spite of history we continue to dream and grow and believe and learn.
Reaching for new understanding and releasing out-dated patterns. As I listen to my son and hear his heart-felt  concerns and recent lessons learned I am in awe. He is opening, spreading his wings before my eyes. In spite of the fact that he is living at home, he has expanded to fill the shoes of a man. His thoughtful reflections and sense of who he is and who he wants to be is rare in one his age. Of course it means he doesn't really fit in with his friends anymore. But I am confident he will find the friends he needs and the support he deserves. I am honored to be in his life and hope our relationship continues in one form or another. 
An adventurous young man, traveling easily from west coast to home. And then from east coast to home again. Designing, creating in the midst of chaos...finding friends in the most unexpected places, a kind of vision quest in spite of himself. I often wonder if I am a good enough parent, but there are times I realize the answer is right in front of me. Smiling, laughing amd going for a bike ride. And then, I let go.