California Wineries

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Temecula

Temecula sounds like a city in Transylvania, but it’s actually a city north of Rancho Bernardo by about 45 minutes (so about 1.5 hours north of downtown).  My coworker Steve and his family live there because the houses are less expensive and the school district is great.  I was a little hesitant to accept his invite to go wine tasting there, because I’d never heard of the city before.  How great can it be if I’ve never heard of it?  I mean, I’m a pretty big wino, and I know everything, right?  Uh, no.

Eva, Steve’s wife, handed me a pamphlet and told me to pick one.  I was overwhelmed!  There were at least 25 wineries!!

“What you’re favorite?” I asked.

“Lioness,” Eva answered immediately.  “They have great fries and a beautiful view.”

So we started there.  Steve was designated driver (DD), because, “I don’t like wine.  I drink beer.”

I don’t understand it, but that’s what he said, and we had a DD, so I went with it.  He sipped his Sprite while Eva and I enjoyed flights.  A “flight” is composed of 5 glasses with a different type of wine in each.  When presented all at once, wineries (or bars) serve them on cards or in special holders.  These simple, elegant holders were the best that I’ve seen; the spiral metal spine connected rings that held the glasses.  They were so pretty, I almost didn’t want to drink the wine.

Ha!  As if I could resist!

The fries were covered in truffle oil and parmesan.  The view was of mountains and vineyards.  The company was hilarious.

Heaven.

Steve drove us to Daniel’s, which was little more than a tasting room and gift shop.  We weren’t impressed with the wine or the ambiance.

Wilson Creek, however, was another slice of heaven.  From the fountain out front to the little bridge over a creek, to the huge gift shop and tasting room, it was an amazing experience.

“People pay to have prom pictures taken here,” Eva informed me.  I believe it!

We ran into some penguins.  Well, they were people dressed in penguin costumes.  Why?  Why not?!

Then I found a wine purse.  What an ingenious invention!  It is a cylindrical carrier with a corkscrew tucked into an interior pocket.  It is just the right size to carry a bottle of wine, and has a convenient handle to carry it.  I had to have it.

Then Eva had to buy a matching one.

So now we’re Wine Purse Buddies!

When we returned to her house and showed her teenage daughter, I thought that the girl might pass out from her huge eye roll.  She just doesn’t understand how cool a Wine Purse is!  Especially MATCHING wine purses!

And, ok, we were a little drunk, and may have been a bit enthusiastic about our purchases.  STILL, a WINE PURSE!  Genius!

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Random Penguins

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Rancho Bernardo

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“After you get your glass of wine, you walk down the sidewalk to the confectionary, where the proprietor will give you a piece of chocolate which pairs with the wine,” the sommelier told us.

Dad, my Stepmom, and I said, “Ahhhh!” at the same time.  Chocolate and wine?!  This place was heaven!

“This place” was the Bernardo Winery in Rancho Bernardo, California (north of San Diego but still in San Diego County, i.e. “North County” in local parlance).  There were several buildings grouped together like a small town.  All were very rustic, made of old wood and decorated with rusting tools.  Dad and I made a game out of naming the tools and what they might do.  Stepmom enjoyed looking at the flora and trying to name them; she lamented that she would like to be a landscape designer.  There were old tractors, covered wagons, and even a small museum.

We rather enjoyed the coffee shop, where we bought a cheese and cracker plate, where they had gluten free bread for me!  Then we checked out the purse shop, the clothes shop, the housewares shop, all while sipping on wine.  These places must sell a lot of merchandise!  Think about it: pair women with wine, lure them to the shops strategically placed between them and the free chocolate, and convince them to walk the gauntlet several times – and not all the women had Dad to keep them from buying anything.  I can see where this would be a fun (and expensive!) place for a girls’ night!

In a courtyard, workers were busy setting up for a wedding.  California is so beautiful that I have seen many proposals, weddings, and places set up for weddings.  I feel like I’m living in a vacation resort!

We also checked out the restaurant.  The food was good, not great, but the ambiance was priceless.  Sitting on the patio, sharing wine, sitting in the shade and watching the people walk by – wedding guests all dressed up, couples dressed nicely for dates, and tourists like ourselves in jeans and t-shirts – this was a great day.

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Ramona/Escondido

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Ramona is a city east of Rancho Bernardo, nestled in the foothills of the mountains.  The houses cost about the same as in RB, but come with land.  Some of them come with 2 acres, some more.  Some residents own horses and dogs.  While this may sound like my native Texas, it has a California feel: there are wineries, for example.  We met our friends in Ramona and drove north to Escondido, down a winding road, through beautiful country, to get to the wineries.  Thank God I don’t get car sick.

Cordiano Winery was just as beautiful, though distinct from, the previously mentioned wineries.  We sat on a patio overlooking the mountains, eating gluten free pizza and sipping wine.  My friends were charming.  A light breeze blew.  And I thought to myself – I am blessed.

Highland Hills Winery had just a small tasting room and was family run.  An independent film, “Beyond the Impact,” was being filmed there by Jeff Patton and his crew.  The proprietor said that they used drones to film some of the footage.  How cool is it to sip wine while watching a movie being filmed?!  Ok, so it wasn’t the first time for me; I did that in Tucson while at a work conference (Jim from the Office was there!  http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1024677/)  and again in Houston (I was in the film).  STILL, it’s pretty darn cool to think that we might be watching the scene on Netflix one day.

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Back to the winery.  I love that we drove through the vineyard to get to the tasting room, and that the barrels of wines were behind a window on one wall of the tasting room.

Then we went for ice cream.  How’s that for a perfect day?  Wine, friends, AND ice cream?!

My new friend Marcy Millar re-purposes corks to decorate picture frames, tables, etc.  She also used pennies, alternating dark and bright, to create a design on her armoire.  I took many pictures!  [Marcy can be reached at mmillar24@cox.net if you are interested in commissioning a piece.]

“I found Stu Pedasso wine,” Marcy told me, “And thought it was just the funniest thing ever!  So I bought cases of it for family and friends for Christmas.  Unfortunately, the wine isn’t that good.  People called me and said, ‘Uh, Marcy, I hate to tell you, but I didn’t really like the wine.’  Well, DUH!  It wasn’t about the wine!  It was about the name!

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I laughed so hard that I almost fell off my chair.  Marcy’s a hoot.  Her art is impressive, too; gives me inspiration.  She said that I could bring her some corks and she’d make me a trivet.  I LOVE TRIVETS!!

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Marcy’s Dining Room Table.  The center pattern is composed of horse shoes.

 

Wineries

The lessons learned here are many, including:

  • All wineries are different.
  • If you have a chance to try a new winery, do it!
  • Don’t judge a winery by its location. Even if the city name sounds strange, the experience may be amazing!
  • Corks can and should be up-cycled.

Texas has wineries, too.  I regret that I never visited the ones in Grapevine (near DFW airport) or Llano (though I’ve drank many a bottle of Llano wine!).

Mike

I have a new friend named Mike.  Yes, another one!  I’ve dated Mike the Plumber, Mayor Mike (also known as Mustang Mike, before he took office), The Great Mike M., the other Mike M., another Mike M.—all three have birthdays in the month of May, Mike B., and…I’m *pretty sure* that’s all of them.

Maybe.

So Sally sent me this video: “Stop Naming Your Children Mike.”

I shared all this with the new Mike, who shall henceforth be known as Mike the DM, because he is the Dungeon Master in a new Dungeons & Dragons campaign.  My last D&D adventure was approximately 20 years ago.  I quit playing because Alan (my husband at the time) played an obnoxious barbarian who specialized in belching and farting.  I decided that I could either play D&D with him or continue to sleep with him.  I chose the marriage (at the time).

D&D aside, Mike the DM answered the video with LOLs and the comment, “I think you’ve dated more Mike’s than the total number of Julie’s I’ve known.  There’s one at roller derby, a buyer at an old job, and a girl I had a crush on in 5th grade.”

I answered, “LOL, you should have gone to school with me!  There was Julie Ann, Julie Nan, Julie Eileen, and Julie Maxine!  Plus, one Julie who wouldn’t reveal her middle name.”

Mike and I met through work.  We were both on the same conference call; he works in a different building.  He sent me an instant message (IM) about a D&D Campaign—get a few nerds in a conference call, and gaming comes up eventually—and before I knew it, we were IM’ing regularly.  Then we moved to text.  And I had no idea what this guy looked like.

“Can people be best friends without ever having met?  Too late, we already are,” I texted him on Friday.

“It happens,” he replied.

We’re having lunch on Tuesday.  Don’t expect a love connection; I suspect that he’s half my age, based on the discussion around D&D.  I’m ok with that; I can always use another friend.

Even if he is named Mike.

Cheers!

 

 

When Lilly Met Lucas – A Love Story Begins

 

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Me and Lilly (2014)

“No, I don’t want you to have luck,” Lilly said with sassy snark and a pretty pout.

Lucas gaped at her from her computer screen, in the Skype window.  He hadn’t expected that kind of an answer from his remark, “Hey, I’m going to go on my date now.  Wish me luck!”

Lucas finally said, “I’ve got to go, we’ll continue this later.  Goodbye!”

Lilly pressed the “End” button without saying goodbye in return.  She grumbled to herself.  “That floozy doesn’t deserve him.  I don’t want them to have fun and end up together.  I want…”  She stopped herself.

What did she want?  Why did she want this date to fail?  “Lucas is my friend,” she said aloud.  “I want him to be happy.  I want him…to be happy with me!  Oh my God I’m jealous!”  Her hand flew to her mouth.  “I don’t want him to date that other girl, I want him to date me!”  After over a year of friendship, she realized that her feelings had grown.

She threw herself down on her bed.  “I don’t want to date someone half way across the world!!”  Still pouting, she reviewed the past year mentally.  How she and Lucas had met on Facebook, in a photography group.  How he only ever had nice, upbeat things to say to everyone.  How, even when one of the group members was getting on her last nerve and she wanted nothing more than to chew out the nasty SOB, Lucas would listen, calm her down, and handle the matter with class.

Oh boy.  She had feelings for him, alright.  And it was a big ol’ crush.

She put the pillow over her face and screamed.  But then…

Maggie the cat swatted Lilly’s foot with a paw, as if to say, “Hey Human!  You alright?”

Or maybe it was, “I’m hungry.  Feed me.”  That’s usually Maggie’s message.

Lilly sat up so quickly that the cat meowed and skittered under the bed, which displeased the other cat crouching there, who hissed and ran from the room.  Their owner ignored them; she had bigger problems than feline sibling rivalry.

“I may have found my soulmate!” she said.  “I’ve been looking in all the wrong places: in the Marines, all over Dallas, and now—when I wasn’t even looking!—I found him online.  So what if he lives halfway around the world?  There’s Skype, and airplanes, and…who wouldn’t move for True Love?!”

Humming to herself, she went back to the computer to continue editing photographs, which is what she was doing before Lucas called.

Suddenly, she stopped.  She had been humming one of her favorite songs: Marry Me by Train.  “Marry me!  Today and every day.  Marry me!  If I ever get the nerve to say Hello in this café, say you will…mmmm…say you will!”

She laughed at her own subconscious mind.  First things first: Lucas would get home in a couple of hours, tell her about his horrible date (well, she could hope that it was horrible, however selfish that was), and they could talk about whether they wanted to take their friendship to another level.

He would.  She just knew it.

Smiling, she clicked on the next picture to edit.  “Should I call Jules?” she asked Maggie, who had snuck back into the room and was sitting a safe distance away, on the edge of the desk.

“Mrowr,” Maggie answered.

“You’re right,” Lilly said.  “I’ll wait.  I’ll probably see her on Saturday, anyway.  That’s a few days away, will give me time to talk to Lucas and see where this goes.”

She had a feeling that she’d have good news to share with Jules.  Yes, she definitely would!

Cheers!

******

This is a flashback to a couple of years ago.  A friend asked me to write more about Lilly and Lucas, and make it into a book.  What do you think?  Leave me a comment and let me know.

My Life

I cancelled my date this week because I was still in mourning.  What kind of first date would it be, if I were rambling about Lucas the whole night?  I’m sure that would go over well.

“Jules, tell me about yourself,” he’d say.

“Sure,” I’d answer, “I had this friend Lucas…”

“No,” he’d say, “Tell me about you.”

“Well, I’m pretty torn up about Lucas, and the fact that I can’t get to his funeral…”

You can see why this might not be the best First Date convo ever.

My weekend wasn’t a complete bummer.  I went to a vineyard with friends yesterday.  I’ll tell you all about it, and other California wineries, next week.  As for the move, well, that’s still up in the air.  I’m estimating a 70% chance that I’ll move in June.  Stay tuned for updates as I know more.

Cheers!

Lilly and Lucas – The End of The Love Story

 

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Lucas tried TexMex for the first time (my homemade enchiladas).

“How are you?” Lucas asked me.  Often.

“Well, let me tell you about this guy…” I would answer.  Often.

That’s just who I am.

When I finally got around to asking how he was, I would be humbled by the answer.

“At the hospital, doing dialysis.  I’m fine.  How’s Sally?” Lucas would redirect.

Why?  Because he’s a sweetheart.  Because he was truly, deeply, a self-less person.

I say, “was” because Lucas died on Wednesday.  That was yesterday; how is it that I heard the news over a day ago?  I’m still trying to process this.

Lucas and I only met in person once, in 2015, when he and Lilly visited Dallas.  They had a wedding reception to celebrate their love.  Lilly surprised us all by wearing her wedding dress; she had led us to believe that she didn’t have room in her suitcase for it!  Lucas hugged me like we were old friends; we had met on Skype, just like he had met Lilly.  We had messaged on Facebook.  Who cares that this was the first time that we stood face-to-face?  Lucas’s love wasn’t limited to people who were in the same room.

Lilly knew that Lucas had a chronic, terminal disease soon after she met him on Facebook.  At that time, she was in Dallas, Texas and he lived in Canberra, Australia.  He was very open about his medical issues.  I really loved his openness, and Lilly did, too.  His openness was part of what she fell in love with.  Anyway, his medical condition was such that he knew that he’s need an organ transplant within the next 10 years.  The heart wants what the heart wants.

And, Lilly knew that she could deal with hospitals.  She had been a photographer for Logan’s Legacy, a group of special people with huge hearts: they comfort grieving parents and take pictures of precious babies who never had a chance to experience the world.    Through this work, and seeing the parents who longed for even a few minutes with their children, Lilly understood that every moment is precious.  Even a few days with her beloved was worth any pain that she might experience.

And the prognosis for Lucas was at least 10 years; heck, with a transplant or two, he might outlive all of us.

Only, the doctors who said that, were wrong.  Lucas’s lungs were weak, and he applied for the transplant list last year.

And was denied.

His body was too weak for the operation and he might not survive it, the doctors said.  Plus, there aren’t enough organ donors.

Lucas could have curled up in a ball and lamented his fate.  Instead, he and Lilly set out on a quest to solicit more people to sign up for organ donation.  They volunteered to photograph anyone on the transplant list or who had transplants.  The plan was to compile the pictures into a coffee table book to raise funds for the cause.

But he was too sick.  He was in and out of the hospital.  He continued to ask how others were doing and to work as much as possible, whether at his day job nursing or his other job as photographer.  In every picture of him, whether taken by another photographer as a test shot or a selfie with his bride, he is smiling.  Rarely would he let the world know how much he was hurting.

Lilly tried to smile, too.  They were foster parents for kittens; they adopted a 3-legged dog; and they joked about how all the animals passed wind.

I can’t believe that vivacious young man is gone.  I can’t believe that the 10-year-minimum that he was supposed to have with Lilly, was cut so terribly short.  They had barely a year together as a married couple.

Even a day with one’s soul mate is worth any amount of pain, I’ve heard.  To have a year together, they were blessed.  And I would bet good money that Lilly would do it all over again.

You can read more about Lilly and Lucas (Mallie and Matt, to the rest of the world), in this article from a year ago (shared with permission from Mallie):  http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/canberra-life/matt-and-mallie-taylor-to-hold-photoshoots-for-those-in-need-of-organ-donations-20160831-gr5ew5.html

If there is but one thing you get from this tragic love story, Lilly and Lucas would want it to be: Donate your organs.

For me, this story is also about carpe diem.  If you love someone, spend as much time with him/her as possible.  Savor the good times.  Laugh about cat farts in the bad times.  Smile as much as possible.  When you hurt, find a way to help others.

Lilly, I love you!

Cheers,

Jules

PS On Sunday, we will return to our regular programming.

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Everyone loves an Aussie Man!

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Lilly was a radiant bride!

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Lucas and me at the wedding reception.  (It had a Hawaiian theme, which is why he is wearing a lei.)

Moving Again (Maybe)

 

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Iron Mountain, San Diego, 3/31/17 – I have hiked this mtn four times now.

I’m moving to Pasadena!

Maybe.  I think.  Perhaps.

On my company’s internal job posting website, I found and applied for multiple jobs.  Sure, I have a job now, in the beautiful city of San Diego.  More accurately, I’m updating internal processes while I wait for a program to pick me up, which would be the equivalent of hiring me, even though I already work for the company.  Basically, I can stay where I am and continue to get paid, or I can look for something else in the same company.

Still with me?

So I looked for something else.  Like in my dating life, in my work life, I’m always looking for something better.  Unlike my dating life, in my work life, I found it.  The job is in Pasadena, northeast of Los Angeles.  Pasadena is awesome on many levels:

  • The Rosebowl (famous for the football game, though the huge rose-covered floats are amazing as well)
  • CalTech – a center of learning.
  • CalTech – where the guys from “The Big Bang Theory” TV Show work.
  • Jet Propulsion Lab – NASA and CalTech founded JPL to work on space projects.
  • The Planetary Society – I visited and stood in the CEO’s office. Seriously, the office manager Chelsea was very generous with her time, and gave me a tour, which ended in Bill Nye’s office.  I touched a table which once sat in Carl Sagan’s office!!!
  • Adjacent to LA, which has many companies working on Space projects, including SpaceX!

If you’re not nerdy enough to follow all of that, it boils down to: Pasadena is heaven for nerds who like space.

I’m a nerd who loves space.  Therefore, Pasadena is my Heaven-on-Earth.  And I get to move there!  I applied for a position, and the hiring manager invited me up for an interview, which went GREAT!  I’ll be working for a female team lead and a female project lead, who report to another female.  Go Girl Power!

During the interview, the hiring manager said, “We have three jobs that you’re qualified for, and all three managers want you on their team.  They’ll explain the jobs, then you’ll get to pick one.”

WAAAAAAITT a minute!  I get to CHOOSE from three AWESOME jobs?!  Ya, buddy!  Without revealing too much about my work (that’s not really the point of this blog), the jobs were:

  1. What I did for the past 10 years, so I know that I can do it and do it well.
  2. What I’ve done a little bit of, and what Gala Pear does; a stretch for me, with new challenges.
  3. A job that would use my master’s degree and build on what I’ve done in the past.

I listened to the managers describe each job, knowing that I really could do any of them.  But #2 stood out to me.  I’d get to walk around, talking to different people on different teams, solving problems and writing up reports.  There would presentations in front of managers and experts.  The work would be challenging and keep me on my toes.  I’m so excited!

The team lead led me to meet another team lead, and said, “I like that you have STEM activities on your resume.  I like inspiring the younger generation, too.”

OMG this woman shares my passion for STEM?!  I am going to LOVE this job!

My interview started at 9 a.m. on Thursday.  At 9 p.m., a job offer was in my email inbox.

After returning to San Diego and spreading the word that I have the job, my friends encouraged me to have a going away party.  I planned it for the following Thursday, because my boss wanted me to start the Monday after that (just over a week away).  I spent the weekend going through my magazines, taking donations to Goodwill, and looking at Pasadena houses on the internet.  I told my San Diego realtor that I was moving, and she put me in touch with a Pasadena realtor.  I’d find a house there in no time.

“Whoa, buddy!  Not so fast!” said Fate.  I can’t imagine that God would put the brakes on at this point; I prefer to envision a gremlin, who stole the car which is my LIFE.  A green-scaled, evil-smiling, wicked little gremlin who thinks that f-ing with my happiness is funny.

This is what happens whenever I get excited about damn near anything, whether it’s a new guy or this new job.  Like Keith, who seemed amazing until he started talking about himself in third person and invited me to hang out in the woods with him, “Bad Keith.”  Or the contractor who had really low rates, so I was excited to have him work in my house, until he told me, “You need sex.”  Or the Coast Rican vacation with a handsome man, which seemed like I won the lottery, until it became a Trip from Hell.  Sigh, here we go again!

Since I just moved from Dallas to San Diego, the company doesn’t want to pay for a new Relocation Package.  Sure, I could move myself; Pasadena is just a couple of hours north of San Diego, no big deal, right?  Except…

  • I would be walking away from thousands of dollars promised under my current Relo Pkg.
  • I would have to pay for movers, which could be $2k.
  • Since this is an internal transfer, the hiring manager cannot offer me a sign on bonus. So any benefit ($$$$) must come in the form of a Relo Pkg.
  • If I move before a year is up (which would be the end of November), I have to repay all the money that the company paid to move me out here ($$,$$$).
  • For me to get another Relo Pkg so soon and avoid having to refund my previous Relo Pkg, I need an Exception Form signed by the Vice President*.

*That’s the VP of the company, not of the United States of America.  Altho, it might be equally difficult to obtain the signature!

To recap: I need a program.  Pasadena has a program.  I want to move to Pasadena. I can’t move to Pasadena.

I expect the Marx brothers to come out and go “Woot Woot Woot!” or throw a pie in my face.  I mean, this can’t be real, so it must be a Saturday Night Life skit, right?  I mean, companies are perfectly logical, so there is an easy way to fix this, right?

Why do my friends start laughing hysterically when I said, “Companies are perfectly logical?”

Dating

In the meanwhile, this is how all the above is affecting my dating life:

  • Cancelled a date with a great guy (a Longhorn, nonetheless!).
  • Changed my Match profile to show my location as Pasadena.
  • Received several winks and likes from 56-year-old men in Pasadena.
  • Found a cute guy who said that he worked in Space, emailed him a “Hey, Rocket Scientist! I’m a mechanical engineer!  Let’s get together,” and waited for him to email back.
  • Found out I might not be moving after all.
  • Deactivated my account. After all, I might not be moving; but I might.

So here I am, in limbo.  Again.  I feel like I’ve been in limbo for over a year; first, waiting to hear if I got the job, then waiting to learn my start date, then waiting to find a program.  I’ve been living in an apartment, waiting to find out whether I can get a job in Pasadena or LA.  If not, I can buy a house here by the end of the year and settle down.  I’m pretty blessed to know that I’ll be ok either way.  But limbo sucks.

Going Away Party

Thursday night, I went to my “Going Away Party,” which became a “You’re Going to Have To Put Up With Me For A While Longer Party.”  My friends were happy about that, and hopeful that there would be a quick resolution to my situation.  We drank and ate and were merry.

As for me, I’m still dreaming of moving to Pasadena and dating a CalTech professor.  Or maybe a rocket scientist who works at JPL.  Sally will attend graduate school at CalTech and move in with me.  She’ll be married to Penny by then, so we’ll all live happily ever after.

Did you hear that?  I swear, I just heard a gremlin snicker!

Cheers!

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Sunset as seen from my apartment’s balcony.