Monday, October 21, 2013

Wine, Food and Friends, not necessarily in that order

Now that I am fairly well settled in to my apartment, I wanted to reconnect with friends I haven't seen in awhile and show off my new place. I have always loved having friends and family gathered around my table, but what to do when I no longer have a table? I worried that there wouldn't be space to entertain 1 guest let alone 8 or 9. I decided on a wine tasting with food to follow, figuring that plying my guests with good wine would encourage them to ignore the lack of space.  I searched online (thank you Google) for how to host a wine tasting and found page after page of ideas, most of them urging me to pick the type of wine tasting I wanted to host.  Did I want to sample wines from a certain region? certain year? certain varietal? I really enjoy wine but am by no means a wine aficionado and the only thing I was really certain of after my research, was that it was all very confusing. One thing they were all very clear about was the need to have 2 bottles of each for tasting, one for drinking.  I could get behind that, so I headed off to the local wine store, hoping inspiration and clarity would magically appear. As I gazed at the bottles and bottles lining the shelves, helpfully segregated by country then by varietal, still waiting for that aha! moment, I realized that what I was really hoping for was a shelf labeled "try these 5 wines at your wine tasting event". Sadly there was no such shelf.  I wandered thru the wines picking up one bottle to try and match it to another bottle, then find a third, only to have a completely different wine catch my eye, at which point I put the other bottles back and picked up the new bottle, only to start the whole thing over again. Clearly putting together a thoughtful, clever, awe-inspiring wine tasting was not my forte.  Then, standing in the row of Australian wines, a shiraz in one hand and a pinot noir in the other, my aha! moment struck. I was way overthinking this whole thing. It was a party for heaven's sake, not a graded event.  I put all the bottles back, pushed my cart to the first row, took a deep breath and decided to choose wines I wanted to try. 

First I found a Cline Ancient Vine Mourvedre from Sonoma.  Some good friends had toured their winery last year and had great things to say about it, so that seemed a good choice.  Then I located a Concannon Petit Sirah from Livermore Valley, CA.  I had never heard of the vineyard but I like petit sirah, so 2 bottles went into the cart.  I spied The Barrel Blend from Hill Family Estate in Napa and  suddenly could barely catch my breath. I was transported back to my brother's deck where we shared many a bottle of wine including this one.  I almost cried when I picked it up and added it to the basket.  I credit my brother with my interest in wine.  He really was an expert and since he passed away last December I rarely drink wine without thinking of him. I took another deep breath and continued. I picked a Grundlach Mountain Cuvee for no other reason than I liked the name, and a Santa Ema Carmenere, because all the other wines were from California and I felt the need to go international.

I am happy to report that the wines were all delightful, the food was plentiful and tasty, and the lack of a dining table didn't seem to bother anyone in the least.  In fact, as we gathered around my kitchen island, tasting then drinking wine, I had another aha! moment.  It isn't the thoughtfully selected wine, the carefully planned menu or the huge table you gather around that makes an evening.  It is the friends, the conversation, the laughter we all shared. It's the telling of new stories and the retelling of old favorites.  It's knowing that the people in my living room watching college football highlights are some of the best people I know and that I am thankful for each and every one of them.  I could have served bean dip, Fritos and Coke and everyone would have had just as good a time.  But I am really glad I went with the wine.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

A trip to the driver's license office

Last Fall I was lucky enough to accompany my good buddy, Cindy, to Vermont to visit friends.  While there I bought a wonderful Merino wool cowl neck sweater in a luscious plum color and a bulky, nubby knit, multi colored, shawl collared cardigan to go over it.  Completely impractical since I was then living in Southern California, but cozy and delightful in the coolness of September Vermont.  One morning last week I happily donned the two sweaters, knowing that I would not have to shed any layers in the chilliness of the crisp, Fall Montana weather. It was raining heavily when I left so I grabbed the umbrella next to my door and set off, eager to exchange my CA license for one that says MT.  I had an appointment and went right to the counter, where a woman directed me  to her desk.  I gave her my application, driver's license, copy of my lease and my birth certificate, which I realized is in amazingly good shape considering its age.  She looked at my California license, then up and me and said "Well, I see you are dressed for Fall."  Having no answer for that, I smiled.  "Yes, quite the Fall colors," she said.  No real answer for that, either.  She then took my birth certificate, which is from New York, and remarked, "Well, New York.  That is quite a long ways away." She seemed to have a firm grasp of the obvious and no need for a response from me, so I just smiled again.  "I see you have an umbrella," she continued.  "We don't really use umbrellas here, although I think back East your people do."  My people?  I was born in NY, true, but spent less than 6 months there, certainly not long enough to be assigned to the people there.  "Here," she said, "we just dash into the buildings quickly.  You see it doesn't really rain here, just quick showers."  Hmmm, I thought, it was a downpour when I left my home and it had gotten worse when I arrived.  I suppose I could have left the umbrella at home and had my new driver's license photo taken with soaking wet hair and running mascara.  I wondered briefly if I would have seemed more Montanan to her and less one of "those people".  I declined to comment, but continued to smile thinking that at this rate my photo would show me baring my teeth in a back Eastern snarl. She checked over my paperwork, directed me to look into the vision device, then took my photo and gave me a temporary license. As I got up to leave she said "Well, try to stay warm today and don't forget your umbrella, although it has probably cleared up by now."

As I left the office, I lifted the open umbrella over my head, noting with satisfaction that no, the rain has not stopped. I entertained myself with the image of my marching back into her office and shaking the very wet umbrella right at her. I could only hope that when she left for the evening it was still pouring...buckets and buckets of nice, wet, rain...the kind "we" have back East but apparently not in Montana.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

You won't catch me dressing up for Halloween

Halloween used to belong to kids.  They dressed up as witches, ghosts, dead presidents and ran laughing through their neighborhoods, stopping at houses that had porch lights on, thrusting out their pillow cases and shrieking Trick or Treat! If an adult dressed in a costume it was either for a party or to escort their children on their candy quest, maybe holding a bag for a child too young to hold her own.  These days it seems there are more and more adults who love to dress up for the tellers, office workers, fast food employees. Dressing in costume now seems to be the norm rather than the exception.  I won't be joining them.  No, I am not the Halloween equivalent of Scrooge.  I just don't like dressing up. My older brother and I never got to choose our costumes.  My mom made that decision and we never knew what we would be dressed as until Halloween night. Our costumes were not always complex or well thought out. Sometimes, pressed for time, we were Hobos, wearing  old suit jackets of my dads and beards he simulated by pressing a burnt cork to our faces. Sometimes we were cowboys.  Since we lived in Montana, that was a no brainer. But every so often my mom would really get into the spirit of the season and design elaborate costumes, sometimes with cringe worthy results. 

Along with being a movie fan, my mom is very, very, very competitive.  One Halloween when I was about 8, our church was having a party complete with candy, games and a costume competition that my mom was determined to win.  On the night of the party, I dressed in black and green lounging pajamas of hers, rolled up at the ankles and wrists, sat at the kitchen table while she slicked back my hair into a long braid she had fashioned out of nylons and a black scarf, and closed my eyes as she outlined them in black eyeliner. I had no idea what I was supposed to be and even less when my dad came in from the garage carrying a long, skinny wood slat with a rope tied on each end, from which dangled a paper bag stuffed with newspaper. He plunked it across my shoulders and my mom proudly turned me toward a mirror.  I stared at my reflection, still without a clue.  "It's from The Good Earth," she said.  I had never heard of the movie and it would be years before I read the Pearl S Buck book upon which it was based. I am happy to say there are no photos of me in costume. We hurried into the car and off to church, only to find that we were late and the costume judging had already taken place.  My mom was crushed, but I was secretly relieved.  Balancing that stupid piece of wood across my shoulders was not easy, and I had dreaded getting up there with the fairies, the witches, the princesses, the ghosts. My mom spent the rest of the night telling people we would have won but we were late while I spent the rest of the night mumbling "I don't know" when the little witches asked me "What are you supposed to be?"

But the absolute worst costume is one I still shudder to think of. I was about 5 and when my mom called me into her bedroom, I was excited to see a cute, white, frilly dress laid out on the bed.  I imagined I was going to be a fairy or a princess or maybe even a bride.  I eagerly wiggled into the dress loving the way it swooshed around my ankles when I twirled. I looked at my brother, who was dressed in a jacket and tie and his Sunday shoes, and wore a sign around his neck that said "I Married a Monster from Outer Space".  My mom held out my mask...a huge rubber monstrosity that fit over my entire head and from the top of which extended two long curved Tupperware iced tea spoons....yep, you guessed it...I was the monster.  What my mom had not counted on when she devised the costume was that the adult sized rubber mask was not made for a child's face so the holes for the eyes were somewhere around my nose, the opening for my mouth below my chin.  All of which conspired to make it impossible for me to do more than blindly stumble around after my brother, tripping up our neighbors' porch steps, while my breath condensed on the inside of the mask.  After about half a block, I ripped the mask off, sucking in the cool night air, sweat pouring down my face and dripping off my hair.  My dad looked a little horrified and suggested I not put the mask back on.  "But then Buddy's costume doesn't make sense," my mom said, as if having your costume make sense was the goal on Halloween.

To her credit, my mom was an equal opportunity costume stylist and did not spare herself in designing impractical costumes.  One year she went to a party as a TV set, legs and arms sticking out of a box my dad had painted to replicate our TV & then had taped her into, foil wrapped around her head with the dreaded Tupperware ice tea spoons of my childhood sticking up on top. My dad wore his everyday khakis and carried the remote control. She hadn't considered that she would have no way of sitting down in the box or going to the bathroom without completely undressing.  I have no idea what happened to the box, I just know it didn't make it home with them. 

I stopped Trick or Treating when I was about 11, content to hand out the candy rather than go begging for it.  Around that time my brother started going out with his friends, looking for fun and trouble...and paying me 50cents to smuggle a carton of eggs or a package of toilet paper out of the house.  All in all, not a bad deal when you consider I would have done it for free...especially if it meant I didn't have to wear a mask. 
Me & my brother
Montana Cowboys

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

What makes you feel old?

When I was 16, my mom and I were window shopping at an outdoor mall (the only kind they had in those days) and as we stood side by side gazing into one of the big JC Penney windows, the sun briefly went behind a cloud and in the relative darkness we could clearly see our reflections staring back at us.  She gazed steadily at hers for a minute, leaned a little closer, turned her head slightly to the left.  Finally she said, "Sometimes I catch a glimpse of myself in a mirror and wonder who that old person is.  Inside I still feel like I am 19." I remember mentally rolling my eyes and  thinking "Seriously?  19?"  Many years down the road, I realized that my mom was all of 39 when she and I gazed into that window...hardly old by anyone's yardstick. Yet for some reason, she felt old.

Remembering that day makes me wonder...what makes you feel old? Is it a number thing...the big 4-0, 5-0, 6-0...7-0?  Is it a physical thing when you try to do something you used to do with ease only to find you can no longer do it? Or is it a random moment like my mom's when you gaze into a window and the person gazing back is not someone you recognize? I suspect it is different for each one of us and maybe even different from day to day. 

Here are some random things that make me feel my age:
Thinking back on something that happened 40 years ago and realizing it was 40 YEARS AGO!
Watching an NFL game and remarking to my son, that guy looks younger than you...then having my son respond, they are all younger than me
Knowing what a party line was because your family had one
Seeing a friend I haven't seen in awhile and, she looks old
Seeing a screen shot of David Cassidy's DUI booking photo and thinking, wow, he looks old
Seeing a current picture of Madonna and thinking...see above
Getting down on my hands and knees to fish something out from under the couch, then wondering how to get up
Having a friend old enough for Medicare...and then realizing it won't be long....

My mom and I share a passion for old black and white movies...Bette Davis, Rosalind Russell, Lana Turner.  We used to snicker at the way the director would shoot the no-longer-in-their-30's leading ladies...with flattering light and a soft, slightly out of focus lens...wondering who they thought they were fooling.  I don't know who my mom sees when she catches random glimpses of herself in store windows these days. If she still sees a woman who is older than she expects, I have the answer for her.  Take off your glasses...your image will be softly blurred, just like a closeup of Lana Turner.