Wednesday, June 30, 2010

My Gadabout Adventure

I work with a couple of people who own a side business in addition to their regular day jobs. They are a couple as in there are two of them but they’re also married. My workplace is a little unusual that way. The husband was expected to be out of town on company business, so I was asked to fill in as hostess on a few trips for said side business during his absence. His company business has been postponed, but they asked me along yesterday to get some on-the-job hostess training while they took out a small group. I was really glad I was invited.

Robin and Danita have been operating Gadabout Serene Adventures for at least a couple of years now. I’ve known about it but didn’t realize how really cool it is. Although their trips and tours are catered to seniors, anyone is welcome. (Anyone who wants to pay, of course.) What’s included? Everything. Danita normally acts as hostess and serves breakfast, drinks and snacks. Meals are included as well as overnight lodging on trips lasting more than a day. Transportation is provided to each destination, the only extra money needed is for souvenirs. Wine, in my case.

I was invited to go along on the wine tasting trip. What? Wine tasting instead of working? Oh no, I couldn’t possib – oh, alright, twist my arm! Damn my lush reputation! The trip included lunch at our first stop at King Estate Winery near Eugene, followed by visits at Sweet Cheeks Winery and Silvan Ridge Winery. Yeah, more about the Sweet Cheeks name later.

We left Bend at 7 a.m. and picked up a few more customers in Sisters. It ended up being a small group of just seven, which was okay with me for my first time. Robin and Danita have several regular customers and three of them came along, plus one new couple and Danita’s parents. On the way to Eugene, I helped serve breakfast rolls and drinks. There’s a really good reason that I don’t wait tables. Ask one person what they want to drink, and promptly forget while asking the second person. Seniors are generally forgiving, or at least he pretended not to mind. We played Bingo (because that’s what old people do) and they won small prizes. Easy breezy.

We arrived at King Estates Winery ahead of schedule but they were more than accommodating with our lunch reservation. King Estates provides both lunch and dinner and had narrowed down their menu for our tour group, printing special menus just for us. I saved a couple of them because I always save stuff like that. I also like to take pictures of my food and drinks, which I think everyone else found amusing, if not odd. Don’t judge me, old people.

Lunch started with drinks, but not wine, because that was for later. The new couple ordered Chardonnay sodas, which I had never heard of, but then I had to order my own after seeing their cute little fizzy bottles. Yes, I took a picture. Our menu choices were an albacore salad, roast chicken with spinach and mushrooms or a hanger steak with fingerling potatoes. The descriptions on the menu were better than mine, but whatever. Use your imagination, they all sounded scrumptious. Being the carnivorous meat-eater that I am, I ordered the hanger steak. It was cooked perfectly and the potatoes were yummy and there was a little pat of garlic butter that I used my third piece of bread for so I could use it all up. I sopped up everything on my plate with every piece of bread I could find. Oh, but I took a picture first. It was all nomalicous.

Our dessert choices were either a bread pudding (again with a really tasty description I can’t recall) or a flourless chocolate cake with pistachio ice cream. It was a toss-up because I love chocolate cake, but I’m not crazy about pistachio ice cream. On the other hand, the bread pudding had some kind of rum or amaretto or some other boozy yumminess in it, but bread pudding can be soggy and weird sometimes. I chose the chocolate cake and you know what? I was wrong. I love pistachio ice cream! Especially when paired with a gigantic slice of super-rich, super nommy cake! Oh, heavenly day!! Yes, I remembered to take a picture before diving into my sin-on-a-plate. My very sweet neighbor offered her bread pudding up for a picture AND a bite. Bonus!! And I was wrong again (I hate when that happens) because it was incredibly warm, sweet, soft, flavorful and not at all soggy.

Lunch was followed by a tour of the winery where we learned how they make their most popular varieties, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. We saw the crush pad where the grapes are first brought in, the giant steel barrels they are fermented in and the wooden kegs the wine is aged in. I am always amazed at how scientific the wine-making process really is. There was all this talk about yeast and microbes and some kind of tartar clay and how they keep from getting foggy wine or ice crystals and some wines are allowed to heat up while others need to be kept cold. It’s a lot more than just picking some grapes and squeezing them into a glass. Of course that would just be called grape juice but you get the idea.

After the tour, we bellied up to the bar for some wine tasting. Our tour guide doubled as our bartender/sommelier and served us tastings of their Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir and a dessert wine. I wasn’t as impressed with the wines as I was with the lunch. They weren’t bad, just a little dry for my taste and Pinot Gris isn’t really my favorite anyway. I did buy a bottle of Riesling though, because the description on the bottle says it has flavors of ginger and citrus. I like ginger. I like citrus. They better not be lying.

Next, it was on to Sweet Cheeks Winery, whose Riesling Danita was raving over since we left Bend. Now, about the name. If you know me at all, you can guess what kind of image the name Sweet Cheeks conjures for me. Well, when the winery owners saw the hills that the vineyard is planted on, they saw the same thing. How can you resist a wine with a name like that?

The aforementioned Riesling that was raved over is very good, but I ended up getting a bottle of the Rosy Cheeks (which brings to mind another image but my mind is a dirty place to live). They also had some delicious-sounding cheeses and the most wonderfully whimsical paintings on their walls. I took pictures of all of those too. I would have bought one if I’d had an extra two or three hundred dollars on me.

Our last winery stop was Sylvan Ridge, across the street from Sweet Cheeks. Obviously they were less imaginative in the naming of their wines, but not less skilled in the making of their wines. Of course the $40 Elizabeth’s Red was my favorite, but I settled on the less expensive Muscat. It’s perfectly yummy enough.

On the way home, Danita told me that they usually play a movie, but I think most everyone was content to doze off after their day of wine tasting. I couldn’t help sneaking in my own little cat nap after helping to serve non-alcoholic, re-hydrating beverages and snacks to the guests.

All in all it was a great day and a great way to play “hooky” from work. Robin and Danita are so wonderfully easy-going with their guests yet utterly professional. They have planned for so many of the little details I think it makes it easy for everyone to relax and have a really excellent adventure. Much better than Bill and Ted could have done.

As for me, I’m keeping my fingers crossed that Robin is out of town in October so I can go on the Hearst Castle trip. I’ve always wanted to go there, but I’ll console myself with some Rosy Cheeks if it doesn’t pan out.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Ode to Bugabooga

My daughter's birthday is today and she graduated from middle school last night. A double whammy with unexpected emotions. Well, I expected to be sentimental and sappy on her birthday, because I always am, but not over graduation.

I didn't even want to go. It was presented as a short ceremony with a party for the graduates afterward. I only went because I had to. I mean, what kind of mom doesn't go to her only child's graduation? Only the kind of mom that I myself would judge harshly. So I went. Begrudgingly.

It wasn't so fun and made me crabby. I parked a mile away and thanked myself for having the sense to not wear heels on my trek to the school. It was crowded and hot in the gym and completely unorganized. I found a spot against the wall to lean on since there were no chairs left. D had gone to a friend's to get ready so I didn't get a chance to see her beforehand and then searched in vain to catch a glimpse of her in the sea of 8th graders. I saw her friends, but not her. I started to wonder if she was even there.

The principal came out and gave what is probably his standard speech. "This is the best group of 8th graders we've ever had, blah, blah blah." Then they showed a video of all the kids that prompted screams and cheers from the entire 8th grade class. My ears were ringing halfway through. It was a long video. Did I mention how hot it was in there?

When Principal What's-His-Name came back up to the microphone, it was to tell the kids some tired old adages that were probably meant to be inspirational, but just sounded cliche. "Make your own choices. Be the change you want to see in the world. Blah, blah, blah." Is this thing over yet? Then he gave his blessing or official promotion or whatever "on behalf of the Board of Education" and I got all teary. Wtf?

The kids were then dismissed and I finally located D at the end of the line on her way out the door. I hurried after her and was greeted with a quick "Hi Mom" followed by the I'm-really-too-busy-to-talk-to-you-because-my-friends-are-more-important-in-my-life-than-you look. I had to practically beg her to allow me to take a quick picture of her. "But Mom! My friends!" "Please? It's your graduation! I have to have a picture of you in your cute dress!" (that I paid for, by the way.) She finally acquiesced before scampering off again to rejoin her friends for the dance.

I hiked back to my car, sat in my seat and broke down in tears. Sobbed. Because she "rejected" me. Because she's growing up. Because I'm proud of her. Because I love her. Because I was alone and had nobody to share my emotions with.

I had to go buy her a birthday card and some doughnuts for her birthday breakfast. (I had planned on making her something special, but yeah. Right. Like I'm preparing specialty meals before six in the morning. Sure...) Reading the cards made me cry. Choosing the right kind of doughnuts made me cry. I was walking around Walmart crying. People were giving me weird looks. We're talking the weird Walmart-type people. Like they have any right to judge. I was an emotional wreck. It's a good thing I know how to make a good Manhattan because I needed it.

This morning when she woke up, the dogs and I dazzled her with a medley of birthday songs. I knew she was disappointed with just a card (even though it was the most heartfelt card I've ever bought for ANYone) until I told her that I couldn't wrap ballet tickets and a pedicure. "We're getting pedis??!?!?!? Where's the ballet? What are they performing?" She was suddenly awake and interested in her day. And in me. Briefly.

Then she hit me with it. I knew she couldn't just Accept. She also has to Take. Us moms know that any sentence that begins with "Since it's my birthday" doesn't mean they want to express their undying love and gratitude to you for all of the sacrifices you make and do or don't use to guilt trip them with. "How about you drive me to school and we get Starbucks on the way?" Oh, what the hell. A coffee sounded good to me too. I got my revenge. As she was getting out of the car in front of the school I yelled, "Happy birthday Bugabooga!! I LOVE YOU!!!" That's about the meanest thing you can do to your kid. Bwah ha ha.....

I know I complain a lot about her and parenting and how hard it is. It is hard. And I have legitimate complaints. And it's the nature of the beast of motherhood. But she's actually a cool kid. She's fun and smarter than I give her credit for. At some things. Not at using the vacuum when she forgets to plug it in and then claims it doesn't work.

She's sassy the way a girl should be. This morning she said she was going to wear her short shorts, the ones that aren't allowed in school. She said, "What are they going to do, bust me on the last day?" I was so proud. She has an excellent sense of humor. She's genuinely caring even though she makes it so easy to forget when 90% of what comes out of her mouth is about her.

On the way to get our coffee, the morning radio show was discussing websites that coach you on how to talk to your teenagers, how to express your feelings in their language. Seriously? Parents need this? I know D was thinking the same thing. I turned to her and said, "You're awesome! You rock!" She rolled her eyes and said, "Mom, don't. Just don't." She gets that eye roll from me. All the women in my family do it.

And the truth is, if I had a boy I'd probably turn him gay. It's not appropriate to take a boy to get pedicures. D's first word after "mom" was "shoe." Some people would frown at a boy doing that. I like that we can watch chick-flicks and do facials and she paints my nails. We do fashion shows when we get new clothes. We go shopping and say "Oh, that's cuuuute!" over and over all day.

Yes, I complain. I get exhausted and overwhelmed and I don't know how to do it All. There are days that I daydream about getting in my car and driving and driving, far away from it All. But I can't imagine my life without her. I can barely remember what it was like before her. And I'm terrified of what lies ahead. The things that seemed so far away when she was in diapers are frighteningly close now. Her first real kiss, her first real boyfriend, her first real heartbreak. High school graduation, going away to college, her first apartment. First job. We still have a lot of firsts left. Big ones too.

There are more frustrations to come. More tears. But also more "that's what she said" jokes. More facials, more talk about boys. More ballets and more birthdays.

More of Bugabooga. I couldn't ask for more than that.

When Booze Is Not Enough

Yes folks, it’s true. There are some pains that alcohol doesn’t take away. Not even my beloved Manhattans. Not even when they’re made with Maker’s AND include a cherry WITH a stem. There are certain hells that cannot be escaped. Teenage girls’ birthday parties fall into this category.

D’s birthday is today and I’m able to feel sentimental about it now, especially after going to her graduation last night. But that’s another story for another time. Probably tonight. Or later today, depending on how unproductive I want to be work-wise.

Anyway, this whole ordeal really started Friday night when I had to bake the cake. After spending three hours shopping for shoes to match her graduation dress, a bathing suit (excuse me, STRING bikini) for the graduation pool party and party food. I was up until 9:30 baking the famous Rainbow Cake, an encore request from last year’s party.

Saturday started with swimming at Juniper. D first begged me to stay at the pool the whole time, then dismissed me once I had paid her admission. “You can go, Mom.” “But don’t you want to know where I’ll be if you need anything?” “You can go NOW, Mom.” I didn’t see her again until she wanted something to eat. I guess her hunger rendered me useful enough to talk to. For half a minute.

Part 1 wasn’t so bad though. It was a gorgeous day and I got to lay out and soak up some rays and some very-much needed vitamin D. It was delicious and I relished every minute of it after winter and all of the rain. It wasn’t, however, enough relaxation to prepare me for Part 2.

The party then moved to the house, where 12, count them – TWELVE, teenage girls were spending the night. I’m pretty sure I only approved eight, but what’s four more? A LOT, it turns out. Twelve estrogen-filled, hormone-induced young people is too much at one time. They were too much for themselves.

They spent the first hour gossiping. I believe that teenage girls have gossiping down to a science. “So-and-so is such a slut.” “He was going out with two girls and liked a third one at the same time.” On and on it went. I learned that my daughter has perverse things said to her. “I asked him what he was doing and he said ‘you’”. (It was at this point that I poured my first drink. It was either that or bite my tongue until it bled.) I also learned that girls like to say no and that they enjoy telling boys “no.” “It’s so easy. They ask you out and you just tell them no. Ha ha ha.” No is my favorite word from teenagers. When it’s not directed at me.

I had about 45 minutes of peace after dinner was devoured (literally), which I named the Eye of the Teenage Storm. J came over, I made my second drink and the girls went to the park. The peace was short-lived.

Ruby Tuesday, my pretty piggy princess puppy, sauntered in with a wrapper hanging from her mouth and an “oh boy, that was delicious” gleam in her eye. I tracked down the source of her new-found happiness and discovered she had eaten half of a giant chocolate bar. My dog basically ate poison. Instant panic. J called her vet friend while I cleaned up the pieces of chocolate that had been licked into the carpet.

In the middle of Dog Drama, the girls arrived home. D was in tears because on the way back to the house, half of the girls had disappeared to go play doorbell ditch and she was convinced that they had all been kidnapped and turned into sex slaves (yes, I have succeeded in instilling this fear into my child). All would-be sex slaves were found and accounted for and given a screaming-tantrum lecture by D. I told her I’d have to deal with the recap of her ordeal another time as I had to first make sure the dog would live. Her reply? “Well then can we have cake now?” Oh yes, of course. I want to get out chocolate cake RIGHT NOW, THIS INSTANT AFTER MY DOG JUST POISONED HERSELF WITH CHOCOLATE!!! In one of my finer moments of motherhood, I let fly the F word. In front of 11 kids that aren’t mine.

In the end the cake was served, complete with candles and a song, I tricked Ruby into drinking hydrogen peroxide, which induced a ginormous amount of vomiting and retired to my room with my laptop and another Manhattan. All was good. Or at least nobody died. Or called the police on me. Or I didn’t run out of alcohol and call the police on myself if only to spend a quiet night in jail.

Needless to say, nobody got much sleep.

If some of you can benefit from this wonderful, never-to-be-repeated experience, here’s my advice.

1. Have either a slumber party or a pool party, but not both. Bringing 12 sunburned, hungry teenagers to your house is just asking for trouble.

2. 12 teenage girls is too many. About 7 too many. They can’t control their own hormones, let alone everyone else’s. The drama just multiplies exponentially. Also – girls can be mean and will form groups against each other. Even when they’re friends.

3. Keep chocolate away from dogs. At all times. Always. If you’re not smart enough to follow this simple rule, at least be smart enough to keep some hydrogen peroxide on hand.

4. Teenage girls eat a lot. A LOT. I suppose I should be happy that none of them have unhealthy body issues but I kinda wish they did. They were asking for seconds before they even started on their first plate. They called thirds on cinnamon rolls before they took the first bite of the first one. They’re like locusts, swooping in and leaving nothing in their wake. They will literally fight each other for a piece of bread. Be prepared to feed an army. It’s not cheap.

5. Trick a friend who doesn't have kids into coming over to keep you company. Your friends with kids will know better.

6. Finally and most importantly – make sure you have alcohol on hand and plenty of it. I cannot stress this enough. If you don’t heed this advice, all I can say is you’re digging your own grave and it’s been nice knowing you. Teenage girls are vicious and will eat you alive if you are not sufficiently numbed to their evil influences.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Prayers for Kyron

I’m not quite sure what has touched me about Kyron Horman, missing since Friday, June 4th. Granted, it’s my worst nightmare, but dozens of children go missing each day. Maybe it’s because he went missing in Oregon and it touches too close to home. Maybe it’s because his disappearance seems to have struck the same chord with the media and those searching for him. Maybe it’s because he just looks so innocent and so tiny, with his big glasses and gap-toothed smile, his friendly and utterly open expression. Whatever it is, I can’t ignore it. I check the news reports constantly, hoping for the happy news that he’s found. Safe. And soon. Very soon.

I think the first impulse was to blame the school. What were their security measures? Did they allow just anyone to walk in and snatch up this little child? How could they make it so easy? My opinion may be unpopular, but I don’t think it’s fair to blame the school, or the teachers or school systems in general. They’re already overburdened. True, we entrust them with our children every day and there is a certain level of expectation that we’re leaving them in a safe place. But it doesn’t start with the schools.

The overwhelming burden is on each of us as a member of society. In a country where voting is our right, we have to ensure that the laws on child predators are stricter and enforced each and every time. These “people” should not be walking among us freely. I don’t believe there is rehabilitation for a person who could harm and violate a child. It’s not a simple character flaw, it’s not a minor offense. Abusing a child changes who they are, it changes the people around them, it bruises their very soul, forever and always.

It’s also up to us. It's a fine line. Government agencies are criticized for overreacting, or not doing enough. Not doing enough in time, before it’s too late. Again, the systems are overburdened and, although there are legitimate complaints, we share responsibility as well. Don’t mistake me, the extremes are too easy to fall into. I don’t want anyone knocking on my door asking if my daughter has done her homework or frowning when I have a glass of wine. I don’t want to overstep my bounds with my neighbor and how they discipline (or sometimes worse, don’t) their own children. But I think if you have a gut feeling that something just isn’t right, you see a child and an adult who don’t look right together, a little girl looks too lost, a little boy seems too quiet for his age, tell someone. Pay attention to the man seemingly without a family in a family-centered environment. Listen to a child who asks for help. Watch for the toddler who seems to wander off a bit too far. I know if it were my child, I’d be praying that you would.

Just as I’ll be praying for the safe return of little Kyron Horman and then end of this nightmare for his parents.
The Martini Chronicles. Design by Exotic Mommie. Illustraion By DaPino