The grapes of rath

by Lorin Michel Friday, March 23, 2012 11:18 PM

Some days I have subjects that offer themselves up for posting. Some days, it’s easy. Other days, not so much. And then there are days when a fun play on words or a headline pops into my brain absolutely unannounced and unsolicited and I am left with the need to craft a post around it. With that in mind, dear readers, welcome to today’s post.

Of course, the obvious reference is to the great depression era novel written by John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath, which is decidedly not cheery and not at all celebratory. It’s been quite some time since I read it (and truth be told, I’m not a huge Steinbeck fan), but if I remember correctly, it was about the struggle between the powerful and the powerless. The Joads, led by Tom Joad, were a poor family driven from their home by drought and the dust bowl and headed to California, the land of sunshine, honey and grapes, at least in the northern part.

Evidently the title has some roots in The Battle Hymm of the Republic by Julia Ward Howe, as in “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord: He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored....”

Those lyrics reference a passage in Revelation, an apocalyptic appeal to divine justice and deliverance from oppression, which seems accurate considering the subject matter of the novel. Here’s the passage: “And the angel thrust his sickle into the earth, and gathered the vine of the earth, and cast it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.” Then there’s more about blood and horses and a thousand and six hundred furlongs, none of which did I like nor understand.

Still, notice the vines and winepress reference. It’s about grapes.

The novel itself uses the phrase at the end of chapter 25 when Steinbeck is writing about the deliberate destruction of food in order for the merchants to keep the price high: “… and in the eyes of the hungry there is a growing wrath. In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage.”

It’s all very solemn stuff.

But what of the grapes of rath? I wondered if it could have the same cyclical meaning. And is my wont, I decided to do a bit of research. Rath, it seems, is from Middle English, which is not to be confused with Middle Earth and The Lord of the Rings. Rath in its most archaic meaning is used to describe growing, blooming or ripening early in the year or season. I can see how grapes might be part of that process. This was making me believe that the rath in grapes of really does have to do with grapes and not the metaphor of grapes.

I dug a little deeper.

In Irish history, the word rath was used to describe a circular enclosure surrounded by an earthen wall. A winery perhaps? The description goes on to say that the enclosure was often a dwelling and a stronghold in former times.

The Irish poet William Butler Yeats, a personal favorite of mine, wrote in The Wanderings of Oisin:  “Much wondering to see upon all hands, of wattles and woodwork made, Your bell-mounted churches, and guardless the sacred cairn and the rath, And a small and a feeble populace stopping with mattock and space, Or weeding or ploughing with faces a-shining with much-toil wet; While in this place and that place, with bodies unglorious, their chieftains stood.”

Bruce Springsteen released an album in 1995 entitled The Ghost of Tom Joad. The title track as well as most of the album sought to draw comparisons between the dust bowl, which drove people like the Joads west, and modern society. It’s also not very cheery, though Springsteen remains another personal favorite of mine because of his storytelling. In my musically uneducated mind, his storytelling is what makes him the star that he is. That and the late Clarence Clemmons. Alas, that’s best saved for another blog post.

So to recap, the grapes of wrath is a struggle for equality. The grapes of rath could be the fruits grown within the confines of an earthen wall. I can’t help but wonder if the grapes of rath were offered instead of the grapes of wrath if we wouldn’t all be much happier.

Something to think about on this quiet afternoon. 

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live out loud

The year past, the weekend this. What living it out loud means.

by Lorin Michel Sunday, February 19, 2012 10:56 PM

It’s Sunday night. I’m sitting on my couch in front of the fire, my feet slippered, my dog slumbering, my husband next to me, a glass of wine within reach. I’m tired but sated. I am celebrating the quiet even as I embrace the last few days of joyous chaos, days that began ordinarily enough with work and the thought of spending time with friends and progressed quickly into a grand surprise that included even more friends. It seems that Bobbi had the idea to invite my family and my Pam to celebrate my birthday in December. The timing wasn’t good though with it being the holidays and people planning for parties, being with family, enjoying the season. Kevin then built from the idea and thought: February. Wine tasting. We’ll make it a party, with surprise guests; we’ll celebrate.

Wine tasting: Roy, me, Bobbi, John, Pam

Celebrate we did, from the moment we walked into the house in Paso, a rented ranch with several levels built atop a hill and nestled into the trees. It was surreal. Roy and Bobbi meeting us outside; Pam and John sitting at the bar inside; Kevin behind me. And me, surprised, thrilled, apprehensive, amazed, ready.

We introduced Pam and John to the wonders of wine tasting, to the swirl, sip, swallow involved in the art. Then they went off to San Simeon to visit the castle that William Randolph Hearst built while Roy and Bobbi and Kevin and I went to taste more. You do have to build up a tolerance, stamina. It’s exhausting; hard work. I kid.

We made dinner, we drank more wine. We played a game called Catch Phrase, an absolute riot. We were all yelling, high-fiving, laughing, swearing, stomping our feet, hitting the table, raising another glass. We talked well into the night, sharing stories, bonding all over again. It was amazing.

Me and Bobbi

I have come to a number of realizations in the last year, the strongest of which is that I am blessed with the people in my life. My husband, my family, my friends. Perhaps it’s not so much of a realization as an embrace of a simple fact: I am loved. It’s an incredible feeling, a security. It fills my heart and makes my life a good place to live.   

One year ago today I started a little project called Live it Out Loud. The idea: to find one thing to celebrate, to find joy in, every day. From the simple to the sometimes profound and unexpected, I have done that. It has become a real cause for me, one I have come to cherish. Each day I look forward to writing my post.

My inspiration came from Bobbi’s late sister Betsy, a woman who succumbed to cancer about a year and a half ago at the age of 42. She had fought for about twenty years, nearly half of her life, always with an amazing, positive attitude, and her mantra from Emile Zola: “if you ask me what I came to do I will tell you. I came to live life out loud.”

Betsy died on September 5, 2010. I decided on February 19, 2011 to also live my life out loud, with little nuggets from what are mostly just ordinary daily experiences. A walk with my husband, a brightly lit moon, a piece of music. Friends, family, my dog. My life is rich and wondrous. Writing this blog allows me to remember that – to celebrate that – every day.

What began as a possibility has evolved into a reality. From the sadness of Betsy’s loss comes the celebration of life and all of its pleasures. I hope she would approve. I think she would.

Live it out loud, always and forever.

My peeps in Paso

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live out loud

The first day in Paso Robles with friends

by Lorin Michel Saturday, February 18, 2012 12:41 AM

Day one. Wine tasting in Paso. As an extension of my birthday, we are now in Paso Robles, first time ever. We’ve been wanting to come for some time, but for whatever reason, we’ve never managed to drive the slightly over three hours to get here. Kevin and Bobbi made the decision to come on my actual birthday in December. Paso. February.

The view from the house

To pick up where I left off last night, Pam and her husband are here. I still can’t quite believe it. As I type this, she’s sitting on the couch with a laptop, checking her email, listening to my husband talk about wine, discussing the intricacies of making wine, segueing into some football talk with Mason. It’s been so long since we spent any time together, and yet, it’s easy. Comfortable. There are a lot of people around so we haven’t been able to just sit and chat, but that’s not what this trip is about. This trip is about all of us, hanging out, tasting wine, relaxing, eating good home cooked food, listening to music. Relaxing.

The six of us – Kevin and I, Roy and Bobbi, and Pam and John – started the day as most people do, with much coffee. Then we piled into the cars, and off we went to begin. We started at Niner, which looks like a Spanish style mission, big flat stones and high windows. Inside, vaulted ceilings with beams, a tasting counter in the center, an enormous fireplace on the side. In the back room, a kitchen filled with industrial stainless steel equipment, the tables ready for a Mardi Gras party tomorrow night where they’ll serve jambalaya.

In the hills was a heart-shaped grove of trees, nestled between two converging hillsides, dormant grape vines on either side.

Inside Niner

We wound our way to Midnight Cellars, where we were greeted by a beautiful Maine Coon cat named Chardonnay who followed us inside and proceeded to sleep on the purses that Bobbi and Pam had placed on the floor in front of the bar. We were the only ones there and our pourer spent a lot of time with us, pouring more than was on the tasting menu. At L’Aventure, we tasted four wines, all made by a French wine maker in a Bordeaux and Rhone style. They were great. Treana Hope was next. Also quiet, largely because it was a Friday and Friday’s are not huge tasting days on an obscure day in February. It will be busier tomorrow. It being so quiet today meant that we could hang at the tasting bars longer than we might have otherwise because there was no hurry for us to leave, time to taste and talk and learn about how each winery makes wine. We chatted with the pourer and then moved outside to sit in the sun for a few minutes, in slotted rocking chairs made of teak, relaxing, basking, enjoying the wonder of the day and the break from reality.

The Model A

Last stop, a hilltop winery with a view that gazed across the valley, clear and crisp. Calcareous. The sun was still high enough that the air was warm. We stood outside, all of us, with our wine glasses. A chocolate lab was playing in the grass. Several other couples were sipping their taste at an outdoor table. A Model A truck in amazing condition was parked near the barn awaiting its cargo.

The day was getting late. We were all tired and incredibly lazy. A day of wine tasting will do that.

We headed back to the house in the hills, the house with no cell service, no high-speed internet, but lots of wine, lots of good food, amazing friends.

Mason is cooking tonight. He’s in the kitchen trying to find things to cook with. He’s making hot pastrami sandwiches. I’m hungry already. Bobbi is taking a nap. Roy is looking through the photos he took today. Kevin is sitting at the bar, watching Mason cook, having another glass of wine. I’m writing.

It’s a lovely night after a lovelier day. Tomorrow will be another. I hope we’ll be up to it. After all, wine tasting is hard work, and the vines are leading the way.

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On the road again

by Lorin Michel Thursday, February 16, 2012 10:58 PM

Apologies, or maybe not, to Willie Nelson but we’re on the road again, road trippin’ it up to Paso Robles, some great wine country just inland from the ocean in Central California. It’s about three and a half hours from our house. We loaded up the Rover with a suitcase, a bag with necessities like makeup, lotion, toothbrushes, lots of CDs, bottled water, three computers and the iPad. Basically all of the comforts of home inside four red doors with a transmission that gets 15 miles per gallon on a good day. The only thing missing is the vintage puppy. He’s home, no doubt asleep on his new rug, hanging with the dog whisperer, our dog sitter, also known as Karen.

We drove along the 101, heading north, past Ventura and through Santa Barbara before we finally broke free of civilization. To our left was the ocean; to the right rolling hills of the lightest green. As we went inland a bit, watching the tall grass and much taller trees whipping in the wind. A bicycle peloton pedaled by and I marveled at their dedication to be riding in this wind. It’s a bit of a losing battle and can suck all of the fun out of a ride. I speak from experience.

Cows, black and brown, dotted the landscape on either side. The hills and grass became greener the further north we drove. The road was smooth, newly paved and pleasant. White fences lined property, and more cows, lazy cows, lying down, the sun kissing their fur, no doubt warming their souls. A hawk flew over the vineyards that started to appear just north of Solvang. Some were so close, we could see the knarly in the wood as it trained around wire. They stayed with us for miles, before running up against a dairy farm and the exit to Vandenberg Air Force Base.

Other than the cows, and then some sheep, a horse or two, there was no animal or human activity. In the distance, a house, then another dotted the hillside to the west. Suddenly, another vineyard filled with workers. Without grapes to harvest, I can only speculate that they were training the vines. I hope they’re obedient.

The road ahead was filled with trucks, and other SUVs; the road behind littered with the cars we had zoomed by in our quest to get even less miles per gallon that normal.

More vines, and still more. We could tell we were getting close to our destination as the number of cows diminished as did the amount of bugs going kamikaze on the windshield. Where there’s livestock there always seem to be bugs willing to die for a piece of glass. 

The temperature, not hot today, began to drop as we got closer to our destination. We went through Santa Maria, not big, but after all of the nothing, it seemed a metropolis. There were gas stations, a Burger King, a Harley Davidson dealership, a Best Western side by side with a Marriot. Casa de Oro, a winery with a tasting room alongside the freeway, looked moderately enticing, but we had places to go so we didn’t truly give it a thought. Up the road a bit, Laetitia, another winery. Again, hardly a glance in its direction. Roy and Bobbi were some time ahead of us, there already, waiting to truly begin our trip. This morning, as we were both working, she came online with her word of the day: wube. She quickly corrected her finger position on the keyboard. Wine. I laughed.

She sent a text as we were driving. The ocean had reappeared and we were driving right along side. It sparkled in the late afternoon sun. We weren’t far. Bobbi’s text said they’d be waiting at the house we’re renting, with a glass of wube poured. I’m ready, baby. We’re ready.

Let the wine tasting celebration commence.


Addendum: Pam!

I walked into the house and Pam and John were there, sitting at the granite counter in the kitchen. My brain recognized her but didn’t. I’m still not sure she’s here, even as I’m sitting at this table in the kitchen of this house in the middle of nowhere. Roy is on my left, talking to John. Kevin is on the couch. Pam and Bobbi are talking.

The friends I love most are in this room. There is wine, laughter, conversation and music. I am happy. I am joyous. I am definitely living it out loud.

More tomorrow. Hopefully with pictures!

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live out loud

When Fritini comes early

by Lorin Michel Thursday, January 12, 2012 11:46 PM

Tomorrow is Fritini but that didn’t stop us from celebrating a day early. Justin is in town and hasn’t seen Roy and Bobbi since before Christmas. In other words, they never got a chance to celebrate his birthday. And tomorrow he’s going to Tucson for the weekend to celebrate his birthday with his Arizona peeps. Evidently, one of his closest friends has recently completed a tour of around-the-world beers, sponsored by a local pizza place called Old Chicago. Because he has now graduated, Old Chicago treats him to a party for him and 7 of his closest friends, with pizza and beers all around. Said party will be for Justin. So since he won’t be around for the official Fritini, we all got together tonight, for Thurs-tini. Doesn’t quite have the same ring.

It also doesn’t have the same beverage. We don’t do martinis during the week. It’s a little, well, much. Martinis are for Friday nights, putting an official cap on a long and often frantic week. And besides, Fritini is often followed by Saturday, unless too many martinis are consumed in which case Fritini could be followed by Sunday. It hasn’t yet; but it could happen.

Thurs-tini has wine, and mostly red; all of it poured at The Wineyard in Thousand Oaks, our favorite Thursday night date haunt. Roy and Bobbi met us there, as did Justin who joined us after he returned a broken Christmas present for a replacement. They were pouring a tasting from Girard, a smallish Napa valley winery that specializes in Chardonnay and Cabernet-based wines. That’s directly from their website. What that means is that they make white wines and they make some blends including straight varietals like Cabernet. Tonight we tasted a Sauvignon Blanc followed by a Cab, an old vine Zinfandel and a Petite Syrah. As anyone who reads this blog on even a somewhat regular basis knows, I am very partial to the syrah grape. It’s small and potent and packs an enormous deep red, hair on your chest wallop when done correctly. Girard does it correctly. Their 2009 Petite Syrah, an even smaller grape that packs even more of a punch, is inky purple, so dark it looks almost black. The color lays in the glass, swirling like the deepest, most bottomless lagoon, looking for monsters and instead finding angels. It is exquisite.

We tasted, we laughed, we talked, we told stories, we shared confidences and fears, and we toasted a Thursday night at The Wineyard. After the tasting was over, Kevin bought a bottle of the Petite Syrah and we sat at our small pub table, five of us crowded around in high seats, under one of the arched windows dripping with tiny white lights. We had a partial glass each and capped the bottle. Outside, on Thousand Oaks Boulevard, cars streamed by silently. Inside, the decibel level was high as others laughed, talked, told stories, shared confidences and fears, and toasted a Thursday night at The Wineyard. Eventually the din quieted and we were some of the only ones left. Soon after that we realized it was nearly nine and none of us had done anything for dinner. Bobbi had work still to do, I had a blog post to prepare as well as my own work to do, emails to send, lists to prepare for tomorrow. And so we too dispersed.

Tomorrow is Friday, officially Fritini though not this week. This week we did Thurs– Oh, I can’t even type it again. It’s just wrong. I prefer, instead, to call it Giovedìtini. That’s Italian for Thursday and tini. Czwartektini is Polish. Jeuditini. French.

In whatever language, it means the same thing. Celebration of friends and family on a Thursday night. 

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The Saturday Experience

by Lorin Michel Saturday, January 7, 2012 11:30 PM

Saturdays are my day to sleep in. After a week of early mornings and late nights, largely due to work, Friday night rolls around and as I snuggle inside the soft sheets and the fleece blankets, my brain sighs with relief. Saturday is a day of rest, at least in the morning. The dog stirs at his usual time, around 7 and chomps at the air and slurps at nothing for about thirty minutes before he rises, shakes and announces that he’s ready to go out. I sigh and say: “You taking him?” and my husband says “yeah” as he throws back the covers, slips into his slippers and pads out through the living room with Maguire in hot pursuit. As he leaves I mutter to “come back,” because I know he, too, needs a little extra sleep. Most Saturdays he does. Today, he came back and slept until nearly 9:30, then got up to make coffee. I finally opened an eyeball to look at the clock at 9:57. I blinked and fixed two eyes on the clock. Really? Even on Saturdays I don’t sleep that late.

I got up.

We had coffee and then decided we’d take out the motorcycle. First time in months. Which meant one thing: we needed to check the tire pressure. On our last set of tires, we had neglected to check the tire pressure on a regular basis and it made the tires wear badly and weirdly. Truth be told, I wasn’t all that unhappy because I’d wanted to put whitewalls on the bike for years. This was my chance; I made my case. We got whitewalls. But my husband was adamant about being better about the tire pressure. So we moved the cars out of the garage and backed the monster out of its spot where it sits quietly, in front of the Porsche. Kevin pulled out his air compressor and got to work. And by work, I mean a lot of work. Much more work than we thought. Because of the massive brake apparatus on each tire, the stem for each tire has to be in a perfect position in order to get the compressor pump in place and deliver air. Which means moving the bike, moving the bike, moving the bike, a little bit more, forward just a bit. There.

This took nearly 30 minutes. We had designs on jumping on the bike by 11. Then, given some unforeseen stalling, we figured 11:30 at the latest. We left just after noon.

But we knew exactly where we were going: Magnavino Cellars to pick up our wine club shipment that’s been waiting since November. You’d think we’d be more attentive since there was wine involved. Regardless, dressed in our chaps, heavy coats, full-face helmets and sunglasses, off we went into the cool Saturday air. Wound our way through Hidden Valley and up through Dos Vientos before descending into the still-misty sunshine of Camarillo. The fields were lush with cabbage and onions, green peppers and lettuce; tomato plants were already starting to fill out on their stakes. Solar farms have also sprung up of late. There were dozens and dozens of panels, tilted toward the sun, along the roadway. Ironically, there were a number of cars parked under the panels, as it trying to escape the sun.

We finally found our way to Magnavino and walked in. I can’t remember the last time we were there – it’s been at least six months – but Rob and Barb, the proprietors, were both there and recognized us immediately. There was another couple with a dog in a USC t-shirt; her name was Peanut. Coco, the official winery dog, was there too, also sporting a lovely sweater. She came over, sniffed, wagged and then retreated to behind the pouring bar to curl up in her bed for a nap. We chatted for a while, tasted some wine, talked with some of the other patrons and had our picture taken.

Then it was back on the bike, with our wine-pickup safely tucked into the saddle bags. We stopped for lunch, we came home, we showered, we watched football, we cooked dinner, and sat next to the fire for the evening watching reruns on TV. That was our Saturday, nearly perfect.

My word for the day: Exceptional.

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45 minutes up the road

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, December 27, 2011 12:05 AM

We went wine tasting today. Our sixth annual day-after-Christmas jaunt up the road to Santa Ynez. It was a gorgeous day, warm and sunny. Most days after Christmas up there are cold, cloudy, very mid-west or northeast. We need coats and scarves. Sometimes we’ve needed gloves. Not today. It was also much quieter than usual, in terms of the number of people. I wonder if it was because this year’s day after Christmas was a Monday; I wonder if people had to work. Pity, that.

It’s a little further than 45 minutes up the road from here but one of the wineries we visited, Curtis, poured a wine that was off the tasting menu. This happens often, when people in the winery realize that the people they’re pouring for know a thing or two about wine and aren’t there only to drink, but rather to discover. It often starts when people like us say we’re only interested in tasting reds; none of us are white wine drinkers. The lady at Curtis was a lovely woman named Julie who spent yesterday with her three grown children who all live in Santa Barbara. She moved from there a couple of years ago and now lives amongst the vines and cows in the rolling hills of the Santa Ynez valley. This valley is known primarily for its syrah grape because it’s cooler and the temperatures are higher. It also has low rainfall and a very long growing season; ideal for syrah. Curtis has lovely syrahs and we sampled several, poured by Julie. She also poured a little something called Carlson Pinot Noir. Carlson is the last name of Curtis’ winemaker, Chuck. While the winery primarily uses estate grown fruit, or grapes grown on their own property, they don’t grow pinot noir. So when Chuck Carlson decided to have a little fun and produce something outside the barrel, he went 45 minutes up the road to Santa Maria.

45 minutes up the road. It could be anywhere, and anything could be there. It could be rolling hills bathed in the cool air and fog of the Pacific Ocean. Or it could be flat plains of crops, lettuce, peppers, onions, crops that grow in the near central coastal areas of California.

45 minutes up the road, if you walk, gets a person back to the Chumash Highway. 45 minutes if you ride your bike gets you past Los Olivos and into Solvang. 45 minutes if you drive gets you to pinot country. Pinot noir, that most romantic of grapes, can be velvety smooth; it can also have a wicked edge. Joel Fleischman, a writer for Vanity Fair describes pinot grapes as having “so powerful a punch that, like falling in love, they make the blood run hot and the soul wax embarrassingly poetic.” Master Sommelier Madeline Triffon calls pinot “sex in a glass.” It’s truly a lovely grape producing a lovely wine full of flavor and texture, light to medium in body with an aroma of black and red cherries, raspberries and currant. It’s brilliant garnet in color, and when the sun hits it, it sparkles. It’s native to Burgundy, France, and when made in California, it tends toward the depth, color and wonder of a syrah.

45 minutes up the road Chuck Carlson found a vineyard that he could use to produce an amazing pinot noir, a wine with enough romance and mystery and wonder to take us anywhere and everywhere we wanted to go. And we went, willingly. 

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Friends make me feel better

by Lorin Michel Saturday, December 3, 2011 11:08 PM

Today is my friend Roy’s birthday. I won’t say how old he is on the advice of counsel (that would be my husband) but I will say that we were lucky enough to see him and all of his birthday glory, and he still looks good. He’s still able to walk on his own; the hair isn’t too gray. He can chew his own food and drink his own wine, though his wife – my good friend Bobbi – did have to order it for him. We went to The Napa Tavern and since it was before 6, we were able to do a tasting. We perused the tasting menu; I decided on three cabs. Bobbi smiled at the waiter and said: “he’ll have what she’s having.” And so he did.

We all had our tasting. Roy and Bobbi had several appetizers. We weren’t hungry so we decided to chew our wine instead. It tasted good. But we talked and laughed and joked and even argued, albeit very good-naturedly. That’s the nature of friendship. It’s all about the joy.

When I was younger, I thought I should have a lot of friends. I thought that was what true happiness was about. But as I grew more mature, I realized that friendship was not about quantity; it was about quality. As friends would become too much work, I would divest myself. I adopted a platform that basically said that if someone didn’t bring me joy, I wouldn’t spend time with them. By joy, I meant feeling better for having been with them. It didn’t have to be jokes and laughter; I could be with a friend and spend the entire time in tears. But if I felt better for the experience, it mattered. I am so busy, now more than ever, and I need to have people in my life that bring me joy. I do. I have my husband, of course, and my family; I’ve rediscovered Pam. I have Diane and once again Connie, and several others. Each time I’m with these people, in person, or on the phone, or even online, I’m better for the experience.

And then there’s the birthday boy and his wife. Roy and Bobbi elevate the experience. They are our closest friends, our confidantes, the people who know the most about us and who always make us feel better for having shared time and wine. This is what friends do. And we are all the better for it.

We’re home now, dinner is done and the dishes are on the table, waiting to be carried to the kitchen. Maguire is in the bedroom, barking at nothing. Kevin has started to drift into a nap on the couch opposite of me. There’s a fire burning lazily in the fireplace, the newly erected Christmas tree stands dark in front of the slider. I’m relaxed and warm after a cold day outside in the biting wind, putting up Christmas lights, all with the help of my best friend, the husband-unit. I have a glass of wine on the table, my laptop on my lap, an episode of NCIS on the TV and now my dog has come to lay beside me after his barking episode in the bedroom. This is what a relaxing Saturday night feels like.

After spending a few hours with friends, I’m feeling good. We choose our friends, we choose to spend time together, we choose to let them into our lives. Friends make our lives better because they are our choice, and because of that, they become our family; they reflect our better natures.

Friends make us feel better for having been with them. Even more so when one of those friends is celebrating a birthday. It’s just that simple.

In which we go wine tasting in Santa Barbara

by Lorin Michel Saturday, November 26, 2011 11:43 PM

As most know I'm a self-confessed and somewhat proud wino. Say it with me. "Hi Lorin." I love me some wine. I don't know when I first discovered this love though I know it was quite some time ago. I'm not talking about cheap wine in a box, or the wine I drank before I was old enough to drink. That was Lancers and that doesn't count. Actually anything done in high school really shouldn't count; ditto college. But once I became a real person and learned the value of good wine as part of a balanced diet, I was hooked;  hence the wino designation.

It was probably when I moved to Southern California, the land of opportunity and wine. The land of sunshine and wine. The land of movie stars and bikinis and beaches and phenomenal creativity and wine. Yes, there's a correlation. Some say California has been making wine since as early as 1520. Its official wine producing status began  in  1758 when Father Junipero Sera planted the first vineyards. In 1833 Jean-Louis Vignes brought vines  from Europe giving California wine  its taste by combining climate here and land there. Agoston Haraszthy  brought California wine making to the next level, establishing vineyards here and then digging caves to store the wine. It all came together in 1861 when Charles Krug established the first commercial wine making vineyard in Napa Valley. Then came Sonoma, then Paso Robles got into the act as did Santa Ynez and Temecula, and Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara county is 3789 square miles in the centralish section of the California coast. Settled in 1602,  the city began making wine in 1769 and has developed some fairly stellar wineries. We hadn't been to any of them until today.

We had promised to take Justin and Bethany wine tasting, so we decided Santa Barbara might be a fun place to try. We could park and walk; we'd be near the water. Justin hadn't wanted to spend their whole time here in the car. I didn't have the heart to remind him that this is - ahem - Southern California. The traffic capital of the country, with the #1  worst traffic interchange in the country. Yes, we're taking a bow.

Naturally they've spent the entire four days in the car, today being no exception. The only difference was that we were driving. At least they got to sleep on the way back.

So off we went to the newly christened Urban Wine Trail to taste some relatively small, unknown, but not inconsequential wines. From the somewhat established Santa Barbara Winery with its 50,000 case per year production to Jaffurs with its less than 4500 we walked. All told we went to five wineries. We indoctrinated Bethany into the fine art of swirling, sipping and pouring out into the waiting bucket if the wine wasn't as pleasant as hoped. She started out this visit more of a white wine drinker. She's now decided that reds are infinitely more interesting. We're so proud. Of course, Justin has long agreed. We raised him right.

And then  we returned from our northbound excursion, battling some horrific traffic as we drifted slowly southward. 'Tis the season. And 'tis always the season for a beautiful day filled with our wonderful son, his equally wonderful girlfriend, and wine, Santa Barbara style.

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