Now I’m Intrigued – A Scene from A Thousand Years

There’s been a great deal going on these days. My writing has been fairly non-existent (which actually infuriates me). But I hope in the next couple of weeks, I can get back to where I was. Here is “Now I’m Intrigued” a scene from my novel A Thousand Years. You can read other excerpts, here.

***

2004

The funny thing about life is that you usually can’t imagine that healing is ahead when you’re in the thick of the pain. In the grief – in the anger and hurt of lost love and unplanned single parenthood – you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how good things might be someday. But you do wake up one day and life looks different – different, better. It has been a slow burn – truth be told. I’m happy now. I am content with life as it is. That’s something that may even be better than happiness. Today is our grand opening at Tierra de Dios. I woke with the sun – I’m sure we all did. I’ve been in the barn ever since, prepping tables with center pieces and making sure everything looks exactly like I planned. In the year we’ve prepped and planned for this, I found some purpose and meaning beyond being a mom. It’s not that it’s not okay to find purpose and meaning as a mom – I just needed something more to keep my mind busy. And opening Tierra de Dios has been what I needed. My grandparents caught my vision – between my research, sketches, and the time I’d invested in a business plan – they haven’t once questioned my choices here. They’ve given me this project to run with. They gave me a budget. They gave me some constraints. But for the most part, this has been my baby. They’ve followed me wholeheartedly. It is a good feeling. Racing through final finishing touches, I check the time again – I’ve got an hour to drive back to the house and get ready. Dammit. Why am I like this? I can’t be on time to save my life. I should have been getting ready an hour ago. Though the winery is on my grandparent’s ranch, it takes about twenty minutes to get back to the house – which means I have twenty minutes to look like I’m opening a world-class winery and event venue. Note to self – use the bridal room bathroom to get ready on event days. I have been late all of my life. Being late is how I met Gray Ford. I sometimes still don’t know how to be thankful for that day, without the hurt that follows. I’m thankful because it gave me Jackson Ford Langston. If only all that other stuff had never happened.

The thing about being the only Mexican owned winery on the privileged central coast of California, is that it gets you a lot of attention. The kind that has folks waiting in line for your gates to open, reporters from all over the state swarming, and handfuls of celebrities and athletes – waiting on your grand opening day. Our friends in the community are here too. This is the place to be today. Our opening has been the talk of the coast. The acreage that we own here is some of the prettiest along this rugged Big Sur coastline.

Our barn, on a hill overlooking the Pacific, is in a sweet meadow that gives unobstructed views of the ocean. This land, with its freshwater streams, creeks, and ponds is an emerald green shining beauty. Along the south side of the barn, redwoods and Monterey cypress reach and bend toward the coast. On the north side of the barn, a huge California live oak provides shade and a perfect ceremony spot for outdoor weddings. Stretching further to the north are yucca, sagebrush, native wildflowers, shrubs, and even some cacti. It’s all of California’s beauty in one sweet spot. If you follow a short trail behind the barn, some of our newly planted vineyards stretch up over the hill toward the rest of ours vines, that have been growing on this land since the 70s.

This is a stunning piece of land. And I am beyond joyful that we get to share it now. Driving around back access roads, normally used when we’re moving cattle from one pasture to another, I skirt around the waiting line of cars and park in our staff parking area, out of sight from the barn. My mom has given me crap for so long about my tardiness. I do wish I could change it – but even when I have the best of intentions, I still end up running at the last minute. Which is what I do – I run toward the barn where the rest of the family, and my boy are waiting.

***

Vineyard, winery, elaina avamlos

I pride myself on my ability to create a beautiful party. It sounds so trivial when there are so many other things in the world that cry for our attention. As an artist, I feel deeply. I feel other’s pain. There’s injustice all around us. Sometimes I think I can’t make a dent in the world by throwing parties and creating this place of tranquility and beauty in the midst the chaos of the world. But like art, sometimes it’s the beauty that becomes the foundation for lasting change. There’s an overwhelming amount of ugly in our world. Creating time and space for the small joys of good food, good wine, sweet memories with friends, and family – is no small thing. And that’s what we’ve started here. I have shaken more hands, hugged more people than seems normal, and have loved every second of this wild and crazy day so far. The music, the breeze blowing off the water, and the wine and food, are creating this sweet spot of joy in my heart I didn’t know I needed.

It has been hours since our gates opened and between the music, food, and wine – the party is still going strong. My sweet new nanny has patiently hung out – chasing my boy all over – for hours. But I know it’s time for her to take him home. The last time I looked, she’d found a table and contained him long enough to feed him. His busybody ways are nearly impossible to control when people are around. I look back at the table and realize they’ve moved on. I search around through the crowd to see if I can find them. I don’t see them in any of the usual spots. I turn – my eyes searching everywhere. A brief moment of unexplained panic rises up – as if he’s in danger here on land he already knows so well.

When I finally find him, he’s having an in depth conversation with a man I don’t know. Becky, our nanny, is standing with them. Jackson is standing on the stranger’s lap, talking a mile a minute, as if he knows how to talk, and is best friends with a man I can barely see. This kid. I head their way quickly to relieve the patient stranger. “Jackson Langston Ford, you silly boy,” I say, mid-babble, Jackson turns to face me. His smile widens, as if that’s possible. Joy personified this kid. “It’s time for you to take a nap and let this nice dude here, enjoy his Saturday.”

I take a step closer and realize the man he’s suddenly become best friends with is Nolan Carter – a San Francisco 49ers Linebacker. I only know this because someone pointed him out to me a couple of hours ago, as if I’d know who he is. I don’t know sports. At all. Not even a little. So when he looked up at me from his chair, my kid as comfortable as if he’s known him all his days, I didn’t expect the smile or the genuine reaction. This burly professional football player, is clearly enjoying my kid. And people who like my kid are number 1, top of the heap – perfect, in my book.

“Oh he’s fine. I mean, a nap is a nap and I’d never want to interrupt that, but he’s not disturbing me at all. He walked right over here a few minutes ago and told me what was what. I have no idea what we’re discussing, but it is very important just the same, I will have you know.”

“I’m sure it is,” I say, smiling at this charming and very attractive man, playing with me kid. “He’s not known for discussing trivial matters with perfect strangers. Nonetheless, my little hooligan here needs a nap, or tonight and tomorrow will not be pleasant for me or the members of our household. Thank you for entertaining my boy, Mr. Carter,” I say, extending my hand to shake his, after I’ve taken my boy back – where he’s propped on my hip.

“You’re very welcome – Carolina, right?”

“Yes. Thank you for coming today. And again, thank you for being sweet to my kid.”

“It’s my pleasure,” he says, smiling. My stomach lurches. He is one fine looking man. I walk off with Becky and Jackson – giving her a few instructions for the rest of the evening. She has been sweet enough to agree to stay overnight as I expect a very late night. Though I’d initially been reticent about hiring someone to take care of Jackson, I know it’s the right call. She is the perfect person to understand our lifestyle and that we don’t always need her to be off somewhere with him. She is prepared to be part of the action with my boy, as often as possible. I love her already. When I return to the party, after sending them back to the house, I smile as the mariachis start playing. I decided on a unique take – I’ve hired an all-girl mariachi band from Southern California. The lead singer’s voice floats above the crowd, after the band plays its gentle guitar and trumpet based instrumental, opening. Everyone stops what they’re doing to listen to her beautiful voice. As a little girl, my Grandma would play these songs for me, long before I understood their words. The velvety voice of the lead singer, comforts me in an unexpected way, as the music floats up into the night sky. “Great party.” I instantly recognize Nolan Carter’s voice. I turn in his direction, still not 100% certain I’ve heard him correctly.

“What’s that?” I ask.

“I said, great party,” he says.

“Thank you. It has been a labor of love to get to this point. Thanks again for being sweet to my kid. He’s never met a stranger, that one.”

“I could tell. Cute kid.”

“He is, isn’t he? He doesn’t look a thing like me.”

“Your husband is fair-skinned with blue eyes?”

“No.”

“NO?”

“I mean, yes. I mean, no.” Nolan laughs. He has a deep, belly shaking kind of laugh. He’s a bear of a man. I guess that’s why he’s a linebacker. I feel ridiculous standing next to him – all 5’4 of me next to his 6’4-ish.

“Whatever, lady,” he says, winking at me.

“Ah. Got it. You didn’t have to answer, by the way.”

“Oh, it’s okay. I am so used to everyone around here knowing, that I’m rarely asked questions like that.”

“I was really just trying to figure out if you were single or not. I didn’t see a ring but you never know.”

I laugh, because I can’t help myself. I’m not sure how it’s possible that this terribly good looking man in front of me is flirting with me. I’m a single mother – with a toddler at that. “Yes, I’m single,” I say rolling my eyes. “Single parenthood is not usually high on the list of qualities most men are looking for, you know?”

“I’m not going to lie, I’ve been watching you for a while.”

“What does that mean?” I ask, suddenly a little weirded out.

“You’ve been making some waves in the city – with the winery and hiring Chef Silva.”

“Have I now?”

“Yeah. You pissed a lot of people off picking off the Chef from one of the hottest restaurants in town. I kept hearing your name come up and then a friend pointed you out to me at Mulligan’s a few months ago. I’ve been determined to meet you ever since.”

I laugh nervously. How is this even happening right now? “So you’re apparently into the food scene? Wine, too?”

“You could say that. I am hoping to end my football career soon and open a restaurant. I have an Associates from the CIA in St. Helena. They’ve been very patient with my weird lifestyle. I’m also a sommelier. My original degree was in Business Administration. I have big plans for rocking the boat when I retire. So yeah – anyone who shows up on the food and wine scene that rocks the boat, attracts my attention. Mostly because you came out of nowhere.”

“I do like to rock the boat. That is for certain.”

“I can tell. Today has been fantastic. And the food is incredible. You’ve got something really incredible here. The thing is, I think you’ve got way more in you than this. This is the start of a hospitality empire,” he says. Now I’m not certain if he’s attracted to me or he wants to go into business with me.

Either way, I’m intrigued.

NC’s High Country

Here’s something you should know about me – if I could pick between shopping in a tourist trap town, that’s crowded and camping somewhere quiet – I’d pick camping. There are definitely things I enjoy about life in a busy city. I always will. But today – the difference between the tourist-filled downtowns of Boone & Blowing Rock and yesterday’s visit to the Yadkin Valley and today’s trip along part of the Blue Ridge Parkway is a no question, easy choice for me. Give me a laid back place to hang out, or time in nature and I’m good. The winery we stopped at today didn’t have the best wine (I only had one glass didn’t do a tasting). But it is a fun place to hang out – with seating along the Watauga river. They had some live music and a food truck. That’s more my scene, versus the crazy busy downtown of Boone & Blowing Rock. Can you tell I’m an introvert? High point of today? I found a spot I’m dying to camp at now – along Price Lake on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Gorgeous! Now that is a vacay.

Yadkin Valley Wine Region

In case you’re wondering – the Yadkin Valley Wine Region in North Carolina is beautiful. My mom & I drove through some gorgeous countryside today. We are staying in Boone but made a detour to wine country. I can’t wait to make a trip again (to stay longer). I plan on sharing a few more details when I get home. But for now, here’s a few photos from Shelton Vineyard & Winery.

Steadying Yourself in the Waves

Roaring Rivers Vineyard and Winery, Roaring Rivers Vineyards, elaina m. avalos, elaina avalos
Roaring Rivers Vineyard – our third stop tomorrow!

Do you know what I am? I am beat. It has been the longest two years of my life. I know everyone was sick of 2020 and pandemic life. It has been hard. I’m emotionally beat down and exhausted. I sometimes can’t see past the craziness that has been all around me at every turn. I don’t share much here about my professional life. But between what happened with my {foster} son, his family, and the last year at work, I am burned out.

One of the things therapy has been reminding me is that I can steady myself in the waves, even though it sometimes seems impossible. What I really want is for the waves to stop – to give me a chance to recover between the hits. They just don’t. That’s not life, friends. If you read here much, you may have noticed I love the ocean. What is true of the sea is that the waves don’t stop. They’re constant. This is comforting in many ways. But when thinking about them as problems or struggles in life, it can feel a little overwhelming. I can’t stop them from coming. And if I try, I’m going to be extremely disappointed to say the least. The key is to figure out how to steady myself in the waves as they come.

I’m working on it. I’m getting better and better at it all of the time. But some of it requires me simply shrugging my shoulders and saying, “Sorry. I can’t do that right now.” Or, in my head, while dealing with a toxic sort of soul, let him think and do what he will. He can control many things – but he can’t control my reactions. Other ways I’m dealing with the crazy: taking vacation days, having “I think I’m going to . . . ” kind of days – where I just do the little things that give me joy, writing, and staying in bed on days when it seems like I can’t eek out another minute in all this toxic craziness. These are all life giving to me.

Shelton Vineyard and Winery, Shelton winery, elaina m. avalos, elaina avalos
Shelton Vineyards – Our first stop!

So . . . this trip is a little impractical due to what I’ll call a work project. But I need it. Have you ever just needed something or someone and you just . . . you just gotta go for it? That’s me these days. So while the waves keep coming, I’m finding the ways to steady myself. And I’m going after what I want. I mean, if I don’t go for it – for my life – who will?

I am looking forward to my little weekend getaway. But more than just the weekend itself, I’m considering this the start to an amazing year.

grassy creek vineyard, bailey batten photography, elaina m. avalos, elaina avalos
Stop numero dos – Grassy Creek Vineyard & Winery (they have some trails I want to check out too).

What are the ways you steady yourself in the waves? I share because I know there are others struggling and there’s no point to going through hard times if we can’t share our experiences with others.

50 by 50

Anne Lamott, Elaina M. Avalos, elaina avalos, 50 by 50

In April 2026, I will turn 50. This year feels like a big birthday, as I turn 45. But gosh, there’s a lot I’ve still got to do before hitting 45 and six weeks won’t do it. So, after a friend posted about her 40 before 40 (that she’s now added a few more items onto for 50 before 50), I’ve decided that I’m going to join in the fun. I am not sure how long it will take me to come up with the full list. Some of this might be ridiculous stuff, big stuff, or things that only matter to me, but I’m starting to work on this list now. I may keep some private. But, I’ll share periodic updates. What would you add to my list? Have you ever done something like this for a milestone birthday? I’d love to hear all about it!

1. Start camping again.
2. Travel to France or Scotland for my 50th birthday (I mean, I’ll take sooner too).
3. Trip to the NC mountains in the autumn.
4. Trip to upstate New York to meet family & see where my grandparents grew up & my mom lived.
5. Fall in love.
6. Start a family. I hear I’m kind of late on this one. Whatever.
7. Get a book contract.
8. Learn Spanish. Like really learn Spanish.
9. Take a dance class (salsa, ballroom, etc).
10. Go to the Pat Conroy Literary Festival in Beaufort, SC.
11. Attend one of the wine dinners at the Beaufort (NC) Wine & Food Festival.
12. Take at least one random (can be a quick day-trip) road trip every few months.
13. Eat at Chef & the Farmer again.
14. Take a few of Chef Marcela’s cooking classes.
15. Western NC Winery Trip (preferably soon). 30 April-01 May 2021
16. Get back to Wolf Trap for a summer concert.
17. Convert website to business plan & learn (really learn) SEO.
18. Make good use of my ridiculous Pinterest time investment.
19. Get a little better with time management (don’t laugh).
20. Finally make a decision about what I want to be when I grow up.
21. Live in a pretty little home with my dream backyard & grow lots of veggies, herbs, and fruit.
22. Hit my target weight (and stay there). I’m on my way having lost 18 pounds so far.
23. Dedicate more time to painting & crafty mccrafterson activities.
24. Cook my way through Deep Run Roots by Chef Vivian Howard (see #13 – that’s her restaurant).
25. Cook my way through Mastering the Art of French Cooking. I own both books but haven’t cooked enough in either.
26. Get a tattoo.
27. Go skydiving.
28. Get a wedding planning & event planning certificate.
29. Go to Indochine (Thai/Vietnamese restaurant in Wilmington, NC).
30. Visit Ocracoke Island & go shelling.

Okay, I think I have to take a break there. I am sure I have more things to add to my list!