Counting Down to Vacation

When I leave work on Friday, I will be on vacay until May 2nd. I cannot wait. I am counting down to vacation.

I’m on my back patio as I write this. It’s 7:10 and I should be starting my Sunday evening routine. But I am not ready for Monday and so I’m sitting here as the wind blows through the trees and as my playlist , plays – pretending it’s not time for me to wind down. The good news is, when I get home from work in the early evening and it’s still light out – I will make my way back out there.

So what happens on vacation? Rest. Projects at home. Writing. And the Beaufort Wine & Food Festival . This year, I’ve only bought tickets to one event. I’ll be volunteering at three others. I’m excited for that this year as something different.

Abby approves of the patio.

Speaking of wine – I’ve been making more deliberate choices when it comes to wine. I am choosing specific wines I’ve learned about through a variety of podcasts or on SOMM TV (yes, I subscribe to a streaming service about wine). Food & wine people are my favorite. Wine people more specifically. I adore them. When I used to attend wine dinners or wine tastings regularly, one thing I loved was how you could be with the most random people – from all walks of life – and have the best time even though you might initially think you don’t have anything in common. There is always, always something to find in common with folks.

Anyway…I’m working on being more deliberate in my choices when it comes to wine. But recently, I decided that I’d try a wine that I was drawn to only for it’s name. Hampton Water. I mean, weird. It’s a French rosé.

Hampton Water & its annoying glass “cork.”

Here’s the thing, it has a glass cork. I’ve never seen this before. I literally had to watch a video to learn how to open the wine. But I didn’t just have to watch a video, after the second time trying to open it (took me a half hour), I left it open on the counter – refusing to cork it again. Lol. “Vivino” – an app I use – decided that I would like this bottle and expected me to rate it 4.0 stars. I did not rate it 4 stars. I rated it 3. But now that I’m several days from trying it, I’m not sure if I rated it 3 because it wasn’t great or because I was so annoyed at how hard it was to open. I’m leaning toward the latter. I may try it again (if someone else opens it).

This guy is not bad. It’s on the cheaper end of what I’ve buying lately. But I have been enjoying it more than the more expensive Hampton Water. I love the stories that accompany the wines I’ve been choosing. And though I didn’t choose this Bordeaux wine for its story, choosing a wine with a high price point or its bottle or name is pretty pointless. I’d much rather drink a “cheaper” bottle over a trendier wine, at a higher price point – if I don’t enjoy it. Seems like a no-brainer, right? But people are out there doing that and it seems pointless.

Instead, move to where you want to live, do what you want to do, start what you want to start, and create the life you want to live today.

Dale Partridge

As I head into my last five days before a break of nine days, I am determined – more now than ever before – to create a life that I don’t feel a desperate need to get away from. It’s a phrase used frequently. I think it’s probably seen as cliché-ish, but as with many things that get overused – there’s still some truth to it.

My goal in the coming weeks and moths is to do just that.

P.S. Another 50 by 50 goal – learn how to make my own wine!

Neurons That Fire Together…

Neurons that fire together, wire together. ~ Donald Hebb

This is another one of those random rambling posts . . .

  1. Donald Hebb, a neuropsychologist said “Neurons that fire together, wire together,” many years ago. Essentially, it describes the process of neural pathways being formed and reinforced, in your brain, over time. This can be a positive thing. It can be a negative thing. Ultimately, it does highlight the power of our brains and our ability to positively change negative thought patterns or habits that hold us back. I’ve been working on this. Primarily, my goal is to learn how to stay on track as the positive, person I was born to be – who delights in the little sweet things and serving & taking care of people – no matter what’s happening around me. I had a rough week this last week. I can see, from my vantage point of my comfy couch, on a Saturday evening, how much better the week would have gone, had I remembered to practice mindfulness and a little meditation when things were particularly challenging in several situations that were negative and beyond my ability to control. At the end of the day, we have the ability to remain calm, at peace, and focused where we want our energy focused – even when there is chaos and negativity around us.
Harvey W. Smith Watercraft Center, Beaufort, Beaufort NC, NC Maritime Museum, Beaufort Food & Wine, elaina avalos
Photo by…me, at the Wine, Bread, & Cheese Seminar in 2017.

2. April is my birth month. When I turned 40, I went to the Beaufort Wine & Food Festival (now referred to as the Beaufort Food & Wine Spring Festival – because there’s a fall event, too!) as a gift to myself. A friend bought me a ticket to one event, too. I went for several years and then missed out when I had kids in my home (foster care) & then COVID ruined 2020’s event. This is the first time I’ve been in a while and I am excited to attend the “Wine, Bread, & Cheese” seminar (a favorite). This time & because I am trying to move my way into the hospitality world, I’ve decided to volunteer at two other events. I’ll be volunteering at the Spring Soirée & the Vin de Mer Epicurean Village. I cannot wait. I’m taking the week off, too! Though it’s a month away, I’m already counting down the days.

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3. I love entertaining, hosting, cooking, and serving. I love the act of choosing wine to go with a meal I’m serving. I adore events with good food & great wine. Food & wine people are my fav. They are from all walks of life and when the drinks are flowing and the food is amazing, no one cares what you look like, where you come from, or what your degrees are or are not. I love when people attend my events and have a ton of fun or they’re so busy enjoying themselves, they don’t even know what time it is. When I’ve planned family events – like holiday parties, the best feeling (ever) was seeing our kids running around having a total blast. But even better was when I’d catch our young, single Marines, having fun (against their best efforts to have fun). My fav event ever, was when our Marines & families were so busy with stand up paddle boarding and kayaking, hiking, and enjoying our meal, they had no idea we were packing up to head home. Although it’s not talked about a lot, those who have a Christian faith, as I do, believe there are various gifts that we are given – by God. Hospitality is a “spiritual gift” and it’s one I have. One of the best feelings I have had in the last 11+ years in my current career, in addition to what I’ve already mentioned, is how often my “co-workers” told me they came to my office because it was so “peaceful.” They came for snacks, for a break in the quiet of my office, and because “it smells so good in here.” Haha. I got such a kick out of that. Hospitality – it’s a joy to me. I absolutely love welcoming people into my environment (whatever that may be). And though it may take a while, I know that my next career has that as its primary focus.

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5. Tonight, it’s this song . . .

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.