Tag Archives: California

Hasta La Vista, Sobre Vista

This year marks the fortieth anniversary of my life as well as (much more interestingly) the lives of five of my high school girlfriends. To celebrate this coming-of-middle-age, we decided to plan a trip to Sonoma and Napa Valley, California, so we could ring in the year the right way: with wine.

A handmade gift from Julie's husband, Jeremy

A handmade gift from Julie’s husband, Jeremy, that is filled with sparkling rosé, because what else would make sense? Juice? Water??! That’s crazy talk.

One of these amazing women couldn’t make the trip because, honestly, she’s too amazing. Truth. This friend, Mary, and her husband are opening a Goddard School in Skokie, and it just so happened that the week we’d scheduled our trip was the busiest week they would have until they open their doors this August. So, please be aware that we dedicated our trip to her, and this post is dedicated to her as well. And for her actual birthday in a couple of weeks, we’ll probably kidnap her and force-feed her wine (this will not be necessary; she will drink it willingly) until we forget that we’re forty(ish).

With the tremendous planning skills of the group (minus me, because I didn’t really do anything except pack a bag and show up), we had a terrific four-day trip together. Here’s how it all went down.

Tuesday Night

I spent the night with Lisa and her husband, Matt, because our flight left early Wednesday morning and they’re just a fifteen minute taxi to the airport (at 5 a.m…). This meant that I got to witness Lisa’s spectacularly organized packing method, hang out with their dog, Cholula, and sleep in their guest Murphy Bed.

This is good organization.

This is good organization.

Cholula Sleeps

This is a cute dog.

This is comfortable.

This is a comfortable place to sleep, and it folds up into the wall. Bonus.

Basically, I could have gone back home the next day and still been happy.

But, no! We had…

Wednesday

Lisa and I met up with Julie at O’Hare for our flight, and then once we landed in San Francisco, we met up with Megan, who had flown in from Philadelphia.

Megs and Lisa at the Airport

Megs and Lisa at the Airport

The four of us met Amy at the rental car place, and then we hit the road to Sonoma, where we were staying on Sobre Vista Road, overlooking the Enchanted Hills. Seriously.

Golden GateSobre Vista FrontWe stopped for provisions along the way so the kitchen would be stocked when we needed it (first on our grocery list was cheese, then more cheese, then some fruit, some bread, and then, finally, some cheese). But we had a few hours to spare until our dinner reservation, so we decided to hit up a winery, and we chose Buena Vista Winery. We chose well.

Our tasting room bartender was Dapper Don (maybe “Dapper” isn’t his given name, but, whatever) and he treated us to a one-of-a-kind experience. We walked in just an hour before closing, so when we were finished with our tasting and the winery was closing up for the day, Don took us on an unofficial tour of the Bubble Lounge (bubbles only are allowed!) and the barrel cave, where Megan may or may not have schooled him on the piano.

Buena Vista Tasting Room and Bubble Lounge -- We made some weird friends.

Buena Vista Tasting Room and Bubble Lounge — We made some weird friends.

Me and a Leopard

Hi, leopard friend.

Dapper Don Plays Piano

Don started playing…

Megs Plays Piano

…and when he was finished, Megan showed him how it was really done.

Buena Vista PatioBy this time, we were pretty hungry for dinner, so we headed to downtown Sonoma. But we were still too early for our reservation at The Girl and the Fig, so we had one more glass of wine at the Roche Winery tasting room, where we didn’t take any pictures, but it’s possible we broke a glass. It was fun.

Now, let’s talk about dinner. No, we’re not going to talk about the gorgeous mussels we ate, or the beautiful cheese plate (do you understand by now that we like cheese?), or the carrot entree I ordered and ate and am fantasizing about eating again right now because it was so good. No, let’s talk about the waiter, one Russell Sage — if that is his real name.

If you’re thinking that this distinguished gentleman was our waiter at The Girl and the Fig, you would be, unfortunately, wrong:

Our Russell Sage was a man who liked to wear cologne, who seemed to really like forty-year-old women, and who liked to lean in. He leaned in a lot.

Russell leaning in

Russell liked to lean. Julie does not look comfortable with this.

He was also a man who felt inclined to invite himself to our house to swim in our pool, and then leave his phone number on our check, in case we were motivated to call him. Oh, Russell. You’re not going to swim in our pool.

Now, if you think that Russell provided the only strange waiter experience we had at The Girl and the Fig, you would be stone cold wrong. There was also Geoffrey, whose name I know how to spell because he said he was “like Chaucer,” as he filled up our water glasses. And Geoffrey felt inclined to follow us out after our meal and sing “Happy Birthday” to us on the sidewalk in front of the restaurant. We. Did. Not. Know. What. To. Do.

#awkward

GEOFFREY, WHAT IS HAPPENING? Julie, again, does not look comfortable.

So we just let him sing, and then after he went back into the restaurant and we waited for our car to pick us up, we tried to ignore Russell Sage waving at us through the window.

Thursday

Thursday was our big Napa Valley winery day. Lisa had taken care of making us reservations at four different spots, and Amy had taken care of getting Mike the driver to take us around so none of us had to be responsible for operating a motor vehicle.

We started the morning with sparkling wine at Mumm Napa. The view was perfect, our waiter was a normal human person who didn’t sing to us or lean in at us, and, honestly, who wouldn’t want to start the day with bubbles? Probably some people, but not us. No, not us.

Mumms CoastersAfter Mumm, we headed to our unanimous favorite, Frog’s Leap Winery, where we did a little tasting…

Frog's Leap Tasting Table…we met a dog named Abbie…

Abbie at Frog's Leap

Abbie parked herself underneath my leg and I could not have been happier to give her a ten-minute belly rub.

…we did some thinking…

Megs at Frog's Leap

…and a little light reading:

Napa Valley Then and Now

We didn’t want to leave Frog’s Leap, but, alas, we had to. Cakebread Cellars was waiting for us.

Cakebread Tasting Menu

Our time at Cakebread was pleasant, but a bit rushed. They didn’t let us sit down for our tasting, and our guide hustled us through the wines like it was her job (I guess because it was her job). But we met two lovely young couples — one from St. Louis and another from Dallas — and we drank some good wine.

Our last stop on our wine-whirlwind was Chimney Rock, and this one was special.

Chimney Rock

At Chimney Rock, we got a guide named Donna, and Donna was the queen. She. Was. The. Queen.

Donna took us out to the vineyards to look at the crops, talk about the history of the winery and the property, and to take some pictures — with and without her finger near the lens:

Donna's Pictures

Donna was an excellent guide and gave us a lot of great information about the head wine-ista (this might not be her actual title), Elizabeth, and she showed us the ins and outs of the facilities.

Amy gets the low-down from Donna

Amy got the low-down from Donna

Julie tried to figure out why her glass was empty

Julie tried to figure out why her glass was empty

Lisa contemplates stealing a barrel of wine

Lisa contemplated stealing a barrel of wine

We challenge the Chimney Rock employees to a game of five-on-five, and we beat them soundly (obviously there are no pictures of this because we were playing)

We challenged the Chimney Rock employees to a game of five-on-five, and we beat them soundly (obviously there are no pictures of this because it’s hard to take pictures and hit three-pointers at the same time, and I was clearly just focused on hitting three-pointers)

And then Donna gave us some wine.

Chimney Rock MenuChimney Rock Tasting Room

We took a group picture at three of our four stops — I think we didn’t get one at Frog’s Leap because we were having such a good time there.

Napa Valley Group Pictures Thursday

At the end of the day, we went home to hang around the house, chat, and drink all of the wine we’d bought that day.

Friday

Friday was our day of relaxation around the house, so we didn’t have too many adventures. Early in the day, we discovered that the owners of the house were likely watching us from their Sliver-like monitor room in some undisclosed location.

We found this camera...

We found this camera…

…and imagined this. (Image credit)

But after a bit of discomfort, we relaxed and did some swimming, some floating, some reading, and some napping. Whoever had to watch that boring video, I say, ha, sucker!

Megan reads, and then naps

Megan reads, and then naps

Lisa swims

Lisa swims

And I float

And I float

Saturday

By Saturday, we were ready to leave the house again, so we hit up a couple of wineries: Imagery Estate Winery, where we enjoyed some wine on the patio, and B.R. Cohn, where we ate some pre-lunch oysters.

And once our oysters were digested, we were hun-gree, so we headed back toward our neighborhood and to Juanita Juanita, a restaurant we’d been steered toward by our server at Frog’s Leap. And as soon as we got in, we knew we were in the best place. Kate, the owner’s daughter, helped us right away and was as friendly as could be. And when she learned that we were in California to celebrate our birthdays, she told us that it was, in fact, her actual birthday. So, of course, we loved her and joined in to help everyone sing her happy birthday, and Lisa tried to buy her a drink, but Kate told us that because her mom owns the place she’d been drinking there for free since she was fifteen. But she appreciated the gesture.

Everyone there was great, and the food was stupendous. Amy made a friend named Wyatt, who talked to her about his baseball card collection,

Amy and Wyatt

and we all appreciated the piñatas (although not as much as I appreciated the fish tacos).

Juanita Juanita Pinatas

But the best part of eating at Juanita Juanita and befriending Kate and the rest of the crew there was that when their friend Jesse, an off-duty cab driver, came in to hang out, we quickly convinced him to take us the two miles back to our house.

See, it’s not easy to get a fast Uber or a Lyft in Sonoma that fits five people, or one at all. We were looking at a wait time of at least thirty minutes, if ever, and while we loved Juanita Juanita, we were ready to head home. So we were discussing our problem when Jesse walked in and Kate told us he was a cab driver. We nearly pounced on him and the poor man tried to fend us off by telling us he had his personal car, not his cab. We didn’t care. We gave him some cash and a lot of toothy smiles, and he relented to take us.

He had to move his kid’s car seat, and Lisa had to ride in the way, way back, but Jesse was clearly the right driver for us.

Jesse's Cassette Tape

It would have only been better if it’d been a Guns N’ Roses tape.

Lisa in the way, way back

Lisa in the way, way back

He got us home quickly and with no problems, and we were left to spend the rest of the afternoon and the evening hanging around at the house, wishing we weren’t leaving the next day.

Amy and Lisa did some wine-yoga; it's all the rage in Sonoma.

Amy and Lisa did some wine-yoga; it’s all the rage in Sonoma.

Sunday

And on Sunday, we left. We woke up and watched the sun come up over the Enchanted Hills, and then headed to the airport.

Sobre Vista Sunrise

We said our goodbyes to Megan outside of our gate, and then we had an uneventful trip back to Chicago. We were subdued at baggage claim and then all went our separate ways, wine in our luggage, tired smiles on our faces.

Roo and Trevor picked me and to take me back to Camp Crystal Lake

Roo and Trevor picked me and to take me back to Camp Crystal Lake

And that was our trip! It was wonderful, we missed our friend Mary like crazy, and we are going to have to recuperate for the next five years until we’re ready to celebrate being forty-five. We’ve already decided that Key West might be our next destination, so, Florida, please start the preparations.

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Trippy

Last weekend Trevor and I took a trip to Indianapolis. The trip was T.’s belated birthday gift because our primary destination was the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library, but we made it a weekend full of wandering, cocktails, and small-dose luxury.

We started out Saturday morning with breakfast at Milktooth, a hipster heaven that had been recommended by T.’s coworker Leah. I had an a-maAAAaaaazing duck-egg grilled cheese (oh, you know, just a Gruyère grilled cheese on cranberry bread topped with a fried duck egg and drizzled with black truffle honey [OH MY GOD]). Trevor had something that was equally wonderful but I can’t remember what because all I remember is my grilled cheese sandwich. It. was. so. good. No pictures were taken during our meal because, well, because I had to immediately start eating my food. Because, cheese.

But while we waited for our table, T. made our first Vonnegut sighting and got a picture.

Vonnegut saying 'hi' while we wait for breakfast.

Vonnegut saying ‘hi’ while we wait for breakfast.

Vonnegut Sighting

After we ate, we headed to the KVML, but it wasn’t yet open because I’d been looking at their weekday operating hours, and it was Saturday. We had about twenty minutes to kill, so we wandered to the Indiana State Capitol just a few blocks away.

Instead of joining a tour, we just meandered up and down the floors and through the hallways, reading plaques and enjoying the loveliness and quiet of a 128 year-old bureaucratic building on a Saturday morning.

Indiana State Capital Atrium

Indianapolis Capitol Dome

Indiana AnimalsBut the best part of visiting the Capitol came as we were leaving. Since it was a Saturday, visitors had to come in through a side entrance on the lower level and take an elevator up to the main floor. The lower level — the basement — was dark and had a lot of hallways and ramps that just begged to be explored. Since the only security was in a hallway by the entrance, T. and I decided to peek around to see what we could see.

And we saw where the Indiana State Representatives and Senators wash their dirty laundry.

Capitol Basement 1

Yeah, we were really not supposed to be down there.

We saw where the Indiana Congress probably keeps any misbehaving guests.

They're behind this padlocked door.

They’re behind this padlocked door.

We saw where the Senate Committee 130 meets. They’re clearly the least-liked of all the committees in the history of the state of Indiana.

This is an unfortunate meeting room.

This is an unfortunate meeting room.

And we saw that some of the people working in basement offices have a fun sense of humor.

The Propaganda Machine

We finished wandering and headed to the library, which was open and waiting for us.

A replica of his home writing area.

A replica of his home writing area.

The space is small but well curated, with artifacts from Vonnegut’s military career and his writing and reading life, his original artwork, and artwork inspired by his work and about his life. The docent on duty was great to talk to and gave me a lot of extra information about Vonnegut’s academic career. Although Vonnegut had done undergraduate work at a number of institutions, he never got a bachelor’s degree; and he only got his master’s degree (from UC, where he’d studied for his master’s in anthropology but never got his thesis finished or approved) after he was told by the University of Iowa, where he’d been teaching in its Writers’ Workshop, that he kind of, sort of needed to have a degree to teach graduate classes. Oh, bother.

Kurt Vonnegut Memorial Library

After we exhausted the library, we headed back to our hotel to rest up before we got to formally relax with a massage at the hotel spa. This is a luxury we’ve enjoyed three times now — first for our anniversary and then as part of a Christmas present from Greg and Paula a few year ago — and it’s so much fun. We felt very fancy, drinking strawberry water and taking “aromatherapy journeys,” and we took zero pictures.

Saturday night we had dinner and drinks in the Fountain Square neighborhood. Highlights included cocktails at a Vonnegut inspired place called Bluebeard and an accidental run-in with the Virginia Avenue Folk Fest. It was a chilly night, so we didn’t hang out too long for many of the bands, but on every block there was some group playing something toe-tapping. One in particular, The Hammer & The Hatchet, who were playing outside of a little shop called American Beauty, were especially great. We came upon them when they were playing their last few songs, and we enjoyed each one. It reminded me of when T. and I were on our honeymoon in Spain, and, while wandering the streets our first night in Barcelona, we came upon a sort-of Spanish polka band playing in a square outside of a cathedral. There was a group of people surrounding them and everyone was dancing and laughing and having a wonderful time. So now I love The Hammer & The Hatchet because they made me happily nostalgic.

And that was our trip to Indianapolis!

But taking the trip and planning this blog post reminded me that I’d never written about our trip to Los Angeles in February, so you’re going to read about that, too. Ha, suckers!

The L.A. trip was piggy-backed onto a trip T. was taking for work. He’d been out there with Callie and Leah for the week to work on the Dad Time project, and when my last class ended Thursday afternoon, I headed to California to join him for the weekend.

Clearly, because we are who we are, books were a part of this vacation, and we went to the art book fair at the Geffen Museum of Contemporary Art. We spent a number of hours wandering around, and both of us found great stuff for our bookshelves.

T at Art Fair

Yes, that’s a slap-bracelet displayed on a potato in the foreground.

Art Fair

Art.

We also took an opportunity to visit some friends who live in L.A. Our first night we met up with a former student of mine named Arabella, who is working as a writer and having a lot of success. I am the most proud of her that I possibly can be. Even if she was just living in L.A. and working as a cat-sitter and trying to make it, I would be proud; but she’s, like, doing it. She was in the first creative writing class I ever taught at MCC, and she was my editor for the literary magazine for two years. She’s talented, smart, and, basically, the bee’s knees.

I didn’t take a picture of us in L.A., but here she is in my end-of-year class photo from 2009:

Creative Writing, McHenry County College, 2009

Creative Writing, McHenry County College, 2009

Our second night we hung for a bit out with my friend Tim (who I know from my days at Chicago Shakespeare Theater) and his wife Annie. We hadn’t seen them since our wedding in 2007; they moved out to L.A. the following year to see if Tim could be successful in Hollywood. And, well, he pretty much is. Annie teaches theater at a high school for the arts, and they have two cool little kids, who we got to meet for the first time. It was nice to catch up.

We also did our fair share of wandering, and the best place we found to people (and animal) watch was Venice Beach. We saw some birds.

Birds of Venice Beach

Birds of Venice Beach

Bird man.

Bird man.

We saw some surfers.

And we saw some skaters. They were hypnotizing and I could have watched them for hours and hours and hours and been very happy, listening to the sound of their wheels rolling back and forth on the concrete.

We saw some yard art and walked along the canals, and loved it all, even though our feet were tired.

Venice Beach LegsT on Canal

And our last night, while we made our way through other neighborhoods, we came upon the Hollywood headquarters of the Church of Scientology…

Church of Scientology

We were in a car so we couldn’t stop to creep around it.

…and the Echo Park Time Travel Mart.

Echo Park Time Travel Mart

Unfortunately, we found it after business hours. We will need to come back to Echo Park again soon.

Los Angeles is pretty weird and pretty wonderful.

So those were our trips! We have other news from Camp Crystal Lake that I’ll report out in other posts over the coming weeks, and I’ll be running another online writing group this summer, so you’ll be reading a lot about that. Prepare yourselves!