Right before the COVID-19 pandemic, I spent some time at the Miraval Resort (https://www.miravalresorts.com) in Austin, Texas and was blown away by the facilities, classes—everything from yoga to meditation to line dancing to Texas two-step– and the mindfulness philosophy that imbued everything from the food selections, rooms, and device rules.
I arrived home ready to revamp my life with a commitment to attending daily yoga classes, trying to find affordable massage, and moving way, way outside my comfort zone to sign up for dance classes. Also, I planned to keep my phone on do not disturb for most of the day. Like everyone else, my plans were upended. Studios shut down, everyday life ground to a halt, suffocating anxiety replaced my calm, and I ended up glued to my phone for every terrifying update.
Not ready to give up on the life-changing experience, I am working on bringing “Miraval Mode” home, and while it is more challenging to get up and meditate when I know the dishwasher has to be unloaded and I can hear my kids home from college setting up their Zoom lectures, I am trying to do at least two activities every day and I always feels a little more grounded after I am done.
So here is my best-of-Miraval quick start guide…everything (except the wonderful buffet of fresh, healthy food and chef-created entrees) that I loved and that I’m re-creating at home.
Find a morning meditation online, many are as short as 10 minutes. Get comfortable, light a candle, and give yourself up to the NOW. Something that I learned is that you do not have to be uncomfortable to meditate—Miraval offered nifty seats that had a back or cushions, I’ve macguyver’d my own seat with a cushion against the sofa for my back support.
Follow along to a Youtube yoga practice. I love that I can search for a specific level or area of concern and find a video. If for some reason, you don’t gel with your first selection, try another. There are many talented yoga instructors, and it’s worth finding one who speaks to you. Many studios are uploading videos to Facebook or making classes available on Zoom, too. Find a studio or teacher that you like? Consider buying an online gift card or, if available, making an online donation.
Create a labyrinth, inside or out. The purpose of a labyrinth is for mindful wandering. Start with an intention (or mantra) and keep your mind focused on that as you walk the path. Searching “labyrinths near me” may give you access to formal labyrinths, but it’s really the mindfulness that makes the exercise purposeful, so try these suggestions for in-home models.
If you have access to an uncrowded path through a forest, you can apply the same intention and enjoy Shinrin Yoku (or forest bathing). For an indoor labyrinth, you can use throw pillows or couch cushions (or stuffed animals for the wee ones). Outside you can use rocks or sticks lying around the yard or outdoor cushions. Indoors or out, the path should create a spiral with a center. Whether it’s a lack of room, bad weather, or you don’t want the neighbors watching you, when it’s not possible to create a physical labyrinth, you can trace a world-famous labyrinth with your finger.( https://zdi1.zd-cms.com/cms/res/files/382/ClassicalLabyrinth.pdf) Walk (or trace) the path and observe how your mind turns over the thoughts about your intention or mantra
Try a sound bath! There are many varieties available on Youtube, and you can choose from crystal bowls, Tibetan singing bowls, and some include the human voice. Lie down comfortably, a bolster or pillow under your knees can relieve some lower back pain, and listen. Our bodies are mostly water and we know that sound waves can move water, so lie back and observe its affect on you. Maybe you’re profoundly moved, or you think it’s a bunch of nonsense, but it’s a very relaxing way to spend some time.
Remember Eat, Pray, Love ? I began to read the book when it first came out in 2006, and can still remember putting it away in disgust (or jealousy) because I wanted to be a centered, joyful being, but with 4 kids aged three to ten, disappearing for a year was not in my grasp or even what I wanted. I wished I had stuck with it, or maybe it’s that those kids are mostly grown now and I can have a moment to myself to think, but re-reading (and finishing it) resonated with me on my trip to Miraval. I rewatched the movie, too, so if you only have an afternoon, enjoy it, but the book delves into the spiritual side more deeply and, I think, a little more gracefully. Come to think of it, re-reading the Pray section from her time in India would be a great way to snag some drive-by spirituality.
Massages are amazing, but in the #stayathome lifestyle, probably not professionally available. The internet to the rescue, of course, because you can Google articles and Youtube videos for massage tutorials (both for yourself and for others.) I wouldn’t get hung up on deep tissue massage techniques. The most amazing Ayurvedic treatment I’ve enjoyed was a heated oil massage that employed nothing more technical than firm strokes. I’d leave trigger point releases to the professionals.
Baths are an old standby for self-care and relaxation. If you are out of bath bombs, don’t fret. Epsom salt baths are known for their relaxation and relief of muscle soreness, and, best of all, available at the grocery store or pharmacy (and I don’t think they have been on the hoarders’ panic-buying list!) I’m not a fan of adding oil to the bath because I think it makes the bathtub hard to clean, but as long as I don’t have to clean your tub, add a few drops if you’d like. To dial in the retreat experience, make sure you have a big, fluffy towel within easy reach, lay out the lotion or body oil, dim or turn off the overhead lights, light some candles, pour a glass of wine (or non-alcoholic tonic—try cooled mint tea, lemon water, or sparkling water with a splash of juice), and cue some “spa music” or “relaxing music” on your Spotify search or maybe play a sound bath video on Youtube.
Floating in the water with the flickering candlelight and the relaxing sounds in the background so wholly absorbs the senses that it easy to slip into mindfulness and enjoy the present without worry about what is going on outside the bathroom door for a few minutes. Then my new favorite thing to do after a warm bath is to jump into a cool shower for just a minute or two before I dry off and apply lotion.
Yoga Nidra, or yogic sleeping, is a great way to wind down, but it’s not really sleeping. It’s a very relaxing guided meditation and I find it a great way to close the cabinet drawers of my mind before bed—for the paperless generation, it’s a way to close all the tabs that are open and get that music to shut off. Again, there are many Youtube practices that will guide you, in addition to Apps for yoga or meditation that will have a Nidra component. You simply lie on the floor (a bolster or pillow under your knees is great to release your lower back) and follow the guided meditation and work on your breath—And can I tell you how much I love closing my eyes and breathing with the virtuous halo of, “I’m not vegging out, I’m practicing yoga!”
Let’s stay sane, let’s stay kind to ourselves and others, and let’s stay home!
I’ve been battling plastic in our house for a few years now. It started with the number of half-empty water bottles four kids could leave strewn about the house (and rolling around my SUV). The other thing that killed me was the wasted flavored waters like Propel that were opened and never finished—so much money just being poured down the drain.
I initially tried to make the rule that at home, everyone had to get a glass and fill it with filtered water from the fridge and the bottled water was solely for transport. Alas, the siren song of those plastic water bottles in the garage proved too strong and I was the only one following it. So I bought everyone a distinctive, reusable 16 ounce water bottle from S’well for Christmas a few years ago and simply stopped buying any bottle water. It was astoundingly easy to make the switch. I found that I could buy Propel flavor packets to add to the water bottles and as someone who hates the non-taste of water, I was saved. The only drawbacks were an occasional line at the fridge to fill the bottles before school and some family members who started collections of drinking glasses on their bedside tables. My kids have upgraded to huge 32 ounce Hydroflasks, but I still rely on my bottle that fits in the car cupholder.
I love sparkling mineral water with dinner (and wine!) and as I transitioned away from plastic, I made sure to only buy mineral water in glass bottles. Then, my recycling company stopped accepting glass and designated all glass as garbage. They cited the lack of market for recycled glass—apparently it is easier and cheaper to make new glass than recycle. I debated whether to invest in a SodaStream Sparkling Water maker. I was unsure if I really loved the carbonation or the taste of the minerals in my San Pellegrino. The models I looked at were in the $120 range and I sat on the fence forever, and then I scored during a housewares reset of my local Wegman’s grocery store when I found a basic SodaStream set on clearance for an amazing $14.92!!! I like it (not love, but i feel the virtue out of not tossing bottles in the trash outweighs the meh flavor,) although, I haven’t had to replace the CO2 bottle yet.
After the hubbub about sea turtles and straws, I immediately switched to stainless steel straws. And, after a stomach-churning realization that the dishwasher doesn’t always get the straws clean, I also invested in straw cleaning brushes. It takes two seconds to give the straws a quick swipe with the brush and then put in dishwasher.
I’ve had reusable grocery bags for years. Beyond their environmental impact, I loved that they held more items and that meant fewer trips from the car to the kitchen. I didn’t love that I remembered them only after I was standing in the checkout line. They were either in my car or hanging in the garage. Then I made the commitment that if I forgot the bags, I would buy reusable bags in the grocery line. Since that promise to myself, I probably spent $10 on bags and I bring my bags so often that we’ve run out of the plastic grocery bags that seem breed in the pantry. I also will tuck a muslin tote in my purse for small purchases elsewhere—perfect for bookstores and drug stores!
To cut down on plastic in the pantry, I switched to paper sandwich bags for sandwiches, stainless steel Lunch Bots for crushable snacks, re-usable silicone bags for other items, and Bee’s Wrap re-usable wrap for well, wrapping food. I love everything, except the silicone bags. The bottom of the bags have a fold that retains water so it’s kind of a pain to dry one way and then turn the bag inside out to dry again. I’ve found that mason jars work as well for storing food and are super easy to clean (and dry!) in the dishwasher. I confess that I still use plastic bags and wrap if I’m storing raw meat, but it is so much less than before!
My other mission was to break our addition to paper products. We went through so many paper towels, mostly because it was easy—-I bought them in bulk and there was always a fresh roll waiting. I found reusable paper towels on Amazon and fell in love with them. The first set I bought for cleaning up were so thick and felt so nice with cheerful stitching, that I gave them duty as our new kitchen napkins. The next sets I purchased were single-ply material and perform better than a paper towel. Again, raw meat makes me pull out the paper towels and Clorox wipes, but I’ve been able to reset my Amazon subscription for paper towels from monthly to every 3 months, and I often skip a delivery! As someone who often feels overwhelmed with how much I have to do, using cloth napkins and towels hasn’t increased my laundry burden–the load of dishtowels I was already washing is a little bigger. I found the same thing with ditching the paper plates—in my head I thought using paper plates for sandwiches or when the kids have pizza with friends was a huge time-saver, but really it literally takes two seconds to put plates in the dishwasher!
Lessening our reliance on plastics in the bathroom is our ongoing project. My kids switched to bamboo toothbrushes and I use an electric toothbrush with a replaceable head. The girls have wholeheartedly switched to shampoo bars and soap bars in stead of liquid formulations in plastic bottles. I haven’t found a bar that I’ve been willing to trust my colored, high-lighted, low-lighted and smudged hair to–who knew it was so much work to have brown hair! I do suck it up and buy the 1000ml Oribe Gold Lust shampoo and conditioner so at least I’m using fewer plastic bottles. For shaving, I use a razor with a replaceable head and a bag refill of L’Occitane shower oil. For me, getting greener in the shower is still a work in progress.
As we are feeling the first taste of winter, my most unpopular green initiative will be the topic of family discussion until spring. I keep our thermostats set to 68 degrees. My barefoot, t-shirted children will complain that it is FREEZING in our house. I tell them to put on a sweatshirt and slippers and quit hating the Earth. Do you have any tips for a greener house?
Summer for many means packing for summer vacations, and for those with larger families or longer itineraries, finding the balance between having enough, occasion-appropriate outfits and not traveling like an episode of the Real Housewives takes planning and for me, lists! We recently returned from a tour of Italy with our four daughters, ages 16-23. Our on-the-ground (and on-the-water since we were in Venice!) transportation and tours were arranged by our travel company, Classic Journeys and we were able to move around Italy together in vans and sometimes, mini-busses. But despite having vans, we still had to be mindful of the amount of luggage we could bring and restricted the girls to one backpack and one suitcase, each. My husband brought a carryon suitcase where we packed a full outfit for every member in case our luggage didn’t make it, especially with our connection in Germany.
My kids have aged out of the mom-packs-my-suticase phase (chorus of Hallelujah, please!), but still needed some guidance. Our itinerary was a mixture of city walking tours, museum visits, biking tours, church visits with the attendant modesty requirements, and dinners at lovely restaurants. I decided to make two lists: a distilled version of itinerary with clothing requirements for that day and an overall packing list that included toiletries, etc. I had to come up with clothing descriptions to describe the kind of clothes that were appropriate for the day’s events. I decided on the categories of sport–athletic clothes, nice sport--shorts, rompers, skirts, day dresses that could be worn with sneakers, and dress–dresses, rompers, skirts, and skirts that could be worn with sandals.
Our itinerary changed slightly when we were on the ground in Italy (the Uffizi Gallery is actually closed on Mondays and there was a train strike), but it worked well enough. At the end of the post, I’ve included links to some of my must-haves that made this trip easier!
Italy 2019—-La dolce vita
Venice, Tuscany, Florence, the Italian Riviera, Genoa
Leave for airport by noon
Arrive in Venice
Walking tour with church visit (nice sport–needs to be more modest outfit-shoulders covered, no short shorts)—1:30pm
Welcome dinner with guide—dress
Tour Murano, Burano, and Torcello—islands of Venice
Boat ride and walking tour—nice sport, but maybe not a dress since you will be climbing in and out of boat
Family dinner —dress
Friday—Villa Le Barone
Train to Florence, then onto Chianti—nice sport
Walking tour of villa estate with hosts
Afternoon by pool
Dinner with hosts—dress
Bike ride through Tuscan countryside to Monteriggioni—sport
Return to hotel and then walking tour of San Gimignano
Dinner with guide—nice sport or dress
Walking tour of Siena—nice sport
Family dinner (probably at villa)
Monday—Antica Torre di via Tornabuoni
Walking tour of Florence and visit Uffizi gallery and Leonardo di Vinci exhibit—-nice sport
Cooking class for dinner
Tuesday—-Grand Hotel Miramare
Morning in Florenceto see David—sport, but maybe modest
Bike tour of Lucia
Drive to Italian Riviera
Dinner with guide—dress or nice sport
Train and then hiking tour of Cinque Terre—sport and looks like our most strenuous day
Opportunity to swim (?)—pack swimsuits in day bag, get more info on the ground
Family (birthday) dinner—dress
Walking tour of Portofino– nice sport
Boat ride on coast
Dinner with guide—dress
Relax in Portofino in morning
Private ½ day boat ride (2-6pm)—swimsuit and coverup
*finalize plans with concierge to get to boat tour
Saturday—Hotel Bristol Palace
Travel to Genoa—nice sport
Day on our own
Sunday, July 28
Depart for airport
Our itemized packing lists:
Carry-on (everyone except my husband used backpacks as carryons in case we had to hold them in our laps if the transportation vans did not have enough cargo room for our luggage)
2 pairs of panties
1 extra bra so that on your person and in bag you have 1 sports bra and 1 regular bra
1 pair of socks (and make sure you wear socks to the airport)
1 top that matches bottoms you wear on plane
Birks or sneakers (wear one and bring the other)
Swimsuit and coverup
Pillow for plane
Toiletry bag from mom – I will prepare and give to everyone
- Face wipe—a makeup remover wipe and a face wipe, I love these for travel
- Body wipe
- Anti-bac wipe (for hands)
- Clorox wipes (for wiping down airplane seat and tray)
- Vitamin c gummies (for an immunity boost)
I knew we would get an amenity bag from the airline with toothbrushes and toothpaste, but I would have added that to the toiletry bag if we had not.
Make-up bag as needed
What I added to mine:
two large scarves- used as extra blankets or rolled as an extra pillow on plane and then as a shawl to cover up shoulders or wrapped around waists to cover up thighs in churches. I kept the scarves in my backpack all trip. Sometimes, you stumble upon a church or the church was not explicitly in the itinerary and the scarves were extremely helpful to meet the modesty standards.
mini mom-pharm–Pepto Bismol, Dramamine, pads, tampons, Tums, Advil, Band-aids
Shout wipes – nothing makes me feel more out-of-sorts than a dribble of something on my shirt or pants, and I keep these wipes with me at all times!
Family carry on—give to me (this was my husband’s)
1 outfit – top, bottom, socks
In addition to items in carryon,
Pack in your suitcase
Make-up as needed
2 plastic bags for dirty or wet clothes
Pads and tampons—even if you are not due! (Lessons learned from traveling with 5 women)
Rain poncho or jacket
4 pairs of panties
1 regular bra
2 sports bras
4 pairs of socks
1 pair of sandals
Long sleeve sunshirt—-for sun and bring for modesty in churches, etc
Sun hat or baseball hat
You should have:
3 sporty outfits for strenuous activity like hiking and biking
Tops and bottoms—they need to be comfortable and wicking
3 nicer sport outfits for walking tours
Can be shorts and tops, or skorts, t-shirt dresses, denim or twill shorts, but need to wear sneakers with the outfit
3 dress outfits
Dresses, rompers, jumpsuits, can be worn with sandals
With this packing list, you will have:
The outfit you wear on plane
The outfit you pack in family carryon
3 nice sport
= 11 outfits which is plenty
Additional items, but has to fit in suitcase and weigh under restriction
We will try to do laundry in Chianti on7/20 and 7/25—-not everything, but a few things. note: we were unable to do laundry in Chianti, but I was able to hand wash items so that we made it to Santa Margherita. Performance fabrics are perfect because they dry so quickly!
I followed the same packing list, but added
the mom pharmacy: Benadryl, Benadryl topical stick, Neosporin, Sudafed, DayQuil and NyQuil, Pepto-Bismol, Immodium AD, Dramamine, more Band-aids
Razors for all
extra toothbrushes and toothpaste in case someone left theirs behind in a hotel change
laundry detergent (I always bring, because you never know!)
With these lists and planning, the only thing we had to buy in Italy was more motion-sickness medicine. I underestimated the twisting hills of Tuscany and its effect on my kids during the van rides. Two of them are prone to motion sickness, but the other two became nauseous during the long rides and they used up my stock. But it was close, we only needed two doses for the airplane ride home. It was definitely worth the time to plan, list, and organize our packing so we were able to spend our time sightseeing and not trying to find more socks. What travel tips do you swear by?
The following links are for the products that I loved having on this trip. I was not compensated in any way — I just want to share what worked for us!
Face wipes— I love these wipes from Lauren Napier because they are individually wrapped, so they don’t dry out out between trips. I bring them on plane trips and to field hockey tournaments. https://www.laurennapier.com/shop/91o5j7nfjyd6c74mvdttcq2x6vev1a
Body wipes–My favorite are from Yuni, available at Target, and are individually wrapped, so I was able to give everyone their own.
Vitamin C gummies– My husband swears by the Emergen-C packets that you add to water, but the kids and I prefer the gummies!
Shout wipes–I carry these when I travel, in my purse, and in my car. The wipes do an amazing job of cleaning up dribbles and they have never left a ring around the spot I cleaned!
Updated for 2019!
Head to head Italian Rosé is light, crisp, and very drinkable. It is lovely on its own, and will complement food wonderfully. I was introduced to Head to Head at a rosé tasting and it was served with a corn fritter—the wine held up to the savoriness of the fried batter and balanced the sweetness of the corn.
Chåteau de Bergun Bordeaux Rosé is a fuller bodied wine than a Provencal Rosé and it went great with pasta! If you are looking for a rosé with less astringency, this is a great choice!
Martin Estate Rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon is a tad sweeter than other rosé s(but certainly nothing that would cause flashbacks to white zinfandel ) and is fantastic with salty snacks. My favorite poolside charcuterie platter is prosciutto, aged gruyere, and kettle-cooked potato chips with a glass of Martin Rosé.
Can a can wine be tasty?
Better Wine Company’s dry rosé cider is only 90 calories for a 250ml can, and is refreshing, but definitely falls in the cider camp. If you love a true rosé, this might not be your can of wine.
Mancan rosé, available in a 375 ml can, may become my go-to for pool wine. I don’t have to worry about a bottle breaking poolside, the aluminum is recyclable, and I love the size!
I’ll be tasting all summer!
My favorite rose´is Caldwell’s Joy, a heavenly rose´of Syrah with an astronomical price tag–around $70 a bottle–so there’s no all-day party at that price point for me! Fortunately, it’s not hard to find a delicious supermarket rose´ that delivers the flavor of summer with a price as tiny as a Kardashian bikini.
My faves under $15
French Blue rose´ of Bordeaux is my go-to bottle because it has enough structure to stand up to summer fare like grilled chicken and salads, but can also segue into heartier wines when used as an aperitif.
Marval rose´is perfect for beach or poolside parties because 1. it has a spout for serving and a handy spot for hanging and 2. you get 1.5 liters for about $15!
Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve rose´is very light and fruity, but not too sweet!
Pool Boy Cotes de Provence rose´ could be the ultimate poolside accessory with its plastic bottle and handy screw top. #safetywine
Summer Water rose´is fruity, light, and crisp, and my favorite wine with sushi and a tuna poke bowl!
Charles and Charles rose´is the steal of the summer at 10 bucks! Crisp and tangy it is the perfect glass for lounging in the sun. I love it with aged cheese and something salty!
We’ve just returned from our fourth trip to Napa and our first time venturing deep into Sonoma County. So much wine and food, and it seems like the more you go, the more places you discover to visit on your next trip!
On our last trip to Napa, snarled Friday night traffic dashed our dreams of hitting the retail store at Shafer Vineyards before its 4pm closing time, but this time, we got our two-limit bottles of Hillside Select cab. My husband was a teensy bit disappointed that Shafer hadn’t released the 2015s yet, but I’ll never give the side eye to a bottle of Hillside Select.
Our suite at Silverado Resort wasn’t ready when we checked in at 3:30, so we headed to the bar. Hess Vineyards was having a tasting of the Liontamer Cab and that was nice. We ordered some appetizers and looked over the wine list, and nothing struck our fancy…and that bottle of Hillside Select was burning a hole in its (very bougie, btw) wine bag. For a $25 corkage fee we popped one of our bottles and enjoyed the appetizers.
One of our traditions has become the first night dinner at Ciccio’s in Yountville. Ciccio’s doesn’t accept reservations, and even with a 5:15 arrival, the only table for two was at the small community table. Basically a table for four with a divider like a study carrel in the middle, we ended up chatting with our tablemates throughout dinner and what a dinner! My husband and I went with the three-course prix fixe. We started with the snap pea Caesar salad, followed by pea tendrils al forno, and the most amazing cacio é pepe I’ve ever had stateside. With dinner we each had a glass of Cab from Ciccio’s own Altamura vineyards.
Ready to start Napacalypse IV in earnest, we met out our friends who were coming in from the Bay Area for lunch at Long Meadow Ranch. A bottle of farmstead Long Meadow Ranch Sonoma County Brut was waiting for us at the table. We enjoyed the charcuterie for a starter. I ordered steak tartare with an additional side of macaroni and cheese. The odd thing was it came with potato chips and not any kind of toasted bread as a vehicle for the meat. Upon request they were happy to give me some sliced baguette, but I prefer something buttery and crunchy with steak tartare. My husband liked his beef brisket special. The food is really tasty and fresh, and the setting is lovely. I’ll definitely keep going back.
Our first winery visit was at Monticello—Corley Family Vineyards for a Library tasting of the Corley Proprietary Red blend. We sampled the 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007, and then our host pulled some other bottles for comparison. He regaled us with entertaining stories about wine and rock and roll, and we left wishing we could have experienced more of the seventies beyond staying up to watch “Happy Days.” And we had a recommendation for after-dinner cocktails in Napa.
Dinner Friday was dinner at Bistro Jeanty in Yountville. Our first bottle was the 2013 Rindo Napa Valley Red Wine and for starters we had the frites, tomato soup, and French onion soup. For main courses I had the special– lamb rib chop with haricot verts and a potato gratin with blue cheese and my husband had the rabbit over egg noodles. Overall, it was solid (like I’m sure our arteries were after dinner) French food, but it’s wasn’t exceptional. Our second bottle of wine was the 2015 Odette Estate Cab (Stags Leap District), which I liked and we all agreed that next Napacalypse we would visit Odette.
For a night cap, we headed into Napa for drinks on the rooftop bar at the Archer hotel. I had an old-fashioned and my friends had the Martinez(Martinezes?!?). When we arrived, we found a table and then were able to people-watch as the Bottlerock attendees trickled in. As the bar became more and more crowded and our East Coast body clocks demanded some sleep, we headed to the lobby to catch an Uber back to Silverado. Alas, all the Bottlerock people who were not coming to Archer were also calling Ubers and we had more than a 15-minute wait for a car. Certainly not terrible, and that was the longest we had to wait for a ride from Uber or Lyft all weekend.
For lunch, we checked out Sam’s Social Club in Calistoga. The town is very charming and piqued our interest for a return trip, and Sam’s Social Club was fine. Everything was good, nothing was extraordinary, and the patio was a lovely place to eat with the spa ladies still wearing their robes.
Staying in Calistoga, we headed up winding, twisting roads to Heritage School Vineyard (Formerly Harris Vineyards) for Cab tastings. On the grounds of a defunct boys’ school, the tasting was in the lovely gravel courtyard of the owner’s house and was supervised by the friendly winery dog Sunny. Heritage School can boast of winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown and really good cabs, especially if you are partial to dark fruit. We had the 2014 Julie’s Creekside Vineyard, the 2014 Casey’s Lakeview Vineyard, and the 2014 Missiaen’s Hillside Vineyard. Our friends are club members and we got to enjoy some library pours. Pretty sure we ordered some of everything. These are wines I definitely want to revisit at home, and with food.
Next our driver negotiated the hills that become Howell Mountain to get to the next winery–I think Viader is only a few hundred feet below the coveted AVA. At Heritage School, I thought there could not be a prettier setting, and then as I strolled onto the deck at the Viader tasting room, I realized I lacked imagination. Overlooking vineyards sloping down to a pristine reservoir, the view is almost Alp-like. Our host Ian brought out a cheese plate for the tasting of Viader, the “Black Label”, and Homenaje. And here’s the thing I’ve learned about myself—sometimes a wine that I’m not too keen about at a tasting will be a pleasant surprise when I taste it again at home. Our Viader shipment almost beat us back to the East Coast, and the “Black Label” that I was barely lukewarm about on that spectacular tasting deck, is a really enjoyable Wednesday night bottle here at home watching the NHL playoffs.
We headed back to Silverado to grab some warmer clothes for the Neil Young concert at BottleRock in Napa. After a comedy of errors and NOT getting into BottleRock, we happened upon the restaurant Basalt which sits on the Napa riverfront. Despite not having reservations, we scored a table on the patio. The best bite of the evening was the tuna tartar starter and the Melka CJ Cabernet Sauvignon was a great choice, and especially price-conscious. It is hard to beat dinner on the riverfront patio while the music from BottleRock drifts through the town.
Sunday was our marathon day and more errors that made for a topsy-turvy day, but great memories.
The drive out to Sonoma County is beautiful with rolling vineyards as far as the eye can see. We crossed the Russian River to arrive for our tasting at Williams Selyem. We were greeted with a glass of Chardonnay and the story of the garage origins of the first vintage of Williams Selyem. What is it with California masterminds and their garages?!? We moved onto a 2017 Gruner Veltliner, which our friends really liked and this red-drinker didn’t think was bad. And then onto the reason for the trip—the Pinot Noirs. The 2017 Drake Estate Vineyard, the 2017 Westide Road Neighbors, and the 2017 Luella’s Garden were great and all got some checks on the order form. Our host pulled some library tastes, and while delicious, they were unavailable for purchase. He shared with us great restaurants to try and bars for an early cocktail and did a great job selling us on a Sonoma-based trip.
While we tasted and toured Williams Selyem, our driver picked up lunch from Oakville Market—all of our sandwiches were great, but if we didn’t have a driver, it would have been better logistically to grab the sandwiches on the way to Williams Selyem. We headed to Rochioli, home of my husband’s favorite Pinot Noirs. He was disappointed to learn that our estate tasting included only one Pinot Noir and to our lament that we only came for the Pinot, our host rejoined that when the wine becomes unavailable, they may only pour Chardonnay. Before visiting, call ahead to make sure they have wines available to taste. The tasting included 2 whites, a rosé, and a Pinot Noir. It was easily the most unwelcoming tasting any of us had ever attended. I can get more information about the tasting notes and geography from a tasting table in the middle of Wegman’s than we got at Rochioli. We heard some of the other hosts describing the wine to other clients, but we were told only the varietal. We arrived during a downpour and had begun our tasting inside, but as the sun came out, we stepped outside to patio, and despite telling our hostess that we would be back (we still had to pay for the bottle of rosé we ordered for our picnic lunch) and I had left my phone and sunglasses on the table next to my wineglass, the host took away our not-empty glasses. While charming, the patio is quite small and we were absent only long enough to snap some photos. Rochioli was still the best Pinot Noir we tasted, but my husband decided he’d rather go to Total Wine and pay retail than deal with our unfriendly host.
We had reserved a tasting at Kosta Brown in Sebastopol before the damaging floods, and friends had warned us that a lot of places, and Kosta Brown in particular, had not fully recovered from the devastation. The husbands were convinced that Kosta Brown would surely have called to cancel our reservation if they were still closed. Never assume, but we did get delicious ice cream in Sebastopol.
With the Kosta Brown time slot now open and still more than a few hours until our dinner at Single Thread, we rolled the dice and headed to J Vineyards. We showed up with no reservations, but J accommodated us. We were served by a very friendly wine host who worked with several groups at the bar, but still managed to give us information about each glass and even pulled a little something from behind the bar. We had two sparkling wines, including the prettiest pink bubbly. And, of course, the pinot! We ordered bottles that we had never seen available at retail. The price point was higher than typical retail, and once they get shipped, I’ll update about how I think they compare. I love this kind of homework!
Based on the recommendation of Williams Selyem, we said goodbye to our driver and had drinks and snacks at Duke’s bar in Healdsburg. I had an old fashioned, and because sometimes tasting menus start light on meat and carbs and heavy on the wine, we ordered the fried chicken sliders for a base.
Thanks to our friends who sat poised at different laptops to log into the online reservation system the moment it opened (I was at an Accepted Students Day with one of my kids), we had dinner at Singlethread. With three Michelin stars, we went in with high expectations and were not disappointed.
As expected, the wine list is what dreams are made of—assuming, of course, money is what you are made of. Our dinner and wine bills were the same, and we got to try some amazing wines that this was probably the only opportunity to see a bottle.
The food is exquisite and the service is luxuriously unobtrusive. Just a head’s up, the 20 percent charge on the prepaid food bill is not a gratuity for your servers—it was explained to us that it is to cover the health benefits for the entire staff of the restaurant. A separate service gratuity is left for those who worked the night of your dinner. Despite the hour+ drive back to Napa, we waited only a few minutes for a Lyft driver to take us back to Silverado.
We bid farewell to our friends as they headed back home to the Bay area and my husband and I played golf at Silverado’s North Course. His highlight for the round was shooting a 76 with rented clubs, mine was the Bulleit and diet I got at the turn. Thanks to some Instagram posts, I had made dinner reservations at The Girl and the Fig on the town square in Sonoma. The place is super cute and we ordered way too much food and did a red varietal wine tasting. The Girl and the Fig definitely had the best charcuterie board of the trip and the cookies we took home for the kids were scrumptious—rich, crunchy, but not brittle. The soup of the day was a delicious pea and pancetta and the radish salad was tender and crunchy. Whether it was coincidence or not, Lyft was again the quickest service to get a ride back to Silverado from Sonoma.
Flying out of SFO we were able to visit the Amex Centurion Lounge for the first time—it seems we are never in the right terminal. The lunch options surprised me with their taste and quality. I had a salad with asparagus and cherries. My husband had the basmati rice and chicken. We partook of one last wine tasting. The bar hands out a ticket worth 5 tastings from the self-serve wine dispenser. I had 75 Wine’s “The Sum” Cab and the Cab from Buehller. The price point was certainly right! And I’d order the Buehller again.
Our plane on the way home was one of the older models without the reclining seats and nice tvs, but still they had a decent Bordeaux with dinner. Then I came home to the contents of my daughter’s dorm room strewn from the mudroom hall to the kitchen, an overloaded dishwasher, and an overflowing mailbox, but the kids and the dog were all alive and well-fed. And I can’t wait for Napacalypse V!
They say when your eyes are opened to the truth, you can never not see it. That’s how I’ve felt about air travel ever since my family somehow ended up in the business class cabin on a flight to Barcelona while the aches and pains from being wedged into economy class from Paris were still aching and paining. My new mission on all trips is to get upgraded seats, whether by booking way in advance, trading in points on our credit card reward programs, or postulating about my grave concerns about the health of cattle car travel. I argued that if we flew first class, we could extend our spring break trip and spend Easter day in California, figuring that if we had more room and reclining seats, the kids could sleep on a red eye and not miss school on Easter Monday. So we splurged on United First Class. Of course, the evil eye of vague travel headaches followed me, and after extolling the virtues of how much more relaxed and refreshed we’d feel in the premier cabin—-no blankets, no pillows, and I’m guessing it was our flight attendant’s first time running first class. After lunch, she never came back down the aisle to see if anyone wanted drink refills or coffee. Passengers tracked her down in the galley to get more soda or water, and when she passed out the little sweet treat before landing, no coffee or tea was offered .I know I’ve seen flight attendants more on a two-hour flight in coach to Orlando than I saw ours during our cross-country flight.
The San Diego airport is stunning to fly into, as it sits on the bay with the city as its backdrop. The taxi stand is right out side the door from baggage claim and no wait at all to get two taxis (5 people and we brought a lot of luggage—note to self, just because you CAN bring two bags for free, doesn’t mean you need to…) and headed to our hotel.
The Hotel Del Coronado, built in 1888, is under renovation. Our suite had a beautiful view of the ocean and the new sea-to-table restaurant under construction.
Rooms are also being refurbished and the construction starts EARLY. But then, so did the hallway noise. Every day we were there, people in the hall were raising a ruckus between 6 and 6:30 am. It was the noise level I usually hear at a Hampton Inn on a tournament weekend when I have the misfortune of being on the same floor as the travel team with the 8am game. We may have heard them so well because our bed was practically in the hall. The renovation is desperately needed. Our bed had lumps and valleys, and the bath with its pedestal sink and shower/tub combo was a shock from the typical walk-in shower of the spa-inspired bathrooms of newer luxury hotels,. They added a curved shower rod which did a great job of making the shower feel less claustrophobic, but the bathroom really needed some kind of vanity for getting ready.. My choices for my blowdryer were the bathroom, where the only place to put down the dryer was the sink, or in the sitting room in front of the distressed mirror, but I still didn’t have a place to rest the dryer. The magnifying vanity mirror was kept in the closet because I guess they couldn’t find anywhere to put anything in the bathroom either..
We made it down to the beach bar overlooking the ocean where we had the best guacamole and drinks(rocking Cosmopolitan). They came around a lit the fireplaces and it was a quintessential West Coast spring evening on the beach. We ordered pizzas to go from Eno and a bottle of wine. The Caesar salad with whole leafs of Romaine and very tasty dressing was a great starter.
Tuesday morning we ate breakfast at the hotel with our HiltonHonors vouchers and decided to add the hot breakfast option for an additional $20 each. The quinoa and mixed vegetables were quite good, and the rest of the hot items like scrambled eggs, bacon, sausage, were typical breakfast buffet fare. We also tried the custom orders of eggs benedict, and tasted the traditional and a southwest version. They were tasty, but it took quite a bit of time for them to come out to the table and we didn’t order them again.
Today was our San Diego coastal tour with Another Side of San Diego (https://anothersideofsandiegotours.com/private-san-diego-tours/. ) We were picked up by our driver/tour guide at the hotel by a Mercedes Sprinter van which had plenty of room, cold water, and snacks!
We had a drive around Coronado, past the Navy SEALs obstacle course, drove up to Mt Soledad National Veterans Memorial, and on to Torrey Pines and stopped on our way back–desperately searching for clean restrooms. My husband was also curious if there was any chance of getting on the South Course, so we stopped by the Torrey Pines lodge in search of the Pro shop (and found clean restrooms!) And my husband learned that since the South Course is under renovation with two holes closed, it would be easy for a single to jump on.
My favorite stop of the day was at La Jolla beach. Dozens of sea lions swim in the water and sun themselves on the rocks. They are pretty smelly, but I could watch them play and swim all day.
Despite the smell, we were hungry and our tour guide helped us find some tacos and the biggest cheese quesadilla we’ve ever seen at a little chain taco shop called Rigoberto’s. I was a little taken aback that my fish tacos were breaded and fried with tartar sauce on the tortilla, but extra points that my daughter’s cheese quesadilla was just cheese and tortilla, which, believe it or not, is much harder to get than it sounds. We headed onward to Mission Beach and Pacific Beach and stopped by Crystal Pier and debated the merits of staying over the ocean.
We drove through the Gaslamp district and saw the Padres’ home field, but it didn’t make our “must return-to list” because it seemed like mostly chain restaurants and bars. The tour was a great way to get introduced to a city. We had only been to San Diego for a couple of nights before a field hockey tournament in Palm Springs several years ago, and hadn’t seen anything other than the Del and the San Diego Zoo. Our tour guide/driver was knowledgeable about the geography and history and amenable to impromptu stops (like Torrey Pines golf lodge and the taco shop!)
Back in Coronado, we decided to make the trek to Park Place Liquor and Deli. It carried beer, wine, liquor, and snacks. While prices were way better than the hotel, they wines were marked up about $5-$10 bottle more than typical metro DC retail prices. Based on a couple of recommendations, we ate dinner at Brigantine at the Orange Avenue location. By far the best thing about the restaurant was that another table on the patio had three dogs with them.
We ordered the haddock special and the T-bone special and neither were very special. I ordered my steak medium rare and it came out with barely any pink. My husband finally flagged down a waiter to ask for some hot sauce to try to punch up the flavor of his dish. We couldn’t find a bottle of wine that piqued our interest, but our waiter recommended their highlighted winery Michael David. I went with the 6th Sense Syrah and my husband had the Freakshow Cabernet Sauvignon.
They were both great, but, alas, we never got a chance to order a second glass. My kids didn’t fare much better with $15 sandwiches from the little deli shop in the Del.
Wednesday my husband got to return to Torrey Pines for his round of golf and my girls and I hung around Coronado. We walked down Orange Avenue to the Juice Crafters and picked up a green juice, berry-based juices, and a Flu Off shot for my daughter who was feeling under the weather. The juices were great, but the Flu Off shot tasted so awful my daughter spit out the first sip and we never got to see if it worked. Orange Avenue in Coronado is filled with souvenir shops, women’s and children’s clothing stores, and lots of restaurants. Seaside Papery (http://www.seasidepapery.com) was our favorite little store—lots of paper products, obviously, but also books, trinkets, and some home decor. We ended up with pencils, sealing waxes and stamps. After a challenging 16 holes at Torrey Pines, my husband rejoined us and we headed to The Tavern for dinner.
We started with the mac and cheese starter and it was awesome! My kids split the ribs and said they weren’t very flavorful, which was my husband’s assessment of his fish tacos. He also ordered the roasted brussel sprouts which had a flavor profile through the roof and just delicious . I had the burger and it was really tasty. The wine list was pretty limited, but we ordered the Justin Cab and were able to cork it and take it back to our hotel to finish on the balcony.
Even though it didn’t have any sea lions, Thursday was my favorite day. We had rented a beach cabana and headed to beach right after breakfast. It was sunny, but cooler and the water was about 60 degrees, so it was more of beach-as-a-backdrop than a splash-in-the-surf day. With an attentive waiter and endless sunshine, we spent the day reading, playing paddle ball, and waiting for my oldest daughter to arrive from New York. One of the best dishes we had in San Diego was the surf and turf tacos from the Beach and Taco Shack on the property—carne asada and shrimp never tasted so good. My oldest arrived in time to enjoy a couple of hours of afternoon sun and a bottle of rosé. For dinner, we called ahead to get reservations at Chez Loma, a french restaurant just a few blocks from the hotel. Solid French food in an intimate setting, and we were the last in the restaurant and never felt pressured to turn over the table or felt hurried out the door.
Friday we headed over to Balboa Park to visit the museums. We walked through the botanical gardens which made me anxious to go home and buy every plant ever. Then we toured the Timken Museum of Art, and were wowed by its collection of old masters and Russian Icons–as an added plus, admission is free! The San Diego Museum of Art was our next stop. The admission is $15 and we like seeing Georgia O’Keefe and the exhibit “The Art of Devotion.” We hiked some trails and then Ubered back to Coronado for lunch. One of our cheapest meals in San Diego was a couple of pizzas the the Village Pizzeria on Orange Avenue. Five thumbs up for the crispy pepperoni that we got on our pizza.
Our adventure for the evening was a sailing tour of San Diego Bay (https://sandiegosailingtours.com), snacks, soft drinks, beer, and white wine (red wine stains the boat!) are provided and so is a turn to steer the boat! I love being on the water and we got to see some more sea lions on the buoys, docks, and swimming in the bay, but you don’t venture to anywhere more picturesque because the sunset sail is only about two hours. I really enjoyed it, but my husband would have preferred getting out of what felt like a commercial sea lane. Maybe next time we would book a half-day or full-day cruise to get along the coast.
Saturday was our chance to return to the places that piqued our interest on Tuesday’s coastal tour. We hiked for a couple of hours at Torrey Pines and were stunned by the breathtaking views and the crowds.
After a 10-15 minute wait, we then caught an Uber to Del Mar to hit a restaurant recommended to us by a friend that used to live in San Diego. Pacifica Del Mar, despite being knocked by our Uber driver who arrogantly advised us to talk to people other than our hotel concierge for restaurant recommendations, was a great place for lunch. We started with the baked oysters—oysters topped with cheese–and I had a delicious, juicy grass-fed burger.
We had wine by the glass because the three of us drinking couldn’t agree on one, and it was great. We caught another Uber to La Jolla to revisit my sea lions and explore the main drag a little bit. There was one gelato joint right by the beach which had a line down the block, but we crossed the street and had what I thought was pretty darn tasty gelato with only a wait of a few minutes.
Another Uber back to the Del and we were ready for our movie night on the beach. I’ll admit I was reluctant to book the event, but my two younger kids(but still high=school-aged) were sold on “Scooby Doo” on the beach. I chose the Family Movie Package which comes with a daybed (like we had for our beach day), two sand chairs, a private fire pit, and s’mores for four and a $300 price tag.
We were allowed to bring drinks from the beach bar, which was doing last call, and paid highway robbery prices for the soft drinks ($6) and most outrageously, the little bags of chips you put in your kid’s lunch were $6 too! But, our attendant did a great job tending our fire pit and checking on us throughout the movie. Anyway, that evening ended up being tons of fun and sitting at a fire pit on the beach watching a movie will be one of our fondest memories.
Easter Sunday. In the past, our kids have demanded that we come home from spring break early enough to spend Easter at home, but we decided to spend Easter at The Del and fly home on the red eye. Live and learn. At 7am we were awoken by protesters from the service sector of the hotel marching on the beach side of the hotel, demanding fair treatment from the Del. In truth it made me uncomfortable to realize I was staying at a hotel with unhappy employees.
I reserved a table at the famous Easter brunch at the Del, a little sticker shocked from the cost — for 5 people, including tax and gratuity, it was $890!!! For brunch! I kept thinking that would be a lot of waffles and mimosas, but the the buffet promised to be legendary. It was a little bit of a madhouse checking in, but 5 or 10 minutes after our scheduled seating the five of us were shown to our table—-a tabletop for four with another place setting crammed in. Our server had to take away our coffee cups and saucers so we could sort of fit our plates. Then we ordered a bottle of wine a la cart and we had nowhere to put the bottle and our glasses. My husband asked to move an empty table next to us so we could have enough table space for our plates and glasses.
The buffet had carving stations, seafood towers, a poké bowl and ramen noodle stations, hot and cold side dishes, a lot of dessert stations, including cotton candy. Like most buffets that try to make that much food for so many people, the scale was dramatic, but taste was average. The poké bowls were a standout, however, probably because the bowl doesn’t need to be prepared beforehand.
I had rented a pool cabana for somewhere to relax after brunch until it was time to head to the airport. It was quite chilly, so we elected not to swim and hung out in the cabana with the outdoor sofa. For $250 we had use of the cabana, a fridge stocked with soft drinks, some goldfish and pop chips for snacks, and a fruit plate.
The cabin crew for our flight home was amazing—attentive, yet unobtrusive during the overnight hours, but the seats didn’t recline again and the kids bargained for a day off from school. My first class manifesto was dinged by the inattention on the Dulles-San Diego leg and the seats that didn’t fully recline on either leg, but it was nice to have leg room.
This is the first family trip where we didn’t rent a car. We took taxis from the airport, and used Uber throughout the trip and it worked out great! The longest wait for an Uber to show up was at Torrey Pines State Reserve and we waited about 15 minutes. The scenery driving around San Diego is spectacular and with Uber, my husband (the usual driver) was able to enjoy the sights, too. Not to mention, our drivers were almost always helpful with things to see and do.
We’ve been trying to get a table at minibar by Jose Andres, not really hard, just jumping on the website when we thought about it and then having our hopes dashed three months at a time. I think my husband must have stumbled upon a cancellation because he snagged a table just a few weeks out from our reservation. We chose the bespoke wine pairings with dinner, making the wise decision to spend the night in DC.
We walked to dinner and right past the restaurant. Its signage is as (mini)mal as the logo, but luckily I noticed the detached car door with the sign for valet on the sidewalk as we turned in confusion as Siri announced we had arrived. We found the door and the personalized and attentive service began. Our coats were whisked away, and we were seated by the fireplace with a nice pour of 2006 Dom Perignon and olives—delicious, but the meaty texture of an olive was transformed into thin-walled, gelatinous glob. Two thumbs up for the taste, but that texture is the stuff my nightmares are made of. Oliver, the head sommelier, asked us some questions about what our wine preferences were and we were seated at the table.
I say “the table” because it was the only table in the restaurant. The other patrons sit at a U-shaped bar and the first seating had already begun its tasting menu. A later, second seating was served and we finished at about the same time.
The presentation and food craftsmanship was unparalleled. A specialty cocktail–matcha and gin mare –was served for the first two bites and I still haven’t met a gin drink I didn’t like.
The first tableside pour was a 2007 Domaine William Fevre Vallons Premier Cru (Chablis, France)with a banh mi stuffed with crab and an apple meringue “bun”. The crab was amazing and the meringue bun provided the perfect counterpoint of sweetness and crunch, but the meringue left a weird tacky film on my teeth. The wine was spot on for the course.
The next pour was a 2013 Alphonse Mellot Generation Dix-Neuf Sancerre to go with a Parmesan “Danish” but the stars of the bite were the exceedingly generous shavings of black truffle. The next dish was a snail caviar served in a shell and was brought to the table with a sprig of herbs which were lighted and then blown out tableside. It was like smudging for fine dining.
I’m not sure if it was because we said were partial to Napa or it is always on the wine rotation, but Oliver, who became my favorite sommelier of all time, brought us a pour of 2011 Shafer Hillside Select (Stags Leap District, Napa Valley, USA). I’m learning that I really like some minerality in my Cabs and to me, that keeps cabs from tasting like cherry bombs, and Hillside Select is the perfect Cab.
The next bottle was our least favorite, 1991 Chateau Musar Blanc (Bekaa Valley, Lebanon). Oliver explained that the funk in the wine would balance the gaminess of the following bites. I love doing wine pairings like this even when I end up not caring for the wine because it teaches me in concrete terms what tastes are in the wine and what tastes in the food the wine profile is complementing. For us, the wine stayed pretty funky, but rather than visceral descriptions from tasting notes, we had the opportunity to experience them. Once is all it will take for us on that one.
We moved on to a 2007 Bodegas Y Vinedos Tinto Valbuena Ribero del Duero, and perhaps because my husband had specifically mentioned that I did not care for tempranillo, it was followed closely by a glass for me of 1996 Domaine Michel Gaunoux Corton Renardes Grand Cru (Burgundy, France).
We then had Kikusul Kuramitsu Junmai Daiginjo sake which was quite good, and then a 1990 Chateau Latour Bordeaux.
In deference to my husband’s desire to taste the Latour after it opened some more, Oliver poured us a third glass that we let open throughout the rest of the dinner and would come back to for smells and sips. I admit that I am the worst person for appreciating the nose, but my husband was in raptures as he felt he learned what is really meant by bouquet.
As we wound down through the dessert courses, we had a 2013 Royal Taokaji ‘6 Puttonyos’ (Tokaji, Hungary) that was amazing and another first for us and then a 1937 d’Oliveira Sercial (Madeira, Portugal), which reminded me of Port than Madeira.(Needless to say, the wine selection floored us!)
For wine neophytes like us, the 96 Burgundy and 90 Latour Bordeaux were our introduction to first-growth wines and the great houses and left me more conflicted than the Targaryan family history. On one hand, both wines were drinkable at first pour from the Coravin and blossomed and changed in the glass over a couple of courses. No doubt about it, they were excellent and if I would not ever decline a glass in the future. But…both the grand crus retail for about $1200 and Hillside Select retails for around $225, so my conundrum is, “is the Latour Bordeaux five times better than Hillside Select and is it ten times better than my favorite supermarket Bordeaux?” We could play this game with all wines and price points, but for me it comes down to what wine did I like better. Of course, I’m a little starry-eyed drinking grand crus (two in one night!), but I think if the wines were at an even price point, I would go for the Shafer. Intellectually I get that a Bordeaux or Burgundy and a Cab are very different wines, but with my taste buds and pocketbook, I would want the Hillside Select. While I want to keep trying wines and learning more, I’ve started to accept that maybe I will never appreciate the nuances of aged Burgundy and my tastes are for the bolder rock ‘em-sock’em Napa cabs.
Here’s the story of how I stumbled onto one of the greatest country concerts and a bittersweet trip down memory lane. While listening to the radio in the car, I heard a Spectrum deejay mention something about a tribute concert to Willie Nelson in Nashville over the coming weekend. My dad loved Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Charlie Pride, and Freddie Fender. The country station was on in the car and we drove… a lot. Consequently, I heard country music for hours on end traveling and, yeah, by the time I hit my early teens, my dad got to hear me complain about his music for an equal amount of time. Until Chris Stapleton and Sturgill Simpson (Thank you, SNL!), I hadn’t listened to county music since I got my first Walkman, but the country music of the seventies was the soundtrack of my childhood. The memories that the music stirs are of my dad at his prime, when he, like all dads I think, seemed larger than life. The last five or so years of his life were a constant, ever-downward fight against COPD and in between taking him to doctor appointments and the soul-crushing bedside vigil during hospice, I had kind of forgotten how vital and vibrant he had been. Willie Nelson is 85, my dad would have been 84, and I really wanted the chance to see my dad’s favorite singer in concert.
The starts aligned—our biggest weekend plans-buster is the kids’ tournaments and this weekend was the only one without a tournament on the schedule. Add to that our sophomore in college was still home from winter break to mind the house and keep the zoo in line. And, as I reminded my husband, the thirtieth (gulp) anniversary of when we met would be the next weekend and we would be in different states at tournaments (because that is our usual weekend.) So we went to Ticketmaster for resale seats, booked a flight, and a hotel. The only hiccup in our plan was the delivery of the dryer my husband had gotten for himself, because there is no way he has such little sense of self-preservation that he would have admitted to getting me a dryer for Christmas. It was dicey when our delivery slot was 11am-3pm and we had to leave for the airport by 2:30. I walked around the house on Friday morning putting such things into the Universe like, “gosh, I hope our dryer doesn’t come soon,” because, inevitably, our deliveries come at whatever part of the delivery window that is most inconvenient or impossible to meet. Amazingly, our new dryer was installed and ready to go by noon and we had a nice lunch and headed to Music City.
A taxi from the airport to downtown is a flat $25, and we decided to jump right into a waiting cab rather than join the long queue of people waiting to meet their Uber or Lyft drivers in one of several locations. We arrived at the Hermitage Hotel and the hotel is beautiful, a nice combination of historical preservation and updated amenities. The lobby is a great place to lounge and take in the ambience with a fireplace, comfortable seating, and tables. We read the paper with coffee while we waited for housekeeping to finish in our room one morning, and after the concert, we and some of other concert-goers had a night cap near the veranda.
Unlike some other historical hotels, the rooms and marble bathrooms are spacious, including double sink vanities, separate water closet, soaking tub, and separate shower. There are Molton Brown bathroom amenities, robes, slippers, and turndown service with bottled water and cookies. There is a Nespresso machine for coffee, but only powdered creamer-yuck! There was also a mini bar, but I didn’t check it out. What I did check out, however, was the pillow menu! On the shelf in the closet there were 3 pillows to try—buckwheat, memory foam, and, I think latex. There were down pillows on the bed, which had lovely Frette linens on a locally-made mattress. I used a combo of buckwheat, memory foam, and the down pillow.
Our intent as we headed out early Friday evening was to hit Broadway, the main strip of honky tonks. Sometimes we struggle reading maps. Despite the help of both Apple Maps and Google Maps, we missed Broadway, but ended up in Printer’s Alley. We could hear a great band playing at the Bourbon Street Blues and Boogie bar and ducked in to check it out.
Like everywhere we went in Nashville, there was no cover charge. We sat at the bar and listened to original songs by Jon Roniger and The Good for Nothing Band. Their style is bluesy jazz (I sort of made that up) with a great stage presence and some salty interaction with the audience. Tip: The band will not play Bruce Springsteen because they did not write any Bruce Springsteen, no matter how many times the bachelor party guys in the back request it. At the bar we started with old fashioneds and then had beer. From the kitchen we ordered fries and sweet and spicy “voodoo” chicken, and it was solid bar food.
After tipping the band, we headed out to try once again to find Broadway (apparently whisky helps our navigation skills) and Robert’s Western World. It was packed! We ended up drinking jack and Cokes because we couldn’t get near the main bar and they had set up a satellite cash-only bar with liquor and mixers. Drinks were $9, but tasted like he forgot the Coke. Robert’s, famous for its fried bologna sandwich and a strange adulation for Pabst Blue Ribbon, is a great place for music! The Don Kelley Band, a mainstay at Robert’s, played the kind of country my dad listened to—songs by and about hard-drinking, heartbroken men. A member of the band came through the crowd after every set for tips, and they were worth every penny.
We started Saturday with breakfast at the Capital Grill in our hotel. They have a tasty Southern Benedict with fried green tomatoes and pork belly instead of an English muffin and Canadian ham. I thought I owed my liver an apology so I ordered the green juice—highly recommend it!
While the honky tonks open at 11am with live music, we need a little more dry time and visited the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum. You can visit the museum or the museum and and RCA Studio B. We chose to skip the studio tour, and walked through just the museum. The museum had a lot of outfits, and lots and lots of rhinestones, and instruments. We really enjoyed the special exhibit, “Outlaws & Armadillos: Country’s Roaring 70’s.” Not only was it the music familiar, but I find it fascinating to have the bits and pieces of childhood memories put into a greater historical context. Then I find it disconcerting that things I remember from my childhood are old enough to be in a museum.
After the museum, we found Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. Even though it was afternoon, the place was packed! Like at Robert’s the night before, it was standing room only, but the music was great. The tip bucket came around and for a $20 tip the band played my request of “Luckenback, Texas.” We headed back to the hotel to get ready for the concert.
As a last-minute add-on (way to go Ticketmaster marketing department!) we upgraded our tickets to include the Lexus Lounge at the Bridgestone Arena, mostly because we had never been to the venue and wanted the night to be as stress-free as possible. And we only had to pay for the two of us—usually we never upgrade because it is always price x 6 for our entire family and it is too expensive. With the Lexus Lounge ticket, we had a separate, crowd-free entrance, we breezed through security (we had to wait just long enough for the two men in front of us to cannonball a mini bottle of vodka before going through security to get the the free bar….), and access to a buffet and open bar throughout the event. The buffet was fine (for buffet food) and we certainly did not drink enough to justify even one of the tickets, but it was awesome not to have to wait in any security lines and the hosts on the floor of the lounge were full of helpful advice for us as far as navigating the arena: they advised taking two drinks at a time when you visited the bar so we wouldn’t have to run back and forth during the show. I thought it was a joke, but then I realized everyone really did do that!
We headed to our seats and got an education on how they tape a live show for later broadcast. We were instructed to stand up and clap enthusiastically, then sit politely and clap enthusiastically. I think everyone was taken aback when suddenly Chris Stapleton burst into Whiskey River— there was a moment when the crowd was like, “what? we’re starting?!?”
Lee Ann Womack sang next without introduction, and luckily for us, we were sitting next to a bonafide country music lover and scholar. He kept us informed about the performer, their most interesting fact and the last place he saw them in concert, which we then passed down the row. The hosts got better at announcing who was taking the stage next and it was one thrilling performance and surprise guest after another. Jayme Johnson brought the house down with “Georgia on My Mind” and for me, Sturgill Simpson’s appearance was a thrill. The concert will be broadcast sometime in 2019 on A & E and it’s worth your time.
Sunday morning was planned for another leisurely breakfast at the Capital Grill and a trip to the airport. We took an Uber to the airport and it was speedy and convenient. With the government shutdown and mass call-outs by TSA, we left early to allow extra time through security, but the Nashville airport security lines moved super quickly. My husband wanted a quiet spot to work, so we sent a couple of gates over from our departure gate. At boarding time, we headed to our gate, only to see the next departure on the board and a snaking line from the gate counter. After a panic attack that we had missed our flight’s boarding, we learned that no, even worse, all flights into Dulles had been canceled for the day. By the time I logged into my United app, the only flight with seats available was late Monday afternoon. We briefly debated switching airlines to fly into Reagan National, but worried that that flight would end up cancelling as well and then all the United flights would have been totally booked on Monday and we wouldn’t be able to get until Tuesday. Plus, if it was really snowing that hard at home, would we be able to get a ride share or taxi to take us from one airport to the other to get our car. So we headed back to the Hermitage Hotel. If you are ever in Nashville on the spur of the moment, the Hermitage has a “last-minute” rate whenever they still have rooms available. Luckily, we were able to check in early and then returned to Broadway.
We roamed the entire avenue, almost to the river, and found Acme Feed & Seed for lunch and to listen to music. We both had the Rule the Roost fried chicken sandwich with aioli and fries.
It was flavorful, but definitely not too spicy—I’m pretty sure Chick-fil-A has a spicier chicken sandwich, but it was our least favorite place for music. I get that it was a mellow Sunday afternoon, but the music was definitely more dirgeful hipster than honky tonk or toe-tapping anything. We crossed the street to the river, and then headed back up Broadway and stopped at AJ’s (Alan Jackson’s bar). I didn’t realize it was a celebrity bar because my dad only listened to the old-timers and I can only name a handful of country musicians it from this century. Anna LaPrad was on stage and she performed a nice mix of original songs and requests. I realize that all the bars on Broadway cater to tourists and purists are snickering at me even calling them honky tonks, but this bar, with good music and very attentive bartenders, just felt like it could have been anywhere. The decor was a Disney-curated expression of what a country bar/honky tonk, that had been cleaned up to not offend a soul, would look like.
We returned to Robert’s Western World and were treated to a country music education by Nashville Skyline. They did old, old country, outlaw country, and some blues and rock and roll. We had a great time listening to music and noshing on some onion rings. I gave up on the Jack and Cokes and beers. I don’t drink a lot of soda or beers and the carbonation was killing me. So I owned my out-of-town-wine-drinking-can’t-shoot-whiskey-self and ordered whatever red wine they served at Robert’s. We planned to stay to listen to the Don Kelley band come on at 10pm. Alas, with the bathroom closed for repairs, they had to close the bar early.
With our early evening flight, we were fortunate to get a late check-out and my husband worked remotely and I refereed a who-drank-the-last-of-the-almond-milk melee at home by text. After a room service breakfast of oatmeal and fruit, we had lunch in the Oak Bar at the hotel. It was certainly convenient, and our beef sandwiches were good, but I wouldn’t say it would be a special trip to the hotel for a late lunch. We headed to the airport early, once again breezed through security, and found an empty gate with an outlet so my husband could work. And waited through a few delays until our plane pulled into the gate. And we boarded as soon as the last passenger got off the plane. I figured we had 20 or 30 minutes while they cleaned the plane, but, nope, they started boarding immediately. It turns out the pilot was trying to catch a flight back home at Dulles. We then had the fastest taxiing to our runway, at one point, I swear the plane leaned into the turn. But I wasn’t going to complain. I was ready to go home.
I think two nights of honky tonking are plenty. Friday night and Saturday were fun and exciting, and we did have a good time on Sunday, but with the sleet, drizzle, and windy cold weather, it was too miserable to spend any time outside exploring. I had hit my limit of bar time and somebody had to go get more almond milk.
Even though I’m streamlining the holiday decorating, our family room still gets a lot of attention. It’s where our now solo tree stands and where we’ll hang out to watch movies or hockey. I fell in love with bottle brush trees a couple of years ago and when I updated the mantle from a traditional motif with topiary stocking hangars draped in greenery, ribbon, lights and whatever else I could cram on the tiny space, I knew that the bottle brush trees were just what I wanted–something fun and light-hearted. The stuffed reindeer head is my favorite piece and I’ve been adding pom pom garlands instead of greenery (and no debris to sweep up on the daily!) to keep the vibe irreverent. Even though my kids are teenagers and young adults, I still like the cheeky Santa sign to remind them they better watch out. I pulled our red leather recliner in on the action with a white throw I stole from one of the bedrooms and a black belt for a nod to the jolly old elf. I kept their stockings for sentimental reasons, and, per request, we still decorate the tree with the ornaments accumulated one-by-one over the last twenty-eight years.
To be honest, it’s not just during the holidays that I hear the siren call of “more, more, more!” for the counter above my kitchen sink. It doesn’t function as usable counter space and it’s always tempting to start piling stuff on the ledge–decorations because it’s the first thing you see and then the odds and ends that seem to accumulate in a kitchen. I try to be disciplined and only keep a few succulents and some usable, but too-cute-to-store measuring cups on the ledge throughout the year. This year, I retired the 3-level snow globe vignette inspired by Pinterest and channeled my inner Joanna Gaines. I love the large “Christmas Trees For Sale” sign that Jo and Chip hang in their kitchen, but not enough to scour antique shops for a similar one with the just right patina (or for that matter, try to store one for 11 months of the year.) So last year I snagged this little sign in the Target bargain bin, but just leaned it on a shelf.
When I decided to put the bottle-brush trees and Santa gnome on the counter, I knew I had found the perfect spot for my sign.
My view while wondering why no one puts their dishes in the dishwasher is brightened with some holiday cheer, and it easy to clean around. And if I start to think maybe it needs some evergreen swag, I remember the year I filled in all the space with real greenery, and the pine needles constantly dropped off the ledge into the sink and the colander when I drained the pasta!