A Grief Interlude

It seems so strange to interrupt an ongoing tribute to a now deceased famous person who affected my life significantly…to talk about recent deaths of similarly significant celebrities. And yet here I am, writing this post rather than writing one of my Cravenous reviews as I continue to make my way (very slowly) through Wes Craven’s oeuvre.

There have been several deaths recently within the celebrity circuit. It’s rather alarming, actually, how many famous people have departed the realm in the past month or so—and not celebrities who we might have anticipated leaving us. It’s one thing when someone tips the scales into the upper 80s or even 90s and then leaves us still wanting more but grateful that they were there to inspire and entertain us for as long as they were.

No. These have been wholly unexpected (at least by the general public) and wholly depressing. These have been the deaths of people still active in their crafts, be it music or acting or writing or art. These were early deaths. Painful deaths from an illness far too prevalent among us all. For me personally, I find that the recent deaths of David Bowie and Alan Rickman have been almost as upsetting as Craven’s unexpected death in August of last year. Both were 69 years old. Both succumbed after lengthy yet quiet battles against cancer.

For Bowie, I confess that I didn’t start actively getting into his music until a few years ago. To me, he was first Jareth the Goblin King.

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I’ve already written about the significance of Jim Henson and his Muppets to my early years. Make no mistake that I consider Bowie to be a crucial part of that significance. His performance as the Goblin King to Jennifer Connelly’s Sarah is what made Labyrinth as captivating and memorable as it was. Plus, Bowie wrote all the music for the movie, which he of course performed.

It was his appearance as Jareth that I found most compelling, with the whimsical (though slightly lewd) costumes, the magnificent hair, and the most stunning makeup, made all the more ethereal by his one eye with the forever-dilated pupil. He was beautiful. It wasn’t until later that I realized that it wasn’t just Jareth who was beautiful. It was Bowie himself. Androgynous, feather-light, stick-thin, snaggle-toothed, and stunning. Whether as Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke, any of his movie roles (several of which are standouts among my beloved genre fiction, such as The Hunger or The Man Who Fell to Earth, which seems as though it was written with Bowie in mind), or simply Bowie, he was always gorgeous.

David Bowie (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)
David Bowie (Photo by Ron Galella/WireImage)

(Also, from the look of this photo, Tilda Swinton owes him significantly as well…do you think she knows? Oh. Yeah, I think she does.)

As I learned more about his career, I realized that Bowie also was one of the most influential artists within the rock world to which I was first introduced. Even when I didn’t realize his impact, I was feeling it. Every time I turned on a Culture Club video and swooned at the sight of Boy George in all his early gorgeous glory or fell under the spell of similarly androgy-gorgeous Eurythmics-era Annie Lennox, I was reaping the benefit of Bowie’s influence. Any time I fell in love with an artist for being unabashedly, defiantly unique, what I was really falling in love with was how Bowie burst through the doors that continued to remain open for all these subsequent acts who fell within the purview of my growing attention to music. Bowie showed that it was all right to be different. It was okay to be flamboyant, to be a “Space Oddity” and not fit in. He showed the way for so many artists who walked the peculiar path whose bricks Bowie helped lay.

Even when I had no idea who or what Ziggy Stardust was, I was enjoying his short existence that continued to benefit all of us who were, just as he was, delightfully left of left of center. And even in my nascent naivete toward music and musicians, I was grooving to songs laid down by the Thin White Duke. I didn’t know who sang the songs (I predate the ease of holding up a smartphone to a radio and having the ghost in the machine tell me what I’m listening to), but I knew I liked them.

I liked David Bowie. His creativity was immense (almost as immense as Jareth’s cod piece) and left an indelible mark upon the creative spaces of sound and image. His influence shaped the musical landscape to which I arrived in all my unknowing glory and continues to enthrall and influence even now.

Many of these same sentiments can extend to how I feel about Alan Rickman’s equally unexpected passing. Rickman, with that striking singular voice. That voice will always, to me, be the Voice of the One True God (beware, NSFW for language):

Whether he was telling you to “shoot ze glass” or threatening to carve your heart out with a spoon or trying to teach you a new spell to protect you from the Dark Lord, Rickman’s dulcet timbre was always captivating and instantly recognizable. His performances were always satisfying, his range always astounding. By Grabthar’s hammer, he could bring gravitas and pathos to any character he played. He also breathed life into some of the most momentous genre fiction characters we’ve had the pleasure to meet on screen, be they Metatron, Dr. Lazarus, the Sheriff of Nottingham, or that most infamous Death Eater of all, Professor Severus Snape.

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For me, while it was all about these larger-than-life roles (of which, I do believe the Metatron was my favorite) to some degree, I think I loved Rickman most of all in a couple of his quieter, lesser-known roles: Dr. Alfred Blalock in Something the Lord Made and Alex in Snow Cake, which paired him once more with Sigourney Weaver.

Regardless of his role, Rickman was always watchable (or listenable, if it were one of his voice-only roles). His talent made many a movie more enjoyable and it will be sorely missed. He will be sorely missed as well, for his humor, his kindness, his depth of care and compassion for other actors. From what I have gleaned from recent words of kindness spoken of him and Bowie, both men were exceptionally generous with their time, attention, and advice. They were solid, solicitous souls who brought light to all they did. Both he and Bowie have left irreparable holes in the fabric of creativity as well as in the hearts of many a fan, including this humble and sorrowful wolf.

Logical Art Thou Among Vulcans

It seemed only fitting to choose Spock for this year’s holiday greeting. And just as our venerable Vulcan does, I will you all a most logical holiday, however you choose to celebrate the season. Here’s to 2016 and all the rambling I hope to do here at the lair. I hope you all will drop by every now and then for a visit. I mean, I can totally ramble to myself…but company is nice, too 🙂

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Rant Me the Serenity…

Talk about much ado about nothing. I relaunch the blog after so much time and effort to rebuild my online lair and then…nothing. Pfft. Fizzle. A couple of Flashback Fridays, some book reviews, some PhotoShop trickery…but no meat. Just sides.

I want more. Truth is, though, that I feel sometimes like there are so many variables against “more.” My job has evolved into something far more consistently all-consuming than before, which means that by the end of the day, there’s not much intellectual energy left. I mean, come on now, I’m practically running on fumes all the time anyway…now, I’ve reached the point where by the end of the day, I simply can’t brain anymore.

Please don’t make me brain anymore.

Seriously, though, I work out my focus all day long, trying to keep multiple projects on track, on time, on budget, on fleek. I come home and I got nothin’ left. The jam jar is empty and all that’s left is the dried-out jam crust around the lid. No one wants that.

The other problem (beyond my tendency to make really disgusting analogies) is that I’ve lost my indignant fire. In my Angry BloggerTM Days, I had no dearth of anger for fueling myriad rants. I’m old now, and I see the futility of ranting. Not to say that I don’t still go on rants…but they’re usually about things meant to incite wrath from the geek community. I’m really good at that.

Ranting about things that matter IRL though? Ranting just deepens the divide. I’m more into (or I’m more into trying to be more into) seeking solutions. Trying to find the problem and fix it. Trying to find answers to questions that I’m quite frankly tired of asking and tired of watching everyone in charge ignore simply because the answers aren’t…simple.

The problem is that this path isn’t easily packaged into a navel-gazing blog blurb. And this path shouldn’t be easily packaged or reduced or simplified. It’s a path of thorns and brambles. A path abandoned for too long because choosing this path requires serious work, and who wants to do that? It’s way more fun to keep ignoring this path and taking the easier one that solves nothing but lets us all be utter cockwombles from the anonymous comfort of our Internet-trolling couches.

[Loba Tangent: In other news, my British friends have taught me the word cockwomble, and I now try to fit it in whenever I can. Because cockwomble.]

So that’s where I’m at. I’m still here, pacing the lair, trying to figure it all out. I’m still writing blog posts. I’ve got a couple saved as drafts (which I couldn’t do before I repaired things, so progress!!). If it makes you all feel any better, I’m not just ignoring the lair. I haven’t even really been reading all that much lately either. Again, jam crust.

And just so I don’t leave you all with that disgusting image in your head, have this. Uzo Aduba is one of my new favorite people in the entirety of the universe. If you don’t know why, then get thee to a Netflix account and stream the hell out of Orange is the New Black. Hers is one of the most captivating characters from what is one of the most delightfully diverse, female-centric shows ever (a shame, though, that we can only get diversity behind bars).

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Fabulous Photo Friday: Zoonami!

This is the post that started the downfall of the lair last September. I wanted to find a nice photo gallery plug-in, which I thought I had. Turns out, though, that because my CMS was already crashing, the plug-in just served to bring it down even more. Strangely, that same plug-in still won’t play nicely with my blog. Oh well, just had to find a new one.

These are photos from a trip I took to San Diego in January 2014. For a couple of exquisite reasons, my time at the San Diego Zoo quickly became the pinnacle of my time there. I spent practically from the moment the zoo opened until right when it closed, roaming the paths, snapping tons of photos, and just standing, mesmerized, while watching all the marvelous beasties at play.

Here, then, are my favorite photos from that day.

Cinco de Loba

My world started falling apart a few months ago.

Not my actual world. That’s still quite spectacular, thank you. No, my virtual world. My online lair. Here. You may or may not have noticed it. Things started slowly shutting down. Things were never quite right with my WordPress CMS after some kind of glitch in a regular update many many moons ago, but it was never bad enough to cause me to have to fix it. I just had to work around the inconveniences. I couldn’t save drafts. I couldn’t schedule uploads. I wasn’t able to preview posts. Stupid things that started adding up to larger, more irritating things.

Then the degradation began to become worse, until finally one day my site simply stopped working. The posts on the front page would load, but links to other pages stopped working and links to the individual posts stopped working. And then.

Poof.

Nothing would load. Nothing would back up. Nothing would save.

Honestly? I was a little heartbroken. I thought that I was going to have to scrap the entirety of my blog and start fresh. Somehow, though, I was able to force the CMS to give one final push and dump out the text. I was then able to get Adobe Acrobat to give me a PDF of a significant portion of my site, and I was able to save the photo folder from my ISP.

It took a hot minute, but slowly, I got the blog back together, purged my old WordPress site and built it back up, new. I haven’t completely finished tweaking and adding everything back, but the foundation is there, and it’s finally and once more solid. It’s taken me another hot minute or two to finally eke out the time to make this first new post to my “new” blog. My actual world is, as I said, quite lovely holistically. Certain cogs in the wheel, however, are squeaky and require far more attention than I used to have to give them. Those cogs have been consuming not just a lot of my time but more of my energy than a salt vampire at a Morton’s Factory.

Yeah, I’m still a nerd. Nothing’s ever going to change that.

However, the longer the time that passed since everything went Louie Kablooie, the more I realized how much I missed coming here and writing, even if it was just a review of whatever book I’d just finished. Oh, and for the record, I’ve been keeping a running tally of all the books I’ve read since my last BookBin review and I plan on posting reviews of them. I just need to decide whether or not I want to do individual reviews for all the ones I finished in 2014 or just lump them together into one summary. Because, see, I don’t want this to just be a book review blog anymore. I kind of lost my way for a while and didn’t really have a whole lot to write about. I think that’s changed.

All I know is that I have missed coming here. I’ve missed my lair. I’ve missed writing for fun, for myself. So, like Norma Desmond, I’ve come home at last.

And this time will be bigger and brighter than we knew it
So watch me fly, we all know I can do it

Okay, enough Broadway. You’ve survived to the end of this post. Have this photo of an adorable kitty as a reward. He’s my dad’s newest cat. He’s skittish as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs and when my dad found him outside, he had puncture wounds in his neck from being attacked by a dog. He’s so nervous that it took three days of patience before he was finally comfortable enough with my presence to allow me to pet him. But he’s adorable, isn’t he? Who doesn’t love adorable kitties?

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Wine A Little

I went really deep into the contemplative weeds on that last post, eh? Thought I would lighten things up a bit by finally discussing something that I’ve discovered I really, really love doing. A lot. A LOT.

Naughty denizens, whatever you’re thinking right now…I’m proud of you. But it’s not that. Or that.

No. See, while another one of my Internet PersonalitiesTM might be known as a whiny hater, Loba would now like to declare her passion as a wine-y lover. (Ooh, overwork that pun, Loba!) I love to drink. True, I used to love to drink because I loved the numbing insouciance of total inebriation. Rite of passage and all that jazz, I suppose. I’m a bit of a higher-class drinker now. I drink to enjoy the flavors, the craft, the love that goes into these libacious fineries. I’ve already proven myself to be quite the beer snob, both through Darktober and Febrewary.

Now it’s time to do the same with wine.

For several years now, we’ve been making regular trips to both the East Coast (Virginia) and West Coast (California) wine regions. Virginia has surprised us several times with some really fabulous wineries nestled throughout the Shenandoah region, but none so far has come close to competing with what California has to offer. Whatever miracle of wind, water, fire, earth, and air that winemakers have captured out there, they have become masters (and mistresses) of bottling the magic in the most delicious ways possible.

First, a few points of clarification. When we visit California wine country, we stick with Sonoma. Why? Personal preference. Experience has left us with the opinion that Napa is overcrowded, overpriced, and overhyped. They have decent wine, sure, but not decent enough to support the fees and prices they charge. Napa is the Disney of Wine Countries.

Conversely, Sonoma is bucolic, relaxing, and they offer wines that are the most appealing to our palates. If you lean toward Pinot Noirs and Zinfandels and shy away from crowds and empty fanfare, then Sonoma might be the side for you, too.

The other thing that we love about Sonoma is the abundance of small wineries. I love going to wineries so small that their bottles don’t even have bar codes on them. I’m not trying to be “I liked that wine before they had bar codes” hipster or anything. I’ve simply learned that a lot of times (but not always), if a winery has become large enough that they’re able to ship large batches of multiple varieties and vintages all the way over to the East Coast, then it’s because they’ve hit upon a process that allows them to produce bottle after bottle after bottle of generic wine. Again, it can be generic and delicious—but it’s still generic.

Think of it this way. When you buy tomatoes from a chain supermarket, they’re tasty, right? Nice, pretty little hothouse on-the-vine tomatoes that all taste fine…and the same. And then you get tomatoes from a farmers’ market or, even better, from your own garden. They might not be as refined or as pretty as the hothouse tomatoes, but they’re fresh and warm and succulent. And the flavor! You can taste the difference—intense, rich, robust. That’s kind of how I feel about wineries large enough to mass-produce versus the smaller wineries. The mass-produced wines can be great (there are a few I love), but the smaller wineries are free from the pressures of mass production and can focus on cultivating a wine of intensity and surprising variation.

Like I said, today is my declaration of wine snobbery, denizens.

That all being said, whenever we’re about to take a trip to Sonoma, I spend a good week or more doing research. I pull out my map of the region and I begin to cross-research wineries there against wineries recommended by different sites related to the area as well as against personal reviews on Yelp or Trip Advisor. I narrow down the selection to a list of places I think will be good (or places we’ve been to previously that we enjoyed and want to revisit). I group them according to area, charge up my GPS, and I’m ready to go. So far, we’ve made it to more than 50 wineries (in both Sonoma and Napa). That might sound like a lot (okay, it actually is a lot), but we haven’t even scratched a patch on wine country, considering that Sonoma alone has almost 400 wineries.

So what’s the point of this post? Well, I’m not Yelp or Trip Advisor, but I do have some recommendations. I’ve narrowed my first list down to 10 (because that sounds like a lovely even number, right?). Some of these are wineries we’ve been to more than once. Some are wineries we just discovered—but their wines were so delicious, I couldn’t help but praise them. All of these wineries produce rich, bold, complex reds—so sorry if you aren’t a red wine drinker. I’m admittedly just starting to learn more about white wines, but I will be sure to indicate if any of these wineries have whites I enjoyed.

Oh, and enjoy a few of the multitudinous photos I took recently while driving around Sonoma. That’s another thing I love about Sonoma—even if you don’t like wine, you’re going to love the area. Stunning vistas and long, winding roads that duck through groves of ancient, gnarled trees cloaked in Spanish moss and meander through orchards and rustic valleys full of flowers and farmhouses and collapsing barns. I could drive around these areas all day. Plus, the perfectly aligned rows of grape vines do wonderful things for my mild-grade OCD.

And now, in alphabetical order…

Loba’s Top Ten Sonoma Wineries, 2014 Edition

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A. Rafanelli. We visited this winery for the first time during our most recent trip. It’s by appointment only, but it’s well worth the effort. They also are very amenable to making time to welcome you for a tasting. I didn’t realize we needed an appointment, so we ended up literally phoning them while sitting outside their gate; 15 minutes later, we were driving up to one of the most beautifully kept wineries we’ve ever visited. Seriously, this place is beautiful. Do not miss the opportunity to wander around the property after your tasting. We entered the rustic tasting room and immediately received a glass of the most delicious Zinfandel I’ve ever had. It was dark and luxurious, with a fine floral finish. They don’t offer many wines for tasting, but this Zin was wonderful enough to make the trip worth it. We also were lucky enough to meet the owner (who looks eerily like actor Ray Wise, who will always be Leland Palmer to me). He’s quite a gentle, genial gentleman, and the history of his family’s journey from Italy in the early 1900s to this beautiful winery and its wonderful wines is lovely.

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Bacigalupi Vineyards. This was another recent discovery, but another winery that shows the strength of its age and experience through delicious wines. One of the things that we learned from other wineries’ staff is that Bacigalupi is a well-respected vineyard. Several other wineries purchase grapes from them because of their quality and consistently praise them (which is kind of nice; Sonoma wineries are very supportive of each other). It’s only been since 2011 that Bacigalupi have run their own tasting room to let others sample their own blends. The winery produces a lovely Chardonnay, but we instantly fell in love with their Pinot Noir. Again, this is a wine that speaks to a deeper level of care and skill, with delicious complexity. Additionally, the family-run tasting room was a lovely experience; we even ended up meeting both the Bacigalupi twins, Katey and Nicole, as we stopped one day for a tasting and the next day to pick up a bottle of Pinot because we couldn’t stop thinking about it. Great experience.

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Frick Winery. What do you get when you combine a charming tasting room, an eclectic wine maker, and a line of wines so delicious that it’s virtually impossible to select one favorite? You get my favorite winery. Bill Frick is a viticultural virtuoso. He’s been working his vines since 1976, and it’s pretty much just him running the whole show. He only produces 1,400 cases each year, which grants him the ability to be very hands-on and selective with the whole wine-making process. The end result is a series of some of the most holistically pleasing wines I’ve ever had the honor of experiencing. He also offers one of the most diverse line-ups, especially for Pinot Noir and Zinfandel-heavy Sonoma. He excels at both reds and whites; his Viognier is elegant and coquettish, and his Cinsaut and Counoise are bright bold streaks of incomparable flavor. There’s a reason that we have more Frick in our fridge than any other winery’s offerings. Simply put? He’s amazing.

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J Vineyards & Winery. This is probably the most mainstream winery that will be on this list. It’s also one of our first truly great wine-tasting experiences (and the winery that introduced us properly to the Sonoma side of the wine coin), so J has a special place in my heart. They are gifted at Pinots, including several single-vineyard rotations that definitely wow and surprise with subtle flavor variations that make each worth trying. They also surprised me with some truly exceptional sparkling wines. I’m typically not much of a sparkling wine fan, but J’s line is atypically sweet (without being cloying) and refined (without being overly processed). Be forewarned though: They are also one of the most expensive wineries we’ve ever visited in Sonoma. Definitely a treat reserved for when we feel like splurging a bit.

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Matrix Winery. I nearly didn’t stop at this winery because of the name. Unless Trinity is going to be my sommelier and Morpheus is somewhere in the back, adding blue and red pills to the wine, I kind of think the name is a little silly. Then again, I go by LobaBlanca, so what do I know about serious names? I’m so glad we stopped, because Matrix has become one of our favorite stops since we discovered them a few years ago. They are a premier producer of fabulous Pinot Noirs, Zinfandels, (sensing a theme?) and Sirahs, including several awarding-winning vintages made with…Bacigalupi grapes (insert “It’s a Small World” theme here). Their tasting room can get a little crowded on weekends, which detracts from the experience slightly, but their wines have always impressed.

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Merry Edwards. Ms. Edwards, one of California’s first female winemakers, has been cultivating her viticultural skills since 1974. The result is unquestionably stunning Pinot Noirs. In fact, I would be so daring as to state that I think her line of Pinots are the finest we’ve yet experienced. Considering the competition (even on this list alone), that’s about the highest praise I can offer.

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Moshin Vineyards. What’s not to love about a winery with a giant hummingbird statue out front? Even when we don’t stop to go in, I love driving by this charming little tasting room. Inside, though, I know is a sublime line-up of amazing reds, including a fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon (which is more prevalent over in Napa than among Sonoma vintners). They also make a couple of delightful Chardonnays, but I always come back to their wonderful line of Pinots. One thing that I haven’t yet noted is that, with smaller wineries, variation is a reality…a beautiful, delicious reality. Vintages at these wineries will change depending on how well (or not so well) that year’s grape crop did. With a winery like Moshin, with several different types of Pinot Noir, you are bound to find yourself switching preferences based on all the wonderful, magical things that transpired in the process of getting from grape to wine. What’s even more fun is when wineries let you do a side-by-side comparison of different vintages of the same wine (something that Moshin has let us do). So much can change in the span of a year…

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Porter Creek Vineyards. Roll up to this vineyard and you might find yourself greeted by a friendly vineyard pooch. You will definitely find yourself floored by the beautiful view from the tiny tasting barn (yes, it’s a barn). Again, this winery can get crowded easily because of the small size, but the wines are worth the stop. Pinots and Zins, of course, dominate, but Porter also makes an exceptional old vine Carignane as well as a silky Russian River Chardonnay.

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Thomas George Estates. This was another recent discovery, but their wines were so amazing that I ended up buying half a case of their varieties (and would have bought one of each if I could have). They are equally skilled at whites and reds, with divine Viogniers and Chardonnays and Pinots and Zinfandels of impeccable caliber. Plus, their tasting room is located inside their wine cave, which makes for an awesome tasting experience. We were lucky enough to have a great sommelier, who had recently taken a trip to Virginia to sample some of their wines, so we were able to compare notes and exchange recommendations. We were also lucky enough to finish up our tasting and purchases right as a limo-bus full of tipsy bridesmaids (and presumably a bride) arrived to make the wine cave echo like it was being invaded by drunk chickens. Why mention this? To point out that wine tasting is not just about the wine. It’s about the sommelier, the location, the other patrons. I have no doubt that my experience there would have been far different had we arrived while the bridesmaids were getting their drunk on. In fact, I probably would have left without even going in. Just keep in mind that sometimes a winery needs a second chance to impress you (or disappoint you twice).

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Zichichi Family Vineyards. If you are looking for a unique boutique experience (try saying that five times fast after a day of wine tasting), then I direct you to Zichichi. This winery does barrel tastings, which means that they take you directly into their fermentation area and draw samples straight from the barrel. It’s really quite awesome. (True, they might do “regular” tastings, too, but I don’t think they do; at least they haven’t either time we’ve been to their winery). Also, they make some truly remarkable Zinfandels. I vacillate in preference between their Estate Zin and their Old Vine Zin (see? Tasty, tasty variation), but both are extraordinary. Plus, the vibe here is so…chill. You enter a beautiful tasting room and are greeted by some of the friendliest, most relaxed sommeliers possible (I’d be pretty mellow, too, if I had their view all day). Nice, friendly, informative staff and some amazing wine. Seriously, what is there not to love about a place like this? Just note that what they are offering from the barrel hasn’t yet been bottled…so if you like what you try, you can order it, but then you’ll have to wait a few months for it to finish aging. Trust me, though, when I say it’s well worth the wait.

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And there you have it—Loba’s top 10 Sonoma wineries for the moment. I’m sure this list will change. I’ve already started a list of new wineries for our next trip. Who knows what those might bring (other than more delicious red wines)? If you ever find yourself roaming around the back roads of Sonoma and you stumble across any of these wineries, I hope you give them a go. Or head to their Web sites and see what they’re selling (if you’re lucky enough to live in a state that allows wine shipments). Whatever you decide, I hope you enjoy. I also hope you have some really strong tooth paste…or just enjoy having a purple smile. Red wine—stainfully delicious.

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It’s been a while, hasn’t it, denizens? Not a while since I paid any love to the lair. I’ve been banging on about books and beers and strange ephemera from my youth that once (and forever) made me happy. But it’s been a while since I wrote something navel-gazey, eh? What better day to change that then the auspicious 11th birthday of my bloginations?

One of my favorite online stops every now and again is The Oatmeal. Funny, dorky, irreverent, and grammar sticklers.

During a recent perusal, I ran across the section The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances. True, I don’t really run all that much. Sometimes, if I have an abundance of energy, I’ll bring it down a few notches with a jaunty jog here and there, but mostly I walk. A lot. Uphill, downhill, on paths, on trails, in cities, in the woods, wherever. I love to walk. The longer and more strenuous the walk? The more I’m going to dig in. I don’t take glucosamine every morning for nothing, dammit.

But why? The unglamorous reason is that I started walking four years ago as a means to outpace having to deal with my mom’s death. I dealt with it some, mostly through blogging here, but when the edges got too sharp and the feelings got too raw? I moved on. If I just plugged in my earbuds and kept moving, then I could focus on the music, on the pace, on the sweat and exhaustion, on the physical pain and not the deeper hurt. Basically, I tried to walk away from dealing with it all, not accepting that it was chained to my ankle and following right along with me.

But that’s a whole other story.

Funny thing (and I’m always one for gallows humor), is that when I started to resurface from the fog of my self-enforced avoidance through exercise…I really liked the physical me I came back to. I’d “avoided” myself down 50 pounds and up several metabolic notches. I had a reduced appetite and increased energy. I was toned and muscular and for the first time in my life, I didn’t want to run away from the reflection in the mirror.

Thus bringing me back to the Oatmeal post on running. Bet you thought I’d forgotten that, didn’t you? Some of the post made me laugh and some of it passed right over me without any response. One panel, though. One panel punched me right in the solar plexus:

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“I grew up a fat kid.”

When I was in the safety of my own world (as any good introvert will tell you, we all have two worlds: the outside one in which we have to live, and the inside one in which we choose to live), my weight wasn’t an issue. It never stopped me from battling Cobra Commander and Destro or using my proton pack to fight ghosts or calling for K.I.T.T. before the bad guys found my hiding spot. I could be anyone, do anything in the confines of our yard…although, looking back, I would love to have known what the neighbors thought of my strange antics, swinging from tree limbs, running and rolling and ducking and dodging, none of them able to see the fantastic adventures my imagination was creating for me.

Outside of my own world? I was fat. And others made a point of informing me that I was fat, as if somehow this truth eluded me without constant reminding. Because somehow having to shop in the boys’ husky section for jeans or the women’s plus-sized section for school clothes when I was 11 wasn’t enough.

[Loba Tangent: Don’t cry for me, Argentina. Yes, kids bullied me for being fat. The sad truth, though, is that when someone else came along, even lower on the popularity food chain than me, I didn’t step up and defend them. Instead, I reveled in the feeling of finally giving back some of what I’d been taking all those years. Kick a dog too much and sometimes the wrong person ends up losing a hand when the dog finally bites back. I bear the weight of that truth even now, because introspection is deservedly cruel sometimes.]

I’ve tried since my teens to tame my weight, but almost always in that half-assed, “miracle diet,” snap-my-fingers-and-it’s-done-right? way. You know what that approach gets you? A boatload of disappointment and discouragement. Intellectually, I understood that being healthy was more important than being skinny, and that being healthy was a commitment (that I obviously wasn’t ready to make).

But the part of me conditioned by years of fat-shaming and societal demands to fit into one generic mold, regardless of the multitude of body shapes women should have, had left me convinced that I was never going to be attractive as long as I had a double chin or my thighs rubbed together when I walked or I had bingo wings—and these were the reasons that I had to be skinny!!11!!!1

[Loba Tangent 2: That’s a whole other post as well: realizing that society’s expectations, especially for how women “should” look, are bullshit. Okay, so maybe that’s not a whole other post…but I bet I could turn it into one. Because wordy.]

Worse yet, I was never going to consider myself attractive. I was only going to see these “flaws.” I was always going to feel terrible and let those acidic feelings erode my self confidence, thus trapping me in a cycle I simply didn’t have the strength from which to break free. Truth is, at the point when my mom died, I was still overweight and still unhappy about it…but it was an “I can’t do anything to change it so why bother trying” defeatist unhappy, which feels as sucky as it sounds.

And then I finally pulled my head out of my ass after a year of running from the sorrow of my mom’s death and, I’m not going to lie, denizens…emotionally, I was still a mess, but physically, I felt fantastic. I had the energy level of a hamster on speed, my joints and back no longer hurt after I did any physical activity, my cholesterol was no longer a worry, I’d developed muscles in places I’d never had them and strengthened the muscles I’d previously had—I had let go of my erroneous focus on weight and ultimately ended up letting go of the weight as well. Not the ideal way to finally get my ducks in a healthier row, but sometimes we just have to go with what we’ve got.

Also, in my need to outrun my sadness, I’d finally outrun the shadow of my arch nemesis: “The Fat Girl.”

See, Mr. Oatmeal Running Man Matthew has his Blerch. I have the Fat Girl. I joke about her all the time, saying that she’s still back there, WAAAAY behind me…too out-of-shape to catch me now. But she’s persistent, and one day, she’s finally going to close the gap between us. I “joke” about her, but secretly, she is my greatest fear. Wounds heal, but scars remain…and if a wound goes deep enough, the scar is just that much uglier.

The Fat Girl is my ugliest, deepest scar.

Do I let her control me still? Not often, but sometimes…sometimes I can hear her breathing right behind me. And so I strap on my sneakers and I go. I go walking. I go work out to some shockingly bad 80s movie. I move in some kind of positive way, because as long as I’m moving, those admittedly juvenile fears won’t catch up…even when I stop to drink half a bottle of wine in one sitting or eat ice cream for breakfast while at the beach (because what else should I eat for breakfast while at the beach?).

I’m always going to have a damaged image of myself. I’m always going to worry about my weight, always going to pay attention to what I eat. It is what it is. However, I’m not going to let that damage stop me from enjoying myself. Even in the not-quite-how-you’re-supposed-to-do-it way that I typically employ, I’ve learned that it’s not about dieting and meeting external ideals. If that were the case, I still wouldn’t look the way I do (but I finally look the way I like, so nyeah). No, I don’t always eat what I “should” or stick to some kind of tortuously limited diet. But, no matter what I eat or drink, I always make sure I keep moving…moving way more than I ever moved before.

“I run because it’s the only way I know how to quiet the monster.”

I began walking to quiet the sorrow in my head. I still walk, only now it’s to quiet the sound of a past that I can’t change but that I can continue to outpace. One step at a time.

St. Patrick’s DIY

Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhuit, denizens!

Aye, tis a grand day to be Irish. Or partially Irish. Or just someone who likes to diminish an entire ethnicity down to one stereotypical pastime.

Sláinte, indeed.

Regardless of your reasons for celebrating the day, please stay safe. As for me, the sudden return of winter dictates that I shall stay within the warm, dry confines of my lair for any celebrations. That’s fine with me, because I have the perfect brew to mark the occasion.

[Loba Tangent: I also fail to spell occasion correctly 95 percent of the time I write it. I don’t know why. Thank goodness for spell check.]

Remember back during Febrewary, how I returned to my ritual of brewing my own beer on a work holiday? Well, turns out that the prep schedule was such that my White House honey porter was officially ready to crack open for consumption this past Saturday. Rather than drink it then, I decided to give it a couple extra days and celebrate today with my very own beer.

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Look at that beer, denizens. Even though it’s not present in this photo, this porter poured out with a fizzy accompaniment of froth that dissipated to lines of carbonation crawling up through its beautiful carnelian center. I took a backlit photo, just so you all could see this gorgeous color:

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Also, look at how clear it is! I’ve finally gotten the bottling correct!

To be fair, even though this is supposedly a porter, that color, the mouth feel, and the taste are all more indicative of a red ale than what I would typically attribute to a porter. I wonder if perhaps the age of the recipe lends itself to this less-than-modern-day-porter conveyance of flavors and feel. Or maybe I simply didn’t steep the malt mix long enough. Not sure.

Whatever the reason, I hesitate to praise this as a porter. I also kind of wish I’d refrigerated it before drinking because, again, it’s not really a “serve at room temperature” beer. Then again, it’s cold enough in the house that this time, “room temperature” was still nice and cool.

Beyond the points I’ve already mentioned, this porter has a beautiful bouquet. It’s wonderfully malty with a frisson of honeyed sweetness. That honey plays through into every other aspect of this beer, with a soft, smooth mouth feel and a delightful flavor that remains on the safe side of sweet without toppling over into saturation. I do wish that it had a bit more carbonation, because if you don’t drink it quickly enough (and I honestly didn’t want to drink it too quickly because it was that tasty), it does start to go a bit flat.

In other words, Irish you all could taste this beer.

Ha. I see what I did there, and I LOLed.

Seriously, I am supremely pleased with this latest homebrew adventure. Northern Brewer wins as a new supplier for my homebrew dabblings. I have their Caribou Slobber kit downstairs right now, awaiting brewing, and then there are a couple other kits that I would love to try as I get more and more confident with this new process. All that being said, I would not be averse to giving this honey porter another go once I finish tackling these new flavors.

Putting the “Brew” in Febrewary

So how could I possibly call this “Febrewary” without actually brewing some beer? I just can’t, denizens. Therefore, I give you this:

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Seems that I’ve made a bit of a habit in recent years of spending my cold weather holidays brewing beers…a habit that I sadly didn’t continue throughout 2013 because…well, because life. That’s pretty much why.

Now, not to say that I don’t have a life this year, but I do have a bit more free time than I did last year. Plus, with about a foot of snow still on the ground and daytime highs still below freezing, I’m thinking that staying indoors on my day off isn’t necessarily a bad idea.

Plus, there’s the added bonus of recently relocating a gift card that my cousins gave me to Northern Brewer Homebrew Supply, that must have gotten lost in our recent move. When I looked through Northern Brewer’s brew kits and saw that they offered, among other tasty concoctions, a White House honey porter? I took that as a sign that my Presidents’ Day was set.

I’ve written before about my beer brewing adventures. I have to say that those previous kits can’t even compare to the simplicity of the Northern Brewer kit that I used today. In some ways, I feel like it was almost too easy…like I missed a step or didn’t have all the ingredients or forgot something or…I don’t know. It just wasn’t anywhere near as complicated as the previous kits made the process out to be.

Instead, the Northern Brewer White House honey porter kit was a breeze as well as way neater, way quicker, and way more fun. I’m not saying that the other kits were bad; on the contrary, they were the ones that got me hooked on homebrewing in the first place. However, Northern Brewer has shown that applying a little bit of creativity to a process can simplify and streamline it in ways that make everything more awesome. And who doesn’t want more awesome in their lives?

So right now, my gallon jug full of honey porter is sitting down in the dark coolness of our storage room (a storage room! Such beer-making luxury!), its little airlock in place, just waiting for the yeast to start the fermentation process. Minus the feeling that this was simply too easy, I’m very pleased with today’s brewing exercise. I was also very pleased with the Star San sanitation process I used. Again, made everything way easier.

This whole experience has revived my love for making my own beer. I guess I had forgotten how much fun it can be to create something that I love…and obviously, I love beer. Now that we have more space, including an area of the house where I can keep my brews cool and dark while they beerify themselves, I might start doing this more frequently. Hell, I might even start moving into deeper homebrew waters, beyond the relative safety of these types of one-gallon kits. However, I already have another gallon kit waiting in the wings once today’s batch has finished fermenting and I’ve bottled it. Plus, I have a little more money left on my gift card. Methinks it’s time to treat myself to some more professional brewing equipment.

Stay tuned, denizens. Bottling is only two weeks away…and then, two weeks after that? It’s Millah Time! (Only way better than actual Miller. I hope.)

OMG Update!

While testing the links in this post, I loaded Northern Brewer’s home page, only to find this: Wil Wheaton’s VandalEyes PA!

SHUT. UP!

Seriously, I wrote in my first blog post about my homebrewing adventures that Wil Wheaton was the main inspiration for my interest in this hobby in the first place. What can I say? I really am just a geek. Just like Wil.

I wish that I liked IPAs, because I would buy this kit in a heartbeat if I did, just to experience the love that he’s invested into creating his own beer. I bet it wins everything. But it’s an IPA. With an awesome name. So if that’s your bag, denizens? Give it a go, and be sure to let me know how it goes!

Also? This makes me love Northern Brewer that much more. Wil Wheaton. So much awesome.

Merry X-mas!

No, denizens, I’m not contributing to the “war on Christmas.” You know me, though…always looking for a loophole. And, in this case, our two lovely well-wishers would say nothing less than Merry X-mas. Think about it…what if, at the end of the series, Mulder and Scully disappeared to the North Pole and took up residence as that mythical toymaking duo, the Clauses? We’d all want to believe then, eh? Plus, they’d still be having crazy adventures with strange UFOs…just now, Mulder would be at the helm!

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As a special treat, click the small and get the full-sized version. Use as you wish. Share as you wish. I hope it brings you joy. And, whatever your pleasure, denizens, I hope your day is marvelous. Just like you.