31 December 2016

Hello 2017!

2016...a year I am looking forward to putting in the history books.

For me it is marked by loss -- very personal loss.

The world is not completely cruel -- along with the loss I had some gains...I was lucky enough to gain two beautiful new nephews. I am loving watching them grow.

But I do hope 2017 brings more gains than losses. I am entering 2017 with hope -- and hope you will, too.

But 2016...smell ya later!

Wishing you all a very happy and safe New Year.

29 December 2016

The Small Percentage

20% of known pregnancies become non-viable/end in miscarriage.
2% of known pregnancies end in missed miscarriage (the body does not expel the fetus, even after non-viability)
30% of D&Cs from a missed miscarriage lead to Asherman's Syndrome (uterine scarring)
23.5% of women over 35 diagnosed with Asherman's are able to give birth.

What does this all mean?

My doctor was convinced I would get pregnant very quickly once I got my period. Frankly, I thought I would, too! But when that period never came...we started to get concerned. We waited a bit...just in case my body was taking its time getting back on track. When after over two months came and went, it was time to take things into my own hands and push for further diagnosis. (tip: become your own advocate. Push when you think something is wrong.) 

First I had a sonogram -- luckily we had this scheduled because my doc thought she saw a strange blood vessel and wanted to get it checked. That didn't tell us much, but the sonogram doc recommended that I have a sonohysterograph. Sounds intimidating, no? (tip: take a few ibuprofen and be prepared for some cramping. It is uncomfortable but not painful) The doctor became concerned when she could barely get the fluid in. I became concerned when she said that meant there was some scarring...and the call from my ob-gyn further confirmed this and suggested I see a specialist.

Off I went to a specialist in minimally invasive gynecological surgery. Full of hope, I watched as he looked over my results. I listened as he talked about my uterine scarring, also known as Asherman's syndrome, and went over how he would perform the surgery, an operative hysteroscopy, and the risks involved. And a few days later, there I was in the operating room, and shortly thereafter, in the recovery room. The scarring was extensive, he had gotten most of it, but I needed to have one more to finish it off. In the meantime, I would take estrogen to help build my endometrial lining, and progesterone to help get my body to have a period.

Knowing what I know now...not getting that period would have been a sign that something else was wrong. I didn't know that then, though...what I did know was that I had a short window in which to have this surgery before I, once again, had to travel for work. I adjusted my schedule, and on our first anniversary, 9 May 2016, I went in for my second hysteroscopy.

I will not forget the look on my doctor's face when he told me that while he had gotten all the scarring, my endometrial lining was less than optimal; in fact, it was almost non-existent. After a month of estrogen, it should have been nice and thick...and it wasn't. I cried a lot that day. J felt sad that day. To me, that news was harder than hearing our pregnancy was non-viable. It was harder than the D&C procedure that had likely caused the scarring. The following day when my ob-gyn called to tell me to say she'd never seen anything like this, reminded me she had stopped the D&C so she wouldn't go too deep, and that I would need to consider other options, I cried more.

In a weird way...it felt like the first time I had felt something visceral since my dad passed away. The sorrow was deep, my cried more like bellows...I wonder what the person in the hotel next to me thought. I quickly made an appointment with the fertility specialist, but that day, I started grieving. I had lost my ability to carry a child.

We went to the specialist -- tried a few more rounds of estrogen. We tested my eggs -- there were a lot and they were good. My body was absorbing the estrogen well, but still my lining didn't exist. The cruel irony didn't escape me...I thought it would be my age that would hinder our ability to have kids, but no, I am fertile Myrtle but with no place to put 'em! I listened and cried as two different fertility docs told me to consider surrogacy. I grieved that my body couldn't do what it was supposed to.

And I was angry. Angry that my body couldn't do what it was supposed to. That through no fault of my own, my fertility was taken from me. I was angry that my body felt terrible -- bloated and crampy -- and I got no relief. And I was sad that J's chance for a bio child was taken from him, too. That took a long time to get past.

During this time I also suddenly lost my uncle, which, in a weird way, helped make our next step decision a bit easier.

So what does this all mean?

It means I had a lot of bad luck in the fertility department. How I ended up in this small percentage, I don't know. But I did.

This wasn't where I expected life to take us. I allowed myself to grieve and be sad. This was very important. I tried not to be too hard on myself -- which in itself was tough. Once I allowed for all of that...I was able to focus on our next journey.

06 December 2016

When It's Finally Over

When your pregnancy is found to be non-viable, you have a few choices:
1. Wait for it to pass naturally
2. Take medication that causes your body to abort
3. Have a medical procedure
4. Drink (well...that is an adjunct to all of those!)

I had a work trip planned about two weeks after we found out. I didn't have the luxury of time, but also, my body wasn't doing a great job of miscarrying on its own. I decided first to take medication.

This was the only time I slowed down slightly from work. I relaxed, took the medication, and waited for the cramping to come. I waited...and waited...and waited...There was one moment when I thought, yes, this is it. But a small clot passed and a small cramp, and that was it.

This gave me a lot of time to think and get angry.
Why was my body behaving in such a way?!
Could it not do anything right?

This did no good, I could not will my body to pass this mass of tissue that was now tricking my body into thinking it was still pregnant. Until I could let it go, I would remain tired. My boobs would remain swollen. My hormones would remain a bit out of whack.

I remained hopeful throughout the weekend that the medicine would take care of things. Alas, it was not to be. My body -- she is a stubborn one! We had a contingency plan with the doctor should this happen, and that was to get a dilation and curettage (D&C) early in the week. This carried with it some risk, but I was told that it was minor and the best way, at this point, to complete the miscarriage.

I have always been a strong advocate for a woman's right to choose, and for safe access when a woman chooses to end her pregnancy. After going through the procedure myself, this need to safe access resonates even more so. This is not a sophisticated procedure -- you have strong pain medication, and the doctor sticks a suction tube up your lady bits and scrapes around. Without a sterile environment, by a professional who knows what they are doing, there is a huge risk for infection or worse.

At any rate, my doctor and I chit chatted while I tried to stay brave throughout the procedure. I was super grateful for my high pain tolerance...though I did ask them to pump up the drugs at one point. And then, just as quickly as it had all started, it was over.

The procedure. My pregnancy. All officially over.

It was pretty unceremonious, and while they required that someone pick me up, I could have just as easily driven myself home.

Which I should have...because to add insult to injury, I ended up getting a parking ticket after leaving my car parked nearby overnight.

30 November 2016

Sicily: Seaside in Cefalu

Cefalu by Night

After a harrowing journey to get there, Cefalu was a very welcome sight!

It is a small resort town about thirty minutes from Palermo. Quite a bit of the town is off limits to cars -- though the rules are rather ignored, including by us! It was a bit easy to get lost, and ignore the signs, and no one seemed to care much...but be warned.

Cefalu was a darling beach town, and a nice change from the inland mountainous area where we'd spent the first few days. We parked the car, checked into the hotel, and meandered around town to grab a drink and decompress from the drive. We found ourselves in this lovely little town square at the base of a church, and since it was a Friday, there was a wedding going on. There was also a very happy happy hour, where we enjoyed prosecco and spritzes for a while, and maybe a bite or two.

There is a hike you can do that will take you above the town -- we chose not to do that. We chose instead to have a bit of vino on the roof of our hotel and watch the sunset, then to grab some food. Cefalu is small enough that you can walk from end to end during an evening passeggiata. 

The next morning we decided to take our time getting into Palermo, and to enjoy the Tyrrhenian Sea. There is a public beach, but your best bet is to spend a few Euro and rent a beach chair. We chose to stay right in the middle of Cefalu -- there are beaches a little further out, as well. We bought a towel in one of the shops (which came in handy later!), and rented chairs. Ours were probably about 10E a piece for a few hours of lounging. They have umbrellas should the sun get too intense, and most have a bar and some food, and will come to your chair and take/bring your order.

This was a fun, relaxing part of the trip -- it was interesting to watch all the beach goers from around the world. Like many places, there were "vendors" trying to sell their junk as we tried to relax; most of the time they were asked to leave by the beach chair company.

I'd highly recommend a day and night in Cefalu during your Sicily trip. Sicily is an overwhelming place -- the craziness of rural driving and the wildness of the cities really earn you a day or two of relaxation.

24 November 2016

Why We Shared

On this Thanksgiving Day, I am thankful for what I got to experience over this past year. I got to experience a tremendous amount of love, support, and patience (including from myself!) and for that I am grateful.

It's been my experience that many women, and their partners if they have one, choose not to share the news of their pregnancy until they are at least out of the first trimester. The thinking is that you wait until you are in the "safe zone."

But...there really is no 100% safe zone. People experience losses at all stages of pregnancy, and there is one common thread through it all -- we all need support.

Keeping a pregnancy secret is really, really hard. Especially when you find out right at the start of the holiday season...there are a lot of parties, and a lot of people watching every thing you put into your mouth. I was very tired, as well, so trying to stay up late enough to even go to a party was difficult (my apologies to everyone whose party I flaked on). Even without that, you are excited and scared and need to shout it from the roof tops.

J & I discussed quite a bit whether or not we should tell everyone. We knew our families would be together on Christmas, and, after all, the doctor had told us we could. If we shared early, we figured, the worst that could happen was we'd have to go back and tell people it didn't work out.

So we shared.

And it didn't work out.

We were so glad we shared. I will never forget the smile on my mom's face when we told her. I will never forget her tearing up when my nephew walked out in front of the family with a "Big Brother" shirt on Christmas Eve (yup, my brother & sister-in-law were also pregnant, due two weeks or so before we would have been)...and I will really never forget the whoops and tears, so loud my ears were ringing, when we lifted my nephew's shirt to reveal a sign that said "and big cousin." It's now made even more special because I'd not seen a smile that big on my Uncle B's face in a while; he is no longer of this earth, and I carry that smile with me. I will never forget J's mom needing to hand the phone off because she was so happy, the texts we got from his family, and his little sister being so excited when we called her. I wouldn't trade those memories for anything.

But we are mostly glad because when all was said and done, we needed their support. Some people were uncomfortable, some didn't know what to say, but because we'd shared, they were in our corner, they were there to hold us up as we wobbled down this road. And we didn't have to hide or be secretive when we had our bad days. No one questioned when I had to beg out of a party because of a slight emotional breakdown on the way. We could talk about it -- both me with my friends and, equally as important, J with his friends. And many people let us know that they, too, had been through this (but hadn't told anyone).

There is a sense of shame that many of us carry -- especially with women -- when a pregnancy becomes non-viable. Because we don't talk about it, the shame is compounded because we feel abnormal. We need to talk about it, because we are not abnormal, we did nothing wrong, and we are not alone...it is estimated 20-30% of pregnancies become non-viable, that is one out of every three people.

I am not suggesting we introduce ourselves to strangers by leading with, "Hi, I'm Annie, and I have had a non-viable pregnancy." But I am hopeful that we stop hiding. That we stop waiting until another friend experiences the same and then we tell them. And that we stop being uncomfortable when a person talks about their own experience.

It is not an easy thing, but it is not a rare thing. And support can truly make a huge amount of difference.

Ok, let's eat.

19 November 2016

A Different Type of Devastation

The toughest thing for me was not that the pregnancy didn't proceed the way we would have liked. For me, it was the incredible loneliness that was associated with it and the ensuing events.

Physically, I was not alone. I have a wonderful husband by my side who was also dealing with his own grief. And, since we had made the choice to tell so many people, we had a lot of support.

But emotionally, I felt stranded. Everyone was treating me like I should be devastated. Tiptoeing around, both wanting to bring it up and not wanting to bring it up at the same time. All of this was out of love for me & J, this I knew. But I wasn't devastated, not by this. Devastated was what I felt when my dad passed away, like the rug had gotten pulled out from under me and beneath it, the floor was missing. With this, though...I was sad, yes, but intellectually I knew this was the way my body was supposed to work. And I was very sad for J.

And the hormones do nothing to help this sense of sadness, the sense of feeling like an oddball, nor do they help make sense of much. (postpartum depression, I learned, can happen even when the pregnancy doesn't proceed)

I spent a few nights googling "not devastated by miscarriage," or "non-viable pregnancy but feel ok." And I found very little. I found pages and pages of women who wrote they could barely function -- was there something wrong with me?

J told me to get off the internet. And it was true -- all it was doing was making me feel worse that I didn't feel that bad. I was shaming myself to feel something I didn't. Which is dumb. And it was just exacerbating that feeling of loneliness.

But here I am writing on the internet, and you are reading on the internet, so let me say this. The truth is, there is no right way to feel. We all have different reactions, and none of them are wrong. For me, I know that if this pregnancy had been right, it would have remained viable. Instead of feeling devastated, I choose to see this as my amazing body doing what it was supposed to do. So I was not devastated by my miscarriage*. Instead, I was confident that next time it would be different. Or, if it wasn't, my body would again to its job. I chose appreciation and awe.

*yes, I hate the word miscarriage...but this is to help other women who may be searching for that particular phrase, like I had

13 November 2016

Sicily: Navigating the Island

Driving around Sicily is not for the faint of heart...especially when you do not have the option of the autostrade.

The day after our great wine adventure, we decided that we would head to Cefalu, a resort town outside of Palermo. It would be fun, we thought, to cut through the middle of the island. The truth is...there is no easy way to get to Cefalu/Palermo from the Etna region. To take the autostrade would require going back towards Taormina, then skirting the edge of the island -- quite a bit out of the way.
See those little squiggles? Those are all twists and turns. This may not be our exact route...I think we went further west

Off we set on what we thought would just be a few hour drive. We expected to see a few small towns, find a nice restaurant and have a good meal, and soon enough be relaxing in Cefalu.

These asses were blocking our way
What we did not expect was hairpin turns, a harrowing, suck-in-your-stomach trip down a very narrow street on a very high hill, and a bunch of asses in the middle of the road. There were also some crazy drivers that rode our tails for a good part of the way. We found out that what you hear about the drivers in Sicily was true -- they are kind of crazy drivers!

We also ran into quite a bit of construction. They are working on some roads to better connect where
we were to the main autostrade. I am sure everyone who lives in those areas will very much welcome these new roads!

Once we got to the autostrade, we flew to Cefalu (look at that, it rhymes!). The autostrade allows you to go very fast. It is a toll road, so there is a cost, but if you don't want to pay there are other options through the parallel roads. Both J & I were amazed by all these infrastructure projects -- the tunnels were new and efficient, and rather empty.

After our rather insane drive, we were very, very happy when we saw the exit for Cefalu!

07 November 2016

So Wrong it Could not be Righted

I was not that shocked to learn that our pregnancy was not viable. A part of me had felt that it'd all been too easy -- we had "pulled the plug" on my IUD just three months earlier, and had only really been trying for a month (trying = tracking my cycle, taking my temperature, watching when the moons aligned, yadda yadda yadda). This easy barely happens -- especially not to women my age (or so I thought). Then once the doctor started giving us subtle clues that things were less than ideal, I started to prepare myself.

Still, as I prepared to leave work to go to our ten-ish week sonogram, I was optimistic. The waves of nausea, while mostly gone, had happened. My boobs still occasionally hurt. I was still tired all.the.time. So I was caught a bit off guard when I made one last pit stop before the drive, and found I was bleeding.

My heart was racing as I got into my car for the long drive to the doc. I debated calling J -- why worry him if it is nothing? (I called him) Throughout the drive, I waited for the big cramps, for the pain, the gushes of blood that you see/they describe on TV or in the movies. (Never happened)

When we did the sonogram (and, I should note...early in pregnancy, these are mostly trans-vaginal, not like on the belly -- much more invasive!), the doctor confirmed our fears. We could see the little gummy bear, but we could see no flutter, which by then should have been more than a feather. I think J was a bit gobsmacked...me, I immediately wanted to know what was next.

Indulge me for a moment as I step on my soapbox about some common terminology. I do not like the word miscarriage -- it implies that I did something wrong. I did not "lose the baby," I did not misplace it (and in my case, it wasn't quite a baby yet). The word abortion takes on a whole new meaning when you see it on your medical records -- and once you go through the D&C procedure often used when a pregnancy is terminated, you realize the importance of keeping it legal and safe. So much of the terminology feels, when you're going through it, like you are to blame.

Which I was not. I prefer to say our pregnancy was non-viable. Because my body is so amazing it could tell there was something so wrong that it could not be righted, and the safest solution was for it to cease support. The female body is truly incredible.

02 November 2016

Sicily: Wine Sippin' Around Etna

One of the main purposes of our trip was to discover the world of Sicilian wine -- specifically around the Etna area. The morning after we arrived, we were excited to get going on our adventures...but Mother Nature had other plans.

The rain we had encountered upon our arrival had not left us yet -- we had a slight reprieve on our first evening, but it came back with a roar our first morning. Luckily the scenery was worth staring at for a while.

After the torrential downpour in Taormina that confined us to our hotel, it was time to head out to the Sicilian countryside to sip some vino and watch the volcano. After a harrowing journey back down Taormina's windy roads, we were soon en route!

Unlike most places in the wine country here in northern California, most of the wineries in Sicily require reservations. Unfortunately, thanks to the storms, we were running terribly behind. We decided to swing by one place, any way, in hopes that they still might entertain our visit.

Outside of our room -- vines creeping over the wall
Tenuta delle Terre Nere produces one of the wines J really likes, and just happened to be pretty much across the street from our agriturismo (which actually sat amidst their vineyards, which was gorgeous!). We hunted around the grounds a bit, then finally a very surprised winemaker popped out -- he wasn't still expecting us. But, we got lucky, and had one of the best wine tours we could imagine. He gave us a tour of their vineyards, which included going off roading into the hills to see some of the unique, volcano-side terrain. Once we got back, we got to taste their wines, and walked off with several bottles as well as some olive oil.

On our second day, we awoke with a mission...get to Mount Etna, and drink more wine! While it was a beautiful day at the base of the mountain, as we got higher up, it got decidedly chillier. We climbed up as far as we could by car, to an area that in the winter serves as a ski resort. That particular day it was too foggy to go any further, so we climbed around a bit on the volcanic rock, then figured we'd had enough of that type of nature.

Food and wine pairing -- YUM!
Soon enough we were experiencing another type of nature, the red, white, and juicy kind. We arrived Gambino Winery, where we'd had reservations the day before but had missed due to the rain. They were pretty forgiving about it -- they told us that there had been flooding in the area and they couldn't blame us for not wanting to drive up there.

This was quite a different experience than the day before -- this tasting room is much more of a destination and polished. The view was amazing -- Gambino is set on the side of the hill, so you can gaze at the valley below while sipping on their wines. It had a good deal of charm, largely thanks to everyone who worked there. We did the food and wine pairing, thankfully because we were pretty hungry! This is a big place, and we were invited to take a tour of their grounds and production facility. The winery was rather crowded, as was the tour; people from all over the world, it seemed!

Mountain View from Patria
Once we were done there, we were left with the tough decision of where to go next?! With no reservations anywhere, we decided to take our chances and stop by places that we might encounter on our way back to the agriturismo. We soon found ourselves at Patria, where they were surprised when we knocked on the door of the office and asked if we could taste. They were very accommodating, even though they weren't expecting us. As we wandered over to the tasting room, we were greeted by the winery dog, an older lady who made sure to guard the door as we drank. At Patria they had bubbles, which of course I loved! They offered us probably six more varieties, as our pourer talked about her love of California. We were lucky to be the only ones there tasting; we got lots of personal attention and learned quite a bit about their wines.

Sandro & J
We weren't quite ready to head back to our agriturismo, but we were ready to eat something. As we Cave Ox, which would end up being one of my favorite experiences! The kitchen sadly wasn't open yet, but our new friend Sandro kept us plied with wine as we waited. He brought J into the wine cave, and talked us through his inventory. We got to taste more local wine, and we sat there for a few hours enjoying the company, and eventually the pizza. As we carefully made our way back to our place, we were grateful that Cave Ox was just two turns down the road.
were driving back, we arrived to

Our trunk was full of a few newly-acquired bottles -- I'd say it was a very successful day!

Tenuta delle Terre Nere
Contrada Calderara
95036 Randazzo CT

Gambino Winery
Contrada Petto Dragone
95015 Linguaglossa CT

s.s.120, Km 194.500 |Solicchiata
95012 -Castiglione di Sicilia (CT)

Cave Ox
Via Nazionale Solicchiata, 159
95012 Solicchiata (CT)

26 October 2016

What We Needed to Hear

If we'd really listened, perhaps we would have heard.

If the doctor had been more direct, perhaps we would have understood.

The moment she realized she "forgot" to print the sonogram picture, perhaps we should have known.

As we walked away with a weird print out of measurements -- measurements that were not what they should have been -- perhaps we would have heard what she wasn't saying.

I don't blame us. There were were, a hopeful, newly-expectant couple. A few weeks earlier, the blood tests showed that the pregnancy was progressing at a normal pace. We arrived at the doctor's office that morning -- two days before Christmas -- excited to see our baby for the first time, to see its heart beat.

And we did. We saw the little blueberry. We saw the small feather of a flutter, the heart seemingly beating away. "It's small," said the doctor,"but sure, go ahead and tell your families, if you want, that there's something there with a heartbeat. Your actual doctor will be able to tell you more at your next appointment."

And while I tried to stay positive, what she said didn't sit well with me. What she didn't say sat even worse.

What she should have said is that due to the size (measuring at about five weeks, when it should have been at least eight weeks), that the pregnancy would not likely be viable. Instead, after much prodding from me in subsequent emails, she eventually said, "Sometimes these things turn out ok. But you'll need to talk to your doctor."

What she should have done was be direct. Rather than talking softly, or putting the onus on our doctor, she should have just told us what she was seeing. While it wouldn't have changed the outcome, it would have saved us a little bit of grief, or allowed us the space to think about if it was really something we were ready to share.

Perhaps if we would have listened harder, we would have heard what she didn't say.

31 May 2016

Sicily: Taormina Vistas

To say J & I are ambitious travelers is an understatement. Our time off together is precious and we like to fit as much in as possible (and yes, we do relax, too...kind of!). Our honeymoon was no exception. Over the span of three weeks -- a work trip was tacked on at the very end -- we hit twelve airports.
Enjoying Maine!

We started on a Thursday, heading down to Los Angeles to attend the wedding of our friends. We left
that wedding, and LA, on Friday evening to head to Maine (via Boston) to attend the wedding of another of our friends on a small island off the coast. Two days later, it was time to head and start our time overseas.

Getting there was not without incident. The day we were set to leave was the day the Lufthansa pilots went on strike. What airline were we on? Lufthansa! It was a very trying several hours -- but with the help of an awesome United rep in Boston Logan, Aaron, our adventures were only delayed by a few hours.

  • Protip #1: When you book on a codeshare flight, call your originating carrier. Their lines are going to be much shorter and they'll have more time to dedicate to you. (We eventually walked over to United's customer service)
  • Protip #2: If there are two of you, split the efforts...get in line, make calls, tweet. We did this until we got an answer. 
  • Protip #3: Try not to get stuck in Boston Logan. It has a terrible international terminal.
But soon enough, we did arrive. We had chosen to fly into Catania, the airport on the eastern coast, and spend the evening in Taormina, a beautiful hill town that overlooks the coast as well as Mt. Etna, even booking an awesome hotel. Our delay meant that we didn't get to spend much time enjoying the amenities of the hotel, and also meant that we arrived in the middle of some torrential rains!

Getting to Taormina is not for the feint of heart, even when the weather is dry. It requires a slow trek up a very steep mountainside road. With the rain, there were a few washouts, so the going was even slower. I had a data plan on my phone (this has become a must -- one of us gets the data plan, usually me since I'm the navigator, and we turn it on in moments like these when we aren't 100% sure where we are going). 

If you find yourself staying at the Hotel Monte Tauro, be prepared to wind around this little town, then, when you think you can go no more, look to your right. You'll see a sign and a very steep driveway. This is your spot. Be careful! We had a wonderful room at this wonderful hotel, overlooking the pool. It was closed due to the storm, but it offered a view of the ocean and lower-lying towns.

View from our room
Taormina captures the romantic idealism of Italy. As you walk around the small town, you will not find many cars, allowing you to move freely to the shops, caffes, and restaurants. Wander around and you will find all sorts of restaurants, places to stop for a espresso or Etna Rosso, and plenty of gelato!

Though we were tired, we stopped for dinner -- sharing a bottle of local wine and indulging on panelle (Sicilian fried chickpeas). The restauranteur had a love for California, so we talked for him with quite some time about that! We then meandered through town, which was simply magical in the post-rain evening. Not ready to go home yet, we stopped at the Caffe Wunderbar to sit and enjoy the music and people watching. 

It was in Taormina where we noticed all the pine cones -- La Pigna. These ceramics come in all sorts of sizes and colors, and we saw them everywhere we went in Sicily! 

The other image you will not escape in Sicily is that of "The Godfather." I had heard most Sicilians try to distance themselves, you will see Godfather paraphernalia everywhere you go. There is always a t-shirt snuck in there, or a small wallet, or something. This has some significance -- many of the "Corleone" scenes were shot in/around Taormina.  

I wish I had one full day to enjoy Taormina -- if you find yourself there, it is small enough to see a lot in that amount of time. If you have time to enjoy a second day, you will truly enjoy la dolce vita!

13 March 2016

So Cheesy: Bohemian Creamery

It was a rather rainy weekend -- one of many this year in Northern California (hooray!) -- and we had to make a day trip up to the River (the Russian River that is, also known as my happy place). We were not in any big hurry to get home, so we took a bit of time meandering, first stopping by a winery but finding our hearts weren't quite into wine tasting before a possibly hairy ride home.

Inspired by a class we had taken that week at The Cheese School of San Francisco, we decided to
turn our focus onto finding a few of the many creameries in the Marin/Sonoma County areas. After all, cheese is not only delicious, but the perfect accompaniment to wine and also an excellent indulgence for a lazy Sunday, which we knew ours would be.

You may see this pic a few times! Cheeses from Bohemian
in bottom left corner and the dark-rind next to the apples
As we left the winery, we say a sign that said "cheese, 300 meters." We had to follow! Following the road for a bit, we thought we had missed it, as we have no idea how long a meter really is (c'mon, we're Americans!). But shortly after we lamented that we had passed it and oh well, another signed popped up that said, "Cheese here." A quick turn into the parking lot and a run through the rain, and shortly we were in the tiny storefront of Bohemian Creamery.

What a treat this place is! They have a full case of cheeses -- approximately eight in refrigeration and three harder varieties -- that are made from cow, goat, and even water buffalo! They also serve a goat milk frozen yogurt...J loved this but I wasn't too keen on the flavor they were offering that day (orange blossom and chocolate...not my personal fave).

There were no limits on samples -- we tried almost every cheese they offered and were offered more if we'd like. Ultimately, we went home with three:

  • Cowabunga - this is a "dessert" cheese, which neither J nor I even knew existed. It's a cow's milk with a sweet goat milk carmel-y tasting treat in the middle. Tastes like really rich cheesecake. I am not a cheesecake eater so not my preference but J absolutely loved it.
  • BoDacious - a goat's milk cheese that is both mild and has a nice tang to it. Super spreadable on a delicious bread or cracker base.
  • Caproncino - an aged, semi-hard goat's milk cheese. Had a nice sharpness to complement the apples, and very delicious on a grilled cheese sandwich the next day.
What the store may lack in space it more than makes up for with the hospitality and yummy cheeses. We will definitely be stopping by here again, hopefully in the not-too-distant future.

7380 Occidental Road
Sebastopol, CA
open only on weekends

06 March 2016

Wine Sipping: Twomey Winery

If you are looking for a relaxing spot to stop and take in the view of the Russian River Valley, then Twomey Cellars is the place for you. Bonus if you are looking for some of the best Pinots in Northern California (and the best Sauvingon Blanc).

Twomey is a modern-looking winery with a view that takes you back to the old world; for a moment you might mistake the rolling hills and acres of vineyards for those found in Tuscany. But make no mistake, this winery is all California. The sister winery of Silver Oak, the world-renowned Cab house, Twomey focuses largely on Pinot Noirs, though they have an excellent Merlot. On a recent visit here, we were told that their wine maker wants to bring Pinot grapes not only from local vineyards, but also from those a bit further away, so that visitors are able to compare and contrast.

I personally love their Bien Nacido (Santa Barbara) Pinot Noir -- it is a bit more fruit-forward and smooth in texture. JCH, my husband, favors the Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir, which benefits from the fog the rolls in most nights in the coastal vineyards. Being that they welcome well-behaved pooches, Luca is usually with us, and he especially loves all the treats they bring him.

Twomey is a great stop on the Westside trail -- bring a picnic and enjoy the view. They also offer a cheese plate for purchase.

Twomey Cellars
3000 Westside Road
Healdsburg, CA
small tasting fee

28 February 2016

Wine Sipping: Mazzocco Winery

By far, the winery we visit and recommend the most. How they haven't gotten tired of us and our friends by now is a mystery, but speaks to just how great this place is.

Mazzocco is part of the Wilson Artisan Wine Group, and focuses largely on Zinfadels. They also have a few other excellent varietals -- including one of my favorite Sauvingon Blancs (very limited release). Part of the fun here is tasting the different vineyard-designate Zinfandels, and finding how much diversity can occur with the same exact grape. My personal go-to is the Sullivan, though Maple Reserve is coming in a close second.

If you are lucky, a member, or with one, you may get to go into the Monkey Room to taste their higher-end wines. It isn't a guarantee but it is always worth an ask.

The tasting room and outdoor area are both very welcoming for well-behaved pooches. The outdoor area is big and serene; bring along some nice cheeses or a picnic, sit outside, and enjoy the scenery.

Mazzocco Winery
1400 Lytton Springs Road
Healdsburg, CA
11am - 5pm Daily
small tasting fee

It's Been a While!

Life sometimes gets in the way!

I'm back in 2016 with a renewed focus for this blog -- travel, wine, fun!

26 February 2016

Reading is Fundamental: 2016 Book List

Three Sisters, Three Queens Philippa Gregory: I love Tudor history, but didn't know much about Henry VIII's sisters. Because not much is known about his sister Mary, this book takes some liberties. But it is entertaining, and, as with all of Gregory's books, based on research available. A fun look at the behind-the-scenes mechanations of royalty.

Fool Me Once Harlan Coben: A very fun read; I couldn't put it down (I even got yelled at while reading at a bar). A woman loses her husband in an apparent random robbery. But her husband's connections, and her past, make random seem impossible. A peek into the psyche of a vet, and into a sinister world of a wealthy family.

We Were Liars E. Lockhart: I thought I knew the twist to this one pretty early on. I had most of it, but was not expecting all of it. This follows a young woman during the best and worst summer of her life, and explores the far-reaching affects of a poorly-planned, bad decision.

Bridget Jones: Mad about a Boy Helen Fielding: This one broke my heart in a way. It took so much of what I loved about Bridget, and ruined it. In the early books, Bridget, while not the epitome of maturity, could still show growth. It is like she regressed to the person she was on the first pages of the first book, but now she has children to take along with her craziness. I always knew Bridget was a bit flighty, but she never struck me as completely irresponsible. Fielding should have left well-enough alone.

Who Do You Love Jennifer Weiner: This book tugged at my heart. What happens when you meet the right person early in your life, and fate brings you back together? When you want to save one another, but you just can't? Can you find a happy ending? Or are those only in books?

Me Before You JoJo Moyes: This appeared on a list of books you must read before the movie comes out. I would have to agree -- if  you are planning to see the movie, read it. I haven't seen the movie (yet) but I have concerns...and I'd like the true story to be told first, in case something changes. Me Before You tells the story of a 30-ish quadriplegic and his caretaker. It is also about choices we allow -- or don't allow -- people to make about their own lives. For me, it really made me consider things in a new way; you often hear people say of those who have experienced traumatic injuries, "they're lucky to be alive." But are they really? We require them to be happy about this fact, but should we/ The message in this book is an important one.

How to Be Single Liz Tuccillo: A tough but entertaining read, especially if you are a single woman of a certain age. The protagonist decides to give up her desk job and travel the world to find the "single woman" experiences around the world. This trip takes her to Paris, Rome, Rio, Sydney, Bali, Mumbai, and Iceland; while she is traveling, her friends back home are experiencing their singleness in a different way. A little cliche, but does really hit the common threads and thoughts that many of us have when we are at that stage in our life (at least ones who I know, including myself before I was with my now husband).

Troublemaker Leah Remini: Not the best-written book, but a fascinating look at the inner workings of Scientology.

Luckiest Girl Alive Jessica Knoll: The main character at first seems like someone who "has it all," but as a reader, you realize there may be more to her story. To be she came off as a bit vapid, and the book took a turn I was not expecting into her past at a prep school. Most of the time I wanted her to shake her, tell her to grow up, and get into therapy.

I Take You Eliza Kennedy: This one was a head scratcher to me -- the main character is a week away from her wedding, and as a reader you are mostly left wondering why the hell she is bothering. She doesn't seem to care much about her fiancee, her wedding, or herself. I guess a series of one-night stands the week before you get hitched is supposed to be cute, but I found it unbelievable and tedious.

Here's what I read in 2013!

December: A Hologram for the King, Dave Eggers
October: Orange is the New Black, Piper Kerman
October: Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk, Ben Fountain
August: The Thinking Fan's Guide to Baseball, Leonard Koppett
May: Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn
March: Lean In, Sheryl Sandberg