Monday, December 31, 2007

Half bottle of Champagne

A few years ago, on the Eve of what would be my last New Year's living in New York, a good friend shared some wisdom. We were talking about our New Year's Eve plans, and I confided something shocking -

"Well, I'm supposed to go to a party with some friends tonight, but honestly, I just want to stay home with half a bottle of Champagne and have a quiet evening in. But is it bad to pass up party plans for an evening of solitude?"

"No! Do whatever you want. You know," he mused, "I've always seen New Year's Eve as a kinda precursor to your year ahead. If you go out partying, you'll probably party a lot that year. If you stay in, maybe it will end up being a quiet year. You've got a lot going on in your head right now, and you're making some big decisions. I think that it's completely apropos to stay in and celebrate you tonight."

"Hmmm... I like that idea." And I resolved to take his advice.

But around 6:00 that night I got an invite to another party - one with lots of drinks, and fun boys. And I caved. The night ended up being a completely drunken charade, that was surely fun, but not as centered and contemplative as I had perhaps hoped. Oh well, I thought at the time, it was obviously what I needed. Most New Year's since have been similar - a mad dash to find good plans, and ending up in situations that were ultimately - to say the least - unfulfilling.

Here I am, four years later, and in the past few months I have tapped into a new source of strength - myself. 2007 has been challenging and wonderful at all once. I've made realizations about family. I've severed relationships. I've faced health problems. I've made new friends. I've enriched relationships with others. I've kicked ass at work. I've had my heart broken. I've stood up for myself. I've been un- and lucky. I've read a lot and explored new ideas. I've realized that I have done what I came home to do, and that it's time to move on.

I don't know how much longer I will be staying in Virginia, but I do know that it won't be forever. The next few months will be largely about exploring other options, and figuring out which path I will trod down next.

So this year, to ground myself for the important months to come, after an early dinner with family I will be returning home to read, meditate a bit, write, and ponder. Oh, and drink the half bottle of Champagne that is currently chilling in the refrigerator, just for me. This is a celebratory night after all, and I am finally in the place where I feel comfortable celebrating myself.

Cheers, everyone.

Friday, December 21, 2007

In the home stretch

Yipee - one more tasting to go and I am done until after Christmas! 4:30-7:30, tonight, in a little area of Richmond called Chester.

Allow me to practice my spiel on ya'll:
Desert Wind Ruah, anyone? It's fantastic. Typical Bordeaux blend, great new world fruit on the nose and then an earthy finish, making it a perfect food wine. Also, it got 90 points in Wine Spectator. I know, right? Isn't it delicious!? Makes a great gift, too. Perfect with holiday meals, just enough acidity to cut through the rich foods. Mm-hmmm... Sure you can have another taste...

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Two strikes

Two weeks ago, my mother and I went to church, very much looking forward to hearing and singing some Christmas music. We filed in and sat down, eagerly scanning our programs so see what songs were on the agenda. After a quick look, we were not happy. Not a single recognizable Christmas carol, just a bunch of what we supposed were Advent songs. Disappointed, we made a rash decision. We got up and left before the Prelude could begin, and went to brunch instead.

Last night, in a further attempt to simply hear some good Christmas music, we went to the holiday concert of a volunteer jazz band that partners with a local choral society. The concert is actually pretty big, and we trooped into the large auditorium, hopes high. Unfortunately we were soon disappointed.

The soloists were unimpressive and cheesy, the band plodded through the familiar tunes, and babies screamed throughout. The concert was to benefit the Salvation Army, and at one point two old ladies waved American flags across the stage while the audience was led through a rousing sing-a-long version of "Onward Christian Soldiers". We rolled our eyes so hard I'm surprised they didn't fall out of our heads. We contemplated skipping out while the audience was standing up, but decided to give it a few more minutes. We were sorry.

The coup de grace came next. Two midgets dressed as children rode tricycles out onto stage and attempted humor by singing an incredibly slow, painful, and four verse long version of "I'm Getting Nothing for Christmas". I am not joking. That did it.

We were out of there.

As we shivered our way out to the parking deck during intermission (along with about half of the audience, mind you), we couldn't help laughing at our bad luck. I felt kinda like Charlie Brown lamenting on the stage at the end of his special - "Isn't there anyone out there who can give me a good Christmas concert?" On the way home we took the scenic route - a slow drive down a street known for its beautiful old homes and the decorations that the inhabitants put up every year.

As we ooh-ed and aah-ed down the street, Christmas music blaring from the car stereo, we felt warm and content. Disastrous concert aside, sitting there with my mother in the car, cozy and listening to carols, I felt the spirit of the season wash over me.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Some new verses to the same old song

Today is my grandmother's 88th birthday. The nursing home that she currently is in happens to be right down the road from a wine store that I work with, so this afternoon it was easy for me to slip in and wish her a happy day in person. So around 3:30, card in hand, I went, ready to repeat the same conversations we've had for a while now.

"Who are you?"

"I'm Erin, your only granddaughter."

"Oh. You're a very beautiful woman."

(First time she's ever called me a woman.)

"Thank you."

"How long have I been here?"

"A little over a year."

"I don't remember. Don't get mad at me if I can't remember!"

"I won't. I promise."

"You're Erin Elizabeth."


"Yep," she mocked in a high-pitched voice. I didn't say anything.

"And you're Tommy's daughter?"


"Mm-hmm..." she squeaked. "Where do you work?"

"I work for a wine distributor."

"Do you drink wine?"



Now this was interesting. She wasn't saying it in an accusatory way, but in a teasing, mocking way. Which my grandmother has never done before. Even when she was lucid, she's never had a sense of humor or teased, has never corrected grammar, has never seemed to be thinking about much more than exactly what was on her own mind at that moment. So now, in her state of dementia/early Alzheimer's was she joking around, is she just now starting to notice/criticize things that most grandmothers would have years ago, or is sarcasm that she has kept inside for decades finally leaking out?

"Why are those balloons there?"

"Because it's your birthday, Grandma. You're 88 years old today."

"I'm not dead yet?"

"Nope, not yet."

"Well, when the Good Lord is ready for me, I suppose I'll go to heaven. I've been telling him that I'm ready for years!"

Now we were back in track. This is a refrain I've heard for most of my life.

"Well, I'm sure that won't be anytime soon, Grandma. You're very healthy." (I think I've been to the doctor more in the past year than my grandmother has.)

"Who are you?"

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Very Lovely Life

Caroline is one of the waitresses at a client of mine, a unique wine store/wine bar entrenched in the suburbs of my city. She is in her mid-20s with an adorable pixie cut and the personality to match. The artwork that lines the walls above the shelves are paintings that she did, and she custom makes all gift baskets that are ordered.

This afternoon as I sat there sipping a gorgeous glass of Donhoff Riesling (green apple, anyone?), I watched and listened as she interacted with a group of people that she was leading through a tasting.

"That art is yours?"

"Yeah," she squeaked, "I did those really quickly to go with the colors of the store when we were opening."

"That's great," one woman said. "They should let you paint while you're working!"

"Ha ha. That would really complete the picture," she responded. "I mean, that's really all my life is - painting, making jewelry, and pouring wine for people."

"Sounds like a very lovely life," the woman said, a bit nostalgically.

"Hmmm... yeah, it is." Caroline realized, then smiled and took a sip out of her own glass of Riesling. I smiled and bent back down to my laptop. The women smiled and went back to chatting with her coworkers.

Seems to me like we all have very lovely lives.

Not to get all Oprah on ya'll...

... but if you haven't read Eat, Pray, Love yet, you really must. I thought it was probably cheesy because it's all over B&N, the lady was on Oprah, it seemed all spiritual and mushy, but I was wrong. I mean, it is spiritual and mushy, but in a great, fulfilling, and funny way. I can't believe how funny this book is.

In the spirit of the great O, there's a copy for each of you under your seats.

(And the crowd goes wild.)

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A Tale from a Christmas Past

December 24, 2005, family gathering

"Erin, come in here. There's something I want you to taste," my grandfather's wife said. "Our neighbor makes his own wine in his garage!"

"Ok," I called back in my best sing-songy fake voice. I gulped and headed into the kitchen. There it was in little jugs with homemade labels on the front - really cute. The thing is, I actually love stuff like this - in theory. But that doesn't mean that I want to be forced to drink the crap.

"My kids thought it was a lot better if you poured some Mountain Dew into it," she said. This will go down in the record books as one of the scariest things I've ever heard someone say referring to wine.

I poured myself a bit and swirled, out of habit, not necessity. Small sip. It was gross of course. Sweet and syrupy - kinda like an Oloroso Sherry, but obviously not as balanced. Everyone gathered around and started pouring themselves little tastes of it, then splashed Sprite into their glasses and declared that, well damn, that was pretty good!

My favorite uncle leaned into me and muttered, "So, are you going to review this wine?" into my ear. (At the time I was reviewing wines for I smiled the sly smile that I keep reserved for only those who would actually appreciate it, raised my left eyebrow and said, "I don't think there's a category for Concord grapes." He grinned.

Family is great, and even better when there's at least one person in the bunch who gets you.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Don's new strategy

In my company of twelve sales people, I am usually among the top three for monthly totals. In fact, September and October I led the pack. (Pat, pat, pat.) Usually it's the other rep in Richmond, Don, who is my biggest competition. In November he beat me by only about $1,000. But who's counting?

This afternoon I walked into the office, and was greeted by my boss saying, "What are you doing in here? You need to be out selling! Look at these numbers from last week. You'd better start hitting the pavement."

He said it in a way that I knew he was teasing, but I still got a little nervous as I rounded the corner of his desk to look at the sales report over his shoulder. I had felt like I was having a good week last week, how bad could it be?

I had no reason to be nervous. Turns out that I had quite a respectable first week of December. Then my eyes scanned the page and I caught Don's numbers.

He stomped me.

"Geez, what the hell did Don do last week?"

"I don't know, I was asking him the same thing. I'm guessing he gave out a lot of BJ's," he joked.

"Humph. His jaw must be pretty sore then."

My boss laughed, and walked out to the reception are to report my latest quip to the office ladies. I settled down at the table in the break room to do a little bit of work, and my phone rang. Don, to let me know of a product that was out of stock.

A few minutes later, my phone rang again. Don, to share a funny story that just happened to him in one of his accounts.

A few minutes later, my phone rang again. Don, to... dammit, I didn't care what he was calling to say anymore.

"Dude, if you keep calling me I won't be able to get any work done so that I can outsell you this week!" I fussed into the phone. "Wait a minute... now I see how you're doing it. Very sneaky."

"Ha ha. I wish that was my new strategy. Then maybe my knees wouldn't hurt so much. So anyway, I'm stuck in traffic right now in the same place you were earlier..."

As he rambled on, I smiled. And began hatching a plan to regain my lead.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Monday routine

Lately on Mondays I've gotten into a new habit. I visit my largest wine store client at 2:00 for our set appointment, and then I head down the street another client, a coffee shop by day, wine bar by night, to touch base with them and soak up the free internet so that I can send in orders. I order a green tea if I'm feeling the need to be healthy, and an espresso if I'm needing a jolt (or craving the biscotti treat that comes with it).

But not today. Today I ordered an iced non-fat hazlenut latte. Why, you may ask?

Because it's 80 fucking degrees here today. In the middle of December.

Bright v. Graceful

Not a moment after my dinner companion excused himself, the elderly gay gentleman at the table next to us addressed me. The small tables were squeezed close together, so it was easy for us to converse.

"Excuse me miss, are you in the process of getting your PhD?"

"Um... no. Why do you ask?"

"Oh, I don't know. It's just that you seem very bright."

"Well, thank you!"

I settled down further in my chair, pleased with the random comment (compliment?).

A few minutes later we were outside, and I relayed the story while putting a pack of gum pack into my beaded clutch - which I promptly dropped onto the ground, contents spilling all over the sidewalk.

"Oops," I laughed as I nervously scrambled around for my $20, lip gloss, and hair tie, recognizing the irony of the accident to myself.

I guess bright and graceful aren't the same thing. That's ok, though. I'll take bright any day.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Waxing prophetic

Shivering on a balcony six stories up, overlooking the tiny metropolis, we somehow landed in this conversation...

"... that's the thing, when people want to make wine too much about what's in the glass, it gets to be no fun. For me, wine is more about what is going on outside of the glass - life - that makes it special."


"Woah. I think I just came up with a new quote."

"Ha ha. Is that going on the blog?"

"Fuck yeah it is."

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The Wine-partment

"So Erin, did you hear about our wine-partment?"


"Well, someone that worked here was moving and had to break her lease early. And we've got a lot of clients who want to bring some really nice bottles from their cellar in for us all to taste, but the way our ABC license is, it's not really legal."


"So we told the girl that we would take her apartment so that we would have a place to do these tastings. We just need to get some furniture and glasses and stuff and we're good to go!"

Blink, blink.

"Let me get this straight, you guys are renting and furnishing an apartment solely for the purposes of having a place to sit around and drink expensive wine?"

"Yep! Isn't that awesome?"

"Well, I've got to give you credit. It's been a while since my jaw genuinely dropped. But this did it."

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Clearly I raised her right

Things I'm currently loving

Christmas decorations everywhere.

The great little signs that this woman makes. I've been admiring them for months in my favorite coffee shop and finally bit the bullet and got one that says "Ambitious" yesterday to hang over my desk. Because sometimes you need a little reminder...

Langmeil wines. Family owned from Barossa valley, they own the vineyards with the oldest Shiraz vines in Australia, and their wines are elegant and gorgeous. Plus, they are great sellers for me.

Getting the 12 Days of Cookies emails from Food Network. At least two so far will be experimented with in my kitchen this year.

Girl power. Lately I've met and been in contact with so many amazing women and it's been really inspiring. It's making me reconnect with my own strength and get excited about a lot of different projects and possibilities.

And, of course, How I Met Your Mother. Making people love Mondays again, since 2005.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Drawing the line

Sometimes I have a bit of customer service-itis. I'm too much of a yes-man.

"Sure, I can do that tasting!"

"No, I think that wine dinner sounds like a good idea!"

"You need to sample that bottle? I'll bring it by later this week!"

But this week my condition got a little bit out of control, and I realized that I had to draw a line somewhere. So from now on, I am no longer saying yes to help a sports club do a "Wine Dinner" in their little cafe area over looking the indoor tennis courts for ten people, ESPN blaring in the background, pairing one of my chardonnays with an iceberg lettuce salad.

Like I did on Monday.