Posts Tagged ‘road trips’

An "art-short-story" I adore, created by Brian Andreas. I keep this above my bed.

‘Twas yesterday.  My birthday.  31 on the 31st.  My golden birthday, gone in a flash.  Shared another birthday with Harry Potter (and his creator JK Rowling), and now an anniversary with Chelsea Clinton, apparently.  Went swimming in the sea, had a lovely Italian breakfast with my mother at Rustico Basel, a leisurely soy ice coffee with my sister at Loveat, and had a little wine and cheese night up on the roof garden with dear friends and family (some of the best Camembert on record!).  Besides the detour of picking up party supplies, cleaning house, and baking my own cake, it was very relaxing.

Harry turned 30 yesterday

I am absolutely thrilled that I had a wonderful birthday – and that it was like almost any other good day. What I mean by that is for the first time in my life, I didn’t put my birthday up on a pedestal.  I didn’t stress out.  I didn’t have high hopes or low hopes.  I didn’t have hopes.  And it was marvelous.  Not too different than other marvelous days, but just a little more special.  I am looking forward to future birthdays just like this.  Fun, but without grandiose expectations.

Birthdays are always a good chance to take stock.  In recent years I feel like I haven’t accomplished much.  When you’re young, in school, working your first jobs, achieving demonstrable things is what’s expected.  School plays, good grades, choir concerts, varsity letters, diplomas, certificates of honor, promotions, etc, etc.  Now, it’s not so noticeable; life seems to grind on. A lot.  And it’s not so clear what you or the world would consider an accomplishment.  So, without further ado, an attempt at listing this years’ (potential) accomplishments, in no particular order:

  • Forging a new career as a freelance virtual assistant , writing/blogging consultant, and editor.
  • A trip to Provence with good friends for good food, good wine, good culture, good Scrabble, and good conversation.
  • Lots of organic veg, lots of cooking and eating, and lots of blogging about it.
  • Wine work – huge expos, weekend wine tastings, a couple trips to wineries, and my first actual (I guess, professional, ee gad!) presentation.
  • Yoga! Lots and lots of Yoga. Every Thursday. Come rain or shine.
  • Sommelier course – or the closest you can get to it in Israel. So much fun, for so many reasons.
  • Got into grad school (MA in Creative Writing). Starting in 2 weeks. We’ll see how that goes…
  • Buddhist meditation – life-changing practice. It’s saved me, for so many reasons.
  • Vipassana retreat – silence and meditation 24/7 for 7
  • Leadership, again – helped form a Sangha (meditation community), 10th college reunion committee recruitment chair (12 new members in less than 2 weeks!), and potentially volunteering to organize an alumni event for the U of C Israel Alumni Club.
  • Reality TV show – my sister and I (and our lovely apartment) starred in a house hunting show.
  • Almost a month in the States – spent quality time with old friends and family by way of an east coast whistle-stop tour, a mid-west road trip blasting Hemingway on the speakers, and an Iowa wedding. The best of times.
  • Read some good books, made a couple good friends, drank some good wine, and at brief moments, felt good and knew it.

Not a bad year if you look at it empirically.  I know that I diminish my accomplishments and experiences because the negative and what I perceive as missing, overshadow the good. Namely, the never-ending battle to achieve work-life balance, and the never-ending battle to get out of dodge (aka single-dom).  Luckily, I’m much less paranoid about both.

My hope is that I (and all of us) will continue to become grounded, perceive the here-and-now as much as possible, be in a position to recognize moments of happiness when they come, explore our world, explore the paradox, create beauty, and take some risks.  Some good big risks.  Onward and upward!

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(In the wake of recent tornadoes, this post has gotten a lot of traffic. There is nothing too useful below on surviving or coping with surviving a tornado – just my own scary experience last year.  However – here is a great article on how to help yourself survive a tornado.  But if you’re interested in my funky adventures in Iowa, please read on, and many thanks for doing so.)

Waterloo, Iowa.  I’m here for a day.  Less, even.  So excited for the wedding I’m attending tonight. In Iowa City I indulged in “pie milkshakes,” drank a good deal of wine in a bookstore-wine-bar, and ate deliciously at the Motley Cow.  But I’m wiped out.  So wiped out. For good friggin reason:

Living in the mid-west has its downfalls.  Tornadoes are a biggie.  I have never spent any time during tornado season in rural areas prone to these twisters.  Last night, foolish and paranoid as it was, I feared for my life.  A tornado isn’t a car accident.  It isn’t a disease.  It isn’t even a random accident.  There is no possibility in high heaven that a person can be saved when one shows up and comes straight at their house.  As agnostic as my tendencies, this is truly an act of god.  This is a beautiful land.  But I would find it difficult to live here myself with this natural danger looming for several months every year.

So I spent most of the night awake.  A big thunderstorm over much of northwest Iowa dominated my night.  It was pretty bad over Iowa City where I was staying in an old wooden house on the second floor, all windows, no interior rooms.  I stayed glued to the weather service website for several hours, about midnight to 3 am.  Earlier in the day when I was showering I heard the town siren go off.  I jumped out of the shower, soap still clinging, got dressed in 20 seconds, and then stood there shaking and not knowing what to do.  I peered outside, saw blue skies, and remembered that it usually took a storm or at least high winds to produce a tornado.  The siren must have been an exercise or for something else.  Not that night when it blew for about 20 minutes at 1am.  The winds picked up so quickly, within about 5 minutes it went from a calm, balmy summer night, to where things in the apartment were blowing off shelves, curtains whipping dangerously, and rain thrashing inside.

School tornado drill - exactly what it looked like

I knew vaguely from watching the Wizard of Oz and from school drills (Chicago is mid-west, a would-be prime twister area were it not for our giant lake, and therefore completely different wind and climate region. Still, we had annual tornado drills) that you’re supposed to go below ground or to a place without windows and crouch and cover your head.  There was no way I could do this.  None at all.  I debated waking the downstairs neighbors but politeness somehow still came over me when it came to this decision.  Should I drive to a safe location?  Would I have time?  Would being outside in a ditch be safer than staying in a house whose age and debris would certainly be a serious danger.

Instead, I got smart.  Dressed, shoes and all, cell phone in pocket, wallet in hand.  Plugged in the computer and found every website I could locate with up-to-the-minute info, Doppler radar, satellite imaging, etc.  I learned that the only tornado watch was a few counties over.  First, I had to figure out which county I was in (Johnson), and which counties surrounded it.  We had a flash flood warning, a dangerous weather advisory, and something else.  I eased up after a while when I learned this and watched an episode of Lie To Me, a show I adore and that we’re a season behind in Israel, while I waited for the 3 am all-clear to come.  I slept on the sofa, in my clothes, in front of the laptop.  The cats I was sitting joined me.

Now Waterloo.  And Cedar Falls, its twin town.  Can’t call these places cities, although in some books, they might qualify.  There are farming museums, a one-room schoolhouse, a historical society.  I’m too tired, I think.  Too behind on some work projects.  Instead, tomorrow after the wedding hoopla is over, I’m going to treat myself to an excursion to a famous Frank Lloyd Wright house in Cedar Rock.  It will delay my return to Chicago by several hours, but I feel that it’s a shame to visit a region without seeing at least something it is proud of, something native, something natural and important.

Frank Lloyd Wright's Walter House at Cedar Rock

Walter House Interior

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On January 1, 2010, after less than 4 (and in some cases less than 3 or 2) hours of sleep, my father, mother, sister, her best friend, and I hopped in a rented compact car at 7 am and proceeded to drive from Tel Aviv to the Golan Heights Winery…in the Golan Heights.

This is our story.

(cue Gilligan’s Island theme song)

A few bitchy fights, cramped snoozing, radio station surfing (we never did find one the entire drive), and a generally cranky 2.5 foggy hours later, we reached the region of our final destination — a full hour and a half early.

After I took the blame (and the beating) from everyone for depriving them of an extra hour’s sleep, we had a nice breakfast at a roadside cafe in the old town of Rosh Pina – a picturesque place (so I’m told – it really was super-foggy) just next to the historic, kabbalistically-famous city of Tzfat (aka Safed).  It was really far north.  We really did make amazing time.

At a bit after ten we proceeded to drive the remaining twenty minutes from Rosh Pina (just about directly north of the Sea of Galilee – what we call the Kineret –  a place that generally marks a border between the Galil region and the Golan region) to Katzrin, the tiny town (the largest town in the region) that is the home of the Golan Heights Winery.

Collectively owned by 4 kibbutzim (collective farms) and 4 moshavim (cooperative farms), the Golan Heights Winery began the Israeli wine revolution in 1983. Quite frankly, they make the best wine in Israel, consistently winning international awards and accolades.  They introduced many of the modern grape varieties to Israel, and produce more than 30 labels under three series (Yarden, Gamla, and Golan).

Aside: I work for them leading wine tastings, albeit on a very part-time basis. I love working for them.  I am more than a bit biased. But being a wine lover first and foremost, every trip I take to Katzrin to visit GHW is an exceptional treat.  You’re treated like family — and this is a state-of-the-art facility.

The main visitors’ center is closed for renovation the next 6 months, so a makeshift (if you can even call it that) center was rigged in the main administration building.  Despite Fridays being quite popular visitation days, it was quite empty there.  I’m used to seeing throngs of tourists, both domestic and otherwise.  Perhaps it was the winter, or the fact that many were probably nursing hangovers in their warm beds (which is where we half-halfheartedly wished to be).  Because of this fact, we had an almost private tour (with one quiet young couple tagging along).

After a brief history of wine, winemaking in the region, and the Golan Heights Winery itself, the tour guide (lovely woman named Ela) took us to the “wine cellar” — really the largest barrel storage building in the country, housing more than 7,000 gorgeous French oak vessels.

The tour ended with a wine tasting.  Perhaps because the visitors’ center was closed, or perhaps because there were so few people – we were shown to the private tasting room besides the vaults (or maybe a better word for it is ‘archive’) of wines that are kept just for the winemakers (and I expect, VIPs).  It was really fun, and the wines we were given really showed off the vast range they produce – starting with a very young Chardonnay (Golan 2008) – leading to a very hefty Syrah (Yarden 2005) – ending with such a treat, the Heightswine (Yarden 2007; play on words – made in the same fashion as Ice Wine).

My parents being my lovely parents bought me another bottle of the Single Vineyard Yarden Syrah (2004 – Ortal Vineyard) – my absolute favorite – at the gift shop, and we stocked up on a few other gems (Dad’s taking home another Syrah Ortal, a Cabernet Sauvignon Single Vineyard El-Rom 2004, and a Noble Semillion Botrytis, amongst other things).

The Hodes family being the Hodes family, the ride home was just as memorable, one squabble inevitably leading to another more colorful and more complex than the one before.  We stopped at an artists’ village, took a quick (15 minute) hike in a nature preserve to see a local waterfall, and then hit the road, unfortunately choosing the scenic route, back to city-dom.  We took a wrong turn twice, my father progressively became more and more ill (stuffed up sinuses from lack of sleep), and we took a very, very long detour in order to visit a Druze village (Dalyiat El-Carmel) to drink a quick coffee and stock up on hummus, tahini, salads, and pita — because the very wise Hodes clan had extended an invitation for dinner at our place to the rest of the family for that very evening — and there was no way we had the time, nor were we in the condition to cook.

We returned to Tel Aviv ten hours to the minute after we left.  The adventure wouldn’t end for several hours more.  And it would take the rest of the weekend to recover. A three hour tour, indeed.  Talk about almost 7 hours in a car for a 1 hour tour. That takes passion.  Or madness.  Or both.

I say, well worth the visit to Israel’s greatest winery.

Great businessweek article on the revolution in Israeli wine production

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